The visitor

These days, I make it a practice to write every day. It’s not as ambitious as 10k a month word challenge. It’s just something I resolved to do every day, at least for a few minutes. When my wrist broke at the end of last year, I couldn’t type for six weeks. I have never felt more helpless and voiceless. The physical inconveniences were negligible, thanks to my parents. But the volume of words that were stuck in my head was unbearable. For the entire six weeks, I had a voice-to-text converter to write my report and other office-related work and I felt like all the words in my head came out wrong. When I spoke the sentences out, they sounded awkward and trite, and I couldn’t quite get the cadence right.

What I learned in those weeks was that my words flow through my typing. Ever since my parents got home a computer twenty-five years ago and installed typing software in it,  typing is the way that I can be free of the words in my head. Writing – physical writing – never worked for me. There are four reasons for this: (1) my handwriting is terrible (I hate to look at it ! ), (2) I can’t read my own handwriting, (3) I can’t erase and recompose my words without making an ugly mess, and (4) I write too slowly for the pace of the words in my head. So, invariably, on all four counts, I get frustrated. With typing, I can ramble on and on and on . . . as I am doing now. The point is, after my hand healed, I decided to appreciate the fact that I could write again, even if it is gibberish; hence, the resolution to write every day. I think of it as a form of cosmic thank-you for the use of my hands and through it, the use of my head.

So, every morning, I come to a big covered veranda in my office and write for 20 to 30 minutes. This veranda is a small rectangular space that connects the second floor of the house (that we work in) to the huge open terrace on the left, and to the backyard on the right. In olden times, it probably functioned as a servant’s access to the roof and to the second floor. The way that we have built this space  now is that it has a temporary tiled roof and is open from all sides. I often sit with my back to the terrace (where it is bright and sunny) and face the backyard to watch the green vista of trees that have been growing there for the past fifty odd years. There are mango, plumeria, jackfruit, and avocado trees all around. When it rains, it’s wonderful to sit in this little veranda and watch the greenness brighten with water. We often see lots of birds, taking a short break on their flight from Lal Bagh to wherever they are going in the city. Sometimes, we host monkeys and it’s not unusual for us to see at least one or two of the twenty cats (that the caretaker has)  prowling among the branches of the trees or the roof to catch an inattentive pigeon. We usually use this space for lunch, or for meetings. In the mornings, it’s often occupied by me, fulfilling a promise to myself.

Usually, S – our office assistant, is often cleaning up the office around this time. It turns out to be a convenient ritual for both of us. I am out of the room he wants to clean and I get a nice open space with trees all around to work in, even if it is for a few minutes. There is a small sink in the balcony stairs where he fills up his bucket to mop the floors. If he is in a talking mood, we talk while he waits for the bucket to fill up, and when he is not, we spend the time in silent companionship. I like his happy smile and his quiet way of doing things. I think he likes that I am up for a chat anytime he feels like talking.

This morning, we are in our usual places. Me facing the mango trees, laden with green fruit and the plumeria trees, dotted with their white and yellow flowers. The sun is shining and there is that smell of possibility that morning always brings. Or maybe, it’s just the smell of smoke from the chula from the caretaker’s house. Either way, it is a happy morning. S has just left with a fresh bucket of water and has not closed the tap fully. There is a small trickle of water flowing from the tap to the sink, a faint musical sound that I don’t pay attention to.

Suddenly, a dark shadow – a visitor to our little tableau. A young crow. He hops along the railing of the terrace, keeping an eye out for any sudden movement from me. I stop typing and look at him. He looks at me and hops slowly and methodically to the slightly open tap. Then, he dips his head, takes a swig of water and  swallows. Another sip, another glug. Then, two more in quick succession – no longer cautious. I watch this little scene: the sun glinting off the steel tap and the shining trickle of water against the dark green background of the swaying trees, the glossy violet-black feathers of the young crow, and his black eyes, periodically checking in on me. After he is satiated, this little bird and I look at each other, and then he is gone. The next moment, S comes in with his bucket of dirty water. He doesn’t know he was the inadvertent benefactor of a thirsty crow. He doesn’t know why I am stupidly smiling. He doesn’t know we had an unexpected visitor.

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