Written by: Kashfia Nahreen, Class XII
(Inspired by one of my Favorite Novels: Pather Pachali)
The late afternoon sun shines on the deep sea-blue water of the lake. The sunlight reflecting back from the water casts a soft, warm glow. The trees surrounding the river allow a little shade to the girl sitting by the river gazing off into the distance. The warmth of the sun embraces her; the warm, gentle wind ruffles her chocolate brown hair that falls about her round face. Butterflies fly past her; insects crawl about in the grass. The late afternoon sun slowly fades away into distant memory giving the sky a pinkish hue.
The girl still sits there with something small clutched in her tanned hand. Her deep grey eyes have a distant look about them as they stare at something far away. A voice calling out to someone can suddenly be heard. The voice is loud and worried. It pierces through the silence, calling out,
“Durga, oi Durga, koi geli re-where are you-?”
A little boy of about 10, with dark, untidy hair and perfectly drawn eyes, comes running, still shouting,
“Durga, oi Durga.”
His eyes fall on the girl sitting by the stream,
“there you are,” he says panting.
He hunches over and put his hands on his knees.
“Where have you been?”
The little boy asks in Bengali with a hint of urgency in his voice.
“Just around,” the girl replies.
“I have been looking for you for a while. Ma is furious with you, Durga di-sister Durga,”
the boy tells her with a note of sympathy is his voice.
A flicker of fear passes through the girl, ‘does ma know?’, she wonders.
She possibly couldn’t, she reasons with herself.
she whispers barely looking her brother in the eye.
“You were supposed to help ma stitch the katha- the blanket, she has been waiting for you for so long.”
“Oh,” she says, looking relieved.
She doesn’t know, thank the Lord.
“Where did your mind wonder off to again?” her brother asks,
annoyed by his sister’s constantly distracted self.
“Sorry, Opu, let’s head off.”
There is commotion inside the small brick hut, loud voices can be heard: people yelling, arguing. Durga and Opu approach the door with hurried yet apprehensive footsteps.
“There she is, there is your beloved girl,” says a shrill, loud voice,
“ask her, why don’t you? She took it, I am sure of it.”
Durga’s heart skips a beat as these words register in her ear. She looks around, there is ma looking defiant and angry. And there is Shurmila di with her mother, -the woman with the shrill voice they called mashi- aunt–, from the big house at the end of the road. All were looking at her, ma with anger, Shurmila di with embarrassment, mashi with accusation.
Opu stands behind her, completely bewildered. He had no idea as to what was going on, but Durga did. And the thought of what she had done makes her stomach churn. I am going to hurl, but I can’t. Oh Lord, why did I do it?
Earlier in the day:
She is running, trying to find a place to hide. Her worn out clothes get stuck in a tree branch and she tugs at it, trying to free herself but managing only to tear the dress. Ma is going to be really mad. But before she could do anything about it, she hears a voice say,
“ready or not, here I come,”,
and rushes off into the big room on the left to hide herself.
Durga crawls underneath the bed, and stays tucked in, waiting for the seeker to find others. What a nice room Shurmila di has, she says to herself. I wish our hut was half as pretty as this room. She signs. Why are we so poor? she asks herself. I just wish, I just wish we were able to afford nice things once in a while.
She hears footsteps right outside the room and is shaken out of her reverie. She holds her breath in order to not make any noise. The footsteps pass by the room, no one even bothers to look in. She waits quietly for someone to find her, seconds turn into minutes but no one comes. Have they forgotten me? she wonders. No they couldn’t have, she assures herself.
She waits some more, but finally she scuttles out from under the bed and goes up to the door, ready to leave, when she halts. A burst of laughter reaches her ears, followed by voices.
“That was the best mithai -sweetmeat- I had in a while. Thank you, really thank you, Shurmila di.”
“It was my pleasure,” replies Shurmila.
“Oh, um wasn’t Durga playing with us too?” ask Shurmila.
“I guess she was,” someone answers.
“Did anyone find her? Or know where she is?” Shurmila asks with concern.
A general answer of “no” follows her question.
“Well who cares where Durga is? It’s not like we want her to play with us!” someone says.
“Exactly, I mean she always latches herself onto us, like a leech. She follows us around all the time. Why can’t she realize that we don’t want her?” someone else pronounces.
“Hey, don’t talk like that, come on she is nice,” Shurmila tries to interject, but in vain.
“Have you seen her clothes? They are more like rags.”
“And she always has dirt sticking to her face.”
“She should really play with other poor people and not try to play with us.”
Comments after comments hit her. I…I thought they were my friends. They don’t want me? What did I do? How is this my fault? Is being poor a crime? she asks herself, as tears pour down her cheek. She bites her lower lip in an effort to stop sobbing and backs away from the door, afraid that someone will see her. She doesn’t want to be seen, not by these people. How can they be so mean?
I am just another kid like them, then why am I the one they don’t like? Why does it matter if my parents have money or not? She sighs and gently sits down on the bed. Suddenly her whole world seems to have turned upside down.
She recalls the time, a few months back, how everyone had refused when she had asked people to come and have some sweetmeat at her house for her 13th birthday, well everyone other than Shurmila di. Kind, sweet Shurmila di, whom she loved. Shurmila di is one of them too, she is. Durga tells herself. She is as bad as the others, maybe not as mean.
She sits on the bed quietly waiting for everyone to leave. They were never my friends, never. Why was I so naïve to believe they were? Ma was right. Rich people do not care about us poor ones. We will forever be looked down upon.
Bit by bit the voices quiet down, Durga rises from the bed, and peaks out through the crack in the door. A few kids still stand outside, chatting. She steps back, and glances about the room. The entire floor of the room is tiled; from the roof hangs a beautiful fan and a sophisticated chandelier that looks rather out of place. Pushed against the wall with a big, wide window is the bed where Durga had been sitting a minute ago. On the corner stands a desk with books and papers littered on it. Among the mess lay a plain but elegant white pearl bracelet, twinkling faintly.
Durga’s eyes fall on the bracelet and she is mesmerized by its beauty. Drawn to the bracelet, just like a moth is drawn to a fire, she approaches the desk and picks it up. Ki shundor- so beautiful. She twirls it in her hand, and instantly is in love with it. I wish I had a bracelet like this. But I know I never will. And suddenly her fingers close around the fragile little bracelet. I want to borrow this, just for a day. I hope Shurmila di won’t notice. I will come back and return it tomorrow. I just want this to be mine for a day, just a day.
Ensuring that no one was outside she sneaks out of the room and runs to the riverside. She sits down, holding on to the bracelet tightly like it was a lifeline, a lifeline to a better life. Is money the only way to get beautiful things? Are the rich entitled to all that is good and beautiful in this world? Amra ki kichui pabona- aren’t we entitled to anything?
“You took it, didn’t you? You big thief. You saw the pearl bracelet and you took it, you stole it. Didn’t you?” mashi shouts at her.
“I… I,” Durga stumbles, tears filling up her eyes.
“Did you?” ma asks her, her voice as cold as stone.
Suddenly a chill passes through Durga, and the tears spill out and trickle down her cheeks. Unable to move or speak she simply stands there, still like a statue.
“Open your palm, Durga,” ma commands.
And slowly, unwillingly Durga forces her palm to open.
“I told you she took it, I told you. And what did you say?
‘We may be poor but we don’t steal, my daughter will never steal.’
You poor people, you are all alike. You have your so called ideals and pride, but in truth you all are just a bunch of lying thieves. Yes, that’s all you are,” mashi says with contempt.
“Mama, stop,” Shurmila di utters, her cheeks red, her eyes averted.
“We found the bracelet let’s go. Please,” she pleads.
But mashi doesn’t move, she stands there glaring at Durga.
“Did you steal it?” ma asks Durga with a murderous voice.
“I, I just borrowed it,” Durga mutters.
“Did you ask Shurmila if you could ‘borrow’ her bracelet?”
“So you stole it?”
“No, ma. I just borrowed it for a day, I was going to give it back tomorrow.”
“You were going to give it back?”
“Yes, I just took it for a day, just for a…” but before she could finish her sentence ma’s hand connects to her cheek. The contact is hard and loud, ringing out throughout the tiny room. And then there is another thump, followed by another.
“You stole, you little bitch? After all I taught you, after all I told you, you went ahead and became a thief?” ma yells at her.
“We do everything we can to provide for you and you go and steal?” she screams, raising her hand to strike once more.
“Ma, ma, please, it hurts,” Durga cries out. Her cheeks are red and burning.
“Oh it hurts, does it?” ma mocks, a maniacal gleam in her eyes.
“Because of you bitch, I got to hear an earful of insults. Just because of you. Don’t you think you should be punished for that?” She raises her hand again.
“Ma, stop, please you are hurting di,” Opu begs with tears pooling in his eyes.
“Ma, ma, calm down, please you are scaring me,” he mumbles.
“Mashima -aunt- please stop,” Shurmila implores as mashi stands by, her mouth gaping in surprise.
“Get out, get out of my home,” ma yells at Shurmila and mashi. Mashi walks out haughtily, Shurmila di walks out with a saddened face, glancing back once at Durga with a guilty and sympathetic look.
Ma sits down on the bed that stood in the other side of the room, and suddenly begins to sob.
“Did I not tell you never to steal? Did I not tell you to not want things that you can’t have? Oh, it’s all my fault, it’s all mine. I can never provide well enough for you. You two are just children, of course you covet things every other kid has. I wish your father was here with us today, we wouldn’t be suffering if he was,’
ma rambles on. “I am sorry, children, I am truly sorry for not being a better mother to you both,” she cries.
Slowly Durga and Opu move towards ma. Sitting down they gently embrace her. Durga wipes ma’s tears off, and says,
“No, ma, you have done enough for us. I am sorry I took the bracelet, I just…”
“I am sorry too, love, I am sorry. Does it hurt?” ma asks softly.
“Just a little.”
The End IS NEVER THE END.