The sun was gone and the wind howled through the trees as she walked in the woods. She started wondering whether she should go back home or continue with her walk. She was concerned that it might start raining and she was not well prepared for it as she had gone out in shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt. Suddenly it started to rain just as if the weather wanted to enact her fears and she could feel the large drops of rain pelt on her skull and bare arms. In no time the rain had become a downpour and the already mossy path became muddy and slippery.
She looked hesitantly back at the path where she had come from. The shrubs seemed to have closed in on it and all she could see was green behind her. The slope she had come up was quite steep and it seemed a better option to just walk on until she reached the end of the walk rather than taking the chance of slipping down the slope. She drudged on, braving the falling rain and the howling wind which tugged at wisps of her hair and the bottom of her shorts sending them here and there. With the sun gone it was quite cold now and she started feeling her hands numbing by her sides as she continued to walk.
For some reason, the icy rain and the gloomy wind got to her nerves and she started wondering what would happen if she fell on the path as nobody else seemed to have ventured out on it. She started taking great care in her steps so as not to fall. The last thing she needed right now was a broken leg or worse still a broken hip. She wondered again if she should just slide down on her posterior the slope back to where she had started from. It would not be very elegant but even if there were someone to see her at this point, she felt like she could not care less. Yet at the same time something drove her to carry on her path.
She gritted her teeth and decided to brave her way to the top of the hill. The trees swayed under the effect of the wind and some of their branches whipped at her. Instead of dissuading her this somehow increased her resolve to reach the top and head bent she carried her resisting limbs forward. The rain poured down the back of her neck and her bra clung to her making her T-shirt twist uncomfortably around, but she just untangled it and carried on. She thought about how anyone who should cross her path would see her: a crazed middle-aged woman with her twisted T-shirt and skimpy shorts battling the weather and it made her laugh.
She lowered her head and toiled on again. Soon she could see the flattening of the path beyond and knew she was reaching the top of the hill. She found herself shortly in a clearing on the top and as she reached there, the rain stopped and slowly but surely the sun made a timid appearance. She raised her hands like a warrior above her head and she did feel rather like that, a totally victorious warrior. She filled her lungs with air and howled at the wind that had not stopped yet. The wind howled back at her as she laughed, filling her lungs again with the fresh, crisp air and offering her body to the sun that slowly dried it.
It used to be one of her favourite moments in childhood. They would sneak out of the house and run across the fields to the point where the mango groves began. They would hide at the extremity of the fields waiting to see if the guardian was there and if he wasn’t they would step into the grove and steal some ripe mangoes. It was usually a boy they called Thengai who used to climb the trees as he was used to climbing coconut trees and had a good foothold. His name Thengai which meant coconut came from not only because he climbed coconut trees but also because his hair combed down in a shell shape manner made the top of his head resemble a broken coconut shell.
Thengai would climb like a daredevil any tree in the mangrove and if the guardian was spotted he would be able to clamber down in no time often surpassing them as he ran towards the fields. Little did they know that the guardian always made a show of chasing them but slowed down if he got too close because he never actually meant to catch them. There would be no use indeed of catching them as the mangrove belonged to their family although they did not know it. In fact, almost all the lands around the houses up to the neighbouring city belonged to her family. Unaware of this, the children including her used to run like their life depended upon it, holding on tightly to the mangoes packed in their shirts or dresses, when the guardian chased them.
Later on, they would stop in the fields and put the mangoes together. They would then divide the ripest mangoes amongst them for eating on the spot and leave the greener ones for later. It was usually she who got the greener ones as her grandmother was very skilled at making mango chutney with the green mangoes. Once the bottles of chutney were ready, her grandmother would give her a basket of these to distribute around the neighbourhood. The neighbours respected and loved her grandmother not only because of this type of small kindness but also because she gave the lands to plough to the neighbours and only asked for a small share of the crops as compensation. People considered the grandmother as the main village benefactor.
She used to love going to the village and spending a part of the summer there during the summer break when her father did not yet have his holidays. It was all wonderful until that fated summer when everything had changed. She had not witnessed it herself but she often had nightmares about it and would wake up in the night trembling. For a long time after the incident, nobody had gone to steal mangoes from the mangrove. The villagers would talk about it in hushed tones when they thought the children were not around. Thengai had been riding the tractor of his father next to his older brother when he had slipped, and the tractor had mauled him before his brother could stop the giant wheels.
Some children had started going back to steal mangoes the next summer and one of the children had volunteered to take Thengai’s place as the picker. When they passed by her grandmother’s house she kept the door tightly shut and did not respond to their stage whispers calling her out. She could not bring herself to accompany them like she could not bring herself to eat ripe mangoes anymore. It was as if the mangoes’ ripe insides were like Thengai’s and for a long time the idea of eating them seemed repulsing. She also could not bring herself to distribute the mango chutney among the neighbours anymore and had grown sullener by the day. At the end of that following summer, her father decided to make her spend less time at her grandmother’s house.
Long after she had grown older and found out that the mangrove was theirs, she still would not accompany the children to the mangrove during the short breaks she was at her grandmother’s. She had started eating her grandmother’s chutney again, but nobody had offered her anymore ripe mangoes given her clear revulsion to these. One day, as she was walking through the fields, she found herself in front of the mangrove. The guardian was there and he seemed now a wizened old man. He looked at her and made as if he were going to chase her, but she laughed so he laughed too. He went towards a mango tree and reaching out pulled a ripe mango off the tree which he then offered her, slicing it in the middle. His face was wise and kind and she wondered how they could have ever felt afraid of him. She took the mango almost in a second state and bit into it. The taste of the ripe mango was heavenly as it mingled with her salty tears. She smiled up at the old guardian.
She did not see him often over whatsapp these days as he was usually busy with his work and then would just crash on his couch to forget the stress of the day. She felt she should ask him to be more available but it was only three months since they met on a dating site and she felt it might be premature to ask more of his time. She decided instead to be less available herself to avoid the feeling of discomfort she felt when waiting for him to be available. She thought it absurd that at the beginning of their relationship they should already be behaving like an old couple each with their own interests and hardly available for each other.
She could hear skype ringing in the background. She glanced at her laptop and saw that it was him. For some reason he did not seem to want to use whatsapp. Her finger paused over the answering button and she slowly withdrew it. She let the laptop ring again as he persisted. She slowly inched out of the view of the camera as if he could see her even without her answering the skype call. She wondered if she was being childish but then again she wanted to be needed and not always readily available at his beck and call while he had been so unavailable the past days.
She returned to her laptop once the skype call had stopped and started watching videos. Her whatsapp starting ringing and she could see it was him again. She almost answered before checking herself and keeping her hands tightly to her sides. The phone buzzed and she could see it was him again. A message appeared on her screen “Where are you. I need to talk to you”. She could hardly contain herself so she made a trip to the bathroom where she plucked her eyebrows conscientiously.
She returned after a while. There were several messages. She read through them slowly and one caught her attention. It said “I feel I don’t deserve you sometimes. I am just overwhelmed by the day’s work and hardly have any energy and you are always there with so much energy and kindness. I want to make it up to you, to be a better partner. I want to deserve you. The love you give, it is unique. Call me when you are free”. She smiled. Her finger hovered over the button to the right of his image. He seemed to look at her pleadingly. She pressed the button and saw his face come alive instantaneously. “Hi”…