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It’s been 3 years and I still haven’t found it out.

What is it?

And why am I drawn towards it?

I should have thrown it away.

Maybe my mind is just playing games or maybe it’s nothing but a piece of paper.

I slept then.

Next morning, I ended up putting that tiny torn paper inscribed with those undecodable letters, back into my wallet and hurried for the bus.

********

3 Years Before…


‘Hey, how much for this?’

Another two minutes passed by or it might be his mind running much faster than his current pace, he asked one more time for that hoody jacket, searching amongst the sheep smelling and naphthalene smell like sweaters amongst the hundreds in that cold night of December.

‘Hey, how much?’.

‘Sorry, but I don’t think you can afford to buy this,’ said the man who looked somewhat a cross between an owner and a worker.

‘See man, it’s because of the way you treat your customer, your shop has no income of any sort’, pointing at those numerous clothes hanging everywhere in that tiny shop.

‘Hey Mr, keep your nonsensical views to yourself. The jacket that you are trying to purchase is a pure Naga traditional coat blended with some modern designs and blah blah which I don’t know either. This one will cost you four thousand bucks. And seeing by your personality, you seem more of that shop customer’, said the owner, pointing in that opposite small garment shop which I felt had clothes only to serve meagre earning families.

I mean no offense, but I am a person who worked hard all life to finally end up in a government institution. I make a pretty decent amount of money, which I feel, is higher than an average middle class man, as I can now lend money to my friends, can look after my parents, watch movie (solo, no partner!) and eat whatever I like.

But somehow I felt offended. Wearing shaggy clothes is directly related to being poor.

Concept of some material loving people!

Coming back from my thoughts, I had a good fight with him and later after jabbing him with some good unbearable slangs, he finally came to terms with me.

I got the jacket for fifteen hundred bucks. I felt like I could even beat woman in bargaining, even my mom. I laughed and walked home with some tandoori chicken. I felt elated!

(Although I later got some serious information from a colleague of mine that the shop housed only second hand clothes. The jacket would have cost a little less than what I had paid for.

Happiness comes in small packages. I guess mine too!)

----------------

Back home, I bathed, ate to my heart’s content, and finally wore that ‘bounty’ jacket.

‘Hmm, it fits good. Now, I’ll have some eyes on me!’

‘What is this in the pocket? I hope it’s not a love letter from that weirdo shopkeeper.’

There it was. A nicely wrapped paper, or more so a handmade paper, inside which, it was beautifully written-

IHGFEIHGFE

*Anytime*

 

My mind got confused. What does it mean? And what is this anytime? A bar? Some nuclear codes? Or simply barcode?

I wasn’t satisfying myself.

I kept that beautiful paper inside my wallet, and then days, months and years passed. Eventually my quest to decode it failed.

----------------

Present day


‘Hi, dada. What’s up?’, shouting over the phone was my little cousin Annie, who has newly learned the art of saying ‘what’s up’ to anyone she talked to.

‘Hey Miss Annie. So sweet to hear your voice. Where are you right now?’, I asked, feeling so awaken hearing her voice, amongst the ever talkative colleagues of mine who were desperately chattering, shouting over the phone and in person.

‘Dada, we are here in Guwahati and will meet you today at your home. Mom has arranged dinner for tonight. She told me not to tell you. it is a surprise. Dada, come home soon. I am getting bored of the TV.’

‘Oh my God. That’s so great. I am heading right now okay. You just have to watch a little more of TV. Bye Annie’.

‘Bye Dada.’

Dragging my jacket and lying to my boss that I had some urgency, I booked a car and reached home within half an hour.

After lots of games, talking and a stomach full of delicious homemade food, I finally laid flat on the sofa, with Annie brushing my hair. Aunt Purnima was washing the dishes and was busy talking with her husband over the phone.

‘Dada, want to see my drawing book?’

‘Sure, bring it up.’

She hurried at lightning speed and came back with decorated book.

‘Annie, come sleep. Tomorrow we have to go to visit your new school, so let’s hurry dear.’, said my beautiful aunt.

‘Yeah Annie. You sleep, till then I will examine your drawings and give marks’, said I, even though I wanted her to keep brushing my hair.

‘Okay dada. As you say. Goodnight.’

‘Goodnight dear.’

The lights went off in the guestroom. I kept turning the pages until something startled me.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O


Annie was practising alphabets and numbers, as she was to get admission in the new school. Her mother was teaching her to write those perfectly, which Annie knew quite well.

In fact, Tanmay realised, Annie might have solved the problem which he hasn’t been able to do it for the last 3 years.

He immediately took out that paper and scribbled the alphabets and numbers together on the paper. Within seconds, he solved it.

Lying back on the sofa, he closed his eyes and cursed himself. He felt so dumb. He even questioned himself that if he could crack entrance exams and land himself up a government job then this was just dusting off his hands.

‘Okay no remorse. What should I do next?’

Without thinking for a second bit, Tanmay dialled the number.

It rang.

It rang and rang. Nobody picked.

3 more rings. But nobody picked.

‘I was feeling nervous. I prayed the number shouldn’t be of any militants or something.’

‘Okay. One last time.’

I dialled. This time too, nobody picked.

I laid still. I thought to sleep the night here on the sofa.

Suddenly, the phone rang.

It was that number.

I hurried to my room, closed the door, tried to make myself calm and said ‘hello’.

‘Hi.’, a voice spoke.

I was so nervous that after a second hello, I understood that it was a girl’s voice.

‘Hmm. I don’t charge high. If you are new, I would request you to pay me two thousand for an hour.’, that girl spoke, something in a hurried tone.

‘What?’, I said, understanding not a bit of it.

‘Okay. You are just annoying me.’ She was about to cut the call when, I interrupted and quickly asked her to meet me.

‘I can’t meet you. You have to come. I will send the address and the date and time.’

She quickly disconnected it.

I couldn’t sleep well. That night felt the longest.

----------------

Four days passed but there was no call or any text.

Aunt and Annie left on the fifth day. I felt all the more alone.

Next day, i.e. Friday, I was in the grocery market after office duty. I was hovering through the fish market when my phone rang. I saw her missed call and two text messages.

Both the messages were same. She had given me the address, date and the time.

----------------

Next day, I was travelling by bus to Nagaland.

My mind was clueless. I didn’t know why was I going and what she meant of the payment. I had a feeling she might be some sex worker.

I never in my life dreamt to end up with a sex worker. I respect everyone’s profession. I respect every girl. Still, I wasn’t believing that my heart is getting warmer for her.

I let go off my stupid thoughts. I called my mom and told her that I was going for a small trip to Nagaland with a friend to a friend’s home.

After a 10-hour journey, I finally reached.

I ate to my stomach’s full and was wondering what to buy for her. I didn’t even know her age. She sounded like a young woman in her 20s. I gave up.

At the end, my bag was filled with chocolates, chips, some juice and of course chicken!

----------------

‘Hi!’

‘Hi!’

We exchanged glances. She was indeed a young woman in her 20s. She was wearing AzuJangnup Su, a traditional Naga skirt and a white top.

‘Come in.’

Her house was tiny but clean. I felt guilty of thinking her to be some sort of sex worker.

After ten minutes or so, she came in. She had bought a glass of traditional wine and some fruits.

‘Would you like to start now or have the wine first?’ she asked, keeping her head low.

‘Yeah sure, I would like to begin.’, I said. I thought she had asked me to sing my bio-data in front of her. That was not so.

‘Sir, the bed is inside.’, saying she motioned me to go in.

‘Hey ma’am, sorry I don’t know your name. Would you please sit here? Actually I have some questions?’, I said as fast as I could, not wanting to believe that this girl is a sex worker.

She sat opposite to me.

Two minutes passed and we sat looking on to each other.

It was she who finally broke the silence.

‘Sir, I know you are not a customer. And I am not a call girl as you might be thinking. Yes, the work that I am trying to do happens to be of that profession, but sir nobody ever contacted me. You are the first.’, saying this she broke into tears.

I was so perplexed. I didn’t know what to do.

I went near her and could only provide my bottle of water for her to drink. But she drank and smiled.

I had to ease her up so that I could know her better. I asked her to sit on the carpet. She did.

I took out all the chocolates and chips and whatever I had in my bag, and spread it on the carpet. I gave her that local drink that she offered me and little chocolate to eat. She hesitated. I ate some of it and offered again. This time she ate. She even drank that sweet smelling drink.

I took that glass from her and drank. She looked at me as I sipped from the very part she had just drunk.

‘I’m Tanmay. TanmaySaikia. Nice to meet you.’, I shook hands with her.

‘I’m Ela.’

And then I narrated about myself. I never gave a thought that I could talk so beautifully to a girl without stammering or any sort of difficulties. I wondered if I had this gut to speak during my school days when I had to perform for delivering speeches or tell how much I loved my school during our farewell day.

However, I do not repent. In fact, I liked that it never happened before. I am happy that I am saying this in front of Ela, the girl whom I think, I won’t be able to leave behind, once I return to Guwahati.

‘Ela, do you live here alone?’

‘No. I mean I live alone now, but a month ago, my grandmother had died. My mother eloped when she was just 14 years old but after a year she became pregnant. That man left her and disappeared. She had no way but to return back. My grandmother always scolded her and abused her. One day, she could no longer bear her mother’s never ending criticisms and ended her life. All that was left, was my grandma and me.’

She continued, ‘We had no resources. She was old. I somehow managed to go to school and complete the basics. We both worked in other people’s houses until she no longer could fight against her body. I wanted to study and have a life what my friends were having. But that never happened. So I started to cook, clean, sew and teach more and more until I could afford for higher studies. It wasn’t until 3 years back when I met a friend of mine who had changed altogether. Her lifestyle changed exponentially. She laughed and told me what she did. I felt I should do it too. I thought many are in this business so why not me?’

She closed her eyes and tears rolled slowly down that baby like cheek. I let her to cry this time.

She stopped and began again.

‘Nevertheless, God was there with me and not a single man had touched me. Actually I guess, whoever found those sheets that I had kept inside the many pockets, were never able to decode what I wrote.’, saying this, she finally laughed.

My God, that smile and that laughter. It made me all the more reason to love her.

‘Actually Ela, you are not only beautiful but also very smart and intelligent. Circumstances might have barred you from doing what you wanted to do, but if you get a chance will you pursue it?’, I asked my heart pouncing as I said that.

‘Yes, I would do.’

‘And if I ask you to come with me to my home for a new life, would you do that?’

She didn’t look up but responded with a nod.

‘And Ela if I ask you to marry me, will you do that?’

I myself couldn’t look up as I said that. She didn’t say anything. I looked up and saw she was glowing and looked both happy as well as worried.

I knew why she was worried.

Non-tribal marrying a tribal, specially a girl here, would mean I have placed myself to be sent to the gallows. I would be beaten to death because she lived in a rural area and she had no family. People might think I have lured her to marry her.

But miracle was to happen. I called my mom, dad and told them about her and my desire to marry her, although I skipped those parts of how we met etcetera. They were horrified but at the same time over excited that their boy had finally someone to share his food with.

Secondly, two of my friends came to our rescue. One was a Naga so he managed to make good arrangements for us here in Nagaland. The other had married a Naga girl, so they both knew how to handle my situation.

Even Ela, did her best. Five or seven old ladies came and offered to help us out. They were so helpful and happy that Ela’s long-time boyfriend have finally come back to take her home.

I didn’t know much about the story she cooked and the language they spoke. I was glad my life now had some motive.

The old ladies made a splendid dinner. I ate to my heart’s content. I shared food with Ela. This meant I loved her truly. Sharing food with someone was never in my list.

That night I slept in that floor. Ela slept inside.

I absorbed whatever I could in that tiny room. This room had millions of memories than my entire life accumulated till today.

I swear to God that I would love her, protect her forever.

I would protect this house too.

Most importantly, I have to protect this beautiful paper.


December 06, 2019 17:11

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