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The knowledge of her existence was slipping through her fingers like a fog. Instead in the vacuum that it left, there grew this unbridled, shameless and unencumbered understanding of her life as it had been like a dream. She closed her eyes, tired as she was of the obstinate farewell the blood in her body was giving her. It moved sluggishly, as if working its way to each part of her body with an insurmountable effort. So, when she did close her eyes, the scenes from her life flashed with an ease and calm. She had all her life, to relive her life.
She worried about the position of the lamp. When the assailants had moved into the house, a little boy had been playing in the field opposite the house. He had looked up just in time to see a young woman on her knees picking up tomatoes that had fallen from her shopping bag. From her position, it would have taken just a tiny turn of her head, to notice through the window of the house, men with crowbars and black hoods, working their way into the house. The little boy looking at the woman, distracted momentarily, was hit by a tennis ball. Nursing the wound on his head, he looked around for the source of it, when through the corner of his eye he thought he saw a silver glimmer of reflected light, through the window of Mrs. Gonzalves’s house.
Mrs. Gonzalves was home. He knew that. She was always home around noon. It was something that he had learnt after a few incidents of severe punishment at her hands for trying to steal raw mangoes at this time from the tree that shaded the second floor window of her dead son’s room. So he shrugged his shoulders and ran after the snooty bunch of kids with tennis rackets, grinning at him from ear to ear. In the house, one of the killers had finished examining the knife in his hand, and had already cut through the upholstery of the sofa under the window.
The milkman, who had a personal record for general tardiness, set out of the house earlier than usual this time. Already enjoying the looks of surprise on the faces of his customers, he set out of each house, ringing the bell on his bicycle, and tapping the milk containers with a stick he always carried around. But, before he reached Mrs. Gonzalves’s house, his conviction failed, and he stopped at a cigarette stand to have a quick smoke. He reached the house just minutes after the killers had broken into it, and followed the strict rules of Mrs Gonzalves, by placing the milk bottle right in front of the gate.
Before leaving however, he looked at the slightly ajar, front door of the house. Anomalous as it was, his eyes caught a more dangerous prospect walking with his henchmen at his side. His moneylender. With a swift motion, he left the scene, the mystery of the open front door to Mrs. Gonzalves’s house, forgotten. Ms Francis had just been closing down the parlour for a quick bite, when she noticed three hooded men walking towards Mrs. Gonzalves’s house. The wind blew through the jacket of one of them, and there, in that moment, she saw the hilt of a dagger poking out of the back of his jeans. She stopped short, keys still dangling from her fingers.
She wasn’t a brave woman. But she was a sensible one. And because she thought she was sensible, she waited for Mr. Goswami, the district superintendent, to pass her parlour ten minutes later, on his morning route. She told him of a curious doubt she had, about one of the people she had seen walking towards Mrs. Gonsalves’s house.
Mrs. Gonsalves was an old woman. 83 years old to be precise. And one did not get that old, without the obstinacy of living, rushing through their blood. And so, when one of the killers tried to cover her mouth, she bit through his finger, with all the strength she had left. The man removed his hand hastily, and a moment later she was punched on her face, by the second assailant. Blood rushed to her face, as she fell to the ground, staring up at the first man, who while nursing his hand, failed to notice that his engraved ring had fallen out.
The ring was stuck in the table lamp that was gifted to her by her son. The lamp had been knocked over by one of the men while walking through the house, looking for her. And, in an unexpected show of respect for her belonging, he had caught the lamp before it fell to the ground and placed it back on the table.
She worried about the position of the lamp as she lay there dying, after the men had left. Her maid had taken a leave to deliver her baby, and the dusty table showed a square space, not assaulted by the dust, where the lamp had originally stood. As only a dying person can be mystified with unbelievable knowledge, she knew about the little boy, the woman with her spoiled tomatoes, the milkman and Ms. Francis. She knew about all the lost opportunities, and she knew about Mr. Goswami walking towards her house to check on her.
She knew this. So she worried. She worried that the unsettled dust on the table with the lamp would not be noticed. She worried that the lamp would not be checked. She worried that the engraved ring, with the man’s name on it, would remain unfound. She worried that this too, would be just another lost opportunity, like the little boy, like the woman with her spoiled tomatoes, like the milkman, like Ms. Francis, like her life, still flashing through her mind, as she took her last breath.