This short story is participating in Write Story from Picture India 2012 – Short Story Writing Competition.
I always saw him coming. Erratic were his hours though, but he came regularly.
Mother would either lock herself in the kitchen or behind the door near the balcony. I could still hear the soft whisperings and sense the blushes on her now wrinkling skin as he would touch her. She shadowed her face with the blusher in preparation, the small flat box that she always carried in the cape of her petticoat—the box that contained powders of aggrandizing her now crumpling beauty. Powders, and blushers, eyeliners, hair dryers, tattoes, and all that could embellish a forty two year old woman look eighteen—the age of her daughter.
The key to the wardrobe fitted itself veraciously in the cleavage, between her bosoms, which she had grown to the sizes of un-matched coffee cups quite un-miraculously by wearing those extra tight bras, that cupped comfortably, as one does while supporting his hands over the breasts while consummating, pushing in and out. I however never got hold of the key.
Sometimes lying naked on the floor, I touched my flat chest. I had once heard of a term called Silicon Valley and I wondered when would he walk his fingers luxuriously between those valleys of mine? When will the mountains give way? When would these indolent berries grow into perfect oranges?
We had emigrated from Dhaka to Kolkata ten years back. We lived in a house which had walls covered with mud over thatched walls and heaps of hay as the roof, that trickled water on rainy days and a strand or two came flying down like torn kites. I would sit outside over a wooden tool to guard my mother’s business as a wet shirt or a pant would be hung inertly as a dead snake over the bars of the creaking wooden door of the single room of ours that for once or twice would reverberate on itself to the windy quakes of the storm.
Days went by, months passed, we had made good business by then. On my fourteenth birthday we took a new room, near a place that most people referred to as “Lal Batti ki Dukan” or more popularly Sonagachi.
Girls in their most impressive of dresses would wait near the footpath that lay just across our room.
I yearned to be one of them, not knowing the purpose though. But sigh! I didn’t have the money to buy any one of those glittering chumki studded skirt and blouse. Sometimes I saw cars passing by and stopping in front of one of them, and with slithering fluidity she would enter the open door and sit in the front seat, the car zooming by to infinity crossing the lal batti that kept burning bright the entire night.
I asked mother who the car stoppers were—“They are called Babus Gedi. Our sisters get paid for their services to the Babus. There are some other memsahib class ones too. Babus do not pick them up. They rather come to visit these Memsahibs who live in palatial houses just across the gates of the lal batti station.”
I kept quiet and didn’t feel like questioning my mother more. Perhaps she had a secret desire to become a memsahib someday.
At the gates of Lal Batti, stayed Homen Khudo. He was one of the security personnel of the houses of one of the Memsahibs. We usually met each other while I went out for buying milk from Chatribari. He would also come and bargain with his loud screechy voice—“Ei shob amar bhalo laage na…Give in ten rupees or leave it.” I would smile slimily, tongue in cheek, to see his expression, eyes bulging out and tongue covered with red patches of mittha patti pan.
“Toro naam ki re Gedi?” he had asked me once he saw me smiling behind his back.
“Jhumur”, I replied to my name smiling.
I saw a soft lining of red Pan licked lips making a curve. He smiled too. And before both of us could realize we became the best of friends.
Homen Khudo and I would meet every evening and share tea served in clay cups. He had this habit of blowing air over the tea with his mouth to cool it up, so that he could finish it fast. Sometimes he took me for Kola-khatta meetha.
One day I saw him standing next to the memsahib’s gate and found him smiling to himself.
“Ki holo Homen Khudo?” what happened?
“You will not believe it. It’s a miracle. It has never happened here in Sonagachi.
Come, I will tell you over lunch.”
We ate heavily that day—Achar, Dal, Bhaat, Boara ,chorchori, ghonto, kalia.
After burping around three times in a row, he sat with his back flat on the ply board-back of the chair and started,
“Our Memsahib is getting married. A certain Romesh Babu from Barrackpore had come to visit her once. Perhaps it was love at first sight. He paid a sum of twenty five thousand to spend the night with her. Rumour goes that, he did not even touch the petals of the roses on the bed that was kept for both of them. He mercilessly, quite un-caringly about the finer adorning of the room talked straight to her and proposed her for marriage. She of course did not agree, more so because of the business she was making. But Romesh Babu did not give up. He came every night with twenty five thousand Rupees until she said ‘Yes’. And that was the end of it. Lal batti will be seeing its first marriage in perhaps a century”
I could feel his happiness lingering like the betel nut sap coming out of the corners of his mouth and not ready to drop down still crawling down his grey unshaven chin.
We went home.
At home I asked Mother, “Maa when will I get married?”
“Soon Gedi. We will get a nice Babu for you”
“Like Romesh Babu?” I asked her smilingly.
“Who gives you all that shit? Ei shomoy amar raag oti prochondo kintu. Jaah! Get out of the house.”
And I walked out of the house with silent feet. I felt perhaps mother was jealous of Memsahib, only because mother could not become one.
It was a rainy day again. There was a knock on the door of our new house an eight storied apartment. The house we had changed just six months after the marriage of the memsahib. We had grown enough rich by then. I could hear the soft king-ling of the raindrops on our roof. The house had two rooms, an attached kitchen and an accessory room near the balcony with secured locks, that mother used for her business.
I opened the door.
There was a man, most elegantly dressed—white coat and a purple muffler. His face bore a grin and he had silver coloured eyes like that of a fish. His hair was cropped short, like an army man and his trousers were loose like the olden bell-bottom days. He looked handsome in my eyes.
Mother came running from her bedroom, whispering “Is it a customer?”
And then she asked the gentleman to come over and sit down. She greeted him with a namaskar and with her violin stringed slender fingers showed him the way to the room near the balcony—her paradise in disguise.
Later that evening I came to know that he was Mr. Dhrubo Sanyal, a prominent business man from Balleygunge. He dealt with gold and owned a jewellery manufacturing unit.
In no time I could see more and more gold rings in my mother’s fingers, such that sometimes one finger wore two rings.
I always saw him coming. Erratic were his hours though, but he came regularly.
Mother would either lock herself in the kitchen or behind the door near the balcony. I could still hear the soft whisperings and sense the blushes on her now wrinkling skin as he would touch her. She shadowed her face with the blusher in preparation, the small flat box that she always carried in the cape of her petticoat—the box that contained powders of aggrandizing her now crumpling beauty. Powders, and blushers, eyeliners, hair dryers, tattoos, and all that could embellish a forty two year old woman look eighteen—the age of her daughter.
I had somehow secretly developed feelings for him. His eyes made me wonder of the oceans and reminded me of the Bay of Bengal that I had crossed one day. He mesmerised me as his soul, talked to me through constant silence—the language of a one sided love. His gentleness made me fall perhaps a thousand times into the traps of passionate fury of love. At nights when mother and him would make love, I would imagine sweat trickling down his nipples to my valley and making its way like a river to my navel and below down. I was by now his and no man could even creak a hole into my closed doors except him, unlike mother’s—a thousand at a time.
One day I found mother cutting onion in the kitchen table preparing to make ilish macher jhol.
“No Nothing”, she blushed as she spoke the words quivering her lips.
“What is it mother tell me right now. You never hide things from me?”
I felt like collapsing into nothingness.
“But he is younger to you Ma…”
I could not control anymore. I ran to my room and threw myself on the bed. I did not cry. I knew crying wouldn’t help. The leaves of the Banyan tree outside the window of my room were about to fall. It was autumn now. They were choosing their death, timing meticulously when to drop down and flutter away, so that one could crash them under his steps like my crashed broken heart now.
Mother had planned to leave for Dhaka once before the marriage, so that she could invite her distant folks. This was just another of her techniques at showcasing her superiority in the end.
I somehow convinced her to leave one day before the scheduled date.
“But he would come Gedi. He will be angry if he doesn’t find me”
“I will handle him do not worry”
“Are you sure?”
So she left on the day.
The curtains ruffled to the autumn breeze and a ray of sunlight from the opposite window hit my eyes. I got up from my bed yawning, as if sleep still weaving its net over my eyes. After a fresh face-wash, I looked myself into the mirror. It was then that that I remembered.
“Today is the day”.
I opened the wardrobe and found the white wedding gown that Maa had weaved for herself and her pair of bangles. I wore it and it fit me perfectly. I combed my hair and smiled as Rupanzel the fairy tale maiden with her long hair played visually inside my mind. I had lush brown-black hair, just like her.
I then, took out the keys of the locker and took out the new auto-camera bought by Maa to click pictures of herself and her to-be husband perhaps. There was not even a tinge of guilt inside me. “There is nothing called guilt when you desire to get the person you love”, I thought as I took to the lift to the eighth floor of our apartment that had been recently
re-constructed to a pent-house.
I took a sliding arm chair, and put the camera on its three legs just on the edge of the wall. I arranged my hair, so that they fell on my back, took a look at the bangles whether they ornamented my wrists and smiled as the camera clicked itself.
The photograph came out a minute later and I examined it carefully. I looked natural in my own beautiful way. I didn’t have to aggrandize myself to look beautiful. The photograph made me more confident of the task to be carried out ahead. “At least I will win his lust if not Love”, I laughed mawkishly to myself. There was still an hour to go but I preferred to wait.
I prepared almost everything. Rose petals, Sugandh—perfumes, milk glasses, hanging lanterns with lights shaped like almonds, candles, the bed and the bottle beside the bed table.
And Then I saw him walking down to our apartment from above. I ran to open the door before he could ring the bell and found no-one in the house. I sat on the couch in the drawing room with the photograph clutched in my left fist and looked at the hanging clock. It was exactly 6:00 pm. After a minute or so the bell rang. I opened the door and smelled in the sweet aroma that his green scarf gave off. He was dressed in a plain Hawaiian shirt and a loose pair of white trousers, with a green scarf around his neck. Perhaps scarves were his trademark.
“Where is your Mother?”
“Oh! She has left for Dhaka”
“But she was to leave for tomorrow?”
“No, she had some urgent work so she left.”
“Ok I shall leave now then.”
He was about to turn around.
“No!” I retaliated loudly
“Someone else will entertain you today.” I answered courageously.
“What?” He looked at me questioningly.
To his question I handed him my photograph taken an hour ago.
He was the only man that I desired and no one else. Even if I got married perhaps there won’t be a proper man, except for his physical presence. I had decided like the autumn leaves that this is my last wish and so I kept the poison bottle near the bedside table.
He first let out a loud laughter and said with his face still smiling,
“But you are going to be my daughter” he laughed out again.
“Mr Dhrubo, I have loved you since the very first day. I would yearn for you while you would make love to my mother. I would twist and turn in my bed wishing if you would touch me just once—once. I have never been so desperate. Yes it is said that desperation is a wrong reason to fall in love, but not passion. It is just a question of one day. I wouldn’t trouble you anymore. Just one day. Can’t you pretend to love me for a day at least?”
Dhrubo Sanyal was dumfounded. He kept quiet, and I with tearful eyes kneeled in front of him, my hands joined, praying for his approval.
He looked at me with merciful eyes, in a sense that he understood my condition. He didn’t utter a single word.
He knew where the room was and before I could make the entry, he went inside the business room near the balcony.
I with my wedding gown sweeping past my guilt, entered next and closed the door.
The bedside bottle waited to be opened and finally gulped.