Everyone called her Sweet Sister. The name was as much a title as an endearment. This was because Catherine was both respected and loved. She was loved for her warm and convincing portrayals as a caring, lovable and purposeful young woman in many roles she had donned for the silver screen, the stage and TV. Even during her interviews, her admirers could not separate the artist from the woman. Humanity sat on her well, complementing her personality on and off screen equally and, as a consequence, she was loved and respected at the same time by nearly all the people.
The few that were not moved by her performance were moved by her humanity, and vice versa. Catherine was different from the others in her profession in yet another way: she never got entangled in any personal relationship, inside or outside her social circle, although it was beyond doubt, going by what her colleagues and friends said, that she was on good terms with everyone she knew and worked with. It was probably because of the absence of attachment with men that she had won a special kind of affection from a sizable segment of the male population. In women, of course, she never evoked jealousy and so endeared herself to them most easily and naturally. Little girls saw in her so much of a doting mother or a loving sister that they took an instant liking to her, however little they appreciated or understood her acting skills.
Love may be a funny thing to account for, but such is not the case with respect. Catherine really earned her respect. She voiced her humanity with openness and force. She vociferously and fearlessly condemned any opinion and any move from anyone, whomsoever it may be, if it caused distress or harm to the dear inhabitants of her beloved city. She did not stop with being merely vocal about these things, but whenever she could, which was more often than not, she would join in the action and vigorously support or oppose, as the case may be, the issue in question. When the city and the people needed her, she was there among them, not as a special guest but as a concerned citizen like every one of them.
Now Sweet Sister was working with her people for a cause bigger and more important than any they had worked for in the past. After a long-drawn tussle with the central government, the state had managed a victory of sorts over the proposed Desalination Plant for the city. The central authorities had softened their stand and allowed the state government to go ahead with the project, but without any financial aid from them. When the project was debated at the city corporation council meeting, the awesome monetary implications came to the fore, causing dismay among the members and delay in the announcement of the status and fate of the project. Soon, newspaper headlines alternately lamented and lambasted the council’s inadequacy and incapability. This Desalination Plant, when commissioned, would evidently put an end to the acute water scarcity the city had been perennially suffering from for a very long time. Yet, the headlines screamed daily, it was a project doomed to failure.
Catherine did not miss the headlines, and the disdain and pessimism hurt her deeply. Her mind made up and her plan of action clear, she spoke to the mayor of the city and gave him an outline of the solution she had designed. Within days and after several meetings among the council members, the mayor and Sweet Sister were ready to announce the solution to the people and proceed to put it in action.
The solution and the event marking the launch of the project bore a thematic, invocative name: KISS FOR YOUR CITY. Hundreds of thousands of pamphlets and fliers were circulated, crisply explaining what the citizens had to do to see their dream come true:
KISS FOR YOUR CITY
Kiss or be kissed by Sweet Sister by donating $2 or $4 for the respective gesture!
The Desalination Plant is ours to enjoy for ever!
The venue for the event was the huge National Park in which a stage appropriate to the significance of the occasion had been erected. Entry and exit points had been marked, and were manned by police officers and citizen volunteers whose mandate it was to facilitate an easy and smooth flow of people towards and away from the stage, for each one of them to record their gesture in an orderly manner.
The Park was already packed, and there were long queues approaching the several entry points. It was no surprise to anyone that the entire gathering, united in a common cause, waited patiently for the event to begin and that there were no incidents of any kind. Yes, there was amiable chatter all around, but only about the momentous occasion and the great gift the city would get within months.
Now, the quiet belied the mammoth proportions of humanity gathered to witness history. A big wooden box stood on the stage to accept the contributions of the citizens. The city council members and the others responsible for coordinating the event were already seated on the stage. A tremendous roar greeted the mayor and Sweet Sister as they climbed the steps leading to the stage. After a brief speech by the mayor, Sweet Sister took centre stage. There was for her little to say except to thank her fellow citizens for their massive support and to make the announcement that the mayor, for all his initiative and tireless efforts, would inaugurate KISS FOR YOUR CITY by registering the gesture of his choice.
The mayor, a good man and much loved by the city, bowed to his people and to Sweet Sister in acknowledgement and stood up to do the honours. He pulled out four one-dollar notes and waved them to the crowd, which responded with cries of impatient encouragement. So, the mayor was to receive a kiss from Sweet Sister, who rose to her feet and stood in readiness to bestow her first kiss. The mayor gently walked up to the big box and dropped his donation into it. He then strode up to Sweet Sister and for a second they stood facing the crowd. The silence was total. As Sweet Sister turned her face to her right, presumably to place the kiss on the mayor’s left cheek, the mayor turned his face to his left, presumably to receive the kiss on his mouth. For an eternal second, all stood still. Having all along been under the impression that it was going to be nothing more than a ceremonial peck on the cheek of a caring citizen, Sweet Sister was suddenly caught in a dilemma, froze wide-eyed, and the mayor, unable to hold his breath any longer, exhaled hard. The pyorrhoeic stench from his exhalation assailed her delicate sense of smell. She swayed on her feet, even as the crowd interpreted her unease as a sign of her being overwhelmed, which in a way she was. The next moment, as in slow motion photography, her lithe frame went languid and flopped to the stage-floor. A doctor at hand pronounced her dead.
The following morning, Sweet Sister was buried at the Cemetery for the Nation’s Heroes. The Desalination Plant project was buried among the city’s Civil Project Archives and never came up for re-consideration, for no one worth her salt came forward to replace Sweet Sister.