After completion of her household chores in the morning Meena came to the room where Karuna was sleeping. She placed a cup of tea on the stool that was near Karuna’s bed side. He jumped out of bed in a sudden hurry.
Unveiling the mosquito net she blabbered something inaudible to Karuna.
Stretching his hands and feet he asked Meena what the time was then.
Ignoring his query, she muttered, “the kitchen is empty today. I am going out for begging to keep the pot boiling”.
Much to her astonishment Karuna threw the cup of tea on Meena’s face before she could guess anything. In utter disgust he murmured-“You bitch! Fie.’’
Dazed and stupefied Meena stood right there a long time. A stream of tears flowed down her cheeks. She thought, people rightly said that he had cast a spell on her when she ran away with this person.
The image of her cursed college days came to her mind. Her auto journey to college, Karuna’s tricky tricks as a auto driver and her fanciful flight drew them together. Intimacy arose; attachment grew; finally it ended up dragging her life into irrevocable misery.
Her parents were hurt at the event of her eloping with the man and pocketed the insult humbly. They did not curse her ever; but she believed that the wound that she inflicted on them was being paid to her and that is why she is suffering.
Biting the twig of a bokul tree,he went out to the neighboring tea garden labourer line to drink their home made liquor hariya.
Long term boozing damaged Karuna’s body and mind solely. His liver function test result came; inflammation of pancreas was diagnosed. Neighbors say he is living a borrowed time and needs to be taken care of. She was baffled as how to take care of such a maniac. In their last visit to the doctor, the doctor warned him to stop drinking if he wanted to survive. There, in front of the doctor he signed one more false pledge as usual; and the very next day, he was brought home by a neighbor rickshaw puller in a drunken stupor.
Lounging on the dilapidated chair in the veranda, she thought-it is cowardice to put up with such insult and baseless blames. The episodes she experienced for the past few days obsessed her morbidly. He forgot all her concern and care bestowed upon him throughout the years.
The empty street in front and the stillness of the surrounding created a deep sense of void in her. Suddenly she caught sight of moujadaroni borma pacing up and down the street impatiently with short steps. It frightened her. Immediately she rose and moved back. If he sees her talking with Moujadaroni borma, another episode of their slanging match will start. Karuna believed that Borma had instilled all the feminist thoughts in her-to revolt for injustices done and to answer back, which she usually never did.
With aversion, she proceeded to the kitchen garden she set up during lockdown. She sat near the leafy mustard and started to remove the weeds that grew around. This time the vegetable too did not grow well. The spinaches had a meagre growth. The spring onions did not grow.
She had had a fit at the sound of the approaching footsteps. Something chocked her throat when she heard borma calling her by name. She looked back and began to shake like plantain leaves. What if he sees them! With a folded hand borma requested Meena to help her washing the used utensils of last night and to sweep and mop the floors as Gita, their maid who went to the village the previous day hadn’t turned up till then.
She rose, kept the tufts of mustard leaves on the bamboo stand that she got erected to let washed utensils dry near the tube well. Though she was hesitant, she couldn’t comply with the request. But for the generosity of this lady they could survive lockdown.
While washing the utensils she thought-How long should she pretend to be a dedicated and obedient wife to the most unfaithful man on earth? Someone rightly said -‘all marriages are fraud’. True. Love is felt not done; it’s a bond of mutual care and respect, not a deed of permanent settlement.
In the high noon she ladled them hot rice with boiled mustard leaves leaving a nice aroma to the nostrils with a hope of some changes in his behavior. Nothing helped. Same blabbering continued during the time of eating too.
Overwrought as she was, she flung herself onto the bed after lunch. An unknown lethargy seized her body and mind. When her eyes became heavy with sleep, Moni came jumping to interpose, urging her to delouse as she had an itchy head for the past few days. She couldn’t repeal her daughters appeal. While delousing she didn’t forget to lament her lot. The man in pretended nap eavesdropped everything behind the door. This one uttering was enough to set off a fuse. Bullying her to his heart’s content he went out.
In the evening, she ignited some coconut husk and sprinkled some dhuna on it to spread its fragrances in the surrounding and blew the customary conch as forcefully as she could. Her mother in law once told her that blowing conch in the evening could chase evil omens and bring good luck.
Switching off the light of the veranda, she sat on the floor of the steps. Suddenly a night bird flew away from the huge mango tree flapping its wide wings. The hair of her entire body stood on end. She grew as pale as death. She considered it as an evil omen. The creaking of the gate at the same time sounded like a death bell. She went inside.
Meena wanted to be happy with what little life offered her. But destiny had something else for her in store. No one knows what devil has chased the man. He was not like this before. They could make ends meet with what they earned from their hard work. He earned driving his auto. She too made some money hemming saris and mekhelas for the womenfolk of the neighborhood.
When she heard the sound of bell in the nearby tea factory, she entered the kitchen tiptoeing; but he could trace the footsteps. Before she could guess his intention he caught her by the locks and dragged her into the yard.
He cried, “Why do you go out of home so frequently? Can’t you stay at home without visiting the man of the neighborhood?” The question hurt her like anything. Ignoring it she concentrated on her work energetically. He repeated the same line again and again.
“What should I do?’’ In a fit of anger she asked.
“Why can’t you stay at home?’’
This infuriated her.
‘’Do you want me to sit at home and count the beads of rosary? What is there to be busy with in this house?” agitated she asked.
“If you speak one more word I will pull out your tongue and cut it into pieces.” he said in a loud voice.
“Do whatever you like but remember I am not going to listen to you anymore,” she cried.
“Aren’t you ashamed of saying such things to your husband?” he burst out in anger.
“You are no more a husband to me. Have you ever performed your duty as husband? Relationship isn’t a one sided affair. It is reciprocal and requires equal love and care in return.”
“You slut!’’ he retorted.
He was mad with anger. He got up, punched her several times with his fist.
Unlike other days she did not cry this time. She neither moved nor uttered any word.
When neighbors came out for rescue, she burst out in tears. They threatened him to stop this regular cat and dog quarrel which polluted the peace of the neighborhood. With a tight slap on his cheeks Barah Borta warned him that he would be chased out from the neighborhood if it gets repeated.
She was hurt by such allegations and distrust.
Had the neighbors not arrived in time, probably he would have killed her.
Mere sleeping, weeping and bewailing on the past event would do no good to her-she thought. She’ll have to rise from the ashes of her life if she wants to survive.
As the idea stroke her, she pressed the buttons of her cell phone to call Hazarika da, a grade IV in a government office who occasionally visited their house during lockdown. Once over discussion he told her that the richest businessman, a recent widower of the town was in dire need of a house keeper. She immediately disagreed to the proposal then as the town knew him as lady’s man and he was famous for his promiscuity.
The sounds of the chimming of wall clock at night seemed to be like hammering on her breast. She felt an inclination to run away before another misfortune befell her. Had life been like the wrongly solved mathematics of childhood days which she could have corrected erasing the wrong one!
The golden stripes of moonlight that came shivering through the date leaf falling on her bed playing. This beautiful sight and the bruises on her body and mind didn’t let her sleep. She rose from the bed. Holding the iron bar of the window she gazed to view the serenity of the night.
Darkness too has a beauty of its own-she realized. The night with fireflies flying around in the darkness with its glowing wings looked like a black chadar with filigree done everywhere. The star crusted night sky reminded her that howsoever long the night might not be, the dawn is sure to come with new hopes and promises. She waited for the dawn.
At day break she splashed some water on her face and stood in front of the mirror with wet face. Inside the mirror she saw a new lady with firmness and determination in her appearance and decisions. She is ready to get her own back.
Spraying a cheap perfume with strong smell on her wrist and armpit, she stood before the mirror. She looked appealing with kohl rimmed eyes and lipstick coated lips.
He was sitting on the entrance platform with head bent down. Her steps staggered. She went in. In their sixteen years married life, she has never been out anywhere without him. The bruises on her face made her firm. She came out instantly.
Slinging a bag on her shoulder she walked past him ignoring his presence and crossed over to the gravel road. Dumbfound he looked at her going away without blinking his eyes till the sight becomes invisible to him.
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