| Gradually all joy
fled Deepa's face. She was a stone statue. She was a terrible dark
night. She was restless like a mountain stream. She was rebellious
like a woman going to war. She came in one day with a swelling on
her head. Ruby was worried ; she asked about the bruise. Deepa had
become uneasy after sharing her wretched life with Ruby. But she
answered Ruby's question. “My father beat me last night. He pushed
me so hard I bruised my head.”
“Did you mother say anything ?”
“She has gone to her in-laws. What could she have done even if she had been present ? She is suspicious about my step-father and me.”
“Tell me plainly. Why does your step-father beat you ?” Ruby was irritated.
“He wants money for liquor. Where can I get the money ? I am not a wage laborer who gets paid each day. What I make in a month I buy rice with. We eat more rice than you. Then, there's the advance you gave me to replace our roof tiles. Where can I get money for his liquor ?”
“Your parents want to throw you out in spite of the contribution you make ?”
“Didi, my mother suspects I'm involved with my step-father because he is not my real father. She shouts about him to make me go away. My idle step-father always wants money for liquor. When he can't get any he goes at me for having a young man following me around. I will have to leave the house.”
“Where will you go ?”
“I will go with the young man.”
“What do you mean ?” Ruby was surprised. Deepa had complained about the young man many times. She had scolded him, pelted him with stones, implored him to go away. Why was she choosing him now ? Ruby thought Deepa may have been carrying on with the young man in secret. Or else, she may have woven a dream life for herself. Ruby recalled her own dreams from her teen days. In her dream, she was living a life of plenty and was surrounded by people who loved her dearly. In her dream she had a lover who valued her more than his own life and still she grew ill with cancer and at last in her dream she was on her death bed. All those she loved stood by her bed shedding tears. She, too, wept. She would awake from the reverie to find herself in tears. Perhaps Deepa had made up a life of misery to draw Ruby's sympathy .“You were sick of that man. Now you want to go off with him.”
“There is no other way. My mother won't let me live in the house a week longer.”
“What does the man do ?”
“When I told him I would go away with him he rented a small cabin in the market area. He says he will open a hair cutting saloon.”
“Won't his parents want you home with them? Why will you live separately ?”
“I'm of a different caste. They won't even let me enter their house. Didi, could you give me a saree ? I'll have to wear a saree after I'm married, but I have none to wear. I have arranged a pair of shoes.”
Deepa pointed to a pair of shoes inside a polythene bag.
“Are you leaving today ?”
“No, tomorrow evening.”
Ruby gave Deepa a dark-coloured saree made of synthetic material. Deepa put the saree away in the polythene bag.
“I have arranged for a girl to come and work for you,” she added.
Things turned upside down in Ruby's mind. She didn't know what to believe. When Deepa left for the day Ruby followed her to the main gate of the colony. She wanted to know the truth. She wanted to see the face of the mad lover-boy. A young man sat on the culvert; he got up as soon as Deepa approached. This is the man Deepa has decided to go off with. So ugly ! Ruby had never seen so ugly a man. His body seemed made of rough tar. There was a scar on his cheek. Deepa and the man were still talking when Ruby turned back to her house.
Deepa came the next afternoon and finished her chores as usual. Normally Ruby didn't make tea for Deepa but today Deepa asked for a cup of tea. She had packed all her clothes in polythene. Ruby gave her two packets of bindi, an old bedsheet and a used pack of talcum powder. Deepa begged her leave when she had finished drinking tea. She said she might not see Ruby again. Ruby nodded. Deepa had just crossed the gate when Ruby called out to her, “Tell me, Deepa, are you happy to be going with that young man ?”
“'Happy?' You know everything and yet you think I can be happy ?” Deepa retraced her steps. “You know the condition that man has brought me to. I have been thrown out of my house. Where else can I do ? To be human means to seek shelter ; no matter where one finds it. Better to be born as animals. I lost my old shelter because of him. Let him give me new shelter now.”
“Can one make a family with so much indifference ?”
“I know. I know everything, Didi. But I am helpless. I am sure the young man will lose interest in me after a few days. And then…?”
Ruby didn't have an answer to the question of what would happen then. Neither did Deepa expect one. She only begged permission to leave.
(Translated from Original Oriya by Jagadish Mohanty)
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