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Grandpa’s Secret Love
by Pesi J. Padshah

The fat lady threw back her head and guffawed. Grandpa had casually walked over to her at the club, and related one of his funny stories.

"You sound just like Radhika", he told her, when she'd finished laughing.

"Radhika, who might that be?" asked the fat lady.

"A dear friend of mine", replied Grandpa. "Delightful creature", he added soulfully. The lady gave him a puzzled look and rose.

"Well, I must be off", she said and departed.

As Grandpa returned to where Grandma, mother and I were sitting, a few tables away, Mother whispered to Grandma:

"Radhika must be another of his lady friends."

"I suppose so", agreed Grandma, as she sniffed haughtily, and turned her face away.

Grandpa loved funny stories but, somehow, Mother's and Grandma's faces would freeze when he was telling them to ladies like the one at the club. They didn't have to be fat. The ladies could be of any shape or size, fat, thin or medium. They all seemed to upset Mother and Grandma. I wondered whether Grandpa would get that same disapproving look when I grew up and listened to his stories.

One morning I went out for a walk with Grandpa. After some time we came to a field. Grandpa stopped, put two fingers in his mouth, and let out a piercing whistle as roadside ruffians often do. Anyhow, that's what Grandma says they do. I looked around to see whose attention he was trying to attract, but there was nobody. I noticed a donkey, though, grazing in the distance. Up went its ears as it looked at us keenly for a moment. Then it started braying loudly and came galloping in our direction. I got scared so I hid behind Grandpa, and clung on to him. Grandpa just stood there, which I thought was rather brave. When the animal was almost on top of us, he opened his arms and let it shove him right in the middle of his clean white shirt, with its wet and muddy muzzle.

"Hee haw, hee haw, brayed the creature in delight. Grandpa produced a carrot and offered it. Then he put his arms affectionately around the donkey's neck, as it munched contentedly and continued to ruin his shirt.

"Excuse me Grandpa", I said, "I hate to interrupt, but do you believe in telepathy?" Grandpa disentangled himself from the donkey and looked puzzled.

"Er, I'm not sure" he said.

"Well, that donkey just told me its name.

"Which is?" demanded Grandpa looking interested.

"What will you give me if I tell you?"

"Anything you say", he replied indulgently.

"Right . . . give me just three bars of chocolate, four jam rolls and a slab of butterscotch jaw-breaker toffee", I said, not wanting to appear greedy.

"Done" said Grandpa. I motioned to him to bend down, and whispered in his ear. Never have I seen anyone look so utterly amazed. He didn't say anything then, but that evening, waiting for me, was a bag containing all the goodies I had asked for, with a couple of packets of chewing-gum thrown in as ‘extras’. Pinned to the bag was a card, addressed to 'My Telepathic Granddaughter'.

I didn't tell Grandpa how I guessed the donkey's name, but it was really quite simple. When the donkey started braying, my thoughts suddenly went back to the fat lady laughing, at the club, and something went click in my mind as I recalled that Grandpa had said she sounded just like his dear friend Radhika. Now nothing could be friendlier than Grandpa and the donkey we had just met, and nothing could sound more like the fat lady laughing, than the very same donkey, braying. So Radhika had to be the name of Grandpa's donkey friend.

A couple of days later, I happened to be present when Grandma decided to interrogate Grandpa about his "dear friend Radhika" whose name she had overheard earlier, at the club. When he explained that it was a donkey, Grandma suddenly, turned fierce, and shouted:

"Don't insult my intelligence with your idiotic excuses!" And when I stepped forward and told her it was true, she turned on me, telling me to get out and not poke my nose into matters that didn't concern me.

Grandpa being the sensitive sort, appeared rather shaken after Grandma's outburst. It left me feeling bad about getting all those delicious eats by lying to him about 'telepathy'. So I confessed to Grandpa, how I really came to know the donkey's name, and apologized, offering to give back what was left of the confectionery. For some reason he found it extremely funny and doubled up laughing. Sensitive people can be quite unpredictable, you know. He then took the sweets, went straight to Grandma, and offered them to her, but she turned up her nose and said she "wasn't in the mood". So Grandpa and I sat down and finished them between us. As we got up, Grandpa gave me a dig in the ribs and said very pointedly "Telepathy eh?", and collapsed, laughing, all over again.

That took place three years ago. In the meantime something very sad happened. Grandpa fell ill and never fully recovered. In the end, he passed away. I missed him terribly; I still do. He left a huge gap in my life that no one could fill. Before Grandpa died, when I was sitting alone with him at his bedside, he made me promise I’d go at least once a week to visit Radhika, and take her a carrot and some sugar lumps, just in case he wasn’t able to. He even tried to teach me how to put two fingers in my mouth and whistle like a roadside ruffian, to call her, but he didn’t succeed. So, until we moved to another town, I’d go there regularly, cup my hands and yell “Radhika”. She would always come to me, and accept whatever I had brought, but the spring had gone out of her step and her gentle eyes had turned sad. Often I would notice her gazing over my shoulder, out into the distance, as though straining to see someone who might be there, but wasn’t. And now, even her braying had turned mournful ; anguished almost. To me, it no longer sounded as it used to . . . like the fat lady laughing, at the club, on that evening long ago. 

21-Mar-2010
 
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