Summers are harsh. Sometimes, unbearably so.  Hence, a plan was duly chalked out. Nayana's parents' were woefully concerned about her education. Particularly, her father. So when Nayana told him that she couldn't stand the summer heat during the intervals between her multiple tuition sessions during the day, her father had to immediately put on his problem solver pants and get down to action.

March had only just ended and already the sun beat down relentlessly. Colleges and schools had closed down for a generous three month summer vacation. But the tuition classes decided this was an opportunity to finish half the syllabus and increased the frequency of classes. Nayana lived far from the city and took the bus, to and fro. In the intervals between, say tuition classes of Physics and Biology, she didn't have a roof to be under.

Nayana did not have many friends. It was right about that age that she had stopped making friends. The ones in school had gone to separate colleges and had lost touch. The new class mates remained just acquaintances, laboratory partners, bench-mates but were never promoted to friends, probably because of the lack of prolonged one-to-one exposure.

Problem solving pants wearer father, in the meantime found out an old relative in the city, bang at the median point of all of Nayana's tuition locations. It was an old lady, a cousin or an aunt, once or twice removed. She lived alone in a duplex house with a garden and a backyard. Such opulence, Nayana thought when they visited her for the first time to make acquaintance and ask for shelter from the summer. The aunt was delighted. Nayana and her father were relieved.

The old lady didn't have much of immediate family to boast of. Her son was married to a white woman and settled abroad, probably divorced, with three children. Her daughter was also married off, to someone in the merchant navy. The aunt's husband had died long ago. She basically spent entire days tending to gardens, going to temples and cooking a small meal for herself.

Nayana didn't strike a friendship right away, she never does. But with time, there grew a quiet camaraderie between them, they had over half a century between themselves in age, notwithstanding. Nayana would arrive dutifully at about half past ten in the morning, when her classes began as early as eight. Then both of them would savor a lunch together on the aunt's mosaic-top dining table, which would usually be adorned with an ornate vase of fresh flowers from the garden. As the aunt went back to her siesta, or to flip through a magazine, Nayana would leave at around one and be back at three. Nayana took to the aunt's habit of tea and salted biscuits in the afternoon, sitting with her in her netted garden chair and be off for a final class at five from where should would directly head home.

Nayana would be treated by the aunt with glasses of lime juice or lassi to ward off dehydration. Sometimes, Nayana's mother would send packets of sweets through Nayana to thank the aunt. But soon they realized that the aunt was a diabetic and all the sweets were getting back to Nayana's lunch plate.

Some days, the classes would get cancelled, or Nayana would just bunk them saying it was too hot to go out. Together they would lay on the bed, in the moist air of the air cooler and flip through magazines, or watch matinee TV before drifting off to sleep. Though it surprised her parents, on some nights Nayana would just call home to say she would spend the night at the aunt's and go home the next day. Dinners would be special with some fish or prawns. Nayana would read the aunt's Woman's Era magazines till late in the night. Some of them had fiction. Stories about women, young and old, their problems, lives, solutions, joys and sorrows.

Nayana juxtaposed her future with the lives of those characters. At that time and age, nothing was definite, nothing was decided about the future. It never is. But back then, she felt this certain amount of control or say she had and felt that she could mold her life the way she wanted. Her life was definitely not going to be like this aunt's, married off at eighteen, twice a mother at twenty three. But the aunt's life suddenly didn't seem bad at all, with oodles of leisure, magazines and a garden.

Nayana sometimes stayed an entire Sunday or two and helped tend to the garden, loosen the soil in the potted plants, add manure, water them. She plucked drumsticks and papaya, by just standing on the roof. There were bananas too, but those took too long to ripen. There was a once a big jackfruit that ripened and it was too big to eat for just two people. So both of them walked from neighbor to neighbor distributing jackfruit as a gesture of goodwill. Nayana was surprised everyone knew the aunt, despite the fact that she didn't venture out much.

The three months of summer were over in a whoosh. Once college reopened, Nayana couldn't once go back to visit her aunt. Something mysterious stopped her. Probably, she didn't know what she would say now that their time together was a choice and not a compulsion. Probably, she wanted to keep those months of summer untarnished in her memory without any interventions from any other time in the future. That summer, a bounded stretch of lapsed time, she could travel back to from time to time and gape at with glorious wonder.


the weight of a letter said...

This is so captivating. I apologize if my comments are intruding. Your story reminded me of a scene from Kokoro, a Soseki novel, have you read it?

wildflower said...

Your comments bring me hope. Thank you for reading. I haven't read Soseki yet. I like him already from what you say (and minor some googling).

the weight of a letter said...

I'm so glad, thank you for sharing. Your stories are incredibly good and inspiring.

I discovered Soseki with I Am A Cat, but Kokoro is my favorite of his. It centers around a young man and his experience in those important years of self development. It has a melancholy tone that your writing reminds me of.

wildflower said...

Honestly, I am kind of a Japanophile. There was a time I was so crazy about Murakami, I didn't know what to do.

I will pick up Kokoro next.