She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf. ..
Mitra thought of the first time that she had come here. Two or more years ago. Rohan had been with her, a reluctant companion. Boys of his age didn’t really like accompanying mothers to coffee shops, even if it was Starbucks. But she had wanted to give him a treat for his birthday and spend some ‘quality’ time with her son. Having to work six days a week she didn’t get much time for that, and when she did she was usually too tired. Besides to pay so much for a cup of coffee...well normally she wouldn’t have but she really had needed to indulge herself.
Rohan… let’s have a cup of coffee. She had brought him to the mall on the pretext of having to buy something.
Ok, he said, a bit surprised, let’s go to the food court on top – too expensive here.
No we’ll have it here. It’s not always we go to places like these.
Rohan shrugged, well don’t say I didn’t warn you. It’s no use being impulsive and then worrying that we spend too much.
She had been a bit disappointed that he wasn’t thrilled over her taking him to Starbucks. But then come to think of it, he had always been like that practical and not very emotional.
He had grown into a handsome boy, she thought. Quite like his father had been, tall lanky with a curly mop of hair. And that impish smile. That was what she had liked about Suresh first, that smile. Of course soon after her marriage, that smile faded away, well at least when looking at her, she mused. He remained quite the charmer to many others.
The divorce was on mutual grounds, as the marriage had become nasty to both. She didn’t want alimony; just her son, and she thought that Suresh too didn’t mind as long as he could see his son when he wanted. She had to give it to him... he wasn’t a vindictive person. He didn’t give her any problems with the custody issue; and what’s more, just as she had expected, he wasn’t too attached to Rohan, then just five, either, which meant that she didn’t have any emotional tug of wars with him over the boy.
But she had had to fend for herself and Rohan and she had done as good as she could. She thought she had until a year back that is. When Rohan suddenly grew up and decided that he was making all his decisions himself.
It had started out with a shirt that she had bought for him. Full sleeves, light blue in colour with dark blue pinstripes. The material was some sort of mixed cotton, and she was sure it would last a year at least. Besides she liked him in blue.
He had come home that evening after a sweaty game of football. And she had sent him straight to the bath. Afterwards when he sat at the small dining table at the corner of the living room just next to the kitchen door sipping the glass of tea she had made for him, she popped the shirt onto his lap.
Here, hope you like it.
She watched as he opened the package with bright eyes only to see his eyes squint in a weird expression when he unfolded the shirt. He lifted it, then turned it front to back, and unbuttoned it and slipped his hands into the sleeves.
Mom, no one wears such shirts anymore! He said in an exasperated tone. It reaches down to my knees, and it looks like something out of Uncle Mohans wardrobe.
Mohan was her cousin on the wrong side of sixties and quite obviously Rohan was saying that this shirt was old fashioned.
But Rohan, I bought it at the large store next to the old market street; you know the one where you said your friend had bought a shirt last week.
Mom, I’ve told you time and again please let me buy my own clothes, I am not a boy anymore. I have my own taste, and for Godssake don’t do this again.
He pulled the shirt out from his body and threw it on to the sofa as if it were some horrible arthropod that had clung to him and stormed out of the room. Just before he shut the door of his bedroom he turned, lifted his hands in a manner that reminded her vaguely of someone who used to do it similar and said,
Mom, please stop making decisions for me.
Next day she took him to the store and exchanged the shirt for one of his liking. She knew he had a point here but somewhere his words had pulled a string and broken it too.
Her ego had hurt when he had said those words. His father had said the same too, she remembered pretty well the fight, the place, the context. It was the day that she had cancelled his train ticket to Belgaum where his mother lived.
But you are not well, you had a raging fever all through the night. How can I let you go?
But my mom isn’t well either, I have to go. Don’t take my decisions for me Mitra. I don’t like it.
But Rohan and I will be alone. She had tried to argue but..
Its only for a night. And you have been alone with Rohan before. It just is that you don’t like my mother, admit it.
Well there was no arguing with that. She had hated her mother in law. And yes it had coloured her decision to cancel his tickets.
Now it was Rohans turn to call her bossy and impulsive.
It was from that day on that she had noticed that Rohan was being defiant and difficult. He started coming in late after college. When he came in, he was quite loving in behaviour and still asked about her day, but he would not really account for all the time he had spent away from her from the time he had left for college in the morning.
Finally when she found a few strange costumes in his room, he told her that he was participating in a drama fest in college. She was pleased that he was involved in arty pursuits. You didn’t tell me, she accused him.
Sorry mom, I thought you would make a fuss.
Then Rohan started leaving earlier which meant that he hardly had time for breakfast and would not take lunch.
Mom, I’ll be working at the supermarket on Court Road from tomorrow. Just evenings.
Working, but what about college?
What about it? Rohan asked in a puzzled tone. After college hours, mom. I don’t want to trouble you for my small expenses.
It was not that she wasn’t glad that the boy understood that he had to earn a living, and she was proud of it too, but what Mitra couldn’t digest was that he hadn’t consulted her before making a decision. Her pride didn’t allow her to tell him that. So she swallowed her protest and said:
Oh that is good! How much will they pay you? Just as any proud mother would have.
So, days went by with Mitra spending all her time alone. She would wake up early in the two bedroom apartment that she had purchased with a loan which she was still paying back. An 800 sq feet apartment which was quite a luxury for someone of her means. It was tastefully decorated with a coffee brown three piece sofa against the wall above which she had hung a painting. The other wall had a dining table for four. Sparse but tasteful, she thought.
She hadn’t love Suresh, not ever. In the beginning she had thought she did, but he was too practical and carefree for her. She liked emotional men… the ones that hugged you once in a while and looked into your eyes. But one can’t choose emotional types in arranged marriages. He was handsome and well-mannered when he came to see her so she had agreed, and he had agreed to her match obviously for the same reasons. She was good looking, employed and well mannered
Problem with arranged matches are that they don’t account for interactive reactions. Maybe it would have been different if one of them had been submissive. That Mitra was not, and neither was Suresh. And well neither was Rohan.
During the past year Rohans private life had increased. He was out of the house most of the time. He brought home groceries and stores sometimes. He had even purchased a sari for her on her birthday.
But she knew he was not her little boy anymore.
Once in a while, well at least once a week he would come home drunk. Mitra had a strong nose for Abnormal Smells and this one just rushed into her nose and brain as soon as it opened the front door.
Rohan, you are dru…
No mom I am not, I’ve had a few but I am not drunk. Just go back to sleep. Don’t worry.
Mom, please leave me alone. Or I’ll move out.
He had raised his voice.
This left her quite perplexed. She had no idea what had brought on that threat, but she knew that he didn’t make lame threats. So she didn’t say anything about it. Once or twice, she had made vague comments of people going astray with alcohol, not to mention the ill effects on health. But being the clever boy that he was Rohan didn’t say anything. He hated scenes. He chose to ignore her and that annoyed and worried her even more.
She didn’t have any real friends to confide in. Besides how can you crib about your own son, so she kept it to herself.
This morning she had been picking up the clothes in his room when she decided that she would arrange his wardrobe. And then she had pulled out the clothes.
The first lot fell on the floor with a metallic sound.
Mitra looked and what did she see. It was a blood stained knife, with a stained white kerchief round its handle. The stains seemed fresh.
She didn’t touch it. She didn’t even move. What was Rohan doing with this knife, or what did the knife have to do with Rohan. And the blood?
She felt like her whole world was crumbling from under her feet. She had heard him come back last night, quite late, but she didn’t go to him, fearing his censure. He had left early too.
She was sweating profusely, by now and she sat on the floor beside the knife. She didn’t know for how long she sat there like that.
Her mind had woven scenes of street fights, that had a bloody ending. Or perhaps it had been a drunken brawl… She didn’t know what to do. Finally she got up and dialled his number on the mobile. But he cut the call immediately. She tried again. He had switched it off.
She had picked up the knife with a scarf that had been in Rohans wardrobe. She wondered how her blue scarf (Suresh’s gift) had reached there for a fleeting instant but then who cared… the knife, it was the knife that was important.
She just sat there in his room. After some time he rang her back. She waited a few seconds before answering? How would she put it to him? She didn’t know. Mitra picked up the phone.
But she didn’t have to say anything.. He said everything.
Mom I am very busy today, I won’t be coming home today. Mom, can you come to the Starbucks café at the mall, where we went last time? I’ll see you there in an hour.
He didn’t give her a chance to say or ask anything.
She looked at the time. Seven o clock. She picked up the knife with the white stained cloth which had stuck to it, and then wrapped it in her scarf.
She put it in her bag, and then set out to the mall. It would be early but going there would keep her mind otherwise occupied, wiping out the blood stains at least for a while,
She sat there in the cafe, sipping her coffee waiting for him. She had taken out the knife, carefully and placed it there so that she could ask her son calmly without fumbling inside her bag, when he came. She made sure she wasn’t attracting any attention.
There was a young couple at one table and a single man a few tables away. She hoped they wouldn’t notice the tears in her eyes. Perhaps she had failed in giving him a good upbringing that he had landed in trouble.
She had looked at her watch umpteen times by the time he came with his shoulder bag, packed with God knows what and sat down with a thump.
You’ll have coffee won’t you. Mitra asked stifling the urge to blurt out the question.
No mom, just thought this was convenient as I have been at Larry’s house rehearsing…The play is on tomorrow, you’ll come won’t you.
Mitra couldn’t wait any longer. She began: Rohan…
Hey Mom, where did you find this silk scarf, it was in my cupboard wasn’t it? Saying that, he pulled the scarf from under which slipped the knife onto his lap.
Mom, what are you doing with this knife? And why did you bring it with you?
She looked about – no, no one was looking, She looked at him with eyes and mouth both open wide. She didn’t understand. He didn’t seem the least bit remorseful about a crime committed.
Why did I bring the knife? She whispered in a hoarse voice, Why I brought the knife? What is the knife doing at home in the first place.?
Why? Rohan send in a squeaky voice which she knew meant that he was getting irritated.
Mom, I brought it home last night…
I guessed as much, Mitra said.
How did it happen?
What? Rohan asked. And then his expression changed – it was a strange one, a mixture of surprise, amusement.
Mom, for heaven’s sake, I haven’t killed anyone. Its a stage prop- that I’m using in my play. I forgot to take it this morning.
A tear dropped from Mitras eyes, as Rohan went on – Mom you are the most silly mom I’ve ever seen. You don’t trust me, and you believe the worst about me.
Mitra wasn’t really listening. She took the last sip from her cup and just kept looking at him.
Maybe he was right. I do have a wild imagination.
I’m not a bad mom after all.