By: Dr. Dhrubajyoti Bora
A conversation came wafted from somewhere nearby. Faintly. Malati raised her head and tried to listen. It’d rained almost the whole night. Now the morning was damp and gloomy. Through the ventilator, a patch of leaden sky caught her eyes. The chatting didn’t seem to stop. It was a kind of tensed, half-suppressed, agitated conversation. She tried to sharpen her attention, but nothing sort of comprehensible talk hit her ears. Out of curiosity, Malati got up from her bed, sat on the edge of her bed for some time, carefully slipped her feet into her flip-flops, and shuffled to the doorway.
She came out, and a cool air greeted her. She reached the gate. The highway running in front of her house was still deserted and slippery with yesterday’s downpour. As she looked across the highway she saw a gathering of a few people outside Kumar’s residence. Some of them were shaking their hands as if in an argument. The faces seemed unfamiliar from the distance. Who were they? She narrowed her gaze. Some of the faces now seemed familiar. She could see half-broken window glasses and flower tubs scattered over the front yard and the veranda, and the anxious faces of the people gathering there. She sensed something hadn’t gone right last night. The pattering of the rain on the roof had silenced all the sounds from the neighbourhood. She remembered last night she’d not heard the song blaring of the down train at midnight that usually ran half a mile behind her house. Something must’ve happened! Was Kumar’s health alright? She felt awkward staring in that direction after some time. She came inside. What could be the matter? Many irrelevant thoughts penetrated her mind. She sat down on a broken chair in the drawing-room. It wasn’t the time that she used to get up from bed. Her son was at her brother’s house after his exam was over. For the last week, she’d resided alone in this house. She didn’t mind having her son go away from her. It would only be a matter of a few days. When his school would start she won’t be able to enjoy this morning slackness. She went again to her bed and lay down, and tried to fall asleep. She’d a couple of hours in hand to begin her day, still some time to go to the town to start her day as a maid. Till then it would be better to have rest. She closed her eyes. But the chatting from Kumar’s house appeared to her even louder. She rolled on her bed. Closed her eyes. Tried to sleep.
After some time, while she was struggling in her bed, she heard a faint knocking on her door. And someone whispered, – “Sister!’’
She dashed to the door and opened it. Pulok came in… A very bad thing happened last night.
Malati’s eyes widened in bewilderment. He occupied a seat on the only wooden chair available in her house and continued in his low voice – “Last night when I left you, some boys accosted me on the street, outside your gate, and asked me from where I was carrying the containers. When I explained to them, they took me to Kumar Sir’s and started arguing with him. One of them even passed a dirty comment about you two. Sir at first warned him not to say so, but he repeated it several times. Sir couldn’t restrain himself at last. I saw his eyes. He was shaking like a mad man. His eyes were blazing like flames. Out of fury, he slapped that boy. Then the things suddenly turned bad. Bad. He couldn’t protect himself, they were almost ten, and I couldn’t count them all. They assaulted him, ransacked the house too.’’
“How is he now?’’ Malati’s heart raced at the news.
“He’s been transferred to the District Civil Hospital. His whole face has swollen up. I immediately informed some of his colleagues after the boys had left. They arrived in a short time and took him to the hospital. Some of them have advised him to lodge an FIR.” Pulok was still in fear. His voice was still trembling. He said, “I’ve come here to give you the information. You needn’t worry, but be alert.’’ Pulok left.
Sanjib Kumar. A man of around forty-five. He hailed from Kolkota. Was holding some senior post in a national company here in this town. Very soft-spoken, well mannered. She’d a tea stall a few years back. He’d come to Malati’s tea stall with Pulok on a winter evening about one and half years back. Pulok was his caretaker. He used to stay at an Assam-type house just right to Malati’s house, across the highway. One day he’d requested her for his meals, especially at night. His logic had been that though Pulok used to be a good caretaker yet his culinary skills had been pathetic. In the daytime, he used to have his lunch at his office. Pulok had prepared his lunch for himself. Gradually Malati started getting more cooking orders from him as the days wore on. An extra source of income was not bad for her. Sometimes she even reached Kumar’s house to make tea at his request, especially when his colleagues came for leisurely gossip. But that had caught the attention of the local people. They couldn’t take that intimacy lightly. One evening, a local boy even passed a sarcastic comment…’’ Do you go to Kumar’s house at night too? It’s not good.’’ His grin instantly brought a gush of warm blood to her head; she could feel her whole body trembling with sudden rage and insult. Somehow, she’d managed herself, said calmly…” You shouldn’t think about me. I have seven years old son, I am not going to do anything wrong at this part of my life. Besides don’t meddle in others’ affairs, do think about your future.”
Malati couldn’t sleep that night. She’d tossed again and again over her bed. What was the problem with these people? Was it necessary to stop cooking for Kumar? But why? It’d provided her with some money. She could manage the school fees for her son. Her tea stall had attracted a swarm of boys in the evening. It’d suited her small business. But at the same time, she’d endure indirect, but tangible scratches. So, she’d decided to close her tea stall and choose the job of a housemaid in the houses of the town. But she’d continued the job of delivering meals at Kumar’. Sometimes she’d herself take the meals to his house, sometimes Pulok had come to take them from her house. She’d grown to understand Kumar as a human being. He was a nice person. But the last night’s incident jolted her badly
Towards the evening, Police OC came to Malati’s house with two constables and said, “’ Malati, I know it would be difficult for you, but you should stop doing your business for a few days. Stop going to his house.’’
The police officer handled the situation with his long years of experience and dexterity. Kumar came back from the hospital. She feared going to his house to see him. Pulok stopped coming to her house. But the people didn’t forget about the imaginary relation. That created problem for her. She was ousted from society. She was a widow. Her husband had died ten years back. The gradual distance from the known people made her helpless. She felt like a sole sailor in the stormy sea of life. Her son, Sapun, wasn’t an identity to count as her supporter. He was a little boy. He had hardly any knowledge of what was going on with their life. She once thought of re-opening her tea stall, but the next moment she abandoned the idea out of hesitation. Every day on reaching home after day-long labour she felt drained out, hopeless. Lack of proper nutrition and excessive labour made her irritated. She found little time to look after her only son Sapun. Day by day she grew more frustrated. Sometimes, while returning home, she had to face ridiculed and rude comments on the streets. They came from some hidden places, out of her sight. Sometimes irritating snigger. She always tried not to pay any heed to them, but one night her patience gave in.
She was lying on the bed beside Sapun, being crushed by the thoughts of the future. Just then she heard the sound of a pelted stone hitting her roof. It clattered down and fell beside the house. Someone hooted outside her house. And a chorus of irritating laughter dispersed around her house. She got off her bed at once, took out an iron rod from under her bed, and rushed to the gate and shouted, “You cowards, why don’t you come face to face, I will break each of your bones, come forward.’’
She went on shouting, hardly knowing what was coming out of her mouth. She shouted like a lunatic to vent out all her pent-up emotions. For how long she’d been shouting she didn’t know, after some time, she felt a tight pull at her free hand. It was soft but firm. She got her sense. She looked down. Sapun was beside her. His eyes showed an earnest request to cool down. His eyes dissipated her frustrations at once. She stopped screaming. Looked around. The whole earth was flooded in bright moonlight and was in deep silence. The miscreants who’d come to spoil her sanity had fled till then. She waited there for some time, then slowly staggered into her house, head dizzy, feet clumsy; then sat on her bed. Sapun was still looking into her eyes fearfully. Never before had he seen such type of rage in his mother. She held Sapun firmly within her arms with all her strength and kissed his forehead. Unabated tears started streaming down her face. Her body started shaking with each burst of sobbing. But beneath those glassy eyes, a new hope dawned on her. She would bear every hurt coming her way, she would strive hard to make him an identity that others would envy. Sapun was her dream. (The author can be reached at email@example.com)