A Requiem for Max

This is Chapter 39 of The Romantics of College Street, a serial novel

By Devapriya Roy
  • Published 9.03.19, 10:53 PM
  • Updated 9.03.19, 10:53 PM
  • 6 mins read
  •  
Behind Ronny and Lata, by the flower beds, a sudden conference of mynahs started up. Lata tapped his shoulder and motioned that they should get up Illustration by Suman Choudhury

Recap: Jampot’s winter sun seems to improve everyone’s humour and there’s much good-natured ribbing going around. In Calcutta, meanwhile, Mimi, with Tiana, plans to put a spanner in what looks like Lata and Ronny’s rediscovery of each other.

Late-afternoon at the club in Jamshedpur, a conspiracy of blues. The languorous azure of the skies, the glittering cyan of the pool, the pale sapphire of Lata’s dress. Even the white marigolds that swayed in the breeze seemed to give off a faint blue haze as the day ripened into its finest time: the half-hour before twilight descended.

Lata Ghosh and Ronny Banerjee were sitting by the pool, not saying very much to each other. But the silence that sat between them was familiar, gentle. (If separation could be personified in chronological terms, their’s was a beautiful, if somewhat self-absorbed, teen.) It was almost as though after the exchange at the Oberoi on the night of Molly’s reception, the bitterness had been expunged, the purono kasundi had been put back upon the old shelf in the unused kitchen. Now, like two people at the brink of a new friendship, they were curious and tentative and oddly interested in the other. He was solicitous and gallant; she, funny and charming.

“When is your talk?” Ronny asked, as though suddenly reminded that it could not be all play all day, of course.

“Tomorrow morning.”

“I’ve always wanted to know what management consultants actually do.”

“Oh, they work very long and very hard at being frauds. That’s basically the summation.”

Ronny laughed.

“But the money is good,” Lata added, “You get used to it.” Softly, she now spoke again, referring obliquely to what Ronny had said earlier in the day, “I wish I had known about all the times you were worried... about stuff... I could have helped...”

“Are you saying you take in strays at your London home?”

“I haven’t so far. But I wouldn’t mind supporting a struggling artist or two. I’d feel important, boast about my magnanimity to the shallow corporate stooges I work with. That’s how you think of the lot of us, don’t you?”

Lata’s tone was jocular, but Ronny felt a little uncertain. Had he gone too far with his snide remarks at the corporates?

“Ari was big on charity. I used to get so annoyed at how he would never pitch in to help his sister, a painter, an extraordinarily talented one at that, but would contribute to all kinds of fancy charities. I would use you to make a general statement.”

“It’s good to hear about your noble intentions,” said Ronny, “since, in all probability, I have no producers for Shomoy.”

Lata looked up at him in surprise.

“I thought it was all sewn up?” she said.

“It was. Before I decided to rewrite the script and include J.C. Bose!”

Behind them, by the flower beds, a sudden conference of mynahs started up.

Lata tapped his shoulder and motioned that they should get up.

“Tell me all about it on our way to Tilottama’s. She may scold us if we are late. She has arranged for us to rest in her house.”

“Why do we have to rest in her house? Why can’t we just go back to the guest house?” Ronny grumbled.

“Because...,” said Lata. And that was that.

***

Vik and Tilo lived in a sprawling bungalow tucked away at one end of the campus. Lata knew her way about because last evening Bappa and co. had brought her over for an elaborate dinner, during which, in a bid to avoid the many men who quickly began to take more than a passing interest in her, she fled to Josh’s room and spent her time with the two kids and the birds. (Josh was fussing over Max.)

Lata and Ronny pushed the wrought-iron gate open, and walked in. The front door was ajar. Inside, in the gloom, Pixie was sitting silently on the sofa, wearing a mournful face. Scone was curled up at her feet. Vik and Tilo were sitting on the sofa opposite Pixie, looking uncharacteristically forlorn, while Aaduri sat on a divan at the far end of the room, ear-phones plugged in, busy on a call. “Oh, thank god you are here, there’s been a terrible tragedy,” cried Pixie, running to Lata and throwing her arms around Lata’s waist.

Vik and Tilo got up to greet them. Sombrely, Vik said, “Come, come, sit.”

“What’s going on?” Ronny asked, divesting himself of his bag.

“It is Max,” said Tilo.

“Josh’s parakeet,” Vik explained.

“He passed away this morning when Josh was in school. We were all busy on campus as you know. He discovered that Max was cold and gone only after he returned from school, and, in fact, neither of us was even home. He is devastated.”

“Where is Josh?” Lata asked finally.

“He’s refusing to open his door. He is sobbing inside. Of course, we could always go around the verandah and enter from the other side...,” Tilo said. “I have the keys to that door.”

“I think he should be left alone to mourn,” Ronny said softly.

“That’s true,” Vik murmured.

“Sorry about this,” Tilo replied, “Best-laid plans and all that...”

“I think I know what will help,” Pixie said. She picked Scone up and looked beseechingly at Lata. Lata followed her down the corridor, to where she knew Josh’s room was.

Pixie knocked.

“Go away,” Josh’s voice came out, all muffled and sobby.

“I am going away,” said Pixie, “Just leaving Scone here at the door. He wants to go in.”

After a minute, the door opened and Josh came out, his face tracked with tears. Pixie handed Scone to him and Scone immediately began to lick Josh’s face.

Pixie followed them in and Lata walked back to the drawing room and informed the adults that a breakthrough had been effected.

Ten minutes later, as they sipped tea in a funereal fashion, Josh and Pixie appeared. Josh was carrying Scone, and Pixie had a shoebox in her hand. She placed the box reverentially upon the coffee table. “It’s Max’s mortal remains,” she said. Josh refused to look at either of his parents and addressed Lata, “Will you help us organise a funeral?”

Lata nodded.

“Joshie,” Tilo said, putting her arm across his shoulder, “Are you okay?”

Josh refused to look at her.

“Let me dig a grave for Max,” Vik said, throwing open the door. He was followed out by Pixie, Josh and Scone.

Tilo sat back on the sofa and said, sadly, “He was telling me the birds needed the vet. I was just so busy!”

“It’s not your fault, Tilodi,” Aaduri replied kindly, finally done with her phone call.

(“It’s totally your fault, Tilodi,” Ronny whispered to Lata, as they walked out into the lawns.)

Outside, the trees and flowers in Tilo’s immaculate garden had caught the fire of the sunset. Optimus Prime, who had been left in his vintage aviary, while Josh sobbed over Max’s lifeless body in his bedroom, now sat dolefully on Josh’s shoulder. Scone had been transferred back to Pixie’s lap though, in deference to Optimus Prime’s grief, he desisted from yapping.

“Ronny Uncle,” said Pixie, “Would you mind recording the funeral ceremony? Josh might want to watch it later.”

“Sure,” said Ronny, “But my phone is out of juice. Maybe I can borrow Lata’s.”

“No, I will play music on Lata’s phone. Let me get Aaduri’s phone.”

Pixie bounded inside.

Meanwhile, Josh came to Lata, “Will you design the ceremony with Pixie? I am too sad to think about these things. But it should be formal.” He now plucked Optimus from his shoulder and held him tenderly to his chest. “Poor Optimus, I can’t imagine how he will take the death of his mate. He might try to kill himself. I will have to keep an eye on him.”

“Here,” said Pixie, handing Aaduri’s phone to Ronny, panting, “Shall we decide the script?”

***

Though her feet were killing her, and his head hurt, Lata and Ronny returned to the guest house oddly invigorated. Did death do that? Even if it were the death of a bird? After the funeral, the atmosphere at Tilo’s had improved considerably. Pixie and Josh were allowed to watch Epic uninterrupted to forget their grief and, at some point, Tilo was forgiven by Josh. The conversation remained tepid enough for Ronny and Lata to make good their escape by 8.30, after a quick dinner, and they left the rest of their party lingering over drinks.

“Nightcap?” Ronny asked her as they got to his room first.

Lata paused and smiled and touched his shoulder. “Not tonight,” she said, “I better get my thoughts in order for tomorrow’s lecture. You’ve set the bar pretty high, Mr Banerjee.”

“Then, Ms Ghosh,” Ronny took her hands in his, warm like the soft breast of a bird. “How about tomorrow morning I commandeer one of Tilo’s SUVs, keep the engine running, and whisk you away after your session to the Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary? We could hang out with the elephants?”

“I’ll think about it, Mr Banerjee.”

“Wait a second. Give me your number. Ms Ghosh!”

“Tomorrow,” said Lata, turning to leave.

(To be concluded)

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