Mamu looked tired and dull for he had no sleep overnight. Mamu was a relative brother of his sister’s husband, age being almost equal or a little more to Barun’s.
“What about Jorhat ?” I asked Mamu.
“Quite all right. Mamu was only sent to take us as we were late’. Barun cut across without waiting for Mamu to reply.
“To take you? Means?” I queried.
“I mean, if they go I shall take them with me. If they do not l may just enjoy a trip and go for sight-seeing here. So I have come.” Mamu readily gave the reply.
“But what are you going to do now‘?” I naturally enquired.
“My sister-in—law wants to go anyhow. A country boat shall have to be hired to go up to Silghat where we can take the first available bus to Jorhat. The steamer ran aground on its way and it needs repair now. Therefore the steamer will be late”. Mamu answered.
“Alright Barun, you please arrange for her bath. Both of you please go now. I shall take tea there.” I spoke to Barun.
Barun gave the flask to me and returned with Mamu. When I returned with tea and snacks carried by a tea-boy after about an hour I saw Barun’s sister was talking merrily with Mamu after her bath. The gloom that clouded her overnight was no longer writ on her face.
“When I fu·st saw you, I felt a quake in my heart.” She said to Mamu.
“That’s why I say you may go back to the garden if you so like.” Mamu replied.
“Oh, no, both of you may come back after I arrive at Jorhat. I am so happy that you have come. Last night, a gentleman did a lot of help …………. Before she could complete the sentence l appeared. She blushed with embarrassment and quickly drew her veil a little more.
“Whene is Barun?” I enquired keeping my eyes at Mamu.
“He has gone for a wash but has not returned as yet.” She replied instead of Mamu.
She began to pour tea and distribute the snacks. She served to both of us, Mamu and myself.
“No, not for me, please, I have just taken.” I said.
“But you must oblige us too.” She snapped.
“Okay.” I stepped out a few yards with the cup in hand.
“I have hired a country boat. Let us finish and hurry up now. It’s no use waiting for Barun, tea may get cold. What do you think Mamu?” I said purposefully.
“Oh yes, why not, we should start right now. The Jorhat-bound bus will reach Silghat by 9 o’clock.” We were on the country boat. Like a shooting arrow the boat was going down-stream and the boatmen were rowing in tune with the chorus sung by the duo Barun and Mamu. Barun’s sister was listening to the song with rapt attention. With every rhythm of the song the smile, lavished on her face silently rhymed along. “Oh, the Brahmaputra and the mother ( Ganges. The wind vibrates your body, to go to Mathurapuri, bring the boat ashore.” I thought, she was Barun’s sister and Mamu`s sister-in-law. But what’s mine? I looked at the vermillion mark on her forehead. It appeared like a blazing flame. When the morning sun reflected on her face it looked like gold,nay, it resembled the raw tubers of turmeric. Lifeless indeed is the colour of gold.
She epitomised a happy home crowded with her father-in-law, mother-in-law, husband’s brothers and a ‘can’t-live-without-you’ hubby. That is why he wrote ‘come sharp`, ‘you passed the M.E. standard’, ‘don’t you know the meaning of `no worry`? ‘you must oblige us too’, everything flashed vividly across my mind.
A single day out of thousand days and a single night out of million nights came to my vagrant life rolling from garden to garden in quest of a paltry employment. The nearer the boat approached Silghat, the more wretched and forlorn I began to feel.
Suddenly my eyes fell on her vermillion mark which was still burning like a rod flame. When she bent her head a little the reflection of the waves blazingly hurried past her face. It seemed as though the waves partook the vermillion mark and whisked away.
The boat reached Silghat and we got down. The bus arrived a little while after we finished our tea. It was a State Transport bus which ran on scheduled time. Here we departed. Barun and his sister were comfortably seated in the second row of the bus. Barun gave high compliments and expressed his thanks to me.
“Whenever you chance to be at Jorhat, please call at my sister’s house, also. You remember the address I believe, and whenever you pass through Kathanibarighat, please fail not to be at our house in the garden? Barun’s sister uttered not a word, but her heartful eyes spoke more eloquently than Barun‘s. It was not mere a slobbery courtesy but an unalloyed solicit; the bus blew the horn and was about to start. Barun’s sister with folded hands gave her ‘Namaskar’ to me which I too heartily retumed. But then, where was Mamu? Mamu was still sitting in a nearby tea-stall. I asked the driver to wait for a while, and I ran towards Mamu to send him immediately. Mamu was found smoking a cigarette restlessly.
“Mamu, the bus is leaving sharp now.” I shouted at him.
Mamu threw off the cigarette and stood up.
“I am …………… really very glad to meet you.” Mamu said in great anxiety with eyes steadfastly fixed on me.
“Someday we shall meet again, don’t worry; please push off now, the bus just starts? I ahnost goaded him while I replied. The bus blew the horn again.
“How can I, how can I go? It was a motor accident. Everything was over the next day. I was only acting, throughout. I made a feint.” Hardly had he finished his words when he ran to the bus and got up.
The wheels rolled on to great speed and disappeared beyond the bend in the Kamakhya Hills.
` “MAH—HALADI” : a paste of pulse and turmeric used in marriage ceremonial bath.
DOLAI : a Kind of Assamese garment specially worn by a bride on the occasion of marriage.
VERMILLION MARK : worn by a married woman with husband living.
TUMI : means `you‘ used by an elderly person to a younger one both in singular and plural.
KOHUA, ZHAO : a kind of wild weeds growing on river-beach.
DADA : means elder brother