In the meantime, the children of the tea-vendor finished their meal and were busy in fixing the fitments of their so-called beds on a platform- like bamboo structure which by day, served the purpose of a platform for keeping the goods and commodities of daily sale. The vendor was also busy playing at cards with three other men who used to come in the evening from neighbouring tea-gardens.
“It is ten O’ Clock. Let us push off.” Some one of them said. _
“Only one game more.” Another replied while shuffling the cards.
“Heart one, spade one, no trump, two clubs, three diamonds, Double.” There was bombardment of calls.
I enjoyed silently. The game started and ended. The vendor and his partner got several ‘downs`. I looked with pity at his spade-like face. The three other players were also ready to leave for.
The vendor saw me now and said softly, “Do you want anything ‘?”
“Yes. I want tea; can you please? Perhaps the steamer may not come tonight”. I replied while my eyes were scanning the children ready for sleep. One of them jumped up to me and asked, “One cup ‘?.”
“No three cups.” I said, holding out the flask to him. “Oh, you have your family, I presume. Please tell me if you have any difficulty. I shall provide with everything you need—late-night ten, hot water or whatever it is, and a dinner too if you so like”. The Vendor spoke unhesitatingly.
He was a middle—aged dark—complexioned man but his voice was very pleasing and soft. I learned that the children Iost their mother and he was pulling on somehow with them on the bank of the Brahmaputra.
Suddenly I felt that the people of this world are so kind, generous and sympathetic, that the world is full of love and affections. My mind kindled with joy. I paid him the bill for tea and with a word of thanks to him I returned almost after an hour through the narrow passage between two rows of tea-chests to the float-dock. I gathered from the ticket master that the steamer might not come at all; even if it comes, it may arrive only in the small hours of the moming.
Everybody fell asleep. Nothing was heard except the sporadic snorings. The song of the Nepali family which started in a high pitch was dying out and ended in protracted yawnings. The film magazine lay calm on the chest of the boy who slept without any anxiety because he got a dependable ally in me for the night. His sister was still awake probably waiting for me. On seeing me she got seated and said, “Barun, don’t you take tea ‘?’
There was nothing unnatural in her action nor any unnecessary haste in her voice. Much of my uneasiness also cleared off.
I called Barun and then we sat together to enjoy tea. I brought three earthen vessels from the stall. They took out snacks from their suitcase, of some two or three varieties and offered me few. I took my share and wanted to leave the place but they sharply protested. I succumbed to their request and took tea together.
“Barun, please arrange your bed and fix the mosquito curtain also. You will have a comfortable sleep”.
“Wouldn’t the steamer come ‘?” I felt as if both of them asked me simultaneously.
“What would happen now Barun ‘?” She asked wearily.
I couldn’t have believed earlier that one could be so beautiful even in a serious thoughtful mien. But then, why this worry at all?
“Barun, have you got any urgent work at Jorhat ‘?” I asked unwittingly.
“We have to arrive at Jorhat tomorrow by any means”. This time she answered direct to me, her head of course still crouching.
“Tomorrow is tomorrow’s business. Isn’t it Barun?” I said confidently. He got a strong support in me now and said, “Yes, sister, you are unnecessarily worried and disturbed. You know that ‘No worry’ was written in the telegram. And you i passed the M. E. standard, don’t you know the meaning of ‘No worry’?”
“But ‘come sharp’ is written there”, She replied blushingly with her eyes at her brother.
“Our brother-in-law is a weak-hearted men. Even when he catches cold, he thinks he will die and wants you to sit by his side. That is why he writes ‘come sharp.” Barun answered sportingly.
I saw in the dim light of the candle that her face grew red and so beautiful. But ‘no worry’, ‘come sharp’ – what was the mystery of all these?
“Is he ill?” I enquired.
“He (brother-in-law) met with a cycle accident and is in hospital now. We got the telegram two days back. I was absent at home and arrived yesterday when my school closed for the vacation. My Father, a tea-garden employee, is awfully busy now because it is plucking time and therefore could not avail leave”. Barun just briefed me.
At my repeated request Barun spread out his bedding and fixed the mosquito curtain carefully. His sister lay on it without any further word or comment. I had few more words with Barun and learned more about them. Barun noted down my address as well and after a little while he fell asleep.
Kathanibarighat lay in deep slumber. The float-dock also seemed to have been dozing. Some unsteady foot-steps probably of the ticket master or of some crew, were clearly heard up to the end of the dock. A lump of earth eroded nearby and fell heavily on the water.
On the other bank of the Brahmaputra, in the dense Kaziranga sanctuary a tiger must be ambushing somewhere to hunt its prey. In the distant sandy charlands, in the midst of ‘Kohua’ and ‘Zhao’ weeds, on the deep, dark and vast expanse of water of the Brahmaputra some mysteries lay winking. The stars above huddling together, peered into it to ken what the mystery was about. On the river bank very close to the float-dock I presumed that a number of curly—headed young washer-women were washing clothes making a beating sound “chop’ , ‘chop’, ‘chapat’. But alas! they are only waves beating against the beach.
Barun was reading in class IX in the town. His father possibly served as a head tea-house babu in a tea-garden. Their house was about ten miles away from the river station. His sister was married one and a half years ago.
Scarcely a week was spent in her father’s house when she was immediately recalled. It was only a minor accident. But then, ‘come sharp’ is written there. Perhaps he could not live even for a day without her, or might be, they are woven into one in deep love. Could I experience this night one and a half years ago ……… and I met with no cycle accident now ……….. Fuh! what a nonsense!
The breeze put out the candle. I felt rather happier to remain in darkness but at the cost of decorum. I therefore lit my half-burnt cigarette with a match-stick and stretched out my hand to light the candle.
“Sleep may visit hopefully only in darkness”. I was suddenly startled by her voice and I promptly asked, “Aren’t you asleep?”
“Just drowsing; there isn‘t the least sound sleep.” She replied.
That was quite natural. I did not therefore light the candle. I stood near the railing resting my hands on it and gazed at the direction from which the steamer would come. The candle light would not suffice the steamer-light must have to be invoked.
I knew not how long I was standing there. Suddenly I heard a noise- ‘steamer’, ‘steamer’, ‘light’ and such kindred words followed by the ticket-bell and hectic foot-steps of men. I hurriedly lit the candle. Barun’s sister seated herself quickly and woke up Bamn. He also got up in surprise.
“Steamer is come Barun”. I uttered these words as if I gave the happy “a male-child- is-born’ news after much travails and weary hours. Instructing Barun to pack up the luggage I went out to purchase the tickets.
On first looking at the face of the ticket master, I scented something had gone wrong with the steamer He got the signal from the steamer that it needed repair. Hence tickets will be issued later. The steamer was limping towards the bank. Barun came and stood behind me. I told him about the mishap. He now ran away to tell his sister about it.
It was almost dawn. I came down on the bank and thought some arrangements must have to he made since they were to reach Jorhat that very day. After meeting nature’s call and wash in the morning I shook off my lethargy when I took a yup of hard-tea. I ordered for hot ‘Luchis` and three cups of ood tea. In the meantime the steamer arrived and two or three passengers came down. I saw Barun was coming down accompanied by another boy.
“Hello, ‘Dada’, Mamu has come. He is coming from Jorhat by steamer. Look here, didn’t I say there is no reason for anxiety‘?” Barun said in a huff.
Mahim Bora (6 July 1924 – 5 August 2016) was an Indian writer and educationist from Assam.He was elected as a president of the Assam Sahitya Sabha held in 1989 at Doomdooma. He was awarded with most notably with the Padma Shri in 2011, the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2001 and the Assam Valley Literary Award in 1998. Assam Sahitya Sabha conferred its highest honorary title Sahityacharyya on him in 2007.