The atonement | Guwahati City News

by Guwahati_City

The atonement

FICTION – Indrani Raimedhi

That April evening, Jibon sat at the guards’ cubicle. It began to rain, great slanting sheets of water. Thunder and lightning.

The atonement

There was a sharp crack and a scream rang out. He rushed forward. A young girl lay on the ground…

Just when dawn was breaking, Jibon took the lift to the sixth floor terrace. His duties as a night chowkidar were over till evening came. He unlocked his tiny room, undressed to his shorts and got into bed, pulling the threadbare blanket over him. He fell asleep at once, dreamlessly, his body slack, wearing on his face the melancholic expression that was always a part of him.

Noon came. Meals were eaten in the flats below. Mothers bathed their children. Servants swept and dusted. Nobody was alone, but Jibon.

Then a cuckoo sang somewhere. Jibon thought it was cooing in his dream. He woke up, startled. The bird of Spring sang with aching entreaty, appealing to the deepest part of him. He wandered around, dazed, on the terrace, trying to find it in the trees lining the enclave. Then he covered his ears with his hands and stumbled back into his box-like room. He sat on his bed, trembling. He looked at his hands. They were stained with blood.


Abha reached the parlour when it was just opening. She waited on a black sofa, rifling through fashion magazines. Now and then she looked at the enormous glass mirror in front of her. Her skin looked sallow. Her hair hung limply about her shoulders. Rina, one of the parlour girls, came forward with a glass of orange juice.

“Madam, what will you do today?”

“I have come for the whole day,” she said. “Rina, colour my hair, do threading, facial, manicure, pedicure and haircut. I want Burgundy streaks in my hair. Do you understand?”

“Of course, Ma’am!”

Abha went into an inner room, changed her sari and got into a robe. As the hours passed, her hair was oiled, massaged, shampooed, streaked and set. Her eyebrows were threaded into arcs. As she lay on the bed in the facial room, soft hands kneaded her face with floral-scented creams, applied packs and massaged her hands. For a time she was truly happy to be pampered in this way… by the time it was 4 o’ clock, her manicure was done. She looked at the mirror. She looked fairer, her freshly set hair framed her face. But her eyes were too small, her nose too fleshy. There were lines on her neck. Her long day of effort did not transform her in the way she thought possible. She felt within herself that old loss of confidence and resentment. With a tight smile, she paid and left.

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With the small stove and a few utensils, Jibon made himself a frugal meal of rice and potatoes. He wolfed down his food when it had cooled. It was 5 o’ clock already. Soon he would put on his blue uniform and peaked cap, carry his baton, and go downstairs to his cubicle by the gate. He would salute the flat owners as they drove in and out, note down the visitors’ vehicle numbers and phone numbers. He would ceaselessly open and shut the gates. He would ensure no child wandered out of the enclave. Nobody looked at him or talked to him, it was as if he was invisible. He did not mind, he did not want to draw attention to himself.

The previous evening, he had had an encounter with an old man. He had left one of the flats for his evening walk. Bibek Chowdhury, a former Boro Babu. The world was now a strange place for him. His family kept him captive in the flat. For his memory was splintered into a thousand pieces. He wondered what a watch was for, what his spectacles did. Nobody knew what to do with him. Jibon had been told to never let him out. So, the previous evening Jibon gently led the old man back. Jibon heard loud angry voices once the door was closed. He wished he could forget too. There was so much to forget…

That April evening, Jibon sat at the guards’ cubicle. It began to rain, great slanting sheets of water. Thunder and lightning.

There was nothing to do. Jibon sat on his stool and looked out into the night, the lighted windows of the flats… the expensive cars in the car park. And he, entrusted to keep this small universe safe. They were foolish to trust him. He had blood on his hands.

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Once his world had been different. Classes in the village high school. Cycling through the fields, brilliant yellow stretches of mustard flowers. Haystacks and granaries.
Pitai’s little grocery shop. Then, he failed his Class-X exams. He began to brood and mope. Would he always remain in this obscure part of the world? Would he never have experiences and adventures? Then Satya visited him one night, and for several nights thereafter. There was something greater than himself, a way to fight for the motherland. He stole away one night without saying goodbye, marching through the forest through rain and shine, wading through shallow rivers, hearing the cries of jungle birds, seeing snakes slithering into the undergrowth. After a week they reached the camp; there were 20 youths like him. He was given a new name, and an olive green uniform. Then began the training… body building, hand-to-hand combat, crawling along the ground on one’s stomach, drill, marching, arms training. Jibon was an able and disciplined learner. They changed camps frequently, carrying provisions, tents, grenades and assault rifles. They learned how to communicate through hand signals and choose the right spot to camp in.

One evening, Jibon was sent to collect wild tubers; he went deeper and deeper into the jungle. The trees crowded around him. Suddenly, he heard a twig crack. He aimed his assault rifle and pulled the trigger. There was a sharp crack and a scream rang out. He rushed forward. A young girl lay on the ground, blood spewing from her abdomen, her dying eyes fixed on him in mute appeal. Next to her was a basket of twigs. He crouched down and held her as her shuddering body grew still. He then looked at his blood-stained hands and began to weep.

He came back with some tubers, but that day, he viewed the outfit differently. He came to know of dark deeds carried out in the name of liberation. He could not belong to this world; he walked away one summer night, trekking through the forest, avoiding his village and sinking into the anonymity of Guwahati. He waited at tables of small eateries, sold vegetables and washed cars. He worked thoroughly, without fuss.

Things became less precarious when he became a security guard. Now that he had a regular salary and a room of his own, the past became a distant blur, but the dying girl’s eyes followed him at unexpected moments.

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Abha’s car passed through the gates of the enclave. She took the lift and let herself in with her key. The flat was silent. She went to her bedroom to undress and as she pushed the door open, she gasped. Saurav, her 50-year-old husband, was ardently embracing their 16-year-old maid. They pulled apart when she began to scream.

“You swine! How dare you! I am going to make you pay. And you little devil, when did you start selling yourself?”

Abha glared at her husband, “I want you out of here right now!”

Abha went to the kitchen. Dalimi crouched on a stool. Her head bowed. Abha stared at the girl… flushed cheeks, curly hair, sturdy limbs. Abha made a pot of tea, she switched off the gas, poured the tea into a big coffee cup and splashed it on the girl’s legs; clamping Dalimi’s mouth to stop her from screaming. Dalimi struggled with all her might and ran upstairs.

“Jibon Kai, Jibon Kai!”

Jibon let her in and grimaced as he looked at her burnt legs. Weeping, she said her master was always after her. He had threatened to sack her if she did not give in. Jibon went to the chemist and got ointment, gauze and paracetamol. He dressed her legs gently and asked her to lie down. Then, he went downstairs.

Abha opened the door. Jibon did not waste time. Dalimi was at a safe place. Some Building Society members were with her. They were planning to file an FIR for molestation and causing injury. “Oh my God, Jibon! It was an accident!” She said, pale and trembling.

Baideu, we all know what happened. They may decide not to file the case if you pay compensation.”

Abha did not hesitate. Jibon took the packet and left without a word.

The following week, Jibon took Dalimi to her village. Her family instantly liked the shy, well-behaved man who had rescued their daughter. Three months later, Jibon took a week’s leave. He was going to be a husband. Dalimi’s husband. At last, he had found his place in the world.

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