” Am I old Mariamma?” asked George.
” Well, only to climb up a coconut tree,” laughed his effervescent wife.
” Noone wants me Mariamma. Every job I applied for either offered me peanuts as salary or told me I was too old.”
Mariamma looked at her husband. He had aged in the past year.
George had looked forward to his retirement and the time it would give him. But now he found time heavy on his hands.
” Why don’t you take up a hobby, George?”
” It’s not only about time Mariamma. I want to be of some use.”
She could see he was getting agitated. So she let it go. A week later she woke up one morning to find George gone and a note saying – ‘ Gone fishing.’ When he returned in the evening she asked if the fishing had been good.
” Very good, my dear.”
” But you didn’t catch anything did you?” she smiled.
” I enjoyed myself,” was George’s reply.
” That’s nice George. I’m glad.”
This soon became a mundane routine for Mariamma. George never spoke much about his fishing nor did he bring home any fish. But he was cheerful and didn’t complain anymore. Suspicion began to rear its head.
” George we need to talk,” she said one night.
” I’m listening dear.”
” You stay out the whole day but never bring your catch home.”
” Is that all that’s bothering you my dear, or is there something else?”
” It just doesn’t make sense to me,” she couldn’t voice her fears.
” Go to sleep Mariamma. Don’t worry about me, I’m enjoying my fishing.”
That was the first sleepless night of many that followed for Mariamma. She grew quiet and suffered bouts of headaches and fatigue. George was so engrossed in his new activity that he didn’t take the change in Mariamma seriously.
” Why don’t you hire domestic help. I’ll talk to Shanta, she’ll send someone,” he said.
Then Mariamma did what all suspicious spouses do. She rifled through George’s clothes and fishing bag. NOTHING. She felt ashamed of herself. She began to close the bag and then she saw a piece of paper sticking out of a side pocket. She pulled it out and opened the folded sheet. The words jumped at her —-
My dearest Georgie,
I love you. It is so difficult to live without you…….
The words blurred as her tears blinded her. She was crouched on the floor clutching the crumpled letter, unaware of the ticking of the clock or George’s heavy snoring. By the time she got a hold on herself, dawn was breaking.
Mariamma had recovered from the shock and for the first time in many months she was charged with an energy that demanded some form of action. The action manifested itself in Mariamma following George to his fishing spot where she saw a young woman waiting for him.
What erupted defies description. In a flash, Mariamma launched a verbal and physical attack on the unsuspecting woman. Soon George managed to control the situation and calm Mariamma. He held her close and whispered loving, comforting words.
” Oh my dear, why didn’t I see the signs?” he lamented.
Mariamma lifted her head and looked at George, bewildered. With a hundred questions in her eyes, she held up the crumpled letter.
” This is Greena’s,” said George pointing to the young woman. ” Her husband George is working in the Gulf and she doesn’t know how to write,” he explained.
In the next half hour, Mariamma learnt how her husband had cajoled a group of homeless children to attend his ‘ Open School’ by the river. The fish he caught was given to them as a reward. Soon the people from the hutments nearby began to come to him with their letters, to be read or written, and various forms to be filled.
” I should have told you, but I was waiting to surprise you on Valentine’s Day.”
” I’m so sorry George. I thought you were involved in an er..er…”
” Fishy business?” laughed George as he gathered his wife in his arms.