The Owner

Posted by in best, short story

The old clock started it’s song at exactly six thirty. Champaben woke up at six thirty one, and her day began. Quickly getting ready, she woke up her dependents one by one, dealing with each of them in turn. They were all like her children, and she was responsible for their day beginning properly. Years of practice had set her schedule just right. She started the stove, and put the cut vegetables on the pan. Simultaneously, she started preparing breakfast. Her hand moved of its own accord, accustomed by years of the same action, and pretty soon the simmering sound of vegetables in oil filled the house. She took her husband’s clothes out of the almirah and laid them on the bed, shouting at him to take a bath quicker. Going into her daughter’s room, she combed her daughter’s hair, finishing just in time to the vegetables getting ready. In one swoop, she took the vegetable bowl off the gas, and put the roti tawa on it. With practised determination, she rolled the rotis into an almost perfect circle before heating them on the tawa. Skillfully fluffing the rotis to perfection, she put them all in a bundle; each of them almost exactly alike. Filling up the respective tiffins, she brought them out and put them in the bags. Laying the breakfast, she beckoned both her husband and her daughter. She didn’t need to look at the clock to know that it was seven six.

Having finished breakfast with her family, she said goodbye to them, and finally took a long breath. The time was seven thirty two, but it didn’t matter for a long while now. She had shifted into a more leisurely pace. Clearing the table, she put the dishes in the sink for the maid to clean. She prepared a cup of tea, and sat down with the newspaper. To an outsider, it would look like she was just idling away the time, but that was not the case. In a while, the doorbell rung, and she let the maid in. She could now perform the most essential task of the entire day, her puja. She washed the flowers gently, applying just enough force that the petals didn’t break off. She sat in front of the mandir, and decorated every god. It always seemed like each one of them was her friend. She spent time with them everyday, no matter what. After cleaning them all, she prayed to them. She went outside, carrying a single flower, and some puja water. She went outside to the small patch in front of her house, and turning towards the house, she bowed down, and prayed to it.

She took a siesta everyday after lunch, which broke when her daughter came back at around four in the evening. She prepared some warm milk while her daughter freshened up. After talking about what was taught in school today, she took her daugher’s dabba and cleaned it, letting it dry. She then took a look at the teaching, and sat down with her daughter to revise what was taught. It grew tougher for her each year that her daughter grew, but she persevered with a mother’s will. This continued till the time her husband came home, at around seven. She greeted him with a smile, and taking his suitcase and coat in hand, asked him about work. She knew this always helped him relax, and brought a smile to his face. As her husband finished, she moved to the kitchen to begin dinner preparations. Dinner was always a good time, where all three sat down together to finally end the long day. Her cooking, flawless as always, ensured a good night’s sleep for her family. Or maybe it was the feeling of security the house gave them.

It was, after all, a family home, built in the midst of the booming city. Her husband had inherited it from his father, and he, in turn, from his father. It looked dilapidated when seen from outside, with its thatched roof, and old walls, and the paint crumbling from them; but gave a warm sense of homeliness inside. It seemed like it would fall down any second, but she knew that it was built, and cared for in a time when things were made to last; and she trusted that her home would not give up on her so easily. They had received many offers for that particular piece of land, but she would not hear of them. To her, this was the family home; the only place for her to raise a family. Her husband had almost given in to an offer once, but she had flatly refused to move out of the house, and that was that. She shared a special connection with the house. She made it a home, and in turn, the house never failed her. She had an extraordinary sense regarding the house. She knew which tile would be loose; she knew when the water pipe was going to clog; she knew when a bulb was about to burn out; nothing escaped her notice at home. And her home did not escape her care. All of it was under her protection. It was another member of her family.

Times change; people do not. Many years passed by seeing her follow the same routine. It was a good life. It was a simple life. And she lived it as she had always known life to be. But contentment breeds stagnation, and in turn, decay. Her daughter had grown up. Champa could no longer teach her for school. The day came when her daughter moved to college. Times were hard, and with their daughter’s fees and other expenses, the only option left to the couple was to move to a cheaper house. The day they moved, the house was put on the market. It was also the day she cried as she hadn’t in a long time, for she had lost family. She touched the walls one last time, and whispered her sweet nothings to the house. The farewell wrenched her heart out, but there was no reply. As she turned away, never to set sight at her beloved home again, she felt some part of her being lost forever. That night, the water tank developed a leak, and flooded the garden.

The house was in a very prime spot, and was soon bought by a young, working couple who were just getting comfortable to a married life. He was a technology consultant. She was a banker. They hardly had the time to eat food, let alone eat it together. They woke up at their respective schedules, got ready and left for their jobs. The house sat silent all day till the time they returned in the evening. For a few weeks, everything was hale and hearty, and the young couple’s life went without incident. Unnoticed by them though, cracks began to appear in the beams and pillars. They day the couple noticed that something was wrong was the day the air was filled with the stench of the septic tank. It had cracked on top, releasing the noxious fumes in the entire house. A mason was called to fix the leak, and he did, but he highly recommended that they repair the entire house, for it was a surprise that it was still standing. The couple did not have time, and forgot the advice. A few days later, all of the paint which barely clung to the walls, fell down in the afternoon. That evening saw a look of disbelief in the couple’s eyes when they came home. They called a contractor to know what was going on. The contractor couldn’t say why the paint fell off, but advised the couple to move out, as it seemed the house was old, and dying.

The house was put on sale again, but rumors spread that it was haunted, and none would touch it, even with a ten foot pole. The state of disrepair that the house was in gave it an even more sinister look. Weeds grew in the courtyard. The bare cement and rods which were visible now that the paint had fallen off, gave an eerie feeling of looking at a skeleton. Scales from the roof fell down, leaving no defense to the interiors against the elements. Only a shadow of the former house was left, deprived of any care and tending. Locals avoided it at all costs. No workers would even demolish it. It stood there against the urban landscape, a ruin of a house, the spectre of a home. The house detoriated, till one night, it crumbled quietly. Neighbours did not hear it fall. But a lone figure standing beside it, clad in a black robe, heard its final sigh.

The next day, an obituary was published in the newspaper. “We regret to inform you of the demise of Mrs. Champaben Patel, who was a mother, a wife, and a homemaker. She had won many battles in her lifetime, but she lost her final one to cancer.”


For my grandmother, who understood me.