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Short story selected for the 2011 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology

Mrs. Dixit found it difficult to move around. At seventy, she had developed sores and the frequent back aches made it impossible for her to visit the market. She mostly rested in her armchair or lay confined to the bedroom. She wished she had children, maybe then she would not be so lonely. She didn’t miss company as such; a maid came twice a day and tended to the cooking and laundry; what she missed was someone she could talk to and have a little chat.

Without fail, she poured water into the small cups she’d placed for the pigeons in her veranda. She would refill them twice everyday and thrice during the summers. They were her only companions. She would talk to them, scold them if they squabbled with each other and shooed away the bullies. Some of the younger ones would sit on her and press their beak against her arms in affection.

“Is this the house of Mrs. Dixit?” asked the burly man. The two men were standing near the entrance. One of them was big, fat and the other extremely thin; they seemed to complement each other.

“Yes,” she replied.

“We are from the municipal department amma and need to check your premises,” replied the younger of the two men.


“It’s an annual drive amma, we need to check if there are any empty drains where mosquito larvae may thrive, it’s in your own interest, last year three hundred died due to malaria and dengue.”

“Okay,” she finally relented.

Mrs. Dixit was apprehensive of strangers and didn’t like anyone invading her privacy. She had read in the newspapers that crime against senior citizens was on the rise in the city. She wondered if they were lying and wanted to rob her. However, she discarded such thoughts away; her doctor had advised her not to think negatively.

“No amma, don’t you worry,” said the burly man. “We’ll be fine, just need to take a tour of the house, you needn’t get up on our account.”

Mrs. Dixit was now alarmed. She felt sure the men were thieves. Nobody from the municipal department would be so courteous. The department was notorious for being disrespectful and never responded to complaints. She started thinking. Supposing the men had planned to murder her and then rob the house, there was little she could do to prevent it. She started concentrating on how to save herself, she knew she was powerless to prevent the theft, maybe if she could get up and rouse the neighbours. However, her thoughts were disrupted. She knew it was Alzheimer’s. The doctor had told her that’s what caused her hallucinations and bizarre behaviour. She liked visiting her doctor for he was the only one who talked to her for hours and never complained. Focus on the men, she reminded herself.

The burly man returned first. “Amma, what are those two vessels for.”

“Which one?” she asked.

“The one in the bedroom just beside the bed and the other smaller ones scattered here and there.”

“Oh! The small ones are for the pigeons. I have some more in the backyard. It is quite hot for this time of the year and sometimes they finish the entire lot, so I sometimes have to fill up thrice, you know, and the one in the bedroom is for me, I find it difficult to get up at night,” she tried explaining but the men were not paying attention.

“You are fined 1,500 rupees and don’t go about filling anymore cups! Let the pigeons fend for themselves; don’t you realise you’re contributing to the spread of malaria?”

“But, dear, don’t you understand…”

Poor Mrs. Dixit! She wished her husband were alive, he would have somehow managed to find some way out of this mess. A sweet talker, he had had the uncanny ability to convince people. The men had been so inconsiderate. How would she appear in court, she could barely move.

Mrs. Dixit appeared in court aided by her nephew who had agreed to escort her in return for the use of her car for a week.

The judge was listening to a case. Her case was up next. Mrs. Dixit tried to think as to what she would say; she had difficulty recollecting what had happened the other day. She didn’t even remember the events clearly.

“Mrs. Dixit v/s the MCD, case no. 3214,” the bearer announced.

“That would be me,” Mrs. Dixit offered a week smile.

“Mrs. Dixit, you deliberately used to place the vessels for the pigeons and the water sample collected from your house was found to contain larvae, right?” the judge asked.

“Yes, your honour,” the bearer replied.

“All right, deposit the fine at the earliest and don’t fill any more tumblers with water from now on,” the judge remarked as he signed the order.

Two days later, Mrs. Dixit was found dead. The milkman discovered it first. The doctor’s report mentioned that she had slipped while trying to reach the kitchen; a glass was found in her hand.
amma: the word literally means ‘mother’ and is frequently used for an elderly woman.

‘Thirst’ by Hardik Sharma (India). Hardik Sharma is an Indian national. He is currently pursuing his PhD in molecular biology. He has a number of published works in international journals.
He writes regularly for newspapers and magazines.