Ansa Jose | January 2023
Yugmita kept thinking about her nightmares while she hung the fresh-flower garlands on the makeshift tin rod fixed on the top of her cart. The cart shook as she leaned over it while extending her right arm to reach the height. It was about to topple, but she managed somehow to hold it with her left hand. The golden Kada on her hand shone brightly against the dark oily surface. The sweat made the contrast intense.
After hanging all the garlands one by one carefully, she checked whether the wheels of the cart were secured in place. From the rack below, she took the Cycle-brand yellow incense-stick packs and candle packets and arranged them in the front row of the cart, near the big bundles of neatly-stranded fragrant roses and Mallige. Other than the banana leaf bundle, everything else was quite neatly kept, she sighed.
She wanted to take in all the fragrance from those strands of flowers. The colors on the cart got mixed up with those on her printed polyester saree. She sprinkled water over the red rose strands with her bare hands and checked them tenderly for their freshness.
And, the thoughts came back, giving a sharp pain of fear in her abdomen. Initially, she never had a chance to hover over such things. She used to almost forget all her dreams amid her busy day. But then, it started repeating—like a deja vu—and thus, she grew increasingly anxious. It had been a while, and she could not remember exactly when it all started. And more strangely, those recurring visuals seemed way too familiar.
… The butcher’s knife had a crimson, greasy shiny edge skillfully sliding over the fresh flesh…
The Kada that the knife-bearer was wearing was all hers, Yugmita thought, the only gift from her late mother. The ever-stained tiled walls, splashed with blood droplets and flesh crumbs, were so familiar. Yugmita could almost smell the fresh flesh from that dark room when she heard the shrill voice of a young girl.
“Akka, how much for Mallige poo?”
She was taken aback for a moment; but pulling together her senses, she said, “30 rupees per cubit.”
“Akka, give me for 25. I have only that much.”
She looked at the skinny shabby figure standing in rags with an expressionless face and measured one cubit, coiled it with her hands, wrapped it neatly with the smallest piece of the banana leaf, and handed it over to the girl. Once the girl turned to leave, Yugmita looked at the 5-rupee coin and the wrinkled 20-rupee note. She closed her eyes for a moment and whispered,
“Velankkanni amma kanniye, neeye thunai thaye.”
The visuals of stained currency notes and the shining knife edge flashed for a second once again, and she opened her eyes with a shiver. Wiping away the sweat on her face with the pallu, she kept the money in the box hidden below the banana leaf bundle.
The sea waves were dueling and cuddling with each other, and the Lady of the shrine was silent and calm. Yugmita’s diamond-studded nose pin was shining in the sun.
Yugmita kept on thinking about her dream while honing her heavy knife one-handedly. Every time she pulled the knife towards her, she pushed it forth with double the force, yet the golden Kada on her left hand seemed to have overcome all this rough handling and more. It shone against her dark oily skin even inside the dim room.
“O, muddlehead, show some respect. Kill it; don’t harass.” She shouted across the counter at the boy sitting at the adjacent table, struggling with a broiler chicken.
“Just one cut, that’s it. Give the right shot.”
“Now!” After a pause, she shouted more aggressively.
“From morning, the moron eats my brain”, she muttered. Her blood-smeared printed polyester saree was damp in sweat as she was chopping the chicken.
“Cut it into chikku pieces, Akka,” said the bald man in a printed lungi and a striped t-shirt.
“Theriyum, Anna. Yours is a regular takeaway from here. Nalla theriyum,” she said, mocking a smiling face without changing her tone.
She chopped more rigorously. But, her mind was filled with the pleasant fragrance of roses, incense, and fresh jasmines. She was thinking about the Kada the other woman wore in her dreams.
It was hers, the only legacy from her late mother. It was still on her left arm. Yugmita had vivid visuals by then, as it had been quite a while since she was seeing them in her dreams. Almost every day! The flowers made her mad as she was surrounded by dry blood clots and a nasty smell!
“And the muddlehead does not even clean the place properly,” she thought. “Those red roses are so fresh,” she grumped without a sound.
“O, be careful, you stupid! You nearly chopped off your toes, muttala!”
The boy was startled more by her voice than the clang of his fallen knife. He was trembling with fear while bending to recover the knife but was suddenly stopped by her voice again.
“Leave it. Now! Go clean the basins. Go!” That, he knew well, was a verdict from her, and it was the everyday story. He collected all three cracked dirty basins shattered on the ground and went in silently.
The bald man looked a little nervous now while he extended his hand to collect his packet that was savagely packed with a yellowed newspaper sheet. She grabbed the money from him after wiping the bloodstains roughly in her saree.
She closed her eyes to thank the Lady of Good Health but couldn’t hold it enough as she saw the roses again. She thrust the notes inside the pallu-knot and started honing her knife, crumbling her teeth.
The waves of the sea were cuddling joyously here while, somewhere else, they were dueling mercilessly, and the Lady of the Shrine stood there, silent and calm. Yugmita’s diamond-studded nose pin kept on shining inside the dark room.
Ansa Jose is a Bangalore based freelance content writer from Kerala, India. With two Master’s Degrees under her belt (Journalism and Literature), she previously taught at the Department of Journalism, Calicut University, and a few other colleges, and has also worked as a content writer and copy editor in Bangalore. She is also a passionate dancer, and runs a YouTube channel.
Photo via Unsplash
Find The Mean Journal on Instagram @MeanPepperVine