Sitting on the chair in the lower deck of Kokan Shakti, Appa was lost in the memories of his small village Devgad. It was nestled in nature, its peaceful, verdant slopes rolling down to meet the shiny golden sand, where the sun casts golden hues on the seawater.
Appa loved walking on the soft sand, its warmth slowly seeping into his body and soul. The salty, briny beach air was the harbinger of the memories of yesteryears. As a small boy, he used to walk on this beach with his father, hearing amazing stories from him, making sandcastles, lying on the golden sand, and racing with his father home.
Walking down the slopes of his mango farm delighted him immensely. The lush greenery of the mango trees with the brilliant, yellow hues of luscious Alphonso mangoes always soothed his eyes. The rustling of fragrant mango leaves, the frequent Coo-Coo of the Cuckoo, the occasional sun rays penetrating through the canopies never failed to touch his soul and rejuvenated him.
For Appa, summer was synonymous with Mangoes. He thought the entire village smelled of Alphonso. Several houses had one room dedicated to mangoes plucked from the trees and kept under newspapers or hay to ripen.
Sitting on the swing in his verandah eating mangoes was a delight for Appa. He loved to squeeze the mango and roll it, squeeze again and roll it till the entire mango became a little mushy. Then tearing the stalk and a little skin, he raises it to his mouth, squeezes it, and lets the pulp gush into his mouth. Relishing the mangoes so made it sweeter, he believed. He had taught the same to his children and always enjoyed watching them savor the mangoes.
Appa always dreamed of working in Mumbai. So, after finishing his studies, he applied for an accountant’s post and moved to Mumbai. His wife and children stayed back in Devgad, as his salary was not enough to accommodate them in the city. Moreover, his wife looked after the mango plantations that he inherited. Together they were managing their lives well. Every summer, Appa took leave from his office and joined his wife, helping her manage the mango produce as things needed to move quickly. Timely selling of mangoes was a must. Mangoes having even a single black spot were separated and used for making by-products like bottled pulp, mango papad, juice, canned slices, etc.
Appa was tall and lanky, and his skin glowed with a warm brown tint. His hair bristled on the skirts of his balding head. Bright eyes and his warm smile attracted people to him. He was an endearing man, who used more words than necessary.
Appa was fascinated by other people’s stories, bombarded people with questions, and never had any problem conversing with strangers. He could never say no to anybody or anything.
Sitting on the half-scraped deck chair, Appa was watching everybody keenly. Hearing the accents, he tried to match people to their cities. Today he could not place anybody from Devgad. He hoped to find somebody on the Steamer, as his friend Dashrath had taken the tempo to Mumbai for delivering mangoes and would not pick him up from the Devgad port. Vijay would come with his boat, but walking from the port to his house at 1 A.M, with no lights on the road, was a task. Clear summer nights were favorable, but some company would help.
As the Steamer neared his destination, Appa stood up and went to the railing. The refreshing wind caressed his face. Apart from the sounds of the sea and the Steamer, Appa could hear waves lapping. A few minutes later, he could see two lights flickering in the distance. “That would be Vijay with his boat”, Appa thought.
“Home sweet home”, he exclaimed. There were a few others from the upper deck who joined Appa in Vijay’s boat. Entering the boat, Appa took the farthest seat, from where he could feel the rush of the wind on his face. The breeze was warm announcing that summer has arrived.
Alighting at the Devgad port, the aroma of the sea, tall grasses, and mangoes engulfed him and assured him that he was home.
Countless stars lighted the night like several fairy lights hanging by invisible threads. The moonlight cut the darkness and illuminated the rising muddy path. As Appa started walking, the undergrowth crackled with each step, and unseen wings fluttered by his presence. Appa knew that imagination and untrained ear brings in fear. Thus he kept walking calmly. Suddenly there was a pat on his back, and Appa jumped. Looking back, he saw a young boy; his face lit with a grin that boys have when they are up to some mischief.
Namaskar! He greeted Appa.
Namaskar! Appa replied.
“Can I walk with you till the village?”, quizzed the boy.
“Walking alone at this hour can be intimidating”, he grinned.
Smiling Appa replied, “Of course. I was also hoping to meet somebody to talk to en route. Talking makes the way seem shorter.”
The two men continued their journey together.
It was 2 A.M and Janaki was waiting for Appa. She had cooked his favorite black peas curry and was excited for his loving comments while he relished the food. It never took him so long to reach home.
Sitting on the Dewan in the living room, waiting for Appa, Janaki fell asleep unintentionally. At 4 in the morning, she was startled by the dog barking. Looking at the time, Janaki was worried. She started pacing the house.
Never was Appa this late. She waited till the neighboring Kaku came out to milk their cow. Running over to her, she inquired about Shankar Bhau, who came to the door hearing her voice.
What is the matter, Janaki Tai, enquired Shankar?
Stuttering badly, Janaki explained her concern.
“Do not worry, I will go to the port and check. Maybe the Steamer got delayed”, consoled Shankar.
Smoothening the creases on her saree and tucking her stray hair behind her ears, Janaki said, “If you do not mind, I will also accompany you. I cannot bear to sit at home and wait anymore.”
“Sure, just give me 5 minutes”, said Shankar and went inside his house.
Janaki stood in the courtyard clasping her hands, beads of sweat forming on her forehead.
“Do not worry. Appa would be back home soon”, consoled Kaku.
Tears welled in Janaki’s eyes. Praying to God, she folded her hands and managed a small “Hmm”.
“Please keep an eye on the kids, Kaku, requested Janaki.
“Definitely”, assured Kaku.
Walking in silence, Shankar and Janaki reached the port. Vijay had just arrived there and was untying his boat. On inquiring, he confirmed that Appa had arrived by the Steamer. He had left him at the port and had seen him walk towards the village with a young boy.
Janaki was paranoid now. Cracking her finger joints, she looked around, trying to find any clues about the whereabouts of her husband.
There floating near the wooden planks was a page of the local paper “The Konkan Times” – flashing the news above the photo of a grinning young boy- “A Serial Killer on Loose.”
Written by Meghana Purohit