By Amitava Nag
The red lantern is fighting its last breath. No, its not windy. Its just that its life is no more. Its well past 1 at night. The lust of the night is lull now. He waits in the lawn, hundred meters away. The sky above is studded with jewels. He can still find the ones he wanted as a child – wanted and forgot. Many of his friends could reach up and get them – not him. Alas, he sighed heavily.
Somewhere near the old church clock shuddered the time as he turns – the lantern is dead.
She is taut. He had desired her so many times. He almost felt her round breasts whenever he thought of her. She was a hit. She never had to be on the street. He was one of them who used to find a client for her. There were two more. He didn’t like the job. Not for her atleast. The other two used to be with some other girls of the area. And he knows they also yearned for her. But he couldn’t be with anyone. How can he do so? ‘You Shorty. No girl will ever take you’ they rebuked. He knew at heart that it was true. But money can buy almost everything. He knew that as well. But he doesn’t have money to waste on useless girls. Can love be bought with money? Novels say you cannot. He is not sure.
He loved talking to her. She was good to him. At times she would give him good cigarettes, left by her clients. He was shy. The other guys would laugh at her. ‘You are harmless Shorty. That’s why she talks to you so much.’ Whatever it is, he was happy. The shanty where he was staying with his mother is a little walking distance. When he returns almost at dawn he would see his mother sleeping while sitting. ‘Don’t wait for me, ma’ he told many times. The old woman won’t listen. She knows his son is too soft to survive this cruel world.
‘Drink milk’ said the sadhu, ‘and you will grow. Every human drinks milk to grow up.’ He was confused. He loves drinking milk. ‘You have to drink milk from a woman who is having milk. This is what you lacked. Cow milk will not help.’ The idea seemed absurd. Where will he get such a woman? And why will she agree? ‘Any other alternative? Which is easier?’ he asked. ‘Easy alternatives don’t help if the problem is difficult, beta. But still you can hold this stone for a month and see if it helps. There may be a chance. Check, if you wish’, the sadhu had told. He is wearing the ring since then. He is certain there are no improvements. On the contrary he is having stomac problems since then. He doesn’t understand planets but his mother was certain ‘This new ring is causing all the problems. See, you haven’t earned much as well in the last few months. Throw it away’. He couldn’t throw away the ring. Its not his type to be so assertive. But its true that for the last few months his earning is low.
She was in love with one of her clients – the school teacher from the city. The man is perfect, good match – he always thought looking at them together. Problem started few months ago. There were rumours even before but he never knew what it was all about. He was shy to ask as well. She was pregnant. He knew it was that man only. One day she called him and handed over a letter ‘Give it to the schoolteacher. He will be in the ferry-ghat’. So he acted as the messenger. One day when he came to work she had left. She eloped pregnant. No one had a trace. He knew she had fled with the schoolteacher. They all pounced on him for information, they all knew he might know something. But he didn’t tell a thing – not even that the schoolteacher plans to marry her and settle in the big city. No one can find her ever he thought. He was pensive that he couldn’t see her again but she was secretly happy. This is a hell. He will be happy if she can raise her child away from here.
Nature has its own way of judging things. Time changes colours to everything, to minds of people as well. He got accustomed to working for newer girls. When suddenly one day he finds she is back. She is pale and anemic with a son. The owner was good-hearted to take her back though she may take a while to be back on trade. ‘But you need to be taken to doctor for checkup’, he advised. ‘I know but I don’t have any money. That bugger took everything from me’ she started crying. He didn’t want to hear the story. Its an old story. It repeats with perfection. He somehow felt annoyed.
As the night grew old and the clouds moved faster across the ceiling of his thoughts he felt a desire to be at her side. She is a friend to me, he thought. He knew she is very helpless now, more than before and he is her only friend as well. ‘I will take you to the doctor’ he announced the next day. ‘But why? Why will you spend your money? I will be on trade from next month and will go myself’ she reasoned. She couldn’t keep up to it. Two days later she fainted. He took her to the doctor. ‘Nourishment is missing. She has to eat well’ the doctor prescribed along with few medicines. ‘Thank you. You are a friend. I always knew you are. But what can I do in return?’ she was coy. ‘Nothing. That you acknowledge me as a friend is more than what I want. I always secretly admired you. But couldn’t tell you’ he gasped. That he could tell all these he never could believe. ‘ I like you too. You were different from most. You were so natural. So obvious’ she burst into words that flowed over the both of them as they swayed in momentary happiness. The black clouds move away from the face of the moon and in his exuberance he says ‘The sadhu baba told me to drink milk from a woman. I will be a normal man then. Not a shorty any more. Will you let me? When I become normal then we can have a future’. There are words which remain best never uttered. She was frozen. He overlooked in his new found energy and prospect. ‘Okay, come to my room when you are done with your work. I will wait’, she could utter hiding her tears.
Suddenly the lights get dim and in silhouette we find the seven of them – hand in hand gliding over the land. The music is sombre, from a harp supported with violin. He enters her room – its lighted beyond imagination. She lies there – calm and still. There is nothing on her. He could see her naked body for the first time. So silken and white. So full and curvy. He could almost touch her from trance. There was only a piece of cloth round her neck – like the royal scarf she is wearing. Transcendence from the trivial, he felt perplexed and overawed. He never believed that his destiny would come to here. He walks to the lawn. Lies down as if the sky is so near. The atmosphere is still, yet the red lantern dies its death. He looks at it – ‘Poor soul’, he pities it. There was a bird in him which fluttered very recently. He then lets her fly away.
As the screen gets opaque we can hear in voice-over a chanting that fades with the opening lights of the dawn -
“Emperor, your sword won’t help you out
Sceptre and crown are worthless here
I’ve taken you by the hand
For you must come to my dance”