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Short Story

To what end?

Published : Saturday, 6 January, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 89
Dr Rajib Sanyal

Change the channel", Haruto muttered, annoyed, to his wife Sora, sitting beside in her own recliner sofa.  Sora peered at the buttons on the remote control in her right hand and pressed one of them.  The screen changed - but the story was the same, only presented from another angle.  Without Haruto prompting, she pressed again to jump to a different station, and the same story came up, another anchor reporting.  "It seems this is all that we have on TV this evening," she murmured.
The big news was that a Japanese female tourist had died, along with others, in a terrorist attack in France.  The Japanese media was covering the tragedy around the clock in agonizing and comprehensive detail - all centered on the young woman.  The TV anchors were orchestrating live feeds, interviews, and commentaries - providing their viewers everything they could possibly wish to know about her - Who was she? How were her grades in school?  What did the neighbors think of her? The job she did at the supermarket?  The train she took to work?  Her favorite sports team?  Did she have a boyfriend?  Why had she chosen to visit France?  Was she travelling by herself or with friends? When will her body be returned to Japan?  What is the status of the funeral arrangements?  Has the foreign ministry issued a statement?  Have the parents said anything yet?  Do the authorities know who the attackers are?
Yes -- to the last question! The TV anchors had announced, in solemn tones, that the French police had confirmed that the mayhem and murder had been caused by a teenage suicide bomber.  He is supposed to have said before he detonated the bomb strapped on him that he was doing it for his faith.
That was when Haruto told his wife of 60 years to change the channel on the TV.  
Sora turned the TV off.  Both sat side by side in silence for a few minutes in their separate chairs as the setting sun behind the peaks of the Japanese Alps cast long shadows on their small village, the scene visible through the large glass windows in their living room.  Far away from the cities and the troubles of the world, this was a quiet place, inhabited by aging farmers and old retirees like Haruto and Sora.
Soraarose, adjusted her dressing gown, tightened the sash around her waist, and slipped her feet into the rubber soled plain cotton slippers.  Standing up, she extended her right hand to Haruto beckoning him to get up too.  "Let us go for a walk in the garden and see the stars come out.  You will feel better."
Haruto, ignored his wife's offer of assistance, and instead pulled himself up from the chair, grasped the metal walking stick beside it, and shuffled towards the front door with his wife just behind.  He mumbled irritably, "Why do they do it?"  The TV story was bothering him, especially the news coverage.  An anonymous sales clerk from an obscure small town in Japan was now the center of global attention - 15 minutes of fame brought about in the most horrific of manner.  Sora tried to reassure,   "Some things don't seem to change.  Every generation needs to learn their own lessons."
The elderly couple walked outside the house in silence.  It was both a physical exercise and a communion with nature.  They plucked a few flowers from the plants in the garden.  The sun had set.  It was time to go back into the house.
Like many homes, their house had a small room - a place to worship.  The shrine had on an alcove, statues of Buddha and other deities and faded pictures of men and women, long dead.  Incense stick holders, copper plates for offerings, and bowls for flowers, tingling bells, pieces of amulets and talismans, and prayer books were neatly organized on a long shelf.  Sora placed the flowers on a bowl in front of the Buddha, lit a few of the incense sticks, and left.  The room was filled with a soothing aroma.

(To be continued)

Dr Rajib Sanyal is Dean of Robert B Willumstad School of Business at Adelphi University in Long Island, New York

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