Short Story |
Syed Waliullah (Translation by Asrar Chowdhury)
The two of them were walking, Nawaz and his wife Hosena, by the banks of the Kajali river, leaving behind them the narrow zigzag crimson road, treading on the snowflake-like white flowers. They've left the village behind them. In front lay the deserted plains, the narrow river to their side, and above them was the horizon-extending, endless blue sky. It was the month of Magh. Nawaz was wearing a costly heavy overcoat; wrapped around Hosena was a deep red-coloured Kashmiri shawl. From the tender expressions on their faces, it seemed as if they've known the world to be only a celebration of joy. The blueness of the sky is like the bottomless cool waters of the sea; therein a wet-bodied boatman surfaces and one can enlarge one's heart in its infiniteness.
Hosena's beautiful pair of eye are sparkling flawlessly. Gazing at the polash flowers in the distance, she said in a sweet voice:
- Tell me why you were so late in coming. You'd been telling me for a while that you'd be coming. Do tell me, why do you act like this? You write to me you're going to come on a certain day, and then you don't.
- And if I don't come even after I say that I will, you do feel hurt, don't you?
Hosena's cheerfully-lit face instantly went gloomy. She said calmly:
- No, I don't.
- Oh, said Nawaz, and turning his face away from hers began to study the distant, deep green lines of the forest on the other side of the river; his face was blank, without questions.
- What do you mean by 'Oh'? Hosena asked in a restless manner. What does 'Oh' mean?
- What does 'Oh' mean? Very simple. It means Oh, Oh, Oh... Now, Hosena, see that forest line--
- Forget those forest lines. Tell me what you meant by 'Oh'. Don't you think I get upset if you don't come by? Can't you see that's what I really meant? That's a fine intelligence you have; worthy of the highest admiration.
Nawaz turned his face back towards her and laughed in a gentle manner. He said in an affectionate tone:
- Now we know whose head is clear... Good heavens, why are you getting annoyed?
- Why should I get annoyed? I'm the silly one, your head is the shiny, crystal-clear one.
- Your head, too.
- Look, don't you make me angry today.
- If you get angry, I'm going to flee by the night coach.
- So go on, run off. You think I'm getting angry? ... Ooh
- Hey, don't you mock me.
- You know, Hosena, I never did realise before that a person can be so joyful. I feel a violent delight within me. Do you know what I feel like doingplease don't laugh at mebut I feel like dancing all over the place. Or just lying motionless at the bottom of the river.
Hosena was silent for a few moments and then vaguely murmured:
- And would you like to know what I'm thinking? I'm thinking that this world is a big illusion, nothing but a dream. Still, I'm happy. One can be happy within an illusion.
Nawaz came to a sudden, startled stop. He said in an surprised voice:
- How astonishing! You know, it could very well be that your happiness is pure and true, and mine the illusory one.
- Let's forget all that. Look over there, dear, and see how the setting sun is festively showering its hues while sinking at the bend of the river on the other side, as if to gladden the heart of mankind, an attempt to touch everybody's heart just before it disappears.
- Isn't it the fourteenth day's moon today?
The flow of the Kajali river doesn't cease; their walking doesn't seem to cease either. They're not sticking to the road in front so there's no chance that they'll get obstructed while walking. The bright road lies in front only for those who desire to reach its limit, search for the end of the journey. It is as if Nawaz and Hosena's breathing was being felt throughout the whole sky. Their breaths seemed to be touching every particle, every point of the sky, stirring it up. They failed to notice when the gentle glow of the moon surfaced on earth as the last drop of sunlight melted away. And though they weren't thinking of the road, they weren't letting go of the river bank either since the waves of the Kajali and the waves of joy in their heart were playing the same tune in tandem like a pair of Saontal flutes. Often they chatted aimlessly or remained sunk in a deep, intimate silence. At one point Nawaz said that they could not return home tonight because there wouldn't be any room for them; then again, after a pause, he said restlessly that quick, let's get back home otherwise we'll get lost in the azure skies, we'll melt away. Neither of them felt the urge to check their watches because at that moment the waves of time that were floating swiftly yet silently over them wasn't trapped in the eternal cycle of creation and destruction of the world.
The lines of the forest on the other side of the river looked mysterious in the indistinct and unclear moonlight. Nawaz gazed at the other side and said:
- Sweetheart, you're a spring, the source of all my joy today. Darling, listen, please never dry up or fade away.
Hosena didn't anwer; she merely drew close to Nawaz's body while they were walking. A few lights were twinkling in the distance, most probably that of Madhupur village. Not too far away was that huge peepul tree and the ruins of the small, ancient mosque. Here the Kajali river gradually narrowed down.
They kept on walking; apart from the sound of their footsteps and the indistinct and unclear moonlight there was such a silence that perhaps had it been another night they wouldn't have been able to carry on. But today, all that entered their ears over the brooding silence around them was the mysterious, impatient sound of their feet.
- What's that?
They came to a sudden stop. What was that?
Nawaz stood at the edge of the steeply falling, crumbling bank of the river and looked down at the rippling water, where a white object appeared to be glittering. After failing to discern what it was, he made sure Hosena stood on the shore while he clambered step by step down the broken bank.
It was a naked corpse. Half of the body was submerged in the water, half of it was on land. The corpse no longer had a human form; it was deformed and horrible-looking. Looking at it sent shivers down one's spine; it made one feel loathing and disgust. The smell of decay hung in the air around it. Beside it the river flowed on, hummed on; its waters glittered and dazzled over one half of the corpse.
Nawaz took in the ugly sight with a clean heart. But just as he was about to climb up the bank he felt as if his insides had been dealt a tremendous blow, and had become lifeless and inert. He succeeded in climbing up to the shore, dragging himself, only with a huge effort. It seemed as if it too him an entire age to do so. Hosena asked anxiously:
- What? What is it?
Nawaz didn't respond; he wouldn't have been able to at that moment in any case. Slowly, very slowly, he came and stood still in front of Hosena. There was an unbearable silence everywhere, a desolation! Because the noise from their footsteps had ceased. In the light of the full moon Hosena's body looked incomparably beautiful; the lovely slender face, the two big black eyes which became deeply mysterious, acquired an unparalleled grace. It was at this figure that Nawaz looked at closely, but his gaze became hazy; his eyes kept closing; waves of drowsiness swept over them. It was as if he was dreaming. A few moments later Nawaz's lips quivered slightly, and he asked Hosena in an mild, slurred voice:
- Who are you?
Hosena was speechless, bewildered. In her eyes astonishment mixed with fear. How could she give an answer to this question? That was beyond the ability of human beings.
Syed Waliullah (1922-1971) is considered one of the foremost of Bengali writers.
Asrar Chowdhury teaches Economics at Jahangirnagar University.