It happened on a Sunday. Amy Aunty was at her laziest best lolling in bed and muttering ‘five more minutes’ and fighting a losing battle with the alarm which she tried to smother under a mound of pillows. She had set it to snooze twenty times with five minute intervals. Finally, she succeeded in silencing it. That was when she heard a ‘clink -clink’ at her gate. Someone was trying to push it open. Amy Aunty rushed to the window, parted the curtains one hundredth of an inch and shutting one eye in imitation of her neighbours who were past masters in the art of spying peered down. It was a stranger. A tall man dressed in full sleeved shirt and trousers and carrying a very official looking briefcase. Amy Aunty immediately cursed herself for lying in bed so late. But before she could decide what to do, the man turned crossed the street and disappeared into her neighbour Mythili’s house. Just then Rumali Ravi and ‘General’ Mani (formerly of the Territorial Army or so he claimed) who had been watching from their front doors also hurried into Mythili’s house.
Now Amy Aunty’s curiosity was really piqued.
She was down at the gate in ten seconds flat and was opening the lock with deliberate loud clangs hoping that the man would pop out of Mythili’s house. She could hear the buzz of conversation from within. So she loitered near the gate minutely examining the one and only plant in her garden – the scrawny rose; making an elaborate show of watering it all the while throwing sidelong glances at the opposite house. When the solitary rose plant looked very much in danger of rotting from an excess of moisture, she went in to prepare breakfast but kept her kitchen window wide open. Just as she was pouring out her coffee, she noticed Bearded Devil and Weepy Walrus (who had the Permanent Cold and his eyes watered incessantly) who lived several houses down the street ring the doorbell to Mythili’s house. Why had Muchilott Mythili suddenly become so important? By God! Had something happened to her husband Mo Mu – Moringa Mukesh – so called because of his fondness for drumstick leaves and his tendency to wander around the colony with a tall bamboo pole with a sharp sickle tied to one end to axe down moringa leaves from the trees of unsuspecting colony residents?
But it was Mo Mu who had opened the door.
That made Amy Aunty more determined. And so she carried her breakfast to the cane basket swing on her veranda and munched on her toast and sipped her coffee; her eyes riveted on the door opposite.
And soon she was rewarded because the door opened and all the men trooped out on to the courtyard and Mythili filled the doorway carefully avoiding glancing up. The men stood huddled together in the courtyard conversing in low voices and casting furtive glances in her direction. Now that Amy Aunty was sure that she was the subject of all that huddle-headed whispering she shot up from her swing, went inside and banged the front door shut.
Sure enough the doorbell rang almost immediately.
Amy Aunty took her time opening the door. She first deposited the remnants of the breakfast on the kitchen counter, drank some water from the fridge to smother the resentment that was rising, padded down the hall and flung the door open ready to confront the motley crowd.
But only the strange man was standing on the veranda. He had removed his shoes on the steps and Amy Aunty took in the pristine white socks, the beige pants and the full-sleeved cream shirt with the sleeves and the collar buttoned in spite of the heat, the prim little toothbrush moustache and glasses with a thick square frame. Before she could say a word the man walked in past her and sat down on the sofa looking as though he owned the place. Amy Aunty watched open mouthed as he opened his briefcase and took out a very official looking file, rifled through the papers importantly, paused, looked her up and down the thin mouth under the toothbrush stretched in a line smile and then rifled some more. He dug into his briefcase and produced a pad containing very official looking forms. He then uncapped his pen looked at Amy Aunty and spoke.
“So you’re Invisible, na?”
Amy Aunty gaped. Then she glanced furtively at the window pane and sure enough she saw herself reflected there. She definitely was visible, then. And she had woken up that morning. So this could not be one of her bizarre dreams. With some effort, she pulled her lower jaw upwards and clicked it shut.
“Please sit down. You needn’t remain standing.” The main smiled in a paternal, patronising way.
For a moment Amy Aunty felt like a guest in her own house. But the man’s smile brought her back to her senses and she plonked herself down on her favourite armchair and swung one leg over the other.
“Let me introduce myself,” said the main as though preparing for an elaborate speech.
About time too, thought Amy Aunty indignantly. Barging into my house early in the morning and talking gibberish.
“I am an Enabler. My job is to enable people to become visible. I have helped entire families in the northern districts to become visible again. My skills are legendary. Not just my skills, my connections too are. I have my own people in high places, in positions that matter. So I am the one person who can help you in your present condition. Many people in this colony had contacted me for they were afraid for you. They told me of their suspicions that you were Invisible. And like good neighbours they wanted to help you out. They find that it is a delicate matter to talk to you directly. So they asked me to contact you. It is their great concern for your welfare that has brought me here. They thought that you could use my services, for a small fee of course, and become visible and stay out of all danger.”
Amy Aunty remained silent. They loved to think she was stupid. And she loved to play the part. So she maintained a vacuous expression on her face, though she had guessed where the man was heading.
After his little speech the man picked up his pad and pen.
“Now,” he said all business like and efficient, “tell me your name.”
“No, your full name.”
“No, I mean your full name.”
“That is my full name.” Amy Aunty still maintained a bewildered expression on her face though she knew exactly what the Enabler was after.
“No,” said the man as though explaining something to a very small child who was being slightly inconvenient and stubborn. “What is the expansion of this Amy?”
Ah! She had been right! Amy Aunty indulged in her favourite gesture – a mental fist pump. Eeah!
“What do you mean, expansion?”
“You see, some people in this colony say that Amy is really a shortened form of Abhirami. Some others feel that no, it is not Abhirami, but Amanda. Certain others feel that…” The man paused delicately as though he wished to convey meaning without speaking because speaking might cause insult or hurt.
Amy Aunty seemed not to get it. She continued to stare at him and saw that the Enabler now had serious doubts about her ability to understand anything at all. So he raised his voice and enunciated each word clearly as though she was not just thick but a bit hard of hearing as well.
“Some concerned members of this colony feel that Amy is short for Aamina.” He paused again to check if this had any effect on his listener. She seemed not to have the faintest clue. She now rounded her eyes and arched her eyebrows for added effect. ‘Ah,’ she thought. ‘Abhirami, Amanda and Aamina – what a perfect little story of national integration it would have made on state run television!
“Okay.” said the Enabler looking like someone manfully marching through a minefield skilfully dodging one explosive after another.
“What was your father’s name?”
“Kunju Alathur. But why are you asking me all this?” Amy Aunty asked the question in a childish whine.
“You see,” sighed the Enabler. It was fate. There was nothing he could do except patiently bear the colossal burden of having to explain something complex to a particularly hare brained specimen of the human species.
“These are dicey times in our country when certain people are being classified as Invisible. If you are Invisible you might become a non-person. You might have lived all these years in this land but it is as if you have never lived at all. It is possible to become visible again. But you need to have papers – documents. I am a professional provider of documents. For a negligible fee, of course. Birth and death certificates, wills, tax paid on property receipts, ownership deeds…you name it and I can make them exactly as you want them. You want old documents; I can make documents old. I employ an army of particularly talented termites. In fact I have a large workshop where many Invisibles work day and night to prepare perfect documents. I employ only Invisibles, you see, my small contribution towards being a help to them. And I pay them well too. They make documents so perfect that they are better than the original. You want new documents? I can make them too. I have the right connections in all the right places. With my help anyone can become visible again.”
Amy Aunty had been looking for some time at an empty chair diagonally opposite to where she and the Enabler were sitting. It was a carved wooden rocking chair and had once belonged in an old house.
“Mummy,” she cried clasping her hands in glee. “We are extremely lucky that this good gentleman has come to our house today. He’s going to make you visible again. After all these years Mummy. I can’t wait for them all to see you again.”
Turning to the Enabler in high excitement she said, “You can see her, can’t you? It’s my mummy – Rani Alathur. She has been invisible for so many years. Please make her visible again. Please, please, I beg you.”
The Enabler looked from the rocking chair to Amy and back again trying hard to look as though he dealt with such situations as a matter of routine. Now Amy was chattering nonstop to the chair.
“Mummy! Just imagine the things we can do if you become visible again. I so much wanted to take you shopping with me to that new shop called Sari Sammelan. Mummeeee. You must see the variety, the new designs and the blouses and the mind blowing variety of patterns. Mummy there are so many new things that have come up since you became invisible. Imagine we’ll be able to go to The Big Falooda and order your favourite flavour. We’ll –”
She stopped abruptly.
Mo Mu and all the others of the huddled heads saw a terrified figure clutching a briefcase shoot out of Amy Aunty’s house. It looked very much like the Enabler.
Amy Aunty came to the door and shut it languidly. This time she indulged in a real fist pump. Eeaah! She wouldn’t let them box her. Not so easily.
For more on Amy Aunty click here.