Her laces were worn out, duller than the pale blue of her shoe. She looked at them in disgusted haste, reminding herself that she needed to save up to buy a fresh pair soon. This time she would opt for a black one, so that she wouldn’t have to bother spending on a new one again.
The darkness of the black would hide the harsh wear and tear that her shoes were being put through each day. If life could reveal anything blacker than black, it would have to be hell. And Lekha wasn’t going down there yet.
Yes, she was ageing with day, had retired years ago and currently, found it hard to make ends meet; but unlike her friends, who had already suffered a handicap or two, she could still walk. And that’s what she did every morning, sharp at 5.
Lekha would leave home daily, skipping the ginger tea made by their Maharaj (cook). She loved tea, but giving up on what she enjoyed most, seemed like a piecemeal offering to her son, who would time and again remind her that she owed him for the roof above her head.
They were a rich family, but not her. She lost everything when her husband died. Now, it was just the measly pension that kept her going. Lekha never asked her son for money, he never bothered giving. He fed her twice a day, and his job ended there.
She rushed out, just five minutes before 5. In October, the sun rose a little later than it did in August. It reminded her that winter would be here soon.
A few hurried, rapid steps and she would get there. Their home was just a stone’s throw away from the bay. They couldn’t see it from their window, but its salty breeze found a way inside always, corroding their cast iron shelves. It was a nice home, she thought; it had come down to her husband from his father, and all these years, she had nurtured it well.
It barely took ten minutes to get to the seaside. The flailing waves of the Arabian Sea were welcoming, more welcoming than the home, she had once cared for.
When she reached the asphalt stretch, she persevered, dragging her feet with quickened pace. They would be waiting for her opposite the monstrosity of glass and concrete – the InterContinental, an odd spectacle on the stretch of simple, yet telling buildings from Bombay’s past.
She wasn’t late. They were still there when she came. They wouldn’t go anywhere for the next one hour. But it always felt good to be on time. One of them – Kerson – was in a wheelchair and his servant brought him here everyday; the others could walk fairly well, though Shradha complained that arthritis was getting the better of her. And Domnic wore knee pads now; every time they asked him why, he would say in his typical Goan English accent, “Looks cool men. Don’t you think?”
When Lekha arrived, the circle was complete. They didn’t ask her much and instead joined hands. Shradha, who lead the group, chanted something, and they all bent forward; soon enough they were all howling, laughing heartily.
The passersby looked unperturbed. It was a regular scene, played out at the bay daily: Old people having a merry time.
The constable had picked on them the first time they did it. But Shradha had interrupted, “Laughter yoga…you can’t take us to jail.”
An hour later, they were done. Some left for home, while a few like Lekha would head down for a walk on the same stretch. She would only go back home at 8, after drinking tea at a stall near their house.
Today, Kerson stopped her.
“Lekha, can you drop me home. Raju won’t be coming, so I would need help.”
Kerson, a 75 year old Parsee, lived in her neighbourhood. They rarely spoke at the yoga sessions and even otherwise, so Lekha was amused that he asked her for help.
“Please,” he requested again.
Since they lived in the same compound, it would just seem wrong to say no. So, she agreed.
The drive by the street was smooth, though she had a feeling that people were throwing them curious glances. Two old couple, one on a wheelchair, the other one happily driving him along. She was probably just conscious, so she ignored them.
“I see you drink chai at the stall daily,” Kerson said, breaking her thoughts.
“Yes, I like the tea there,” she said, sounding more than just curt.
Kerson realised that he was infringing upon some unspoken territory. They did not speak after that.
When they reached his building, she saw Raju stand outside anxiously.
“Sir I was worried,” he said. Kerson beamed a calm smile.
Raju politely took over from Lekha, and pushed the chair up the slope that had been specially built for Kerson. Lekha stood there awkwardly, not knowing whether to say bye or just leave.
When Kerson made it to the platform, she silently moved ahead.
Noticing her leave, Kerson called out, “Lekha, wait.”
“Raju’s made piping hot ginger tea…” he cast a knowing look at his servant, and hesitantly added,“…for both of us.”