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The days leading to our departure were busy, harried, and filled with confused urgency. A steady queue of tradesmen and suppliers called on Father. He arranged provisions, bullock carts, and a dozen other items. Father also settled many matters regarding his business affairs and our house. There was much excitement among the servants selected to join us on the journey, and all of them received impressive new uniforms.

Mother was in a constant hair-pulling frenzy—and drove our servants to distraction—as she tried and retried garments for every festival and conceivable ceremony she planned to attend.

‘The villagers will expect no less from us,’ said Mother.

After several days and having decided that nothing in her wardrobe met her needs, a foregone conclusion whenever she prepared for a journey, Mother sent for the fabric merchants and tailors. The poor men presented dozens of samples. Soon, heaps of bright-coloured saris and shimmering silks dotted the central courtyard. After several days, she decided the new wardrobe was too grand for her sister’s farm and better reserved for occasions involving royalty and important people. She settled for the saris and fabrics from her many bureaus—material she had selected on the first day. After all, she reasoned, the people in the villages would not recognise her old garments and everything would be new to them. Thus, Mother resolved the most challenging of her preparations and the servants sighed with relief.

The morning for departure arrived and people in the neighbourhood turned out in force to wish us farewell. Stewards were busy with final preparations, there were hurried voices, and the mood was urgent and celebratory.

But I remained depressed. I longed to see Kovalan. I kept looking up whenever someone entered the house, confident he would appear. He could not let the moment slip. Surely, he would surprise me. And so I consoled myself. But as the time ripened, I hoped. Then, in the final hours, I prayed.

Anandan appeared with a gift, a wooden boat similar to the one destroyed in the river—Kovalan had forgotten the repair. On the day the boat smashed on the rocks, Anandan had laughed and clapped with glee. But on this day, he looked remorseful and without his usual spirit. Earlier in the day, he had met Kovalan but before I asked, he said,

‘His father sent him on an errand to Pattinam.’

There was a lie in Anandan’s eyes but I was grateful for his feeble attempt to make me feel better. I had always disliked Anandan. He was a bully, plain-speaking even when he knew it would be hurtful, and quite vulgar in his interests. But he was also an enigma.

‘You leave a child and will return a maiden,’ he said. ‘Be safe, little sister. I am your brother and will always love you. I promise.’

Upon hearing Anandan’s words, I rushed to my room and cried. I had not expected such maturity from this irreverent boy. Perhaps I had been quick with my harsh judgments.

But I also cried for Kovalan. After some time, my tears emptied. Mother called and, burying my pain in my chest, I rejoined the preparations and farewells.

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019

Continued on Friday: The Caravan – First Hints