Of Armando and Armindo

By Jerry Pinto 0
Illustration: Harshad Marathe

Illustration: Harshad Marathe

This is as difficult for me as it is for you,” I said as unctuously as I could. I don’t like being unctuous but when I have to find out what has happened, I will do what I have to. I will sit here on Prima Marthe’s strange old sofa, which looks like something an innovative geography teacher called Susan could use to describe the geologic process of erosion to her uncaring students. I will drink the tea that Prima Marthe pours, weak and urine-coloured, out of a white teapot with a dark mottled stain all over the spout and the base. I will not, however, go so far as to eat the cake she has served on a white quarter-plate with a pretty floral design on it. My cousin, the volatile La Belle France, told me that she had once crunched into a piece of cake which she thought was odd because nothing Prima Marthe served was every crunchy. And so using a delicate lace handkerchief and a cough as a pretext, she extricated the bolus. She discovered that the crunch arose out of the body of a cockroach that had been baked into the cake. Therefore the cake is out.  I must draw the line somewhere. But I will listen to her whispering.

Prima Marthe is one of the better ones in a family of stranger-than-fictioneers. She’s just mildly paranoid about her landlord. He lives twenty yards away. The walls of his house are as thick as Prima Marthe’s but she is sure he can hear every word she says. She doesn’t think he bugs her; she hasn’t even heard of such technological devices.  There isn’t even much reason why the landlord should eavesdrop because he doesn’t want her out and doesn’t have a court case against her, which is a rare thing indeed. It isn’t even clear whether Prima Marthe is worried about eavesdropping or just being audible by mistake. This means that she only speaks in a stage whisper. And since that’s all there is to her, I haven’t even bothered to find out why.

Right now I am asking about Armando because Prima Marthe’s house is right behind Dona Isabella’s, my grandmother. This meant Prima Marthe had a ringside view at the time. I’m getting into the habit now. Everyone says “at the time” when they refer to Armando’s death. “We were sitting down to dinner at the time.” “Since I was ill at the time, I couldn’t…” “At the time, I was in Bombay.” Et cetera. Prima Marthe raised a lacy handkerchief with a matching dark mottled stain (a leitmotif of the female members of my family) and sniffed into it.

“I never thought Dona Isabella would have thrown him out of her house. Not after all that Mathilde did for her.”

Ah, I thought one of those. The enemies of Dona Isabella. This could be interesting.

“When Dona Isabella was pregnant with your mother, my, what a tough time! Ghhawnsh she would vomit here, ghhawnsh she would vomit there. And backaches and headaches and thisaches and thataches and whataches, I don’t know. Mathilde was there all the time, sparing her from the deoncar. And when it came for her time to repay, what she did? Threw the boy out on the roads to die?”

I said nothing and sipped my tea. What could I say? I could say that in Granny’s version the debt had been paid in full measure. Granny had offered Mathilde shelter when she and Timoteo had had a spat and Mathilde had walked out on him with nowhere to go. I could say that Armando was not a boy at sixty-plus but I let that go as well. I have learnt one very valuable lesson in my years as the family historian. If you interrupt with logic, you will be thanked with silence.

“He came to see me when he got her letter. He was crying, poor baba. ‘She’s asked me to leave,’ he said to me. ‘Where I’ll go, aunty? What I’ll do, aunty? Who will give me shelter, aunty?’”

“What did you tell him?” I asked, taking a dreadful risk.

She looked at me sharply. Prima Marthe has three nice bedrooms. One of her sons is in Dubai, the other in Canada. Her husband has gone wherever the dead husbands of dutiful wives go. She knew that I knew how many vacant bedrooms there are in her home. But I kept my face immobile, receptive. She decided that I didn’t mean anything.

“I said, ‘God is not dead, baba’. How did I know he would end up lying in his own blood all night? They let him lie there for hours, you know. Hours. Before they took him to the Asilo in Mapusa. Churchill, from that side, he saw him lying there.”

“Why didn’t Churchill do something?”

“What I know? Maybe he didn’t know something was wrong. That boy was not himself after a drink. He thought he had fallen down.”

She let this seep in.

“Six, six houses, he had,” she sighed. “Can you believe? Timoteo used to say, ‘Gold and land, God only made little. And when there is little, it costs much.’ They used to laugh at him then. When he bought that rocky land at Arpora, they said: ‘What he’ll get out of it? Nothing.’ Now see what they’re willing to give for even land in the wilds.”

Alto de Porvorim, where Prima Marthe lives, represents civilisation to her. The rest of Goa is the wilds. That’s not strictly true, of course. She has a little feeling for Moira (where she grew up) and sees Aldona as a village of unsurpassed beauty. She may even make some polite remarks about the island of Diwar. But Arpora? She makes her feelings clear about Arpora with a little shrug. Which is why she will have no truck with Tio Giovanni who comes from Arpora.

This does not worry Tio Giovanni, who was employed by the Goa government in the Ministry of Justice. He knows that many of the good people of Porvorim see him as The Wild Man from Arpora who happened to marry one of theirs, my aunt Sylvia, my mother’s sister. It bothers him so little that when they come and ask him for favours, he treats them with the same impersonal courtesy that he treats his friends. He asks them for the same amount of money; he is corrupt in an egalitarian way.

Tio Giovanni and I look out over the bay together. It is a lovely day in December, clear and beautiful. The rains have been good and the uraco warms me gently from within. Tio Giovanni coughs up some phlegm and spits accurately at a croton. For a moment, as the blob begins to wend its way down the leaf, it looks like the colour is melting off the plant.

“Lovely house,” I say.

He grunts. The Wild Man from Arpora has built himself a new house on the hills, higher even than my grandmother’s house in which he lives. A two-storey house with a bedroom above and a living room below and two western toilets inside the house.

“It must have taken a lot of work,” I add.

“Work?” he sounds incredulous. “Work?”

He’s testing the word, wondering why English can only offer such a mild four-letter word for all that went into the building of his house on the hill. He decides that it will have to do.

“Yes men, work. That is what it takes to build a house. You think you can just put up a building? Get workers and say do like this, do like that? No. You got to come and see the water is poured on the concrete every day. Some days they won’t come also, these drunken fellows, you know what they are like, what to say? Then you have to come, you have to pour water yourself. But my generation is not afraid of work.”

I cast about in my head. A little more and I will be hearing the sermon of the Two Generations. I have a good temper about these things generally and on most days I do not mind being called a degenerate lazy lot, but today it is too beautiful.

“Why haven’t you built the compound wall?”

“I’ll wait a bit and encroach some land,” says my Tio from the Ministry of Law.

We walk down together. I can’t think of a way of bringing the conversation around to Armando. But it’s important I hear Tio Giovanni’s version. After all, he wrote to Granny, six months after she had agreed to give Armando shelter while he fought the interminable cases that were supposed to restore him to his properties.

“If he lives here any longer, there will be no peace, no love, no joy, no salvation for any of the residents of this house. He has been cast out of his own house, like the spirit was cast out by Our Lord Jesus Christ, and we have been treated as the Gadarene swine. Should we be cast into the sea, then?”

If you think this is an excessive letter, you ought to read it in Portuguese. It sounds like an exhortation from a pulpit. But then Iberian languages are not given to understatement and irony.

“Armando…” I began.

He pointed to a spot on the road.

“There.”

We both slowed our steps as I gazed at a patch of red mud by the side of the two-lane road that pretends to be a national highway in this part of the world. I looked hard at it hoping it would yield some secrets.

“Right there,” he added.

“Aah,” I said.

He came to a dead halt and took me urgently by the arm.

“What trouble he gave us, men. How we removed the days, we only know. I don’t want to speak evil of the dead but I got to give account. He also got to give account now. He drank like a pig. Could not keep his hands off it. Abuse, okay, we have heard abuse. But shouting? In the middle of the night? Cursing the Lord and his mother and his parents and even us? Vomiting everywhere? And making piss on the dining room table. On the dining room table until there were burn marks, men, burn marks, I tell you. All that we bore, no? We bore for how long? How long? You know Sean is sitting for his CA. How much disturbance he can take? How much disturbance?”

I nodded as he went on.

“I wrote to your granny. I wrote and told her everything. I opened my heart. I told her to write him a letter. To tell him find another place. She told me, give him a month. After six months, I wrote again. I said, ‘You are throwing the living into the mouths of the dead.’ I said, ‘Are you not a grandmother? Have you no feeling for Sean?’ I asked.”

I knew that Granny had listened to his impassioned plea. She had written the letter he wanted. She tried to soften the hard news but, as the Konkani saying goes, buttering the stone won’t make it bread. She gave Armando a month. That letter had brought me to Goa.

Because Granny summoned me when she heard the news. She summoned me and sat me down and said, “Go and find out the truth. Tell me what happened to Armando. Tell me if I sent him out to die. I want to know.”

But Tio Giovanni was continuing. “Did he try to find another place? Did he? Did he do anything? No, he just went every day to the courts, came back and typed, tiptip tiptap tiptip tiptap, all those stupid cases for his houses. Finished that and then went to the bottle. Didn’t even try to get a job or find a house.”

“He was lying there for hours, Churchill said.”

“Churchill? Now you’ll listen to Churchill? A good one to talk. Grabbed one of Armando’s houses only. Now he’s coming to preach to us. You know how many times that man fell on the road? Sometimes he would make susu there only. That Churchill won’t say. How many times Sean and I picked him up and washed him down, that no one will say. Everyone saw him but no one realised he was bleeding. They thought he had vomited or pissed. In the dark, blood looks like water only.”

In the afternoon I tried to sleep. The house was bathed in the softness of a siesta; the village was muted, lying behind mosquito nets. I was deeply aware that I was lying in Armando’s bed. Of course, there was nothing it could tell me. The mattress had been changed after his death because he had often been incontinent when very drunk. There was nothing under it, just some wrapping paper, bright blue and shiny, stored for another day and another present. At tea, Tia Sylvia asked if I would come to church.

“It’s the month’s mind,” she said. “His month’s mind.”

“Poor Tubelight,” said Sean swigging Horlicks in manly gulps. “Poor old chap.”

Armando was called Tubelight because… No, this won’t yield that easily.

Prima Vera told me the story as we sat in her home with the iron doors. I must mention here that despite her neurotic inability to forgive slights, despite her ambivalent relationship with the Catholic Church, despite her multiple hates and grudges, and her thin cold suggestion of a mouth, despite, despite, despite, Prima Vera is a reliable source. Her master’s degree has alienated her from the rest of the family and from her generation. They revere her learning and on occasion have even asked her to raise the toast at a wedding but they know she holds herself away. They know it and hate it. So she hates them too. She is a warning to me. I could go this way, so easily. “Mathilde was a woman before her time,” Prima Vera said. “She simply refused to marry Timoteo. She told me once that she loved him but she could see no reason to marry him. I wasn’t even eighteen and I was scandalised. ‘Nothing to say to that?’ she asked me and laughed. She said she was earning and she did not have to answer to anyone. She would live with him and she would marry him if and when she chose. She felt she owed her parents nothing because they had been opposed to her becoming a nurse.”

“Why would they oppose that?”

“Because of the sponge baths, my dear,” said Prima Vera. We sat in silence for a moment as I absorbed those possibilities.

“Mathilde ran away to Calcutta and sold her mother’s gold set and did her training there. Then she came back to Bombay with this young man who said he was a real estate agent. In those days there was so much property to let in Bombay that you could walk about the streets and choose which side you wanted to live on. Every other building had a board on it: To Let, Rooms for Hire, and he was a real estate agent.”

Mathilde was rising in my estimation. I had a feeling that somewhere under the pursed lips, Prima Vera had a sneaking admiration for her too but she would not allow herself to express it. Could not, perhaps. Eau de cologne and starched white napkins can be hazardous to your health.

“Maybe she was lying,” I said. “Maybe he didn’t want to marry her.”

“Nonsense. He wanted to marry her. My father went and met him when she was at work and said. ‘You’re a good Catholic boy. Why are you doing this?’ And he said. ‘I am ready to go to Church tomorrow and ask the priests to read the banns. But she won’t marry me. So ask her why she is doing this.’ She was that kind of woman. And then to make matters worse, she went ahead and had his baby.”

“Armando?”

“Armando. And when he was two years old, Mathilde discovered she was pregnant again.”

“Armindo?”

 “Armindo. This time she turned around and told Timoteo she would marry him. Just like that. Timoteo was delighted and announced the wedding. My father warned him. ‘Don’t have a big reception’, but he said, ‘Why not?’ Daddy didn’t want to upset him by saying, ‘No one will come,’ so he said, ‘Not to upset Mathilde because she’s carrying.’ But Timoteo said, ‘Nothing upsets my Matty.’ The priests, of course, refused to let her wear white but he didn’t care for them. She wore cloth of gold and looked stunning. He got the dress from Portugal and called everyone to the Miramar Hotel. No one came. My father went without my mother—she said she would have nothing to do with the whole thing. He told her that four or five drunkards came and some other people, some Hindu friends, and your granny. Of course, Tia Isabella went. Your grandmother had a heart as big as a house. She would always go. Some said for the free meal but I think she went because no one was going. And she tried to keep them talking so that they would not notice. But how could you not notice? Such a big hall and no one there?

“Everyone who they had invited had sent apologies. Timoteo was furious but he couldn’t do a thing because the flowers kept coming and telegrams of congratulations kept coming and he kept tipping and tipping and tipping the bearers. Finally, Mathilde started laughing and said, ‘Send the food to the Home for the Aged and let’s dance.’ Then she and Timoteo danced and danced and your granny danced with one of those drunks and then they all went home. “Maybe it would have ended there. Armando was too young to know anything. But then she called her second son Armindo. That meant people couldn’t really make out which one was being talked about. Suppose one of them got into trouble and it was being discussed. Someone would say, ‘Which one is that?’ And the other would say, ‘The bastard.’ Or ‘Not the bastard.’

“By the time Armando went to school, he was known as the Bastard. The boys called him that. My brother says even the teachers called him that but I think that is just his imagination.”

“Was that why he started blinking?” I asked.

It was an unwelcome interruption. Prima Vera liked to tell her stories her own way.

“No, that was later. That was when Armando and Armindo went to pick jambools, I don’t know why they would go to pick jambools because in our village they used to grow wild. People would not even bother to pick them and the pigs would eat them happily. Once there were so many lying around that the Blessed Pig got drunk on them. Have I told you about the Blessed Pig?”

I nodded. She hadn’t but if I allowed her to get off on one of her tangents, we would never return to the day of jambool picking. I mentally noted the Blessed Pig for some other moment.

“That day they went jambool picking or so the story goes. And Armindo climbed the tree while Armando stayed beneath. Armando was ten at the time and Armindo must have been seven or eight, I don’t remember exactly.”

“Eight and he was climbing a tree?”

“You city kids, I tell you. We grew up in trees. Did I tell you about your mother and the chikoo tree?”

She had. In brief. My mother was in a chikoo tree when she discovered that coiled around the branch, very close to her arm, was a cobra. It was enjoying the sun and seemed a bit slow. My mother was even slower. She was totally immobile and stayed that way until the cobra climbed all over her and slithered into the middle of the tree. But you have to hear Prima Vera tell it. You can feel the scales, the tension in my mother’s young body, the menace of the flickering tongue.

“Even if Mathilde had known her boys were climbing trees, she wouldn’t have been bothered. All my mother used to say if she saw us in a tree was that she would give us a kicking if we tore our clothes. But then it was like that. They were more concerned about our clothes than our skin. Podtat aani vadtat, my mother would say. They fall and they grow.”

“So they went jambool picking….” Revelation time, which is why Prima Vera has to sigh and shake her head and juice the rest for as much as she can…

“And Armindo fell out of the tree and broke his neck. He fell straight past his elder brother and died. After that Armando began to blink, blink, blink. The boys at Dominic Savio School began to call him Tubelight.”

***

I walked with Tia Sylvia who pointed out houses as we walked to the chapel.

“There’s Churchill’s house; at least it was Armando’s house. Now that rotter has grabbed it and won’t give it back. That’s my Tia Madrinha’s house. It used to have a lovely mango tree but see the condition now. They won’t sell it and they won’t use it but they have spies to see who looks where and does what. You can’t draw one bucket of water from their well without their lawyers knocking on your doors the next day. But that is the way to be or you end up without a house to live in. This is what Goa…”

When clichés come to life, they can bite. Tia Sylvia looked sideways at me to see if I’d noticed. I caught her eye and she burst out:

“I never said he should go. Don’t I have a brother like that only, drinking, giving trouble? Sean also never said. Sean and he were thick as thieves, I should say. But you know your Tio Giovanni, he got it in his head that Sean’s studies were going to be ruined and he decided that Armando should go. I couldn’t say anything.”

Our footsteps slowed. Tia Sylvia fidgeted in her bag and brought out her black lace veil. Vatican Council II had said women need not cover their heads in church but Tia Sylvia had once been Miss Spender Lane when she lived in Bombay and she knew what a black lace veil could do for her face. She draped it over her head as we walked, arranging it with little tugs to left and right until it was just so, working by instinct until it was a charming frame for her softening face.

“Do you know how many houses Armando had when he died? Four. I’m not counting the old house because that fool Timoteo said it should go to the priests and the priests took it. When I went there and asked them to take Armando in, they refused. They wouldn’t take him into what was once his home. See that.”

“Whited sepulchres,” I said.

“Father, forgive him for he does not know what he is saying. The sin of youth is on his lips,” said Tia Sylvia, automatically asking pardon for what she thought was blasphemy. It was not the time to remind her that they were Christ’s words for the Pharisees. “But the problem was Armando was too trusting. When he left the old house to the priests, he went to the place outside Panjim. And he brought Marcelline to look after him. Mummy told him, ‘You can never invite only one cockroach to dinner.’ But did he listen? They got in, all of them, one by one, and he was out when they bribed the panchayat. Same story was repeated so many times. Like there was no house in his luck only.”

She stopped.

“Cross now, aahn. Carefully,” she said and took my hand. For a moment she was my Tia Sylvia and I was young again and roads were dangerous things and you had to look left, look right and when you had crossed you had to say, Hurray, I’m safe on the other side. Then as we looked at the buses, the trucks, the cars, the entire maze of traffic that came hurtling towards us, the national highway traffic, we changed roles. Her hand went soft in mine, her body changed and she was the child and I was leading her.

“See the traffic,” she murmured. “See the traffic. And he was often so drunk that he could hardly stand. No wonder…”

Which at least was true. Dr Manoj Shetty at the clinic had called it Goan levels of alcohol in his blood. “He lay in bed number 17 for three days after he was hit by the truck. I don’t think he had any visitors.”

This, deadpan but deadpan is generally disapproving.

A rustle of papers.

“Govanni? Govanni D’Sa came to admit him,” Dr Shetty said, mangling Tio’s name, “and after that he lay in coma for three days. D’sa left his nearest of kin as some Markulline Godinho but,” more rustling of paper, “she did not respond when we asked her to come and collect the body.”

And Dr Shetty, unable to restrain himself any longer, looked up from the papers.

“What kind of family is this? We were on the point of sending the body for public burial when this D’Sa came.”

I cannot forgive myself for smiling apologetically. For days afterwards, I replay the scene with me impassive, me coldly setting him down for his impertinence, me laughing sophisticatedly at his innocence about the nature of families. But caught off-guard, I smiled an apology at him, admitting that as families go, ours was a failure; that he was right and we were wrong. Bed number 17, I notice as I leave, is filled. But the man who fills it isn’t alone. He has three people around him, and at least one looks concerned for his health.

The Church My Grandmother Built—as I always think of it—looks like any other Goan church. The people who have come for evening Mass look like any other congregation. Tia Sylvia proceeds to the front pew, as of right, and I follow. She genuflects, more Vatican II roadkill, and turns to enter the pew.

She freezes.

Marcelline Godinho.

In her pew.

She looks around. There is no help to hand. You don’t have ushers on non-feast days. You just have the weight of tradition to keep things going. Marcelline has shucked that weight, refused to acknowledge it. In the Church My Grandmother Built, tradition dictates that only the woman who bankrupted her entire family to build it should sit in the first pew. She and her direct descendants. If none of them is in Church at the time, no one sits there. Some special people may be invited, as the family proceeds to the first pew, to sit with them. This can be very stressful because, by Porvorim tradition, chief mourners sit in the first pew. Each time there is a funeral, one of the direct descendants must be present to usher the chief mourners into the pew of privilege and sit there with them to make everything all right.

This, in turn, means that every funeral must be attended by a member of the family. Sean told me that he was once sent as an eight-year-old to do the honours but I suspect this was a calculated insult. Anyway, sitting in the first pew is ‘By Invitation Only’. Marcelline has just overthrown twenty years of convention by sitting there. She has also asserted her position as chief mourner, which is doubtful. And she has induced a terrible crisis in poor Tia Sylvia who has genuflected and now must enter her pew. But there is Marcelline, kneeling, praying as though this is her outlandish village, where they have no traditions because…because…it is that outlandish village.

Tia Sylvia entered the pew. I hadn’t genuflected so I was safe. I knew this as well. She looked up at me with desperate eyes. For a moment my egalitarian instincts did battle with my cautious liking for my custard cream aunt. The affection won. I leant down and pretend to whisper in her ears. Then I walked out of the Church My Grandmother Built, trying to keep my steps as slow and measured as possible. When I was out, I circled back, ignoring Father Fabregad. He was unimportant. He wouldn’t even know what Marcelline’s position meant. He was new, by which Porvorim meant, he had been there for only twelve years. But Michael knew.

Michael was the sacristan. He was polishing a chalice with holy zeal and humming a hymn. Only, he hummed them with such salacious enjoyment that they sounded like lewd songs.

“Michael,” I said gently.

“I saw,” Michael said. “I was waiting for someone to come. Don’t worry, I will handle it. Otherwise tomorrow the chardos will sit there.”

Just what I need, a caste dimension to this whole thing. By the time I got to our pew, Marcelline was sitting in the second. Michael had come out bearing a hastily-filled ciborium of holy water, ostensibly to replenish the fonts. Then as he passed the first pew, he had spilled most of it on the seat on which Marcelline would have plonked herself when she got off her knees. She had been forced to move to the next row as Michael cleaned up and spread the water liberally around, leaving only one dry seat. Tia Sylvia did not acknowledge this with even a look but it went down into her mental ledger of good deeds done. In the evening, she asked me to take a shirt for Michael when I said I was going to meet him. It was one of Sean’s old shirts. I dropped it in a bin and bought him a new one. He took it with the grace of a Goan.

“Now what is the need for all this? You young fellows waste your money like this,” he said, but his face was glad.

We walked down together to Elite Bar and Pub.

“We used to call him Advocato,” Michael said as I poured us both slugs of feni and added Limca to his glass. “Because he was always typing out those briefs and talking about the cases he had in Mapusa and Panjim. This property and that law, this code and that ruling. This judge and that lawyer. ‘Advocato,’ I would say, ‘give it up, men, give it up. What these courts will give you?’ But he didn’t listen only.”

He took a long swig.

“And after all that, aah? Years of that, and God knows this much, this much paper, who gets the property? Marcelline. Two days after he died, he won a case. The first one. The one he argued on his own. And he got back two houses. Now who is sitting on them? That deoncar Marcelline who would not give one cowrie for his funeral.”

He took another swig, horrified at the oddities of the law. I wondered whether the courts had followed what Tio Giovanni had noted down as “next of kin”, whether she had inherited based on my Tio’s attempt at distancing himself from Armando’s dying body.

“Advocato used to sit there,” he said pointing to the table now filled with tourists. “He and I would sit there and we would drink a little. Not much, you know, just enough to keep our heads up. That night, he told me, ‘Padre baap…’ He used to call me that, Padre baap, may God forgive his soul but then he used to say I was better than most of them. ‘Padre baap, I am going home.’ I said, ‘Where you’re going? Where you got to go?’ laughing like. How I knew?  And he said he was going back to his father’s house. So I thought the old house, no? Which the priests have got now? That one. What I knew he meant Jesus’s house? What I knew? Or I would have taken him to my home.”

He might even have meant it, I thought. It is easy for men to be generous and warm-hearted since they can rely on their womenfolk to play the shrew. If Michael had taken Armando home, his wife Elsa would have thrown him out again. And Michael would have stood by with an expression of bemused disgust, perhaps also relieved that Elsa was saving him from the consequences of a good deed.

A bloated moon guided Michael’s feet back to his home. And the dim glow of Sean’s exposed paunch—his banian was bunched under his nipples—lit the balcao when I got back to granny’s house. The chair next to him was Mano Tio Nereus’ but he had gone to his last reward shouting, “Don’t disturb me, Philippa, I have to render accounts to Head Office.” Or so the story goes. “You know he might have been alive today if I had walked him home,” Sean said, after a few minutes’ silence. “That was his last evening with us. The deadline was finished. He had told us he would move the next day but you know Dadda. He kept saying, ‘You should pack’ and all. I felt sorry for Armando after a bit and said, ‘Let’s go for a walk’. Which meant, let’s go for some booze. He came happily because he knew I would pay, no? And he was talking about this place he had found with a nice view of the river and within walking distance of the Panjim court so he could go for his cases without trouble.”

“He told Michael that he was going home,” I said.

Sean half-turned in his chair, raising his body slightly. Hs paunch began to slip and slide over the arms of the chair before coming to rest, half-on, half-off.

“When?”

“On that last evening.”

“I just told you. I was with him on that last evening. We had a drink together. Afterwards I was going to Panjim to a party. A bus came and I grabbed it. He must have lurched out on the road.”

“Michael says…”

“Michael says. Michael says. What does it matter what that boozard says? He’ll say anything. Only wants one shot and he’ll talk about anything.”

“And that he won his houses back, the day after he died.”

Sean sat up, alert. “I didn’t hear anything like that. Which houses? Where? The one at Sangolda? We also have a claim to that house; we are also relatives. I will check and tell you.”

I slumped back into my chair. Sean paused and shifted so that his paunch slid back into the chair. Then he said with decision:

“It was an accident.”

That was what I told Granny. She began to cry softly for a while. Then she dried her eyes and sighed, “I have always tried to be a Christian.”

As with all stories, there are two pieces that don’t fit in anywhere. Three years later, when Sean married Lydia, she got her bridal outfit stitched at Marcelline’s. Prima Marthe’s son bought one of the houses and lived there with a Muslim girl he had married in Canada.


This short-story was published in July-September 2017 issue of The Indian Quarterly magazine.

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