The Living | Short Story

By Shubha Sarma

Sundays should be sleepy, relaxed and personal. Robin’s Sunday dawned with his landlord’s dead face splashed across all the major dailies and TV news channels. Headlines screamed- “Gay lovers end lives”.

Ever since, the four roomed house, in which Robin rented one room, had a stream of visitors. Most of them vacillated between shock and pity for old Mr.James Pereira. Mercifully, Mr.Pereira had lost his vision a few years back and he was spared the gory pictures ambushing all the newspapers. But he could hear the theatrical whispers of some of his less-kind relatives : “Ronnie was always a queer boy, but who knew this…

Poor Lily…. Managing everything. And the shock.

I always wondered why they did not have any children!”

Robin was disgusted with the slander and innuendo. In front of his eyes, Ronnie and Lily Pereira’s lives were being publicly dissected. He wondered how Lily was doing. She had left last night after a telephone call from the Police to collect the body. She had gone alone, politely declining all offers of help. But then Lily had always been the strong one in the Pereira family.

At 5.20 p.m., an exhausted Lily returned. A hush fell upon the visitors. Surprise, anticipation and excitement clogged the air. Ronnie thought they looked like greedy hounds, waiting to pounce upon Lily and devour her for details. Where is the body, were the words hanging on their lips. Like a haughty princess, she called the hounds to heel. “You may like to go home now. There will be no further mourning in this house. As per the last wishes of Ronnie, I have already cremated his body with that of his lover. You see, his lover was a Hindu.” A gasp of horror from the relatives and the faintest of wobbles in Lily’s voice.

Robin watched mesmerized. The baying hounds dissolved into deflated caricatures. Like actors in a pantomime, the visitors left the stage in silence, their drooping shoulders indicating their deep disappointment. Robin was proud of Lily, and the character that she had displayed in sending off these vultures. He had nurtured a soft spot for her ever since he shifted into this house 4 years ago. At that time, it had seemed improper, she being married to Ronnie. The two had looked much in love. Had she known the truth and covered up all these years?

“Lily, did you know?”

She understood what he was asking but prevaricated, “What?”

Her reluctance to admit Ronnie’s homosexuality confirmed his suspicions; she had known all along. Was she aware of his feelings for her, too?

“I want you to meet someone special.”

It was only then that Robin noticed a little girl, barely 3 years old, hiding behind Lily. Lily pulled the girl in front of her and stroked her hair fondly.

“Meet Agni, his lover’s daughter. Her mother left her and her father when she found out about Ronnie. Agni was barely a few months old at that time. The police found her in the house where they died…. She used to call him Ronnie Uncle. Like me, she has no family now. Maybe, she is His way of telling me to stop mourning and move on. After all, she is the best gift Ronnie could have given to me all these years. Ronnie has gone but his death has shown me that the living are more precious than the dead.”

Hope was shining in Lily Pereira’s deep brown eyes, its intensity reaching out to Robin and finding a reflection in his own eyes.

This is an entry for the Kunzum Short Story Contest ending July 15, 2021. Read the next story here.

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