Those three petal-like dots next to zero bothered Maya.
It can’t possibly be anyone else, she thought. At the same time another question haunted her, is she alive then?
“ Now stop imagining things, Maya!” said Shekhar, concerned, as she shared her thoughts with him. “Remember what happened last time? You slipped into depression! Please stop thinking about her. She is no more… No More! Right?”
Maya looked at Shekhar’s eyes as he spoke. His grey irises reminded her of the grim truth.. they reflected fear – of reasons that weren’t trivial.
She fathomed that it wasn’t the right time to continue with the discussion, not at least until there’s some substantial proof.
Wearing a smile, she said, “ Don’t worry, Shekhar, I’m fine. And probably you’re forgetting that you have a flight to catch.. so hurry up now!…”
Indeed Shekhar was getting late for his flight and hence had to buy Maya’s words.
“Promise me that you won’t do anything that would compromise with your health, Maya!” He tried his best, for one last time, to dissuade her attention from the impending trouble that he could foresee.
Shekhar left for his office tour.
Maya settled into her garden chair and unfolded the note once again – an old, wilted ten-rupee note. Its brownish tint said that the note must have been through many hands. The number written at its back seemed bit dated – the figures were slightly blotted.
It was a mobile number no doubt, but whose?
HERS? wondered Maya. But she’s supposed to be …
Maya’s eyes welled up as she remembered her – her appearance, her words, her laughter, her tears, her sudden disappearance … the montage was a painful flashback!
“ Jamuna”, she replied in a soft voice.
“ Ah, Yamuna, must be,” Shekhar tried to correct her. She nodded.
“ Actually in Bengali language they don’t have the usage of the ‘Y’ sound you see, that’s why mostly they use J in place of Y”, Shekhar’s last line was for Maya.
Maya gazed at her intently. The dark complexioned, shy, short, skinny structure standing in front of them was in her mid twenties in all likelihood. The saree she was wearing had a number of patchwork that bore the testimony of her poverty. She was married – the vermilion dot on her forehead, the red line that coloured the parting of her jet black curly hair and her ‘red-white’ bangles said so; the quintessential signs of a Bengali married woman. There was nothing more significant about her, except her dark kohl eyes that perhaps had so many stories to tell.
“ So would you be able to handle all household chores alone?” Maya asked.
Jamuna nodded in affirmation.
Maya added, “ See, we have the part-time helps who come and do their bit. But we were looking for one who can take charge of the overall household… even if I am not around.”
Hearing the last line, Jamuna looked at Maya questioningly; there was fear and nervousness in her look.
Maya smiled. She could figure out Jamuna’s anxiety. She tried to explain, “ I’ll be here but maybe I have to be away for sometime Yamuna, I mean Jamuna,” Maya preferred pronouncing her name the right way.
“ The reason is this, Jamuna,” Maya spoke again, pointing towards her growing belly. “ I’m due soon.”
Realising what Maya said, Jamuna smiled back and said softly, “ Don’t worry madamji, I’ll manage everything.” Probably she wanted to say more but was little hesitant as Shekhar was present there.
It was barely half an hour but Maya already felt quite at ease with Jamuna.
Shekhar and Maya were desperately looking for a twenty-four hour house help. Both of them worked in the corporate sector. The part time helps were there but things seemed difficult when Maya conceived and that’s when they decided to bring in a whole-time help. They tried a few but had a harrowing experience.
One stole cash from Shekhar’s wallet, another watched the idiot box more than finishing her chores on time, a third one ransacked and spoiled Maya’s branded cosmetics and toiletries when she wasn’t around and then there was the other one, who eloped with a driver of their neighbourhood …
Maya and Shekhar had given up hope. Finally, one of their friends recommended Jamuna, who had just come to the city then, in search of work.
Maya’s intuition was right. Jamuna took charge of the house and did her duties efficiently, without leaving any scope for complaints or doubts.
It was Maya’s sixth month running when she decided to go for her maternity leave. However, Maya’s medical condition compelled them to change their plans. Maya was supposed to go to her mother’s place for the delivery but her gynaecologist couldn’t let them take the risk of travelling, even if it was for few hours. Maya’s parents were old and were not fit enough to travel to their daughter’s place instead. There was no one from Shekhar’s side, his parents passed away when he was young.
“ Don’t worry madamji, I’m here with you..” assured Jamuna, once again.
Maya was amused. “ How many children do you have Jamuna?” Maya knew that girls are married off at an early age in the villages, Jamuna won’t be any exception.
Jamuna pursed her lips, looked down and said in a low voice, “ None, madamji!”
“ Ah, so you were married late, right?” Maya asked. Jamuna was with them for nearly three months but they didn’t get much scope to discuss about Jamuna’s personal matters. Maya and Shekhar were satisfied with the required information that her identity card revealed, never asked much beyond that.
“ I was seventeen when I was married off but …”
“But..?” Maya wanted to know her story.
“ But I couldn’t bear any child, madamji .. I went to every temple, consulted astrologers and priests but nothing worked. It was evident that I wasn’t fertile. Barun, my husband, used to beat me up often for this. One day he brought in another woman.” Jamuna sobbed profusely as she narrated her ordeal. “ Who would tolerate her husband enjoying the company of another woman, that too in the same house? I couldn’t, so I ran away and came to the city looking for work and shelter… I thank the almighty who sent me here, otherwise God knows what would’ve happened to me…”
Jamuna was still crying. Maya consoled her and said, “ Jamuna, you’ve tolerated enough, now you’ll lead your life with dignity”. Maya thought for a moment and asked, “ Do you know how to read and write”.
“Yes, in Bengali,” said Jamuna.
Maya nodded, “ Knowing Bengali won’t be enough Jamuna. When you’re in the city, you better learn some English too. At least the numbers, writing your name and address etc.”
Maya started with her classes for Jamuna, who equally proved to be a good student. She did the household work and also studied simultaneously, with sincerity.
“ Look Madamji, the zero looks very boring this way. If three petals are drawn next to it, it looks like a flower, isn’t it?” Maya used to laugh hearing Jamuna’s interpretations. Not only numbers, Maya taught her to speak and write words in English that are frequently used in daily life.
Jamuna was changing, beautifully – from an ugly duckling to a swan! With proper food and ambience, she no more remained that skeletal figure but looked matured and presentable. Maya noted that and felt proud that she could change her life for good, to the extent that was possible for Maya. She had more plans for Jamuna but destiny had something else in store.
Things were going smooth till one night Maya had to be rushed to the hospital.
The water bag had ruptured but owing to some medical complications, it was still not the right time to get the baby out, the doctors said. They were to wait at least for another three-four days. Though Maya’s life was not at risk but the baby didn’t seem to be safe; she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit.
Shekhar used to visit the hospital regularly during the visiting hours, however, he wasn’t allowed to stay with her in the hospital.
By the end of the second day, things looked better and the doctors assured that they would get the baby out through c-sect procedure.
But hours before that, the disaster happened. The umbilical cord entangled the baby’s neck tightly. The doctors tried their best but couldn’t save the baby…
Maya was brought back home, after two months. She needed medical aid and counselling, so Shekhar agreed to keep her in the hospital for sometime, for her proper treatment.
As Maya stepped inside the house, he didn’t know how to break the second bad news that he kept under the carpet all this while.
The first word that a weak, broken Maya uttered was , “ Jamuna!” She called out her name repeatedly, but nobody responded.
Maya looked at Shekhar for an answer. Her heart was beating fast.
Shekhar remained quiet for few seconds and said, “ It happened when you were in the hospital. She got a call from her people to return to her village for some emergency. She had to leave immediately. The next day, when I called up Barun, her husband, to check if she had reached safely, got to know that…”
“That?” asked Maya.
“ Maya, you’re too weak now, can we discuss Jamuna later, please?”
“ No, tell me Shekhar, what did her husband say when you called him?” Maya was adamant.
Shekhar had to give in, “ He said that on her way home she met with an accident and … and she died!”
Maya turned into a stone! Not for a while, but several days… in fact months. It took much time and effort to bring back Maya to life. Shekhar strongly stood by her. Even though his office trips had increased yet he always tried to be with Maya whenever he’s back.
Maya could never be the same as before though – the one always full of life! And in spite of all medications and treatment, she couldn’t be a mother again. She had no other option but to accept her fate.
“ Ma’am, your medicines?” a voice brought back Maya to the present.
She looked up and found her part-time help, Parul, standing in front, with Maya’s medicines. Maya took them; the pills that made her feel more sick day by day, but she had to take them as Shekhar said that the medication would cure her gradually. She knew how much Shekhar loved her. He spent through his nose for her treatment, without being able to save much for themselves of late; but he didn’t care. All he cared about was Maya!
As Parul was about to leave, Maya called her back, “ Parul, do you have any idea who left this ten-rupee note here?”
“ Oh, this one? I kept it on the table ma’am. While cleaning your room, I found it near your cupboard.”
Maya remained thoughtful for sometime. She didn’t take out her wallet in the last twenty-four hours, then if Parul was speaking the truth, the note must have fallen from Shekhar’s wallet. He paid the bills of the laundry and car cleaner that morning, Maya remembered. But why did Shekhar not recognise the note when Maya showed it to him ? Or perhaps, even though the note was in his wallet, he himself mustn’t have noted it, otherwise he would have recognised it immediately. In fact he tried to snatch the note from her and throw it away when she spoke about it. Had he been aware that it fell from his wallet , he wouldn’t have done so, justified Maya.
But whose number was that? wondered Maya. And why would someone write on a note like that, knowing that it won’t be accepted by anyone? Of course, unless the person wanted to keep it safely as a piece of paper and not currency; camouflaged among the other notes.
Maya picked up her phone and decided to dial the number …
After a brief silence, the phone started ringing on the other end. Maya’s heart skipped a beat.
“ Hello..” the rough, trembling voice of an old man was heard.
Maya didn’t know what to say, she expected someone else on the other side. She was about to put down the phone but …
“ Hello!” the voice spoke for the second time.
“ Sorry, wrong number, I actually thought this is Jamuna… err I, mean it’s my friend Yamuna’s number”, Maya apologised and was to disconnect, when the voice on the other end spoke up…
“ Jamuna? Oh, she’s not at home and hash left her phone here. I am her uncle this side. She, along with her son, has gone to receive her husband.”
“ You mean Jamuna is alive, uncle?” Maya screamed with excitement.
“ Jamuna was always alive, what rubbish are you talking about, girl? Which Jamuna are you talking about? ….”
“ Uncle, I’m talking about Jamuna… Barun’s wife, Jamuna..”
“ Don’t you take that name, that Barun fellow had ruined Jamuna’s life… at least she’s happy now!”
“ Oh I’m sorry.. didn’t wish to hurt you.. you said that Jamuna has gone to meet her husband so I thought…”
“ So you thought it’s Barun! Huh! We are happy that Jamuna left him and went to the city for work. There she met her present husband, where she worked. Poor Jamuna, nothing works smoothly for her. This man had a good wife who passed away when she went into labour. The man was inconsolable and all alone that time. You understand the needs of a man in such circumstances. Jamuna stood by him. Then after a couple of months, Jamuna came to our place, told us what all had happened. It was not possible for the man to keep Jamuna in the same house as his parents and relatives wouldn’t approve of their relationship; we are far inferior in rank, you see.
They needed time but Jamuna was expecting then. See, Barun played around with so many women but couldn’t be a father. The fault was in him, our daughter is fertile. Now she is the mother of a bright six-year old. The sad part is the child’s father is not able to stay with him for long. He supports us financially, visits his wife and child every month .. wish they could stay together! He says that very soon everything would get sorted and he would take them along with him … a true gentleman must say, our Shekharji ! .. But how come you know Jamuna, girl?… Hello,… Hello…”
The line on the other side went dead!
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