At fourteen years of age, Shiv knew about the birds and the bees, what was going on, and where the new items at home and those that adorned his mother’s body arrived. It wasn’t rocket science for a guy as intelligent and perceptive as himself.
However, if he pretended to turn a blind eye, the gossip around where he worked part-time or in the fields didn’t let him forget. As a result, his mother was labeled characterless, and the villagers often pitied him. His heart fell at the jibes thrown at his mother, more so in his presence, but there was nothing he could do. However, his mother was the only constant in his life, and he couldn’t afford to antagonize and lose her.
But he knew his mother didn’t sleep around, as was claimed. She wasn’t loyal to her marital vows, but Mujumdar was the only person she had been with. Shiv was sure. But the gossip mill kept going, and he turned a recluse. He gradually lost the minuscule friends he had.
He didn’t eat well enough, and around the same time, his father’s calls to him grew lesser. Then, finally, his father had stopped visiting altogether. Everything took a toll on him, and he was now skinny, and depression engulfed him in its folds.
He had stopped talking to his mother for months now; he came home only to sleep at night and left early the following day. He barely made any money and spent the evenings working in the mango grove. Trees gave him immense satisfaction, and he loved to get lost among them. He loved turning into a shadow and only wished he could stay in the shadows permanently to escape from his problems.
Almost a year later, he was once busy in the mangrove when he heard faint noises in the usually calm environs. So he stayed in the shadows and watched through a gap in the outer perimeter.
His mother stood shaking in anger with a hand on her hip and her hair messed up. She was facing a tall man with his back towards Shiv. But Shiv was sure it was Majumdar.
“How can you just shirk off responsibility like this?” His mother screamed, a rare occurrence when his father wasn’t around.
The man only shrugged and didn’t say anything angering his mother further.
“You son of a bitch, you dare to tell me to get rid of this…?” His mother spoke, touching her belly. “…I ignored all the insults and jibes thrown at me because I thought you reciprocated my feelings. I stayed in the dark because you were married, and your career couldn’t tolerate slanders. But I have had enough…”
“You bitch… I haven’t taken anything for free… On the contrary, I showered you with wealth. Don’t forget you have a husband too.” Majumdar’s deep voice roared, and Shiv shivered in a combination of fear and anger.
“What do you mean? Did you think I was a prostitute? I loved you, goddamn it… I could never love my husband despite having a son from him, and all you can do is shrug when I need you the most?” She was panting now.
“Have you lost it, woman? Do you expect me to leave my family and stay with you? Or take you and that bastard of yours to my bungalow? Are you mad? Stay within your limits. The entire village and the Koini province know the likes of you. How can you even say this is mine?” He bellowed, pointing towards her belly
Shiv had enough. He scrubbed his tears and tiptoed his way back into the central clearing, his perennial hideout till it became dark. The voices continued for a while, waxing and waning, providing him with the staccato of audio he wanted to shut off. He placed his palms on his ears and lay on the muddy ground. The rustle of the trees piercing his senses through his palms lulled him to sleep.
He woke up with a start and realized it was well into the night. His father had warned him never to get close to trees in the dark. So he gathered the mangoes dropped around earlier in the evening into his basket and covered it with straws so they could ripen. He would sell it tomorrow in the village market and get him food for a couple of days. From what he had witnessed, his mother would not be in a mood to cook anyway.
Stretching his lean body, he walked outside the grove towards his house. The grandfather’s clock that was forever on the uneven outside wall chimed 3 AM. Something felt odd…
His mother didn’t call out to him even though it was so late. Despite everything, she was always keen on getting him inside the house and shutting the main door every night. Not that they had anything valuable to steal, but she was particular about shutting the door at night.
Tonight she hadn’t come looking for him; neither was the door closed. But, though the outside lights were switched on, something didn’t sit right. So he sauntered towards the house and crossed its thresholds. The light inside was switched off. Was his mother sleeping already?
His hand touched the adjacent wall as he tried to feel the switchboard. Finding it, he switched on the light bulb even as the room was lit up in the yellow glow of the bulb, blinding him with its hues. He shut his lids and slowly opened his eyes… only to see his mother hanging from the ceiling, her saree tied like a noose around her neck.
The grotesque image before him stunned him to the core. He screamed as he tried to grab her legs, but nothing happened. He ran out screaming hoarse into the village and banged the doors. Some sympathetic villagers soon accompanied him along with the village doctor, irritated at being woken up at the ungodly hour.
His mother was taken down and made to lie on the floor. Then, after the doctor certified her dead and the lone police constable in the dead of night cleared it as a case of suicide, the couple of women covered his mother’s body.
Despite all that transpired, young Shiv didn’t shed tears. He didn’t know what he felt. He went through the motions on autopilot.
Slowly the other villagers gathered in the little courtyard where the body was placed on a hearse and his mother’s face; the only body part visible was smeared with ‘Sindoor.’ He realized his mother was so beautiful… but tears refused to flow.
He only wished his father could come… to perform the rituals as some villagers spoke. He wanted someone other than him to do the honors. He couldn’t get himself to cremate his mother.
But still, tears didn’t fall. Had his heart turned into a stone? It probably had. He was emotionless… there was no guilt, too, now that the initial shock had waned.
He was a horrible son, not good enough for his mother or father. While his father had left him earlier, his mother needed others in her life for a void he couldn’t fill. Was it all his fault?
His mother had once said she was stuck in the marriage with his father because Shiv existed. Though she later hugged him and prepared his favorite food, her words never left his mind. In the vee hours of the morning, as he sat staring at his mother’s mortal remains, the white cloth covering her cascading with ripples in the early morning breeze, he wondered if he was indeed cursed.
There were hushed whispers about him being the curse for his family. Did calamity befall on anyone he was associated with?
He sat still on the hard ground with a few villagers watching over his mother even as people trickled in and left after paying their respects, more like curious about the outcast woman who had killed herself. People talked about the funeral, and he couldn’t hold it anymore. He ran into the grove, and the clearing sucked him into its bosom as he sat holding his folded legs close to his body, hunger and thirst forgotten. He stared at the mango basket. What would happen to him? What would happen to this grove?
Suddenly the emotions that were held at bay surfaced upwards… he was officially all alone in this world. He craved company and only lost everyone in his life. Maybe he was destined to be alone.
He began to sob but soon recovered when he realized he wasn’t crying for his dead mother. How could he be so selfish and only be bothered by his loneliness when his mother lay dead waiting to begin her final journey?
Right then, little Padma had stepped into the clearing, and her kiddish banter had made its way into his heart. Something about the cherubic angel with missing upper incisors brought out an emotion he didn’t know existed in his heart. It was as if the stone within began to melt. Someone had shown him genuine kindness for the first time.
He later found out the Queen had come, and she had made the funeral arrangements through the NGO she ran. He was glad he didn’t have to go through the motions.
He spent a night in his house on the rickety charpoy, unable to shut the doors and staring at the oil lamp lit in memory of his mother. Some villagers had sent him food that remained untouched in a corner. He had only eaten a couple of mangoes, and his mother’s blurring face in his mind was soon replaced by the angelic face of the little girl who sought his sorry self… till sleep claimed him.
The gleaming sparkle of her eyes cleared the darkness that bequeathed me
The shower of blessings drove away emotional drought making my heart tidy….