It is just one of those days when Nusrat would silently sit at the window, contemplating the drops of water as they race through the window panes, and also glance at the children playing cricket, drenched in mud. A feeling of incompleteness would linger in her heart, especially when her eyes would scan a couple walking on the wet road, hand in hand. Her eyes would fill with tears at this scene as it would always remind her of her husband Akram, who is disappeared.
Nusrat, a woman living in her thirties, has a few wrinkles on her face, just below her starry, shining eyes which twinkle with tears. Her lips are dry and no lipstick has been applied to them since Akram’s disappearance. Whenever someone would joke with her, her momentarily smile would try to give them a hint of her struggle with loneliness and wait for unmentioned reasons. She is wrapped in a black shawl covering her, except her head. Her lips have embraced each other and only part whenever she takes a sip of her tea, which is now cold. This time, she sees no couple walking hand in hand. It’s good for her. Also, there are no children playing cricket, the window panes are also dry with dust particles clearly visible on them. Nusrat raises her hand and wipes the glass with her hand. Her eyes linger at the tree standing outside- dry, with only branches left as all the leaves have bid their goodbyes to it already. She remembers how she and Akram used to sit under its shade before their marriage. The leaves used to caress the both, providing them enough shade so that they could even sleep, with serenity guarding them for a few hours. Apart from that tree, the bed on which she is sitting, the pillow whose cover is now a little torn and the almirah which has produced some scratches on itself are the reminiscences of Akram. Nusrat is not social anymore. She used to talk and chatter for hours to her younger sister Aamna; help her mother in the kitchen and her father in watering the plants and flowers; and solve the issues of her neighbouring friend Hina. But now all these are the things of past.
Two years ago, in the midst of the talks and tensions of her marriage lingering in her family, Nusrat fled off with Akram one night, leaving behind a note which said that she was in relationship with him for three years and that she wanted to marry him and no one else. Later, the society did what they are best at, repudiating both of them which led them to start their life in another village. It took Akram a month to settle everything at its place. Both their families avoided any contact with them. It was okay for Akram, for he knew it would happen. But for Nusrat, it became painful. Though she also knew the consequence of running away, but she had no idea that it would proffer her such pain of missing her family- especially her younger sister, Aamna. When everything was back to fine again, the couple moved back to their village.
Poverty is the biggest curse, intolerable, often provoking the poor to either revolt or take the wrong path. But Akram was well-mannered, and knew what he had to do. As the poverty struck harshly, and it became almost impossible for him and Nusrat to survive with food for a single day, he went off to look for a job, but only got failure and disappointment while returning home. ‘People go to Mumbai, Kolkata or Delhi to find a job. Why don’t you go?’ an old man suggested him. ‘Dada’, a boy interrupted. ‘You sent my father too, and he never returned. They had killed him.’ Everyone fell silent. Tears broke down from the old man’s eyes and Akram was trying to figure out what might have happened to his son. Later, when he told this to Nusrat, she immediately ordered him not to leave, but somewhere in her heart she knew that it won’t happen. Next day, Akram set off for Delhi with whatever he had, to try his luck, and bring happiness to his home. He promised to meet Nusrat a month later. Though he sent money orders and letters which reminded Nusrat of her husband, but he himself never showed up.
The cool breeze is blowing and through the window which is left ajar by Nusrat, it comes inside, causing her to shiver. She immediately shuts the window, only after glancing at the same tree, probably for the last time that night. Months have passed now, and still no sign of Akram is visible. She wants to talk to Aamna about it, but she believes it won’t satisfy her. She wants to talk to her mother, but envisions her scolding her for the mistake she had committed two years ago. At times she thinks of going to Delhi alone, to ask in the factory where he works, the address of which Akram had given to her in his third letter. She is still restless, changing the sides while lying on the bed, whose bedsheet hasn’t been changed for ages. ‘No’, she would scream whenever someone would enter the room to change the bedsheet and also the pillow cover. She had also been chided for the same but nothing stopped her from ‘revolting’ for the bedsheet and the pillow cover, which always keeps reminding her of Akram, instilling hope that he would come soon.
‘You should go outside, have a walk and relax yourself. Everything is gonna be fine soon’, Aamna says as she enters the room the next day. Nusrat, as usual, is sitting on her bed peeping outside the window which now acts to be her friend in the room. It takes her a few seconds to acknowledge Aamna’s presence in her room. ‘What did you say?’ ‘You should have a walk outside. Everything is gonna be fine soon’, Aamna repeats herself. ‘I hope so’, Nusrat replies with a sigh. Aamna approaches her to sit on the bed beside Nusrat. ‘Please leave me alone’, Nusrat pleads. ‘I won’t’, Aamna folds her hands. ‘PLEASE!’ Nusrat screams this time, making Aamna worry a little about her elder sister, who now wants to hold her hand and console her. But Nusrat glares at her which makes the latter leave the room.
Nusrat is alone in her room, once again thinking about the reasons of Akram’s sudden disappearance. Not only has he disappeared, but also his letters and the money orders. Probably they’ve altogether signed a pact to do so. Nusrat’s face has become duller by now and it seems that soon there would be no difference between her and the old tree, still managing to stand somehow beside the road, holding dry branches and a few twigs. There is a knock on the door. Nusrat slowly moves herself out of the bed, opens the door and sees Aamna standing with a letter in her hand, ‘Your letter’, she says. A whimsical smile happens on Nusrat’s face who takes no time in snatching the letter from Aamna. She immediately looks at the envelope, hoping that it’s from Akram and yes, it’s his only. ‘AKRAM!’ she shouts in ecstasy. Aamna’s eyes sparkle as she moves forward, ‘I will also read it’, ‘No!’Nusrat pushes Aamna back, ‘I want to read it alone.’ Aamna glares a little at Nusrat, but later throws a smile and goes from there.
Finally, the moment has come. Nusrat giggles out of ecstasy as she opens the yellow envelope. There is a black stamp on it with the address written on the thin black line. ‘AKRAM’, Nusrat sees his name shining in blue ink. She moves her fingers over his name and sits on the bed. She later resumes opening the envelope which was half-opened. There she sees a white paper with its one corner so sharp that it almost pierced into her index finger. She moves out the paper slowly, releases the envelope which falls to the ground after a few wobbles in the air, and unfolds the paper:
I hope you’re fine. I know you’re angry on me for not coming home. Even I’m angry on myself. I’m angry why did I leave you in the first place? Why did I move to a place which was never meant for people like me? Why did I start working in a factory where the urban class gives you intolerable torture? Yes, Nusrat, I’ve been tortured a lot here and also, I’m a jobless person. I have been fired last week because I pointed out a mistake in the functioning of the machine, which took the life of an aged worker here. They also sent me to jail for I argued with the manager regarding the same, though they later got me out. I was accused of slapping the manager which, in fact, isn’t true. I’d earned enough money but don’t know who stole it from me. I don’t know why all this happened to me. Was it because I pointed out that mistake which could have taken further more lives of the workers? Or was it because I raised my voice against the irresponsibility and carelessness carried out by our so called ‘managers’?
Nusrat, I’m fed up of this life. This incident has stressed me to the core. Many there now laugh at me. They refuse to shake hands and glare at me with contempt, thinking that I’m a culprit.
I’m sorry but I had no other option left. This is my last letter to you and by the time it will reach you, I’ll be alive only in your memories.
Good bye. Love you.”
Nusrat is still in her place. No tears shedding from her eyes. She is not feeling anything, not even the blowing wind passing through her hands. She looks out at the tree, which has now bent towards one side, with woodcutters around it cutting it down. For the first time, tears emerge from her eyes, but she is smiling. ‘It was supposed to happen one day’, she says to herself, still looking at the tree which, after an hour, is finally down.
‘NUSRAT!’ Nusrat’s mother enters the room that evening. She witnesses Nusrat lying on her bed. Her eyes are half opened as if in dizziness. Her hands are loose, with her right hand hanging from the bed, blood dripping out from her wrist in profuse, ending up landing on the sharp silver blade of the knife which is half coated with blood. Around her lies the letter on the bed, torn into pieces. Nusrat’s mother reaches for her but it’s too late now. She cries bitterly for her daughter, but it’s of no use now. She looks up at Nusrat’s face, realizing that she is slightly smiling, as if finally she has gained some sort of satisfaction. As if she knew, like that tree, her end was also near.