|Image copyright: Anaz Jaffer|
She watched the tea leaves simmering inside the hot water, turning a shade of deep amber before adding spoonfuls of sugar into it. The time was 4'O clock, a busy time at the tea shop. Most of their customers would come in at this time. A bead of sweat made its way down from the corner of her earlobes. The kitchen was small and stuffy, filled with smoke and kerosene fumes.
"Eli kutty.. ," her reverie broke at the sound of his voice. Her name was Eliamma, yet for Chacko, she was always Eli kutty, from the day of her marriage. He took the tumblers of hot tea from her hands and took it to the adjacent room to serve. Looking out at the dusty road from the kitchen window, her heart clenched. No matter how hard she tried to forget, some days like this one always brought back the memories. Ones that she wished she could bury forever.
As always, her mind wandered over to Joseph and Mathew, her sons. Joseph, her first born, who had come into her life with the joy of a rainbow. She had cradled him close to her, he was the apple of their eyes. Till that dreaded day when he had decided to play in the village pond with his friends. He was only ten, still a child. Some say he had lost his step, others dismissed it as a cruel twist of fate. Losing him was a grief that took her many years to get over. It still ripped her apart.
Then came along Mathew. Her serious and sturdy boy. Her baby who had come to her when she was too old to be a mother. He was nothing short of a miracle, which was why she wasn't able to ever say no to him, unlike Chako, who was always stern with his children. They had given him the best they could manage between the two of them. He had grown up fine. He studied well, found a decent job to support himself before getting married.
He had wanted them to close up the tea shop and move in with him. Chacko had said a firm no even though they both craved to spend time with their granddaughter who was only two. Chacko was always a man of principles. No matter how little he made, he made sure to support all her needs without depending on anyone else. Depending on their son for even small errands was something he didn't like.
Though she tried not to dwell too much on these things, there were days like today. Days when the ache in her heart spread all over her body, grasping her in its clutches. Her eyes welled up and she wiped it on her faded blouse before Chacko came in and saw. She mixed the batter to make the bhaji which they served along with tea just as he came in.
"Sit down, your feet have started swelling again. Let me handle the rest," Chacko insisted as Eli kutty went down and sat down on the stool in the corner of the kitchen. She leaned back, resting her head on the charred walls behind her and closed her eyes.
P.S. A special thanks to Anaz, the talented photographer who was kind enough to allow me to use this image on my blog. He captured the picture in all the right emotions. I don't know if this is their story and I hope not. But this is the story that spoke to me from this picture. The story of Eli kutty and her Chacko. A melancholic one.