( This story is very much a work under construction. I am experimenting with a style I am not familier with.)
Bhiku sat outside the hut and listened intently. It seemed quiet inside. Shouldn’t Rakhmi have started cooking dinner by now? After that thrashing he had given her, she should have learnt not to cross him. He got no respect in this house.
When she fell down after one of the whacks he was a little scared. But had just given her a kick, as if to drive home his point, and left the hut to go find some money for a drink. Saali, natak karti hai. He spat as he thought to himself.
Finding money for the drink was getting to be difficult by day. His credit at the country liquor bar was dismal. He always promised to pay the next pay day. That didn’t make any difference to anyone because everyone knew he had no job. When he was sober, he worked as a labourer at some construction site. But because of his unreliability the contractors were reluctant to hire him. Sometimes, just to get rid of him, the contractor would give him a rupee or two. But he had failed to get a single paisa out of him today. He even wondered if he should sit in front of the temple to beg. They seem to be making plenty of money.
Now he had come back planning to sweet talk Rakhmi into parting with the money which he knew she had stored somewhere in a tin which she guarded diligently.
He sat outside the hut. He scratched his back on the side of the hut, cleared his throat loudly making a lot of unnecessary noise, spat in the dust and waited for Rakhmi to come out. A starved mongrel came over looking for food. In deep irritation he threw a stone at him, and got up. If Rakhmi was not coming out, He was going in. After all, he was the man, and she better not forget it.
He squared his shoulders and entered the hut. Rakhmi was still where she had fallen. He nudged her a little with his toes, wondering if she had fainted. He turned her over to check and saw the deep gash on her forehead. She had hit her head on the iron stove. There was blood all around.
Totally ignoring her, he started rummaging thru the pitiful belongings which Rakhmi set so much store on. Old sarees, mismatched blouses given to her by kind people, glass bangles, a few crumpled photos of their dead child, a torn shawl but still useful in winter, baby clothes, why didn’t she throw them away, he wondered.
There was no money in any of the containers he had searched. Where had all the money gone? He always thought she had plenty of money. He looked at the stuff scattered on the ground and knew they wouldn’t fetch him even a few rupees in the pawn shop. Maybe there was some money in her tobacco pouch.
He looked at Rakhmi, lying on the ground, surrounded by the debris of their thirty years of married life, and felt deep pangs of sorrow at the futility of it all ! She had been such a loving woman. He should have looked after her a little better. She had become so frail lately.
He sat by her and lifted her hand. Such rough hands, but they had been soft once, as they had caressed his body. His hand gently touched her wrinkled face. She looked curiously at peace, laying dead in his arms. He felt grief welling inside him. He didn’t know how to bring it out. Should he let out a loud wail, or beat his chest ? Call the neighbours?
He tried to force a few tears in his eyes, the dryness in his throat increasing by the minute. He tried to remember her as a blushing bride, eager to please, but couldn’t. He held his face close to hers, trying to see it clearly. The wrinkles, closed eyes, thin lips, the little tattoo on her chin, the big round circle of kumkum on her forehead now mingled in blood.
Suddenly he noticed something around her neck. Her Mangalsutra. He quickly pulled it out. Black beads on a dirty thread, and two gold beads.