Raman Koiborto could not believe his luck when the big steel company offered him a lakh of rupees for his two acre bit of land. Koiborto counted the zeros and still did not know what a lakh came to. The most he ever had were the five thousand rupees saved up for his daughter’s marriage.
‘I will get a job,’ he told Rasuli, his doubting wife. ‘Or we will go to the city. Our children have managed there, haven’t they?’
The day he put his thumb impression on the piece of paper, as the company representative showed, they quarreled bitterly. When he received the cheque, green, with the bank’s insignia etched diagonal on it, he refused to show it to her. Every night he slept with the cheque under his pillow. In the morning, the cheque travelled in his shirt pocket, and Koiborto took to running his hands across his chest frequently to make sure it was there. When he took a bath, he was careful to keep it on the ledge, secure between his towel’s folds.
Koiborto memorised the cheque’s every detail. The way his name was spelt, the Koiborto memorised the cheque’s every detail.amount — one and the five impressive zeroes that followed, even the signature on the bottom right, a name that meant nothing yet everything to him. Somnath Sen, Koiborto’s cataract-filled eyes made out and he imagined an important man behind an impressive desk in Calcutta. He dreamed of travelling to Calcutta to express his gratitude to him. A lakh of rupees for a bit of land that had given nothing but unhappiness for all he had invested in it.
When the company representative called a meeting to advise them on using their compensation wisely, Koiborto found the proceedings bewildering, words like long time returns, permanent gains, sailed past him. The next day he took a bus to the city. He spent several minutes inside the bank where he had to deposit the cheque. Then he took the first bus back home, the cheque still safe in his pocket.
The minute Koiborto stepped out, he unfolded the cheque, inhaled its stuffy, old papery smell, kissed it several times. He walked home then, the road familiar over the years with its Ashoka trees, Basanta’s tea stall, and the STD booth, its pane broken by some farmers who opposed the company’s plans on their land.
Only the barbed wire fence looked out of place. Four rows of tightly knotted metal, stretched tight between rusting iron poles, holding in place his bit of land. Land turned hard and stony under the sun’s harsh glare but that had borne him two rice crops a year, and a year’s supply of vegetables as well when the rains were good. Koiborto’s steps quickened till he was running, running hard.
They said later that he had grabbed the wire with his bare hands, He pushed his thin body through a gap and lay down on that piece of land that had always been his.pulled at it till the blood ran down his wrists and palms. He pushed his thin body through a gap and lay down on that piece of land that had always been his, and his blood ran into the dry earth. But it was all an exaggeration. Within minutes he had been bundled up, bleeding, his shirt torn to bits. No one remembered the cheque that must have fallen off as he wrested with the baton wielding policemen. But it might have been picked up by anyone. A bystander, someone who came to help or even the police. As the inspector said later, ‘You just cannot trust anyone these days.’
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Aditi Kay is a writer whose first novel is due out early next year. She works as a freelance editor and management consultant. Presently, she is based in Baltimore, Maryland, but has lived mainly in India and Singapore.