I wrote this for Rochelle Wisoff‘s FridayFictioneers as a 100 word story. But the premise and the themes demanded expansion. I finally got around to it now. For a bit of context about this tale and meaning of those Bengali words read the original Passerby .
The old man first sees the boy on the front stairs. Later that day he was seen wandering the halls of the old Zamindar Bari by Piku.
“Dadu there’s someone on the second floor.” Piku tells the old man and puts down his weekly supply of groceries. He only grunts in reply as he sorts through the bag.
“Any of your relatives?” he tries to coax a response.
“Where’s the salt?”
The oldman never let’s anyone roam around the crumbling palace, not that there are many who wants to be here, only children. And he shoos them away as soon as he sees them like the jealous monster with a hidden grove of the story Piku read in school.
Coins tinkle as the old man counts them. Piku ambles around searching for any serpentine movement among the weeds.
“Here take this.” The old man thrusts two coins in his hand. “Now go, don’t you have school or anything?”
“Can I go to the terrace?”
“Whatever, just be gone before I finish cooking. Otherwise…”
Piku finds the boy sitting on the terrace looking at the river meandering by the palace. He quietly walks towards him. On the river boats sailing with their patchwork sails carrying people through their eternal exodus.
“Are you from the other side? My uncles also lives on the other side, in Agartala. Ma says soon we’ll also go there.” The boy doesn’t answer.
Piku saunters about on the sun-scorched roof giving side glances to the stranger. “There are snakes around you know. There is a pair of Vastu-Snakes too in the well.”
“Have you seen them?”
“Huh, no but…”
“They left many years ago.”
“How do you know?” Piku squats a few feet away from him.
“When they leave all life also leaves the house. Although some servents say the Zamindar killed one and the other cursed him and left. No one knows.”
The old man sees Piku leave through the steam of boiling rice pot. At noon he eats rice and mashed potatoes with onion, green pepper and musterd oil. Afterwards he takes his old hookah and walks to the old Ghat by the river where an old man in white panjabi and dhoti, like a patriarch of a well-to-do family, is siting on the stairs. That was his favorite spot after all, he thinks. They talk.
“Do you remember the Durga-pujas; the rangoli in the courtyard, the sound of kasha, conch, and dhak during the evening; the crimson vermilion on the tenth day?” The ancient aristocrat suddenly asks.
A faint laughter comes floating in the air from somewhere. The old man listens and for a moment almost hears the echoing ululation of the women of the house. He was a young boy when the pujas stopped in the Zamindari. Before they sold the estate and went to the other side.
“I haven’t heard from them for a long time.” The old man breathes out smoke and it hangs there for a moment.
“They all live in Kolkata. The young one turned into a Naxalite. He might come knocking at your door someday soon.” A crooked smile plays on his mouth.
Crickets start to sing as evening gathers in the moss-covered inner courtyard. Only a solitary old man with an old hookah now siting by the river. A soft breeze rises from the decaying palace like a long exhalation.
Piku returns the next day. When he asks about the boy the old man only says, “On their journey to elsewhere, they sometimes return home.”