Mrs.Mani stared at the last two rows of white dots on the ground. She set the bowl of white rangoli down and stood up holding both her knees. She winced as her back cracked like an old twig. It looked like the vermilion on her forehead was seeping into the violent shades of the morning sky. The sun was not yet seen on the horizon, and judging by the cold sunlight that had just reached the wide metal gates of the house, it was well before six in the morning.
Mrs.Mani wiped her forehead as she looked down at the rangoli she had been drawing for a while now. It looked like a chariot, well an artist’s rendering of a chariot. And the last two rows that formed the wheels of this chariot were the only ones left to be connected. It looked simple now, the chariot design with all its dots joined the right way, but Mrs Mani knew how joining even two dots the wrong way would spoil the whole design. She stared at the road that led to the gate, they must have landed at the airport by now. Her son and his new wife, a woman she had never met. They would be home in another hour. Mrs.Mani sighed and knelt down again. She picked up a pinch of the rangoli and could feel it instantly slip out of her grip. She hesitated, which dot should be connected to which one next. More of the rangoli slipped out of her fingers. She rushed her fingers and joined the last two rows.
Mrs.Mani stared at the house, still covered in a blanket of darkness. She closed her eyes and she could almost hear the household snoring, over the chants of the Suprabhatam that she was playing in the kitchen. She had heard her husband snoring last night and her son too in the morning. She yawned as she looked down at her Rangoli again. This chariot was not going anywhere. She had messed up the wheels again so it looked like it was placed on a platform, a showpiece never to move really, never to go anywhere.
Mrs.Mani was considering just erasing the whole rangoli, regardless of how inauspicious that was considered when she heard a loud thud. She stood up in an instant, hand on her heart. ‘Burglar’, she thought. She looked around for a stick but didn’t find any. She thought of shouting for help, the thought of her husband’s cranky face made her stop. She picked up the steel plate she had carried things in and walked towards the backyard.
Mrs.Mani gave a sigh of relief as she reached the backyard wall. It was just the girl. She was trying to climb out of the backyard wall again. Mrs.Mani looked up at the single room on their terrace that they had lent out. She had never wanted to rent it to a bachelor, she knew something like this would happen. But the guy seemed so sweet, so well behaved just like her son. Well, he had turned out to be just like her son. The girl lost her grip on the wall and landed hard on her backside, she put a fist in her mouth to stop herself from crying out.
The girl turned around, saw Mrs.Mani and stopped.
She looked beautiful, her dark hair loose and dishevelled hung about her like a cloud. Her large eyes darted around and she adjusted her short sleeveless kurta trying to cover more of her skin than it could. The girl glanced at the room on the terrace. Mrs.Mani looked up too, the guy was not there. No one would come to her rescue.
“Sorry…sorry aunty…” the girl whispered, “I was just trying to get out…”
Mrs.Mani tried to hold onto the knot in her stomach, but like the rangoli, and it would seem everything else, it just seemed to slip out if her grasp, “the wall is tall…you will hurt yourself…just leave by the front gate..”
The girl hesitated.
“Don’t worry, no one is up yet…” Mrs.Mani turned around as if to lead her out.
The girl followed close to Mrs.Mani’s pallu. Mrs.Mani was glad there were dots that she could still connect the right way.
When they were crossing the rangoli the girl stopped.
She tilted her head, “the chariot rangoli! This is a complex one. You seem to have joined the last two rows wrong…” the girl said. She knelt down, pushed her dark hair behind her ears and picked up a pinch of rangoli. And just like that she had erased the last two rows and drawn the wheels of the chariot.
Mrs.Mani tilted her head and placed a hand on her hip, “how did you do that? I can never join those dots the right way.”
The girl stood up, dusted her hands and smiled at Mrs.Mani, “it’s like my mom says aunty, we can’t always join all the dots. Sometimes someone else has to do it for us.”
The girl smiled at Mrs.Mani and gave a small wave and walked out of the gate.
Mrs.Mani watched the girl walk away. She looked down at the finished chariot now ready to roll and smiled.