The journey, naturally, began with great fun and excitement. It was full of the promise of a beautiful part of the world, blessed by nature. Yet scooters were not dependable for long journeys. Before going far, the scooter stopped after losing a crucial nut.
The woman and the child got off the scooter first, and then the man. The scooter was heaved and pushed under the shade of a tree by the roadside. It was subjected to a thorough examination from the sides, along its length and vertically. A scooter that loses a nut certainly perplexes man.
The traveler, unlike a mechanic, could neither find the lost nut nor its erstwhile location. He wasted a lot of time tinkering with the scooter. The woman sulked as the boredom increased and leaned against the tree. The baby slept on her shoulder. Shifting the weight of the sleeping eighteen-month-old baby from her left shoulder to the right and back again, she flexed her arms.
‘Hold the baby,’ she requested the traveler who was lost in examining the nervous system of the scooter. He stared in silent fury at her for he was tired of trying to locate the place from where the nut had fallen off.
Sparks flew when their glances locked.
She shifted her baby yet again and gnashed her teeth.
Sweat ran off his forehead and neck and dripped on to the collar of his shirt. When he worked hard, he screwed up his face. He was a selfish boor. His face bore the same expression at the climax of the sexual act. She turned her face away in disgust.
He had laid the scooter on its side. When he tapped the cover of the engine, he was sickeningly reminded of her dry buttocks. She was thin, her cheek-bones and shoulder-blades pushed through her skin, her nails were chipped and worn and her heels were chapped—nowadays she was not fit to grace a beautiful bed. Wiping away the grease that had smeared his lips, he forcefully spat his distaste! What could he share with her? He could push her about and bang her up to have her, as he did this scooter that had lost its nut.
Lighting up his cigarette and resting his feet on the stomach of the scooter, he stared at her like a villain.
She was disturbed. Her feet were turning numb because of the weight of the child she was holding in her arms.
‘You can also share this weight.’ She declared with spite. She cursed the millions of sperms he had deposited in her, at times when they were not welcome.
In the heat of the day their glances gave off sparks.
A red Maruti car braked near the reposing scooter. His friends with puffy cheeks poked their heads out to hoot. Banging the car door shut, they circled the fallen scooter like phantoms from a fantasy tale. After two minutes she turned around hearing the scooter start and saw them clamber back into the car, dusting their hands. She saw him sit triumphantly like a conqueror atop the scooter, with spread legs.
The scooter sped along the paths that burned under the blazing sun. In to the travelers’ hearts crept the refreshingly cool mists of the blue mountains and green lakes as the scooter sped along the dusty paths. The sinews loosened as hope fluttered before them like a drove of yellow butterflies. The child dozed in the drowsiness of the sun, lulled by the hum of the scooter and the strong breeze generated by their movement. The memory of the beautiful place they meant to reach made her rest her arm seductively on his shoulder as she did at the start of the journey. He
was lost in the dream of the blue mountains drenched in mists when he turned his face slightly to rub her palm with his chin.
Scooters were however, unfit for long journeys.
After having speeded through fields of sugarcane, cemeteries and royal highways, the scooter ground to a stop before the steep incline of a hill, having lost a bolt. Holding the baby to her breast, the woman jumped off the scooter at a safe minute. After jerking the traveler about for a while, the scooter brushed against a tamarind tree by the roadside and clung to it.
The travelers gazed darkly at each other. He hissed at her as if she were the cause of the mishap and endeavored to find the position of the missing bolt. She found it difficult to maintain her balance on the steep incline of the hill, unable to sit or stand with her protesting baby. She shifted the weight of the child from one arm to the other but he was unable to locate the part that had lost the bolt.
‘Hold it.’ She angrily held out the baby to him.
‘Then will you repair the scooter?’ He asked, hitting the scooter with his fist. She grimaced terribly and laughed before saying,
‘Perhaps better than you.’
He stared at her, a spanner held loosely in his hand. He calculated the exact target on the right side of her brow, which he could hit when he threw the spanner. Perhaps the left cheekbone would be better. Hitting the engine cover with the spanner he overcame the temptation.
Then he began to slowly push the scooter uphill. As the hill was steep, he labored hard.
She felt contented when she saw him pushing the two-wheeler uphill, panting like a dog. This was a punishment for his domination of her in the public sphere. This was the revenge that she could exact for the long boring hours she spent in the locked flat among the wooden furniture gazing at each other, sitting, standing or lying. She could not repress the laughter and the delight of shedding off the boredom of thinking only about him, though she had analyzed the reasons for her anger. She laughed aloud.
Fighting for breath, panting and puffing to push the scooter up the steep incline, he was startled, on turning around, to see her point to him, as she would at a comedian. She laughed, her head thrown back, and he saw the child extend its own little finger in a gesture imitative of its mother. He recognized in the crazy and unbridled laughter, the repressed anger and cruelty that she harbored against him.
He remembered that she laughed wholeheartedly only when he brought home things that he invested in through installment schemes. He felt laughter welling up in him when he thought about the reason why he went in for the installment schemes. Often it was because he preferred to look at the new things that he bought rather than at her, and because he found more pleasure in the objects he got on installment than in the sex with her. He laughed aloud in glee and sarcasm when he remembered how he had acquired the scooter, the TV, the fridge, the almirah, the bed and even the mattress through installments and how, unknown to her he had hidden in the depths of the box, the registration deed of the land in his name. Pointing his finger at her and the child, he too laughed out aloud. They created the picture of a happy family in the eye of the public. The steep incline of the road made them lose their balance. The scooter slipped out of his hold. The child also fell. They looked at each other with dislike.
In the heat of the noon day sun, their glances sparked fire.
The child wailed. Neither she nor he spared it a thought. He was pulling up the scooter, with all his strength.
The steepness of the hill made it difficult for him. She walked proudly up to him as if on a momentous, final occasion. She lifted the scooter by the carrier and held it steady. Smirking with satiric contempt, she pushed the scooter uphill glorying at her easy conquest of the steepness that threatened their balance.
He was enraged at the small victory she had over the scooter. Pointing at the child who was tottering after her, crying aloud, he roared.
‘Carry the child, you . . . ’
Proudly, she turned around. The child was weeping and clinging to his legs. She turned her face away and toiled to push the scooter up the hill.
Swiftly he pushed the child away and stopped her with all his strength.
Their hatred spilled on to the tug of war, at the centre of which was the scooter. It was pulled in two directions and almost flattened by the pressure that they exerted and stopped it from moving an inch either way.
A madly rushing Bullet (The Royal Enfield motorbike) that was coming downhill at a thousand horsepower, ground to a halt by them. It was a priest who stepped off the bullet—a priest who wore gumboots, faded jeans and the cut-off frock of his order, with dark sunglasses and with his beard and hair flying in the wind. He stared, wonderingly, at them for two minutes. Then he propped the Bullet against the tamarind tree and picked up the baby. Silently he handed the baby to the mother and lifted the scooter easily to the top of the hill. In another two minutes he had tightened the bolt and sped away once more at a thousand horsepower on his mad Bullet.
The scooter rushed past the straight paths. Though the scooter was troubled by the heat, the dust and the strong wind, the senses of the woman were excited by her locks that fluttered in the breeze, the stiffness of her pallu that cackled and by the wild fragrance that emanated from the back of his neck. As they speeded past the crowded thoroughfares of the city, she hooked her arms around his shoulders to excite the envy of girls. The traveler was caught in the dream of the crystal clear lakes that penetrated the heat like a fine shower. He turned his face to rub his stubbled chin on her palm.
Scooters are however undependable for long journeys.
Before they reached the hoped for destination, the scooter began to lose fuel. The scooter careered alarmingly as it leaked the terribly smelly fuel. She realized what was happening before he did. When she saw people holding their noses and starting back, and dogs sniffing the leaking fuel and chasing after them, she squirmed in embarrassment. As the smell became sickening, the child retched. She felt that she would throw up any minute. He too was no different. He was dizzy at the stench. ‘From which cursed gas station did you fill it up?’ she yelled piercingly into his ear. The stench of the fuel confused him. He remembered the
smiling boy at the gas station, from where he usually filled up the fuel. He resolved to ask him if petrol ever smelt like a rat that was putrefying. He decided to stop the vehicle by a shady tree to examine it. Holding the pallu to her nose and clasping the child to her, she jumped off.
Wrapping his handkerchief around his nose, he bent down to examine the scooter. An unbearable hatred and self-disdain gripped him. The putrefied uterus of the scooter continued to leak.
Wherever he touched, its organs grew tender, lost its skin and stuck to his hand. In fear, he grabbed the handlebar. Like a broken wrist, it slid into his hand. Yellow with fear, he flung it away. Dogs gathered around him and the scooter and howled.
She squatted on a culvert well away from him. The child slept on her lap. She considered him, the scooter and the dogs as part of a bad experience of a nightmare.
The green lakes, the blue mountains, the mist and the blessed coolness are the only reality. She longed to lean against the green blanket that spilled over after spreading over the mountains. She stared without blinking at the vehicles that raced apart leaving a trail of dust in their wake. She was like a leaf that was swirling in the maelstrom of hope.
She longed to ask the young men, who raced past in shiny new Hero Hondas for a lift to the land of the lakes.
She thought that if the Honda stopped, she would wrap her arm about the young man on the Hero Honda even as the traveler looked on and would go on her way cheerfully.
Like a putrefying mole, the scooter lay on the side of the road. Seeing her terrible face in the melting mirror, he stepped back, startled. Walking backward away from her, he sat, holding his head, leaning against the roots of a tree, some distance away. The dogs began to lick the scooter and tear it apart. At times they raised their faces to the sky to howl.
From the teashops and the houses nearby, holding their noses, people came out to find the source of the stench. They clamored for they were sure that the source of the terrible odor was a dead and decaying mole.
‘Hey, you have to take it away.’ They shouted at him. He did not lift his face. He wondered how he had become the owner of their foul thing. More people arrived. They grew more and more angry.
‘That is not mine,’ he murmured.
‘It is not mine either.’ Turning her face away in hatred, she too
‘Then, is it ours?’ The people were furious. They pushed and
pulled the travelers to their scooter. Before they could escape, they lifted the corpse of the scooter that was decayed and falling apart on to their heads.
Their faces were besmirched with the foul smelling liquid that seeped out of the putrefying flesh of the scooter. They wept and retched. Their eyes started out of their sockets in fear. Dogs howled and gathered about them. Crying and retching, they moved forward. The people laughed approvingly at the traveler, the woman and the child.
“Scooter” (Mounathinte Naanarthangal. Ed. N.K. Raveendran.
Thrissur: Haritham Books, 1993: 51-60), translated by Hema Nair R.