30 November

Dodo called last night: “Hello, Appi. Dodo, father!”

Me: “Hmmm!”

I’ve been practicing that “Hmmm!” for a long time. It’s meant to stand in for 33 words, which are:

“Fathers are meant to stay home and take care of their children, and not be traipsing around hot and dusty villages on their own for months on end. So, tell me something else.”

It seemed the “Hmmm!” was successful, because

Dodo said: “Appi, don’t be difficult. Tell me, how’s college?”

Me: ” … ”

Dodo laughed: “Just joking. I know you are not in college.”

Me: “Really? That’s surprising.”

Dodo: “Of course, I do. That’s Etcetra. I know you work.”

Me: “Where?”

Dodo: “What?”

Me: “Do you know where I work?”

Dodo: “Of course I do. It’s a place called … TEAM. Right?”

Me: “Yes, right.”

Dodo: “Have I passed the test? Really, Appi, why must you put me through the grinder each time? OK, give the phone to Ogre.”

I handed over the phone to Ogre,

Who went: “Hmmm!”

Her “Hmmm!” is meant to convey 44 words, which are:

“So, I’m glad that you’ve deigned to call at last. Do you think I have nothing better to do in my life, than to take care of your daughters? I am fed up of your irresponsible behavior. You’d better come home soon, or else!”

But in a few moments, the smile began to spread over her face. She even laughed a little.

Ogre: “Dodo, you are impossible! You know I can’t be angry with you for long, and you take advantage of it.”

Ogre: “No, it’s not that. You know it’s not that. But Etcetra is so difficult. I don’t know what to do with her. She refuses to listen to me. She needs a father, Dodo.”

Ogre: “No, she’s not home yet. That’s just what I’m telling you. Half the time, I don’t even know where she is, what she is up to.”

Ogre: “Oh yes, dancing. She does a lot of shows. But what about her college studies? She’s got such bad marks last term.”

And so on, another 17 minutes of Etcetra this, and Etcetra that. And then:

Ogre: “Appi? Oh, Appi is fine. OK then, try and call more often. Good night.”

Ogre put down the phone, and sighed as she looked at me. I glared at her.

Me: “I’m not FINE, Ogre. It seems I need to be as rude as Etcetra to get some attention from Dodo and you. He doesn’t even know where I work, Ogre.”

Ogre: “Oh Appi, don’t you start now. It’s just that you are no trouble, child. You’ve never been.”

She looked so old and care-worn. I didn’t have the heart to fight with her.  But I couldn’t muster up a smile either. Dodo had called after so many days, and I had said nothing but my stupid “Hmmm!” to him.

Me: “Where was he calling from?”

Ogre: “Some village called Bhambraja. It’s near Nagpur.”

Me: “And how is he?”

Ogre: “He sounded happy. That’s all that counts, I suppose.”

Me: “Hmmm!”

It was meant to be a simple “Hmmm!” this time, but it continued to carry the weight of those 33 words.

After The Beautiful One died, we moved in with Ogre. She lived alone and was our only aunt. She had not planned on having to take care of 2 children I think, but she took us in with good grace. She loves Dodo very much.

Dodo rushed about all day, between his private clinic and the 2-3 hospitals he visited. He had always been busy, but we hardly ever saw him now. While we ate breakfast, Ogre, packing our lunch boxes, would say:

Ogre: “Your father left early today. He had a surgery.”

At night when we went to bed, Ogre would stroke our heads and say:

Ogre: “Your father is going to be late today, he has an emergency.”

Etcetra did not miss Dodo or The Beautiful One much; she was only 5, cheerful, though prone to fierce temper tantrums. But I thought:

1.    Dodo does not want to see us.
2.    I must be very careful with Ogre, or she will go away too.
3.    I am not supposed to cry for The Beautiful One. I did not see Dodo cry, since I did not see Dodo at all. Ogre did not cry. Etcetra did not cry. If I felt the tears coming, I hid.
4.    Dodo has gone away forever, and Ogre is lying to us.

She wasn’t, then. Dodo did come home at nights.

But a few years later, he did go away. When we came back home from school one day, Dodo and Ogre were having a fight.

Ogre: “Have you gone completely mad?”

Dodo: “I need to do this, Ogre. I need to. Or I WILL go mad.”

Ogre: “But what about the girls?”

Dodo: “You are there. As it is, what do I do for them?”

Dodo had decided to leave his clinic, his hospital visits, pack up his bags and travel around the country with a mobile medical van.

Etcetra and I stood still and listened to his plans. Ogre held us close.

Dodo sold everything, put some money in the bank for us and left. I did not cry. I thought I would not miss him. I had friends at school now. And I had So-On.

It’s only a few years later, when Ogre said we must move from our old house, that I cried.


One Comment on “30 November”

  1. […] Banno Appi fiction Leave a comment Continue reading Appi’ story at 30 November […]

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