She lived in a cottage down the lane. She was middle aged, with greying hair, and looked a martinet, which indeed she was, because she was a school teacher. She lived alone, a doomed spinster. Her routine was predictable, morning to school at 8.00a.m and back by 4.00p.m. Saturdays and Sundays being holidays, no one saw her. She lived alone, cooked alone, and when she came out in the mornings, she looked sprihtly well dressed she exuded more than confidence. But no one knew her name: Fernandez, Rosario or D’Costa I mused. To the people of the locality she was “Miss”.
One day while playing cricket, the ball soared into her house. But no one wanted to go and retrieve it. I boldly volunteered with trepidation. As I opened the gate stealthily “Miss” was tending to her flowers, with care like a doctor attending to a patient.
“The ball” I whispered “I came to take it. Sorry”.
Miss smiled and handed it to me. “Playing cricket?” she asked.
“Yes” I mumbled.
“Thank you” and scampered back.
One day there was commotion in the house. Voices could be heard and that of a lady, “Miss” was chattering excitedly. The next day things were quieted but there was a child in her house, about eight years lod a pretty little girl, rosy cheeks, dark eyed and pigtailed.
“My niece” I overheard her telling someone.
“She will stay with me and study in The Pines”.
“The Pines” was the best girl school in the town.
Everyday “Miss” came out with the girl and came back with her around 4.00p.m. Sundays they would walk briskly to church. This went on for years. One day we heard some noise coming from the house. Soon there was wailing. I rushed to see what was going on there were some neighbours and a doctor came out grim faced.
My worst fears were confirmed. “Miss” was no more. The little girl was crying inconsolably.
That was the time I had to leave Shillong to go to Delhi for higher studies. I could not come back to Shillong for the next three years. I wanted to know what happened to that child, the niece of “Miss”, was she still there?
As I journeyed back to Shillong after almost four years, more than meeting my parents and my younger brother, my thoughts veered to that girl, with dark curly hair and her bright eyes. As I entered the house there was a refrain, I walked down the lane to catch a glimpse of the house, Thre were some people there, a couple and two boys. I pushed the gate.
“There was a teacher here?” I asked, “With her niece?”
The lady nodded “After the teacher died” she said “they sent the girl to an orphans’ home. She was there for two years, then she developed malaria, but they could not save her. . .”
A lump in my throat, tears in my eyes? Across I saw my mother frantically calling out.
“Where were you?
I saw you entering the house”.
“Just had a tryst with death Mama” I said, nonchalantly.