‘I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop.’ Judy whispered to the ancient roots of the Banyan. The boiled peanut seller in front of her didn’t see her lips moving. She was careful that way.
The Banyan had been listening to such stories since ages. The oldest person who used to sit below it was Puttaraju. ‘I got 89 the day before Ganesh Chaturthi,’ he would tell everyone who cared to listen to him, ‘not a day more, not a day less. We used to hide behind this tree when we were small.’ The Banyan outlived Puttaraju. He succumbed to pneumonia last winter. The tree survived construction of the adjacent road in 1995 and that of the apartment complex in 2012.
‘Give me a packet. How much?’ Judy relished the peanuts on days the clouds appeared in flocks, or the sun shimmered through the dense foliage or the dewdrops stealthily took over the tips of the grass blades near the cast iron bench on which she always sat. George had brought her first to this spot. That was when the Outer Ring Road had only four lanes.
‘You come here daily, Madam! And daily you ask the same question. What will change in a day?’ Judy gave him a ten rupee note. The seller always filled her packet to the brim and more; it was a task for her not to let a single nut fall.
‘A lot can change in a day, dear!’ Judy breathed out the words. The seller had moved away, but the Banyan heard. The evening breeze of late October prodded the leaves to whisper to Judy, ‘What can change in a day?’ It was a daily routine, but the breeze and The Banyan never got tired of listening to the story from her.
‘A lot! George would have been sitting by my side, here, for example?’ She pressed a peanut between her index finger and thumb. Pink and moist nuts slipped out of the brown pod.
After this point, Judy never needed any prompting. The events of Sunday, March 9th, 2014 would rewind. From 5:30 till the police knocked at her door. Pa-in-law was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s then. ‘Who’s George?’ He had asked when the inspector informed them about the accident.
‘Eeeks… Who boils peanuts? I want the sand roasted ones.’ Judy was from Kolkata. George was visiting for his corporate tennis matches and was staying with his aunt in Judy’s neighbourhood at the Free School Street. There were common friends, common interests and a mutual attraction. The wedding happened within eight months of their meeting each other.
Early in the marriage, he would laugh at her reactions on touching the packet of boiled peanuts. She loved the way he laughed. Loud, unafraid, clear, it would echo across the open meadow past the water body. That was in 2007 before those apartments were built.
It was getting darker and breezier. When Judy was a new wife, the winds of August here would smell of the Cannonball flowers. The tree was at the place where the garbage dump was built by the municipality in 2011.