“Koki! Ko..ki,” I hear my mom’s unladylike loud voice and slide down the branch of the guava tree. I notice its smooth milk chocolate-toned surface; was it always this beautiful? Maybe. Imminent move from the station has made me look at everything more closely, or sentimentally as Papa would say. I am not a softy though. If anything, I have always been a tomboy.
“Ma, what is it?” I ask her in an annoyed tone. I mean can’t a twelve-year-old enjoy a lazy Sunday afternoon in the garden without being disturbed? But Ma had turned into a Cleaning Zealot nowadays. That was always the first state before every move, next came Pragmatic Packer and Fitful Mover states.
“Take a look at your stuff I am going to give away, Koki. You have outgrown most of them and didn’t like to wear some of them. I am not going to carry all this stuff to the next station. You can check it once. Don’t crib later.”
I take a look at the stuff my mother has neatly put in a cardboard box. It has a couple of jackets, a few sweatshirts and trousers, stationery and toys. It seems okay to give them away, but for my wooden truck.
“Ma, not this please,” I pick up the truck. Its paint has peeled off at places and it looks rustic compared to the sleek toys that I possessed afterwards.
“Oh, when will you let it go Koki? It’s a toy for a two-year-old. I can’t keep lugging it around forever,” Ma sounds irritated.
Well! I stand corrected. I could be sentimental at times.
“Ma, please let me keep it for this once…please”
Ma shrugs her shoulders and moves on to other piles of things she needs to sort out. I sneak back outside.
This is my last week in this school. Midterm exams are about to end. Shifting to a different school for a 7th grader after midterm is considered quite harmless in the world of cantonment life. From one Army Public School to another, no big deal.
“Don’t give up on your basketball practice Koki. You are leaving us, it’s a loss for APS Pune. But it will be a gain for APS Dinjan,” Coach Mr. Chamle says on the last day of practice… for me in this school.
Steven, the cute 9th grader, smiles at me as I pass by in the corridor. ‘Too late mister, I am out of here,’ I tell myself. Probably it is for the best, he is too studious for my taste anyway.
Vineeta, Janet and Tina plan house parties for me at the end of the exams. We watch movies, eat junk food, play games, dance and have sleepovers. We reminisce the times we had our fights and a lot of fun. We exchange gifts and promise each other we will keep in touch, but cry a little, for we know the truth; time and distance will crystallise these moments in our memories but they have no power to keep them throbbing with life.
The walls, spaces and the soul of our home are plucked bare and neatly packed into the black steel boxes. On the boxes are stencilled with white paint- Papa’s Rank, Name and the serial number to help keep count of them. They will be loaded onto and hauled by the truck tomorrow.
Papa and Ma have gone to the Officer’s Mess for the last dinner in the station. When I was younger, I used to tag along, but now I wish to be on my own. I watch the stars in the sky from the window of the guest room we are staying in for the night. We will catch the morning flight to Kolkata and then take another flight to Dibrugarh on the following day. Will Papa get a ground-floor house with a garden with a guava tree there too? I don’t know, but I’m excited!
There is a welcome party waiting for us outside Dibrugarh Airport. A Subedar Major and a Sepoy walk briskly towards us and salute Papa with “Jai Hind Sir!”. We are quickly escorted to the waiting olive green gypsy which is guarded by the driver and another sepoy with a rifle. I remember being offered refreshments and drinks right outside the airport when we had first arrived at Pune, but then that was a Peace Station and this, as Ma said is a Field Station, so no such courtesies. Papa gets into the gypsy and we follow him in a taxi.
I watch the simple people and the scant villages through the window as the taxi speeds down the highway. The trees look bigger and their leaves greener than I am used to. I see young women riding the bicycles, peddling away without a care. Oh! I like this place already.
After travelling on the highway for about forty minutes the taxi takes a left turn and I gasp in awe. We are up close to a sprawling tea plantation and I turn to Ma with a huge grin on my face. She smiles but I can see she is wary of something.
We enter the cantonment area after the guards have scrutinized our vehicles thoroughly. I hear Ma sigh.
“We are entering a fortress now, Koki. We can’t move out of this place much on our own, our life here will be very different from that in Pune. “
Ma is always like this, a bit sentimental. Hangs on to the past a bit too much, but I know she springs back on her feet equally strong. This is the first state of her move to the new place- Reluctant Traveller. Pretty soon she will graduate to a Houseproud Wife and a Gracious Hostess.
After a brief drive through the cantonment roads that are heavily canopied with the dark green trees on both sides, we arrive at our guest room in the Officers’ Mess. We will be staying here till our household goods arrive, and then move to the accommodation allotted to us. There, Ma will again infuse its walls, spaces with a new life and give it a soul. I will go to a new school and make new friends and enemies; I am a bit nervous but I know I got this!
This time around Papa is allotted a first-floor apartment. Ma is happy enough and has already decorated the home and placed her plants on the balcony and at the entrance. Looks like she is planning to throw a housewarming party any day now. Standing on the balcony I can touch the branch of a tall tree I am yet to find out the name of. It feels nothing like the smooth milk chocolate guava branch but looks gnarled, dark and magnificent!