Indradeep Bannerjee
Published on: April 2013
Rachel Nayanika Bose had loved Magnolias when she was alive. She had even planted a tree in their backyard when she was alive. Now Michael Ranjan Bose's daily ritual was to visit the Park Street cemetery every morning at exactly 8: 26 am with a handful of Magnolias that had parted from the tree overnight. Rachel never liked tearing flowers off the tree. She used to say that it hurts the tree. The tree will offer its flowers generously once it is ready. Till then patience is virtue. Now the tree is fully grown and true to Rachel's prediction was offering the beautiful flowers generously. Their house in the Kidd Street had now become a wonder to the passerby. Ironically Rachel had no kids. She had poured out her entire affection onto the Magnolia and Michael.

Catherine Sunayana Dutta was terminally ill. Every morning her mother would come and open the east window in her room to let the sunlight pour in and a magnificent sight of the sun rising behind the Magnolia tree would greet her. Every morning she would see the grounds littered with fallen flowers and would understand that nothing in this life is worth the constancy. All creations would have to be destroyed one day. But an even more amazing sight was Mr. Bose with his whitening hair every morning at 8 am accosting the tree. HE would caress it, talk for some time to it and then with huge amount of devotion would scoop up the fallen flowers in a jute gunny bag and head out of the front door. To another person he might seem a lunatic but to Catherine it was a regular ritual like the arrival of the postman. They had known the Boses for like eternity and she knew what the old man was up to.

Her leukemia had spread faster than the doctors could have anticipated and they had asked her mother to make preparations anticipating her departure. Catherine's ears had stopped registering the monologue of the doctors long ago ever since she was a nine year old kid and was diagnosed with leukemia. For the first few months she was hoping against all hope that the blood transfusion would work, that the medicines would work that God would show his grace. She had given up all hope in these four years. Life had lost its purpose to her. She was extremely angry at God for being so unfair to her.

One morning Catherine was waiting as usual for the view of Michael from her bedroom window. 8 am came and went but Michael did not come. This was very perturbing to her. Not in the last 5 years since the passing of Rachel had he ever missed his deadline. She squirmed in her bed and various signs of doom started to portend themselves to her. Being agitated she asked her mother what the matter was. Her mother informed her that Rachel and Michael had always wanted to see the world together after Michael's retirement but they never had the chance. Now Michael has gone off to visit the world alone for both of them. He would come back in a week. He wanted to say goodbye to Catherine but could not do so as she was asleep the last night.
Catherine was relieved. But for the next two days the flowers started to pile up at the bottom of the tree, started to putrefy and gave rise to a stench. It was mild but Catherine found it abhorring. So on the third morning she slipped out of her house in her slippers, took her satchel from when she used to go to school. She stood in front of the Magnolia tree, scooped up the flowers from its base area and filled them in her satchel. Then with small steps she made her way to the cemetery where she knew Rachel's grave was waiting for her. She reached there at exactly 8:26 am. She bowed down in front of her grave and told the cornerstone. "Michael has gone off to visit the world like you wanted him to. So for the next week he has deputized me to be your company. Let me know if you want anything." She emptied the satchel over the grave, observed a moment's silence and made her way back.

For the next five days she with her frail body continued to do the ritual in Michael's stead. It was not that she had great feelings for Rachel whom she knew a long time ago, but it was more for the routine that was the norm. Then on the Sunday she breathed her last, at the moment of her soul's departure she had a hallucination of a man in white standing at her bed-room window with a bouquet of Magnolia. And then she saw no more.

Michael came back from New Zealand the next day. He was very sorry to hear of Catherine's demise but was even more surprised to hear of her activities. He looked up at the Magnolia tree, and was lost in deep thought for a moment. Then he nodded his head, smiled a melancholy smile and scooped up the flowers in his gunny bag.
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