Short story selected for the 2011 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology
Laughter and bells of happiness constantly rang from House No. 22 on Flute Avenue, a house which had otherwise been empty for the past few months. The three of them were always together and so joyful. Something about this man in his late forties and these two young girls that accompanied him made me want to know more about them, who they were and where they had come from.
Mrs Wellington, a boisterous old lady who lived next-door to the newcomers, said: “They are a happy family, who have just moved into our neighbourhood. They have drawn a rainbow of happiness on the street!”
I returned to work on Monday having forgotten about everyone but myself. The 30-minute long underground train journey into the City of London was not always the most interesting of journeys unless there was some good gossip in the ‘Metro’ newspaper. But today was going to be out of the ordinary. From the corner of my eye I spotted the Mr X from House No. 22 seated opposite me. At Baker Street, when the carriage was almost half empty, I got a chance to pull up beside him without any congestion charge. I took this train every morning and so did he and slowly our relationship culminated into a strong bond.
Mr Karan Patel, a fine Indian gentleman, held a prestigious Chief Executive position in an American Company. What a perfect ‘global chutney!’ Mrs Neena Patel, his wife, had died from a brain tumour some years back, leaving behind a devastated husband and a shattered little angel named Meera. Karan decided he would never re-marry so, he brought up Meera on his own.
A couple of years ago, they both decided to go for an exotic holiday and pinpointed Phuket as their chosen destination. Phuket is a beautiful, mostly mountainous island, set in the southern part of Thailand. They chose to go to Patong beach, as Meera loved eating bananas and Patong in Thai means ‘the forest filled with banana leaves.’
“Let’s celebrate Christmas on the beach,” she told her dad. That was it then. They landed at Phuket International Airport on Christmas Eve. It was party time. Jet-lagged or not, they were not going to miss the Christmas party at their hotel. But something bothered Meera: “I had this odd dream on the flight. Mom said to me that she was missing both of us and wanted us to be with her, but the time was not right! I don’t know what to make of the dream. Anyway, never mind, you and I will celebrate now.”
For the rest of the evening, they discussed the next day’s plan and Meera expressed her wish to visit Kamala beach.
On the morning of the 26th, they grabbed a quick breakfast and could not wait to jump into the blue waters. Meera was a great swimmer although try as hard as she would, she never managed to glide over the waves as her father could. She watched him as he swirled over the waves like a fish. She turned around to look for an ice-cream stall on the beach, then she turned back to look at her father. He wasn’t there! To her utmost horror, all she saw was a giant monstrous wave about thirty feet tall ready to consume the earth.
“Happy New Year.” Karan tried to turn his head towards the voice. It ached as he slowly opened his eyes to a white uniform. The nurse had come for her daily round and was happy to see him finally out of his semi-conscious state. Karan held her hand and did not let go until the story unfolded along with her words. Tsunami! Where had he heard of this word before? Probably in a geography lesson at school.
At a snail’s pace, it finally dawned on him. Meera’s dream! “No,” he told himself, “Meera cannot die. Neena had said the time was not right. I have to find her, and fast.” He tried to get up, but it was hard to move. His left leg was wrapped in bandages. He was relieved to find out that the bandages would be taken off that day and he would be discharged in two days.
Up until now he had not looked around him. The effects of the tsunami and how bad it must have been were only metres away from him. As his eyes rolled around the ward, the shock and the pain he saw around him made him feel sick. He spent the rest of the morning talking to every doctor, nurse or ward boy about the other survivors.
Two doctors and a nurse surrounded the bed next to his. They were trying in vain to comfort a young girl of about thirteen. Her parents were dead and the body of her little brother was found an hour ago.
Karan’s bandages were removed in the afternoon and, by evening, he was feeling much better. In the morning he was discharged. But, his heart went out to Munira, the orphaned girl in the neighbouring bed.
Karan rushed off to the reception desk at the end of the corridor and called up his hotel. He thanked god a hundred times as the hotel had kept his belongings all completely safe. He decided to stay in the same hotel until he found Meera, but asked for a different room.
He started his search at the police station where he was told: “Yes, we have a survivors’ list!” Karan’s eyes lit up. I must be the luckiest man on earth, I just have to look through this list, he thought and I will find my puppet. His fingers shivered as they ran down the list. No, Meera’s name wasn’t on the list!
The constable on duty comforted him, “Don’t worry Sir, we update this list as and when we get more information.” Karan’s limbs felt numb. He had to sit down. Meera is alive and well, Neena never lied. He was advised to go to the local camps set up for survivors and search for her there.
It seemed like an unending story. He had visited three camps in the last two days but to no avail. Karan sat in a rocking chair in the balcony of his room facing the sea. Who could have thought this calm sea could actually become a hungry and wicked black hole? He saw his daughter looking at him as he rode the waves on the day after Christmas. Meera had wanted to go to Kamala beach the next day. Karan sprang out of his chair and ran to the phone. “Is that the reception? Please book a cab for me. Tomorrow morning I need to go to Kamala Beach.”
The drive to Kamala beach from Patong the next morning was an alarming one. The entire area seemed to be badly affected by the tsunami. Houses were flattened and people were scavenging through leftovers, while others were just sitting around. At the northern end of Kamala beach, the locals gave him directions to the survivors’ camp, located a mile away. Karan’s heart started beating fast.
He had no idea why he had chosen to come all the way to Kamala when he actually had separated from Meera miles away… or maybe he did. He entered the makeshift camp located in a damaged school, of which only enough remained to cater to the needs of the survivors. Running his fingers down the survivors’ list, he once again couldn’t find his daughter’s name. And then he saw her, sitting at the rear of the hall. He rushed over and hugged her with tears of happiness, as he has finally found the treasure of his heart.
As Meera was collecting the pieces of paper where she had been scribbling down her diary of the past few days, Karan caught sight of a familiar face. “Munira, you… here?”
Meera spoke up: “She was brought here two days ago; they are planning to put her on the next flight to the UK.”
Two of the foreign-looking volunteers stared at Meera and said, “We thought this girl had lost her voice during the disaster! She has not spoken a word since she’s been here.”
“At least we know her name now,” the other volunteer added. Looking at Karan she continued, “That is why you have not found her name on any survivors’ lists.”
The following morning, the two of them were boarding a flight to London. As they fastened their seat belts, Meera’s eyes fell on the girl sitting in the last seat in her row. It was Munira. On landing at London Heathrow Airport, the three of them headed straight for the Department of Adoption.
“Now” said Mr Patel, “Please be my guest at No. 22 today. We shall be waiting for you at the dinner table.”
That evening, Karan showed me around his new house. What intrigued me the most were two intricately decorated identical cabinets placed in each of the girl’s room. At the centre of each, there was a book: in Meera’s room the Ramayana and in Munira’s room the Qur’an!
Bewildered, I looked up at Karan “So, which I mean really which is, the ‘religion’ in your family?”
With a big smile he answered, “Here, we follow the Tsunami Religion!”
chutney: An Indian spicy or sweet preparation used as an accompaniment to the main dish.
Ramayana: The Hindu epic and holy scripture.
Illustration by Alan Van Every
About the Author:
Dr Anjali Prashar currently resides in the United Kingdom. She has a poem published in the anthology Echoes of our Time edited by Sarah Younger (Anchor Publication). She also has publications in scientific journals.
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