The Old Man
Lingampally village, Telangana, India
Four Years Ago
The large wooden gate, with its arched top built into the compound wall, stood open all day. This gave the customers of the Seenu Cellphone Repair and Ration Shop a direct view into its courtyard.
The daughter-in-law hated that door open, which was reason enough to keep it that way. At his age, there were few things that brought a man joy.
At the thought of joy, grief spiked. It was not right that a man be dependent on the charity of a woman. A daughter-in-law, at that. Agitation roiled. Faster and faster his wooden rocker went.
A slight figure stepped cautiously over the six-inch wooden threshold of the gate.
The old man’s nostrils flared in disgust at the girl-child. This was what the son he’d loved had left behind.
Eyes lowered, the girl walked across the cobbled courtyard, her movements deliberate.
The old man’s lips tightened, the surrounding skin wrinkling and bunching. He stopped rocking as words, unsaid, agitated in his head like clothes in that piece of machinery the daughter-in-law had splurged money on. What had the world come to when a man could not lay down the law in his own home?
Why couldn’t his son have left behind a place for his parents to call their own? A bank account on which to live? A male heir to cushion their final years? The old man’s living situation left him too humiliated to hold up his head around family, let alone friends. For this he had cut off relations, cut off friendships, cut off his tongue. How else was a man to rein in the words that begged to spew forth?
The girl unslung her bag, quietly placing it next to the hand-pump, and glanced up at the veranda, at her grandfather.
The old man did not react. Show her affection, and the next thing you know, she’s all grown up and married, returning to her marital home sobbing because her in-laws were pressuring her for more dowry.
He resumed his rocking.
Feet washed of grime, sandals carefully lined up against the other slippers in the courtyard, the girl climbed the three steps up to the veranda, past her grandfather, and into the dank interiors of the house the old man was forced to call his own.