It was a fine morning. The chawk was not as crowded as it is always during the day. Few of the shops were open; the tea shop, the milk shop and the one selling morning eateries. Others would be open within an hour’s time. There was a very little traffic on the main road; only a few passenger vans and lorries carrying people from villages who try to reach the town very early so as to get secure themselves in the initial queue in the infinitely long queues at the Tahseel and the government hospital.
One such van had reached the stop, all the passengers had gone but one, who was refusing to get down from the van. She was a woman in black veil holding the hand of a 5 year kid, who was wearing a shining white kurta with a new white skull cap on the head. She was talking to the van driver. After a moment their voice raised, she had started to shout loudly. The driver was also bad tempered, though he was trying to be calm in little intervals. They became a subject of attention; the people in the market were puzzled and were assembling around the van to see what had happened.
When the women saw the people around her she started to shout even more loudly and now she was complaining to the crowd, “You see, what a cheater he is, the son of *****, I know the fare very well, I am not a naïve, I visit here regularly, I know the fare very well, you see, now he is saying it has increased.”
The van driver defended furiously, “I did never say that, I only said that I don’t have change, I cannot return you the coins. Where would I get change so early in the morning, I don’t have a treasure.”
The woman was not in a mood to surrender, she cried, “that’s only a trick. When you are running the vehicle why don’t you keep the change? I know this; I know what a thug you people are. Give me my money or I will call the police.”
On the reference of police, some people smiled; some cleared their throat, and a few walked along and the rest now tried to interfere. Someone pleaded in morning mood, “leave it, bahan ji, it is only three rupee, you know you can’t do anything of three rupee.”
On this, she banged back even more furiously, “why should I leave the money, it’s my hard earned money, neither I have a money tree, why don’t you lecture him not to take the fare at all?”
How joyful those days were, she thought. Her family, well-off, happy and respected in locality, but it was not the only object to miss; she had developed a deep nostalgia for her friends and college days. The days when she was all happy, she had told a lot of stories of those days to her husband.
The man had no wish to start his day with a quarrel and so left the place muttering and cursing. Meanwhile someone had offered the change to the van driver and he paid her with three rupee. Now satisfied she stood at the side as the van moved, but in no time she cried in such a voice as if her heart had blasted, and then ran towards the van. The driver was frightened with the cry and stopped a few feet away. She leaped in to the van, banged into the back seat, pulled out a bag and held it to her heart for a long time, a few of the men noticed the tears rolling down her cheeks.
The sun was high now. They had been walking for an hour or more. The kid had instantly finished the single banana that she had purchased with those three rupees. Now he was almost running behind her mother as she was walking in haste. Her veil wet and dirty with the sweat and dust, the bag hanging in one hand, other hand clutching the nose-piece, she was lost in another world. The kid was almost tuck-pointed to his mother’s broken heals, which had now starting to ache, a red and black curve was all he was able to see while running behind her, the blood was almost ready to flow from her broken heels.
They were out of the town now, she knew all the short cuts and she knew if she would take other way it would cost her another ten rupee for the auto. She had come here a number of times, but this time it was kid who had to walk miles with her.
She looked at him with motherly affection, without decreasing her speed. He looked at her face with pain and complains and then got struck to a stone. He fell down and cried with all his strength, his knees and palm were bruised, his fine white pajama was torn on knees, his cap lay tossed aside, he had started bleeding at one of the toes, where he was hit. She remained shocked, hanged him with his one hand, furiously, she slapped him twice, “Can’t you walk with your eyes open , scoundrel? We are already late, do you understand?”
Hell with his pain and wound he did not say anything except crying in full growl. She picked him up in her lap walked a small and then sat down under a mango tree at the side of the narrow road. She was tired and annoyed with his cry. After minutes he was relaxed and was only hiccupping. She closed her eyes.
How joyful those days were, she thought. Her family, well-off, happy and respected in locality, but it was not the only object to miss; she had developed a deep nostalgia for her friends and college days. The days when she was all happy, she had told a lot of stories of those days to her husband, and a lot of times. Her husband, Ah! How, her friends were to mock her when they came to know that she would be married to her cousin. A few jealous ones even started blame her of love affair; there was a lot of talk of every kind. But she never took notice of all that, she knew him since childhood and she knew that he had himself requested her family for her hand. In a corner of heart she also admired him. And when she got married, those were the best moments of life, until the fateful night of August…
She woke with an alarm, “have I slept too much?”
“No” said the boy, who was busy applying saliva on his wound, “it is only ten minutes or less.” He applied the same on the heels of his mother, “it will give relief. Does it ache much?”
“Not at all!” she said without any care, stood up with a jerk, clutched the bag and started to walk again.
The sun had reached straight on their head when they reached there. She had picked him up on her back. Her heels had started to bleed; she could feel red, sticky, thick blood squeezing out of her heels. It was impossible to walk out of terrible pain. She was taking a pause at every hundred yards. The handle of the bag was wet with her sweat. She was still lost in her secret world.
“Why should anyone care of anyone! Huh! I do not need their money, I do not need their help, the dogs and hogs, let them come this time. I will show them I am still alive. I don’t need the scoundrel’s sermon of piety, neither I want that false promises, let him come for the vote, I will tear his belly apart, hell to them!”
The boy exclaimed with joy when he saw the high wall from his mother’s right shoulder, “There it is. Look mother! We reached.”
She looked at the high wall, at the wired hedge, at the high watch towers and then she looked at the top of the trees in the compound. She took a sigh of relief. At last she had reached here by a shortcut route; it was only a three hour walk. Now, she had only to take a round across the compound to be there at the main gate.
She had been waiting there for two hours. She was sitting under a banyan tree near the giant gate on which a curved board read in Hindi ‘Jila Karagar’ and under that in English ‘Dist. Jail, estb. 1917’
The sun was setting down fast. She was worried of return. Still she was waiting with a hope. She was waiting for the bada sahib to come. She had no knowledge of his timing, yet last time she had got him by chance, it saved her hundred rupees which she had to pay as bribe to sentry, otherwise. She managed extra wheat that month. Meanwhile the sentry had warned her eight times that she would not be allowed to meet her husband today. The boy was asleep.
When the sentry came eleventh time to shout on her, she pulled out a hundred rupee note from the pocket of the veil before he could have kicked her, she had lost the hope. She woke the kid up, rubbed his face with her palm, set his kurta orderly, put the cap on his head and smiled, “let us go see him.” The boy grinned.
They did not allow her to carry the bag, she knew it. She pulled the stainless steel Tiffin out, which they checked thrice, removing all its parts, with the detector, before she packed it back and entered the main compound where she would wait until his number was called. It did not take much time. When the sepoy shouted, “Mulaqat 334”, she was all out of herself. They almost stormed into the room. There he was, sitting on a bench, in half sleeve white shirt and white trousers; he smiled when he saw them. It was the smile of a dead man; as if he had been woken up from his grave. She stepped towards him but then ceased at a pace; a sepoy was standing at a corner. He held her hand and kissed it, it was dead cold. The boy handling the tiffin seized his legs.
After a few moments when he spoke, it sounded hollow, as if he was in deep, dark forest, with no living being but him, as if he was in a graveyard talking to the dead, “What do they say?” he asked.
“They don’t say anything. They don’t remember you. They have developed Amnesia and Alexithymia, simultaneously.” She replied with blank eyes. She knew she must not cry there, for screaming alone, a few next days were fixed.
He picked the boy in his hands, kissed him madly, and whispered, “You know, jaan, I would never do that, they are all liars, I will come back, they will see….”
The boy kept his little hand on the lips of his father, lifted the tiffin with the other and said, “I have brought sewaiyyan for you, Abba, Eid Mubarak!!”