I was standing at his doorstep after fourteen years. The good-old AJC Bose Road behind me was awfully quiet today, dampened by the rain. Dusk was falling on his small courtyard; no streetlights beaming over his mother’s kitchen garden, no traffic echoing in its corners. I stood at his door, staring at the wooden nameplate I’d wounded myself while nailing, almost two decades ago. The tiny blotch of my blood under his name had turned brown over the years.
The door opened before I could knock. A young girl, perhaps in her late teens, stood in the dark veranda with a torch.
“Didima aapnake upur theke dekchen. Aashun,” Didima saw you from upstairs. Please come in.”
The girl led the way, shining the torch before me as we climbed the winding wooden stairwell. Our footsteps echoed at a uniform beat, almost like we had rehearsed this.
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“Aapni Susanna didimuni, na?” asked the girl, “Didima aapnar bepare onek golpo kore. Ei, shabdhane, ekaane ekti shiri bhanga!”
She didn’t have to tell me that. I knew these stairs from before she was born.
“Generator ta kaaj korchena? I ask her instead, almost as if to let her know that I know this house.
“Oi generator bhengche koto kaal holo!” she chuckled. Of course. It’s been fourteen years…
At the curve of the first landing, a door stood ajar. The girl pushed it open and walked in, taking the light with her. I stood at the threshold without making a sound.
In the faint haze of twilight, I could make out the silhouettes of his old-fashioned furniture, the harmonium in the corner, the gods on the altar next to the window. His house still smelled of sandalwood and old books. I squinted at the walls, looking for a particular garland-draped photograph; just then, a ray of dim light entered the room.
“Ei obosthaye eka eli? E ma, shey ki kotha!”
I walked in and bent down to touch her feet. Kakima hurriedly placed the lantern in her hand on the marble-stoned table and stopped me halfway.
“Thak, thak, Ma. Ei obosthaye beshi jhunkte nei.”
In the small light of the lantern, I studied the woman standing before me; the round, chubby cheeks that I knew had dissolved into a gaunt, sagging face. Her hair, which she use to make me sit and colour every other Saturday afternoon, were now grey and disheveled. A clumsy bun, clumsy saree, bags weighing down under her eyes. My beautiful Kakima had aged a century in a decade.
“Dekho meye’r kando! Chokhe kajol nei, shinthi te shindoor nei! Kakima scolded, helping me sit down.
“Aamake gyan dichho? Nijeke dekhechho aayenaye?” I said.
“Aamar kotha baad de. Aamar teen-kaal giye ek kaal e tthenke che. Tor kotha bol. Tui kemon achish? Koto mash cholche”
“Tomar thakur ghor ondhokar je? Aaj shondhe daoni?” I changed the topic and asked.
I watched her face fall. “Aami pujo kori na aar,” she said, her voice clipped and final.
“Um, Kaku koi, Kakima? Onake dekhchina je?”
She doesn’t speak for a while, then says, “Tor Kaku aajkal ghore thake na. Sharadin rastaye rastaye ghure beraye. Diner sheshe shudhu ghumote aashe. Dosh di ki kore bol? Khali ghor ta je aamakeo kamrate douroye…”
I tried to imagine the man Kakima was describing. A lost, heartbroken father. But I couldn’t. The man I knew as Om’s father was a proud and headstrong barrister, a staunch Hindu patriarch who detested my presence in his house; the presence of a Christian girl in his son’s life…
“Om ke bari theke dure toh ooni prothom pathiye chilen.” I don’t know why I said that. It was such a low blow, accusing him this way. But I guess, I was still angry on some level. Somewhere deep inside, I held him and his decision to send Om away responsible for all hell that followed.
“[Sigh] Baba-chhele dujoneri raag ar obhimaan’er shesh chhilo na. Kake chere kake dosh di, bol? Baba raag kore bole, ghor theke beriye jao, chhele omni bag bosta niye hata dilo. Maajhe pore pishlam tui ar aami.”
I let out a dry chuckle, as memories flooded my mind.
“Maa go, chhele tar ki bod mejaj chilo…”
“You don’t have to do this, you know?”
I was sitting on the edge of his bed, watching as he drifted from one end of his room to another, stuffing random things into a duffle bag.
“I have to. I can’t stay in this house anymore!” he said angrily, rolling a clump of unwashed t-shirts into the bag.
“Come on, he just said that out of anger. He didn’t mean you to leave—”
“Did you not hear the things he said about you? The names he called you!” Om said, his voice rising. “Susie, he’s never going to accept our relationship!”
“And you think moving to Delhi is going to change his mind?” I said, my temper rising too.
There was silence for a while, then he said, “Ekhane thakle aamader kono future hobe na, tui bujhchish na? Delhi te onek job opportunities ache. Ek bar experience hoye gele chakri niye Kolkata’e phire ashbo.
“Bochorer por bochor lege jaye Kolkata’e chakri pete, Om. Tor ei promise’er kono basis ache?”
Om heaved a sigh and stood up straight, letting the ball of clothes in his hand fall to the floor.
“I’m doing this for you, Susie, can’t you see that?” he said.
“No, don’t make this about me! You’re doing this for your ego. I have no say in this!”
“Why are you so against me moving to Delhi?”
“Because…” I started, but couldn’t say out loud what I was thinking.
“Wait. Are you scared I’m going to, I don’t know, cheat on you or something?” he said, almost surprised.
I sighed, almost guilty of my thought. “I…I don’t know.”
Om laughed, throwing his hands up in the air. “Tor ja bhabar tui bhab, I can’t talk to you when you’re being unreasonable. Thanks a lot for all the trust and support, though!”
My voice dropped a few decibels. “Of course I trust you. It’s just…tui eka eka shob decide kore nili. Aamake ekbar jigesh o korli na aami tor shathe Delhi aste chai kina. Everything is happening so fast, I’m…I’m not ready.”
Om walked across the room and stopped a few inches in front of me. The late afternoon sunlight glistened off his sweaty forehead, turning his ruffled dark hair brown.
“You just have to trust me, okay?” he said, his voice almost a whisper.
I stared at his face, forcing myself to ward off the fear. “Okay,” I said, softly.
Then, planting a light kiss on my forehead, Om picked up his unzipped duffle bag and walked out the room, turning away from me for the last time.
When I pushed open his bedroom door, the hint of floor cleaner in the air hit me. Kakima still cleaned his room. Was she still hoping for a return?
Waking over to the shelf next to his bed, I slid open the glass pane; fourteen years back, it would have been locked. There sat his beloved cricket bat; the marker-inked autograph of Sourav Ganguly glinting vaguely in the fading light of the twilight. Nobody had cherished it in over a year. As I reached in to pick it up, a small box, smaller than the palm of my hand, fell out; its bright red colour standing out even in the dim light. My heart started to race as I touched its velvety surface. I didn’t have to open it to know what was inside, but, almost involuntarily, I snapped the box open. A pair of flat, gold wedding bands stared back at me; one of them smaller and slimmer, the other just big enough to slip through Om’s knuckle.
“Please kichu bol” Om pleaded from the other end of the phone. I remained speechless, frozen to the spot in the corner of my bed. The rest of the world was going on and about outside my window. Cars honking, people yelling at each other in the evening rush hour traffic, hawkers shrieking for business. My world, in the small space of my dark room, had hit a halt.
“Susie, please, I’m sorry.” I could hear his sobs, the pain in his voice. Something that could’ve ripped my heart until the night before. Today, I didn’t feel a thing.
“I made a mistake, okay? After we had that fight, I—I wasn’t thinking straight. And I’d had a lot to drink. Bas nesha’r ghore, raag’er mathaye bhool hoye geche.”
I remained still, voiceless. Just breathing.
“I called you so many times, Susie. You wouldn’t even talk to me. I got mad, okay? Rege giye ekta bhool kore phelechi—”
“So it’s my fault?” I heard myself saying, my voice hoarse and dry. “You slept with another woman because I wouldn’t talk to you…you’re turning this on me?”
Om took a sharp breath, “No—no, that’s not what I meant. I just—Susie, I made a mistake. I’m so sorry. Aami—aami jene bujhe korini, bishash kore!” he stammered.
I slipped back into silence. My fingers were beginning to go numb. My mind sinking into a deep, dark place…
His voice floated into my ears from the other end “Tell me how I can fix. Tui ja bolbi aami tai korbo. Aami ki korbo bol?”
The sound of his voice seemed to be coming from a distant place, as if echoing off the walls of a deep well that I’d fallen into.
“Susie, please talk to me. I promise, I’ll do whatever you say. Just tell me what you want.”
“I want you to be dead to me,” came my voice.
There was silence on the other end of the phone for a while. “What?” he finally said.
“Aami kono din toke khoma korte parbo na, Om. Aar aami kono din tor gola shunte chain a, tor much dekhte chaina. I want you to be dead to me. That’s what I want.”
More sobs. More pain. “I’m so sorry, Susie. Please—”
My fingers found the call disconnect button. Everything was silent again.
I curled up on his bed, as much as my bulging stomach would let me. I didn’t know how much time had passed. I didn’t know how many times my husband had called. I didn’t know which prenatal vitamins I had forgotten to take. I just lay there on his bed, clutching the ring box between my aching knuckles and palm. My world had stopped again and I didn’t know what to do.
Kakima had walked in soundlessly. Rain had started coming down heavily now, filling the dark room with a hollow chatter. I felt the bed sink as Kakima sat down beside me, resting her hand on my head.
“Tomra aamake ekbar dakar proyojon mone koroni? Eto kichu hoye gelo, aamake janaleo na, aami—” my voice broke, drowning the rest of my sentence in a sob.
Kakima caressed my hair, “Ki kore janatam bol? Tor phone number, kono address, kichui toh chilo na aamader kache—”
“Toh khunje bar korte! Aamar maa-baba ekhan theke dosh-minute’er durotte thake, Kakima!”
“Aami chesta kore chilam, bishash kor.”
“Aami shesh bar’er moto or mukhtao dekhte parlam na, Kakima!” I cried out, all my reservations, shame, care of the world, everything slipping away.
I felt her hand in my hair shift. “Keno, tui’i toh bolechilish, aar kono din or mukh dekhete chashna.”
A hollow sound escaped my throat. I curled in smaller, clutching the ring box tighter in my hand. I should disappear, I felt. Disappear into the future he had hoped for us. And away from the one I was alive in now, and he wasn’t.
“Tomra oke Kashmir jete dile keno?” I sobbed into the darkness. Kakima started caressing my hair again.
“O kono din karo kotha shunechhe, Maa?” she mumbled, resigned.
I don’t know how long we stayed silent, at what point my fingers loosened over the ring box. I was staring blankly out the window. The sky was dark now; the rain had stopped. Every now and then, thunders rumbled in the distant.
“Sheshe’r dike toh koto din kotha hoyeni.” Kakima started speaking again. “Oi, ki je, phone line, internet line shob kete dilo. Tor kaku shey koto douro douri korechilo, koto helpline e phone kora, chithi lekha, chhele tar kono ekta jodi khobor paowa jaye. Tarpor ekdin, koyekjon lok or body niye ashlo.”
Her last words sent a rending pain through my chest. I shut my eyes tight, with all the strength that I had left.
“Aami or mrityu kamona korechilam, Kakima,” I confessed, my voice cracking. “Raag’er mathaye bole phelechilam. Shotti kore kono din chaini, bishash koro. Aami kono din bhool koreo chaini…”
Kakima kept stroking my hair. “Ora bollo, bhor bela naki bomb blast hoye chilo. Chheleta ghumiye chilo nischoi oi shomoye. Nijer mon ke oi bhebei shantona di, je kono koshto paini.”
Somewhere, a thunder crackled in the sky.
“Aamake khoma kore dio, Kakima, aami mon theke or khoti chaini.”
She rested her hand on my forehead, “Tui o, oke khoma kore dish.”