NOBODY LIGHTS A CANDLE
Pushpa was sweeping the place early in the morning. She did it sometimes on holidays, swept every corner clean. Took down the pants and shirts hanging from brackets behind the doors, wiped the doors clean, demolished the houses of insects built in crevices, moving all the chairs, stools, and tables and making the room capable of collecting a fresh film of dust. She pulled out the trunk form under the bed.
“Why don’t you return it?” she asked as she swept its dusty top with her broom.
He should return it. The woman whose name he had used to get I t here, she was the only with any rights to it.
“See what beautiful clothes she had,” Adhirath said opening the trunk.
Pushpa wore khaki most of the time and at home she wore faded old clothes. She had practically forgotten what vibrant colours look like. When did she ever get het opportunity or time to wear them? She could not wear ironed and starched clothes to cook and swab the house. But the moment she saw the brilliant colours of the lehanga her eyes began to sparkle. How keenly she had wanted to wear a lehanga for her wedding but his and her families were so opposed to their marriage that nothing she wanted could be done.
It was not clear whether the blue had overlaid the red or the red was printed above the blue but both the colours were a swirl in the lehnga. It had a broad golden border. The black braided tape at the waist had a shower of golden specks. Such tapes are not meant to be hidden inside the petticoat but to be displayed proudly, to be slung from the waist and spun around with gyrations. To keep them hanging there are intricately designed weights. Only a woman would have taken that spangled weight of beads and in her hand to admire its bell shape and the border of tiny sequins hanging from it. Dazzling rays lit up the dusty room.
“What is this?” asked Pushpa. Even in that mass of golden trinkets she noticed what the eager eyes of a deprived woman can, a gold disc tied securely with a string to the top of the bell shaped weight of the tape. It was not part of the original braid. It was different, like two gold coins joined together with a stem. The larger of the two had been given a centerpiece of a sparkler. A golden string was wound round the stem and then tacked onto the weight. What a ingenious idea, hide it where nobody would notice.
Adhirath’s gaze followed hers and he could not believe what he saw.
The fourth button. That is what Udairaj had said, that he had four buttons. How did he omit to ask him how many buttons he had now? Had Saroj also notice that two buttons were missing now or was she unaware? SO this was the first button he claimed the woman had stolen. The one he had found that day under the bay window, that he had gone wearing to the farmhouse.
“Is it a diamond? It is exactly like the one you got earlier,” she said.
“The one I got earlier belonged to Udairaj. This one belongs to the woman,” he said.
Pushpa caressed the button in her palm. If they had this, they could pay off all the loans, her empty bank account would get back the cash she had withdrawn. She tried to pull the string, but it did not break. She fetched a pair of scissors and cut it. Then she replaced the button in the purse she found in the trunk.
“Take it back. And do it today,” she said picking up her broom. “One should not tempt the mind.”
“Don’t you want the lehnga?” asked Adhirath.
Pushpa threw a startled glance at him. Adhirath’s looked almost apologetic. She laughed.
“I can get one made,” she said. “I have quit wearing the discards of the dead.”
“I did not mean to…”
“ …taunt me about my caste. I know. Had I not known I would have left you a long time back.” She sat down on the floor throwing the broom aside. Adhirath too got down to sit by her side. He pulled out several fashionable clothes from the trunk to show her. She flung them upwards and said, “Some day we shall be able to afford them, But you know what? Even if I got them and wore them, you would only enjoy pulling them off, wouldn’t you?”
The clothes rained on them but she got out from under them and ran, he ran after her. but where was there to run and play hide and seek? Upstairs is the open terrace. Downstairs are parents. He could slap her there in public, he could not kiss her in public. If he slapped her in public his father would pat him on the back, the people would praise him for being a man. But if they kissed they would all get together to declare them shameless, characterless. He could not hug his own wife in the presence of others. What a civilization, all vigilance is only against love, not against hate.
“Why are people so afraid of love?”
“Love has power that is why?” said Pushpa to him.
They were back, inside the room where the dust had settled.
Two hours later he went to meet Saroj. He did not know why but he had this feeling that she was in his camp. She was getting inside the car and stopped when she saw him. Told him she was on her way to mamaji’s.
“is there anything important?”
“had to ask something,” said Adhirath in a low voice. “You told me you had lost a gold button. Your husband had. That is why he wore one button less on the day of Holi. How many did he wear?”
“Three. I told you even earlier,” she replied. Her tone was normal.
“How many buttons do you have now?”
“Will have to check,” said Saroj. “Since then I have not checked his things. HE keeps the keys to his cupboard with him.”
“He did not do so earlier?”
“No, this is new. For some months he has been doing this. But if I ask for the keys he may even give them to me.”
“How long will it take?”
“Well at least till the evening. I am going out now. He is not at home either. If I get back early and he is here, it may happen earlier. I will call you,” Saroj said. “Is it very important?”
Adhirath sighed. What could be so important now? What difference would it make now? How would he prove that he found the button in her trunk? He had not found it in the presence of that girl, what was her name, yes Rakhi, he had not found it when he was looking for it.
“I just wanted to know,” he said.