Thursday, June 16, 2016

Rescuing Ranu (17)



Chapter Seventeen





Nela quickly established routines and rhythms in those  first few days, despite jet lag and unfamiliar new features of familiar streets. The changes jarred her even more  than  her bodys  tumultuous relationship to the clock, and  in those  first mornings, she would have been up for hours already. Shed lock the door behind her and walk to her neighborhood deli, which had changed ownership during her sabbatical. There was no greeting or easy chit-chat with  the new owner, a stranger who barely  lifted his head from the cash register while  she paid  for her groceries.

Hurrying home  one day with  the brown bag against her chest, she tried to ignore the years wear  and tear on the neighborhood. A coat of paint, a bit of landscaping might bring  it all up to snuff, but perhaps the neighborhood had  begun a permanent slide downward. The sidewalks were  already dotted with  the desperate, hands thrusting from unraveled sleeves, grasping at whatever they could  get.  Houses seemed to cower  behind chain link fences, and  the only children Nela saw were framed in windows, not playing in yards. Home again,  she plopped the groceries on the kitchen table.

Ranu took out a pastry and  sat on the floor with  it, as she would have done at the hut. Gesturing toward the chair, Nela seated her child at the table, a plate  under her breakfast. Ranu,  wriggling in the unforgiving seat.  Perching cross-legged on the cushion. A jut of bony  knees like elbows. Nela grimaced and  turned to the sink before Ranu could  notice. She began  to scrub a few dishes, a useful  task, unlike carping at the poor girl about manners and  posture. Children adapt. Ranu would adjust in time.

Nela tossed  a question over her shoulder. There was no answer. Pulse beating everywhere at once, she yanked open  the door to the backyard. Ranu would not have run away,  would she?  She couldnt have, not with her weak  leg.

She had not gone anywhere. There she was, on her knees in the dirt, weeding the garden. She sees a need and fills it, Jackson had  once said.

Nela went  outside and  knelt beside  her daughter. She, too, began  to pull out matted vines and  stubborn creepers. Without raising her head,  Ranu said, Remember flowers at home?  I make  more  for you! Remembering how  the girl had  tried  to water the scraggly  blooms  with  drops from her cupped  hands, Nela hugged her. Later, the two of them  walked hand in hand into the house where diligent, exhausted Ranu tumbled into the charpoy in the living room and immediately fell asleep.  The way her small bones  folded in on themselves resembled a starling huddled against the rain. Nela hefted her child into her arms and carried  her to the soft bed.

When  she returned to the living room, she went  straight to the whiteboard, chalk in hand. Dusk  had  settled  in all around the house, tucking it in, and  it was time to work.  Pursuit  and cohesion she wrote on the board. The magic words conjured not only to the mathematics of collectives, but also the pursuit of insights and the cohesion of the results. Two birds with one stone. Youre a mathematical samurai, she could  still hear Jackson say. Lets kill it, then.

At dawn, Nela put down her chalk, exhausted but barely  able to breathe for excitement. She rushed out of the house on an excess of adrenaline into the orange morning. It was the most elegant work  she had ever done. Now,  it was time to get back to the university. Nelas office had  not been interfered with, much  to her surprise, her abandoned books leaning wearily against one another under a layer of dust. She unlocked the drawer full of gyros, and gave Ranu a go-ahead smile. An afternoon of lining  them  up and spinning them,  her belly on the floor, legs waving in the air like flags.

What have they done  with my mail?” Nela wondered, and  Ranu  looked up from her play. Seeing the question was not for her, she went  back to the toys. Stay here,”  Nela ordered, and  set off for the mail room. She entered the mail room, and her vision  immediately clouded over with  red. There was Ashoke, sliding mail from her box into his briefcase. What is the meaning of this?

He jumped, and  the mail scattered all over. See what you did, he complained, bending over stiffly to scoop it up.

Leave it. It doesnt belong  to you.

“I was only taking care! Who can tell when you mean  to come back? His squashy features had  already reconfigured into a conciliatory mask.  He wiggled his black eyebrows.

May I remind you, all that,” and here Nela flicked her fingers toward his eyebrows, does  not work  with  me.

“Ha ha. Same Nela. Welcome  home! I will fetch the rest of your  mail for you.

She grabbed his hand with  the fingers  of her strong hand. One moment. I need you to answer some questions.

Just then, Ranu slid inside  the door. “Amma?” The color drained from Ashokes face. It only took a fraction of a second for a snarling smile to lift his cheeks.

“I did not know he began,  but Nela interrupted him.“You know nothing! she said, pulling  Ranu under her arm. “I am waiting for you to return my letters.

Ashoke handed them  over, and hastily exited  the mailroom. Did Ranu need an explanation? Nela saw that she did not.  She had the capacity to begin  again  where she had  left off, and  as soon as they went  back to Nelas office, she sank to the floor with  her toys.

A few minutes later, there  was a knock  on Nelas office. She put her finger  to her lips, and  Ranu clamped her hand over a gyroscope to stop its spin. After the sound of retreating footsteps faded, Nela opened the door. A bag of mail fell in with  a note stapled to it. Homecoming party at 8 pm. Be there or be square. Love, Ashoke and Priya


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