I left for office late that morning. Seeing me closing my gate Bhattacharjee baideo, my next door neighbor came up to their entrance platform. Wishing me a good morning with an enchanting smile she said- ‘’Anita, are you going to attend the funeral of Ishika’s mother today?’’.
“Probably I won’t go baideo. I have a few pending works to be completed today. I can give it a try if I have time; but you don’t have to wait.” Taking leave of her I hurried off to the main road.
Boarding comfortably on a reserved auto, I took out my cell phone to check if my lipstick and mascara was spread across the border.
I felt a surge of relax after knowing that everything was fine.
Apart from a few deviations I enjoy this journey from home to office and back. This is the only time of the day that I can exclusively spend for myself. It is during this time that I quietly make a blueprint of the things to do. Besides, meeting someone known incidentally is an added joy to me.
As the auto passed by I caught sight of four men carrying a dead body for last rite. The scene brought to my mind, the sight of Ishika’s mother being taken away to the crematorium.
It is troublesome to view someone being taken away to be buried. I closed my eyes to avoid the sight.
Death is so cool!
I tried my best to get Ishika’s mother’s thought out of my mind like a bird sheds the unwanted raindrops on its wings with a shrug. The more I tried to forget, the more it wraps me like a creeper.
Does anyone know what an ordeal a woman goes through in life- I thought to myself. Has anyone ever measured the depth of the wounds from where blood oozes out perpetually?
How impatiently this wretched woman must have been waiting for the heartless fiend!
…. No. I won’t let it go like this. I must make an inquiry into the matter of negligence done to her. After all, she is also a woman who suffer same pain and agony as I am. I must meet the outrageous husband whose nonchalance led the woman to the fatal end….
The honking horn of a car brought me back to my senses from oblivion. How long I had been waiting for traffic congestion to be cleared and to see the green light blink I don’t know.
Suddenly a boy passed in high speed with an ear splitting sound. I had to put my fingers on my ears to avoid being disturbed by the noise.
I watched the mechanical business of the town…. the ever busy pedestrian…. the impatient bikers…. the aromas of delicious food cooked by the street vendors… the pungent smell of littering… the welcoming gestures of the prostitutes in the periphery of Maloti hall to catch customers from the morning shows were enough to make me stoic to the city life.
Suddenly the auto stopped with a jerk. I asked the auto rickshaw driver why has he stopped.
‘’Madam, you have reached your destination.’’
I was so immersed in my thoughts that I couldn’t trace where have I reached. I got off immediately. Though the actual distance between my house and bank is twenty minutes ride; it takes almost an hour to get through this traffic jam.
The rush in the bank is moderate today. Sitting on my chair I ordered a cup of tea in the bank canteen.
Then I switch on the computer and waited to see if the link is cleared. I have to enter and update customer’s data and the process of opening account for the students which I couldn’t complete yesterday due to down server.
Sipping the brimming tea, I remembered- the neighbors didn’t like the fact that an engineer’s family lived in a tokou basa all alone. Many in the neighborhood started gossiping that the man had started another household there as he was rarely seen around.
Ishika’s mother justified the delay believing without grumbling that he would take them soon if he could make it a little easier.
When Ishika’s maternal grandmother found out Ishika’s mother was pregnant, she left her younger daughter Irani to live with her.
My acquaintance with Ishika’s mother is rather accidental. Once on my way back journey we got down in the same stoppage. Unfortunately, Ishika’s mother had no change with her. I agreed to pay her amount as I noticed her coming and going if front of my house sometimes in morning and evening. We walked home together.
To my surprise She came to return me the money immediately after reaching home. Over conversation I came to know that she is a beautician and like the other women of the neighborhood, I also took the privilege to get my facial and hair care done by her. Thus attachment grew and intimacy arose. Later this intimacy extended to Bhattacharjee baideo too.
Suddenly Ishika’s mother stopped visiting us. One day on my way back from morning walk I stepped in their house to know their wellbeing. She came out with her bulging womb.
‘’…. Anita, you were supposed to avail casual leave today,’’Bontiba the one sitting next to me asked.
‘’Yes baideo, I thought so; but I couldn’t make up my mind. Finally, I left for office. Something unspeakable agitating me in such a way that I find no peace.’’
‘’You should speak out the things stirring inside.’’
‘’definitely. I’ll unlock my heart soon.’’
…. Was it true what Rukmini told me the other day! People of neighborhood seen that middle aged womanizer coming there every now and then. How could a woman of his daughters age be the paramour of him!
‘’Ma’am, is my account opening done?’’ Asked the lean boy standing beyond the glass cabin.
Taking my eyes off the computer screen I said- ‘’going on. Wait a while.
The most irritating part of my job is to respond the phone calls and reroute the important calls with pretended politeness. …The toughest part comes when some customers argue for no issues and who I am to deal with patience and artificial smile.
While these bizarre thoughts were shuttling inside my mind, my cellphone vibrated to pick it up. On screen beeping a green light- ma calling. Immediately I picked up to hear her.
‘’Ani, Deuta is not well. His blood sugar and creatinine level is rising. Doctor has prescribed an immediate dialysis.
I heard everything without any interruption.
Assuring her my visit there on next Saturday, I told ma to inform Riniba as well so that we sisters together may sort out a solution. Further I requested ma not to take any decision on her own in these two days.
This phone call made me even more disappointed. My parents are ageing…. People becomes dependent on old age. How eagerly they wait for us to come on weekends!
I felt my eyes were wet.
What a blissful life my mother had lived without any heart burn or competition unlike us! They had plenty of time for socializing. the neighboring khuri’s, pehi’s and borma’s thronged on our porch in the afternoon. Delousing each other, they shared everything from the carefully careless old man’s unzipped pants to the bedtime romance of the of younger ones among them. It all sounded so very mysterious to me that I used to eavesdrop everything whenever I get a chance. An unknown world of dream and fantasy opened before me. It was always a pleasant experience to hear them behind the screen.
‘’ma’am where should I go for availing the Auto transfer facility’’-the middle aged man asked.
‘’go to the second next table’’ – Pointing to the man sitting in the corner I said.
Then I engrossed myself in measuring the debit credit of others life and adjusting the balance sheet with much agonies and utmost care.
When I was a girl, I fancied that married is the end of every misfortune. It is a jolly ride full of pleasant episodes and romantic exuberances-a life with roses all the way. Even in my wildest dream I never imagined that life is full of so many tough choices.
Ishika’s mother too must have had some such similar dreams.
Was it fulfilled? …
Life had betrayed her and she ended up wrapping all her dreams and desires.
The memory of her tearful face when I went to meet her in the hospital haunts me. How passionately she was holding my hands in her fist! I heard a prayer buzzing in silent silences.
I must meet the man who got her pregnant and left her in the wilderness to suffer the worst destiny.
During lunch break I sat on a table that was empty in the canteen. Seeing me alone there Sarbani di came and sat in front.
‘’ Sarbanidi, is postpartum hemorrhage so fatal?’’ I said
‘’present day it’s not a matter to be worried of; but proper and timely care to be taken.’’
‘’You are right…. it could be so….. Ishika’s mother was admitted to the hospital very late which caused excessive blood loss with increased heart rate. Sarbanidi, how could a husband be so stone hearted when he knows that his wife is in advanced stage… Expecting! Could a man ever realize how painful it is to carry a baby in one’s womb for nine months doing household chores all alone! How weak a women feel during this period both physically and mentally- Could a man ever realize……?’’I uttered soliloquy.
‘’Nothing more than this could be expected in a male dominated Indian society like us’’Sarbanidi said.
‘’Sarbanidi, …Problem is not in others. Problem is there with the womenfolk only. They themselves prefer to be under such dominance. If anyone dares go beyond it and raise voice, they start bitching.’’
‘’Come on Anita……Who has asked you to meddle with the problem that has not changed through ages? Stop worrying so much … It’s not possible to eliminate these deep rooted prejudices so easily. Moreover, destiny can’t be defied’’
I came out a little earlier from my duty. Before crawling into an auto I entered the bakery near the bank to buy some eatables for evening snacks.
It was getting dark when I got down from the auto. In winter days are usually short; evening falls early.
After finishing my evening chores, I sat on the porch as usual. Rukmini served me a cup of smoked black tea. Looking around quizzically for a while she said in a whispering tone- ‘the death of Ishika’s mother is the talk of the town. They said they were not happy. They had had a fight over telephone on the day she was admitted to the hospital.’
Who knows it could be the other way round too. I showed no interest in her cheap talk.
‘’Did you add any spice to the gossip?’’
‘’Not at all. Why should I?’’
I rose from there and got ready to go. Before leaving I told Rukmini to cook something delicious in dinner for Rathin and Riddhi.
…. When I entered Ishika’s house, most of the invitees had already left. Seeing me there Isika rushed towards and welcomed me with a tight hug. A sensation of motherhood tied me up with her. I felt so pain at heart that something was choking on my throat. I couldn’t utter any word.
We remained in the same posture for a long time.
By that time Ishika’s auntie came out and got me introduced the man sitting on my left with some elderly persons. Suggesting him some rituals to be followed, the men left. After a polite conversation I straightway mentioned the death of Ishika’s mother. Immediately he turned his face towards other direction as if he was not willing to continue the discussion any further. His face looked stern and the color of it changed like chameleon. To everyone’s surprise, he covered his face with the palm of his hand and began to cry aloud.
I was baffled by the unwanted twist of the situation.
What evil spirit had chased me I don’t know; instead of consoling him for his grief, I reproached him a great deal for the death of Ishika’s mother.
‘’You are wrong ma’am’’- he uttered in a huffed voice.
‘’ Time will figure out who is right or who is wrong. Don’t you think that it was your prime duty to be with her when you know that she was in her advanced stage. Why didn’t you take them with you earlier? Does it take people that long to afford a house? I continued all at a breath.
‘’Stop madam. It was none of my business, that’s why.’’
‘’How Strange! If it was none of your business whose duty it was to look after her’’-I said glibly.
‘’Do you know that I had not been to here for the last sixteen months’’- looking at my eyes he said.
What he said sounded like a thunderstorm. I felt a kind of giddiness. I didn’t know which way I must react to it!
It was as if I couldn’t believe my ears!
After sitting quietly for a long time I came out without taking any leave of them. The helpless look of the man pierced through my heart. There was an unending story in his eyes that I failed to read ever.
I was not prepared to face the unexpected twist of the incident.
Although it was late winter, it was very foggy that day as it had rained heavily the previous night. A thick layer of fog came coiling up to blind my path. The road ahead was becoming invisible. I felt like someone chasing me from behind; I started a brisk walk home and home but hung like a pendulum at the crossroads of shadow and light.
Nilakshi Dutta hails from the pristine tea gardens of Assam, Tinsukia. She has been working as a Principal in a government Senior secondary school for the past five years. She is extremely passionate about poetry and considers herself to be more of a reader than a writer. Her short stories have been published in famous Assamese literary magazine GORIYOXEE and a few of her poems are scattered in some indigenous newspapers