Fiction Park

Something to fight for

The past six years, the years everyone said he wasted and the years he loved most, had taught him to be proud of his labour, imbued him with a new awareness of himself and the world as well as a resolve to change it

- Ajay Mishra

The clouds gathered in the sky, obscuring the sun and washing everything in grey light. He glanced at the darkening sky, gathered his tools and started walking home. He had shivered all night without a quilt to keep warm in the winter air. This is why he had desperately hoped that it would be a sunny day. In the morning, the sunlight had cut through the mist to reveal a bright and beautiful expanse. But before too long, clouds had gathered and blocked the sun, draining everything of its warmth and colours.

He wanted to get home as soon as possible, lie underneath a quilt with his wife and let the combined heat from their two bodies finally dispel the crippling cold he felt in his heart. He didn’t like the winter, especially when it rained. Nights were deathly cold, sleep was scarce and often, husband and wife would cling to each other for warmth but to no avail. If it rained, there would be no work for him and so he would lie all day either in bed or in front of a fire. He had hated being idle. The past six years, the years everyone said he wasted and the years he loved most, had taught him to be proud of his labour, imbued him with a new awareness of himself and the world as well as a resolve to change it. This resolve was now all but broken under the weight of the years of pain and struggle. Yet he knew that he had never felt more alive than he did back then.    

He had vowed to always live by those ideals, but the cold weather and impending rain forced him to ignore them temporarily and seek shelter. He told himself that when the sky cleared and the sun was shining brightly again, he would be back in the field with his ideals intact. He didn’t like the winter, especially when it rained, but he knew it had its own consolation because the arrival of winter meant the end of heavy rainfall. Yes, it would still rain in winter but those would be no more than light drizzles. The arrival of winter with the end of monsoon meant no more leaking roofs, no more creaking floors, and most importantly no more fear of losing the house in a landslide, at least not until another year.

He wanted to get back as soon as possible but his crippled leg, the price of those six years, meant he had to limp home, slowly and painfully. How energetic he used to be, back when his leg was whole and he was young and healthy, but those days were gone, lost in the labyrinth of time and all those memories, both bitter and sweet, he kept hidden in the darkest recesses of his mind. He didn’t always like to think back because those years were difficult, full of adversity and misery and yet somehow they were also joyous years full of hope for the future.
“Aaram hununchha Aamai?”
“Aaramai chhu Baa.”
He felt good when the old lady addressed him as such, as if he were her own son.  She was always kind to him, even when the rest of the village scorned him, maybe because she was too old and tired to scorn a stranger. Even when she had scolded him for the path he chose, it wasn’t contempt or disgust he heard in her voice but sympathy and affection, as if she could tell what he had to endure without him ever telling her, as if she were his own mother.

As he hobbled onwards, small droplets of water began to fall. If he got drenched today, he was doomed, he thought. He contemplated paying the old woman a visit before changing his mind—even for her, allowing a Dalit into her home would be too much. He tried to move as fast as his legs would allow; fortunately the rain didn’t really start until he reached his home. Inside the kitchen, his wife was washing dishes, and cursing the downpour. They were kindred souls. As he entered, she raised her head for a second and then continued her work, muttering incoherently.

She had never complained and had even defended him when the whole village came to loathe him. One would think she supported her husband through thick and thin, and she did but he knew that she had also hated him for leaving her alone—to endure constant derision and with nothing to hold on to, not even the hope that he would return. So when he did return, she did not speak to him at first. With years’ worth of anger and hurt pent up inside, she needed to vent and he knew that. She had suffered for his sake and he felt deeply for her. He understood her pain and listened to her silently without retort. She lashed out, she yelled, and screamed, and cursed, and swore, and wept and wept before finally embracing him wordlessly. Exhausted and snuggled in bed, the two fell into a sweet and comfortable sleep.

In the morning they awoke still wrapped together and while still in her arms, he spoke his heart. “You know, last night when you were screaming at me, you asked what I got from those six years and I said nothing. Well, the truth is, probably nothing, nothing but pain, and misery, and exhaustion, probably nothing but trauma and this crippled leg. But there was something I felt, something in my heart that kept me going. See, one day we were having dinner at this old woman’s house, one of our deceased comrade’s mother. She had a son, about twelve or thirteen years old. When I finished eating, this boy took my plate, rinsed it and served food for himself in that very plate. You see, a Brahmin child ate from the same plate as a Dalit. Often I think of that day and console myself, maybe we didn’t fight for nothing?”

Published: 2018-07-15 08:40:40