“Most people trusted in the future, assuming that their preferred version of it would unfold.”
― Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland

‘Give me the whole bundle of it,’ Naina had to dart away from her approaching husband, as he screamed at her, demanding more money from her. It was her pay-day, that day. She had carefully hidden her wage that she earned doing household chores in the neighbourhood, inside the folds of her saree-pallu carefully, but Baniya’s hawkish eyes never missed a thing. He was drunk as usual, with the nasty odor that he breathed of the desi liquor, suffocating Naina almost; but, when it came to collecting money from his wife forcibly, he never failed.

‘Give it to me, damn it!’ He demanded again, holding out his right hand, while the left tried to clutch for support blindly, in the air. He was swaying intoxicated, under the influence of the alcohol.

‘No!’ Naina screamed back, as she tried to go inside the kitchen instead, but Baniya stood in the way blocking her path. Breathing exasperatedly, she continued, ‘if I give you everything, how will I run the house? Buntu and Bubblu’s exams are coming too; I have to pay their fees as well.’

She hoped against hope he’d understand, but that rarely happened, did it? Her husband never worked. Everything was upon her. Both his, as well as the kid’s responsibilities fell on her shoulders; not to mention, Baniya’s daru ( liquor ) and juwas ( gambling) too, wherein, he regularly blew away all her hard earned money. And with him demanding money from her ever so callously yet again, Naina feared what might happen ahead. For many a times, in the past, he had succeeded snatching the money away from her, and few times Naina had ended up being bruised and battered too, in that struggle. Would she meet with the same fate, that day too? She could sense trouble as Baniya was getting frustrated and angry by the minute, and was snarling at her. 'Give me the money, you bitch!'

Then, without a warning, he lounged at her; grabbing her by the hair, whilst his one hand fumbled at her saree pallu-knot impatiently. 'No!' Naina struggled, wincing in pain. She tried to get away from his grasp; but, even in this intoxicated state, he was much stronger than her to handle. And, as he twisted her hair harshly, nearly breaking her neck, Naina could only stand still in complete surrender. She was a small-built woman, who was just a tiny body-mass in front of his huge frame. With a slap that turned her face red, he finally walked away from her, humming satisfactorily. Naina immediately felt her saree pallu. The monster had succeeded once again! He had taken the bundle along with hum. With a slump, Naina collapsed on her knees, at the edges of the kitchen door. Exhausted, as she was, she felt helpless. With all the money gone, she didn't know what to feed her kids now. Her kids, she sat upright, they'd be coming back from school any moment. With the monthly ration having run out already, she'll now have to go begging at her neighbour's door, like other times, she thought wearily, as her eyes slowly grew moist at the corners. Oh! What a life she led! Tears began streaming down her cheeks. She wished she had listened to her parents. She'd have perhaps been a lot happier. Weren’t parents always right somehow?

She remembered how her parents had disapproved of Baniya at the very first sight itself. 'He is good for nothing,' they had said. But Naina was blinded in love. Being an ardent movie lover, she had thought, like films, her fate would change too. She thought her love would change him. Baniya, that time, used to do odd jobs; and to woo her had even promised to be a changed man too! She trusted in her future with him. His promises to her had convinced her to finally elope with him, ignoring her parent’s warnings. She dreamt fervently, her version of future would unfold eventually and she'll be really happy with Baniya forever. But...if only things happened that way!

Life gave her a different reality check, a cruel one at that. And there seemed no escape now. Realizing the futility of repenting too, as it hardly wielded any result, Naina slowly wiped off her tears with her saree pallu. She felt weak from within, but pushed herself to stand up somehow. There was nothing in the kitchen, she knew; except some stale rice, she remembered. She went inside and took a bowl out. She wiped it clean with her saree pallu. She could never go back to her parent's house. They had disowned her, for going against their wishes.

She took the left-over rice from the pan and poured it slowly into the bowl. Thousand thoughts were buzzing at her mind. Begging was not an option for her anymore. After all, how much could she annoy everyone around, and for how long, just because of her drunkard husband? She wanted an end to it. A permanent end! She knew her husband would come at midnight, yelling for food. And the stale rice was all they had, in the house. She could give it to her children; but maybe, tonight, they'll just have to remain hungry. A thought entered her mind. Yes, only tonight, my dear children, she decided. Forgive me, but from tomorrow things won’t be the same anymore. With that, she went to the store room to find the bottle she remembered, finally making up her mind on what to do. Rat poison! She'd mix it in the rice. That was the only option left. There won’t be such horrible times anymore, my dear children, she thought, putting her thoughts into action. Yes, no more…our future will change

That night, as Naina and her children slept hungrily in the other room, when her husband finally returned home and saw the bowl of rice on the main table, as soon as he opened the door - he lounged for it hungrily. And things weren’t the same anymore… ~ future had indeed changed


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