The Silent Sentinel

Fiction
Priyadarshini Banerjee


Photo Credit: Andy Howell/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

She couldn’t recall when exactly the mango tree had been planted in the field. As a child, she wasn’t interested in acquiring that knowledge and as an adult; she had trouble finding someone who could give a reliable account.

The mango tree had always been there, facing the north-west. The only one of its kind in the vicinity. Had her father played near the sapling when they were young? She never asked. She spent summer holidays with her maternal grandparents, who lived in another town. It was a vacation filled with splashing in the club’s swimming pool as her grandmother gossiped with the neighbouring ladies, learning pottery from her experimental grandfather, colouring to her heart’s content (often, sections of the wall became canvas to her creative inspirations), additional nap-time stories in her grandmother’s public school English accent and endless, cool summer treats. But as the vacation neared its end, she would return to her one-storied house. It was a few minutes away from the field which played host to youngsters of all ages, their parents remaining indoors to escape the stifling summer heat.

It was under the cool shade of the young mango tree that their friendship bloomed. The sweet scent of the tree in summer blew over the two heads bent together, discussing their birthday presents and comparing Miss Rita’s strict rules of conduct to Savitri Madam’s variety of punishments. Upon asking her father for a bicycle so she could race with her other friends, she received a set of coloured pencils to draw one. As she rushed to her room in a fit of temper, she missed the pinched twist of her mother’s lips and the helpless sigh from her father. The branches of the mango tree bore witness to the rantings of the ten-year-old, wishing that God would grant her all that he easily demanded from his parents.

Seasons later, the tree fell prey to Officer Shastri’s wife, who felt that the garden-park could benefit from her green thumb. The economy had prospered, so the town developed. Housing societies grew along the edges of the once vast field till it shrank to the size of an extensive park. The grumpy gardener Gopal was tasked to cut down the branches that could damage the walls of the surrounding houses. The bare branches of the tree saw the girl longingly gaze at the object of her affections as he skated past the pavement surrounding the park. That summer saw the bloom of their love; hushed giggles permeated the air and the whispers of sweet promises rustled the green leaves of the mango tree. The playfulness of childhood has given way to the passion of adolescence. Reclining against the trunk, she gazed at the moon as his head rested upon her bosom, wishing for the ardour to last beyond that moment.

One monsoon, she took refuge under the umbrella of dripping mango leaves from a torrential downpour. The grey skies matched her pallor as the rain washed away her tears. She felt as though the blustery wind had blown away the foundation of her love. The yellow leaves, like the tears from her pale visage, had fallen before the biting winds of winter’s wrath. Cocooned in his bungalow, he agreed to his father’s request to finish schooling at the city’s premier institution. For ambition and talent were the roots of grand success and couldn’t be compromised for the scattered leaves of youthful folly.

She relished the green mangoes of the spring, suckling the salted pieces with one hand and caressing her protruding belly with the other. The fragrance of spring blossoms drowned the stench of the town’s gossip as she ambled along the park’s sidewalk with her widowed mother.

Under her careful supervision, the boy plucked the ripe mangoes hanging from the lower branches. Alongside the store-bought apples, they enjoyed the yellow-orange pieces of the juicy fruit after the sumptuous picnic lunch. She sat in the tree’s shade, watching her son play hide-and-seek, creating untainted childhood memories. Sometimes she read stories to him; occasionally she narrated memories from her childhood. At sunset, mother and son walked home hand-in-hand.

She never glanced back at the mango tree that had stood witness to countless stories from its birth. A weathered guardian of the realm of men, it would continue to do so until chopped away to provide land for our desires.

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An alumnus of Jesus and Mary College, Priyadarshini holds a Master’s Degree in History from the University of Delhi. A voracious reader of novels and short stories of all genres from a young age, she is passionate about literature and dancing. Being part of the editorial team of her school magazine, had set her off on the journey of writing. She loves to scribbles poems and fictional tales. Email: pbanerjee1309[at]gmail.com

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