When Anna died the light of my life passed away.
Anna was in love with life. Life was a sweet music to her and she danced to the delightful tunes of that music.
It was a dance that led her to death.
Anna was a teacher in the primary section of the school where I taught for some time soon after my post-graduation. I was teaching in the senior secondary section, but I had higher ambitions. I wanted to join a college as a lecturer.
“Stop studying like a student, Mark,” Anna told me one day when she caught me in the staff room reading a book on postmodernism. “You have to meet the right people in the right way.”
“Eh? What do you mean?” I asked.
“You fool, don’t you know the basic lessons of life yet?”
Anna explained to me that all appointments in Kerala’s colleges are “made politically.” You have to meet the right person, make a huge donation and maintain the contact until the appointment is finalised. She guided me to the parish priest, Father Varghese, with whom I already had a fairly good relationship. Father Varghese led me to Father Jacob, the bishop’s secretary. Father Jacob showed me the list of applicants for the lecturer’s post and the amounts of money they had promised to pay as donation. “If you can offer more than all these, the job is yours, but let me know your decision latest by Saturday.” said Father Jacob. Eventually the job was mine indeed, thanks to Anna’s timely advice.
When I got the appointment letter Anna came to me in the staff room during the interval and said, “Come, let’s dance. We have to celebrate your joy.”
Dance came naturally to Anna at any time. She grasped me by the arm and dragged me out of my chair. I danced for the first time in my life. There was no music; Anna was the music.
That was Anna’s last dance. As I moved clumsily holding her hands in mine I suddenly became aware that Anna was not dancing but was falling on to me. She collapsed into my arms. With the help of a few colleagues I rushed her to the hospital. Her life was saved but her body was left paralysed from the waist down.
Whenever I visited Anna at her home she offered me the same gift she always used to offer when she was in school: a clump of tobacco. I always used to accept it and do what she did with it: stick it up somewhere behind the teeth. One day the tobacco was moist and it smelled pungent. “Whisky,” she said with her usual naughty smile. “I asked my husband to soak my tobacco in his whisky. I want my mind to dance until I die.”
Anna had never mentioned death earlier. It worried me.
“You won’t die, you will get up and dance again,” I said.
“John and Jessie have shifted to a rented house.” Anna tried to make it sound casual, but I understood she was very sad.
John was Anna’s only son and Jessie was his wife. It was only about a year since they had married. Jessie had very clear notions about a woman’s rights in this world and a daughter-in-law’s rights at home. “I’m not a servant,” she would say whenever she was asked to help with the household chores. Even Anna’s irresistible charm could not tame the staunch feminist in Jessie. When Anna became bed-ridden Jessie declared to her husband, “Our duty is to look after ourselves.” She didn’t want to live in a house that smelled perpetually like a hospital. John was too busy to get into any dispute with his wife – busy with his job and the prospects of an imminent promotion.
“Do you feel very lonely?” I asked Anna with some hesitation. Her husband would go for work during the day and return home late in the evening. A girl from the neighbourhood was paid to spend time with Anna after doing the cleaning up jobs.
“I am my own best friend, aren’t I?” It was beautiful to see her usual naughty smile.
“But, er, do you feel sad about John and Jessie?”
“Regrets should have no place in life, Mark. Throw out regrets and bring in decisions. Ah, about John and Jessie, see, it’s their life and they have every right to live it as happily as they can. They’re happy and so I’m happy too.” Anna took another clump of whisky-soaked tobacco after spitting out what was already in her mouth. “Want to dance with me?” She asked offering me some tobacco.
I smiled gently. “No, thanks. I’m already dancing with you.”
I noticed Anna becoming increasingly melancholy in my subsequent visits despite the efforts she made to appear cheerful.
“A dance has no value except for the joy and grace it exudes,” Anna said during my last visit. “When it’s over the audience should be able to carry that joy and grace in their hearts. Otherwise the dancer is a failure. The dance is a failure.”
The next day when the message about Anna’s death came I was delivering a lecture on Yeats’s line: “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
Author’s note: I wrote this story in 2007. For some mysterious reason I remembered Anna today.