Bhaskaryya Deka

Drama

3.4  

Bhaskaryya Deka

Drama

The Departure

The Departure

10 mins
303


Nandita felt her feet crunch the gravel as she took her morning walk. The sun shone from behind a thick veil of clouds trying to break through like a fish caught in a net. The town hadn’t woken up yet, and it was in this thick sense of lull that Nandita liked to start her day.

      Nandita often liked to dream during her walk. Dream of her younger days when she wasn’t only the wife of someone, but a person who was unbridled and unencumbered. A bird on the perch of a tree aware of her existence and freedom. She was once a doctor, and another time a writer. Sometimes, even a soldier. But never a wife or a mother.

     ‘I am not even a wife now,’ she thought. She looked toward her house shrouded in the morning fog. The lights at the front porch looked bleak, and everything else around was hazy. Two drops of tears trickled down her eyes and met on her lips, which had cracked in the winter cold. Even in her fifties, her frame was erect and her face was considered beautiful, but age had stamped her face with lines and pulled down parts of her that once stood tall. A gasp escaped her lips as she wrapped the shawl closer to her body.

     She heard the sound of a cycle creaking toward her as she entered the house. ‘Khuri,’ said the boy as he handed her a copy of the daily newspaper, which nowadays could be found stacked in the store room. Unread. A token of a reminder that Sushil was no more. She smiled at the boy as he cycled away.

The house was quiet as Nandita sat on the veranda. Ram soon brought a cup of tea to her and went back to the kitchen, and the sounds he made while he cleaned the kitchen and prepared breakfast brought an eerie semblance of days to come that would resemble this morning's quietness. She watched now the hedges that lined the small plastered way leading from the front gate to the door of the house. Ram used to trim them every other evening while she and Rashmi took their evening walks. Now, she remembered the suitcases that she helped Rashmi pack for her college that was to start in two days, and the emptiness lurking at the empty bedside stand and the spaces in the earlier stacked bookshelf.

She knew the house would be filled with sounds in the next few moments. Her sister, Chandni, had come to help Rashmi. But Nandita suspected it was more to help her deal with this sudden change. Nandita couldn’t say no but she wished she had these two days alone with her daughter. She wished to be sad in the preparations and cry, and not have the clamour of an almost stranger in the house.


It was twenty years back when she and Sushil had moved into that house along with Sushil’s father. Since her marriage, her life had been tied to the marriage and the relationships that were born with that. Two years after that, Rashmi was born and her life and her marriage had irrevocably changed. Years rushed past her, and all she could now remember of her passing years were the hazy images as a person sees from a rushing car. However, sprinkled among them were a few images of immense clarity. Sushil, Rashmi, and she at the dinner table. But the time frame had been lost, and she could not locate when that happened. Ten years ago, or was it twenty?

She sighed and got up to take her bath.


When she got back, she found Rashmi and Chandni on the veranda.

 ‘Ma, the tap in the bathroom is leaking,’ Rashmi said as she crunched on a toast that Ram had prepared.

 ‘I will get that done later.’

 ‘Nandi, you remember we didn’t have taps when were growing up and in the winters Ma used to heat the water from the tubewell at the chulha,’ Chandni chirped.

Nandita nodded at her sister. She wished to tell her not to fold her legs on the chair but she didn’t. She kept it in her mind to tell Ram to clean the chair covers once they were gone. A shiver went through her.

Nandita stole a glance at Rashmi, who sipped on her tea and looked at the birds chirping. Her face still showed remnants of sleep but no signs of her imminent departure. Instead, the last few days she had been happy and loud. She watched her daughter’s hands wrapped around the cup as she leaned against the back of the chair. Her frame was thin and her features soft. They bore proof of having spent a life at peace and rest. The fair skin of her face bearing no signs of the sun.

‘Not like me,’ thought Nandita as she looked at her own hands, worn by age and hardened by labour as a child and later as a wife and a mother.

‘You look like there’s death in the family,’ Chandni said. Rashmi’s face broke into a smile.

‘You tell me this when Ritu will be going to college,’ Nandita said but her voice betrayed the nonchalance she wished to convey. Rashmi’s smile froze like a stunned animal at the break of her mother’s character. Nandita was not someone who cried or smiled. She seemed to everyone mechanical and busy with keeping things running in the house. So much so that everyone forgot the nights she spent sleepless at night, especially after Sushil was gone, and now the last few days when stillness seemed imminent after a life spent in noise.

‘Don’t worry. I will be here before you know. You should visit khuri for a few days.’

‘That’s not a bad idea. Why don’t you? Ritu misses you, you know.’

‘Let’s first go to the market and send this girl off,’ Nandita said, recomposed, and laughed, and sadness hung in the air like a knife.


***

When afternoon came, they were in the market hustling for things. The market was too crowded for a Friday afternoon. They walked amidst the shops lined up on both sides of the road.

Baideu, new sarees from Sualkuchi at a discount,’ someone shouted.

Someone shouted from another shop about discounts.

Ignoring, they went to the shop of Singh Saheb, which was the only shop that Sushil, and now, Nandita trusted.

‘Are the kurtas ready?’

‘Yes, it was ready yesterday only baideu. When are you leaving, Rashmi beta?’ he said as the assistants offered them seats.

 ‘Tomorrow morning, uncle.’

 ‘Beware of Guwahati, beta. Remember baideu, son of Prakash, who went there after getting first division here, and failed to pass in twelfth.’

‘What is he doing now?’ Chandni said.

‘Works with a contractor in a construction shop.’

‘Rashmi knows Singh Saheb that she won’t get a job there,’ Nandita smiled as they got up to leave.

There were so many small things that make up life in a house that Nandita found it disconcerting when they started buying them. Scissors. Soap. Needle. Toothbrush.

‘Toothbrush?’ In the hustle of the market a memory rose amidst the drowning voices of Rashmi and Chandni negotiating with a shopkeeper. Nandita remembered her first day at the hostel when she woke up and stared at the ceiling. The immediate recollection of not being at home. A sob that erupted and was suppressed, but which burst through when she could not find her toothbrush.

They rushed from shop to shop. Rashmi had her own list. Dresses. Makeup.

‘Perfume?’ Nandita shouted at one point. ‘You need books for college.’

 ‘Ma, everyone buys them at college.’

 By the time they were done, there were two big bags that for once even made Chandni wonder how they were going to fit it all in the bus. On their way back, they stopped at a temple on the foothill of an enormous hill that belittled its holy existence. Nandita stayed back at the car and watched as the two of them bought a thali of earthen lamps and incense sticks at one of the shops that lined the boundary wall of the temple. She watched them struggle against the long queue at the front of the temple gate as they were pushed back and forward yet somehow managing to drudge ahead to reach the temple. She watched them disappear into the dark hall of the temple. The driver impatient at the sudden stoppage in his otherwise planned schedule. Nandita wrapped the end of her saree to save herself from the dust that was thrown at her by the rushing trucks.

 ‘When do we leave tomorrow, baideu?’ the driver asked. An effort to break the silence.

 ‘At 5.30. The bus is at 6.’

 ‘It will be 12 by the time maina reaches.’

 ‘Yes, she doesn’t want me to go, or even take the car. I don’t know what she wants.’

 ‘It happens when they grow up baideu.’

 Nandita nodded at the smile, which seemed too kind, and turned her head toward the darkness of the inner hall of the temple and wondered about her daughter with her aunt offering prayers. She became aware of her own absence. It was much later that she saw two figures in white emerge from the gate. The top of their heads was covered with handkerchiefs and their foreheads lined by long red tilaks. Her daughter too tall for her age. Too unfamiliar. Like an old friend with whom she lost contact. Like a stranger met in passing.

***

     The rest of the night was spent in noise. Nandita forgot or tried to, that she despised the presence of her sister. The sadness was kept at bay by the preparations that had to be done. Till the previous night, the departure seemed too far to be true and was ignored to never happen. But now that only one night's sleep was left, there was no denying it. In its imminence, Nandita protested.

      Nandita for once became what she usually always was. Busy. She walked from room to room to ensure that Rashmi had everything she needed. Ram was shouted at to bring one thing or another, and to finish cooking. Chandni partook in this defiance in ignorance. It was very late by the time Nandita was satisfied that everything was in order.

The dinner was spent sharing advice about new beginnings.

‘Best times of our lives, isn’t it, Nandita?’ Chandni chirped about her college.

‘As if it was yesterday.’

‘I have always wanted to be in a hostel,’ Rashmi said.

Nandita smiled, ‘So did I. There were only twenty students in our hostel. Those were different times.’

‘Do you still talk to them?’

‘Yes, Rabha aunty and Singha aunty, you know. I lost touch with a few.’

‘Who was your best friend?’

‘Your father.’

Rashmi smiled.

‘You should have seen your papa and ma when they were young,’ Chandni said. ‘No one was surprised when they got married.’

‘He was in your class?’

‘No, we met in the tea stall in front of our college. It was my second year, and his third.’

Rashmi looked at her mother playing with the food on her plate with a spoon. ‘I miss him though it was a long time ago.’

Nandita repeated, ‘A long time ago.’

‘I will come soon. Don’t worry.’

Nandita smiled at her promise, ‘I know.’

When Nandita retired to bed, the promise lingered in her head. Nandita knew what the night was, and what would follow. It was the final night. The next day when she and Rashmi would wait for the bus, there would be tears and more promises. There would be calls every night after dinner, which would grow infrequent as time went on. There would be vacation visits of Rashmi, and she would feel like a stranger. The unfamiliarity that would replace this sense of belonging. A life of her own that Nandita would not find a constant place in.

       But it was in time to come. For this night, it was her Rashmi sleeping in the room adjacent to her. Nandita looked at Sushil’s smiling photograph hung on the wall. She got up and traced steps in the darkness toward Rashmi’s room. And ever so quietly, she slipped in beside Rashmi in the bed.


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