Evening shadows dissolved in the darkness of night, the sky was overcast with thick clouds and the wind was rustling dried leaves off the trees, while a sort of gloom had engulfed the scene. Barren mountains were standing still like giants frozen under a curse, and a few travelers had yet to reach their goal. Glorious edifices, lighted with brilliant colourful lights, stood erect keeping their fine residents in, who, amidst lots of comforts, were unconscious of the world, well protected from the upcoming rain and thunder.
It rained heavily that night.
An aged woman, after a day’s exhausting work at a nearby brick kiln, was trying to cover her tent in order to protect her children from the heavy rain. She spread an old and worn piece of cloth over the tent and tried to fix it to the side-polls so that the wind might not unhook it. A child, hardly 8, was trying to help her, but she scolded him repeatedly and ordered him to get inside.
‘Go away, you rascal. Get in.’ Said she.
‘But Mother, you’re ill. Please come inside. I pray you, Mother. I’ll do it.’ Replied the child who was still there in the open.
‘Go away. Don’t you hear or I’ll knock your head off, you son-of-a-devil.’
The child rushed in where four of his siblings, including twins, were already sitting on the ground. The rain-water was dripping in from the holes in the camp, and the children were huddled into a corner where it was dry. The elder child silently went towards the corner and joined the rest. Soon the woman followed him, soaked to the skin.
‘We are ‘ungry. We want bread.’ Cried the twins.
‘Mother, you are not feeling well. You need rest. Did you take your medicine? I told you not to go in rain. Please come here. This place is dry.’ Said the elder child.
The mother, who was now paler than before, stood up, and went to the opposite corner of the camp where a rusty kettle, a glass, two cups for tea, some water in a pot, covered with a dirty linen, were placed neatly. She uncovered it and pretended to look for food. The children meanwhile played with one another and gossiped in jest. Only the elder child, the boy was silent and gloomy. She had sold most of crockery, two months ago, to buy food, and the remaining items were rejected by the buyers. The family had not eaten anything since yesterday.
‘Mother, you should take your medicine. You do not look well.’ Said the boy.
‘Have to buy it. Take care of your brothers. I’ll be back soon.’
‘But it’s still raining outside.’
‘I’ll be fine. Take care of ‘em.’ Said she, and then turning towards the twins, continued. ‘Be good children. Do not tease your brother. Good boys.’
‘Ok. Mother. But we’re ‘ungry. Please come back soon.’
The storm had slowed down now, but the streets were still filled with rain water. In this dirty water, she walked through different streets and lanes in search of something, passing by big houses, she occasionally stopped and kept pulling herself conscious of her surroundings, but not afraid of being looted by a late-night wanderer.
At last she reached a market where people were trading, walking, enjoying and gossiping. Amidst the crowd she moved on, and reached a chemist’s shop where people, having prescriptions in their hands, were purchasing medicine.
The chemist ignored her first, thinking that she was a beggar. After sometime he inquired what do you want? The woman untied a cloth and brought out a sealed packet.
‘I want to sell this.’
‘We don’t buy.’ Replied the chemist.
‘Please take it. It is sealed. I’m a needy person. Pray take it.’
‘Ok. But on half price.’
‘What? But I have not used it. Please have some mercy.’
‘You people come here. Buy, then come to resell it, and want us to buy at the same price again. Do I look like an ass?’
‘No, sir. Please have mercy.’
‘Okay. But for 10 percent cut. Give it to me.’
She handed him the packet. Having finished the business, the woman came out of the shop and went straight to the bakers. Two loaves of bread, a bun and a small packet of milk was all that could be bought with the money she had. She spent all and made her way back. On entering her camp she was exhausted but greeted her children with a smile.
‘Dinner! Get ready for dinner.’
She unpacked the food and served it in the pot after washing it properly. The family ate the food, though it was not sufficient for all. The children ate greedily and the mother, who knew that the food could only serve her children’s appetite, just pretended to eat. She was exhausted by now.
The children, after serving their appetite, went to sleep, wherever they found place to lay their heads on. Soon they were fast asleep, and the twins were snoring into each other’s faces. The woman, almost faltering, took the elder child’s face in her hands and dropped a tear down on his bright face. Then she pushed herself out of the camp. The sky was mostly clear and the wind had slowed down. She looked up to the sky, uttered a silent prayer and slipped back into the camp. It was all wet in there except a few patches where the children were sleeping so the woman got hold of a piece of cloth and soaked water from the ground and, spreading the same piece of cloth on the same patch, lay there. Her heart was palpitating abnormally fast, yet her face wore an uncanny smile while she peeped through a hole in the roof of the camp, and beheld the vast sky. Then she closed her eyes and fell into a sound sleep while an apparition seemed to skim in and out of the camp making the least possible noise.
After a night’s rest the sun had come out finally on a bright morning while the flowers were still damp and issued forth deep fragrance which was powerful enough to intoxicate a passerby. The children came out of the camp and started playing in mud, except the elder one who was trying to wake his mother up but despite repeated efforts she was not responding.
‘Wake up, Mother. It is morning now. Look, the sun is out. You’ve got to go to work, Mother. Please wake up.’ The elder boy was shouting beside his mother who was still motionless. His siblings, after playing, had now come inside the tent and were staring at the empty pots put in a corner near the stove.