Over the days I managed to sneak into Madan Tharavadu many times. I went alone. Somehow I felt safe there. Leaving when it started getting dark.
I used to go there during the weekends when the rest of the kids where playing in the fields or swimming in the river. I spend a lot of time just roaming around inside the illum. I explored every bit of Madan Tharavadu. I found a nest of sparrows on the roof beams in one of the inner rooms. I spend time drawing on the inside wall with charcoal pieces that I found inside the house.
It was on my fifth visit to the tharavad that I saw Maya Aantharjanam again.
I had wandered into the enclosure of the tharavad pond. It was a Sunday afternoon. I had come to the tharavadu after my lunch. I had told Amma that I was going fishing with Aathu. To show the honesty of my intention, I had taken along with me the fishing rod, which was a sturdy long guava branch with 3 meter of nylon thread at the end of which was tied a hook. A round pebble was tied about ten inches away from the hook to serve as a sinker and a piece of banana stem was tied about midway which served as the float. I had wound the nylon string around the rod and had pierced the hook into the wood to hold it in place. I had no intention of going with Athu. I had seen the Tharavad pond in one of my sojourns and had decided that I will try my luck there.
The Illum offered me a solitude which I used to find very comforting. Moreover I did not have any friends of my gender. The boys were more fun to be around with than Meenakshi, Lekshimi and Fatima , who also studied in the same class. But off late I had been feeling the need to distance myself from them. I preferred my own company. I found their games like spearing mud crabs revolting. I also hated it when they used to make me be the watch while they did all the fun stuff.
I entered the enclosure that held the pond. The wooden door opened into a fleet of stone stairs that lead down to the pond. On both side of the stairs was a parapet. Above the stairs was the remnants of a terracotta tiled roof. The entire pond was enclosed within the walls, that was made from large clay bricks which was covered in moss.
The pond was green due to the algae, dry leaves partly covered its surface. I sat at the last step and cast my line. Large dragon flies skimped the surface of the pond. It was peacefully quite , broken by the occasional faint splash of some fish that had broken the surface to catch an unsuspecting insect.
I must have dozed off, because suddenly I realized that it was getting late. I had no bite either. I pulled in my line and wrapped it around the rod. I scooped a handful of water after clearing away the leaves and washed my face with it. The water, to my surprise was not smelling bad, instead was cool and refreshing. I wiped my face on my skirt and turned around to walk up the stairs.
That's when I saw her.
She was sitting hunched on the parapet. She sat in the darkness under the shade of the roof overhead.
I froze where I stood.
She did not appear to be looking at me. She stared straight ahead at some unknown sight. Immobile. Like a statue.
I wondered how long she has been there. Was she sitting there when I had come? If she was I would not have noticed. She was so silent.
I slowly started climbing the stairs. My eyes fixed on the impassive figure. She did not move or even acknowledge my presence. I reached the opened wooden door and ran outside. A sound of movement from within the enclosure made me stop. I went back to the door and peered through the opening, keeping my body hidden behind it.
Maya Anthurjanam was standing at the last step. Her back was towards me. She took off the piece of cloth that was draped around her shoulder and placed it on the step beside her. Then she undid the knot of her mundu and folding it , she placed it on top of her other garment. She stood thus naked for sometime, looking straight ahead. She reached behind her head with both her hands and untied her bundled hair, letting a tumble of grey dreadlocks fall back , stopping just short of her buttocks. All her movements were graceful. I watched mesmerised.
Her body looked youthful. If not for her grey hair, she would have been mistaken for someone far younger than her actual years. She walked into the pond, stopping where it reached up to her shoulder. Then with a thrust she swam to the middle of the pond. Cutting through the carpet of dry leaves, she left a trail of green water behind her.
I do not know if she saw me. Perhaps she did see me but she made no sign of it. I watched her swim in that deserted pond, in which the legend said her mother had drowned in. I stood there while the setting sun cast a reddish glow on the pond and its swimmer.
When I reached home that day, I realized that I had left my fishing rod at the entrance of the Madan Tharavadu pond.
That night I lay next to Ammomma. She had just finished preparing her paan and wiped the trace of lime from her finger on the wooden window sill. The sill was covered with the white lime markings. If I sat and counted , I probably would have been able to calculate how many paan Ammomma must have chewed in that room.
She sat next to me and looked out of the open window. I lay awake watching her in the darkness. The moonlight outside lit up the inside of the room in its silvery glaze. I fell asleep watching Ammomma staring out lost in her thoughts.