Bibhas was returning back after cremating his only son, walking away from the cremation grounds nestled in front of a peaceful view of the river Hooghly, with mourners all around him, some weeping inconsolably, some silently looking around, trying to hide their emotions, some of them neither crying nor looking around, as stiff as a stone, not knowing what the eyes were seeing, not feeling what the heart was beckoning, not allowing their mind to wander in their own thoughts. Bibhas was almost in the third category, not entirely because he was walking away from the cremation grounds that was flooded with innumerable shades of morosed emotions, and he did not want to feel anything for a while. He lost his wife, Debarati a few years ago and he was upset as she took away their son instead of him today.
No one accompanied him to his son’s final journey, as he was a lonely man, with no friends, and now no one to call upon as his own blood in this world. He had stopped socializing after Debarati’s sudden departure, Bitan busy with his office and Bibhas on the verge of retirement, spending the unlimited leisure after retirement by reading and re-reading novels, watching documentaries, trying to write down a word or two in verse, and before his wife’s death, his favourite leisure used to be: sitting on the balcony after dinner with his wife, talking about their lives, their achievements, failures, their son, his future, while Bitan slept peacefully in his room after a hard working day at his office. Bibhas was originally from Hooghly district itself, he bagged a job in the Indian Railways. He was married to Debarati within a year after his job, she was a distant relative of his father’s colleague living in Bardhaman. Debarati was a simpleton yet a beautiful woman, with big eyes twinkling with liveliness all the time even when she was on her deathbed, her smile was probably the most prettiest smile Bibhas had ever seen. She had long dark, wavy hair which extended beyond her slender waist, tied to a loose braid most of the time. She spent winter afternoons drying her hair in the winter sun on their terrace, her hair open, detangled neatly, slowly fluttering with the wintry breeze while Debarati had a shawl across her shoulders, wearing a comfortable cotton saree neatly plaited, engrossed in a novel, sitting cross legged on a mudda. Bitan had inherited all her looks, he seemed to be a reflection of his own mother, and Bibhas always seemed to find Debarati’s presence around him whenever Bitan was near him. Ever since he was married, his life revolved only around their little home in Hindmotor, his parents, his wife. A few years later, Bitan arrived in the world and his family was complete. Life became beautiful for Bibhas but not for long, his parents succumbed to old age diseases even before Bitan turned three years old. Yet life moved on between happiness, joys, pleasures, sadness, hurdles and challenges, but it was worth living everyday, with Debarati and Bitan by his side. A simple yet a satisfying lifestyle, with no one to intervene in their day to day lives. Bibhas’ neighborhood was a rather empty one at an extreme corner in a lane, with a pond, a large banyan tree with a tiny temple beside it keeping them company. A plantation nursery separated their house from the other houses, and Bibhas never maintained a close relationship with any of them, a mere greeting out of courtesy just kept people around him in touch. But ever since Debarati passed away, he lost hope from everything, he became grumpier and the only person he used to talk to was Bitan, and now Bitan was also very far away from him to an unknown place altogether. He never allowed anyone to know what went on inside his heart or what he was thinking about all the time, except Debarati. The time at night after dinner was his favourite, when Bitan would head to his room to sleep, and he would sit on the balcony with his wife, talking about almost anything random that would cross their minds. He believed his thoughts were secure in his mind and with Debarati, who would never grudge nor complain about anything Bibhas would randomly speak without thinking, she would reason with him and he always felt a different level of comfort whenever he was with her at that time of their entire day. Two old yet comfortable wooden chairs in a small balcony attached to their room, the balcony overlooking the pond, and the two of them, watching the streetlights play with the still pond water while the night sky was the quiet witness to everything that was going on around them. A dog lazying at a comfortable corner in the entrance of the nursery, nestling itself to sleep beneath the stars, or a random cat pacing along the periphery of the pond, gracefully, searching for rodents to fill it’s tummy. Now everything seemed empty, Bibhas continued his ritualistic nocturnal conversations, but without Debarati, in silence, his own thoughts in a turmoil, reasoning with himself, not knowing whether he was correct or not, hoping if he could suddenly see Debarati standing there in front of him, changing herself into a night gown for the night, holding the balustrade while sitting on her chair and getting up, quietly listening to his words, speaking out her mind, slowly, sometimes getting excited over anything happy she would discuss about, he never felt emptier after her death. He kept wishing if he could see her spirit around, and Bitan would sleep in his room, soundly, not knowing what his father was missing so deeply, not caring about anything after his mother left him. He could not be blamed, he used to be tired after his office, and sleep was his companion for the night, his work being a distraction from the loss he had at that young age in his life, just like Bibhas’ companions were his thoughts and Debarati. But now it was only his thoughts, even Bitan left him alone, to his own. Thoughts, memories, dreams, wishes could never fill the voids left behind by his wife and now his son.
The sound of the final journey chants broke his absent mindedness, Bibhas looked up at another corpse arriving at the crematorium for final rites. Most of them had a morosed look on their faces, two of them wiping tears from their eyes. Bibhas tried to peep inside the hearse van to see who were they mourning for, it was an old man, lying there covered in a white cloth, lifeless, with his body decorated with flowers and eyes sealed with basil leaves, sandalwood paste applied on his forehead, along his eyebrows. His mind diverted immediately to Bitan’s shroud, which he had seen a few hours ago. It was the most devastating thing he had ever seen in his entire life. His own beloved son, an uncanny replica of the woman he loved the most in the world, covered entirely in a white cloth, with a single garland placed carelessly on his chest above the cloth, and no chanting of the final journey words, just silence and the sound of the hearse van’s motor all along the way. The driver was his only companion, who was quiet all along. Bitan died in a road accident near Dumdum, and the local police station had informed him an hour later after finding out his phone number inside a paper folded neatly in Bitan’s pocket. His phone was broken into pieces on the accident site itself, and Bitan’s face was unrecognisable. It was a head on collision with a heavy truck coming from the expressway, and Bitan was dead at the spot itself. Bibhas wondered why did he pen down his phone number in a paper when Bitan had an expensive smartphone, maybe Bitan feared that he might meet with an inevitable end soon, so if his father was away, he might know about anything tragic happening through him by this phone number. Bibhas did not disclose his suspicion to the police, he quietly proceeded with the formalities and the body was handed over to him for cremation on late evening, the time when Bitan was born, twenty seven years ago on a February evening. The only thing he could manage was a garland, and he did not have the courage to place the garland on his son’s neck, he left it carelessly on his chest, avoiding to look at the shroud, covered from head to toe, with his feet peeping out, soft, just like his mother’s. It was the most painful day in Bibhas’ life, Debarati’s death did not hurt him this much, he was prepared for Debarati as she had succumbed to cancer, he always believed Debarati would be beside him, and would never leave him alone, and after Bitan would get married, she would call him to her place, leaving Bitan alone with his family, somewhere in the heavens, he would join Debarati again, and this time nothing could separate them. But Debarati wanted Bitan, not him. She wanted him to spend some more time alone in the world, feeling her absence, their son’s absence, pricking him like a sharp thorn everytime in his heart, and the fresh wound of loss was a burden that seemed impossible for him to carry along.
“O Dada, move aside!” A mourner called out as the hearse van passed beside him, Bibhas moved to a safer distance, pacing ahead now without looking back. He was distracted by his thoughts, by his surroundings, a cacophony of tears, condolences, chants of the final journey or holy incantations, random people talking amongst themselves and a radio playing out loud at a nearby tea stall where some of the mourners were sitting quietly on the benches while some sipping on a hot cup of tea.
Bibhas noticed a rickshaw standing in front of the stall, the rickshawala, a lean man, sipping tea from a terracotta cup. The rickshawala was tapping his feet with every sip to the song on the radio. He was enjoying his tea with the song, and the cool river breeze that was calming the grief that was there all around them. The rickshawala suddenly noticed Bibhas walking towards him, slowly, with a grumpy face. He guessed that he was probably returning after a cremation of a loved one, justifying his grumpy face and slow movement. Bibhas did not seem like an octogenarian or someone with an ailment, he was totally absorbed in his own thoughts, sometimes consuming his mind altogether, sometimes distracting him to other memories which seemed painful to him now. The rickshawala sipped his tea hurriedly and disposed the tea cup into the dustbin nearby without looking at his perfect throw.
Bibhas slowly held onto the seat of the rickshaw, panting for breath noiselessly, speaking in a low voice, “Will you take me to my destination?”
The rickshawala beckoned Bibhas to sit on his rickshaw, as he got ready to leave.
Within minutes, the rickshaw was in the middle of the main road towards Bibhas’ home, they had left behind the cremation grounds far now. It was almost late evening, the office hour rush had loosened up to a great extent, so they were not stuck at signals or sudden snarls due to carelessness of the drivers. Bibhas was looking quietly at the rickshawala, paddling along, with a low screech like sound coming out from the rickshaw wheels, even last night around this time, Bitan had returned home from office, thought Bibhas. Bitan returned around eight to nine in the evening, sometimes bringing fritters from roadside stalls with him, after his mother passed away. He and his father gorged on puffed rice and fritters as Bitan watched random web series on the laptop in his room while Bibhas quietly sat outside on the balcony, overhearing the actors of web series swearing or speaking about objectionable, explicit things in English. He would now never again hear those words, walk back to the kitchen after finishing his puffed rice and fritters to see Bitan’s dishes washed and kept alongside. Bitan always maintained a fair distance away from him after his mother’s departure and that broke Bibhas even more. He thought of various ideas to get closer to his son, sometimes attempting to cook his favourite meals, to which Bitan would declare while eating, “It’s not like maa. Don’t feed me these. I prefer remembering the taste of how maa made these for me.” Bitan loved Debarati more than him. Both the mother and son had a striking similarity in their facial appearance, their walking posture and the manner of talking. Bitan was close to his father until his mother was diagnosed with cancer, after that devastating news, Bitan kept to himself, he was already working at that time and he spent most of the time engrossed in his work life, giving lesser and lesser time to his father. The only time he spent with his father was at dinner, and while leaving for office. Bitan used to carry a heavy bag on his shoulders, he had a helmet with him but he never wore it, avoiding the traffic police by taking detours or paying heavy fines when caught without any grudge, to which Bibhas highly objected, and Bitan turned a deaf ear, repeating the same thing everyday, and riding the bike he had bought a few months before Debarati passed away. Bibhas remembered every day of Bitan’s life, when he left for office, Bitan paced out of his room, adjusting his wrist watch, with the bag on his shoulders. The smell of his cologne filling up the entire house. He stood by the entrance, taking out his shoes from the shoe rack, swiftly polishing them clean and wearing them even before one could blink an eyelid. He would raise his hand and say loudly, “I will return, Baba.”
Bibhas would call out, “Return”, saying I am going was considered an ill omen in Bibhas’ family, so he avoided and encouraged Debarati and Bitan to avoid saying, I am going and rather replacing it with I will return. This morning, while leaving for work, Bitan tripped over a pebble on the road, letting out a loud grunt. Bibhas heard the grunt, thinking his son might have injured himself. He rushed towards the balcony to see what had happened, he noticed Bitan pacing towards his motorbike, walking just like his mother, straight, confidently, with his head held high. Bibhas called out, “Anything wrong?”
Bitan turned around, “I tripped, nothing else” and waved at his father, for the last time. Bibhas clicked his tongue on recalling the memory, wondering that calling back someone while they were leaving was considered bad luck, maybe that is why Bitan left him.
“Anything wrong, mesho?” The rickshawala distracted Bibhas from his thoughts again.
“What? No. No. Nothing…” Bibhas spoke in a low tone, looking away from the rickshawala.
“If you don’t mind me at all, mesho, whose cremation were you attending? I don’t guess anyone would randomly decide to visit a crematorium” the rickshawala slowly asked, trying to strike a conversation between Bibhas and himself.
“My only son” Bibhas replied.
The rickshawala was stupefied. He was out of words to express how sorry he was for his loss, and ashamed of himself to raise such a question to an old man.
“I am sorry….” He stammered.
“There’s nothing to be sorry.” Bibhas replied, “My stop is here” Bibhas asked the rickshawala to stop beside the plantation nursery near their home. After paying the fare, Bibhas slowly proceeded towards his home, he could hear the random background music of a bengali serial from a nearby house, and a kid practicing his sargam on a harmonium in another household, echoing around the area. He sighed, everyone had their families with them, and his only family now was he, himself, returning home after burning his only son. At the entrance of their house, the dog that slept near the plantation nursery looked at him with eyes bursting with sympathy. It stood at the place where Bitan parked his bike, Bibhas walked slowly to that place, he felt that he could still smell Bitan’s strong cologne, as if he had just left for office. He looked at the tiny area in front of his house, a small pathway leading to their door, with grass on both sides, with a tiny tagar flower tree to his left, beneath which Debarati’s corpse was placed when she was to be taken away for cremation. He remembered that day vividly, a monsoon evening, it was humid. Bitan stood quietly, looking at his mother, decorated beautifully with flowers, and Bibhas sat at the entrance door, hiding his face with his palms, not knowing whether to cry or not. A few of their neighbours with whom Debarati had a good relation were there, clicking their tongues, saying how good she was. A hearse van waiting outside their door, Bitan saying, “Baba, it’s time.” Bitan and Bibhas and three other neighbours carried the corpse into the hearse van, and Bitan sat beside his mother’s corpse, holding onto the glass door separating them, looking at Debarati all along the road. Bibhas sat inside the van, just like he had done today, as the driver started the engine, slowly accelerating out of their lane. Bibhas remembered that day vividly, he felt like that day repeated itself again, this time it was his son, and that he did not bring him back to their home for one last time. Neighbours were oblivious of everything that had happened, all busy in their day to day lives. Bibhas opened the door, the house was under a shadow of inky darkness. He could feel Debarati and Bitan walking around the house, like nothing had happened. He could feel their presence, he could somehow hear their echoed voices, laughter, Debarati calling out to him for tea, all the voices ringing in his mind. Bibhas stood there, engulfing the darkness of his house for a while, hallucinating his wife and his son’s voices. He tried to reach for the switchboard, his fingers fidgeting to search for it. He switched on the lights and looked around him, the house was empty, the smell of Bitan’s cologne still tingling around. The kitchen plunged in darkness. His reflection on the television facing him from their drawing room. The staircase leading up to his and Debarati’s room and the altar. Bibhas took off his shoes and closed the door.
Bibhas looked at Bitan’s room, it was covered with a blanket of darkness. It felt like Bitan would immediately walk out of his room, with the web series going on in his laptop, holding the empty bowl and a cup after finishing the fritters and the puffed rice with fritters and tea, or Bitan waking up, yawning and making his way towards the bathroom, dragging his feet slowly, or calling his mother, “Maaaaaa! Where did you keep my purple shirt? The one with stripes which you bought for me from Raymond’s?” Bibhas sighed, he did not remember the last time he heard this conversation and now he would never again see his son coming out from that room, alive, lively.
Something happened within Bibhas’ heart. He slowly gathered the strength to walk into his dead son’s room. The smell of his cologne was still diffused around his room. The streetlights lightening up the table placed in front of the window in Bitan’s room. He could see Bitan’s second laptop, which he mostly used at home, placed on the table with a pen beside it, over a tiny notepad. A beautiful penstand which he had gifted Bitan when he aced his board exams with flying colours. It was still looking new, just like the first time he set his eyes upon it on a stationary shop nearby, a flat bottom, with a helical shaped penstand with a message imprinted on a matte black base- BE UNSTOPPABLE. Bibhas was ecstatic at that time, his son scoring brilliantly in his examinations, amongst the top twelve students in his school, giving birth to the hope for a bright future awaiting ahead of him, and the need of that hour was to be unstoppable in order to pursue the bright future waiting ahead, Bibhas believed it was the perfect message for his son that would inspire him to work harder for his dreams, little did he know that a decade later, his son would succumb, leaving all his dreams unfulfilled and shattered.
Bibhas again reached for the switchboard in Bitan’s room, switching on the lights over his bed. His bed was always neatly made, the bedsheets spread with pillows fluffed and kept properly oriented beside the kolbalish. Debarati was also keen on maintaining a neat bed, Bibhas knew Bitan had inherited this trait from her too, and today was the last time in Bitan’s life that he neatly made his bed, and never returned home alive to sleep soundly after a tired day, he was now somewhere else, in a deeper sleep, somewhere far from his eyesight or beliefs. A blanket kept opposite to the pillow for cold mornings, Bitan never slept without the air conditioning after he joined office. According to Debarati, Bitan became much fair after he spent more than twenty hours a day under air conditioning, in his office and in his room at home.
A bookshelf was placed beside Bitan’s bed, opposite to the window and his table. Bitan loved reading books, his favourite was Agatha Christie, and he read almost every book written by her based on the detective Hercule Poirot. Bitan’s dream was to visit 221B Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes’ residence, he always expressed this desire to Debarati whenever he used to watch a television series with the same name on his laptop. Bitan’s dream faded away with his untimely demise, Bibhas wondered. Bengali novels were arranged on the topmost shelf, with books written by eminent Bengali authors, some books belonging to Debarati, she frequently gifted books of her favourite author, Ashapurna Devi to Bitan, asking him to read them too. Bitan had beautifully arranged the books, the top shelf with Bengali novels, the shelf below it with English novels, the bottom most shelves with his study books from school and college, and a few medals and trophies for interschool debate competitions, elocution, singing and chess. He had always been a bright student, it was cruel of destiny to have snatched away such a brilliant person from the society, a person who had a promising future, meeting with an unexpected end, with all expectations, dreams, wishes smashed and crumbled.
Bibhas looked out from the window of Bitan’s room, the plantation nursery was clearly visible from his window, fireflies were now thronging all over the flowering plants in the nursery, with a cricket’s sound echoing all over. An owl hooting somewhere nearby, reaching his ears in a more intensified manner than the cricket’s sound. The fireflies were delivering him a brilliant view, it seemed like the sky had descended down below at the nursery, showing him the view of the place where Bitan and his wife were comfortably nestled now, closer to him, watching him from the window. Bibhas stood there, quietly looking at the view, thinking about Bitan. The first time he had seen Bitan in the nursing home at Uttarpara, a tiny pink doll like creature, with eyes just like Debarati, and tiny hands, he still remembered the joy of becoming a father. Debarati was sleeping while he was quietly looking at Bitan, astounded, he was the father of a little boy! Bitan nestled close to his mother’s chest, his mother sleeping peacefully, her hair tied to a loose braid, falling across her shoulders till her waist. Bibhas sat close to them, his son holding his finger with his entire palm, looking at him quietly. Time flew faster than he believed, he remembered the first time he had taken Bitan to school, he was crying inconsolably, begging Bibhas to take him back home to his mother. Debarati had strictly informed Bibhas not to become sentimental over their son’s tears, and leave him at school. He recalled Bitan’s class teacher, Srinandini Bhattacharya, a young lady, who held Bitan’s hands and took him to his classroom, while Bitan looked back at him, crying and calling him again and again, while all Bibhas could do was wave him with a smile, as per Debarati’s strict instructions. A week or so continued like that until Bitan did not look back at him after reaching school, rather ran towards his classroom, with Srinandini madam calling out to him, “Bitan, don’t run!” Bibhas had informed Debarati about it and Debarati burst out into the most jolly laughter he had ever seen in his entire life. He could still hear the echoes of that laughter, clearly in his mind. Debarati taught me to not become sentimental over my son’s tears on his first day at school, but why did she not teach me how to control my emotions on seeing his body in the funeral pyre? Bibhas thought to himself.
Bibhas walked over to Bitan’s table, looking at his penstand, two to three pens, an elegant looking mechanical pencil, and a paintbrush. Bitan loved painting, as a child every Sunday Bitan used to go to his drawing classes, with his drawing board, oil pastels, pencil box and drawing copy arranged inside a fancy looking polythene bag from a random retail store in Uttarpara or Kolkata, he returned within ten in the morning from his drawing classes, rushing towards his parents with his task of the day, “Baba, Maa, see I painted a village scenery today! Baba, Maa, see I painted a flower vase today! Baba, Maa, see I painted a cat today…” Debarati would praise his paintings and kiss him on his forehead while Bibhas would stroke his head lightly, praising his painting skills. Bitan was not very good at painting, but he kept trying to draw and sketch his imaginations onto the white paper. Bitan was rather good at singing, he attended singing classes at a nearby singing and recitation school on Tuesday evenings. Debarati used to take him there, he practiced his sargam in the wee hours of the morning, on the harmonium, which belonged to Debarati, presently having a photo of Goddess Saraswati over it in their altar. Bibhas taught Bitan how to play chess in his childhood days, Bitan loved the game so much that every Saturday evening, it was mandatory for Bibhas to set out their fancy chess set onto the table in their drawing room while father and son played chess over puffed rice and fritters while Debarati would sit on the couch, reading a book or occasionally trying to observe their game. Bitan won a chess tournament in his school life, and his teachers were eager to take him along to other chess tournaments in different cities across the country, but Bibhas refused. He believed it would hamper his studies and Bitan also gave in to his father’s decision without any complaint, Bibhas remembers the evening when Bitan told him that he respected his decision, Bitan was in his eighth standard at that time, a strict watch and utmost care by his parents helped Bitan pass through the fickle adolescent stage with no obstacles, and he was always grateful. Their chess sessions continued until Bitan’s physics tuition in class eleven was scheduled during Saturday evenings, and the chess set remained locked in their cupboard, relishing the memories in silence, the pawns, rooks, bishops, knights, queens, kings moving across the board, checkmates, tricky moves, laughter over an easy checkmate, mind divulging reasons over a single move for minutes, the chessboard sealed within itself the fondest memories, the sharpening of Bitan’s mind in the game, and Bibhas’ moves, all of it now closed, covered in dust, lying in the cupboard, with no one to ever open it or play with it like the good old days.
Bibhas was now feeling uncomfortable inside his son’s bedroom, less than five hours ago he had just cremated Bitan, and now he was in his room, looking around, trying to decipher something from his son’s belongings that would provide him relief from this newly attained everlasting pain. He looked at the wall clock in Bitan’s room, it was five minutes to ten. It was that time of the night when he used to finish dinner and sit with Debarati on the balcony, while Bitan would go back to his room and close the door, sleeping peacefully. Bitan will now never again sleep in this room alive and peacefully, thought Bibhas. He wanted to go to the balcony and sit there until he could find some other thought that would calm his turbulent mind for a while.
The balcony was on the second floor, just attached to their bedroom, which was to the left of altar which greeted anyone climbing up the stairs to the second floor. The second floor was also dark, he again fumbled for the lights, the tiny LED bulb lightened the stairway but with a sad glow today, probably it was also mourning for the loss of the two most lively members in the family. Bibhas was always grumpy, who felt better in the company of his wife and his son. Their absence would intensify his grumpy attitude much more, and things won’t remain the same anymore. He switched on the lights inside his room, pacing inside, sighing deeply with every step he took. Their king size storage bed greeting him, with the pillows neatly arranged, with the folded bedcover on top of them. The almirah, covered with a fancy almirah cover which Debarati had purchased from a ferrywalaah years ago who came to their lane every Thursday. The cover had beautiful roses of different colours imprinted on it, and changed the appearance of their boring looking almirah altogether. The almirah had three different doors, one for each of the members. Bibhas’ door was at the extreme corner, followed by Debarati’s and then Bitan’s. Debarati’s door remained locked forever after her death, and Bibhas never opened it thereafter, now he felt the same insecurity seeing his son’s door, a fancy keychain hanging from the lock. Bitan had bought it from the local fair which was organised on the occasion of Rashmela at their nearby Radha Krishna temple. It was a bike, with the alphabet B written on it. Debarati’s key was kept away at the altar, and Bibhas’ key had nothing fancy, it was just a simple key. Bibhas looked at the almirah quietly. He went over to his bed, feeling dizzy. The entire day, the incidents were taking a toll on his health, he sat down, gasping for breath. He switched on the fan, which rotated over his head noisily, like a bee’s amplified buzzing. The lights remained switched on, and Bibhas lied down on the bed, without changing his clothes, looking at the fan rotating.
“Bibhas?” A sweet voice called out all of a sudden.
Bibhas opened his eyes, it was Debarati standing in front of him, he could not believe his eyes for a moment. The room was dark, probably a powercut, the moonlight falling on the bed from the door of the balcony which was wide open, Debarati’s face mildly visible as the moonlight fell on her beautiful face, her hair was tied to a loose braid as usual, her eyes twinkling with excitement like the first time he had seen her in their marriage ceremony, her beautiful smile, adding much more radiance to her face, wearing a beautiful saree, he could not see the other side of her face which was hid with the shadow of the dark room. She stood there in front of him, it was all just like a dream.
“Is this a dream? Is it you, Debarati?”
All he could see was Debarati standing in front of him, she was beckoning him somewhere, he could notice the movement of her fingers, indicating something to him. Bibhas stood up, pale, awestruck, quivering with fear on seeing Debarati. He kept wondering if this was all a dream, he was probably fast asleep, dreaming and hallucinating his wife to provide him some mental comfort in this turbulent day. Debarati stood at the door and turned around, beckoning Bibhas to follow her quickly. Bibhas quickly paced towards her and she proceeded, maintaining a fair distance from Bibhas, who tried to hold her hands but she was far from his reach, yet close enough that he could admire Debarati’s braid oscillating with every step she took. She was descending down the stairs, Bibhas following her, repeatedly calling- Debarati, you returned? Is it really you? Tell me! Is this a dream? Deba?
Debarati turned around, putting a finger on her lips, beckoning Bibhas to keep quiet. Bibhas extended his hand towards her shoulder and she quickly paced down, it was dark downstairs. Yet he could feel a gust of wind blowing from the window, and a dim light all around the house, which enabled him to see his wife, in front of him. He could not decipher her face clearly, it felt like some midnight, when he used to wake up from his sleep all of a sudden, and watch Debarati sleep beside her peacefully, on a full moon night, the moonlight would fall on the bed from the window in their room and he could see a part of Debarati’s beautiful face, her eyes closed, sleeping like a carefree innocent child, a strand of hair falling on her right cheek.
Bibhas asked, “Deba, where are you taking me?”
He noticed Debarati entering Bitan’s room, Bibhas was now thinking about her, seeing her after a long time, her awkward silence, her walking away from him, he forgot that his son had passed away that very day, and he had been feeling uncomfortable stepping inside that very room a few minutes ago. He followed her without thinking anything, in the darkness without fumbling for the lights or anything, just repeatedly calling out to her, “Deba…Debarati…Deba listen to me”
He entered Bitan’s room, he called out, “Why did you bring me here, Deba? What happened why aren’t you talking to me?” Debarati stood by the table, looking at the plantation nursery, the fireflies radiating all around the nursery. Debarati stood there, her back towards Bibhas who was pacing towards her in the darkness, calling her name repeatedly. She stroked Bitan’s laptop and slightly lifted it up a little from the table.
“Why are you holding Bitan’s laptop?” Debarati turned around, Bibhas could see her eyes, twinkling with anger, just like those times when he used to argue with her over the television, or Bitan’s misbehaviour or poor marks where both of them blamed the other one for Bitan’s poor performance, or when Bibhas brought the wrong kind of rice grains and Debarati would not agree to prepare the sweet payesh for him, their married life was more interesting due to the arguments, which was always followed by Debarati bringing in a cup of tea, smiling at Bibhas, her smile and the hot steaming cup of tea drained away Bibhas’ grudge and things would become normal again in that once-lively house.
“Did I say something wrong?” Bibhas’ voice broke into a stammer, seeing Debarati angrily looking at her, when a soft breeze from the window cooled down his nerves, he sighed as the curtains fluttered in rhythm with the wind, whose intensity slowly increased, “Deba, the wind is so soothing, isn’t it?” Bibhas turned towards Debarati to see it was still dark, and Debarati wasn’t there. Where was she? She was here just a few moments ago, where did she go to? “Debarati? Where are you? Deba?” Bibhas was sweating profusely, looking around in the darkness, unable to see anything, extending his hands, hoping to get hold of Debarati’s soft arms, repeatedly calling out her name, looking around with his eyes wide open, searching for Debarati. Where was she? The curtains continued to flutter with the strong breeze blowing through the window, the dim light disappearing and the whole room was now dark, Bibhas was scared. His feet were trembling, and sweat pearls appeared on his forehead, he fumbled with his hands again, searching for a light. He turned on the lights above Bitan’s table, the night lamp above Bitan’s table lit up. He looked around, the room remained dimly lit, and suddenly he realised what had been happening all this while. He remembered all of a sudden that Bitan had passed away a few hours ago, he recalled Bitan’s shroud, his cremation, the rickshawala, the moment he stepped back home, all of it appeared to him as a flashback. Debarati? How could she appear all of a sudden? She was dead. Why was he talking with her so much? Why did he not realise that it was not her? He was probably sleepwalking or hallucinating her? The fatigue of the entire day caused him to hallucinate his deceased wife. He held onto the table, panting for breath, nervous with his own thoughts, the conclusions of everything that had happened within these few minutes. He looked at the wall clock, it was eleven thirty. There was no powercut, the balcony door was open, Debarati stood in front of him, she did not talk to her, she led him to Bitan’s room without speaking to him, did she not want to know how he was doing? How lonely he was feeling right now? How her presence made him feel better for some time? He looked at the table, Bitan’s laptop lay there. Debarati was stroking his laptop, isn’t it? Bibhas wondered, touching Bitan’s laptop. Did she not lift it up a little? Why? Bibhas lifted up Bitan’s laptop to find the surprise of his life, a paper, turned upside down. Why was Bitan hiding a paper below the laptop? What was his intention? Was it a suicide note? The paper was tiny, a quarter of a page torn from the notepad beside him, Bibhas’ hands were shaking. He was now thinking about Debarati, stroking the laptop, slightly lifting it up, looking at him angrily and disappearing into the air all of a sudden? What was all of this? A ridiculous nonsense all because he was tired? Or was it all true? Or it was simply hallucination? He took out the paper slowly and turned it over. Bibhas read the message and stood there, looking at the paper in fear, his hands shaking, he was sweating, and he was at his wit’s end. He held onto the table, trying to balance himself from falling, wiping the sweat from his forehead with another hand. Debarati took away their son from him, Bitan was aware of this or not? He wondered. Does this justify the reason that Bitan kept his father’s phone number written down on a paper inside his pocket? Did Bitan know that he was destined to meet his end? Or did he intentionally end his life, wanting his father to be informed of his death? Seeing Debarati, totally speechless, taking him into Bitan’s room? Did she snatch away their son, wanting him to know about it, breaking the notion that it was just a fatal accident? What was the truth behind everything that had been happening? He would never know, or he might be knowing, but he was unsure of the truth, yet in another dilemma that consumed his mind for ever. He sat down on the floor with a thud, still wiping the sweat from his forehead, as the dog outside their house kept whining in grief, which echoed around their neighbourhood.
The paper fell down from his hand, the words written on it were- I am coming, Maa.