Biren put the shopping bag on the kitchen table.
“Aroti, here’s some chicken. Babu loves chicken curry and it’s been long that we’ve had it.”
“I could’ve cooked soybeans instead, it’s the fag end of the month!” Aroti replied.
“Babu hasn’t eaten properly since the results of the railway board’s exams were published last week. This might make him feel better.”
Biren replied as he walked away.
Aroti knew Biren’ll postpone buying his medicines to compensate for this unplanned expense. All his life, he’s sacrificed everything to nurture his family; treated his ailing parents, educated and married off his siblings and children; All with his meagre income as a peon in a government office.
And now, at the verge of retirement, he’s left with nothing. He doesn’t own a house, loans taken during the daughters’ weddings are yet to be cleared, and having survived three heart attacks, his health is deteriorating. After his retirement, which is due next month, Biren’s pension would barely fulfil their basic needs. They’ll also have to vacate this Government accommodation and live on rent. A scary future awaited them.
As children, Babu and his sisters would wait eagerly for the Sundays, when she’d cook chicken for lunch. In the last few years, she’s helplessly witnessed the transformation of her cheerful son into a perennially depressed youth. He’s been trying desperately for a job since long. But despite his sincere efforts, he hasn’t been successful. He’ll be past the age ceiling for applying for state jobs soon and is tremendously stressed. The boy who would light up the family functions has turned into someone who’d hardly smile. The mother in Aroti died a thousand deaths every time she looked at her despairing son.
By the time dinner was ready, Biren received a message from Babu that he won’t come home that night.
They ate in silence and went to bed. While Biren dozed off immediately, sleep eluded Aroti.
She looked at Biren. The withered face bore testimony to an era of struggle. Yet while asleep, it looked so content, oblivious of the uncertain future. Slowly, she too drifted into sleep.
Suddenly she woke up to a sharp cry.
Turning around swiftly, she found Biren sitting on the bed, clutching his chest, his face red from severe pain. Aroti realised instantly that it was the dreaded attack. Panicking and shivering, she grabbed her phone and franatically dialled the doctor’s number.
The phone had connected, when, Aroti abruptly disconnected it.
Vague memory of a gloomy evening, past long ago, flashed before her.
That day, Biren had casually told her about the “compensatory appointment policy” of his office. If an employee dies while in service, the job could be offered to his child.
Biren’s medicines, Babu’s distress, mounting debts and impending homelessness; A thousand insecurities surrounded her.
The meek woman, who’d falter in calculations even while purchasing vegetables, knew she’d have to make the decisive calculation now.
It was a dark, stormy night.
Another storm roared inside Aroti!
With folded hands, a trembling Aroti sat beside Biren as he pleaded for help. His voice faded gradually till one fine moment, it was gone.
His dead eyes, still wide open,stared at Aroti, as if in disbelief!
The eyes that loved her, will now haunt her forever!
Aroti sat motionless as tears cascaded down her wrinkled face.
Tears gave way to sobs, and sobs to piercing wails.
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