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Shadows in the Snow - Chapter 6
by Swapna Dutta

Continued from Chapter - 5

The rains have stopped as abruptly as they had arrived. The garden is bathed in sunlight once again. There are raindrops on the blades of grass, on the leaves and on the flowers. Bright raindrops are glistening on the trees and on our clothes lines in the backyard. The roof of our porch is covered with fever creepers, with flowers hanging down in bunches of orange and yellow. The butterflies love them and flock round them by the dozen.

Uncle Aneesh left us last evening. To the others it must seem a thing of little consequence. Guests are meant to come and go. It is not something to notice or talk about. There is nothing unexpected about it. But to me it seemed a great loss because he symbolized something new in my life. Something no one had ever given me before. Was it affection and concern? The recognition of me as a person? The acknowledgement that I too was an individual even though I might be a charity girl? I wouldn’t know how to describe it. It was a kind of awakening. And it taught me a new dignity of which I had been unaware before. Perhaps it was the beginning of growing up? I was almost a teen-ager, after all, if not one already. I’m not sure when my birthday is but I have a rough idea about my age from what I’ve heard.

I don’t know if Uncle Aneesh will ever return or if I shall ever see him again. But I am determined not to pity myself and to try and make something of my life.

“Don’t worry about your unknown family,” Uncle Aneesh had told me before he left, “always remember, it’s what you are that matters, not who you are.”

“But isn’t that the same thing?” I had asked bewildered.

“No, it isn’t,” he had replied, “Each life is a wonderful gift of God. Try to make yours worthwhile, no matter where you are and what you are doing.”

“I will, Uncle Aneesh,” I had promised, “though I don’t know how.”

“You will – when the time comes,” he had said.

But now with him gone and no one to care about what I think or how I feel I didn’t quite know how to go about it. How was I to do something worthwhile? And who’d care or notice it if I did? Right now the moments seemed to continue and drag on endlessly like water dripping from a leaky tap, without end or purpose. Or was I being unnecessarily gloomy? I asked myself over and over again as I saw today melting into tomorrow and tomorrow into the day after.

I saw the snow range for a few moments this morning. The roses were looking up to the sun. But even they couldn’t cheer me up. I looked at the raindrops on their petals and wondered if they could feel the tears in my heart, tears that I try to keep shut without their brimming over. I don’t care to have the world see how I am feeling. Even though everything seems so empty and meaningless. Because I have nothing to look forward to.

Luckily I cannot remain gloomy for long! Because it is funny how things keep happening even when you think they never will. You find something to laugh at just when you are beginning to feel that nothing will amuse you ever again. With everything moving around you, you cannot sit still yourself. It is rather like being on a rushing train. It moves along and takes you along with it whether you want to go or not. But these are not my own words. It is what Kancha told me long ago. He had told me about a piece he had read in school where the writer compares life to a rushing train. I myself have never been on a train. I wish I could and get away from everything I know.

It really felt like the end of the world when Uncle Aneesh left. I thought I could never tidy the room he had lived in without feeling downright depressed or get it ready for someone else. And possibly I would hate whoever occupied that room next. But when Madam sent for me and asked me to get the same room ready in an excited voice, the feeling uppermost in my mind was curiosity. I wondered who Madam was expecting and why she seemed so excited about the visit.

Madam did not keep me in suspense.

“My cousin will be here tomorrow, Vandana,” she told me with shining eyes, “I have just had a telegram from her. She lives in Canada and I’ll be seeing her after twenty years.”

Frankly speaking, the news quite knocked me down! In all these years I had never heard of Madam having any relations at all, let alone a cousin. The only ones she spoke of are her husband’s people in England none of whom she has ever met. I couldn’t help wondering if Madam’s cousin would be as “English” as Madam herself!

I don’t quite know what exactly I had expected but I was surprised to find a chubby little lady with a little round face like the moon alighting from the taxi the next morning. And she actually wore a sari. A SARI!! She had a bright red shawls wrapped around her shoulders and her hair was done up in a simple, unsophisticated bun with silver pins sticking out. She also wore a pair of black-rimmed glasses. There was nothing English about her at all!

I ran down the steps to help with her bags when I noticed a furry bundle in her arms.

“Oh!” I cried, forgetting everything in my excitement, “is that a puppy?”

“It certainly is, my dear,” said the lady looking at me with bright friendly eyes, “is Mrs. Barrett in?”

“Yes she is and she is expecting you,” I said looking longingly at the bundle in her arms, “I’ll go and tell her you have arrived.” How I longed to hold the puppy in my arms! Although I love dogs and cats I have never had the chance of holding one. Madam loathes them and thinks them a great nuisance. So they are never allowed within the threshold of Villa Alpina. I couldn’t help wondering what Madam would say when she saw the pup along with her cousin. Would there be the usual fireworks? Or would she let him in for her cousin’s sake?

The front door opened just then and Madam came rushing out and climbed down the steps.

“So you are here at last, Milli,” she cried.

“Pem pem! How lovely to see you again!” said the lady throwing her arms round Madam.

Madam looked both startled and disapproving and cleared her throat.

“Milli, I’d rather you didn’t call me by that outlandish nickname of our childhood,” she said, “everyone has forgotten it, including myself.” Then she started at the sight of the bundle. “Good heavens! Surely that isn’t a dog?” she cried in a horrified voice.

“Not a dog,” replied Miss Milli (Madam had already told me that she is a spinster), “he is only a pup. I’ve brought him as a gift for you. Don’t tell me you have a dog already! Do you?”

“No I don’t” said Madam, “and I don’t want one either. Nasty, smelly, tiresome pests!”

“Dear old Pem pem!” said Miss Milli with an indulgent smile, “don’t tell me you are still scared of dogs! At your age too!”

“I am not scared of them” said Madam screwing up her nose as though they were a nasty smell,

“I just think them disgusting!”

We were all in the parlour by this time and Saila had already carried her things upstairs. I waited curiously, wondering what would happen next.

“Oh well, you will change your mind after you have had old Nibbler for a spell,” said Miss Milli, “because he is an absolute darling and utterly adorable.”

“Nibbler?” cried Madam aghast, “Nibbler, did you say? What a dreadful name!”

“It’s only a nickname,” said Miss Milli, “You can give him a nice, proper name if you like. I call him Nibbler because he is always nibbling things.”

“Good gracious!” cried Madam in a weak voice, “goodness gracious me!”

“I am famished,” said Miss Milli dropping down on one of the armchairs, “couldn’t we have some tea? It’s ages since I had any and I’m dying for a cup.”

“Of course. It must be ready by now. Vandana, go and get it at once,” ordered Madam, “you took my breath away by bringing that nasty dog! I don’t see how I can keep it, though.”

“Nonsense,” said Miss milli looking about her, “you seem to have oceans of space and a dog is always handy in a lonely place like this.”

I brought in the tea and our best buttered scones. Madam looked at her and beamed triumphantly. But Miss milli groaned. “Oh no! Not scones!” she said, looking the picture of gloom.

“What’s wrong with them?” cried Madam indignantly, “our English cooking is famous, even in Darjeeling.”

“Oh dear! Don’t tell me you have only English food here!” cried Miss Milli, “And here I’ve been dreaming of crumbly mo-mos, hot samosas and wan-tans all the way from Toronto. To be served scones instead … oh dear, how very disappointing!”

“We are used to English food and English ways here” said Madam in a stiff voice.

“How utterly absurd!” said Miss Milli laughing, “what’s wrong with our Indian cooking, anyway? I find it far tastier and have really missed it all these years.”

“My dear, you forget that my husband was English” said Madam.

“But you aren’t, Pem pem! Why should you bother to pretend that you are? It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Before Madam could give her a stinging reply Nibbler jumped out of Miss Milli’s arms, upset the jug of milk, knocked down the sugar bowl and started nibbling Madam’s best tea-cosy with great gusto.

“Hark! Shoo! Get off!” cried Madam waving a cushion, “Vandana, take it away from this room. Quick!”

“Yes, do, dear,” said Miss Milli looking at me, “take him to the kitchen and give him some bread and milk.”

I caught up the bundle of white fur in my arms and loved him from that very moment. He was so soft, so warm and so cuddly! He gave my face a quick lick and settled down in my arms, ready to be carried outside.

“I must make some arrangement to get rid of it tomorrow,” said Madam in a firm voice, “I can’t allow it to stay here.”

“But why not?” asked Miss Milli peering at Madam through her glasses, “this Vandana child can look after him. Can’t you? I can see that Nibbler has taken to her.”

“Oh yes, of course I can,” I cried eagerly, “Do please let him stay Madam. I’ll feed him and bathe him and take him for runs. He can sleep in the box room with me.”

“We’ll see about that. But take him with you right now and don’t let him come into my parlour,” said Madam reluctantly.

In the meantime Nibbler, after licking my face profusely was nibbling away my hair ribbon. It was my best one but I didn’t mind at all. It felt so good to have him in my arms. So good to know that he needed me to look after him. I know now that if only Nibbler is allowed to stay I shall never be lonely again. No one can be lonely if she has someone or something to love!

“Oh God! Please let him stay!” I prayed over and over again, “please, PLEASE let him stay!”

Continued to Chapter 7

18-Sep-2016
 
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