Morning: At Sixes and Sevens

by Maniza Naqvi

Paintingchildren1A soft thud, outside, beyond the door, followed by a steady chiir-chiir. Then, commotion: the sound of running feet—children shrieked, a woman calling out to them—wait—stop! A few minutes later the sound of a whistle–a siren—shoon-shoon. An orange fire, the shape of a disk, rising beyond, the window. Green parrots, arrived with little red beaks, gleaming, alighting on the electric wiring, between the apartment buildings. Then: another and more, two—three-four. She counted at least eight—the excited debate—-tain-tain. She picked up a green chili pepper from the stainless steel bowl–and with the small cutting knife, now too blunt and in need of sharpening, she chopped up the green treat. She opened the kitchen window and set it out in pieces strewn on the window pane for the parrots. That done, she undid the lid on the Tapal tea plastic jar, her fingers fished out the plastic spoon from within to measure a single heaped spoon of tea leaves into the two cup chipped teapot. She poured the scalding water from the whistling kettle into the tea pot—she noted the line of tiny red ants streaming from the sugar jar to a tiny hole in the wall. She covered the teapot with the velvet and mirror worked tea cozy. Looking out she mused, if not a ball of fire, an egg perfectly, served up—yes that’s how she always thought of it—each day break there it was a giant orange blazing egg yolk in the whitish haze in the distance. She watched the orderly line of thousands of geese in a drowsy winter sky making their way to the islands to lay their eggs. She thought about the Cheel, she hardly saw them anymore—the first ones to grab the bread—hardly any left. She had heard, God only knew from where,–that in Bombay, the Parsies had started cremating their dead—because the Cheel had all disappeared, poisoned by the chemical additives in the offal thrown out in the open by butchers which the birds fed on. She worried: was it the same here? Where would life go if not to the birds? There they were—the orderly Vee formation of thousands of geese in a drowsy winter sky making their way to the mangroves just nearby to lay their eggs. Here to escape, the cold, when earth froze over there, to renew life here, then returning to warmer weather and huntsmen. She saw them at ponds when she visited her daughter: Her daughter has a good job there with a company making helicopters for the miitary. She thought she heard popping sounds in the distance. She pried open the Cadbury Chocolates tin box—from it she took out one rusk and place it on a small plate. She poured a tea jug’s worth of milk from the Haleeb cardboard pack from the fridge into the pan and set it on the stove burner on a low fire. Then she headed for the front door. By the time she got back it would be just getting ready to boil over. She made her way slowly to the entrance of the apartment, DAWN lay at her threshold: Another headline of children killed by a drone attack. The arthritis in her knee –made its unwelcome appearance as it always did at this time of the year. But she didn’t want to move away from being so close to the sea. On the balcony where she had placed the torn up pieces of dried roti, the sounds of contentment grew now, the katr-patr, katr patr—of the Myna—yellow beaked. Then came the caw-caw, yes the bullying crows had spotted the roti; the Myna, naturally, had taken flight. As she closed in to the door, she heard, the sound of the jahrtoo as the sweeper moved dust around on the landing, while keeping up a steady chatter with the ayah who squatted in the doorway of the apartment next door fixing herself a paan laced with tambakoo, as she took a breather after having just dispatched her young charges with the usual shouting in their chaotic wake—You forgot your water bottle—Come back you forgot your pencil box–Arey homework—homework!!! Come back! She listened to this calling out, the woman at sixes and sevens with the children. Hers too would be home soon, with her grandchildren, like the geese that came back, only at this time, every year from colder climes.

More writings by Maniza Naqvi