Translated from Bangla by Fahmida Sharmin
Nowadays, there is no bad place in the neighbourhood. Some lower class women often become prostitutes, leaving their family behind. If a woman becomes an eye-sore, she has no place in the lower class society too; they say, the bitch is not a virgin. If she hides it, she is a virgin, not a prostitute.
Satinath drowses in his grocery shop at 9 PM. Customers stop to come within 8 PM in the village. At this hour, no one is expected, but if someone still appears, it’s surely irritating.
Satinath drowses at 9 PM and thinks about the hut among tamarind trees. The woman has become fat. She has become a dirty prostitute. The monkeys have started reading at 9 PM in this winter night. They were reading by making a noise as though had been screaming. You can’t express everything that you think. Maybe, as he has been giving money, clothes, and food for many days, he can tell and do everything dirty to the woman, but the boys are sitting for their matriculation exam this year; he doesn’t understand how he calls them monkeys as he is a half-educated grocer! So he has to say, “You have studied late at night boys-how do you study so much, guys?” The boys smile.
But, Satinath knows the boys were partying, playing cards, smoking and making a noise since evening. The small boy took cigarettes for three times saying it’s for his grandfather but if the old grandfather smokes cigarettes the whole neighbourhood awakes. The neighbours think the old man will die in the farm house this night. Grandfather doesn’t smoke much. These are the boys who smoke.
Now at this night when the paths of the village have numbed with cold and become lifeless, Satinath thinks this is the golden moment for him to go to the woman for whom he built a hut with his money, but the boys still wish to read at 12 AM. Satinath can hear one of them saying that the lord has awaken.
No he isn’t awake yet.
Today I’ll go after he awakes.
They start conspiracy in whispers. Yes, the scoundrels will go after the lord awakes. If you see the lord walking along the village paths, if he disappears in the darkness, you won’t be able to sleep turning the lights off.
For this reason they pretend to study. Not for holding Satinath back. They want to test the rumours spread about Satinath. Or tease him regularly in the name of testing and make him unprepared. Moreover, a school teacher who belongs to the Datta family has become a pioneer by passing BA with distinction. He comes every Saturday to show his attitude. He will play cards in someone’s house, come to their place at 9 PM, keeping watch until 12 AM. The boys will scream their hearts out and often in curiosity, savage pleasure, and sarcasm, and they will say – is the lord there? The lord is not there, so they conspire a little and say to the boy standing nearby – come, let’s go outside for a walk. Then they go to the cow-shed and light a cigarette and keep smoking cigarettes with a relish. They will keep chatting, in the meanwhile they will peep through the window to see if Satinath is there. Satinath has to pretend about shopkeeping; he has to keep sitting in the hope of getting a customer while he is drowsing.
Uncle gets up from sleep yawning at 12 AM. He comes once in a week, stays on Sunday. He keeps advising everyone at day time, plays cards with boys in the evening. He goes to bed at 12 AM with his sixteen-year old wife. And sixteen years have passed since Satinath has married. Why doesn’t the old cow procreate regularly? But, why are the bulls in the field festive around the young heifer.
Satinath waits while drowsing. Now he should go to sleep to wrinkled and fat Kamli’s mother. After working the whole day, managing the servants of their crop fields, she is in deep sleep. She is sleeping like a lump of flesh comfortably. She has released her tiredness in the room.
Satinath will be disgusted when he sleeps beside her by removing the cloth on her face. She has still kept the betel leaf of evening in the mouth – red spit was coming out. While sleeping, Kamli’s mother will happily swallow this spit moving her tongue around her mouth and sleep deeply as people sleep after taking sleeping pills. She will become aggressive, and say – no jokes at midnight. The bad smell hits the nostril.
But when does Satinath brush his teeth in the morning? Almost every evening he eats puffed-rice with fresh onions. Has he have taken permission for that from Kamli’s mother?
The old cow doesn’t procreate regularly; yet she gives some milk. But, the new procreating cow doesn’t let be closer.
Yet he goes to the old woman, who gives value to his jealousy and wishes at 12 AM. The neighbour uncle has a sixteen-year old wife and Satinath is married since sixteen years. Kamli’s mother is not beautiful anymore; her breasts have become barren with the birth of the last boy.
Satinath has started drowsing again. Is it my fault, I’m a dirty man, I can’t sleep with Kamli’s mother anymore. I sleep on a mat with a blanket over me without going anywhere. What can I do about it? I have started observing the widow of Roy family. Colours spread around when she passes by and I forget to attend the customers.
I have affectionately given shelter to the abandoned girl among the tamarind trees at the end of the village. She has become a dirty prostitute too; I have not taken away her shelter yet. Kamli’s mother’s breasts have become barren, she can sleep all night, and I, what do I do? I would be in good health if I could sleep. I would be happy at day time. But, what should I do staying awake the whole night. Satinath is shocked with fear, he hits his forehead.
Yes those scoundrels, surely those scoundrels, nephew or my son, whoever they are, those rascals have started competition with me. The boys burst into laughter. Shadows like giants and ghosts become visible on the wall – is the light from the lantern cast? They are looking like a group of robbers. Satinath’s own reflection in the fading light. A bat is eating a green guava from the tree while flapping its wings. Those scoundrels have teeth; they give birth to offspring, have breasts. They release their waste through mouth (people say). They have little breasts covered with fur. These cannot be seen, aren’t visible. The widow of the Roy family has become the colour of the clouds. The boys are whispering their plans. Satinath listens carefully – Will you go to the Chakravarty’s house to steal date juice? Come let’s go to the Chakravarty’s house for date juice and leave him robbed.
Let’s go; uncle has gone to sleep.
What? Sleeping? I sleep in the room beside uncle’s room. Do you know?
So, you don’t sleep too.
They burst into laughter again.
Come, come, get up.
If Chakravarty understands?
I’ll climb the tree naked, fastening my cloth in my head. If Chakravarty resists, I’ll kill thin Chakravarty choking him with this piece of cloth. Then we have to do something else too. After drinking the juice, we’ll fill up the container and leave the thing where it was. Chakravarty will find the same colour – just the taste is different, salty.
Only they know what they mean. But the boys are rascals. All right, that’s it. Okay go to do that. The boys went away. Satinath took the breath of relief. It’s almost 10 pm. At that very moment the youngest boy came home on imbalanced steps. He was here all the time. They did not take him with them. The boy silently sat on the floor mat, opened a book, and started to read monotonously. Satinath had burst into anger; after eating and chatting mister has started reading.
The boy is like him too. It is not understandable if he is answering to his father, or reading. What a trouble, he cannot study a little, how pathetic!
The boy speaks like adults! Satinath scolded, delivered his thoughts as a well. He rehearsed speech, you monkey, you have come to show your mockery of studying at 10 PM. Don’t I know what you do the whole day? Now the elephant will study while drowsing. Go and sleep.
The boy is still answering stubbornly in a monotonous ugly voice – I’ll sleep here tonight.
Satinath who is a village grocer exploded like a bomb, “Sleep here, if I don’t choke you to death, I have two fathers.”
He adds quietly to it after getting embarrassed, “In this cold you’ll sleep in the shop! I have to take care of the shop.”
The boy shut the book close, then went away arrogantly.
The cold wind is blowing over the slanted fields and hard soil, the veins shivering. I can’t resist cold as I could when I was 25 years old. Darkness engulfed all including the branches of the tamarind tree, the guava tree, and the cow-shed. Darkness is ruling outside my shop. It seems like to enter the house now. A lantern is lighting up the house, it can’t remove darkness, and it’s sixteen years since Satinath married. Darkness could never resist and now winter cannot stop him as it could at the age of 25. The all-encompassing darkness is getting merged with the darkness of his chest.
Now he can go. The youngest boy has gone to bed. The boys went to steal Chakravarty’s date juice. The village path is quiet – in every turning dogs are lying. Now if he silently goes out, the boys won’t teasingly laugh; the lord has got up.
There is a scary dark shadow over the salt jar, oil container, and the sack of rice. When will winter end, when will it be warm, when will spring arrive? Satinath thinks.
To be continued…
Fahmida Sharmin, graduated from Department of English, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet, finds interest in creative writing and translation.
Illustration : Rajib Datta