The wind chimes made a tinkling note. Its music continued. Soft, soothing. . . sweeter than the jaltarang. The cold breeze had stopped. The aluminium pipes of the wind chimes were still vibrating. Monica’s eyes were fixed on them. The music had stopped. The hall was dimly lit with yellow lights. The glossy teak tables hardly reflected any light. But the wind chimes were too near the dim electric bulb. Anybody may mistake it to be made up of steel in the broad daylight. Its evening life was different. The nightlife was scary.
The two sat still. Aditya was staring at the steady yellow flame of the white candle. Its conical tip was intact. The wind chimes had stopped vibrating. Monica was no more interested in it. She now looked at the unflinching flame. The yellow light had lit their faces. The restaurant was silent. Everything was calm and cool. A couple made their entry. The wind chimes made a tinkling note. Monica smiled. Edges of her lips curled sweetly. Aditya got confused. He had expected a host of queries from Monica. Instead she was giving sweet smiles.
The wind Chimes were still tinkling. How soothing. Just like Aditya’s words. Monica revered Aditya’s grave voice. His recitation of modern Bengali poems and Shrutinataka was captivating. Aditya’s eyes were sad. Is his father seriously ill? Will the old man survive this winter? How will he look like with his sahved head? Oh Aditya! All bald. All bald. All clear. All clear Clinic plus. All hairs off. Monica could not suppress her laughter. Whenever the ad says “Clinic all clear” she repeats in her mind, “All clear with zero dirt and zero hair.” Her 12 year old loves the smell. He shouts when there is no Clinic Plus.
No, the old man must survive this winter and the next and the next and must fall ill occasionally. Aditya cannot come down all the way from Salt Lake otherwise. What excuse will he give to Ratna di.
“What is it?” Aditya faltered. His brows made a 135-degree angle with each other below the wavy forehead muscles.
“Nothing .. .. I’m very happy today because you could come at last.
I am glad,” Monica said with hcr singsong voice after she found words to hide ‘ her mind.
Aditya seemed quite satisfied with her answer. He was able to make a lot of fuss over his coming to meet her this time.
She cupped her face in her soft palms. His elbows were supported by the glossy wooden table. Her eyes were fixed at the candlelight. Sonu might have returned from school by now. Again he will not find me. Again he will refuse to eat toast and mill. Again he will have some spicy stuff from Naru da’s. What really am I doing here? Am I not Sonu’s MOTHER? He missed his bus today. Siddhartha had to run after his school bus. He left for the office taking a morsel or two. Everything is my fault. Thank Heaven Ma is gone to visit Nita. But…will I be able to face Siddhartha when he comes home?
Aditya was looking at her bangles. She wore sky coloured fine glass bangles with golden kirkir spread on them. But Aditya’s eyes were fixed on her broad golden bangles. Those were non-shiny things. That had worn out with regular wearing. He quickly removed his eyes from them. Her beautiful white arms were bare. He had a sudden desire for taking her hand in his. He took it.
“No, no… please,” Monica was feebly uttering. Oh, my nasty hands!
Rough with days of fruitless labour.
“How delicate. Your palms are soft like yourself’,” uttered Aditya.
The yellow flame flickered. He placed the candlestand at one of the corners of the table. He wanted to put her fingers inside his mouth and feel the softness with his lips. He pressed her hand softly. He felt as if it were some soft leather covered sofa. In his office he often slumped into the soft maroon sofa when he was tired of his meetings and conferences. But that is only the skin of some dead animal.
“I want to feel you. Kiss your honey-sweet purple lips. Run my hands through your wavy hair, your soft face,” uttered Aditya.
“Do you love me? Do you miss me?” Monica asked suddenly.
“Yes,” he said softly, “I want to feel you”. He placed his big right hand ‘ on her silky arm. His thumb touched her left collarbone.
“How would you like to have me? Like a lover, a mistress. . .or. . .” Monica had no guts to go further.
“I love you,” he said. His eyes were fired on her beautifully protruding collarbone. He was moving his thumb gently over it.
She became numb. She was only tuning her sitar when the string snapped all of a sudden.
The wind chimes began to tinkle again. Gradually the notes became less sharp, lower, and softer….
The bell of the CSTC bus began tti ring in her ears. A broad road lay in front of her eyes. The smoky clouds trapped the soft mom in g light. They spread. Rushed criss-crossing each other. She was looking through the window of the speeding bus. Soon it began to rain. She drew the brown fibre pane. The green fields and water bodies, the buildings lost their colour. She tried to look through the front glass of the bus. Her eyes were bulging out. Soon the greasy road and the buildings disappeared into thin air. She saw only the broad front glass of the bus. The rain made it hazy. The trailing threads of water ran passing each other. But the wiper made futile their attempts to reach the bottom. The air got stuffy inside the gloomy bus. A dripping woman found her entry into the bus. She had put on a blood-red lipstick that had spread slightly. Monica lowered her face and gently wiped the edges of her own lips with her index finger. She feared her lip colour would have spread. She saw a tinge of the chocolate hue on her figure. The colour turned red. Soon she was looking nowhere.
Blood streamed down her forehead. She had banged it too hard against the wall. She had to break the ice. Had to tell Siddhartha that he never took her on outings during Sonu’s vacation. She wept. She begged.
Siddhartha, untroubled, watched the drama. She locked herself in the .. bedroom. Lay weeping on her bed. Then turned her head towards the netted, window. The sky was gloomy. The bamboo leaves were fluttering. They were hardly visible through the net. She wiped the tears from her eyes. She found, that those were not entrapped birds whose legs got stuck magically to the bamboo ‘ branches. The green wings will be freed only when they wither away. They will drop on the earth. The sullen breeze had stopped. Everything had become, quiet. She went to the terrace. Had a close glimpse of the bamboo plant. To her surprise the leaves were not paired. There was a distinguishable gap between the two leaves, which she had thought to be a pair eternally joined. She was quite relaxed now.
Later at night Siddhartha told her that she might visit Ratna didi and take Sonu with her. Ratna di had been his favourite and most intimate cousin. Siddhartha did not come to the station to see her off. But she did not mind it. She was all excited. She was to meet her admirer, her lover. She gave a ring to Ratna di to tell her that she was coming.
The bad tempered conductor shouted out in his coarse voice “Hyath”. A chill passed through her spine. She sprang to her seat with excitement. When she finally located the flat, she was completely drenched. She felt something was preventing her from breathing. She tried to relax. Took a deep breath. Then pressed the doorbell lightly. Heard its ringing inside. Mampy opened the door for her. The young girl started shouting in excitement. She hugged the dripping woman. Monica kissed her on both cheeks. Rama, all smiling, came out of the kitchen. She smelled of fish curry. In a hurry she exclaimed “Monica! We thought you had lost your way. When did you start. but where is Bhai?” Monica said that Siddhartha could not come because of work pressure. She looked here and there but could not find Aditya. She gathered courage and finally asked, “Where is Jamaibabu?” “Oh, he went to see his father. He left early in the morning. His father’s health has deteriorated,” Ratna said,
Monica’s throat went dry. She could utter no word. She drank some water to wet her throat. Splashed some water on her face. Poured some on her neck. In the mirror, she saw how ugly she looked. Her kajal had spread. Her bindi had faded. She wiped the mirror with a towel. It did not make any difference. After lunch she felt she was shivering. She lay on the bed. Pulled her hands and legs together closely.
She wondered what was happening to her. She had caught cold. As days passed her condition deteriorated. Aditya was informed but he did not return. Siddhartha came to take her home.
The cool breeze had stopped all of a sudden. The hall got stuffy. Monica was vaguely staring at the vibrating wind chimes. Suddenly she realized that Aditya had placed his hand on her waist. She removed it. Got up. The candlelight flickered. She took her bag and walked out of the restaurant.
SHARMISTHA GOSH. Creative writer, born in West Bengal. She writes short stories and poems and has translated a few works of Premchand.