The Burning Incense

It was a dark, stormy night. Flashes of lightning illuminated the room momentarily which was otherwise pitch dark except for the amber of the burning incense sticks. Seated on the bed placed right in the middle of the room, I felt restless.

It started to pour harder. The sound of the raindrops pounding the tin roof was deafening yet I heard the knocks on the main door. Carefully treading on the watery floor, I walked up to the door. Rainwater might have seeped in from somewhere. I could see through the hazy glass panes a man stood outside holding a lamp. I opened the door.

“The car is up and running but it’s really bad outside. I suggest you spend the night here,” it was Budhen, the caretaker of the dispensary.

“Get me something to eat. I will stay” I said. As I turned, I could hear the door close behind me.

As the permanent doctor of the tea garden, Dr. Das was on leave, I was deputed for a temporary period of two months and it was my first visit. I came in the morning but when I got into my car to return, it wouldn’t start. So, Budhen asked me to wait at the doctor’s bungalow while he got my car repaired. When I reached here, it was already dark and raining. And now the weather was even worse.

Soon Budhen walked in with my dinner- roti and steaming chicken curry. As I gorged on the chicken, he started, “You know Saheb, this tea garden had horrible healthcare. The nearest hospital is about sixty kilometres from here. And no one wants to come here. Das Saheb was the first doctor to be posted here in ten years. Before he came, our people died almost every week but after his arrival, it reduced considerably. He was like an angel for us.”

I was getting annoyed. I didn’t like people blabbering near me when I have food. Moreover, the smell of the incense and the room freshner was getting really intense. I asked him irritated, “Did you take out the scent from my car?”

“Yes Saheb!”

“How dare you? It’s for my car and it’s very costly, you losers can’t afford to buy” I shouted.

“But then Das Saheb would have smelled real bad”

The roti almost stuck on my throat.

“What do you mean?”

“Saheb, he wanted to leave. We couldn’t let him go, we couldn’t go back to dying every week again. We kept him here like a king but we wouldn’t let him out of the room, we trapped him. It was all going good but he committed suicide yesterday. Then we bribed your boss to send us another doctor by granting Das Saheb leave. We couldn’t have reported his death. Or else you wouldn’t have come here.”

A cold drop of sweat went down my spine as he pointed under the bed, “Das Saheb is still lying there on an ice slab.”

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Nilutpal Gohain

Nilutpal Gohain is a bureaucrat with the Government of Assam. He started his literary journey recently after his quest for bread and butter. Many of his short stories and poems have been published in literary journals such as Muse India, Spillwords, Setu, The Hans India etc.
Nilutpal Gohain

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