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Dolphin

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About Mrinal
Dolphin

We listen to the crow cawing. I and Jhunu. There are no other birds, only a crow on the branch of the berry tree. We are sitting over the cornice and gazing at the westward sky. Between the two quickly ascending shoebox high-rises, there’s a handful sky, with some red brush strokes here and there. How long it had been, we last listened to a crow’s cawing with such undivided attention? The crow caws once, follows by a long pause. This silence stirs us from within. I am going to kill someone.

‘But tell me dear, how?’

Jhunu’s voice quivered. Since then, we have not exchanged a single word. Jhunu becomes restless and bloats, ‘Why it’s all so quiet around?’

I too realize that she is right, our locality today is too hushed up. The houses scattered all around seem to doze off. Random sounds seep into the air – of incessant water flowing through the tap, someone pulls down the flush, steel utensils clatter while being washed, a baby wails, a sudden guffaw as speaks through phone. While a couple bicker, the wife lodges a shrill complaint, ‘What happiness you gave me in all these years, tell me?’ The muffled scream of a woman gets drowned as the title song of a television serial floats in.

There’s a curtain which flutters all alone in that room; someone has left it with the ceiling fan on. A bewildered teenager wonders, ‘So, you did not know this, really! Her trivial tone of incredulity sails afar towards the mobile phone tower.

We have been soaking in every modulation of these titbits sounds sincerely for the past few days. Even the smallest clip of noise seemed new, and precious too. Sitting at the terrace, I and Jhunu keep hearing these sounds emanating from unseen people. We felt the houses around us are speaking, not the human beings in them. They carouse, they bicker, they make love, they go to sleep happily after attaining orgasm. But right now, there’s a lull. None of the humans are alive, and their empty houses have turned to skeletons.

The crow caws again. That calms us. We can see the washed-up dress of a baby drying over a wire tied on a terrace before our eyes. They attempt to escape with the breeze, but the clips hold them tightly with the wire. I speak out, just to break the monotony.

‘The baby-suit is still there, they didn’t collect it, do you see?’

Jhunu replies, as if she too wants to hear her voice.

‘Must have been slightly wet, so they left it there to dry and forgot about it.’

‘Many a times they stay all through the night, did you notice?’

‘I did. It’s a bad omen to leave baby’s clothes out in the open all night.’

‘Why?’

Jhunu does not care to explain. We see a branch from the berry tree descends at the other terrace. The evening lands before us holding the branch. The full moon rises over our head, and the terraces turn bright with its silver light. The baby’s suit drenches in the moonlight.

‘Do the bad omens roam around in the midnight, like the shadows?’

‘Who could they be?’

‘Must be the shadows of babies, who have died in the sleep after a few days they are born. They keep playing on the terraces, jump from one cornice to the other, swing on the wires hung from one end of the terrace to the other. Some slip the baby-suit drying on the wires over their shadows.’

‘Did you see them doing all these?’

‘I could not sleep most nights. And so, I keep strolling on the terrace then. I can see the baby-suits floating on their own in the air, they jump from one terrace to another. Sometimes, the baby-suits were exchanged – they were found clipped to the wire, but at a different terrace.’

‘Don’t you feel scared?’

‘No, they are innocents after all – the babies.’

Right at that moment both of us think about our two-and-half years old daughter. It’s late evening and she is still sleeping. All alone. I stand on my feet, imagining the swarms of mosquitoes buzzing around her. I have to wake her up.

Jhunu rises on her feet too, but roams round the terrace as if in a trans. At times she caresses the cornice lovingly, maybe to feel how our house throbs with a human heart. The two rooms well soaked in rain, a slice of kitchen and the discoloured walls stand still like a grief-stricken being.

We want the crow to caw once again.

Like the bearer stands still after conveying the sad news, to let the news sink in, the quiet moment tests the patience, and yet he surrenders to its gravity.

Jhunu clasps the cornice with her hands. The concrete wall becomes fluid and cohesive. Like the water that the drowning man clasps in desperation, so that he could push upward.

‘This house will no more be ours, tell me? It belongs to us, isn’t it?’

Jhunu slams the questions at me, with a punch of disbelief. We built the house with immense care, with the money earned by working overtime. We own its every nook and corner. Everything here is dear to us, the slit of the first sunlight that cast at our bed every morning, the soot that lingers on the fan blades in our room. Aren’t they! This seems like the magic reality, none of it is true.

I do not dither; my head is still. The blood that circulates in my brain has turned into a chunk of ice. Through the transparent ice there are capillaries that branch out like the roots of a dead plant. I start muttering what I have already muttered thousand times lately. Amount outstanding in the bank, principal, interest, dividend, EMI. The loan amount hits the ceiling, it’s overdue for ninety days. Jobless for over five months, an innocent message in my phone – ‘YOUR SERVICE IS NO LONGER REQUIRED’ pinged as innocently as a ‘hi!’. No explanation followed, nor any empathic vibe for losing a job I was doing for so many years with utmost sincerity. The message instead keeps blinking all the time. I was opening it once and again, again and again! A frantic call, to which the HR replied crisply, mentioning the losses incurred by the company, followed by a polite admission – ‘We are helpless.’ I could see his tribulation too, as he dutifully repeated the same words to several other colleagues. The EMI bounced three times in my salary account when the bank issued the two-month notice. And that period is fast moving towards the lapse. Only saleable asset left for me, is this house, and I have to be there bowing my head, when this house stands for the auction.

We can now pick the invisible sound of pilaster loosening from the ceiling. Maybe it’s dream. Like the house beside the river that I left, where the ebbs and tides dictated our lives. Even in dreams we could know the lump of soil from the riverside, that dropped into the water. The hungry Meghna would devour our hut before the morning. It would crumble down and sunk deep in the unfathomable river. Baba was the there at riverbank with a lantern beside him – he concentrated only on the level of water rise. It was drizzling, my mother held a rickety umbrella over me, with holes here and there. I am sleeping soundly on my mother’s lap. The glass around the lantern adhered the water drops. At the daybreak Baba would leave the place for ever bundling all belongings, with his wife and children. Till then he let his loincloth  soak in all the memories of his birthplace in that quietness of night.

Jhunu jerks and gets up night after night, once our ears catch the invisible sound of pilaster dropping on the floor. She leaves the room, climbs the stairs, stay at the terrace to watch the shadow-babies playing.

‘The house will also be dead.’

Jhunu stops her strolling and sits down.

‘It will turn to another shadow.’

‘And the shadow of this house will pass stealthily through the gate when we fell asleep; it will move towards the main road.’

‘At least, tell me, where will we go from here?’

Its echo thrashes on my ears. Right under the scorching sun, as the feet traversed several kilometres, these very words thrashed onto us like a deluge – Where will we go from here?

Whenever I walk down aimlessly through roads and bye-lanes I can see that sparrow, whose nest is crushed again and again by the great ocean. He builds it diligently each time, and then he gives up. He decides to dry up the entire sea. With his little beaks he collects a drop of water and spits it away somewhere, and then comes again to collect another drop to spit it away. This has been going on and on. And the big ocean laughs ridiculing the temerity of the tiny bird.

I collapse on the staircase of the flyover in exhaustion, hunger and thirst. The old beggar goes from one pedestrian to other asking for alms. He puts in the coins and currency notes into the bag hanging from his shoulder. I look at him it with my hungry eyes, becoming green with a surmounting jealousy. Jhunu could not go to our neighbour to ask even for half a bowl of milk to feed our daughter. Shame, and nothing but an exceeding shame lingers every inch of her body. I am still wearing a corporate shirt tucked in my trouser with an expensive wristwatch tied on my head – it’s the Employee of the Year award. The old beggar walks towards me and stands extending his open fists.

There’s the kamini tree that Jhunu planted with her own hand beside the gate. It has bloomed to the brim this season. Everywhere around its heady smell wafts in. Whenever kamini blooms so much, it indicates catastrophe – that’s how Jhunu had warned me during many a stormy night.

‘The frock you see there on that terrace, has been hanging there for over a month, no one comes and picks it up.’

‘I know, the baby passed away while ailing from a disease.’

‘There must have been many babies who die like that, isn’t it?

‘Die how, you mean?’

Jhunu stiffens herself, becomes firm. The inevitable question once again stands before us:

How?

Jhunu releases her breath, which she held so long.

‘If you can kill her while she is asleep, before she wakes up – will she suffer much pain then? You can suffocate her pressing a pillow over her mouth, or the way you feel right, may be, she would feel some pain, after all she is still young, but the good thing is, she would never know when her life had ended.’

I start descending the stairs with some momentum of impulse, but stopped after a few steps. My feet suddenly become too heavy to move. Jhunu calls me at my back, ‘Stop for a while.’ Jhunu buys time. So much the Time could allot for her, to know that her baby is alive.

‘Tell me, when you are done with, I will then move into the other room. But, will you be able to put the knot on the scarf with the ceiling fan? This is after all, our first attempt. Will you put the knot on me, no I can handle it myself.”

I strive downward. The unfathomable dark stairs descend step by step into the vast nothing.

‘Listen!’

Once again, I become still. Oh, life, how I wish this stillness embraces my feet for an infinite time!

‘But you? How will you…’

‘I know a way.’

A dry smile of mine stares at her. She feels assured. Who knows what thoughts cross her mind now. Maybe, she apprehends about some errors, the horrible possibility that one of us may stay alive owing to some carelessness. I remain standing. Waiting patiently for a signal for Jhunu to proceed. Like an endless waiting. And somewhere far away from my mortal body and mind, a shadow of a mind yearns for listening to Jhunu’s stern order, ‘Your service is no longer required.’ Let something blip like a red light as an alarm!

‘She has been asking for a dolphin for the last two days, you know. Papa will bring it for you, I assured her. Ever since she was born, she never felt any dire situation. So she keeps asking for one thing or the other, but lately she never gets what she wants. She wonders why, she then keeps persisting, and then she wails, and then she draws a blank.

Jhunu pauses, her breathing paced up, and she continues:

‘You don’t worry, like those shadow babies, our daughter too will play around that terrace, will sing rhymes to amuse herself. And we will listen how she chatters those half-learned rhymes; you will run towards her and pick her up in your arms.’

‘Dolphin?’

‘A soft toy.’

I have no heart to inform Jhunu, that I have been searching a dolphin every day. I roamed in the streets under the scorching heat, visited quite a many shops and markets, made endless enquiries. No body could hint a place where I might get the dolphin. No one actually listens to what the other person is saying, all the passers-by and shop-owners remain too unmindful to comprehend me. No one worries a least about a soft toy. I continued walking and reached the highway, where I saw the procession of men, women and children. All of them have been walking hundreds of miles carrying bags on their shoulders, bundles over their head. Some children have fallen asleep while sitting over the shoulders of their parents – their limp feet oscillate in the air, and their heads get tilted at one side.

‘Where from you all are coming, guys, where will you all go?’

We are returning to our villages, they reply, after crossing miles and miles of distance. My eyes burn in the scorching heat. You can’t believe Jhunu, their feet are all of elephants! How resilient those fleshy feet are! They can cross thousands of miles of civilizations with an incredible ease! They ask me to accompany them. But how could I admit to them that my weak limping feet are not made to traverse that impossible journey! And thus, even such a little demand of our daughter remains unfulfilled.

The roots that bind my feet tear away. My chains of affection clank open around my feet. They desperately descend the steps. There, in the room at the ground floor, our two-and-half-years old daughter is sleeping peacefully on the cozy bed. She is too sure that her parents will protect her from all odds.

Jhunu stops at the doorway like an idol made of shadow. All her restlessness has abated now. She appears quite composed. In a slow but determined and clear voice she utters her last instruction to me:

‘Be very careful, so that she does not go through too much pain.’

***

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