At the stroke of midnight, Radhamani glided down the stairs like a tiger tailing a deer. She pursed her lips, slid the wooden latch and pulled the door open. The hinges remained loyal to the drops of oil feasted earlier.
The moonbeams dappled over the snake shrine and stack of stones on the raised mound nearby. It had persisted for generations as a testimony to prayers offered by yearning souls. A shriek escaped Radhamani’s lips as she noticed the pile of seven stones, she had pestered Kuttan to heap along with her. The top stone was missing. All the other towers had seven intact!
Premonitions prowled on her mind. Radhamani wrung her hands, scrunched her eyes tight and recited slokas.
Radhamani had pleaded with Kuttan earlier to respect the beliefs of her family that forbade men from entering the snake shrine. The folklore proclaimed that generations ago, the man of the house trod on a snake, killing it. A few days later, his skin peeled away. He withered to a slow death. People believed that the curse of the female snake had doomed him. The youthful Kuttan, harbouring new-fangled ideas, loathed the superstition of the fanged reptiles.
Completing her slokas, Radhamani leaned on a tree as the day’s happenings conjured up on her mind.
The grand uncle gnashing his discoloured teeth on the distressed betel leaves had peered at Radhamani.
“How dare you refute me and mingle with the servants?” he bellowed as red spit dribbled on his chin. With a practised expulsion of betel juices into the spittoon, he glared at Radhamani’s hapless mother.
“As the thread, so is the garment!”
Radhamani flared her nostrils, lifted her face to meet the eyes of the head of the matrilineal family.
“Don’t blame amma. I love Kuttan. He is not a servant; Once he gets a job in the city, we will get married.”
“Such insolence! Throw a few hundred notes, and he will forget you. Oh, Neelakanda! Put sense into this girl.”
A slithering whisper broke Radhamani’s reverie. Kuttan enveloped her slender waist. Clinging to his neck, she informed him about the missing stone.
“Oh, you silly girl. A snake must have knocked it off. I will keep another one on top of it. There!”
“Please don’t go to the city. Find some job here. Let’s get married soon.”
“My love, the job in the city, will provide us with a better future. Never thwart a good opportunity.”
Radhamani reluctantly sneaked back home.
She never saw Kuttan again.
Years later, Radhamani and her daughter were dining in a restaurant. A familiar pair of eyes locked with hers. Kuttan, dressed in expensive clothes, scurried out, head lowered.
“Mom, do you know him?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
A snigger spread on Radhamani’s face. She realized that the missing stone had been a warning. After all, the grand uncle’s prediction of the servant boy embracing wealth over romance proved accurate.
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