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Thursday, January 17, 2019


( Re-publishing the short story "Cousin" for new readers. Many readers have given a lot of compliments for this story. Many said really a beautiful story: New World)

Short Story

It was my day off and I wanted to rest a little longer that morning. Sleep is not what I needed, just rest. Days and nights of pumping gas made my muscles achy and my thoughts wary. In India, I was the headmaster of three schools. I come to the land of the free and the kids are bossing me around.
Anyway, no time for regrets. I just wanted to lie awake and think of nothing. A whole day of not taking orders – and I was going to cherish it.
I turned over in my bed, facing the window. As I did, a cool breeze stole into my room, carrying the sweet smell of jasmine flowers that I had potted in my window sill. Just last night I witnessed plenty of buds on the jasmine plants. They must have blossomed overnight as their sweet smell slowly invaded and took over my room. I have loved jasmine flowers since I was a very young boy. Wherever I live, I always plant them. Just outside my window, framed behind the jasmine plants in a slight shroud of fog stood the Statue of Liberty. Then as if on cue, a drizzle began to fall.
“Ah!” I thought “the day has begun perfectly.” A smile crept across my face. All I want to do is daydream and write my unfinished stories. That is the real reason I made the trip halfway around the world. I wanted to be a writer. Not that I could not be one in India, but things are more laid out for you there. Things are expected of you and being a struggling writer does not really fit in most people’s expectations. Nothing made me happier than to scribble down my thoughts. It was actually therapeutic. My day is planned!
Then as to intentionally ruin the moment – the telephone sounded. I turned over as if this would make the ringing stop. On top of that I knew my uncle Matthew Achayan was on the other end, and further more, I knew what he wanted – to ruin my day off. He asks me to baby-sit his daughter on my days off.
The ringing continued. I took a pillow and covered my ears. And then it died. I let out a sigh. I turned over to get up when it started again. I marched to where the phone sat on my makeshift desk. I stared at it for a moment and without hesitation – I picked it up and hung it up. It was all in one fluid motion. Nothing was going to ruin my day off – I was proud of myself.
The worst part is that I can not refuse my uncle when he asks me for favors. I am obliged to him as he is the one who arranged a student visa for me to come to America. He also bought me the plane ticket. So I knew if I answered that phone I would be trapped, cornered, bamboozled into ruining my perfectly rainy day off.
The telephone rang, again and again. My thoughts overwhelmed me and I was guilt ridden. Finally I answered in a somewhat agitated tone – hoping that would somehow cure the situation. I asked in a heavy voice, “Who is this?” Nothing came across on the other end. I asked again, “Who is this?” Finally a peep.
“Hello…Hello…”a very sweet, feminine and melodious voice filled the receiver as if the beginning of a song. I was taken aback. My annoyance vanished like dew in the sunlight.
“Hello?” I answered lowering my voice and with a little embarrassment.
“Hello, is that Kunjimon Achayan?” Again the sweet melodious voice came across the line.
Kunjimon Achayan? I have not heard that in the 2 years and 3 months since I have been here. Achayan was a term of respect and obviously no one in this great land respected me. Not yet at least. I answered my caller tentatively, masking it with boldness. The truth is I was becoming anxious. “Yes…Yes…who is this?”
“This is Saleena. You may not remember me now?”
“ are?”
“Yes. I am...your next-door neighbor in your hometown in Kerala State, India. Now you can try to start recollecting…”She started laughing on the other side of the receiver.
“You are Saleena, daughter of …”I paused, as if I were going to solve a mystery.
“Yes...Achaya...yes. I surely am a daughter of someone. Shame on you, achaya, you don`t even remember me!” she continued. “Alright, here’s a clue, the name of my house is Thekkel.”
“Sorry, Saleena, the daughter of Sosamma Kochamma, Thekkel.” The truth was I knew who it was from the very start of the call, I was just not believing it. But to keep my cool, I answered, “Oh! My God. I am sorry for not recognizing you right away. When did you come here?”
“How easy you men can forget, right?”
“Well, you know I have not seen you for a good number of years. You were very young when I went to New Delhi for higher studies and then for my teaching job in Mysore. In between I heard you were going for nursing outside Kerala State.
“There is a difference in my case. I always knew where you were. I never forgot to write to your Appachan. You never wrote to my Ammachi, did you?”
I felt guilty. “You are right Saleena. I am sorry for that. I know it is inexcusable.”
As I grew up, I grew apart from my relatives for no apparent reason. May be that was my nature, I do not know.
When I was a very little boy, I remember Sosamma Kochamma had loved me as her own son. Probably I was disappointed with my life at times, which led me to be afar from many people including my relatives. I always loved to daydream and write stories. Also I was deeply involved in my writing and sometimes even forgetting outside world.
“Achaya…are you there?” Saleena’s sweet voice again from the other side.
“Yes Saleena…sorry about my forgetfulness. Now tell me, where are you now?”
“In Staten Island. I came here last week from India. I am working in the Staten Island Medical Centre. I have a residence in the nurses’ quarters. Ever since I arrived here, I tried to contact you on your telephone. I got your telephone number from your home before I left India. You must have been very busy and I imagine that is why I could not reach you until today.”
“I am on a busy schedule with work and school. After a long week, today is my day off.”
“Then, I am little hesitant to ask you a small favor because I know you want to take rest today.” She paused.
“Saleena, please do not hesitate. Ask me anything, whatever you need. I know you are new and this place is not familiar to you. Believe it, I will consider it a privilege to do anything for you.”
“I want to go buy a few things from the shop today. If you can kindly spend a few minutes for me, Achaya, but I don’t want to be a nuisance.”
She was very polite just like when we were children. God, I wondered if she looked the same. Smelled the same.
“Sure, Saleena. If you are free, I can come and pick you up.”
“Oh thank you thank you! I am off today and I shall be greatly obliged!”
“No problem. Give me the address and I will be there.” I got her address. She was not very far from where I lived.
I was eager to see Saleena. She was like a little sister to me and I felt the need to help her in the strange city. My thoughts rolled back to our childhood days. She always considered me her `big brother’ when we grew up together. I guess she still did, hence the title, Achayan.
Saleena was Sosamma Kochamma’s only child. Kochamma struggled a lot to survive in her difficult life. She became a widow in her young age. Her husband, Kuttychayan was a close relative of my family, a cousin of my father. Since Kuttychayan was a poor man and had no job, he bought a bullock-cart and two oxen to carry merchandise from the village to the town. Coconuts, mangoes, jackfruits were plentiful in our village and he would bring those items in his bullock-cart into the town for a fee. On his way home one night, after traveling for miles and miles in the darkness, he fell asleep. The oxen had no control or guidance. The wheels of the cart got stuck in a small pot hole and the cart shook. Achayan fell, hitting his forehead on a piece of rock on the unpaved road. He died instantly.
I always remembered with awe when the body was kept in his house for viewing. My parents tried to console Sosamma Kochamma and stayed with her for a couple of days. Kochamma never took anything free from any one in her difficult times. She always found some little work to make her ends meet.
When I grew up, I used to visit Saleena’s house with my brother, ThomasKutty. Saleena was a dear playmate to us. We loved hide and seek under the mango and jackfruit trees. Running after the squirrels was another fun game. Making a small `dam` to catch fish was another interesting game. The stream was very shallow, but Sosamma Kochamma would always watch us anyway. She was very protective of Saleena after Kuttychayan passed.
With these thoughts, I started to miss the beautiful countryside, which I grew up with. I remembered the top of the blue hills reaching to touch the sun and the world of dogs, cats, squirrels and the birds chasing each other in a never-ending frenzy. The people were simple and innocent – always smiling. Some days I took a vow to leave all of this promise and go back and live there happily ever after in this place. The very thought was somehow gratifying to me.
I looked at my watch. My daydream had already taken its toll. One hour had passed. I got ready. Within a few minutes, I reached the nurses’ residence. There was plenty of parking on the premises which was a welcome surprise in the chaotic city. The receptionist greeted me with a smile. She rang up Saleena’s room.
I sat on a couch waiting for her arrival. My clear memory about Saleena was her as a young girl. Of course, she was little but very talkative. But I had no idea she would have such a melodious voice when she grew up.
As I drifted off in thoughts of our young life, her sweet voice startled me. A very young tall beautiful girl standing in front of me! Like Venus or Helen of Troy! I could not distinguish. Her red cheeks showed a little shyness. When she smiled her face was like a blossomed lotus flower.
“ you recognize me?”
“Of course… of course” My throat could not put out all the words from my mouth due to some unknown emotion. May be I was a little nervous!
“Tell me the truth Achaya…if you had seen me in some other place you would not have recognized me. Right ?”
I agreed. “That is true. You have grown up to be such a beautiful young….”
“Please don’t praise me,” she interrupted.
“Saleena, the picture in my mind was of a talkative little girl.”
“A crazy one, right Achaya?”
We both laughed. I looked at her again and again. What a beautiful girl! My cousin, .her beauty surpassed the beauty of all the beautiful dancing girls around Indra, the god in heaven, as written in the Hindu Purana. I felt proud of Saleena, my cousin.
We went shopping. After that, I took her to my apartment. She volunteered to cook the dinner. She was fast. When we had the dinner, I told her that it was the most delicious dinner I have had in so many years. I was so happy that day. We sat and talked the whole evening. When she saw the Jasmine plant, she reminded me of my fascination for jasmine flowers. When Sosamma Kochamma put the flowers in the basket, Saleena used to carry them to my house for me. We both would sit and make garlands with the flowers.
“Saleena, we had a lot of fun in our young days in our beautiful village.”
“Sure Achaya. We had a very good time.”
After the dinner I dropped her off to her residence. Then onwards, we used to meet once a week at least. Whenever she wanted to go for any shopping or visiting someone, I gladly accompanied her. She was a great help to me. She would always cooked delicious food and even preserved the leftovers for me in the refrigerator until she returned to my apartment the following week.. She would even do my laundry. She considered these services for her `big brother` as her privilege.
We both liked to watch movies together. She would sing along with the movies. I enjoyed her singing. What a melodious voice. Saleena liked to read stories. She read all the books I had brought from India. Then she asked me for more stories, I gave her some of the stories I had written. She showed great interest in reading those stories. She encouraged me to send them out to publishers.
One day, after reading a few pages of my novel, she complimented. “This is going to be a very famous story. Try to finish it soon.”
“Sure, Saleena, sure.”
“Achaya, the description of the place resembles our village in Kerala. But can you kindly tell me who the heroine is. You have described her to be the most beautiful girl. To me, she is your sweet-heart from your college, right Achaya ?”
“That is a secret, Saleena. One thing I can tell you. I would love to go back and live with her in our beautiful village forever.”
“Don’t worry Achaya. You should go back, marry your sweet-heart and stay in your house. That way, you will be very happy.”
“Then I can enjoy the rest of my life among the squirrels, my dog Ipe, jasmine flowers, mango tress and jackfruit trees. Right?”
“That is the idea, Achaya. You will be the happiest man in the world, if you do so.”
“Thank you very much for your bright idea, you crazy!”
We both laughed.
“Achaya, please show her photograph, at least?”
“Your heroine’s”
“That is a secret. A big secret.”
“Umh! One day I will find that out for sure.”
“Sure…Sure…” We both laughed again.
Whenever Saleena came over, I felt very happy and cheerful but when she left, I would feel sad. I always wished she stayed with me a little longer. My inner conscience sometimes whispered, `Beware…you fool… she is your cousin. Don’t have any other funny feelings…you know the custom in your place. People will call you shameless because the community there and both families disapprove any relation other than `brotherly`. Then I would stop thinking any more.
One day, we went to see the Empire State Building in Manhattan. When we stood on the observatory, we saw the East River and the Statute of Liberty. We watched the seaplanes land on the water and take off. Some boats were moving fast. It was fun to watch children jumping up and down in the boat.
Suddenly Saleena said, “Achaya I feel a little dizzy. May be I am not used to being up at this much height.”
“Don’t worry. I am with you.” I immediately held her in my arms. “Now close your eyes”. I advised her. Let us sit for a short time and then we will go down. She sat in a chair. I got her a soda. After a little while she felt better.
“Let us go down.” she whispered.
“Sure. I will hold you.” She nodded. I held her in my arms again. When we got out of the elevator, I tried to hold her again. I wanted to hold her longer and longer. Forever.
“Achaya…I am alright now. I will walk myself.”
“Careful” I slowly released my arms, since I was compelled to. I never wanted to offend her. Again my inner conscience advised me. `You fool...she is your cousin.beware it. ` Another reminder. I felt ashamed of my feelings.
One day, Saleena and I were sitting and talking in our room. That day she sang a few of the most melodious songs I have ever heard in my life. I wondered why she never tried to sing in public.” Let the people enjoy your songs. You have great talent, Saleena.” I gave her my heart-felt compliments. In the depth of my heart, I longed to hear her lovely songs again and again forever. I wished to be the sole owner of her! Breaking my sweet thoughts, someone rang the bell outside. I immediately got up and opened the door. That was my uncle, Mathews Achayan! His eyes were red. I knew he was drunk. He looked at Saleena and me.
With a frown on his face, he uttered, “Oh..! You have no time to come to my house anymore. Now I know the reason. You want to flirt with this girl inside your room. Uh…this is a good one .a very beautiful one. Lucky man!! His eyes wandered on the beautiful body of Saleena. I felt angry but did not want to offend him.
“You forgot that you came here with my mercy…Now you have no time to visit me anymore? Umh! You have time to flirt…you damn!”
“I will come, Achaya.Tomorrow.” I told him, controlling my anger.
“No today, at seven. Today…If you want, bring your girl too…Ha. ha.. We want to go for a movie. Please take care of the children. But if you come with the girl to my house, be cool!!”
I tried to avoid a fight.” I will be there before you leave.”
‘Don’t flirt too much. That will be dangerous. Ha.! Ha.!”, he uttered while leaving. I became very angry but showed restraint.
“I wish, I never came here with his mercy” I said with great frustration while closing the door.
“Achaya, he was drunk, so forget it.”
“Saleena, I thought this was a land of opportunity like the biblical Canaan.where milk and honey flows. But I see here only the gas pumps. What a life! I want to go back to my land.”
“Achaya, you should be bold enough to face life. The world is full of opportunity. Disappointments are natural. I know you can overcome these difficulties one day. You will have a good future because you are such a good person. Achaya please do not worry please.”
“I like to leave this place. I will have an obligation to this man my entire life. It is a real abuse. I feel like going back and rejoining my previous job in Mysore.
Saleena, I am tired of pumping the gas and this type of life here in the `land of opportunity`.
“Everything will turn out to be good in future. But if you like going back that may also be good for you too Achaya.”
I looked at her face. “Leaving Saleena, that is hard.”
`Why`? I asked myself. I have nothing worth staying here for. I was confused. The truth was that I loved her and was unable to leave her but dared not tell her. She only considers me her `Big brother.’ I knew her feelings. So I kept quiet.
A week passed by. It was my day off. Saleena telephoned me that she wanted to meet me. She said that she had something important to tell me. I became very anxious. When we met in my apartment, she showed me a letter. She was very excited.
“Achaya, see this letter. This is from my mother. She wanted me to go back at my earliest convenience. There are a lot of marriage proposals for me. My mother is sick and since I am the only child, she would like to arrange my marriage as soon as possible.”
I looked at her beautiful face. She was happy and cheerful.
“Achaya, can I ask a favour?”
“Sure, ask me anything, Saleena.”
“I know, you are thinking to go back to India and join your previous job. If so please come with me. I have no brother to help my mother with my marriage. So please help her for my engagement and wedding .She has always loved you as her own son and you have always been my big brother`”
It was like a thunder and a lightning striking my heart. I was completely shaken at the news but I did not want to show my feelings.
“It is a little warm” I told a lie and went to open the window.
A few minutes later she asked me,” Whatever your decision Achaya, you can tell me tomorrow.”
After thinking a few moments I replied, “I do not have to postpone my decision to tomorrow, I have a decision now. Saleena, yes I will come with you to India. I am leaving here. I have to sooner or later, why not now? I will help your mother and you.”
That night I thought for a long time. I did not want to see Saleena living with another man. That was going to hurt my feelings everyday. I knew this was a good opportunity to leave the States forever. I knew it was the right decision to leave with her to India and to join my previous job.
A week later we landed at Cochin Airport.
A lot of suitors were ready to see Saleena. Many of them did not demand any dowry. They were attracted at the beauty of the girl and the thought of getting a permanent visa to the United States. Now it was Saleena’s choice to select a suitable bridegroom.
Sosamma Kochamma had become a little older woman. She looked frail and weak though she was very happy to see me. Saleena and Sosamma Kochamma had full confidence in me to help them select a suitable young man and getting through the engagement and wedding. The custom in our culture is a week after the engagement the wedding will take place.
Here I was helping the girl I loved to get married to another man. It was going to be something impossible for me to handle it. So I decided to leave the village as soon as possible.
But no one knew of my decision. I tried to reason myself. I had tried hard to stay there through the selection process, engagement and wedding but I knew I would have a nervous breakdown. The best thing for me was to leave for Mysore, I thought. Surely I could not watch a stranger come and tie the wedding knot on the neck of the very girl I had loved most in my life. Let this secret die with me rather than revealing it and get receive lashings from everyone. One more thing could happen as it had happened to many young men in our state. That was to become a mental patient out of frustration, which would be labeled as a `love failure`. So I knew I took a right decision to leave. I telephoned my friend in Mysore that I was coming there in a couple of days. I did not want to ask any one’s permission, not even my parents. I packed up my suitcase and prepared to leave that night.
It was only about 4’o clock in the evening. I had a few more hours for the train.
As I was lying down in the bed looking through the window, I heard a knock at my door.
“Yes, come in. The door is unlocked,” I replied casually without even asking who it was. I really thought it was my mother.
Slowly the door was opened and Saleena came into the room! I looked at her face. She was very happy. It was apparent that she had chosen someone and she wanted to break the news to the `Big brother`
My eyes filled with tears and to hide that I walked towards the window. I looked outside. Jasmine flowers dancing in the breeze. The sweet smell of the flowers filled my room once again. The breeze, which carried the sweet smell of the flowers, embraced Saleena. Her curly hair covered her red cheeks. I even felt jealous of the breeze, wishing I were the breeze. My inner conscience chided me. ‘You fool, stop this nonsense. Did you forget the fact that she is your cousin? `
“Are you going somewhere Achaya. It looks like you packed your suitcase…what is this, Achaya?”
“I am sorry. I have to go to Mysore tonight. Otherwise, I will lose my job.” I wiped my tears. In a weak moment I told her the truth, even though I wanted to hide from everyone. It is my nature not to lie at all.
“I do not believe that you are going to lose your job. You are trying to break your promise to help me and my mother through my marriage. Are you running away from me my dear `Big brother’? I can’t believe it!”
I covered my face. I did not want her to see that I was crying. Moments passed by. Neither of us spoke. Suddenly, we heard the voice of my father outside.
“Sosamma,” my father addressed Saleena’s mother.
“Yes, Achaya…
“You know, I was thinking of something. Of course, it is your decision.”
“Achaya, you have all the freedom to tell me anything, whatever you want to. I am so much obliged to you for all your help in my difficult time.”
“That was my duty, but it is going to be your sole decision. Yours only, as I have told. If you do not like it, I will not have any hard feelings.”
“Whatever you want, I will do for you Achaya…just please tell me.”
“Then I shall tell you. As you know, Kunjumon, my elder son has been to America but not his younger brother, Thomas Kutty. He has just completed his graduate degree course. Eventhough, we two families move together as close relatives, we have no barrier to have any marriage alliance between our families. So if you agree, we can arrange the marriage between Saleena and Thomas Kutty.”
“Achaya, I am very happy for that. We are truly honored at your proposal. I will tell Saleena and I am sure she will be thrilled to hear it. Oh! I am really excited at the news.”
I could not believe my ears. My hands became tight holding the window rails. “Oh..! My God…”The words came out of my mouth without control. The door behind me slowly closed. I heard a laughter. A laughter from Saleena.
“Now my dear Achaya, you should be happy that your brother will marry me. Are you not thrilled at the news? Why don’t you congratulate me.?” She laughed again.
I did not want to answer her.
“Achaya” She called me again
“What happened Achaya..?”
“Nothing…nothing. congratulations…”
“Achaya, I know your thoughts very well. My beloved Achaya, why are you trying to hide it .You do not want me to marry your brother. Isn’t that the truth?”
I was surprised and turned my face and dared to look at her.
She laughed again.
“What Saleena, what? Why should I?”
“I know a big secret, my `Big brother`.”
“What secret? Tell me.”
Laughing again she told,” I do not wish to put you through the fire again. See this envelope. The secret is inside. Please open it. Find out the secret yourself.”
She was holding a big envelope.
“There is a picture in it. Someone you dearly like; no you love very much. She is your sweet-heart!”
I was frozen, not able to talk. I did not venture to take the envelope. Saleena always played tricks on me. She surely did not know that I am going to be a mental patient soon.
“Well Achaya, you do not want to open it right? That is fine. May be you are scared or puzzled? I will open it for you. Ready?” I looked at her. She slowly drew a picture out from the envelope.
Look at it achaya…No more suspense.”
My body started shivering with anxiety and fright. I looked at the picture. To my surprise it was Saleena’s Photo. I was dumbfounded. “What? Am I dreaming? “I asked myself.
“No. you are not dreaming Achaya. This is my picture. Read what is written on the back.
I read it. That was of course my own handwriting. I had written on the back of Saleena’s picture: “My beloved Saleena, the only girl I love in this world. I want to be with her until the day of resurrection. My own girl…my Saleena!”
“No more puzzles, Achaya. I had told you that one day I would find out your secret. You did not believe me then, right? You remember? Before we left America, I had arranged your suitcase. I happened to see the picture in it and found out the secret. Now onward you do not have to own just the picture, but me also. Your brother or some other person will not marry me, but you. Now we are going to enjoy our lovely moments.”
In the next moment, she was in my arms and when my lips touched her beautiful lips. I knew it was the moment of nirvana in my life.

All rights reserved by the Author: GEORGE KURIAN

(Thanks to George Kurian for this brilliant short story with a flawless plot

and enjoyable story.  Outstanding!) New World

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