Thursday, April 24, 2014


“It’s always possible that we’re in a bad nightmare. Remember when you wake up, Tambai, we’ll have a nice laugh,” mother said whenever time was bad. Tonight, it couldn’t have gotten any worse, and yet her voice was more reassuring than ever in my throbbing head, as I sat there waiting for damnation.

Outside the shanty, it was just the three of us, awaiting the news. The two wags from Devasserry, still hissing over local gossips, were getting impatient by the minute. It was dead of the night, and the snores of even the late sleepers of Ottachi Makul travelled in circles around us. At a distance the windows on the Cranford Bungalow that stood above the brush of the cinnamon estate had blacked out for hours now.

The wait seemed indefinite, but my senses were alerted every time a slight purr from inside was heard over the ceaseless buzz coming from the boredom of my two companions. The love of my life was lying inside wiggling in pain. She was in great danger even though these two clowns didn’t give two hoots about it. They only wanted the whole drill to be over soon. Suddenly a shriek louder than the previous one emerged from the shanty. Tugging on the talisman hung around my neck I prayed for the life of my wife and baby. Prayers worked most of the time, as it was the Goddess of Ottachi Makul who took care of things around here.

*                                              *                                  *
Vachi was blue from pain. I wiped her sweaty forehead and stroked gently on her inflated belly. She squirmed like a worm. It was a heartbreaking sight. She was my friend, even though we had grown apart since she stopped working at the cinnamon estate and moved in with the Burghs to nurse the unattractive estate supervisor Adam Burgh’s retarded brother Bartholomew and his senile mother.

She stared at me breathing heavily. “I know why this is taking forever,” she said pulling on my blouse till my ear was perched on her mouth, “I have sinned!” I couldn’t believe my ears. I recoiled with a shudder and stared at her in disbelief.
Adam Burgh’s unsightly face flashed a grin in my head. 

While it was apparent that Mr. Burgh had feelings for Vachi, she had failed to notice it from the start. She did not take a hint even when she was given a room inside the Manor unlike the family of servants who lived in a shanty in the rear yard where the neighborhood cats, constantly raped by Ursula Burgh’s black Persian, copulated in great quantity. From what I know, she still doesn't have a clue. Then how did this happen? With Mr. Burgh’s unveiled diffidence that his appearance gave him, I’m pretty sure he must have bottled up his desire because even almost a year later when Vachi went and announced her marriage, he did not do anything to stop it. Then she got married, but that didn’t seem to have stopped anything from happening after all these five years anyway!

“This one’s a mongrel,” Vachi mumbled deliriously grabbing her belly, “I cannot have it… I can’t keep it!”
I stood there shaking in shock and anger. Her husband was on the other side of the wall!

*                                              *                                  *
Mother had changed a lot after the death of my little brother, or was it little sister? It was a stillborn, so we didn't get to know. There was a certain kind of bitterness associated with everything she did after that. She was the sole matriarch of a family of pawnbrokers that financed most deficits of Ottachi Makul, and had taken over the reign of the family following the untimely death of her husband. Everybody feared her.

She was against my love for the half-caste daughter of Aachi Moosa from the beginning. At first I thought it had something to do with his reputation. In his youth Moosa had relentlessly fornicated with innumerable women of good upbringing up until he got married. After his first two wives were conceded as barren, he married the stunning Ayathullah Biwi, who instead of Moosa, is believed to have impregnated herself with the seed of one of the accessible English soldiers who guarded the Cranford Cinnamon Estate and dispatched to the family that pretty half white- half brown daughter who would grow up to steal my heart. Ayathullah Biwi died young leaving her baby to the mercy of two of Moosa’s elder wives, taking along with her, the secret of its pedigree. So the family did not have a lot riding on honor or reputation in the village. But I was madly in love and nobody was going to stop me. But for Mother, it was like a vicious urge to just not let it happen, I still know not why, which is why I decided to run away from her. We escaped from Ottachi Makul.

Now, back from exile, while praying for my beloved's well being sitting outside the shanty all I wished to be true was Mother’s words that she often repeated when I was a little boy, “It’s always possible that we’re in a bad nightmare.”

There were few men who lingered here and there in small buzzing groups around the shanty even after nightfall. Everybody was curious to know the end of the fiasco that horrified Ottachi-Makul that afternoon. But gradually, realizing the end was indefinite they dispersed.

It was the worst day of my life. My two companions were from the Devasserry Constabulary, and they were there to make the arrest, except that the delayed childbirth was still in the way.

*                                              *                                  *
I stood there paralyzed for a few more minutes. Vachi’s cries got louder and uncontrollable. I shut her mouth this time choking her a little.
“I have sinned… I have sinned!” she mumbled through my fingers.
“Nobody needs to know, girl,” I whispered, “the newborns are all the same.”
“They will know, “ she squealed under my force, “I have sinned with a white man!”
My doubts were confirmed! Adam Burgh it was!

But even after her marriage when she returned to the Manor, Mr. Burgh was mostly mute as far as I know, and she unreservedly nurtured his stunted brother not knowing a thing. With her husband she even gave birth to a baby boy in the meantime. So when did this happen? But by then we saw too little of each other, and perhaps I didn’t know everything.
“Is it Burgh?” I said.
She nodded, weeping silently now. “Please help me end this,” she said, “I can’t have this.”
“Adam Burgh?”
“No,” she said with a look of indignity on her tired face, “it’s Bartholomew Burgh. He doesn’t know!”
“The retard? For god sake, Vachi!”
Her cries got louder again. Holding her belly in a tight hug, she jerked in pain.
“I can’t kill, Vachi, I just can’t” I was helpless too. Only the Goddess of Ottachi Makul could have known a way out of this. But then suddenly a face prettier than the Goddess came to my mind.
“I might know who can help us,” I said startling her a bit, “stay put till I’m back. I think I know who can help!”  Saying so, I stormed out of the rear door into the dark leaving behind my pregnant friend, combating a new contraction.

The house was not very far, but the alleyways were deeper in that direction, and creepier too. I hastily tiptoed to avoid surprising any mating snakes on the rocks. When I crossed the pepper garden where the untouchables shat, I could see the glimmer of a small kerosene lamp hanging down from the rafter on the veranda. I knew the window. So I sneaked to the side yard and knocked right on it. It took some time, but before I awoke the rest of the family, it opened.

*                                              *                                  *
We only got back to Ottachi Makul in the morning. Aachi Moosa had passed away. His poorly attended funeral was in the afternoon, and by evening, Mother’s men had kidnapped my pregnant wife! When we returned, I had resolved to confront Mother. But it went out of control in the blink of an eye, and I couldn't find anybody. Not mother, not her men, not my wife. The search was futile. I only got to hear that they had summoned Midwife Nallola, the prolific abortionist of Ottachi Makul! I ran around like a madman looking for my wife even under thickets, but the panic and the frenzy did not last more than an hour. 

It was later that afternoon when the whole of Ottachi Makul gathered around Asainar Tangal Haaji’s abandoned granary where farm implements were stored of late. It was all over by the time I got there. I saw mind-numbing flashes of my life’s end for the first time. It was macabre. Blood flowed in all directions. Through the red vapors of death, I could see hacked limbs and heads strewn all over the place. All of Mother's men were lying there in pieces! Some heads still blinked. Mother was lying in a heap, motionless. She had her head intact, but the hands were missing. Her body was lying in two halves. A little off from her stiff, in the middle of the carnage was sitting the numbed form of my wife breathing heavily, staring into the distance, and a bloody felling axe still trembling in her hand. With her other hand, she clutched on her bruised belly. Suddenly she screamed. A furious rush of fluids broke open under her and flowed into the puddle of blood.

By the time the coroner and the constables arrived, the smell of death was cloying the putrid air and the guilty had gone into labor. They had no choice but to wait.

It was almost daybreak when the wait finally ended. There was a bloodcurdling scream from inside. It was not my wife. I rushed in and accidentally stepped into a pool of blood reminiscent of the previous afternoon. This time it was really over. My wife lay there motionless, and the midwife held on the limp form of my lifeless baby, the umbilical chord still dangling down from it. It all spun out of control and I had to sit down to avoid falling. I couldn't process it all at once, so I shut my eyes and made a wish. I, Tambai, the loneliest man on earth, hereby wish for the nightmare to end. I really want to wake up and embrace my wife and child!

*                                              *                                  *
By the time I sneaked back in, Vachi was shivering in unbearable pain.
“Vachi! Vachi!” I said trying to pacify her, “This is Ayathullah Biwi, Aachi Moosa’s youngest wife. They don’t have a child. She would take yours and raise it as her own.”
Vachi squinted in agony, but she was more concerned about her exploding guts. Then the baby came, a beautiful yellowish white infant that refused to cry at first.
“It’s a girl,” I whispered to Vachi, “but there’s no time.” I handed the newborn to Ayathulla Biwi and said, “Hurry! Bathe her immediately you are out of her, and rub her with salt as well. Quick! Hurry!”
She was gone in a second, and by the time the baby cried, they must have crossed the pepper garden.

Then I dug up a hole in the rear yard and put away the junk in a flurry. I returned and called in the worried husband who was eagerly waiting out in the night with their four-year-old son. When I broke the bad news, the man seemed to have already known, but tears ran down the little boy’s face. 
“Tambai,” Vachi called her son, and motioned him to come near her.
When she held him close, he felt up her deflated belly.
He asked, “Was it a boy or a girl?”
Vachi nervously smiled.
“You don’t want to know,” She said shutting her eyes in pain, “It’s always possible that we are in a bad nightmare. Remember when you wake up, Tambai, we’ll have a nice laugh!”

1 comment:

  1. Amazing story telling. I was glued till the end.


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