Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (43)

The storm clouds were heavy enough to create the appearance of dusk as Ramani’s neighbours returned from their trip to the market, a visit cut short in anticipation of the impending storm. Somewhat alarmed to see her pathetic figure curled up in a ball on their front doorstep, the husband rushed towards her, almost tripping in the process. “Kenapa, Ramani? What’s up?” Mournfully, the kampung beauty looked up at him and swallowed, before sobbing: “I don’t know… I just have this awful feeling that something’s wrong with my boy.” Her eyes were wetter than the sky. “I would really like to try and reach him by phone, just to check that he’s OK… If you don’t mind, of course.” A tear rolled down the velvet skin of her cheek. “Of course not. Come. Come on in,” the wife insisted, taking control of the situation. “Here.” She ushered Ramani to a small table just inside the door, atop which sat an old bakelite telephone receiver. Rushing to fetch a towel for Ramani to dry herself with, she gave her neighbour a brief smile of encouragement as she disappeared inside the house. Ramani’s hand shook as she struggled to retrieve a small scrap of paper from her purse, on which the number was written. It seemed to take an age for the old dial to return to zero after each digit was swept around, but eventually the sequence was complete. Then, after a brief silence, she could hear the telephone she knew was fixed to the wall beside her son’s newsstand purring in the earpiece. “It’s ringing,” she whispered to herself, in confirmation.

With quickening breaths, Ramani pictured the scene at the other end of the line as the phone continued to ring. Her thoughtful son had, in his letters to her, faithfully painted every detail of his workplace and described the people with whom he commonly interacted. She knew about the portly Tukang Warung, the man who had first given him a break, and the garrulous driver with whom he would strike up conversation whenever the man’s boss – an army Captain, apparently – chose to dine at Sate Blora, the restaurant that abutted Anath’s stall. He had mentioned the infirm old lady to whom he provided a free daily read and a host of other, bit part players that formed the fabric of his daily existence in the capital. But Anath had kept from her the darker side of some of his experiences – in particular those involving the uniformed man. Ramani knew nothing of his growing fear that the regular encounters he was obliged to have with the Captain would one day, perhaps soon, descend into a violent clash, when he could no longer control the anger that welled up inside him every time he was taunted by the heartless army man.

In the earpiece, the phone continued to ring. “No answer. There’s no one picking it up,” she said miserably to herself. Panic was now beginning to grip her, clutching at her throat. Her words were barely audible, scratched out through constricted vocal chords. Hands trembling, Ramani dialled again, in the vain hope that by expending the extra effort, a different outcome would somehow result. Anath… come on… answer, please! she begged, inwardly. But still there was only a ringing tone in her ear. Slowly, she began to lower the receiver back into its cradle, only to quickly lift it again. She was sure she had heard a crackle, something. But sadly, there it was again: the monotonous sound of a telephone ringing. Of no one bothering to answer it. Ramani put her hands to her face and wiped away her tears. Taking a deep breath, her eyes staring absently into the distance, she resolved to act. “I must go to him,” she said, as her neighbour then returned with a towel for her. She took it without expression before wiping around her face and neck. “Something’s wrong. I know it. Why didn’t he answer the phone? It’s supposed to be just beside his newsstand, attached to the wall. He must have heard it.” The woman attempted to calm her with an obvious platitude: maybe he was taking a break – could that be it? “Why not try again in a few minutes, after you’ve had a glass of hot tea?” she then offered, kindly. But Ramani was gone, calling out her thanks as she pelted through the door, rushing back to her modest dwelling in order to pack something simple in an overnight bag before making her way to the terminus to take the next available bus to the city, and her boy.

posted by Kirk at 12:50 am  

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