Swamy stared at it, mouth wide open, unable to utter a sound. He then put it down with great care and lovingly dusted off the soil with his towel

Finally finding his voice, he shouted ‘Muthu, Seenu, Velu, Parvathy drop your axes and come here! Look at what I have dug up!’

The crowd gathered and stared at it too.

‘Look at the perfect nose and smiling mouth. It is Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth herself. She has decided to grace our village! How lucky we are!’ exclaimed Swamy.

Muthu, Velu and Seenu nodded in agreement. ‘Yes, yes, yes, what a remarkable resemblance to the Goddess!  Swamy, you lucky devil! She landed in your hands! In your house gold will rain!’ They spoke at once agog with excitement.

‘We should build a temple right here on this very spot we found her. We will all be blessed.’ declared Swamy, bowing to the Goddess.

‘Yes…yes…’ agreed the other men.

They tied their towels around their waists in reverence and folded their hands to pray to the Goddess. Parvathy stood there watching the men.

‘What about the village well? Parvathy muttered hesitantly.

‘What well? You foolish faithless woman! What use is a well when we have the Goddess to bless us! We can dig a well somewhere else.’ yelled Swamy choking with emotion.

‘But the engineer said that this is the best place for the village well’ protested Parvathy wiping the sweat off her face with her sari.

‘Woman, shut your mouth. I am ashamed to even call you my wife. You are so faithless.’

‘So faithless!’ echoed the others

Velu gritted his teeth and lifted his hand to hit his wife

‘No. no… Don’t commit the foolish sin of hitting her and that too in front of the goddess.’ They pulled Velu away and calmed him down.

‘Let us run to the village headman and give him this great news’ said Swamy. The men scurried off leaving Parvathy staring at the Goddess.

The village headman had eased his frame into a comfortable easy chair on the verandah of his large house. The servant handed him betel leaves to chew on to help digest the big lunch he had just eaten: puffed purees dripping with ghee, creamy lentil curry, spicy potatoes, cottage cheese soaked in gravy followed by a large serving of coconut pudding filled with cashew nuts. He would drift off to a blissful siesta as the cool breeze wafted through the verandah and the servant gently massaged his feet.

Just then he heard excited voices outside the door.

‘What is it now?’ He was annoyed at this noisy interruption. He beckoned the men in rudely. ‘Whatever it is, it better be earthshakingly important or else. You know how I hate to disturbed at noon time.” He warned them.

The men told the headman about their divine discovery explaining at length the remarkable resemblance to goddess Lakshmi. ‘Sir, we must build a temple. The Goddess will bless us all. She will flourish even more riches on you.’

The headman’s eyes widened as he envisioned Lakshmi pouring gold from her willing hands. He had planned a grand wedding for his daughter and a blessing from the Goddess will surely help.

‘Let us go and see.” He heaved himself up from his chair.

They hurried towards the spot. The men were excited to show their find while the headman tried to look calm.

Alas! The spot was empty. The Goddess had disappeared.

‘Where is the Goddess? Why has she left us? What will we do without her grace?’ The men stood there wringing their hands.

The disappointed village headman was now angry. ‘Fools! One of you should have guarded the Goddess! You disturbed my quiet afternoon for nothing. A day’s wage off your salary!’ He went away fuming.

The crowd was crestfallen. Just then Parvathy came by. ‘Did you see the Goddess? Do you know where she is? Why did you not watch over The men were clearly agitated about the missing Goddess.

‘No’ she replied calmly. ‘I went to feed the children some lunch. Here, I brought some fish curry for you all to eat with your rice.’

‘I don’t think I can eat anything. How can I feel hunger when such bad luck has befallen us?’ cried Swamy and the others agreed. They squatted down holding their heads in their hands, crestfallen with disappointment.

Parvathy turned away and smiled. ‘Someday, somewhere you will find the Goddess’ she said to herself.

***

The village well will be built after all.

Parvathy, thinking of the stone now safely hidden, folded her hands and whispered softly, ‘Thank you, Lakshmi’.

Nirmala Nagarajan

About the Author Nirmala Nagarajan

Nirmala is now an aspiring writer who has published three short stories. She is currently working on a novel. She has been a banker, and a teacher-librarian career-wise but mostly a student-for-life. She looks forward to her summer stint at Oxford University where she will be studying an advanced course in Creative Writing. She is married to Aga, otherwise known as Captain Nagarajan, and has a son Jai. She loves to travel and play scrabble.

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