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A Curious Night

By Prantik Mandal

The rainy night was getting darker and colder while Birju toiled to ride his cycle through the cunning mud. Birju doesn’t like rainy days. “There’s so much of those damned mosquitos and I catch cold every time and the cattle bellows all night and the earth stinks ,the roof leaks, the courtyard drowns ,the clothes don’t dry and and…” Birju once lamented to his wife. Rain had always brought trouble to his mind nevertheless he decided to risk it. His wife reproached when he announced he will venture out in such dire weather. Birju had to reach the market before it closes to buy all the puja items for the Satyanarayan puja tomorrow. Actually he took such defiant a decision so that he can protract his sleep the next day and save himself from going to the market in the morning of his day off. Birju is a gullible man rather boy of 18 who worked as a Mistri– a laborer, and was presently employed by Santosh Sahu the Raj Mistri the king of all laborers. He had to travel 15 + 15 kms everyday to labor in building a mansion in the city and return to his earth cottage in the village and receive about 700 rupees at the end of every week which he submitted to his wife. His wife was thrifty and kept the debits and credits always balanced. She was the most literate in the family, also the most learned woman in the village . She studied almost the same as Tarak Nath who was the head of the panchayat. She could also sign her own name.

Trudging and trudging with grim tenacity, Birju finally reached the market only to find the shops to be already closed. His heart sank at the sight and he perceived all his efforts had been in vain. He let his frustration out by cursing under his lips to the rain. Despaired he turned, barely able to hold the umbrella in his trembling limbs, to return home. Then a guy yelled out his name. “ Birju!” he screamed. But the rain was heavy enough to subdue any screaming animal . “oy Birju” again came the scream but Birju, ignorant was wading his tired legs away. But then he stopped to wrench out his lungi which was soaked to a point that it itched his mind. This gave the other guy enough time to run up to him and catch him by the shoulder. Birju started and immediately wailed out a scream loud enough to condescend the thunder which cried simultaneously with Birju. Not waiting for the afferent and efferent nerves to complete their jobs, he hurled his umbrella and cycle away, barely able to hold his lungi in place ( even in horror he tried to protect his dignity ) and ran like Archimedes. The other guy meanwhile picked up his remains and rode Birjus’ bicycle right up beside Birju who was running aimless.

“its me Simonto” said his friend.

Birju stopped and turning to his friend stooping down, his hands on his knees , stood panting. “ma!....I thought…..tonight…..I am getting chopped” said Birju

“lets get under that shade” said his friend pointing to one of the closed up shops as it was still raining. “you need a bidi to help your breathe”.

They went under the tarpaulin shaded shop and lighted bidis.

“you came to buy flowers?” asked Simonto

“yes and the other things. Damned nothing can go right in rain. My mother died on a rainy day. I broke my ankle once in a rainy day. I lost 200 rupees! once in a rainy day” lamented Birju again.

Simonto expressed his regards with a nod.

“listen can you lend me some money? I need about 20 rupees” asked Simonto.

“I only have 10 rupees with me”

“uhh…ok that’ll do. Just give me 10 rupees.”

Birju handed him the money.

“that Santosh da gave my work to some other guy. My daughter is sick with dengue. She is going to need so many medicines and in this state he kicked me out. I had to stay with her for 2 weeks in the hospital so I couldn’t go to work. That’s when he hired some other guy.”

“Oh. Come to my home I can lend you some more money.”

“No. its not needed. I have pleaded to him today, pleaded for my daughter. He said he will think about it. He better find me some work. I can’t see my daughter dying before my eyes.”

“Oh.Ok lets go back then. I am tired. Have to wake up early again tomorrow!” said Birju.

“You go ahead. I’ll go later”

“later? It have to be half past eight, the shops are closed, what will you do here in this weather?” spurted Birju unable to comprehend.

Simonto hesitated and averted his face. Birju caught a glimpse of a sickle, the handle tucked in his friends lungi and the blade covered by his shirt, while he was turning. Being a not too smart person Birju asked almost carelessly

“what are you going to the fields now?” remarked Birju not sarcastically.

His friend made some sudden frantic movements to hide his weapon but instead it loosened and fell down. Birju picked it up and his friend snatched it away from him, cutting fine slightly in Birjus’ right hand index finger. Birju shuddered a little but his friend remained indifferent.

“you have no business here now its late you should go home” said Simonto in a bit commanding tone.

“no man has any business here at this hour. What is it?” said birju.

“I have some work here I need to meet someone.”

“well then I will be going. Come to my home tomorrow morning I will come to the market. I need to buy those things and also we will eat ramgopala’s puri.”said birju.

Simonto nodded and birju went away.

By now the rain was alleviated to a slight drizzle so the ride back home was fairly smooth.

Birjus’ house was fairly flooded by now and his wife with a bucket was scooping the water out of the house into the courtyard. Hardly did she saw birju pulling up she inquired in a rather defiant manner “could you get ANYTHING?”

“no; all the shops were closed” said birju not perceiving her irony.

“I told you not to go; now you’re soaked and sun won’t shine for few days and your clothes will dampen the whole house” retorted his wife.

He went in cleaned himself and sat down waiting for his dinner. His father being old already had eaten and gone to sleep and his 6 year old brother too. His wife came in with khichri which he liked to eat. He started eating but without using his index finger as the salt was pinching the wound. His wife noticing it inquired and birju narrated the whole event like an erratic child would to its mother. His wife immediately sensed something uncanny about this. After dinner she coerced briju to go to the market again to scratch her itching suspicion. She wanted to go with him but was expectant and so couldn’t risk a walk on a slippery night.

Birju dared not refused his wife. He was somewhat obsequious to her and so was always the butt of ridicule among his friends. He went on, on feet this time, around 9.00 pm. His wife lying on the bed brooded in the damp small dark room with only an old rusty oil lamp lit on the low side table illumining only the left side of her face, the other side remained dark. She was thinking of all the possible outcomes and with every thought she either shuddered with apprehension or flushed with passion. She spent hours in her mind before the clock finally struck twelve and the chime startled her out. She got up, now agitating a little, and went to get a glass of water. No sooner did she filled the glass then a loud panting knock came on the door. She ran to open and found birju standing breathlessly trying to grasp some air. He entered with a cotton cloth bag hung on his left shoulder and his wife gave him the glass of water and patted his back. He reposed a few minutes and then got up and gave the bag to his wife. His wife took the bag closer to the lamp to inspect and upon seeing its contents wailed a loud ‘Ouuu’ sound. The bag slipped on the floor and out came bundles of cash covered in plastic with hot new crisp notes of 500 Rs and 1000 Rs, looked as if freshly borne by a bank.

The loud cry from his wife woke Birjus’ father up. The old man came limping in drowsily and grumbled in a low deep but articulate sound “what happened?”

Birjus’ wife with elegant dexterity hid the bag and its contents.

Birju was rising up saying “I found a …..”

When his wife interposed “its nothing father. There was just a snake in the room but now its gone. You go back to sleep” forestalled his wife.

Birjus’ father went off murmuring low grumbles.

“why tell father. You know he is going to spill the beans all over the village” said his wife.

Birju took back his seat and fell back on the bed. His wife took the bag, carefully packed it with a cloth and put it in the only safe of the house which had hitherto saved only a few gold jewelries which his wife had brought from her ex-home after their marriage.

His wife then closed the door fast and went up to birju and lied down on side of him and fingering his hair asked with appealing curiosity. “where did you find that?”.

Birju still having that shocked look on his eyes said. “ I went there at the market but it was all empty and silent and I decided to smoke a bidi under one of the shops. It was so dark and cool air with nothing but the mechanical croaking of the frogs. It had almost hi…hi…. ahh, what do you call it when some monotonous dull sounds makes you hazy and drooling?” asked Birju.

“hypnotize” his wife helped.

“ yes hypnotize. The sounds of the surrounding almost had a hypnotizing effect on me and I dozed off. Now I don’t know how long had I been out but the sound of a scream and many other loud noises of I don’t know what startled me and I got up to see at the direction from where it was coming but I couldn’t really gather what was happening but I could figure at least three human figures struggling with each other and I ran towards them but it was so far ahead that it seemed like forever but as I was getting closer those people vanished almost like magic but I found that bag there and while picking it up I slipped and fell on my butt and then I picked up the bag and looked inside and I found well what you know and I just started running home when again I slipped and fell but quickly got up and ran blind and I don’t know who they were what they we……” blabbered birju in great agitation.

“oh” came the calm answer.

His wife left caressing Birjus’ hair and turned flat and brooded. Suddenly after about 5 minutes of silent brooding, all the while Birjus’ laboured breathing enhancing her ratiocination , she got up and inspected her husband’s leg and scooped up some mud from under his feet ( birju walks barefoot in rain as the sandals are more slippery ) and went with it closer to the lit lamp to illumine. Her eyelids dilated her pulse high and almost she betrayed out a shriek but restrained, when she realised it was no mud but blood. She immediately almost mechanically turned around and ordered “wash your feet don’t get on the bed with those filthy feet”. Her orders were served again and presently Birju returned back washing them and asked “what should we do with that bag?”

“nothing. If no one asks for it, it’s ours” said her wife averting her face.

“no we should give it to the sarpanch” replied birju.

At this his wife walked closer to him and took his hand and placed it on her belly and started caressing herself with his hand and said

“you know how much money is in there. Oh! If all of us worked for our entire life we wont reach close to that number. Think about our child. Don’t you want him to go to big school and study. Don’t you want to repair the leaked roof, buy all the medicine for your fathers’ ailment and even educate your brother maybe even open up a small shop in the village. When was the last time you bought clothes for yourself, huh? when was the last time you ate kaju–barfi. You can have all that”

“but what if some one knows about it. My friends would definitely catch me if I eat kaju–barfi” pointed out birju.

“you don’t have to eat it in front of your FRIENDS! And don’t worry about others. They won’t sniff. We’ll spend those money in small amounts, they won’t notice any difference. I’m good with accounts. I’ll balance everything.” solved his wife.

Birju knitted his brows and gave a hesitant look but didn’t say anything. Seeing his scrupulous countenance his wife lifted his hand from her belly and placed the palm on her head saying “swear on the life of YOUR wife who is carrying YOUR BOY that you won’t speak a word of this to any living soul and destroy us”.

His wife was the only person who doesn’t pick on him or bullied him; so subconsciously he was almost trained to acquiesce to every one of her decisions.

“I swear” said Birju.

His wife hugged him and they went off to sleep late that night.

Early in the morning the next day, one neighbour kid came running in Birju’s house and told his wife about the tragedy at santosh sahu’s house. Apparently he was murdered the night before along with his 7 year old granddaughter. His wife on hearing the news quickly woke Birju up and they both went hastily to Sahu’s house to offer their condolences. It was a hot day the sun was sharp and cruel as if it was indignant for not be conspicuous for a few days and now taking it’s revenge. The sound of wailing and crying was becoming more and more palpable as they closed in the distance. The 40 minutes walk was covered in 25 minutes even though Birju’s wife was a little heavier owing to her current circumstance. There were throng of people gathered in the courtyard some crying, some murmuring, all perplexed. They wandered their way through the throng and finally beheld the two lying human frames, garlanded all around and veiled by blood flecked white shroud. Birju started trembling slightly but his wife kept her nerves calm. After reverberating those same usual parlances— “we’re sorry for your loss” and “it was so sudden” or “don’t hesitate to ask for anything”— to the close members of the deceased, they left they took their leave and started heading home. All kinds of comments from all kinds of small groups of people were heard as they were moving through the alley.

“it was for money” said one

“their struggle was apparent from the scars and wound all over the body” said another

“the girl had it worse, her wrists and ribs and suffocated to death” spoke someone and added by someone else “and the old man was stabbed so many times and throat slit”.

Birju after finding his group of friends wanted to jump up to them and discuss but his wife, perceiving his move, held his elbow and pulled him back. They walked home together hand in hand, birju remaining ignorant of any sort of deduction while his wife seemed to connect all the dots in her head. While treading back his wife brooded on what she would do if she had all the prize to herself. After all she still had not credited the sum in the home account.

By Prantik Mandal

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