After weeks of thunderous rains, the day shone like a rich bride heaving herself with gold. The wet roads, or whatever was left of the roads, the fallen trees and destroyed bamboos everywhere made it look like the bed after the first night. Rain gods knew how to romance the rustic earth. Not that earth would be complaining, she knew it all would climax with something this beautiful like this very day.
In the midst of this romance, in the luscious green Manipur, staring out of the window from her bamboo hut, Maria knew her day wouldn’t be any different from the previous 4 years. She was sure that it would just end in an endless wait. Those tiny slices of eyes that adored her beautiful innocent face, had every possible trace of that endless wait. Little did she know that her wait would finally end today!
“Yoimayai Khongsai…?” yelled a stranger as he knocked on the door. The last time she heard her full name from someone was around three years ago when she was sent a letter from her husband, Lalboi Khongsai. The letter just had enough information to let her know that he was now at Kashmir as a Border Security Force personnel. She didn’t even have an idea if the letter was actually written by Lalboi. It just had those precise details, without anything addressed to her personally. She wondered if the person who wrote that letter had any time to write. It was like a hand-written telegram just before someone died. It was this thought that killed her everyday. The couple just had each other. Although they had their relatives who lived far away in different tribes, there was no communication between any of them since their marriage 6 years ago. She was alone, on top a hill, in a bamboo hut, living on herbal soups and an occasional chicken sautéed rice, to ease her craving for a delicacy. Her every day was a routine which just had around three events in the same order! But today, a stranger’s voice calling out her full name was something new since three years.
Around 5 steps from the window and she had walked all the way to the opposite side of the hut to the door. Taking a quick peek through the gaps of the bamboo door, she saw a man in uniform. She was sure it wasn’t Lalboi. But she wasn’t sure who he was. She shivered as she opened the door. The man outside immediately saluted her and said something in Hindi. She didn’t understand a word. She could just see the grief in his eyes. She was glad she didn’t understand anything. She did not want to understand anything that might end her wait filled with hope all these years. But the grief in that man’s eyes definitely stirred her thoughts to churn out some depressingly devastating assumptions.
Days passed and gave way to numerous months ahead. Years passed. She had now accepted the fact that she was alone now. She had her own hut and the whole hill as well. Trees around her hut probably knew her loneliness and they definitely tried their best to keep her company. They housed some beautiful birds. Gave away juicy fruits. Showered dew drops on her as she plucked flowers underneath. The creepers around the trees sometimes swept their tender stems around her to give her a sense what she missed from her long-lost husband. In the midst of all this natural gestures from the nature itself, she stopped missing Lalboi. She started to cherish those moments because she had not one but many of her husband’s sensations all around her hut.
That day, she cut across the misty fresh air, danced her way on the grass through to the door. She had forgotten how a human’s presence around her would feel. She had not seen another human in years. But she somehow felt that lost sensation in her this time. She knew there was definitely someone inside. She waited outside the door for a few minutes before getting in. She was scared. She was angry. She was curious. She was restless. At some level, she was even happy for having realized that she was indeed alive in the same human world. She peeped in and took miniature steps to see who it was.
Months had passed and she had fallen in love with a small boy who had strayed into the jungles and had smelt the chicken. He was slurping the soup while he enjoyed the fresh peppers garnished on it. She had first felt a shock but then after seeing his hungry innocent eyes, she had managed to accommodate another living person in her world. She had nothing to lose. For Maria, the little boy was like a child she never had. She knew a small kid like this boy couldn’t leave her deserted like Lalboi. She taught him to cultivate vegetables, to sow seeds, to pluck flowers, to fix their bamboo hut when the storms left it messy. She taught the boy everything that Lalboi knew. She taught him to take care of her. She taught him to live, her way.
A gun was something she had just heard about. She had never seen one. Finding it within the bamboos hid somewhere in the roof was that last thing she could have expected. There have been no person in this hut since she built it years ago except the little boy who had been living with her since months. She had never cared to ask him about his life before. She was just content with what she had got from him, in the present. But now, she had to know. She pulled out the gun and headed out to ask him. He was lying on the misty grass bed staring at the cloudy sky. He was probably counting clouds and trying to make sense out of the shapes it formed.
The innocence of this very sight of the little boy staring at the clouds with a mesmerized look, changed her mind. She threw away the gun in the bushes and headed back to routine life. Over the next few days, she noticed the kid was pretty disturbed and didn’t enjoy his days like he used to. Hardly a couple of weeks had passed and the boy disappeared into thin air. She got up one day to find him missing from everywhere she thought would find him. She searched him for many days around the little hill she lived. She was scared to go beyond the farthest boundaries she had ever been.
The thought of sudden disappearance made her restless for many nights. But yet again, Maria made peace with her loneliness. Her life was a little different from what it used to be till a few months earlier. The vacuum that the little boy left in her life was imminent but that didn’t stop her from getting back to her previous life. She was back being a part of the nature in its true sense.
As she plucked those juice ripened button peppers, she felt a shiver down her spine when a rustic hand rubbed across her naked shoulders. Before she could grasp any sense of what was happening, she was stranded on the floor of her hut. 3 men in uniforms yelled in excitement and laughed their way into her soul. One of the men held the gun that she had thrown away in the bushes a few months back. One of the men held a bunch of shrubs in a sack. As she moaned for help, she realized that those shrubs were the same that had mysteriously grown somewhere down the hill around the same time when the little boy had strayed into her hut. It had gotten wild and had gone uncontrolled after the boy disappeared. She had only heard of those mysterious herbs which were not to be grown anywhere, and was pretty much abandoned by everyone. Yoimayai knew she was going through the most horrific moment of her life right now as she was bitten and eaten by these monsters. She laughed at herself thinking of the pieces of chicken she used to quarrel with Lalboi. She always wanted the best cooked chicken. That light moment flashed in her subconscious as she equated herself to that piece of seasoned chicken being the source of heavenly pleasure. But this time, she was only giving it but not indulging in one herself. She was left torn.
After years of being estranged by the humankind, she found haven in the innocence of a boy who she later realized was just using her to grow weed. Probably he felt insecure after his gun went missing. Within a few months she met another three men. Probably she wouldn’t even recognize their faces if she ever meets them again. She was too much at awe and petrified to even realize that she was gang raped by three men in her own hut in the midst of her very own nature. She felt helpless as the breeze, trees, creepers, flowers and peppers just watched her being used like a toy for carnal pleasures.
Again, months had passed. It was almost a year since that disgraceful day on the tiny hill of Manipur. A dreadful wilderness had grown on the hill with a dense silence. The grass had grown taller than the herbs. Some trees had fallen without anyone to care for them. There was no clue of color from the flowers which were once visible from down the hill, once upon a time. The whole hill now looked deserted. There was no sign of a living soul anywhere around the broken hut. Amidst all this, a familiar but estranged voice was heard. “Yoi….” yelled a man with distressed voice. The last time this voice had echoed this land was almost a decade ago when Lalboi bid adieu to his beloved Yoimayai. He had returned. He ran across the wild hill to reach the hut at the very top. He stepped into the hut with a little hope to see his sweet innocent Yoi breathing. His hope came real. She was alive, but the very state of her life made him choke his heart. It pained him to see her naked, dry bruises. Slandered hair, dry scaly lips were the least of his worries, but her very existence in such a state wished he had not been able to see her alive, not in this life at least.
He took care of her without uttering a word. He dressed her fussy wounds which were unattended for months. He bathed her, hoping to cleanse not just her bruises but her pain. He fed her with fresh food. He cleaned the hut. He trimmed the bushes and huge bamboo grass that had grown all around their hut on the hill. He made everything intact just the way it was before he left. But every single thing he did was just to make her feel at home again. He wanted her to know that her Lalboi was back. He never intended to ask her about what she went through. He could possibly do it much later. He didn’t say a word about his abduction and him being held hostage for over 7 years. He didn’t want to ask her about the messenger in uniform that he had sent to convey her that he was alive but as a hostage. He didn’t know if she had understood his friend’s words, because she could hardly speak any other language other than her native tongue. Every single thing that had gone past in the past decade had torn them apart. All he wanted now was to see her just the way she used to be. But, he didn’t speak a word to her.
“I am sure you are wondering what the hell happened to me. Well, I’m glad you asked! You were dead to me” she murmured one fine day after a few weeks. “I didn’t really hope that you would come back. A man in uniform came a few years ago to tell something and I assumed it was about your death. A lot has happened these years since you left. I was alone. I had somehow found happiness in my life, but then I got raped by three men. I got betrayed by a kid. I got stranded in my own garden. I kept living these past few months just because I lacked the strength and courage to kill myself. I wish I had died. I did not want to see you. I wish I had died when I was of the impression that my Lalboi had died years ago. Now I feel more sad that you were alive and you let all of this happen to me. At some point I was fine being a widow to a soldier. But if being a soldier can do this to their loved ones, I wish they stop making new soldiers. I am very sure there are women and families who just stick to their pain and sorrows just because their support is striving hard for their beloved country. But don’t you think they deserve a minimal attention from that same nation? I do. I didn’t know that I did before, but ask me and I would say… yes!” Silence is the best answer Lalboi could come up with.
Several days passed and Yoimayai had somehow recovered. Lalboi had groomed the vegetation around their hut to be just as pleasant as it used to be before. On a sunny morning, a man in uniform knocked on the door and called Lalboi’s name. She saw him go to the door and speak to that man. She knew it would be another summon for him to get back. But Lalboi closed the door and came back to her. What he spoke next made her comfortable but at some corner she wished to see the patriotism she had seen in him 10 years back. His words “After what this nation has done to you, I would leave it, but will never leave you alone, ever again Yoi”