An ordinary life 1- Annamalai
As the cold crept up throught the wefts of his flimsy cotton dhoti, Annamalai curled up even tighter. It was drawing close on Margazhi and that explained the unusual early morning chill of Chennai.
It had been raining the whole week, the water had come into the flat, and the flattened out cardboard carton he regularly used as a mat was soaking wet and useless. He had replaced them with newspapers borrowed from the couple in the A1 flat. At his feet was a smouldering heap of used 'Good Knight' mats the teacher in B2 had given him. In his tummy, there was a quart of TASMAC brandy bought with the advance on his salary that he managed to cadge from the Association secretary.
However, nothing seemed to work against the nasty nip of an approaching margazhi: certainly not his flimsy dhoti, not the six months' old bunch of newspapers and strangely, not even the brandy. There was nothing to do but wake up and walk around the apartment complex, knocking his heavy stick on the cement floor while a death-like rattle knocked about in his chest.
Later, closer to daybreak, as he washed the red Esteem of the A1 couple, Annamalai decided to take yet another advance on his car-washing salary from the three flats. That would be about Rs.150. It would have to be more than a quart tonight.
* * *
It was yet another cold night in a city that is usually a stooge of the sun. Ponambalam was impatiently peering into the darkness. There was still no sign of Annamalai and he was afraid he would have to do double-time today. Cocksure Ponambalam was younger than Annamalai's 85 years, and did not share the old man's fondness for the bottle. For the residents of the apartment, it seemed his greatest asset.
He would dress in khakis and would'nt ask for newspapers, food, mosquito mats or better still advances on salary. He would bring a thick violet and green blanket from home that he would stretch over his head and he would be asleep even before his head hit the pillow. But today, he was awake still, watching out for Annamalai, muttering under his breath. "Why did they give him an advance. The fool will only drink it all up!"
As he muttered to himself, in the distance, he saw a lanky form waving across the road lurch over and sink like a black bundle onto the dark tar. He instinctively knew it was Annamalai. "That old drunk," he muttered under his breath, "let him lie there tonight. Serves him right for making me work overtime." He then drew the violet blanket over his head and was snoring soon.
* * *
The next morning, there was a huge crowd on the street outside the flat. Policemen, wearing garish mufflers around their head, were swinging lathis at the crowd, shooing them away. But the crowd watched, entranced, at the old man lying on the tar road, his mouth gaping, his face contorted. "Hmmmm. Looks like the poor guy had a stroke..." a doctor from the neighbouting flat commented.
* * *
The post mortem report confirmed the stroke. It did not mention any alcohol in the blood or stomach. One would imagine the forensic experts knew what they were looking at. However, they noted that the deceased's right hand was frozen, clutching a modestly bulky packet wrapped in newspaper. From a corner, peeped a bright red and black blanket, the price tag visible. "Rs. 150," it said, "After rebate".
I have decided to serialise facto-fictional accounts of the ordinary lives of men and women, whose stories have not been told. I want to write about watchmen, maids, bus conductors and garbage men. If you have a bright idea about a really ordinary life, do let me know. I've come to believe, there must be a story everywhere.