Continued from Dawn: The Charioteer (I)
Chetan spent the next ten days directing an interior decorator who was to re-model and re-furbish my interiors. As I saw the detailed instructions he gave to the decorator, the painstaking attention to details, I knew my instincts about him were right. He planned meticulously and his taste was impeccable. He talked very little. Perhaps that is why, when he did talk, people paid attention to him and listened carefully. There was no way he could walk into a room and be ignored. He was a powerful presence held in placid self- mastery. He reminded me a deep and unruffled pool hiding unimaginable treasures and powerful eddies in his depths.
For all his power and mastery though, Chetan’s melancholy showed through. His passion could have been manifested a joyous dance of life; it was made visible as a morose brooding. By the time the first week went by, I knew my new master was battling terrible demons within him. His bitterness was not obvious, but an inanimate house has no moods or agendas of his own to cloud his perception. To me, his inner war was palpably obvious.
His outburst on the tenth day took me aback. He was already irritable when he arrived. I watched in alarm and dismay as I saw his temper mounting for no discernible reason. It was when he kicked the carpenter’s tool bag viciously- sending tools clattering all over the hall floor- that I had my first taste of discomfort. I was eager to find excuses for him the way we do when we are fond of someone. I managed to silence the nagging voice of disquiet in my head. A bit of temper is becoming in a man, I told myself unconvincingly.
Although I was eager to find excuses for him, I realized that what I had taken as a spread of sunshine on a placid pool was actually the deceptively benign radiance of quicksilver.
He was leaving for his annual six week holiday the next day. The decorator had been told to finish the work by that time. Chetan wanted to return to a fully functional home and gave the man a list of groceries to be bought and kept. He even thought of milk, juice and popcorn. I was impressed again at how perfectly he planned things.
When the last of the instructions had been given, I expected Chetan to leave. He didn’t. It seemed as if he was reluctant to go away. He paced like an angry panther in the huge garden. When he returned, he went racing up the stairs to one of the guest rooms. For the life of me I don’t know why he came to that room. He stood leaning against the door frame of the empty room, a triangular frown between his brows, his eyes turned inward. He seemed to be walking barefoot down bramble covered paths in his memory.
Suddenly, he walked over to the window and stood there, his forehead pressed against the cool glass. His hands held the window frame, knuckles white. I knew a tempest had burst within him when I saw his shoulders shaking uncontrollably. It humbles you, to witness the grief of another- silently, helplessly- the way I had to. When you have a soul like mine, you suffer with the sufferer and take the same beating he is taking. A beating like that could drain you emotionally if you don’t have a serene spirit, as I do. I am firm in my belief that whatever happens, happens for the best.
A silent sharing of this kind creates a bond which is strong and enduring. When Chetan left an hour later, I know he felt closer to me than before. I knew it in the way he touched the staircase railing while going down. He knew we belonged together. Chetan had finally taken irrevocable ownership of me.
Then he was gone.
I had six weeks to wonder in. Six weeks while an army of often uncouth men transformed me from a handsome and imposing house to a beautiful home. They put in a burbling fountain in the hall, its delicately thin sprays rising joyfully upward, cascading down cheerfully, like the happy gurgle of laughter. It was my laughter… coming from deep within me. It filled my heart and ran prodigally over. I don’t remember ever being that happy. My fondness for Chetan deepened with this gift.
The contractor finished the work early; they had another job lined up. By the time the sixth week began, they had collected their tools and departed. It became strangely lonely. I still had four days to wait for Chetan. I was impatient for the time to pass. When you get impatient, Time always slows his pace. He did that this time too… unerringly.
I am glad he did.
Two days after the workmen cleared out, something bizarre happened. Night had already spread her dark cloak without though it was not ten o’clock yet. I heard a commotion in the grounds and running footsteps. There was one girl in flight with two men chasing her. She came running up the front steps and tried to open the door. It was locked. In panic she turned around to look. Armed with flashlights, the men were visible through the thick mango orchard towards the left of the grounds. The front steps were bathed in brilliant moon light. Within minutes they would see her clearly, silhouetted against the dark front door. I saw a gun in the hand of the man in front, a wicked knife in the hand of the second. I knew then that I had to help her.
With a muted tinkle of shivering glass, I opened a window right behind the spot she crouched. Thankfully, she heard it. In a trice she vaulted over the sill, closed and bolted the window. Then she lay down right under it, pressed to the wall. She had moved like lightening, when she was running and even now when she jumped in through the window. I noticed that she was a quick thinker AND a quick mover- even under duress. I was impressed.
A moment later, the men burst upon the scene. They ran up the steps to the front door. They shouted, waved their ugly weapons around angrily and looked for her. They tried to open the door and all the windows they could. I have never seen a more thorough search. The longer they stayed, the more time I had to study them. One thing is for sure- they were NOT upright citizens devoted to the progress and welfare of the nation. I was glad I helped the girl. If these men weren’t THUGS, I’d eat my garden..!
By the time the men left an hour later, the girl had fallen asleep. She lay curled up in a ball against the wall. Her head rested on a backpack I hadn’t noticed she was carrying. Her knees to her chin, one palm upturned, next to her face. Her childishly thin and delicate fingers were relaxed, looking vulnerable. What little I could see of her face in the gloom, looked fragile and beautiful.
Chetan would return in two days.
I waited impatiently for dawn.
To be continued….