This story is unpublished
The professor stared at the table, registering little more than a blur of brown and white, red and orange. Breakfast must be toast and fruit. Again. As his hand reached out for the steel tumbler of milk, guided more by memory than sight, something at the fringes of his consciousness tugged at his muscles, and his hand dropped to the table. He stared at it unseeing, while his brain wrestled to bring the slippery thought into the foreground.
‘Looking for your medicines, Papa?’ Malini asked. ‘Here, let me take out your tablet.’
She produced a tinfoil strip as if she were performing a magic trick, and popped a small yellow pill from its pod. Putting it in his palm, she handed him a glass of water. He gulped it down, the wattles on his neck quivering like a veil as his Adam’s apple slid up and down behind them. He felt a trickle of water running down from the corner of his mouth, and quickly wiped it away, hoping they hadn’t seen.
It wasn’t that Malini and Bal weren’t caring; of course they were. Malini had always been sensitive to the fact that Bal was his and Prabha’s only son. She had come into their home, and had treated them as a daughter might. But things had changed subtly since Prabha had died five years ago. Or was it six? He himself had changed – he had become weary of living so long, and perhaps the weariness had infected them too. Now, there were more commands than requests, more admonition, more eyes rolled to heaven. The tinge of exasperation in Bal’s voice had gained in saturation, and now it was a rare sentence that was spoken in any other tone. Perhaps it was the stress of his going-nowhere middle management job.
The toast was dry and hard, and the professor masticated like an aquiline cow, crumbs dotting his lower lip. A freeze-frame from the past suddenly flashed into his mind, an ad slide in a decrepit cinema hall. Him trying to reveal to a young Bal the exquisite beauty of chaos theory. Opening it up fractal by fractal, unravelling its gossamer web, as he did during his college lectures, only to see the young man stifle a yawn. His son. Had the same exasperation with which his son spoke to him now been woven as a motif into the tapestry of his paternal discourse at that time? He seemed to remember it had.
It had been the one mystery that had eluded him. How was it that that the patterns – as palpable to him as his heartbeat – were hidden from this boy, born of his ejaculate, inheritor of his genes? Now those patterns had begun to disintegrate and disappear from his own reality as well. Once, the elements had played together like a grand symphony in the amphitheatre of his brain; now bits and pieces of the music wafted through, like snatches from an orchestra tuning up. Nothing connected. Decay.
After breakfast, he was putting on his pumps when Malini came up to him. ‘Papa, can you please buy two packets of milk on your walk today? Here’s a hundred rupees – I don’t have change. So you should get back fifty-six rupees. You’ll remember, won’t you?’
‘Because if you don’t ask for the change, Raghu might do what he did last time, and pretend you gave him a fifty.’
He nodded, his head down. As he walked to the gate, she stood at the door, watching.
‘Don’t forget,’ she said. ‘Fifty-six rupees.’
He nodded again and stepped out. The tintinnabulation of the bells on the gate followed him like a faithful dog down the street.