One of my short stories ... If you like it do write your comments ...
Still I love you
Rana walked towards the escalator of the Kalighat Metro Station. As the home bound stream of people jostled past him, Rana put his hand in the trouser pocket to re assure himself. The feel of the three crispy one thousand rupee notes made him strangely elated. Instead of taking the usual staircase, he got on the escalator today. As he slowly went up, he smiled. Today he felt different.
And he will make sure that Neeta and Anu too felt different today.
He walked out of the Metro station exit and walked towards Rashbehari Avenue. There were makeshift sari shops on the footpath on both sides of the road. There were shops selling pretty frocks and suits. But Rana did not even look at them. Today he will buy from KC Das and Sons.
While shopping for Durga Puja a few months back, Neeta had looked longingly at the display of KC Das.
“The red and black Dhakai is so beautiful !” She stood in front of the mannequin and then looked at Rana excitedly .
“Shuncho, should I go and ask the price ? I know you will not be able to buy it , but I am curious… !”
And without waiting for an answer, Neeta and Anu had walked inside the shop. Neeta had touched the saris on display, looked at the price tags and made a face. Both mother and the eight year old daughter had walked hand in hand towards the kids section and admired the colourful , fluffy frocks and dresses.
Neeta had the salesman show them to her. After touching, feeling , looking, she said “No… somehow I do not like the colours and the cut … !” . She walked out of the shop with a stoic face, and clutched Rana’s hands and went into peals of laughter.
“See … how I fooled the salesman … !”
But that day and on many such days , Rana could not laugh with her.
Rana worked as a reservation clerk in the West Bengal Tourism department. He sat at the reservation counter in the Chowringhee office from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm, booking bus trips to Sundarbans, Murshidabad, Bishnupur and Shantiniketan. During lunchtime he took out his small alumunium square flat tiffin box and ate three parathas and alu bhaja. Beginning of the month, sometimes Neeta would pack luchi for him accompanied with egg curry. As the month progressed, the tiffin would get frugal , with maybe just 4 slices of scarcely buttered bread.
Neeta could not be blamed.
She had to manage the monthly bills of the household of two adults and a kid with Rs 25000, which Rana handed over to her dutifully at the beginning of the month.
Every month, after handing over Rs 3500 to the landlord , Neeta said “Can we shift to a different locality ? This place is too expensive !”
But Rana could not make her understand that this two roomed 400 square feet flat in the interiors of Behala was the best they could get within this budget .
And their lifeline … their little Anu was going to an English Medium school. She was a big girl now, studying in class 3. She was her teacher’s pet. But the tuition fees, the text books, stationary …fish, occasional mutton and chicken , vegetables , everything had to be provided out of the Rs 25000 !
Last month, when Neeta’s cousin sister got married, Neeta said “What do we give her as a present ? I am her elder sister … can’t give her just anything .. “
“What about a sari ? “
“A good silk Sari will cost around Rs 2000 … ! We cannot give anything less than that … … you are his elder brother in law … !”
“Don’t worry I have a fixed deposit of Rs 10,000, I will break it tomorrow and then you can go ahead and buy !” Rana offered.
“I am fed up of living under such tight budget ! Why can’t we be like others ? I too want Anu to wear nice dresses, pack pastries in her lunch box and watch a movie in a multiplex ! I am fed up … really fed up !”
“Tell me one thing, Mr Mondal also works in the same office ,same post as yours , how come I see Mrs Mondal wearing new saris every day ? Yesterday I saw her son Montu in the park, flaunting his expensive sport shoe … !” Neeta’s voice was taut.
Rana did not say anything. Neeta knew the answer , didn’t she ? During such conversations, he always remained silent. And that irked Neeta even more.
“Fixed deposit ! You know that we have kept that for Anu’s admission to St. Teresa’s after 3 years . … !”
Anu opened the almirah and took out the peacock blue golden bordered silk sari which Rana had bought for her a year back when he had got bonus. Peacock blue was Neeta’s favourite colour.
Her face had lit up when Rana gave it to her …
“But … I bought it for you …. !” Rana whispered.
“That’s OK … ! “ Neeta said gruffly. “You can buy me another one next year … “ She tried to smile. “This sari will surely make my little sister very happy and …it will save our prestige too … without breaking your fixed deposit …. “
Incidents like these, a sentence here, a word there , an untoward glance , a slight inflection in Neeta’s tone , small unfulfilled demands of the little one, somehow filled up Rana’s mind and soul. He felt incompetent and incapable .
Was he foolish ? As they say, should he be more “worldly wise” ? But he too did his bit did he not ? He had cut back on his cigarettes, the occasional buying of second hand Agatha Christie novels from the pavement of Theatre Road … !
So, today when a customer surreptitiously offered him Rs 3000 for giving him two tickets for the Sunderbans package tour, he could not resist it.
“Dada, I have promised my wife “ he said “please do something ... “
“But there is just one seat left !” Rana said. He glanced at the register… there was another seat left … one passenger had just called up to cancel his reservation .
“”Please do something… “ the person pleaded and extended the two notes towards Rana.
Rana looked at him sharply… he looked around him and slowly , involuntarily, took the notes and kept it in his pocket. His senses were numb. He acted as if in a stupor. Just like in the movies … in slow motion ….
But now his pace was extra fast as he approached the big and brightly decorated shop. He did not waste any time and walked out after buying a white fluffy frock for his little heartthrob Anu and a deep pink silk sari for Neeta.
He wanted to see their excited and happy faces after they opened the packets. Ahh ! His soul was parched . It needed drops of their happiness . He will revel in their emotions of joy and exhilaration. And hopefully … his scorched soul will become green again … with the musky , heady smell of their elation … !
He still had about Rs 500 left.
“Taxi … !” Rana hailed a yellow cab. He felt like a king .
Neeta and Anu were standing in the little balcony overlooking the road . Neeta was surprised to see him get down from the taxi. Rana looked up at her and smiled.
He swiftly climbed up the stairs. Neeta opened the door for him.
She looked so beautiful. She was wearing a simple red and white striped cotton sari. Her long, black, oiled hair was neatly folded in a bun. Sindoor on the middle parting of her hair, a small red bindi on her cute forehead … she looked like a goddess. She deserves a better life .. Rana thought.
“Today is just the 25th of the month … have you got your salary already ? How come you have come home in a taxi ? “ Neeta beamed .
Rana sat on the sofa cum bed to open his shoes. He kept the packets beside him. Little Anu came bounding up to him.
“Baba … Baba.. “ She was clutching a piece of paper in her hands .
“Anu … Let your Baba relax a bit … “ Neeta faked the admonishment towards Anu and smiled at Rana.
“She has been so excited since coming back from school … !”
Rana looked at their happy and glowing faces.
They looked so content, satiated and thrilled !
“Baba … ! Look at this … I have got the first prize for my essay … You know , it will be published in the school magazine !! “
Anu squealed and thrust the sheet in Rana’s hands and put her arms around Rana’s neck.
“Go on … Read it … !” Neeta smiled and rolled her eyes up !
Rana read the title of the essay . “Honesty”.
Anu had described Rana in the essay. How he worked hard and how he was the most respected person in the colony as well as in his office due to his trait of honesty. In simple staccato, child like sentences, she had described her father and his lessons of honesty which he always taught Anu.
Rana looked at Anu’s face. She beamed at him expectantly. Rana embraced her tightly and wept. Neeta sat beside him and held them tight.
“I love you” she said in his ears. “Always remain like this…”
Neeta glanced at the packets.
“What are these ?”