Rebbit. Mr. Burpsky stared back at her, resting on the edge of a lotus leaf in the hot afternoon mugginess. He blinked twice at his convex world – at the little girl in the pink pinafore peering in, her hair in a fountain, her mouth bent into an O-shape in wonder. In the flash of a second, she was gone.
She ran through the wet Monsoon leaves in the Front Yard, picking up the fallen flowers. And then, she saw him. Or heard him rather.
From the far end of the Village Road, he emerged. Back horrifically bent in the clutches of Old Age – creeping over him like a shadow, mundu tied hastily in a knot on his shrunken pelvis, and giant feet cracked and peeling in the Kerala Summer. Giant feet – bare and hairy, like a Hobbit. And a Giant Stride – like a Man on the Moon.
She stood peering through the grills of the Front Gate, palms outstretched to reveal wet Hibiscus petals and Jasmine’s that she religiously collected and presented to him every day. She grinned at him, for she knew not his name. And he grinned back at her, his cheeks stretching like the inside of an old Jackfruit to reveal a highly gap-toothed smile. A Great Goat.
The Coat-u-Vaaya Namboodiri. That was his name. At least, that’s what they called him. They called him that because he yawned, as he was already doing as he took the flowers from her hand.
And yawned all day and yawned all night.
Nobody knew why he did, what had made him this way. But the man just couldn’t stop yawning! They had once sent him to America, and word had it that he had consulted a Doctor with a very fancy name, one that she couldn’t quite pronounce – a Knewlorogist (he probably knew a lot). But it was all in vain. He came back two years later, yawning louder than ever as he walked down the dewy road from the mana (where he lived alone) to the Temple and back.
She wondered how he did it. How did he sustain a conversation? She had never seen him have one. How did he eat his appams? She had only seen him offer them as prasadam to the visitors at the temple. How did he recite his prayers? She had only seen him wash the idol. How did he sleep? She had only seen him stride purposefully, up and down the temple road. What a mystery he was! Summer after Summer, she asked herself the same questions, but never him. She’d thought of it once, but Amma had told her it was rude to go poking her nose into an old man’s business. She wished she had known him when he was young.
A few years later, she stood triumphantly on one foot on a gunny bag of bricks near her compound wall.
“Paru, why does the Coat-u-Vaaya Namboodiri keep Coat-u-Vaaya-ing?” she turned to look at Paru.
“Because he’s bored, silly!” was Paru’s pompous reply, like it was the most obvious fact in the world.
Why was the Coat-u-Vaaya Namboodiri so bored? If hanging around the Temple all day made him so pathetically bored, why didn’t he rent an Enfield and take off on a Coastal Bike Ride? He was a pretty cool old man. Why didn’t he find himself a girlfriend and take her to the movies? He was after all, quite the looker – his wisps of hair now resembling a Dandelion that she was sure quite a few yesteryear hotties would find attractive now. Why didn’t he write an Autobiography? Why didn’t he learn to cook? Why didn’t he pick up a Wordsworth Classic? Why wasn’t he doing anything un-boring? Why. Why. Why.
Years passed by, as they always did.
She lay snuggled up on an armchair in the Verandah. She had been doing this for an hour now. The Ancestral House had freshly been painted a very in-the-face shade of yellow – to keep up with the times, they said. The Old Cat lay half-dead on its side near the Pond, having shred quite a few patches of fur and staring at what looked like Mr. Burpsky’s Great Grand-Daughter.
Rebbit. Her phone vibrated on the armrest. She turned to look at it and thought to herself for a moment. To check, or to check? She looked back at the Old Cat near the Pond. Deciding that she desired a few more minutes of this seemingly pointless activity, she continued looking.
Rebbit. R-R-R-Rebbit. Her phone vibrated again, longer this time. She turned to look at it. She put on her slippers and climbed down the Verandah stairs and into the Yard. She prodded the Old Cat with a stick. Needless to say, it didn’t budge. She picked a wet Hibiscus from under its paw. She picked the wet Jasmine’s strewn about near the front gate.
Rebbit. Rebbit. Rebbit. Rebbit. Her phone was now ringing. It was probably her cousin asking her when she would head back to the City. Rebbit. What are you doing Saturday night? Rebbit. Want to go out for a Movie? Rebbit. That work is due this Wednesday. Rebbit. Do you not care about us anymore? Rebbit. Let’s plan a trip. Rebbit. Rebbit. Rebbit. Rebbit.
She stared at the Palm trees across the lane. She watched a butterfly take lift from the rusty post-box. She marvelled at the seemingly little things that suddenly felt so much bigger.
She squeezed her palms through the grills of the gate now, outstretched to reveal wet Hibiscus petals and Jasmine’s. She grinned at him, for she knew not his name. And she grinned at him, for she knew now that he was not bored.