Jayashree woke up and stretched languidly. It was earlier than usual — but they were chores to finish today. Mohan — her maternal uncle — and family were flying back from their hometown in Kerala to Dubai the next day and that meant she had to help them pack their bags.
Breakfast over, Jaya got busy with the packing. Luckily Sarala, the house help, had come by early and together they began carefully wrapping the pickles and delicacies that had been prepared specially for Mohan to take back.
If Sarala was known for her helpful nature, she was also known for her inquisitiveness and loud mouth. “Do you know why your marriage is getting delayed?” she asked Jaya, fastening a rope around a box stuffed with banana chips and sweetmeats. “It’s because of that silly cat. Tabby is a bad omen. If he weren’t in this house, your wedding would have been conducted a long time ago.”
Jaya knew that Sarala was extremely superstitious and had an irrational excuse for everything that happened in life.
“Oh no,” she said. “Tabby is innocent. Maybe the time for marriage has not come as yet.”
“Some day you will believe what I say,” said Sarala.
Time to say goodbye
The next morning, Mohan and his family were ready to leave for the airport.
Suitcases duly packed and stacked into the boot, after teary-eyed goodbyes, hugs and kisses, the family began filling into the car. “Where’s Tabby, I want to give him a goodbye hug too,” cried Arunima, Mohan’s daughter. But the feline was nowhere around. “Probably sleeping somewhere upstairs,” said Jaya. “Don’t worry I’ll give him a hug from you.”
“We’ll be back for your wedding soon, Jaya,” shouted Mohan.
Jaya smiled and waved back.
“Believe me, it will be soon,” whispered Sarala to Jaya, as the car slowly made its way down the drive.
A day later, Mohan’s phone call came. And he sounded furious. “What’s wrong?” he asked angrily, when Jaya answered the phone. “A lot.”
Apparently, as their check-in bags were being weighed, one carton that had been packed with home-made cookies and was on top of another box, toppled and fell. But it didn’t just lie on the floor — it seemed to move as though it had a life of its own. It also began emitting some strange sounds. Within seconds the airport staff were on their walkie-talkies summoning security personnel who immediately cordoned off the area creating a tense situation in the airport.
Mohan and his family were taken aside and questioned in detail while one posse of police began to examine the box that now seemed to quiver and shake.
Gingerly, one official opened the box and surprise, out sprang Tabby.
Jaya and Meera could not believe their ears. “But, but, … I guess Tabby sneaked into the box when we were not looking and curled up and went to sleep,” said Jaya, although she herself found it hard to believe her words. “I don’t think Mohan uncle and family will return here any time soon. Surely, he must have been exasperated by the experience in the airport.”
Jaya would be wrong.
Was it premonition?
Two months later, Mohan and family arrived home. And they were not the only ones. Meera’s cousins, relatives and extended family too came — to attend Jaya’s wedding.
A few days before the big day, Jaya and Sarala were busy in the kitchen, when the house help gave a playful nudge to the bride-to-be. “Didn’t I tell you that day that Mohan uncle would be back soon? That your wedding would be finalised if that cat was thrown out?” said Sarala. “You didn’t believe me, did you?”
Jaya put down the ladle she had in her hand. “Wait,” she said, turning to Sarala. “What do you mean? So, was it you who….?”
Sarala winked at Jaya. Then grinning, ran out of the kitchen.
Epilogue: Jaya, a lover of cats, terminated Sarala’s services the same day.
— Ranjani Lakshman, a writer based in Kerala, India, enjoys sharing her memories of growing up in a huge joint family.