20 years! 20 long years, Bony vanished without a trace. The toddler was still in the process of realizing the world – no one knows what happened over night. Romila had all the doubts on her husband for the vanishing of their first child. Though, even if the husband was responsible, she was anyway helpless. The patriarchy had little to do with the caged decorum of women in the household. The other son and daughter born after Bony aren’t aware of the vanishing and they lead a very humdrum life. The other members in the clan include a bedridden father-in-law who gazes at the sky from his bed adjacent to the window. He still narrates his stories of his hay days, his family full of Zamindars, the number of lands and how his agricultural roots gave way to his son’s supply chain business of vegetables to the international market.
In the day-to-day gust, Mr Rai is a busy man in his own stride. His export business keeps him demanding around the clock and thus, leaving no time for the wife or children. Money, remains intact and consistent in its flow. No wonder, why aristocracy has come as a default to the family. Amidst all this luxury, forever distressed Romila roams aimlessly in the corridors. Still, the woman ardently follows her duties, tracking the help, a check on daughter’s arrival from college, tea in the evening to the father and she keeps going. She has cried enough with no rescue. Subliminally, the ever clandestine thought of Bony doesn’t seem to eradicate. But, the realm of mundane lifestyle around her doesn’t seem to pause in its movement and give a fraction of thought to what happened? What could have happened? And if ‘it’ is alive yet?
It’s 7.30 AM in the morning, thin and frail Vasu is busy washing utensils at the Dhaba. Next in the list of duties involve organizing the tables and chairs, brooming and then peeling the boiled potatoes. The day is going to be as busy as usual. Vasu has been the most loyal help in the Dhaba amongst all. Truck drivers will come and eat before they depart from their further journey. The Dhaba on the highway connecting Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu served a big number of people travelling from far. Vasu’s day goes like a whirl of duties with no time to pause and yes, no holiday. At early twenties with no education, washing dishes, cleaning the dhaba and serving keeps Vasu oblivion to what more life had.
The Dhaba owner, Raghuram is busy counting the notes of hundreds and also, keeping a track on his resources and if they are missing out on any customer’s call. On the flip side, he had least concern towards Vasu’s fragile health which was steadily becoming serious now.
Frequent threats on call to Mr Rai have been keeping him awake in the nights. Romila has been noticing this for some time, though, it could be another work pressure. “I am distressed Romi.” Said Rai. Romila on being unable to respond, as usually Mr Rai never confides his problems in her. A rock solid persona couldn’t get that hit by such a call because his business has born immense pressure in past. And, not many a times Mr Rai shares his issues but this time it seemed serious.
“What is keeping you worried?” Inquired Romi.
Shocked and shivered, Romila, “From where and why?”
An awkward silence.
“May be my Karma”.
“But what happened?” Asked Romila
“Go to sleep. I will talk tomorrow.” Said Mr. Rai
By any chance, it was not possible for the two to sleep. They remained awake and wordless throughout the night.
The day had come to an end, some long distant truck drivers were making their way to their destinations. Washing utensils, piling up the chairs and wailing in the corner remained the job for the day. Vasu was hit harshly by few goons who had come to eat at the Dhaba. They were not happy with the food and the serving. The abuse cauterized all doors to freedom for Vasu and left no word to revolt. There is a deep injury on the chest and the pain was unbearable. No medicines, no first aid but just some cotton to dip in water and apply.
There was nothing left to be done and any recluse to surrender in. Food, shelter, clothing – all were mandatory. It was not the first time when Vasu was thrashed, abused or even sexually molested. The customary mockery on this human race had to happen and Raguram’s cold shoulder wasn’t any surprise.
Raghuram did notice that Vasu’s health was failing with each passing day. He checked out the serious wound on the chest and also, knew that Asthma had already inflicted the body.
The abuses were getting uglier with the passing time and Vasu’s age. Hardly, there is a day when there is no exchange of deal between the customers and Raghuram. People want Vasu for everything – for all the pleasures. And that extra money is definitely a delight to Raghuram. Vasu is just not a help at the Dhaba now – that fragile body irrespective of all the deterioration, is in need. Drivers and goons from nearby location were frolicking to the Dhaba just not for the food anymore. It was a cheap deal after all.
It was night and the clouds were pouring in wholesome. No customers came to eat or lay. Raguram was totally drunk and Vasu decided to talk.
Vasu, “I cannot do this anymore. I plead. All the beating and thrashing and and and….spare me.”
Raghuram, “You filthy piece of shit, you stand no chance to live. The world would have thrown you in a pit long ago.”
Vasu, “I beg you, you have kept me all these years. I will be a loyal dog but keep me away from the butchers.”
Raghuram, “When your father threw you here, he did not tell me what to do with you. I got you for a good amount. This time, I know money is going to come some more. But, for that, I do not want this limping figure of yours.”
Raghuram passed out.
Silence. In all these years, there was never an utterance of the word. Never. Amidst all the commotion of heavy downpour outside, eyes rushed gallons of tears. A flash of childhood memories passed through the wet eyes. How could Vasu forget the adolescence full of hunger plights, getting bullied and sorting the identity crisis? How getting patted on the back in the name of ‘love’ led to something else? Yes, and that family which came for luncheon, the mother did not let her child go closer to Vasu. Yes that protective mother.
Raghuram and Mr Rai sat face to face.
Mr.Rai,”Your calls have been unending. What else now?”
Raghuram, “It is such a delight to see you again after years Mr.Rai, I heard your business is going places now.”
Mr.Rai,”What else do you want now?”
Raghuram, “As if. Your child is with me, that if you remember.”
Mr.Rai,”I think we cleared the deal then and there. Good amount was given to you already.”
Raghuram, “You see, the product you yielded several years ago is getting me some benefits today. But the health concerns are becoming a trouble. I want you to bear the expenditures. And the concerns are serious; I want my business to keep going. As simple as that.”
Mr.Rai,”I have not earned the money to spend on that which I do not own.”
Raghuram, “In that case Mr.Rai, wait for the consequences.”
The heated conversation led to high pitch arguments till Mr.Rai decided to leave the place.
“Is ambulance coming?” Screamed Raghuram.
“Yes, they are just minutes away.” Prakash, another help at the Dhaba replied.
Vasu’s eyes were blurry by now. The body was too weak to be lifted by self and by the end of the day, there were already four attacks of Asthama. Past health checkup wasn’t positive and showed negligence in the treatment. Vasu was not given any medicine off late.
“Give some water.” Said Raguram.
“Could I see my father?” A murmur came from Vasu.
This time Raghuram knew that the dead end was here. Mr.Rai should be informed, if something could be done.
A frantic call from Raghuram was mistakenly attended by Romila. Shocked and shriveled, Romi who did not know anything about Vasu was suddenly in a bedlam. She inquired the same to Mr.Rai.
“Come with me.” said Mr.Rai.
Further, the conversation remained wordless like ever. This time, nothing was left to be done. Nothing anymore.
The couple arrived at the backyard of the small and partially dilapidated quarters of the Dhaba.
“Your eunuch! ‘It’ is sick and dying.” Replied an animated Raghuram.
Vasu’s blurry eyes questioned Romila’s.
“Bony.” Mumbled Romila.
Eyes closed forever.