He always walked to the park by the main road to find silence. A carpet of red petals blanket the walking track and tall gulmohar trees pull him into their cool embrace. Incessant drumming of rain on the asbestos roof of his home, replaced by smell parched shrubs soaking in the rain. He watches muniyamma roasting corn cobs on hot coals. Gulmohars, summer rain, roasted corn on the cob and his throne, the gently tilted park bench that no one sits on. This is his small sphere of silence.
He watches the fan flame the coals and laughs out loud. Amma, appa, akka, mama, Cabdurys uncle, milkman ramesh, paper madhavan and watchman kittu. Everyone was hell bent on deciding his future. ‘Engineering Maadu’ – the only tune played by every pied piper he met.
As he bites into the juicy kernels of the charred cob of corn, he sees the girl. Her head steady, her eyes fixed on the road ahead and her hands stiff as a branch. Her legs slowly bear down on the cycle pedal as she begins her hesitant progress down the road. The act, a struggle against gravity, against fear and against inertia. She does not see the puppy staring at her with dreamy eyes. Its head moving in circles, in sync with the red reflector of the bicycle wheel. He watches this tableau, frozen in time but his mind jumps past the next few frames and sees the end. But, there is not much he can do. A bark, a leap and the girl and her bicycle are on the road. Her hand takes the shock of the fall and puppy looks up at her, wagging its tail. She slowly stands up, dusts off the flowers and dirt sticking to her dress and pushes her bicycle home. The little mutt follows the red reflectors, his head and tail expressing unfettered joy.
He looks at the girl and wonders if she will have the courage to ride her bicycle again. Balance is such a fickle mistress, but once mastered, she will leave you breathless. Like the balance of wind rushing through your hair and the sense of stillness that speed brings. Like the fine balance of charred skin of the corn and its soft, juicy kernels. Like the balance of summer heat and mango showers, like the balance of red flowers on black tarmac.
He throws away his half eaten corn cob, reaches out for his crutches and begins his long, silent walk back home.