Mr Swaminathan died suddenly, as he was walking back to his flat from the Veg dining hall after dinner. He was ahead of me on the path, and I saw him slow down. His gait changed from a fast stride to a slower, hunched walk. His left arm went limp. He lost his footing and crumpled to the ground. If I had not been swift, I imagine he would have hit his head on the cement. There would have been blood. But I caught up with him. Before he fell, I squatted to the ground and put my hands out, and his head fell directly into my open palms. Carefully, I slipped my hands out from behind his head, set it gently on the cement and sat at his side talking to him. His left eye looked lower than his right. His left cheek sagged, as if it might slide off.
I held his hand until the ambulance arrived. It was the first time that I had held a man’s hand since my husband died. The rectangular diamond on Mr Swaminathan’s gold ring was hard and cold in contrast to his warm skin. Before they loaded his body onto the gurney, he opened his eyes, looked at me and said, ‘Renuka.’ Then he squeezed my hand. Whether he was asking me to summon his wife, or whether he thought I was his wife, I cannot say. He died before he reached the hospital. He was seventy-five years old, the same age my husband would be if he were alive today.
His death was our first. Hard to believe, since this is a place for old people. But Malliga Homes is a new facility, and the first residents, myself included, moved in just two years ago.
The other day, I spoke to my daughter Kamala on the phone, and told her how expertly the personnel handled the whole Swaminathan matter. They were prompt in calling for help. The area was cleared immediately, and the ambulance rolled right onto the freshly trimmed landscaping, crushing a row of golden dewdrops that took a year to grow.
‘I am so glad to hear that,’ Kamala said.
Malliga Homes is not a bad place. It is a rather nice place, in fact. Just a bit isolated for city people like me, coming from places like Chennai…. https://granta.com/malliga-homes/
More short stories
“Papa old-age home se bhaag gaye. Mrs Sharma ke saath”