Translated from Bangla by Fahmida Sharmin
[After previous installment]
The hut at the end of the village is colder than this house. He has to shiver with cold until he leaves. The black woman has no blanket, and her chest is deep and cool like a water reservoir. She has become totally cold now. She doesn’t have a blanket. Satinath will shiver. He will take all the heat from the woman’s body and transfer the cold of the 48-year-old body’s cold to the woman’s body. And she will become colder. Satinath will get no heat now, not even if he takes back his own breath. She will get harder like lead while saying – why do you come every day ?
Satinath won’t be able to say anything. He will keep shivering, he won’t be able to explain anything at all.
He has gone astray. And the woman is characterless. He has learned to use the word characterless very often. It was practiced as a habit, like people learning to walk. They learn to eat rice, become angry, become jealous, and use bad words. He learned when the Bagdis say the girl is not chaste, she is characterless. But he learned to say the word characterless by listening, without understanding. This word can’t be used like clothes from wardrobe. The word characterless sounds good if you judge yourself in such moments. You feel great comfort.
I’m characterless, but the girl is the same too. It’s been so since the girl was young, since the time when Satinath worked at the market. He spent the night at the shop in the market. The girl did not have the hut back then. She did leave the house abandoning her husband back then. She walked two miles to the market confidently like a man and would come back in the evening. Satinath would see from a distance. If she finds someone under the Peepul tree while walking to the market, she would tell them she works at a gentleman’s place in the market! I live and eat there.
The girl would laugh and make fun. She would joke, I live and eat there. My husband can’t feed me. He is jobless and alcoholic. Who knows when the field became dark like smoke, if anyone gave the girls two pennies or four pennies to satisfy their superstition about a fox going from left to right. The pond behind the Peepul tree is dry.
Satinath often asked – why do you come regularly ?
The girl laughed and said – do you fear that?
Yes, I fear. Every evening you come in the market walking one mile distance. If anyone asks you, tell them that you are going to a gentleman’s house to work. People are not idiots!
One day I heard Shyama chatting at a high voice, that evening, in that darkness (Shyama is not a poet – otherwise she would compare this timid light of evening of this wide field with the big wings of a giant eagle and she could compare this sudden advantage of this dark night in a different way very efficiently) someone called me to hurry when I was returning from the market. I could not recognize the voice. I stood there, I saw Satinath was passing in a hurry. After some time, that bloody Vamini appeared like armed goddess Kali – I should say, her clothes could not hide her breasts.
The acquaintances present in the adda were laughing out loud.
Shyama did not finish yet. She said, Vamini followed Satinath and I followed them. Satinath grabbed Vamini’s waist and went down in the dry canal. They did what they had to do. I stood there closing my eyes.
The draught has made it very easy, very easy.
You lied. Did you stand there closing your eyes ?
You are crazy, I often saw them with my eyes open.
Oh, Vamini is goddess Chamunda! She has strangled Satinath with her sari. Satinath has moved to another path after hearing the chat. That rascals are jealous of him. They are very jealous of him. They can’t take that he consummates Vamini. But that day Vamini almost killed him. Vamini says, do you fear that I come to you every day, Sir.
No, I don’t fear. I don’t fear that she comes every day. However, she comes in a sari keeping her inner garments and breasts visible inside it, her eyes hold the fire of sexuality when she comes like a dangerous snake walking on lonely paths, she comes in the evening walking the dusty paths like a ray of light; however she returns home naked tying her sari around Satinath’s throat as if he is a scapegoat who takes her to the wings of lukewarm darkness and both of them come back injured; still Satinath doesn’t fear.
She came with evening colouring her lips in red with betel leaf, she used the zigzag path instead of the road when she was tired. She came in front of everyone’s eyes.
So, he doesn’t fear. Not because of Shyama’s story too! Yet a terrible panic seized Satinath. The characterless woman is making him characterless. When the darkness surrounded them towards the canal, they had to accept the endless darkness of new moon that is more terrible than this darkness, that mind contaminating, Satinath would walk in the path with that filtered darkness condensing inside his chest, he could not see a single light in the village. Satinath would stay blind in the timid light of his shop.
He wishes to deform Kamli’s mother’s face with a pestle. The bad woman came to this house with such youth. He wishes to sell the old cow to a butcher. You have become an old hag too. I can’t remove Roy family’s widow’s face from my mind – I have become characterless. I have no other work, no hobbies, I can do nothing without shop keeping. No other thoughts come to my mind. Father hasn’t taught me any other words but characterless. Even I can’t take the pain of reading a book written in Bengali slowly, with right spelling. I don’t like to read books. I have learnt to call a woman a whore. I have learnt the name of instruments used in agriculture, learned to think about some matters. I don’t know anything else. I think ugly as long as I am awake. What should I do? I’m banging my head. So small, so low! Even I can’t hate the whore. Fie! Fie! I don’t abide by religion too. I don’t wish to pray to God. I fear God. But I don’t remember the fear.
The shadow of Satinath’s unclear thoughts is like this.
He views himself as a patient of fever. He pretends to drowse when he is pulsating. Now I should leave, now I should leave the dirty practice.
The school boys think otherwise. And whatever he thinks the educated boys of the new generation belittle him. He feels ashamed. He can sleep in peace by the side of Kamli’s mother with a blanket over him until morning, without waking her.
The woman has become like a big swine.
I shiver like a fever patient in the dark room as I don’t find warmth staying awake at a winter night. What am I doing there ?
What can I do by trying ?
He could do once upon a time, but he can’t do it now.
I did not go. Damn, Satinath didn’t go today. Satinath laughed out loud. You are fooled, bastard. He won’t go after this.
The boys are not here. The winter night is lifeless, the village road is non-vibrant. So many opportunities, but the cold wind is going inside Satinath’s body – the cold of winters up to today has made the slanted field dark and lifeless.
Satinath won’t go today. If he goes, I’ll call myself a patient. But nobody has taught me how to keep quiet, how to pass the days properly (especially, the nights, the unable nights of forty eight years.) Satinath doesn’t know how to live healthy truly until death. What elements are needed for that, how to think for that. I have learnt agriculture, I have learnt the things necessary for a living. Ugly, Satinath’s thinking moves around some necessary real words, he earns his living playing with some necessary things. He hasn’t the wings for thinking high. He doesn’t have the hand for high acts. He is narrow. His father didn’t teach him. Life around him could not teach him a high life style. He has become like this what is his fault.
I can do without going. But the girl will speak on her own, (and she is lower than Satinath, more selfish than him, innocent but a desperate sluttish rascal.) You are not coming anymore, why did you build this refuge? You don’t love me anymore. My husband won’t take me home anymore – how will I earn a living. I have become a hag, my lord.
The whore wants comfort now. Her husband sometimes comes to take her back home. She abuses him – can you feed me, idiot ?
No, I can’t feed you, slut ? Both of them exchange abusive words to each other, later they fight. The husband faints after drinking alcohol. His house feels empty without his wife, he feels heartache.
When he sees Satinath he lowers his head to greet him and smiles.
If Satinath does not go today or tomorrow, the woman will say those things. And I have gone there for a long time. For years. So, what will I do without going this time? What is the solution for me? I don’t feel good, but it has become my habit! It’s like an opium addiction. Satinath got out from his house at midnight as if he is searching for opium, covering himself with a shawl he walked slowly. He locked the door. The boys are not here, the village road is sleeping lifeless, non-vibrant, cold, and dew is falling from the dark sky!
Satinath covers himself with the shawl, takes steps with his lean and fragile legs, fearlessly passing by the sleeping dogs of the village in different corners of the road; even he walked like a thief by the side of someone’s house alone. Helpless and cold Satinath, when he reached the Tamarind jungle of the village, then by the side of a giant tree root some darker than dark shadows whispered, the lord has come finally. The ghosts laughed in a muffled voice.
Satinath could become awestruck but he is burning with anger. The devils have not gone to steal juice. They want to catch the lord directly. They want to make Satinath unprepared. So they are hiding in Satinath’s path silently while shivering in the cold. So, they have made Satinath hear about their plans for the night shouting. They have made a fool of Satinath. What fun do the boys get in this? They want to see Satinath go to the woman taking so much pain? What is their pleasure? What is the fun? They become so happy that the cold is nothing to them even.
But I have to go. I have come outside to go. Let the bastards stay. Let them think what pleases them, let them do what pleases them. Think what pleases you, I can’t do what you think. I shiver like a fever patient in a terrible cold.
Can you see the lord is walking like a heron ?
The lord can’t wait. Let’s go by the side of the lord screaming and shouting. They went inside the village by the side of Satinath like a sudden wind. Satinath’s ears have been cut down. He is not tension free. The boys may not have left. They might be fooling Satinath again. They may eavesdrop outside the girl’s house after Satinath goes inside. The walls have holes here and there.
But there will be no light.
Satinath goes forward. He takes steps cautiously, with his legs that are as lean as a heron’s. He stumbles on the roots of trees which have come out of the soil.
The girl was having a deep sleep. The door is closed- but it is not locked. Satinath will come surely. Satinath built this house. He has taken her away from her husband. He has given her under garment, sari, oil, rice, salt. She is getting older. The skin of her belly is shrinking, she has rough dark marks down her belly. She wants to sleep like a snake in winter, she yawns if you wake her up, but she is Satinath’s mistress. She does like to lock the door. Once upon a time she would tie her sari around his neck and say, I don’t know anyone else without you. Now she fears to recognize Satinath who becomes warm like a pot made of bronze. After trying a lot when Vamini becomes ready for sex like a colorful snake, Sainath tries to catch his breath. He is helpless like an injured Russell’s viper snake at that time. Vamini takes a different path then.
Satinath whispers like a lover – hey, wake up. How are you sleeping ?
Vamini doesn’t wake up. Satinath thinks the concubine doesn’t want to wake up. She is sleeping as a dead body. She can’t open her eyes.
He calls again- will you wake up ?
Vamini opens her eyes. She foolishly looks at Satinath for some time, yawns with sleepy eyes and smiles saying, my lord I’m feeling so unwell. I’m feeling so unwell.
She can’t be brave, she can’t say bravely, what is the need of this foolishness. The blanket is spread over the mat in the floor. I have a big blanket over me. I know what you will do and what you can do too. You could go to sleep. You could drag me closer putting out the lamp. But she can’t collect the courage to say that.
She has to take Satinath to bed by holding his hand. She has to prepare tobacco for him. She has to massage his legs if needed. But if the light is put out, Satinath is not greater, he is not master. Both of them are equal. In fact Vamini is all in all. Satinath has to worship her. If he wouldn’t have waken her up and dragged her closer lying down, Vamini might be dreaming. Her body might have shivered in cold.
Prepare the tobacco, Vamini, Satinath smiles.
Preparing it, my lord, why are making a hurry ?
I am feeling cold.
How will you return home at dawn ?
Satinath shivers in terrible fear at the thought of returning home.
He becomes annoyed, we’ll see that in the morning. Now prepare the tobacco. The girl asks while touching the hookah, and how many days will you come like this ?
Satinath becomes surprised – why are you asking this ?
Don’t you like it ?
No, not that.
Speak the truth, Vamini, you don’t like it anymore, do you? The girl doesn’t answer; she looks at another direction and speaks slowly at a time, it won’t work if I don’t like you, my lord. I am your kept woman. You are giving my living expenses. I can’t go when my husband comes to take me with him, didn’t you build a house for me ? And how were you earlier ?
You are not as you were before.
The girl remembered country liquor while remembering how they were earlier. She thought about the intoxication that happens after filling a belly with country liquor. The girl can’t leave after knowing that they are not like before. Satinath thinks about Kamli’s mother; yet he feels obliged to come here.
The boys have gone back. The house is on the field. The slanted field is dark. The wind has stopped. Vamini is lying like a swine covered with mud. Extremely tired, Satinath was sitting like a broken stick holding his chin in between his knees.
Someone from the outside said in a rude voice – hey, Vamini, will you open the door ?
Satinath flinched, pushed Vamini, and asked, isn’t it Tushtu ? Vamini says, I am awake.
Isn’t it Tushtu ?
He comes every night after you sleep. I send him away. He comes as a drunkard, then goes away after babbling.
Tushtu says in a drunk voice from the outside – hey, hey you, come back home. I’m your husband. I will take you home! Hey, you don’t have to sleep in my room. Only come back home. I’m banging my head here- won’t you go, hey concubine. Satinath feels uncomfortable. How can I stay here anymore; the man is drunk, he might be armed. He greets in the day. But now? If he puts me in a grave after killing. But how can I stay here anymore ?
Satinath stands up. Later he goes out of the house telling Vamini to return home. Kamli’s mother doesn’t say anything.
Tushtu speaks moving at a side behaving like he is very confused seeing Satinath – greetings sir, I didn’t understand you are here. I ask for your forgiveness, I don’t come when you are here, isn’t it Sir? I asked the slut to come home, I didn’t know you are here.
Satinath walks forward without talking. Drunk Tushtu keeps speaking in the back, I have done an offence, I have mistaken. People should say, I should be beaten by seven shoes. Tushtu takes the road to Bagdi Para looking with ferocious glace and a humble attitude.
Satinath thinks if I don’t seize Vamini’s house tomorrow, if I don’t send her to Tushtu’s house, if I don’t sleep at Kamli’s mother’s room tomorrow then- Satinath remembers his father’s name by trying heart and soul- then I’m a bastard.
(But at the dark fortnight if the moon takes time to shine, he comes back to Vamini’s house.)
Fahmida Sharmin, graduated from Department of English, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet, finds interest in creative writing and translation.
Illustration : Rajib Datta