Saturday, February 16, 2008

Returning Home: Story

Returning Home
By Dibyajyoti Sarma

The bus left a moment ago leaving me at the place where I was born, which once was my home, my village—the air which I breathed when I was young. Returning home after so many years! Everything looked different, yet so familiar. There was the banyan tree, the marking point from which our fields started. Shading my eyes with my hand, I scanned the field looking for my brother. Was he still working there? No. It was the end of the harvest season, anyway. The field was empty except for stray stacks of hay.
Over there, some distance away, was the village temple—still the same as I remembered seeing many years ago, with its reed walls. I walked along the road from where the bus had left and arrived at Surya master’s house. When I was in school he was a fearsome teacher. We were even scared to walk before his house. It was afternoon and the sun bore down the dry earth. An old man was sitting on the courtyard with a small child in his lap—possibly his grandson. His grandson! So, Lachit had got married. He was of classmate. The old man inspected the stranger before him with curiosity. He did not recognise me. I wanted to greet him: “Khura!” No, it was good I didn’t. He was always so talkative. He’d have pestered me for hours with endless questions. I passed him.
I approached Bhabesh Khura’s house, and then Ratneswar’s. Now, I was in front of the grocery store, Kalu’s house. I peered in through the window at a figure sitting at the cash. It was not Kalu. It was a middle-aged woman wearing a raggedly white dress. I recognized her as Kalu’s wife, Rukmini bou. So, Kalu was dead! But how? He was so lively, and so young… And it was only six years since I left home!
I strode on. Here was Rangali Bhudhi’s ruined house, still the same but with the creepers even more tangled. And now I reached my house. I pause for a moment before walking through the bamboo poles that served for a gate. Everything was quiet and the bakuls are blooming, enchanting the place with its sweet scent, just the same as it was on that morning when I left home. Now, I was standing in the courtyard. Where was everyone, mother, sister, brother, Nabou? Then I saw a woman sitting on the veranda with some balls of yarn in her hand. I stood stupidly, not knowing whom to ask for. She looked up. “Excuse me, whom do you want?” It was Nabou, my brother¹s wife, my best friend then and, the last person I saw before leaving home. It was all like a dream.
“Nabou, it’s me, Arun.” The woman froze for a moment, not sure how to react. My sudden appearance was such a surprise. “Nabou, it’s me, Arun.”
“Arun? Arun!” She came running to me. “Arun, where have you been, returning after so many years!” She touched my cheeks to make sure. “Arun, you’ve changed.” She was smiling. No, she was crying. My eyes were also moist. “Why are you standing in the courtyard? Come inside. Have a seat. Do you want some water? I’ll prepare tea for you. Freshen up. Change your clothes. Oh, God, it’s really you. After so many years! Your brother will be very happy to see you. He talks of you often.”
Nabou was not quite herself. She did not know what to do, what to say. She ran inside to hide her tears. But soon she had regained control of herself and was preparing tea. I was now sitting in the kitchen. “Ma died last year asking to see you for one last time. She had no other worries. Sewali is married and has a nice household in the next village. You remember that chap who played Krishna at the local theatre! Sewali is very happy with him. You must visit her; she’d be glad to see you. Ma was so desperate to see you once more, before her death. There was no news of you. No letter, no information, nothing. People said you were dead. How your brother defended against it! He was sure you’d return one day.
“How is dada?” I asked.
“He is fine, working very hard. Today he has gone to Sewali’s place to give the relatives vegetables from our fields. He will be back by tomorrow.”
After tea I was sitting on the veranda. The dusk was approaching. It was so many years, I saw the last sunset in the village, the last sunset who witnessed and we pledged.
Nabou appeared from somewhere and offered me a ripen guava. “I know guava is your favourite.” She hadn’t forgotten anything about me. I wanted to ask her about Maya. How was she? “But you know with these kids around, you can’t save a thing.” She continued. She had so many things to tell me. “Oh God, but how will you know? You know…” She blushed lowering her head with a mixture of pride and happiness. “You know, after you left you became the uncle of two boys. They are at the field, playing. They should be back any moment.” She gazed towards the gate. I wanted to ask her about Maya.
The kids arrived like birds flocking home. They were surprised to see a stranger at home. Their mother introduced them to me. But they were not ready to believe that they had an uncle too, somewhere, hiding for all those years. They concealed behind their mother and inspected me curiously—two small kids, dirty from their games, and with running noses. How time changed! Their curious faces suddenly changed into two other faces, which I still remembered, my brother's face and mine. How we used to hide behind our mother when some visitors come to our place.
“Arun, you talk to your nephews. I'll prepare food. Ask the about maths. Tomorrow they have an exam." Nabou left for kitchen. I wanted to ask her about Maya.
The food was ready within an hour. My nephews were already fast asleep. Nabou did not bother to wake them up.
I sat cross-legged on the floor. Nabou served the food and sat beside me. "I have prepared pigeon especially for you. I know how much you liked pigeon." I retrieved my fingers from the bowl of curry. "I don't take meat these days." I looked at her flashing eyes. She is shocked and hurt. How could see know that the Arun she knew had changed. She was trying her best to make me feel at home. She had not asked for once where I was all those years.
Before I can speak anything, she lit the stove and began preparing another item for me.
After food, she offered me a piece of battle nut, took one for herself and sat comfortably. Minutes passed. I knew. She was scared to ask anything, yet curious to know all. She was waiting for me to start. And I did. "How is Maya?"
Nabou didn't answer. She looked blankly towards the dark sky. She was thinking how to answer.
"You came back for Maya…" I couldn't comprehend if it was a statement or a question. "For Maya, huh, and you left home for her." She heaves a sigh. “Maya! Where were you, Arun? Did you think about us ever, your mother and brother?" I didn't know how to answer that question. I didn't want to hurt her. I repeated my question, how was Maya.
"She is fine. She got married. I think she is happy."
"But …"
But … But she promised to wait for me.
"To whom?" I asked.
"Jayanta, you best friend."
But she promised to wait for me.
The dark night outside turned inky. "Arun, its all right. It was bound to happen. How long she could wait. And you vanished like water on dry earth, no news, nothing. How long she could wait?"
"When the wedding was arranged, I went to her house with Sewali. I asked her about the vows she gave you. She cried. But how could she tell her parents that she was waiting for that shrub to bloom, which was already dead. Jayanta was a good choice. He was rich."
But …
Nabou was sobbing. Finally, she failed to hide her emotions. I asked her to go to sleep. "I will sit here for some more time." Reluctantly, she disappeared into her room. The murky sky above and I was sitting like a zombie without able to think anything.

{The story is unfinished, and was written in the year 1999. Three versions were made. A friend lost the third and complete version}

No comments:

Post a Comment