Gotsy rinsed the dishes early in the morning. So early, in fact, that the moon still shone outside. It peeped through the large guava tree and sweated moonshine in the humid dawn. His father would soon wake up and ask for his oats and jaggery. To this, he would add a quarter spoon of cinnamon powder. Then he would sneeze twice before slurping the whole bowl. Finally, he would belch and sleep off again. His father was ninety-seven years old and this routine had been a gift he’d given himself when he turned seventy. Gotsy turned seventy today. He wondered what gift he should give himself.
“Happy birthday, Gotsy”, came his father’s gruff voice as he sat down at the table.
“You remembered?” Gotsy was surprised. He laid out the large blue cereal bowl, the mint green spoon and the yellow jar of honey. If old age is the coming of the second childhood, Gotsy and dad certainly had the cutlery for it.
“Well, I had it written on my calendar.”
“Which you haven’t changed since the last four years.”
“Interestingly, your birthday falls on the same day each year.”
They ate their breakfast in silence. Gotsy’s father brought out a musty packet of flavoured tea leaves which they brewed together and sipped companionably. His father read out a little bit from the day’s newspaper and then yawned.
“Go to bed, Papa.”
“Are you sure? We can play cards on your birthday, if you want...or we can go for a walk by the pond. I can shuffle along.”
“No, its fine, Papa. I will go to the post office and get some potatoes and radish on the way back.”
“Yes. That should be a good lunch.”
His father shuffled back inside. Gotsy rinsed the dishes again and kept them away. He got dressed and wore his pale yellow shirt that Lillian had gifted him on his fortieth. It had a tiny rip near the cuff but it still looked nice. Brought out the colour in his eyes, she’d say.
On his way out, he took the house keys. He also ignored the blue pills lying next to them. “It’s my birthday. No need for them today”, he thought.
Outside the sun shone even though the world was soft and grey. The roads were dusty but full of cars and people and children and dogs. They looked like props. Like the filaments of hallucination he was supposed to be taking medication for. “You’re a cruel, cruel thing,” he thought squinting up at the sun.
“Can we go to the pond today, Gotsy?” his father looked up from the game of chess he was playing with himself. Gotsy tuned his guitar in the corner. He would have preferred to give it to the shop but it had raised the prices and the new owner didn’t extend any favours anymore.
“Why? What’s today?”
“Today’s a good day to go to the pond, that’s all.”
“It’s far, Papa. And it’s getting cold now. You won’t be able to walk there.”
“So? Let’s go by car.”
Gotsy looked up in alarm. Why his father never understood that a teacher’s pension never went far was beyond him.
“Waste petrol to go to a pond on a day that isn’t special?” he asked.
He really would have put his foot down had he not seen his father tie a hideous purple scarf around his head. He looked like a grape. A fat one, too, with his pout and puffed cheeks.
“Fine”, said Gotsy, getting the car keys. People are such children, he thought.
Gotsy spotted a dead sparrow in the yard. It lay small, brown and stiff – looking like a clump of the same textured earth it would soon decompose into. He dug a small hole and buried it. He looked around for a flower or a bloom of some sort to put on top of the mound. A small token, a little respect, for an inconsequential life lost in his backyard. There were no blossoms around but a wilted carnation was stuck in a barbed wire. Gotsy reached for it.
“A dead flower for a dead bird, eh? That’s kind!” his father chuckled through his bedroom window.
“I can’t find any flowers”, hollered Gotsy. What his father had said had crossed his mind. But one does best with what one finds.
“Get a leaf. A nice big, thick one. Take that one – it looks like it has oil colours mangled in sunlight all over it.”
So Gotsy did that. He got a glossy leaf from the nearby bush and laid it tenderly on the mound. He went in to get started on dinner only to find his father brewing a large pot of something.
“Beef”, said his father.
“Beef? Where did the beef come from?” Again, alarm bells started ringing in Gotsy’s head. The butcher was a miser and meat was expensive. Lines of credit did not run with him.
“It’s the butcher’s birthday today. I told him he was born on the same day as Napoleon. Made him happy, I guess. He gave me a couple of pounds.”
“They aren’t the best cuts. But it will be a good stew with the radish we had leftover from day before.”
Gotsy washed his hands and face. It was a special dinner with an expensive meat. Seemed the sparrow’s death had more ceremony than his own birthday from the day before. Never mind. He changed into his pale yellow linen shirt.
“Do you miss Lillian?” His father had noticed the shirt.
“It’s a good shirt.” Gotsy spooned some broth and beef cubes in his father’s bowl.
“Yes. I miss your mother also sometimes. You miss people who leave.”
Gotsy didn’t say anything. Not everyone leaves the same way. His mother had died.
Gotsy watched a single orange leaf float down the pond. The pond was pink and flecked with the green of the willow hanging above it. The orange leaf stood out like a single note of melody in a silent room.
His father was getting more and more stubborn by the day. He wanted to go for long walks now. Above the hill, out to the meadows where he’d been to school. This was not the weather. Gotsy was not that healthy son either – who could accompany his father in this very arduous task. His knees had started swelling up and raking leaves in the yard was hard. He was just about able to make the oats at the crack of dawn.
He opened his palms and saw the blue pills.
He really should have them before it was too late.
Above, the sun turned peach and golden. It would set soon.
How many lifetimes does a sun watch end? Not once does it waver though. Not once does it feel sad and full. For the sun, how does the music never stop?
He looked up at the sun. It seems to have a stoic, tough heart.
Gotsy’s father had had enough of the oats. He wanted eggs today. “Where do I get the eggs from now?” asked Gotsy. The sun had not yet come up and the nearest grocer would open his shop only a few hours later.
“I don’t want oats. I want something rich.” his father pouted.
His father had now taken to wearing the purple scarf around his head in the house too – and through the night it seems. He went about looking like an irritable grape.
“Can I make some toast instead? I’ll put lots of butter on it. It will be rich.”
Gotsy’s father nodded. He used to love the butter-soaked bread Mother used to make. So Gotsy got to work. Some insects croaked and the sharp scent of wild flowers came through the kitchen. He sliced large wedges of farm-bread and buttered up both sides with a heavy spoon. Then he toasted them on a pan. When they turned brown like the wood on the trees, he added a couple of spoons of sugar and raisins on the crusty top. He finished off with serving bottled stewed apricots on the side.
“This is so good, Gotsy! It will kill me – all this butter – but it’s so nice.”
“Butter will kill you and it will get you back from the dead.” Gotsy patted his father’s arm.
His father laughed so hard that he shook and spilled tea on the table.
“You got your mother’s skills for food.”
The sugar had been Lillian’s touch, though. She had loved sugar. The beads on the hem of her wedding dress had sparkled like bits of sugar. The snow on the trees outside the church was like ivory candyfloss. Their wedding had had a sweet beginning.
Gotsy’s father asked for a second helping of the toast. It was all finished but Gotsy simply buttered a remaining slice and served it with the apricot. His father ate that too.
The he slept the whole day.
Gotsy did not feel like waking up the next day. His father could eat his honey and yoghurt from the night before. Gotsy’s neck and legs ached so he tried to massage them himself as best as he could. The calves were sore and the cold seemed to have set into every little hollow of his bones. From his father’s room, he could hear the strains of the lyre. His father tuned his lyre today so that he could play it for Sebastian’s son’s wedding tomorrow.
Gotsy wondered whether Sebastian would allow his father to do that. The last time his father had played that old lyre, it was nearly fifty years ago at his wedding. It was so out of tune that it had caused unseasonal rain.
Gotsy knew that he was unwilling to wake up now because of what he was avoiding. His hands searched below the nest of pillows he slept on. Those blue pills still lay there.
He rolled them between his fingers. Outside he could hear his father shuffle about. He heard his gruff cough, the noisy way in which he handled the kettle.
If he took the blue pills, all that would be gone.
The blue pills would take away his hallucination. The blue pills would take away his father.
The sun continued to rise. Gotsy got teary eyed and took the blanket over his head.
“Gotsy! Do you want your tea now?”
“No Papa. Later.”
“Okay”. The lyre got strung outside.
People said that Sebastian’s son had unconventional views because of the fever he had contracted in Mexico. As a result, he had wanted an early nuptial ceremony in the barn. Gotsy and his father were the first to arrive. While Gotsy had worn his old marriage suit that hung loose on him, his father filled out his own attire very well. He was very cheerful and on the way to the barn, had spoken of the various melodies he’d play on the lyre.
“What makes you think they will ask you?” mumbled Gotsy.
“Sebastian will insist, I know. They all love it when I play ‘Daffodil Dances’. It sounds like someone is tapping on the stars.”
“Tapping on the stars sounds good because that happens very far away.” Gotsy giggled.
“Hah! They won’t leave me until I’ve played each piece five times!”
The ceremony went off beautifully. It was dark and cold in the barn but there were chilli red votives on the table, shedding spicy warm glow all around. Sebastian cried into his large white hanky when the couple exchanged vows. Later cream cheese and wine was had by all.
“Gotsy! Gotsy!” someone cried out when Gotsy prepared to leave.
It was Sebastian.
“Where are you going, Gotsy? I see you have your lyre. Play for us.”
Gotsy turned pink. “No, no...I just...it’s nothing. Papa had told me to take it along whenever there’s a wedding – so that the couple has good luck.”
“I know. But your father would have loved to play it. He wasn’t even very good.” Sebastian stopped to chuckle softly. “But you are so good! You must play.”
So Gotsy had to play.
But first he asked for a glass of wine. He gulped it quickly with the blue pills that had travelled with him for so long now. He saw his father move from the front row to the back. With the first strains of ‘Daffodil Dances’, his father became a little hazy. By the time, the audience clapped and asked him for an encore, his father had floated away somewhere like pollen to the stars.
A mellow sun started to shine through.
He looked up. “Bring it on”, Gotsy thought and played the song again.