Translated from the Bengali by Bishnupriya Chowdhuri
“ Late again Maimuna! You know I must leave early for the college. Unlike your line of work where you get to show up as you wish. We get an earful even for a few minutes of delay. If you are going to keep up like this, you better look elsewhere. I see no benefit of paying you three times as much!
Farzana retorted right off as she opened the door to let Maimuna in.
“Bhabi, it’s the girl…Won’t happen tomorrow…you know her father—bedridden and has no strength to take care of the girl. Can’t even do one thing for himself—I have to manage both…”On top of that she got fever since last night and then started having the shivers—crapped and wet herself—soiled everything—the pillows, blankets…I had to wash and put them to dry before I could head out and got late. “
“You say you won’t be late from tomorrow but still you do. You are late every single day. Is this not your job? If you fail to show up on time—tell me, why should I keep you? Your problems are hardly new—you have had them forever…I told you especially to come by seven today…we have some event for the newcomers—I have to leave without breakfast now.
Maimuna did not try to defend her case anymore and got down to work. She must hurry back home. Who knows if the fever was back.. how she clutched her every now and then… she doesn’t do that normally… that shiver—it sure wasn’t okay.. but she seemed better in the morning when she was leaving—was sitting outside…who knew what was going on…
Before she employed her, Bhabi did caution her time and again about the morning schedule. She must show up before seven, cannot be late. She can leave a little early if needed but must come before seven. “ I have to reach the college by eight-thirty—it’s a private institution and, this is a new job. If late, we have to face the principal, And I do not like to be accountable for my own setback which is why I am keeping you. Otherwise, I am quite capable of handling my own chores. He visits only once a month for a couple of days. How much work can possibly be there just for me…I am keeping you for a much higher pay, don’t forget that, I can hire three for that money.” She said right on her first day of work.
Yes, the money indeed was more than what others generally get. So, Maimuna, didn’t want to loose this job. Who would even do that? Bhabi paid what she had to earn otherwise by working three houses. Then there were the extra perks—of snacks and treats every now and then. And here she could work with her own freedom. After Farzana left in the morning, Maimuna would finish up the chores lock the house before leaving. Earlier she was generally on time but since last one week she had failed to keep up to her daily schedule. Almost every day. Mostly because of her daughter…After she had the thing happen to her body, the girl has been acting strange. Born a retard, now the changing body has left her even more helpless. Then that fever from last night.
Maimuna got distracted and worried as she worked. Why the shiver? Did she get scared by something in the morning? She was used to staying by herself since she was a child. Why would she be scared now all of a sudden? Could be the fever too…Maimuna’s mother’s mind was just overthinking…unable to get rid of the constant itch.
She used to wander about here and there until recently in “Aadare-padarey”—showing up at the neighbors’—she was out the whole day—not caring for food, bath or looks… but Maimuna didn’t allow that anymore. Kept her under strict control within the confines of the house. Tied her up to the guava tree at their yard till she returned from work. She was not a child any more. Who knows what danger lurked around which corner. She might be just a child to her own parents—innocent—blunt, but the eyes of a man will see her developed body—for a greedy man, that is all that’s there—body. It was because of that damned body that her own life got all messed up—all dreams of youth spoilt. Thinking of those days, she still lost her will to live. She didn’t do anything just because of the daughter. She was the result of those days.. still she was the one who quenched her thirst for motherhood.
Adouri, that’s her name. Maimuna’s mother, Adour’s nani named her thus looking at her lovely face right after birth. She passed away within a year. She used to live at her daughter’s. That was a happy home. Taleb used to earn…daily wage worker but earned well enough. Used to be content and engrossed with the new mother Maimuna and the girl. Maimuna’s mother took care of the household. But happiness— surely not something meant for her. Summer cyclone tore a branch off that Mehgani tree and it fell over their shade. The shade crushed to the ground with Taleb under it. Crushed was Maimuna’s happiness, her dreams, her solvency. The ground beneath her feet trembled. Taleb lost his ability to walk, his earning. Maimuna had to venture out.
Paralyzed from his waist down, Taleb took to the bed. A short bout of fever and mother passed just like that. Good for her, really. But she left Maimuna troubled thoroughly. If she was around, at least she could have kept an eye out for the girl. Taleb did have a few kith and kins but sniffing bad times, they too conveniently removed themselves from them. Now the entire weight of the household settled over Maimuna’s shoulders.
She did in fact rush so she would not be late, so much so that she could not even eat the rice and came out barely changing her clothes, but still wasn’t able to make it in time. She saw the girl sitting up—her limbs listlessly sprawled, feverish. Her pale face munched on puffed rice. The way she sat—loose, unkempt…stood out as odd. The frock was crumpled above her waist, revealing her abdomen. Her body just evolved to the nature’s intention. But, it looks quite mature for her years—the thirteen years looks no less than eighteen.
Looking at her daughter a lingering anxiety pestered Maimuna. She brought it up finally over dinner. Taleb was busy eating with his legs stretched.
“Have you noticed her these days? “
“Why wouldn’t I? I anyways stay at home and Adouri is in front of my eyes whole day. Before she would loiter about here and there, but you have put a stop on all of that already.
“You could understand why I did that. Your child is all grown up”
“Now, is that not what happens as days pass? Humans grow up. Are we not getting older too? But I see what you mean….you are loosing sleep because of that growth but can you stop age from moving up. You can stop her from stepping outside but you cannot tie up her age. I see those young lads, tottering around… trying to strike a conversation. The problem is, Adouri’s body looks older than her actual age.”
“Oh.. you notice her more than I do and so you know what I am trying to get at…”
“Yes, I know. Told you, those brats…how they are always making rounds around the girl. I lie, paralyzed, cannot even stand up and stop them and those assholes know that. Maimuna, I have been thinking-
Calm down and Listen carefully. Don’t start yelling at me…I am saying this because I am her father, and a man. In a man’s eyes no girl is his girl but a danger.
Consider this…what’ll happen if we die? Most days, you are out for work …now these boys are always buzzing about her… what if something happens to her…how would you manage that then?”
“What things you must worry about as a parent…Who doesn’t have an aged girl at home and how they flutter about like butterflies!’
“But they are not handicapped or retard like your daughter…Listen Maimuna… I am going to tell you something really bad…I have been thinking about it for our daughter… you will be angry at me because it is not something good… but please don’t get all worked up.. consider my words in a calm head.”
“What are you trying to say?” Maimuna looked at her husband and also cast a quick glance at her sleeping daughter too.
“I’ll ask you again not to get all agitated when I tell you…”
“Why are you coiling your words so much…be out with whatever it is you have to say!”
‘I know you won’t take it well, that is why! And it is not something to be taken lightly…. Listen, I think we should kill her. Faster the better.’
Maimuna stopped eating. Her hands froze midway to a serving…then she turned to her husband, looked at her daughter and kept staring unblinkingly…”How…How did you guess…” she muttered after a bit.’
“What are you talking about Maimuna…What did I guess?”
“I’d been thinking, many times a day these past few days about her death. Yes, I did—being her birth mother, still… I did. But that was just a thought…are you saying you heard that somehow?
“I heard and understood…Lying on my bed, considering her condition, I have been thinking for a long time about it. This will be the best for her. What will happen when we are not there for her. My heart sinks, thinking about it…Everything is but a will of Khuda! She doesn’t even have a sibling…In fact, even if she did, would they look after her for the rest of her life—cleaning and bathing her, feeding and changing her…Even you get frustrated doing all of that everyday for her. Who’ll care for her so much. You should do what I say?
“What will happen when people learn that I have killed my own daughter?” Maimuna looks at Taleb with still eyes.
“Who even considers us these days—outcasts living at this edge of the village. No one will care if we just go and bury her in the cemetery. One or two people might just inquire not seeing her around but that’ll be it… they will soon forget. Life will go on.”
“It is not as easy.” Maimuna spoke calmly. “Adouri has a few acquaintances who ask about her every now and then. Though if she dies… no one will know how…We have to keep her at home for a few days and then tell people that she was sick and could not make it.”
“Good idea. We can try another way too… just bury her righ here on our yard? Will dig a grave at the center and put her there.”
Maimuna keeps staring at Taleb. Seeing that he stops in his talks—”What happened why are you looking at me like that?”
“We have only one daughter and we are plotting ten ways to get rid of her. I bore her for ten months in my womb…How I struggled with that belly, raised her so…fed her my share and now I am going to kill her with my own hands, bury her body in this yard and will sleep on it…”Maimuna’s eyes welled as she spoke.
“See Maimuna… Taleb drags his limp body closer to her, “She is my daughter too. I am feeling bad too. But I have though about it a lot and still think, she should die before us. You might get angry and hate me but you’ll know that I wanted to do the right thing.
Maimuna didn’t say anything anymore, kept looking at her husband.
As the fear for her daughter crept inside her, Maimuna decided on the killing. Probably it should have been done even earlier. She lacked courage, so she couldn’t. Listening to Taleb, she felt, even though the world is meant for everybody, not everyone had the right to live in it. Some lost it for their own consequences of actions.
She has been waiting everyday for the past two months. Observed the girl closely and waited for enough courage to finally do it. Many a nights she thought of doing it. Woke up and sat still in the dark as the husband and the girl slept on. But she could not just press the pillow over that detestable face. But she will do it today. She was determined.
She understood two months back that her girl was with child. She was shocked. The girl was violated right here under broad daylight and nobody understood! Probably it took place in some corner around, probably it happened right here in this house…the neighbors should have seen… but who even looked at their house? Who even looked at the girl…they said, “she was the fruit of sin of her parents.” And it was true that they had sinned. And today she will put an end to everything.
Maimuna grabbed her own pillow. Few days back, Taleb too talked about killing her. At first Maimuna responded lucidly, then she stopped speaking compelling Taleb to drop the conversation altogether.
Her sleeping face was visible in that faint moon light. Taleb was asleep beside her. She was a splitting image of her father. Maimuna saw it clearly in that dim glow. She kissed her on the lips and sat quietly holding the pillow. A long time passed. Taleb was lying on his side, now stretched on his back and snored lightly. The girl groaned once and the crickets paused for a moment outside and starts screaming again.
She will be a trouble for as long as she lived. She might be a doll to her mother but for the men? For lecherous men, she is nothing but flesh. A hungry man could be worse than an animal. Even Maimuna …fourteen years back wasn’t she too just flesh to Taleb? How could she forget so soon. Yes, it might be fourteen years to the others but for her it was still last night. She remembered everything! Why won’t she? A woman can never forget the pain of losing her honor. Commanded by the village circle, Maimuna’s helpless father married her off to Taleb.
She remembered. All that sorrow, humiliation, clumped up and sat on her heart like a stone. And she has been taking care of the house dragging that stone inside her. Now she takes care of him too. He too was a burden. He shall remain even after the girl is gone. Maimuna’s burden will not go away. Once he poisoned her helpless, pubescent body. Now, battered by his own luck, he lay limp, disabled and paralyzed. Lay cold beside Maimuna.
Someone must be exacting revenges from behind.
That day, if the chief hadn’t forced Maimuna to be married to the rapist, she might not have lost all hopes, her light may not have turned so dark. They say, it was their sin that the daughter was born like this. Probably they were right but It was only Taleb who sinned. Not Maimuna. Still the villagers, the society blamed her equally for the sin. That it why they called the village court and have kept them as outcasts.
She has crossed so much sorrow and such humiliation in this life…Will the daughter too live under its shadow? Her sky is already downcast and now a storm was about to unfurl. The innocent girl, will she be able to stand up against all turmoil and survive? Night deepened outside. Thoughts rushed inside Maimuna. Taleb’s hand reached out for Maimuna. She trembled at his touch.
Suddenly her mind calmed down. She inched toward a successful remedy of all problems.
She cast all her doubts aside and shoved the pillow over Taleb’s mouth. Paralyzed Taleb, tried to breath but failed. He tried to clutch Maimuna and free himself but failed. Some unknown force seemed to cling to his limp body. Maimuna held the pillow and waited. She waited with all the past hatred and all the sorrow. She held the pillow as she drew her strength looking at the face of her girl, to remove that stone sitting on her chest, she gathered all her might at her two wrists. Then at one point Taleb went still. It took a long while. Sweat soaked Maimuna’s body.
The fourteen year old stone had somehow disappeared. Now she will bury it in this room. People know, crippled Taleb doesn’t go out. No one will come looking for him.
The girl did not get a thing even though she was lying right beside her. How she slept, helpless and curled within herself. She caressed her hands and cheeks, she slipped closer to her and lay down hugging her tight. She will have to get rid of that sin in her womb when there is still time. She might not be able to punish the ones who did it to her but at least she got rid of one of their likes. Now she will face her destiny!
She will bury the stone now…she was weightless and free.
Also, read “THE SEVENTY-YEAR-OLD TREE— DR. URMILA SHIRISH TRANSLATED FROM THE HINDI BY RITUPARNA MUKHERJEE”, and published in The Antonym: