by Muhsina. K. Ismail

The sky was huddled with greyish white clouds. Bright yellow sunlight was prickling Thamanna’s eyes. She drew the curtain blinds. Still, patches of yellow light appeared on a pillow, on the plastic foldable bookshelf, and on the yellow board printed with fruits and animals fitted on her abandoned toddler study table.
Thamanna was waiting for her daughter to come home that day. She was married to a Tamilian, Shankar, and was settled in Chennai. Even though she had enquired her daughter a million times on the phone about her son-in-law’s favourite food, she was confused the moment she woke up from sleep. Didn’t she tell me that he liked dosa more than idly? Or was it the other way around? What about curry? tomato chutney or sambar?’ It seemed to her that she had never talked to Kajol on phone.
She gave instructions to Gita regarding the lunch recipes and dinner preparations.
‘ I should be careful while cooking fried rice and Chicken Manchurian. Shankar uploaded the video of the same last week. It was the best recipe I have ever heard. Even better than Kamal dada’s.’ Thamanna calculated the amount of onion and capsicums she had to buy from the supermarket while she was watering her Nerium plant on the veranda. She tried to recollect the list of things to do after she got back from the supermarket. Her checklist seemed longer than she could memorise. She felt that she had already forgotten two to three things to do from the list.
Sweating, she walked to the nearby hypermarket determined to buy a couple of churidars for her daughter in addition to the groceries.
‘ Last time, people were goggling at her when she wore her shots and went to Ramu chettan’s shop.’
The sky turned dark all of a sudden. Thamanna looked in time to see a couple of clouds huddling to form a black carpet on her. Drops of water had already started to fall.  She felt that the raindrops were pricking her skin. Leaving the cloth bag behind, she ran through the road. Cars stopped. People stared.
Trembling, she knocked at the door. Gita opened the door after five minutes. Gita was prepared to hear,
“ Gita, why are you late? How long I have been here, waiting?”
But instead, Thamanna collapsed into the floor. Frightened at the incident, Gita asked their neighbors for help. They took Thamanna to the taluk hospital.
After examining Thamanna, the doctor prescribed medicines. Worried, Kajol enquired what her mom’s problem was. When she heard the doctor’s words, she was shocked.
Water rushed through the roads swallowing everything that it touched, swirling, whirling at the edges to find new paths, reluctant to wait for the doors to open, gushing out of the buildings to form a single mass.
Thamanna looked down through the window bars to assess the situation. The yellow, orange, and red streaks in the sky suggested that the sun may sink into the depth at any time. She knew that it would be dark afterward. Complete darkness.
The lights went off. Thamanna searched for her phone on the table. She stumbled through the living room knocking down her daughter’s Janga blocks.
“ Amma, karandu varille ?”
Her daughter had started wailing.
“ Pedikkenda. Ipo varum. ” While trying to switch on the flashlight of her phone, she noticed that the battery was about to die.
Complaining about the prickling heat and the buzzing mosquitoes, the kid made shadow puppets on the wall. They waited for ten minutes before enquiring the security about the power cut.
The whooshing sound of wind peeped through the window pales. Raindrops sprayed and splashed.
“ Ma’am, almost the whole city is out of electricity. We are in the hall upstairs. The fifth shutter of Idukki dam has also opened. It’s really dangerous.”
The flat security’s words echoed in Thamanna’s ears. It triggered the little bones and quivered the liquid inside. She felt as if it would never go away.
A chill seeped through Thamanna’s bone. She had not listened to the news for the last 24 hours. The wifi network had already lost its signal. She dialed Tharun’s number. It was still not reachable.
“ Vave, don’t worry. Have your dinner. Do you know a new game? It’s called feed the darkness.”
Even though Thamanna tried to be cheerful, her voice trembled. Sensing the strange feeling in her tone, the kid stared at her. Her phone rang.
“ Hello.”
“ Hello, Thamanna ma”am? Are you ready to volunteer for flood rescue operations? Most of the ‘ Help you’ team is in.”
“ Yes. I will come.”
Thamanna didn’t know why did she agree to join the team. Who will take care of her kid? She dialed Tharun. He was still unreachable.
“ Shall we go and meet grandma and grandpa?” She felt that Alwaye may be safer to stay.
Thamanna packed a small bag and asked the ‘ Help you’ team to pick them up. They arrived two hours late. When Thamanna and her kid reached the ground floor of the flat by stairs, the water was surging upstairs. The vehicles in the parking lot were half-filled with water. They got into the car with great difficulty. The car literally rowed through the roads. Driver Sugunana knew the shortcuts. The radio was updating on the roads which were not immersed in water. The roads were safe to travel before turning into risky roads within minutes. So, they had to search for alternatives.
“ Erangi porappetendaayirunnu. Njaanithrakkonum pratheekshichilla.”
“ Ithonumalla chechi.”
Sugunan’s words were piercing my eardrums but stayed dissolute without getting registered in the brain.
“ Thirichu pokam amma. ” Her daughter started crying. Thamanna was more worried. Her phone was already out of battery. Before that, she had managed to text Tharun that she was going to leave their daughter with her parents. It was evening when she reached her ancestral house. It was a hilly area and comparatively untouched by the flood.
Thamanna’s parents pleaded her not to join the rescue team but, Thamanna had to keep her word. The storm had started to steer rainwater into the veranda when Thamanna got into the car.
Water was gulping everything. It seemed like an angry ocean to Thamanna. Houses were getting smashed like card towers. Cars and trees were floating here and there.
They started the rescue operations from Cheruthoni, in Idukki district of Kerala. Since the fifth shutter of Idukki dam had been opened that day, water was wiping away the bridges, buildings, shops, bus stand…each and everything which came in its way.
They rescued people who were shocked once the water came surging. Thamanna was even able to pick up a kid and run to the other side of the collapsing bridge, risking her life.
They had to ask people who were still reluctant to leave their houses to move to the rescue camps.
Navy, fire force, police, volunteers, and even the fishermen of the place joined the rescue mission. They helped people who were stuck in their houses to get into the boats. The helicopter rescue team even rescued a man who had been sitting on the top of the tree for the last 22 hours.
With a weeping heart, Thamanna and her team visited the relief camps. Lots of people were huddled together. Most of them wailing about their lost family members. Others were anxious about their life after the flood.
Thamanna handed over the kid she had rescued to their parents.
Thamanna got back to her place. But, a landslide had washed away her house, her family, and everything. She was heartbroken. She was so immersed in the rescue operations that she didn’t even know about the accident. The face of her kid and her parents flashed in her memories. She was grief-stricken.
It had been raining cats and dogs for so many days. Water was surging up the buildings. Thamanna could hear people crying. She could hear people pleading. Among them was her family.
“ Doctor, I can hear things. I can’t bear…”
“ Relax…Thamanna. You can.”
“ But, no…no.”
“ You are so brave.”
She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Even when it was sunny, she could feel the cloudiness, she could feel the raindrops prickling her skin, the background sound of rain, the whooshing of wind, cries, wailings, screams…
Then came the phone call from the relief camp saying that the kid she had rescued had lost her mom due to jaundice which had already taken many lives in relief camps by then. Thamanna went to see the kid. She was Kajol. Thamanna stared at her, unblemished.

About the Author:

Muhsina. K. Ismail  is a dentist by profession.  A person who always loves to get absorbed in books from childhood gradually deciphered the magical power of words in creating stories. Her works have been widely published in Malayalam magazines. Her novel Jug-eum( Maranam ) is currently being published by True Copy Think Webzine. Her works in English have appeared in EKL Review, The Pine Cone Review,  The Quiver Review, Active Muse, INKochi cultural magazine, and Delhi poetry Slam magazines.  Her poem,’ Sourness of Loneliness’ received special jury mention in the AIFEST international poetry contest.

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