Sivanandam asked the driver to stop the car at the beginning of the lane that was narrow. He could recognize it from the small pillaiyar (Ganesh) temple still there at the entrance. The only addition is an asbestos shed in the front. Many tiled houses he was accustomed to forty years ago have become pucca houses some with even a first floor. It is the first time he is coming here after he ran away from his uncle's house unable to bear the insults and beatings. He became an orphan at a young age and was brought to uncle's house. Though a good man, he was timid before the termagant of his wife. They had no children and she hated the boy who she felt will ultimately inherit their land and house. She made the boy a virtual slave and made him toil all the time. But she could not stop him from attending the school for fear of the people around. Siva was bright in school and liked by teachers.
Siva remembered a Chettiar shop at the corner where he would be sent frequently to get something or the other. His aunt reveled in disturbing him from his study .At the front of the shop there was a well which was common for the street. One person he could not forget even after the long time was Parimala, daughter of Chettiar.She was 12 or 13 then and extremely fetching with her long hair touching her bottom. She had big eyes and her eye lashes fluttered like a butterfly whenever she saw him as he could recall at this distant time. She normally looked after the shop when Chettiar was away procuring groceries. The girl knew Siva’s circumstances and had a soft corner for him. She would attend to him quickly to make him escape his aunt's taunt though he would tell her he was in no hurry.
Among the endless errands of his aunt, he relished the visits to the shop. The young things took to liking each other and talked when no one was around. She often gave him pencils, erasers and ball point pens saying they were freebies to the things they bought. Chettiar was indifferent to the boy and had only the sympathy that one had for a hapless orphan.
Sivanandan walked in the small lane and found a building with party flags and posters on the wall at the place where his old house was. His uncle and aunt must have passed away and the house grabbed by some party leader.He walked further to the corner of the lane. The well was still there and he was happy to find a small provision store. Instead of a thatched shed it was now housed in spacious area carved out of the front room of the house. He found a handsome young boy around 22 in the shop and asked for a bottle of chilled coke. The boy seemed brisk and attended to the customers fast.
“I am happy to see your efficient handling of customers. What is your name?"
"Sivakumar, sir.Are you new to this village?"
"Yes and no. Yes because I am coming after 40 years. No because I used to live here when I was your age. This used to be owned by one Chettiar. Are you related to him?"
"Yes sir. I am his grandson. He is no more"
"Are you Parimalam's son? How are your parents? Are you studying?"
Looking surprised, he asked "Do you know my mom? She is inside and looked after the store till I finished college two years back. My dad passed away three years back. Please wait. I will call her"
In a few minutes Parimalam came out and instantly recognized him from the way her face lit up and eyes widened in pleasant surprise.”How are you, Sir? You look the same though the hair has turned grey a bit. It is nice to see you after so many years. Please come inside. Siva, you also come in and ask Velu to look after the store.”
“Parimala, you have not also changed much. Your son is very smart and handsome. I trust you are all keeping well.
I could not come all these years. By god’s grace I am doing well and own a big departmental store in the adjacent town. The business is flourishing and I have opened another outlet. I own a house and an apartment complex of six flats. I have one daughter who will be finishing her college this year. My wife is a good natured person”
“What is the name of your daughter?”
“Parimala” he replied with a smile
She put her head down hiding her face and asked “What brought you to this village after so many years?”
“When I started for this village, I had no specific purpose. It was just an idle curiosity to see whether the village has changed much and whether Chettiar store is still there. Having come here, I have found a purpose and wish to talk to you” he said and turned towards young Siva. The boy took the cue and left the hall.
“I have only one daughter. I have two departmental stores one big and another medium. I find your son smart and can manage business efficiently. I do not want him to work for me. If you kindly agree we can get our children married and our families closer. I will send the car for you and your son to come and see the girl on any good day. I would request you to agree”
“I know you were always my wellwisher.I gladly agree.”Parimalam said
He said “Thank you. Some dreams though unrealized in our cases, we wish to see them materialize through our children”
“Very true” she said as she bent down her face unable to meet his eyes.