She just dropped at the dining table and Sonali started immediately.
‘Respect my age, dear. What you’re thinking won’t be right at all.’
‘Mom, why feel scared…it’s a trend now…gone are the days of matchmakers…’
‘That I agree…do it for your own…why for me…’
Spreading a thick layer of butter on a pair of brown breads, Atreyi replied,
‘My turn comes next…let’s pick a match for you, first…’
‘Oh god, this girl will make me mad…’
‘Mom, please listen…that you need a companion, has no doubt…only I’ve selected a right path for it.’
Sonali stepped towards kitchen. She had to finish the cooking.
‘Do whatever you want. I know you don’t care for my opinion.’
Atreyi had almost finished her breakfast. She quickly stood up, rushed to Sonali, cuddled her and whispered to her ears,
‘I can feel for you, mom. You’re alone for last ten years. Society has changed and I believe that you’re not so old-fashioned. Don’t you like to live a happy married life?’
Sonali looked softly at her own daughter.
‘Dear, you’re so matured…you talk like your father…’
She took a deep breath.
‘Mom, I also love my father…always feel his absence…but he’s no more. You’re only forty six. How can you live alone the rest of your life?’
‘But it’s so unconventional either in your father’s or in my family. Both of your grandpas are alive. They won’t accept my remarriage. There lies a serious question also. This flat is in my name. After your father died, I inherited. If I marry again, I’ve to leave this place. Not only this place, I’ve to leave my husband’s family also. He was their only son. How can I leave them for my own interest? No dear, I can’t do such inhuman. ’
‘May be it’s not done earlier for any woman of these two families. But that doesn’t mean that none can do it now.’
‘My dear girl, please try to accept the reality. We’re like lot of other common Bengali families where the remarriage of middle-aged woman is simply unacceptable. Normally, we shouldn’t dare to venture out of our custom.’
Atreyi quickly looked at the wall clock. She was left with twenty minutes only to leave for office. She wasn’t dressed. Her bag and important papers weren’t also packed.
‘Mom, I’ll talk. I’m personally taking the responsibility to convince them. I hope they won’t oppose. Meanwhile, I want to do something for you.’
‘What is it, baby?’
‘I want to see my mom, smarter than before, full of powerful self-confidence.’
Sonali laughed at,
‘So you’ve doubt with your mother’s personality.’
‘Not actually. But want to sharpen.’
‘What’s your plan?’
‘Let’s keep it a secret.’
‘Hope, it won’t be something exceptional.’
‘Haha…I also hope so.’
She wanted to laugh but couldn’t. Her upbringing restricted her to do so before Atreyi and her friend.
‘Mom, you’ve to go back to school and here is your new teacher.’
‘Yeah, the teacher is very handsome…at least a student will not refuse to take lesson from him.’
‘He is not new in this house. He came earlier.’
‘Is it so? But why can’t I remember.’
‘He hadn’t come alone. In college, we were in same class and were very close to one another. So far I can remember, he came once at father’s funeral.’
Sudip opened his mouth.
‘That was a really sad moment. Atreyi was very upset and we were busy to console her. That wasn’t the right time to introduce one another. You were also so bereaved. May be you hadn’t noticed us.’
‘May be so, forget it…let’s come to the point.’
‘That’s like a good student.’
Atreyi now picked up the point.
‘Sudip is a very good groomer. You know, nowadays, people hire professionals to train themselves.’
Sonali looked on in amazement.
‘What it is really?’
Atreyi started talking.
‘Slowly you’ll know everything. He’ll build up your personality. He’ll teach you etiquettes, table manners, how to mix with the people, especially with people in higher positions and lot more.’
Sonali gestured at her.
‘You, the modern day boys, it’s too difficult to fathom your thoughts.’
‘No need to worry. He will make things simpler for you.’
‘Ok my daughter, do whatever you want. My work is just to learn and not to think more than that.’
‘Yes mom, please keep faith on us. Soon you’ll feel the difference in you.’
‘Let’s hope so. By this time, I think we should go for a cup of tea and some snacks.’
‘Oh mom, you’re so nice. I just wanted to tell the same.’
Before leaving the place, she paused for a while and looked at Atreyi and Sudip. Mother’s mind got immediately occupied with would-be relationship between them.
‘God, please hatch a match between them. I’ll be happier at their marriage.’
Soon Atreyi was called from the kitchen. Sonali suggested that Sudip should be offered a fee for his service.
‘Mom, I also thought so. But doubt, will he accept…after all, we’re friends.’
‘But dear, this is his profession. We should respect his profession.’
‘Let’s offer at least.’
‘Yeah, please do it. Better, you wait for my return. Offer him before me.’
‘Yeah, it sounds worthy.’
As expected, Sudip refused to accept any fees. But somehow, the mother-daughter duo convinced him to agree to a monthly fee of rupees two thousand. At every Tuesday and Friday evening, the classes were scheduled for two hours and the first class was at the day after. Ball started rolling and Atreyi was very pleased with the proceedings.
‘Hi! You look gloomy. What happened?’
‘Nothing as such, just as usual…’
Shruti is confident that her colleague is looked different.
‘Coffee? Let’s have one cappuccino.’
Atreyi pauses for a while but consents at last. Shruti knows her colleague well. She is waiting for her to come out.
‘When you’re leaving?’
‘Don’t get you.’
‘I mean the conference. When you’re leaving for Dhanbad?’
‘Oh, that tour, not so immediate, ten days left.’
‘How is aunty? You’re complaining about her chest pain some days back.’
‘Yeah, that’s true. She’s under treatment. Doctor is looking after.’
‘How much she improved?’
Shruti observes, Atreyi suddenly stops and her jaws grow hard. Her face turns reddish. She assumes something wrong has happened with Atreyi.
‘Atreyi, my friend, you’re hiding something from me, I can read your face.’
She gulps a glass of water. Shruti assures herself. She should settle at first. The poor girl is definitely concealing something.
‘Are you okay?’
‘Yeah, I’m fine now.’
Atreyi pulls a note from inside her purse.
‘What is it?’
She hands it over to Shruti.
‘See it carefully. Look at the back.’
‘What is there?’
Curiously, Shruti turns the note and finds a mobile number written.
‘Whose number it is? I don’t understand the matter. Will you please explain?’
Atreyi is almost on the brink of a breakdown. Shruti guesses something very serious.
‘I can’t understand why you’re not taking the issue with your mother.’
‘I don’t want to talk to her.’
‘Oh god, you shouldn’t be so harsh with your mother.’
‘I can’t even think that they can go so further.’
‘I must say unnecessarily you’re suspecting aunty. I can feel your mind. You should at least inform her that tonight you won’t return.’
‘No, I don’t want to call.’
‘This is too much, Atreyi.’
‘No, it’s not too much.’
‘Please tell me when you found the note and the basis also.’
Sudip was appointed in the month of July. I was very happy. I noticed the changes in my mother’s attitude, exactly what I expected. Her way of talking, attitude, manners, all are changed. Up to September, everything was fine. He was paid with his fees for two months. He was as shy as the first day, refused to accept fees every time, when offered. I knew that he’ll refuse. That’s why, I would pay him personally.
‘Still, I’m unable to get the relation.’
‘This was the note I had given to my mother as fee for the month of September. She didn’t inform that Sudip hadn’t taken the fee.’
‘Horrible, how can you be so sure?’
Atreyi is resting on a bed. She gets out of bed and goes towards the corner table to bring out the note from her purse.
‘Check it out again.’
Shruti takes the note in her hand and turns it to look again at the number.
‘Yeah, I saw it before but find no difference yet.’
‘Look at the middle. Don’t you find a hazy impression of a stamp?’
Shruti looks at the note once again.
‘Oh god, it’s so hazy. Looks like a bank’s seal.’
‘Exactly I wanted to mean that. It’s the seal of our office cooperative bank. I know it very well. I was paid with this note in September. In earlier months, I paid his fees myself. But in October first week, I was out of town. Hence I handed it to my mother to pay him.’
‘Oh, I see, now I get your point. But what is the relevance of this mobile number?’
‘The number belongs to my mother.’
‘Whaw! Another surprise! How and why?’
‘My mother is using this number for long. There’s no doubt about.’
‘But the relevance…’
‘October is almost over. You know here, the winter is only a few days’ guest. We don’t need full-sleeve sweater at all in Kolkata. But I’m due to leave for Dhanbad after ten days and winter in Dhanbad is much cooler than Kolkata. So I definitely need one such sweater. I took leave on the day before yesterday and was thinking about it.’
Shruti feels exciting.
‘I’m looking for a round-necked full-sleeve brown one which is also my very favorite. Initially, I didn’t notice that the note fell from my mother’s worn out purse. I was busy with searching the sweater in the wardrobe. Finally I found and after closing the door, I was about to leave. Suddenly I noticed the note. Mother was at market. Otherwise, I would have informed her. But I brought it with me and kept on my study table.’
‘Then in the afternoon, I remembered the note and found the number. Then also I hadn’t informed her.’
‘Where was she then?’
‘She was in her room, watching television.’
‘What prompted you to hide the story from her?’
‘Believe me, there’s something running through my spines. Lot of things was moving in my minds and I decided to check the number on my own.’
‘My God! How can you do that?’
‘Yeah, I did it. Yesterday morning I called Sudip from my mother’s mobile.’
‘Where was she then?’
‘I knew that at morning, she remains very busy for almost an hour, first at bathroom and then with the deity.’
‘Did you get Sudip?’
‘Yeah, that bustard received the call. Are you prepared to know what I’ve heard?’
‘What he said?’
‘He said, he needs sometime to settle and not ready now to go with her.’
‘A real bustard, of course…’
‘I have no doubt about it.’
‘Anything more, he said…’
‘That bustard also said, not to worry, he’ll handle the situation.’
‘That means, he may elope with your mother.’
‘Please stop, I can’t bear it more. I’ll kill that monster.’
Shruti notices, Atreyi’s eyes are full of tears. It’s better not to ask her any more.
‘Stop discussion. Take a good rest, baby.’
Shruti pats her back and slowly guides her to bed.
Shruti remained almost sleepless in last night. She was just thinking, how aunty can be engaged in this immoral affair.
‘A relation with a boy almost half her age… how disgusting and unbelievable…’
Shruti, herself is an orphan from early age. Her father died first in a road accident. Then she was only five years old. Her mother couldn’t bear her husband’s death. She died after three years. All along, Shruti was brought up by her only maternal uncle. The man hadn’t married for the sake of the lonely child.
By breakfast time, Shruti was determined to bring her colleague out of the crisis.
‘How are you feeling now?’
With a vacant eye, Atreyi is looking through the bedside window. She doesn’t reply immediately rather looks at Shruti.
‘Can you imagine that I’ve to live with this scandal for the rest of my life?’
‘Please don’t cry, my friend. God is there. He’ll definitely resolve the issue.’
All on a sudden, Atreyi hugs Shruti and asks in a compassionate tone.
‘Will you send me off to that hell? I can’t live with her.’
Shruti becomes mum for a while and feels sorry for her.
‘Why’re you becoming restless? Keep your hope alive. I’ve no plan to drive you out. Please take it as your own flat. Stay as long as you want.’
The next few days became too pathetic for Atreyi. She took leave from office and kept her confined. Shruti almost became her guardian. She even talked to Sonali.
‘Poor child, how can she think about me as such? I need to talk to her. Please send my baby to me. Otherwise, I may go to bring her.’
‘Please don’t even think to do such hara-kiri.’
Sonali became dejected.
‘Please do something for my child.’
‘Before that, please tell is there anything between you and Sudip?’
‘How can you dare to ask such idiotic? Do you know that I have planned to marry him with Atreyi? He’s so nice a boy.’
‘Oh really…why you haven’t paid him fee for last month…why you have written your number on the back of the note and why the nice boy said that he can’t go with you now. You need to clear all these doubts before you expect your daughter to return.’
‘My dear, can you arrange a meeting with Atreyi, at least once. Please believe me. I want to tell something to you.’
Atreyi was desperate not to go to her mother’s flat. The meeting was arranged at Shruti’s flat. That Sonali and Sudip entered together, was noticed by Atreyi and she burst immediately.
‘Look, how shameless they are.’
‘Forget it baby, let them explain the issue.’
In the hall, everyone was given a chair each. Atreyi was seated next to Shruti and she was reluctant to see either Sonali or Sudip.
‘Aunty, you please start. Tell us what you want to say.’
‘This is an extremely sorry affair. I knew Pradip from college days.’
Atreyi raised his face.
‘You’re cheating on me.’
‘Please hear me, baby. It’s true that I loved Pradip very much. But after college, we didn’t see each other. He is Sudip’s father. When I came to know about his identity, I couldn’t restrict me to extend my love towards him.’
Atreyi can’t believe her ears.
‘Please tell, is it a crime…Sudip wasn’t prepared for the truth…that’s why he stopped coming.’
‘Oh mom, please excuse your shameless daughter.’
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