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VOICES

He switched on the TV and saw a dozen skimpily-clad girls dance around the hero in an exotic location. Maybe he would have ogled at the girls a few decades back. But, having spent more than eight and a half decades on this planet, he was no longer interested in short skirts or heaving bosoms. So, he changed to a News channel, only to find the panelists shouting at each other over some trivial non-newsworthy issue. Finally, after checking a few more channels, in frustration, he switched off the TV and angrily threw the remote on the sofa. He has lost interest in watching TV shows, but he always keeps the TV switched on, giving him the feeling that someone was with him. With the TV switched off, silence fell over the whole house.

He grimaced as he got up from the sofa and ambled towards the kitchen, crossing the dining room on the way. The dog followed him. The cat got up from the sofa and stretched itself. The cook had made tea and poured it into the flask. He picked up a steel tumbler to pour the tea, but it slipped from his hand and clattered on the floor, breaking the silence that had enveloped the house. He bent down and picked it with great difficulty and, after having picked it, poured the tea from the flask into the tumbler, took a pack of biscuits from the shelf, and went to the dining hall to sit at the dining table. He saw a couple of bananas in the fruit basket on the dining table. The tea was hot. He kept it aside to cool and looked out through the dining room window at the guava tree that grew in his compound. The big house remained silent.

The cat came through the bars in the window and jumped onto the dining table. It took a sip of tea and said, "It is still hot." He nodded his head. The dog came next to him and put his paw on his thigh. It took the biscuit packet, opened it, and ate a couple of biscuits. The monkey on the guava tree came in, jumped onto the dining table, and started eating a banana. Then, with its mouth full, it asked him, "You look dull today. Generally, you are excited on Saturdays because you talk to your son and his family in the USA. Why are you so glum today?"

The cat curled itself into the fruit bowl and scowled at the monkey. "That call has been cancelled."

He kept quiet. The dog noticed the brooding expression on his face. It licked his hand and said, "I am sure they have some urgent issues to attend to. That is why they must have cancelled the call. I am sure they will call you next week."

The cat was unimpressed by the argument. Licking itself, it said, "What is the use if they call next week? The weekend call is the only exciting thing that keeps him going through the week. Otherwise, after the cook and the maid do their work and leave, he has nothing to do the whole day except stare at the TV. They know it as well. If they cancelled the call, it means he is not a priority to them."

"So why don't you shift to an old age home? In the last call, your son asked you to consider either living in an apartment complex or an old age home. Why did you refuse?" the dog asked. "After all, he is concerned about you and your loneliness."

"Why should I? Why? Is this not my house? Why should I shift to a rented place when I have my own home? Every weekend it is always 'why don't you move, why don't you move, why don't you move' in the call. I sometimes feel great relief when there is no call. No one understands me or my attachment to this house."

"But should you not look at practicalities?" asked the dog.

"Why?" he shouted. "Why? What practicalities must I look at? Everyone is scared that I will die alone. So what? Let me die in peace here. Has he seen the glow on my father's face when we first entered this house? My father was beside himself with joy during the grihapravesham. He went around telling everyone how his son struggled and made this house happen. It was not easy owning a house. I took a loan, pledged my wife's jewels, and worked hard to repay the loan. I have extraordinary memories in this house. Why will I leave this house and go somewhere else? I am happy here."

"I am happy here," echoed the parrot sitting on the windowsill. "I am happy."

"Nostalgia gives you nothing but loneliness." said the cat, which was now sitting on a chair.

"The cat laughed loudly. "He was 'informed' via a WhatsApp message. Ha Ha Ha. No one called him to inform him. The parents have decided to go ahead with the wedding. Why care about the grandfather?"

He glared at the cat and got up slowly. His knees creaked, and it took effort for him to stand straight. He plodded to the kitchen and, having arrived there, looked around in confusion. He had forgotten why he had come to the kitchen. When he saw the water purifier, he realized he had come to get a glass of water but then was confused about why he needed water immediately after having tea. He shook his head and headed back to the hall to sit on the sofa.

His knee hurt when he got to the dining room, and he now sat on the chair again. The cat was now perched on the windowsill beside the parrot. The dog that walked with him to the kitchen now sat at his feet. The monkey was busy eating the remaining banana.

As soon as he sat down, the monkey jumped on his shoulder and asked, "I heard your granddaughter is getting married, and you were not informed?"

"He was informed yesterday," said the dog.

The cat laughed loudly. "He was 'informed' via a WhatsApp message. Ha Ha Ha. No one called him to inform him. The parents have decided to go ahead with the wedding. Why care about the grandfather?"

"Aah. Shut up," said the dog. "Well, his granddaughter is marrying a Black American. So his son and daughter-in-law are obviously embarrassed with what has transpired. They are not sure how the grandfather will react. So they didn't want to confront him. That is why they sent a message. What is wrong with it?"

The cat sniggered. "He needs to console himself with such words, but the truth is he no longer matters to his son or his family. He is just an old man they have to take care of. He is now a tiny blip on their conscience and nothing else."

He was angry. "Yes, I don't matter to them or to anyone else. When you are aged, you become useless to everyone. It is natural. Why should I rant that my permission was not obtained before they approved the match? Did they think I would reject it or that I don't understand how the world has changed? Why was it so difficult for him to call and tell me this news? Am I a stranger to him? Well, they are the parents, and they have made a decision. Who am I to approve or not approve of it? I don't care. I just don't care." He was almost shouting.

"I don't care," repeated the parrot. "I just don't care."

The dog put his paw on his thigh and said, "Don't you love your granddaughter? Think of how happy you felt when she showed you her new dress a couple of weeks back. Don't you remember how her face glowed when she twirled while wearing the dress? And how her face lit up when you said you liked the dress. What if they didn't tell you earlier? Just wish your granddaughter well. She deserves all the happiness in this world. She is a lovely child."

His eyes misted over. He nodded his head. "Yes, let her be happy."

"Let her be happy," said the parrot. "Yes, let her be happy."

Just then, the calling bell rang. He gave a start when he heard it, for he was not expecting anyone. He slowly got up from the chair, crossed the dining room, and entered the hall when the bell rang again. "Coming," he shouted. He crossed the waiting room and opened the door. His niece, who stayed a few streets away, stood in front of him.

"What a surprise. How come you are here?" he asked. "I was passing by and thought I would drop in and say 'Hi' to you." "Come in."

 

He slowly walked into the dining hall again and sat on the chair. She could sense the loneliness. "There is some tea in the kitchen." "No, I just had my tea." "How are you nowadays?" "I thought I would be free after I retired, but I have to take care of two grandchildren now. I don't have time to breathe."

He fell silent. She noticed an empty teacup, a couple of banana peels, and an open biscuit packet with a few biscuits missing. He could see that she wanted to say something but was hesitating. "You want to say something?"

After a few seconds of silence, she said, "Your tenants upstairs had told me earlier that they heard noises on the ground floor. They just now called me saying they heard some shouting. Are you feeling alright?" After much hesitation, she asked, "Are you talking to yourself by any chance?"

He nodded his head. "You don't need to worry about me. I am alright."

"I am alright," said the parrot silently. "Don't worry about me. I am alright."

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