The late afternoon stillness blanketed the valley. I decided to sow the last of Ragi seeds in my possession today, much to the annoyance of my peers. Free advice ranging from ‘wrong season’ to ‘imprudent decision’ bombarded from all corners of the village. They will understand tomorrow, I tell myself. The stained pleats of my woven saree hold onto some of the pearly red seeds.
I had but a small patch of 50 square feet to complete the task. As I grab a handful of tiny grains, anticipating a lush life, (heaven forbid) I hear a distant call. I rush to the edge of the turn in the foothill which is 500 metres away- false alarm. I continue grabbing handfuls of slippery seeds from my basket and I scatter them as far as my hands allow. With each throw, I wish them survival, longevity and yield. At least them, I pray. These terms are merely a splashy illusion in my life – the kind of images that dance as I shut my eyelids on a hot summer afternoon.
I wonder if Kunti has fed the child well this afternoon. My little imp of a child would refuse to part her lips after exactly the fourth mouthful of food. Kunti- I wish I were her. Widowhood has had a minimum impact on her. So what if she were not allowed on the fields or social get-togethers. She has property and finances that can get her through two lifetimes.
I have not confessed to her that I had tried on more than two occasions to sneak my murky hands into her cloth money bag that is almost always heavy, which she ties to her saree on her waist and buries it within the fold of her hips. I didn’t intend to do it. The debt collectors were on my heels on both occasions. I should probably confess today. No; I will leave it to destiny.
The last time I asked the creditors for eight days. ‘He would be here from the town, he sent word,’ I had promised. How can I explain to the creditors that the river has dried and we are completely dependent on the rain? That I haven’t heard from my husband in the last two months. That I don’t even know if he is alive in that goddamn town. A relieving sigh of the wind soothes my burnt cheeks.
I leave the last patch untouched and feel my parched piece for the last time. I rush back home to the quizzical looks of other women in the neighbouring fields. Kunti and the little one are fast asleep. I rekindle the half-ignited coal in the furnace and set a pot of water to boil. I wait and throw in two pieces of jaggery and tea powder before going to wake Kunti.
As our chat continues over the glass of black tea, agitated breath escapes my nostrils. Kunti finally leaves to drown in loneliness for the rest of the evening and night. I check on the sleeping child for the last time and fight back the innumerable thoughts that flash my flustered mind.
I set the stool and bring the hemp rope and fasten it tight around the strongest rafter in the ceiling. After checking on the knots, I fasten the cord around my neck. As I take a deep breath, forcing the calm air all the way to be abdomen, the shrill sound of her cry pierces through the walls.