I watched her argue ferociously till she wore the shopkeeper down and he gave in. In an instant, her anger transformed into the most brilliant smile I had ever seen. She looked back at her girlfriends, flashed a wink, grabbed her purchases and ran away, with them following her.
I stood there, rooted on the spot. Watching her and her friends sprint away like deer.
Something changed in me that day. I want to marry this girl, I whispered to myself. I will marry her, I decided.
Who was she? How would I find her? Was she even from our district or just visiting the Fair from some neighbouring village? Who was she? Whose daughter was she? These questions swirled around my mind as I walked home.
I reached home to see my mother bent over the fire in the kitchen. I stood at the threshold and watched her. I wanted to share what just happened and how that made me feel. I wanted to ask mother if she may have seen Soni or maybe heard of her. Then I realised that my Mother I had never shared a very friendly or verbal relationship. After the brutal death of my father and the way we were treated by our Uncles and their families my Mother had has become very quiet and kept to herself.
I realised that my only daily companions had been, and were, workers, animals, and my vengeance. That night for the first time in my life I went searching for a mirror to look at myself. To really look at me.
Eyes that were my fathers started back at me. Piercing eyes that could look through the soul as my mother used to say. A smooth, high forehead crowned by a widow’s peak and thick hair that grew longer than most men would like theirs to. The toil in the fields, the walking for kilometres and my daily swim in the Sanjhi had shaped my physique to impressive proportions.
I drifted off to sleep that night thinking about Soni and wondering how to find her.
I woke up to the news that something was brewing in our state and our village council would call for a meeting that we would have to attend. Why would we need to go I wondered, till a neighbour enlightened me that as house owners we would have to be part of it, as it would require some major decision making.
It still hadn’t sunk in that my mother and I were no longer servants at the mercy of our relatives. Though we had snatched our rightful freedom, money was still a problem, as I had cut away from my uncles, and my fields were still to yield. I was patient, but we had to eat to survive.
I started doing odd jobs around the village, repairing a tractor here, delivering equipment there. Going into town twice a week to run errands for the villagers. The money I earned helped us get by, though barely. I kept my eyes peeled, looking out for Soni everywhere I could, but she eluded me.
The rains came down, a nip in the air followed and at long last, the harvest season arrived. The bounty my first harvest brought us made me want to puff my chest in pride. My mother smiled through her tears, looking at me proudly.
I sensed new respect in the eyes of the villagers after that. I was someone to reckon with, I was no longer a mongrel.
One afternoon I reached the Gurudwara to deliver wheat ordered by them. The sun was high and no one was about. A lone woman was sweeping the steps of this holy place, doing Sewa. I climbed a few steps and craned my neck to see if someone was around, as I wanted to know where to place the sacks.
‘Veerji, pare hatoji’ (Elder brother, please move.)
I looked down to see the woman had reached the step I was on and wanted me to move. I apologised for being in the way and walked away. I circled the empty Gurudwara till I found someone who told me where I could place the sacks.
As I started carrying one sack at a time from my tractor to the Gurudwara storeroom, I saw the sweeping woman had now started swabbing the stairs. I had placed a sack and was going out for another when I stepped out of the storeroom and there was Soni, right before my eyes, washing the bucket, mop and her hands at the tap outside the storeroom.
I had given up hope of seeing her again. I stood a safe distance away and soaked in the sight my eyes had yearned for. She looked different this time, subdued, a little lost, a little sad and even more beautiful. But then she was all by herself here, without her friends, I reasoned.
She placed the bucket and mop neatly by the side and wiped her hands. After bowing down at the steps of the Gurudwara she began walking away. I panicked. I couldn’t let her get away once again!
‘Soni!’ I called out as she stepped out of the gate, ‘Soni!’
She didn’t look back. I called out even louder this time, till I realised that wasn’t her name, it was the name I had given her. I ran to the gate and looked both ways. I could see her on my left, turning into a lane. I ran towards that lane, and I could see her walking ahead. I ran till I caught up with her.
I stood in front of her, panting from the effort of the swift run. She stopped and gave me a withering look, pulling her dupatta further towards her forehead.
‘Ki?’ (What?) she glared.
‘Vyah kar le mere naal!’ (Marry me) I blurted out before I realised it, staring at her like a man who had lost his mind. Her green eyes had flecks of gold I noticed. Her lips were…
‘Meri jutti naal vyah karle, marjanya kanjar!’ (Marry my shoe and die you worthless jerk!)
This post is a part of the Blogchatter Half Marathon.
I am writing A Fictional Short story – A River Runs Through It – for this theme.
Read Part 1 of the story here
Read Part 2 of the story here
Read Part 3 of the story here