When the rains failed for the third year in a row, Bansi lost all hopes for a good crop. The loan he had taken for new seeds, to lease a second plot of land, and to dig a new tube-well again turned out to be too less. For everything he got done, there were other expenses not accounted for — to pay off the contractor, to get the engineer’s sanction quickly, even to get a simple signature on a form.
His daughter, Mansi, was bawling in her corner. That week, she had lived on nothing but rice gruel. She moved restlessly in the cradle Bansi had designed himself, using a sari that had once belonged to Gauri, his wife. His despair rose on hearing her, “What shall we do? She will die at this rate.”
Worry gnawed away at Bansi’s heart all night long. Mansi, it meant heart’s desire, and he could do nothing for her. By next morning, he could no longer put things off.
“Let’s go to the city. There is no option left.”
The very thought of the city scared Gauri. People who went there came back with strange stories. People lived next door to you, yet hardly spoke to you, the roads were full of people and cars, and men killed each other for no reason at all.
They left Mansi with Mohan Ram, their childless neighbour. With the two hundred rupees received in exchange, Bansi and his wife headed for the station, ashamed, unable to look each other in the eye, though Bansi repeated to himself over and over again, “The money is for the city. The first few days will be hard.”
Mohan Ram was liberal with his advice, “Be careful with the money. And never trust anyone with a smiling face.”
The station wore a bored look, the train to the city was late and people milled around like flies stumbling from one unexciting thing to another. Bansi and Gauri stood by themselves, not wishing to eat, thinking of their daughter, telling themselves that at least now, Mansi would not starve.
A few hours later, they saw the station master leave his office, bolting the door behind him. He moved towards his bicycle, a gaggle of people behind him. He took his time before he announced, “No, no train today. Heavy rain up north, train cancelled.”
Bansi saw people begin to spread themselves out on pitiable looking sheets, old newspapers, anything to sleep on, and he also heard his wife’s faint whispered suggestion, “Let’s go home. It’s not far.” Bansi could still see his daughter’s face clearly and he gave in readily. Never mind that Mohan Ram could drag them to the panchayat for breaking their agreement. “You gave her to me, for 200 rupees. And now you want her back, just like that…”
But the very thought of seeing Mansi again gave wings to their feet. They barely glanced at the milestones flashing past one after the other on the road. Bansi stopped only once to wipe the sweat off his face. He had been walking so fast that he had not noticed that his shirt was drenched, and clung to his back. He wiped his face twice over before he turned to his wife. He saw the water streaming down her face, the silver drops in her hair. He stopped short in astonishment, looking at his wife through the blur across his face, “Gauri, it’s raining.”
They looked up, laughing as their tears now mingled freely with the raindrops.
* * *
Aditi Kay is a writer whose first novel is due out this 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. Find her on Facebook.