This story is selected as Editor’s Choice and won INR 500
Ann is struggling to improve her English pronunciation. She learns that all words have definite sound but not all people can produce the sound accurately or pronounce correctly. Ann is Anita but she likes to call herself ‘Ann’ like how her tutor Daneesh calls himself ‘Dan.’ It sounds so English and good. She wants to speak like Dan, so crisp and correct, so apt and musical. Words have magical effect when Dan speaks. He tells her, “Get the sound proper then go for the words just like the way a child learns a new language. You need to strengthen your basics.”
At sixteen her tongue doesn’t perform the magic she expects it to do. Her own mother tongue sounds different like rolling rounded pebbles in a metal vessel. Ann wants to list all important words first. But which words are important? If her mother had been alive she might have listed them down for her.
‘Modher’ she tells aloud coming down heavily on the last syllable. Tight lipped, Dan shakes his neatly cropped head and looks out. Outside, the wind roars picking up litters. Miriam comes with two identical mugs of piping hot coffee and a quarter plate full of biscuits upon a tray and sets them down on the table. Dan looks at his coffee mug. It has the picture of a ship on its outside like the portrait on the wall. “Buy one get one free’ scheme, that’s how the mugs looks. But the portrait is beautiful on the wall. The huge, overpowering ship stands majestically in the still ocean as if spilling peace. He thinks of his father sailing somewhere in the ocean. He is the Captain of the ship. That ship had brought Dan to India from London. He drinks his coffee. How soothing! They too had served coffee in the ship but it was awful. The sea had made him so sick that he remained in his cabin, reading. That wasn’t bad. Mogra plants in pots were lined along the wall of the deck. When the buds opened in the evening the fragrance was invigorating. The fragrance offset the smell of seaweed but Dan knew the next morning the smell of seaweed would overpower the deck.
He has problems with his visa but he wants to go back to London. He is also looking for a job to keep himself busy and get some money. Teaching is his passion though he is a software engineer. Today is his first day at tutoring Ann.
“Let’s walk on the sand and talk,” Dan tells her.
Outside in the backyard the distant receding sea dazzles the eyes. The mangroves look dangerous and deadly for miles and miles. The salty sea breeze sticks to the skin. Ann walks by Dan’s side on the sand, along the shore. They walk slowly leaving footprints on the sand that weighs on their feet.
“The only way you can improve your English is by listening. Tell me how did you learn your mother tongue?”
“Hmmm…… by listening.”
“Yes, you learnt to speak your mother tongue only by listening to people all around you. It was not taught to you. Similarly now you can learn the sound system of English only by listening to it day in and day out. Then make concerted efforts to pronounce the words as they should be pronounced. Language always starts with the ears. The problem with you is you have learnt English as a second language and the habits of your mother tongue are so strong that they are difficult to break. So what you do now is build a new set of sound units of English and slowly break down the old habits of your own language sound system. You need to unlearn or at least neutralise the strong native accent. You can do this by constructing or creating new ways of learning, new ways of using your speech organs, new speech habits. Do you understand?”
Ann smiles. ‘Dan is a good teacher’ she thinks.
“Tomorrow I’ll come with a proper syllabus.” he says.
There’s overcast in the sky. The sun is in hiding. The wind howls and the sea begins to rise. A crow swoops down and sits on the sand. They look at the crow. It searches for something, caws and flies off. A ghostly mist of cloud like pollution covers the sea. This increases the humidity.
Two years ago on a cloudy wet day Ann’s mother had died in an accident. Her world ended then. But no, life continued and she is still learning to cope with her absence. Now with loads of bank balance her father has decided to settle down in Madh Island, in Mumbai where there is plenty of sea and quietness, and carry on with his business. But Ann is lonely. She has to continue her studies in the next academic year. The dislocation has cost her one academic year. She has now three months at hand to build a good working knowledge of English.
“When I present my daughter to an elite crowd she should speak good English.” Ann’s father had told Dan last week in the club when he came down from the dais in the midst of his announcements as an emcee of a programme. The club was packed with elite people, men, women, and girls. There was life in the crowd. Music was flowing like sweet honey. Circles of smoke escalated from cigarettes. Dan did not smoke. He agreed to tutor his daughter. The pay packet was enticing and he could pursue his hobby too that of teaching. The twin purpose was served.
The next morning at nine Dan comes and Ann says, “Good Morning”
He smiles and replies, “Well, A very good morning to you.” He shows her the syllabus. It is elaborate. She likes it. On Monday, Wednesday, Friday she has to work on spoken English and on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday she has to work on written English.
“Do you have a tape recorder?” he asks and she says, “Yes.”
“Then make use of the tape-recorder. You will be able to hear what you sound like to others when you play back what you have recorded and this is very useful. You can record a sentence or a long passage with which you are familiar by way of hearing it spoken by a good speaker of English. Keep practicing until you get them right.” he says. “But speaking good English is not enough. You need to write and express yourself clearly.”
“But….but the tape recorder and cassettes are old. They may not work well,” she tells haltingly.
“Well then, can you use your PC?”
“Yes, I can,”
“All right then I shall install a software called ‘Silver Tide’ in your PC. This programme will enable you to speak into the mike and you can play it back from the MP3. We will create your voice recording files date wise. And you can hear for yourself the improvement you make in due course.”
Ann is motivated to learn. Dan installs the programme. He wears the headphone and speaks into the mike. He reads out a whole story from a book, and then plays it back for her. She listens to his faultless English. She is intrigued. Dan’s voice is clear and perfect. It works like magic. She is able to pick the sound and speak well.
Miriam comes with two mugs of coffee. It is refreshing and relaxing.
“If you learn this way you will be able to build up a stockpile of sound memory which will form a firm base for your accomplishment.” he tells her. He sips the coffee and looks out of the window, the sea is inviting. “Let’s go out and walk on the sand.”
They walk on the sand, the sun shines on the horizon and the breeze is strong. Ann walks by his side and turns back to see their footsteps, two pairs, one heavy and the other light. A wave comes up from the sea and wipes them. The water is cold and inviting.
Dan is asking her aloud, “What did you have for your breakfast?”
“Bread butter and apples cut.”
“Well, say you had bread and butter and diced apples.”
“What did you have for your breakfast?” she surprises him.
Dan laughs and says, “I had bread and jam, omelette and a can of orange juice; and now coffee with you.”
He keeps talking and she keeps listening. She is mesmerised by his voice, his English, his impersonal ways, and his personality. He is so detached and yet so concerned. Isn’t that the sign of a good teacher?
Ann is enchanted. English language is enchanting. She turns to English News channels and keenly listens to them. She thinks ‘English is a language of manners and etiquettes. Words seem to flow out of them like a clear stream in bright sun.’
Dan teaches her speech production and description of each sound. He tells her how bilabial plosives are articulated by both lips like in /p,b,m,w/, what are voiced and voiceless plosives, how dental plosives are used in words like thank and then. Ann learns how speech organs work in English and how each organ like the lips, nasal cavity, hard palate, larynx, and tongue, etc co-ordinate to produce good and clear speech.
“But the thoughts are all yours to express.” he tells.
“How do you know so much of English?” She asks him.
“Well, I learnt English as my first language; that apart I have bought a book on Spoken English and have done my homework before teaching you. It’s not at all difficult, you know.”
Ann likes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On these days he speaks a lot on various topics and makes her speak as well. They record the speeches and listen to them. They take long walks on the sea shore and the sea breeze fans her inspiration.
On the other days Ann writes brief notes, diary entries, and various other communications. She maintains a file and files all the written communication date-wise with Dan’s corrections. Ann is now conscious of her ill-fitting dress and oil plastered hair. She wants to look like the news readers. “How charming they look,” she tells her father one evening. Her father immediately makes arrangements for a seamstress. She designs Ann’s dresses, varieties of tops, skirts, jeans and parallels, tank tops etc. Ann is transformed. Her hair is washed and cut in steps and dried with a drier as if all set for a function. She now has three pairs of footwear to match her dresses.
Her mobile beautician suggests a good perfume that she could wear on all days.
But Dan does not notice the changes in her. He merely tells, “All external changes are manifestations of internal changes.”
One day they take a detour of the place and come across an old abandoned crumbling fort. Ann is excited and asks him, “Why did the kings need forts?”
Glad to share his knowledge he tells her the reasons-political, social and economic reasons to hold a fort. They walk towards the fort. The tide is low and the sea is far away. It is hot and humid. They walk on the sea bed and reach the fort. It is an abandoned fort, eerie and dark and smelling of mildew and rot. Dan tells her how there was a time when forts thrived in Maharashtra. He goes on tell her many historical facts. Ann is totally mesmerised. They pass from one stone room to another. A bat flutters and a pigeon is ruffled. The sea has deposited sand, dirt and sludge in the fort. They pass by a pillar, she trips and is about to fall on the slippery floor. In a flash Dan steadies her by encircling his arm around her waist and pulling her up. She leans on his shoulders and they lean against the pillar for support for a moment. Dan pushes her aside and continues with the story. But Ann is unsettled. She feels like crying and she doesn’t know why. She smiles as quickly as a bird running before the waves, light-footedly.
“What happened? Shall we go back to the shores?”
“Yes, yes” she tells.
They walk back to the shores but Dan still goes on with his stories of the fort. Ann is not hearing. She is feeling awkward. She had liked his aftershave lotion and his manliness, his tall slim fair figure, his casual T-shirt and jeans. How handsome he looked! But no, she should not notice anything personal about him. He is a good teacher and that’s all. They walk slowly and as they near the rocks, he suggests that they sit on the dry sand. The two sit on the sand leaning against a dry rock. They listen to the sea. Many birds circle above their heads.
Dan speaks. “Tell me five sentences of what you see now. I would love to hear.”
Ann’s spirits slowly begin to soar. He said the word ‘love’
She tells, “We are sitting in the sand. The sea is far away. There are birds flying in the sky. I am speaking and you are listening.”
Dan laughs. “Good, but we are sitting on the sand not in the sand.”
“When you are not teaching what do you do?” she asks him.
“I take a stroll by the sea on the sand when the sun is not high; I love to walk on the sand. I feel a strong bonding with the sea. At other times I write e-mails, chat with friends abroad on WhatsApp, surf the net, read books, and listen to music etc”
“What is ‘etc’?”
“Well, I cook, clean, wash, put out the clothes for drying, iron them etc. No, no etc. That’s all I do.”
“So you stay alone?”
“Where do you stay?”
“In Cranesbury Road.”
That night Ann has a dream. She dreams that she is standing on the high cliff and the wind is blowing. She loses balance and falls. But Dan is standing below and holds her in his arms. He kisses her and she wakes up in cold sweat. She recalls her awkwardness in the fort and feels ashamed. She cries into the pillow. She doesn’t understand what’s happening to her. “If only mother had been alive, she would have told me.” She thinks. If her mother had been alive she would have said, “Don’t worry child, this is only a passing phase. Such tender stirrings are common in adolescence. You are filled with awe and respects for Dan and you have confused that for love Also your loneliness is another reason to draw you to him. Don’t worry, it will pass off.”
The next day Dan stands in front of her with his hands in his pocket. He pulls out a stone and gives it to her. She looks at it, surprised. She turns it in her hand and smiles.
“Do you know at one time this pebble was a rock?”
He tells her how weathering takes place. Then they listen to the file-recordings and Ann speaks into the mike. She doesn’t feel self-conscious anymore. She wants him to compliment her. Her speech is now improved. But Dan doesn’t compliment her at all. He only encourages her to perform better than the previous attempt. “Every new speech should be better than your previous one.”
Today the tide is quite high and the waves gush forth with a natural glee as if each wave is competing with the next one. The foamy spray chills her. They walk down the cliffs in shade. The wind blows a siren and it turns into a musical melody with the sound of the waves. Dan pushes his hair back with his thin long fair fingers.
“What made you smile with the pebble in hand?” Dan asks her.
“I remembered an egg. It was odd shaped like the stone. We used to get such eggs often back in our hometown and the omelettes also would turn out odd shaped.”
“In words like ‘often’ ‘Christmas’ ‘castle’ /t/ is silent.” he tells.
“Then why should words have silent letters? Isn’t it good to spell words as we pronounce them?”
Dan is suddenly taken unawares. He clears his throat and tells, “English language is funny. There is no consistency maintained between written form and spoken form.”
Ann feels great. She smiles to herself for having taken him off guard though not intentional.
“Yesterday I saw a beautiful design in your note book.” Dan smiles and asks, “Who drew it?”
He smiles again and says, “You should know when and where to use ‘I’ and ‘Me’
‘I’ is always used as subject and ‘Me’ as an object, like ‘I drew the design.’ Or else ‘The design was drawn by me.’ Get it?”
“I always get confused with ‘I and Me’.” She tells with a mock smile.
Dan throws a quick look at her.
“In English the subject of a sentence is the person, place or thing that performs. Now have I cleared your confusion?”
“Sort of.” Ann smiles at him and he returns it, looking pleased.
They walk in silence staring into space. A bird screeches and lands on a cliff.
“Do you know any sea birds? Look there’s one perched on the cliff.” he says pointing to the cliff.
“I know only seagulls.”
“But there are varieties of gulls like King Gull, Ivory Gull, Relict Gull, silver Gull, Mediterranean Gull etc.”
“Can you tell me the difference between stork and crane?” she asks.
“Storks are large, long-legged, long-necked wading birds with long stout bills, belonging to the family called Ciconiidae. Egrets are the ones you generally see wherever there is water and marsh. Actually you can find a number of these types of birds that look comparatively similar. Herons, egrets, cranes, and storks, all these birds are hard to tell apart. But surely cranes have long necks. There are also other sea birds like Indian Skimmer also called as scissorbills,” he tells her. “To tell you the truth, I cannot make out the birds in one look. By the time I take in details and try to make out which is which, they fly off.”
Ann laughs aloud. It sounds funny to her.
“The place I live is called Cranesbury. Do you know why?” After a pause, he adds, “Because there are many cranes there.”
“No, I was just kidding.”
He giggles at his own joke. Ann does not understand but she enjoys it. They fall silent for a long time then Ann asks him, “How do you know so many things?”
“Well, I am a lover of birds. I am fond of Ornithology-the study of birds. Also, I am a keen observer of nature and birds, I read a lot of books and do you know what? I also write.”
“What do you write?”
“My observations, poems on nature, travelogues, and now I am writing a novel.”
Ann feels so happy that a warm gush of blood flows through her veins as if she has found her lost soul. She looks up at him with a warm smile and instantly he looks at her too and smiles. The sky looks like a blue carpet and the white clouds form patterns after patterns tossed by the winds. Some children are flying kites on the shores. The kite flies high tugged by the wind and comes nose-diving into the sea. The waves pull the kite along and dump it on the shore again. It is now wet and broken. The children abandon it with its string and run off. They belong to the sea and wetness.
It is twilight. Ann is at the dining table. They are having coffee. Her father asks her how it’s all going. Whether she has made any headway in learning to speak and write English. Ann is happy and she tells him she has made progress in leaps and bounds and when she speaks she runs her fingers through her hair like Dan. Her father notices the change in her; she’s happy and motivated to learn and has now become more confident with this language. He turns to the news channel. Ann picks up a steel glass tumbler and looks at her reflection. Her face is out of form in the concave image. But she likes her image and herself.
“You have only a few days more.” says her father. “I am trying to put you in St. Marcellina. I have spoken to some people. So see that you converse well and fluently in English when you are called for an interview.”
Ann’s heart is like a song. Outside the sea is calm and the night is pleasant. The stars have come out. And in the starry light the mangroves look like cultured pearls, the trees look like pebbles, and the sea, ink blue.
The next morning Ann goes for a walk on the shores even before dawn. The pre dawn wind cuts like a knife. She wraps her stole around her and walks. Oh, how she loves to walk on the sand. A wooden stump wet and putrid lies on the sand. She thinks of the children who might have played with it. She leans against the cliff and watches the sunrise. All around the place tiny rock splinters and dicey sandstones are strewn. Bright pebbles glimmer in the golden light. There are many sea-shells lying rounded, withered, shriveled, sharp and broken by time and tide. They line up the shores. The shoreline stretches as far as the eye could see and further too. The reddened Eastern sky and the blazing horizon, the otherwise blue benign sky exhilarate and enliven the place. Ann feels life is so beautiful. She is not aware of time. She turns back home and to her surprise sees Dan talking with her father. He is standing awkwardly in the backyard holding the grill with one hand, talking and after a while, her father shakes hand with him. He sees Ann and walks towards her.
“Hello, what are you doing out there in the cold?”
“I am taking a walk, enjoying the beauty of sunrise.”
“Isn’t it wonderful to walk on the sand?”
“It would be more wonderful with you” she wants to say but she merely says, “Yes.”
“So did you see the sun rise?”
Now he ambles up closer to her. He waves a packet at her and gives her the packet, which is a CD and tells her, “This is for you. It is called ‘Voluble’ in other words Text to Speech. There are at least a dozen voices. You can write any matter on the space provided or import any passage from Word document and click on the voice of your choice. It will read out to you in Oxford English.” Then he adds, “It’s a gift from me to you. I ordered it especially for you from London.”
“Thank you so much,” She tell him pressing the packet to her heart.
He goes on to update her on how to use it, how to install it in her PC. They walk with the wind on their hair. The smell of sea is mixed with the warm sunlight and dawn. Everything spelt of peace around her, the peace of daylight, the peace of triumph, the peace of relationships and the peace of being. Ann carries the packed CD in her hand. She is in a hurry to see its contents. She cannot imagine how thoughtful Dan is. He is the best ever teacher who inspired her to speak and write English. They walk back to the house. Her shoes are covered with sand. She leaves them out on the steps, washes her feet and walks in. Dan follows her.
He installs the CD and explains to her how it works. Ann is so excited. She copies and pastes a paragraph from word document on the space provided and clicks on a male voice. The voice reads out the passage in perfect Oxford English. She shows her notebook for corrections. He reads the contents and closes the book with an air of finality, like never before.
That evening her father tells her of the impending interview, she has with the Principal of St. Marcellina the next morning.
Ann goes to the school. It looks every bit like a convent school, with an expansive playground, a nunnery, trees and potted plants, huge gates and security at the entrance. Inside the building, the clean and shining corridors, the spacious classrooms with tables and chairs, the long elegant notice boards with beautifully carved pictures neatly pinned with pushpins, all look attractive and conducive to teaching and learning. While waiting to be called in Ann notices that, every classroom is centrally air-conditioned.
Her interview goes off well. Ann is thinking of Dan’s visiting time. ‘He shouldn’t wait long for me, and not finding me he shouldn’t go away.’
However, when she goes back home Dan has not come.
Miriam tells her that Dan did not come. She is restless. This is the first time he hasn’t come in three months. She completes her work and listens to his voice in the files. His voice is warm and musical. She feels excited and loves his voice. She fashions her speech after his style. She records her speech and plays it back. Doubtlessly she has improved her spoken English. She feels confident. The rest of the day she tries to read a book. It is interesting and tells the adventures of a school boy.
The next day too he doesn’t come. Ann writes her diary. She writes about her walk on the sand and all that she saw. She writes about the sand dunes formed by the wind, the apparent dunes on the horizon. Her thoughts are fuelled by Dan’s poetry. She should have told him to show some of his poems to her. Why didn’t she tell him?
When Dan doesn’t come on the third day she feels something is wrong. He may not be well. She is restive, edgy. She wants to meet him. She doesn’t even know where he stays. Yes, he had said ‘Cranesbury road.’ She goes out but the endless roads on all the four directions scare her. She takes a road to her left and walks. A cyclist comes whistling and winks at her. She turns back and goes home. Suddenly everything appears dull and meaningless. She cannot read, write and speak. There is no life in her activities. She picks up the phone and dials her father’s number.
“What happened to Dan? He hasn’t come for three days.”
“Ugh? You don’t know? He has gone back to London. He has got a job that suits his profile. His visa problem is settled. He wants to marry Gloria, his ladylove and set up their home in London. They are getting married next spring. I thought you know. Anyways, he told me you are a good student and has learnt to speak the language well. You don’t need any more coaching. He is confident that you will get admission. Now you keep practicing. See you in the evening.”
Ann is stung. The suddenness of the news numbs her. She is speechless. Her lower lip drops and she stares into space. Unable to contain herself she goes to the window. Slowly the impact of the news sinks in and she feels a constriction in her throat. It grows dismally and she bursts into tears not knowing why. She cries as if her heart would break and she does not know why the tears fell in torrents. Time drags and she is lonely. ‘Why didn’t he tell me? At least he could have said the tuition is over. I would not have waited. This is raw deal indeed.’
Miriam places a plate of cheese fritters and apple cakes on the table. Ann’s father is in his evening dress. He watches business news and picks an apple cake from the plate. Ann is unable to eat. She picks up a copy of The Afternoon tabloid and tries to read. Her father is calm and at peace and is enjoying the snacks. ‘He has done his duties. It was just a contract—this tuition and it is all over. Dan has done his duties and gone away with the fat pay packet with a clean conscience, to his love. When all are doing their duties why am I sad?’
She still has to learn many a lesson of life and time will teach her eventually.
“Why don’t you eat? Ann’s father is telling her.
She tries to eat the cake. After all it tastes good and the fritters too. She drinks the coffee. Her father is telling her of St Marcellina. What a wonderful school it is. She is not interested. She nods and pretends to hear what he says, pretends to be interested but is taking her coffee mug with half the coffee still in it, to the sink to wash. Miriam comes and takes it from her. The evening drags and Miriam cooks for the night. The supper is served but Ann is not hungry she stares at the food with a heaviness in her heart and pushes the food here and there in the plate.
“What are you doing, child?” her father asks “Are you praying over your food?”
At night Ann goes to her room. Her bed is made. The pillowcases are embroidered with flowers and leaves and butterflies. All her mother’s work. She was fond of embroidery. All bed sheets are cross-stitched with embroidery. Ann has no heart to change it. She sleeps with great difficulty. Her dreams are hazy and disturbed. The past, present and future are all mixed up, light, water, earth and sky are mixed up too. Her mother tells her something at one time and Dan laughs at another time. The sea and sand come to her doors…..
Sister Radcliff, the Principal, prays solemnly into the mike. Her voice booms through the public address system. “Our Father who art in Heaven…” There is perfect silence in the school. Ann is sitting in her class in her uniform and tie. She looks smart. This is the only year she has to study in school. Then she is free to go to college. All her subjects are simple and interesting. She has a timetable to follow in school as well as at home. She has to keep herself busy. She listens to the talks of the other girls. They only border on films, actors, food, fashion, kitty parties and boyfriends; what they did the previous evening, and the like. This is not her cup of tea.
At break time she wanders out on the ground and looks outside the gate. The traffic is flowing there and pedestrians are walking on the paved footpath. There’s a man at the gate. He resembles Dan. She hurries to the gate but he is a stranger. No, she should not think of Dan. He is past and her present is the school and her future is yet to unfold. She walks on the bright lit corridor. There are paintings on the ceiling. But Ann has got some paintings on her heart. They are etched for eternity. Only she can see them others cannot. She carries the breeze of the sea with her.
Mrs. Emily, the English teacher, is making an announcement with a lilt in her voice. Her English is awesome, and flawless. She is informing the students of an inter-school English elocution competition. Ann is confident to take part in the elocution but she is not interested. She has no desire to prove to anyone her oratory skills. Now she knows the difference between good English and bad English, regional English accent, vernacular inclined English and English-English.
Sister Thomas is on her rounds. Her tall stately figure passing by the classrooms is enough to silence the students and to enforce discipline in the school. Ann knows that it is her duty she is carrying out. The day drags on.
They are sitting at the dining table, Ann and her father, with the bright thin ray of sun and sky beside them. He is asking her about her school and how she likes it. She answers in monosyllables. Miriam goes out to the bakery to get bread loaves and buns and flowers from the florist. She is a good girl who doesn’t interfere in anything. She knows her work. Has she no feelings? Ann never asked her.
After what seems ages she decides to go for a walk on the sand. She thinks, ‘sometimes a moment can change your course of life.’
The wind hisses. Ann identifies this rain bearing wind, blowing across from the southwest. The dark clouds too scud across the sky threatening rain. ‘The rains have arrived’ she tells aloud. The sea has risen and is full of life. The angry waves spew saline foam mixed with froth, mordant and sallow. She sees pyramid like sand dunes on the horizon. It is just an illusion. Slowly the patterns change and now the horizon is like a ribbon. She yells and the wind caries her voice away. She feels good. The sea is her rescuer. She can do anything to the sea, shout, yell, abuse, cry and seek comfort too.
At night, a thunder booms through the sky. There are no stars tonight. It rains heavily and the smell of earth and sea pervades her room, a frog croaks in the distance.
Miriam is cleaning the table. She folds the napkins and leaves a jug of water on the table.
Ann’s eyes are sad. But there is no one to see her eyes. She remembers the pebble, goes to the cupboard and takes out the small bottle, unscrews its cap and takes out the stone. She remembers the day when Dan had left it on the table and in the afternoon at four the sunlight had peeped in through the window, falling on the pebble, lighting it bright. She had preserved it in a small bottle. Tears prick her eyelids. Everything is blurred. ‘He could have told me, he could have said the tuition is all over or that he is going away. He could have ended it properly. Why did he do this to me?’ But now there are continents and centuries between her and Dan. Tears stream down her cheeks. The wind howls outside. She lifts the pebble slowly to her lips.