The non-stop traffic on the main road created a dull, deafening din throughout the day. Even at night, cars, lorries, trucks, motorbikes, bicycles whizzed by, as if hurrying on to meet a beloved who waited across the city’s borders. It rained intermittently, water stagnating along the potholes on the dirty tar roads. Regular power-cuts were an accepted part of life. Viral infection was rampant in the city. Who would have thought this was the rapidly developing metro of Chennai!
The maid-servant had not come to work that busy Monday morning, so we took turns at doing the daily chores… washing the utensils, drying out washed clothes (God bless the (wo)man who invented the washing machine!!), folding them (the washed clothes, I mean), sweeping/swabbing the cold and perennially dusty floor. It was my turn to fold the aired-out clothes, and I did it monotonously, while an involuntary expression of disdain escaped and perched on my face.
I missed the cool and crisp London weather, as well as the complete serenity of my home that overlooked the river Thames. I missed the place that had been my home for the last ten years. I was all but waiting to head back into that cold and dark city, that would soon be lit up for the Christmas season.
I picked up a red sari, and began folding it. The soft georgette cloth slipped from my butter-fingers, and fell to the dusty floor. A small-sized cockroach scampered away into a corner of the room. I bent down with the agility of an eighty-year old and gathered the ends, and tried folding it again. Luck favored me this time, and I managed to make a rather neat rectangular bundle of it. ‘What a bright colour’, I thought. ‘So different from the muted English shades. But so typical of the colours people wear here. Bright and cheerful. But almost gaudy!!’ I frowned.
The traffic continued to whiz by our apartment. Horns honked non-stop. Suddenly, I heard a strange ‘Screeeech’. Something was wrong. I clutched at the sari, and slowly walked towards the verandah that faced the main road. Cars, lorries, trucks, motorbikes still raced by. I frowned and turned away. ‘Aiyooo….’, came the distant wails from the road ahead. I looked again, carefully, between the big, leafy trees that adorned our house. And finally caught sight of a man.
He sat right in the middle of the road, holding his right knee in his hand. I could not see his face, though he did seem middle-aged. His motorbike was fallen next to him. A small black bag and a plastic lunch-bag hung carelessly from the handles. It seemed like he was on his way to work. And he sat there, crying like a child.
He held his knee tightly. From below his shank, I saw a white stick protruding out of his leg. For a second, I refused to acknowledge what it was. The man’s broken ankle hung loose, like a puppet. And a small red stream started flowing onto the road. Not a bright, vibrant, Indian shade of red. A dark, slow, almost lifeless one.
In a few moments, passers-by stopped, and a small crowd of men and women gathered around him. He was looking around, wailing. Almost complaining, like a child to his mother. ‘Look, what has happened to me! Look! Look!’ The bone still protruded out of the man’s leg. His ankle dangled when he tried to move. He refused to let go of his knee. Vehicles sped past on the other side of the road.
A bald gentleman stopped his car and offered to take the man in. A woman appeared with a bottle of water. Another tore out a piece of cloth and tried to tie the torn ankle to the rest of the leg. Finally, they carried the man away to the nearest hospital.
I didn’t see what they did with his motorbike. I couldn’t hear the noise of the peak-hour traffic any longer. I sat down, a little dizzy. I still held the bright, red sari in my cold, sweaty palms.
A light drizzle started.
And in no time, washed away the dull, red stains from the dusty road.