TEASHOP

 I have used some Tamil words and names in this story; their meanings have been explained below for the reader’s convenience.

Azhaguravi: ‘Zha’ is to be pronounced ‘rha’ instead of ‘za’, and the sound is made by bending the tongue so that its tip almost touches the roof of the mouth. The word ‘Azhagu’ means ‘beautiful’. 

 The Lungi (Pronounced ‘Loongi’) is an article of clothing worn by men in Tamil Nadu and other parts of India. It is essentially a hollow, cylindrical piece of cloth worn below the waist and it covers the entire lower body.

The Veshti is, crudely speaking, a white lungi worn for formal events.

‘Paati’ is a term of endearment that one uses to address one’s grandmother, or women old enough to be one’s grandmother.

Pandian was an ancient Tamil king. He was, supposedly, very strong and ‘a bull among men’. The name Pandian is derived from the Tamil word “Pandu” meaning ‘very old’. Pandian’s descendants are referred to, today, as the ‘Pandian dynasty’ 

There is something about a hen crossing a road that excites a man walking toward it, especially when that man has not eaten for three days.

Let this man’s name be Azhaguravi; Azhagu for short.

Azhagu wastes no time in catching the hen, gutting it with a stone he finds nearby, and eating it raw.

Then, he realizes that he is thirsty.

There is nothing extraordinary about a teashop.

They are found in all villages (even the ones without people in them) and they offer snacks, hot beverages (tea, for instance) and a big clay pot of local gossip.

And hence, this teashop, located a few kilometers from where the hen is being digested, is not to be considered extraordinary.

Even though it is the only human establishment in this particular area.

Even though the only humans in the teashop are the old lady who owns the teashop, and the three old men who are her customers.

No, everything about the teashop, from its asbestos ceiling to its earthen stove with a brass cooking vessel is familiar.

Even the man now walking towards it, with his dark skinned face, dirty brown shirt with feathers all over it and blue-green lungi, is familiar.

Azhagu.

The three old men (sitting on a dusty wooden bench on the dusty track outside the teashop) look identical. They all have wrinkled faces with long (dirty), white beards. The one sitting in the middle is taller than the other two. All three of them are wearing dirty, white shirts and matching veshtis.

As Azhagu approaches, the old man the left grins and says something to the one in the middle, who smiles.

The old man on the right sits still.

The old woman (who doesn’t have any hair or teeth) is squatting near her stove, boiling milk.

Azhagu approaches her and says, “Paati, one tea, please.”

She cups her hand around her ear, opens her mouth and says, “Aaen!”

“PAATI, ONE TEA, PLEASE!”

The old man in the middle starts laughing.

The old man on the left grins, revealing his rotten, yellow teeth.

The one on the right sits still.

Azhagu sits on a bench opposite the one on which the old men are sitting.

The Sun’s rays incident on the brass pot make it shine.

A crow flies by.

Azhagu speaks to the old men, “I think I’ve seen you before.”

The tall one answers, “You must have; we were famous thirty years ago.”

“What’s your name?”

“I’m Pandian.”

“What were you famous for?”

Pandian smiles. “We had a horror show.”

The old man on the left laughs.

The one on the right sits still.

Azhagu notices that Pandian is holding a glass(of milk) that is perfectly cylindrical.

Azhagu notices an old sack full of gold jewellery under the bench on which the old men are sitting.

The sack undoubtedly belongs to Pandian and his brothers.

Azhagu decides that he wants the sack.

The best way to steal the sack, Azhagu decides, is to sit next to the old men, wait for them to fall asleep, take the sack, and run.

Azhagu gets up, walks over to the old lady and asks her if his tea is ready.

She glares at him, shakes her head and breaks into a wide, toothless, grin.

Azhagu sits next to the old man on Pandian’s right.

The smell of gold hangs in the air.

A feather floats to the ground.

“I think I’ve watched one of your horror shows.” Azhagu says.

“No, you haven’t.” Pandian is staring at the ground.

“How do you know that?”

“We performed them in private.”

“What if I had sneaked in?”

Pandian grins, yellow teeth showing. “Nobody left our horror shows.”

The barking of a dog is heard.

Cackling. The old woman is cackling.

Azhagu realizes that he is sweating, and wipes his face using his sleeve.

The sack full of gold suddenly looks unappealing.

“IS MY TEA READY!?”

More cackling.

Azhagu decides to leave if his tea isn’t ready in 120 seconds and starts counting.

Pandian’s shadow is now directly below him.

Tea isn’t ready yet.

But Azhagu is thirsty. He can’t even walk a kilometer without having a drink. Besides, the sack full of gold looks delicious.

Azhagu gets up.

All three old men have their eyes closed. He walks behind them and pulls the sack from under the bench.

Pandian falls down, and gets up immediately. His leg is tied to the sack. He walks to where Azhagu is standing, dragging the sack.

Azhagu raises his fists. The old man on the left of the bench turns to face them

“You want the gold? You want the gold?” Pandian asks, amused.

Azhagu punches him on his face.

Pandian’s lower lip starts bleeding. He spits blood, bends down and unties the rope around his leg. “Take it!”

The old man on the left laughs loudly.

The old man on the right sits still.

Azhagu laughs, takes the sack and sits on the bench opposite the one the old men are sitting on.

“TEA FOR THESE OLD TIMERS ALSO, PAATI!” Azhagu yells, a grin on his grimy face.

Pandian strokes his face. His lower lip is swollen.

The old man on his left is still laughing.

“Aren’t you leaving?” Pandian asks Azhagu.

“After you’ve slurped down your tea, murderer!”

“You’re wrong.”

“What are you blabbering?”

“You’re not going to leave this place.”

“You can’t even untie a rope. How will you be able to kill me?”

“I never said I was going to kill you. I never said that.”

“Stop blabbering, and tell me how you got this sack of gold. Who did you murder?”

“A rich family who lived on the outskirts of our village. Their little girl reminded me of my own daughter.” Pandian smiles.

“And you’ve been carrying this-he shakes the sack-with you ever since?”

“No, a policeman came to our hideout the next day. We killed him and ran. The police had told everyone what we looked like. No village was safe. None of us ate or drank for three days. We kept moving. Finally, on the fourth day, we found this place.”

“You don’t look as if you could run without eating for three days. TELL ME THE TRUTH!”

“Oh! This incident happened when we were younger.”

“What?”

“It happened thirty years ago.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve been staying here since then!”

“But I have! On this bench!”

“Why didn’t you leave?”

Pandian smiles.

The old woman starts cackling.

“Because the old lady wanted someone to talk with.”

“And you just decided to stay here?”

“She wanted someone to talk to. She made me stay here.”

“How?”

“The same way she’s making you stay here.”

“She’s not making ME stay here.”

“Why don’t you leave, then?”

“Because I don’t want to!”

“Why don’t you want to?”

Silence.

Pandian grins. “Have you drunk a drop of tea since you came here?”

Azhagu shakes his head, staring at the ground.

“Then why haven’t you left?”

“Will I be able to go if I kill her?”

“I don’t know. She doesn’t need a mouth to talk.”

Silence.

Pandian, again. “I wouldn’t kill her, you know, if I were you. Her tea is the only thing keeping us alive.”

The old woman comes out of her shop carrying a plate with three glasses of tea and one cylindrical glass of milk.

She starts with the man on Pandian’s left. This man grabs a glass of tea and finishes it in one gulp.

She then moves towards Pandian and looks at him, smiling. Pandian smiles back and takes his glass of milk.

She doesn’t stop for the third old man. She just places a glass of tea at his feet and moves towards Azhagu.

She hands Azhagu his glass of tea, spits on his face, and falls down, dead.

Azhagu drops his glass, which falls on her, and tea spills all over her blue sari.

A crow crows.

The old man sitting on Pandian’s right smiles.

Advertisements