‘Emancipation from the bondage of the soil is no freedom for the tree.’
— Rabindranath Tagore
MORJINA was scrubbing her cow when she caught sight of her husband walking along the embankment.
‘Oy!’ she yelled. ‘Wash your own clothes! Shona should be in school!’
‘It›s ok, ma,’ said Shona, plunging the soapy evidence of her father›s ineptitude into the water.
‘Washing isn›t a man›s job,’ Rofik scowled. He stormed to the tea stall but Morjina›s glare was a fish hook in his backside; he returned and frowned at the cow.
‘Isn›t earning money a man›s job?’ Morjina said sharply. She knew he couldn›t work with his lung condition and besides, she liked her new role as bread-earner of the family. Since last week, when she finally rebelled against Rofik›s orders and joined a microcredit organisation for a loan, her status in the village had changed. Now even the haughty butcher›s wife looked at her with awe.
‘Be content with what Allah has given you,’ Rofik grumbled.
‘You can›t be hungry and content!’ Morjina stormed away, tugging the dripping cow behind her. It wasn’t as though he had shared the egg with her or their daughter that morning.
Shona chased her. ‘It›s ok, ma,’ she said. ‘I don›t have to go to school.’
‘Shush, moyna birdie. You›ll go to school, even if we have to sell your father. Not that he would fetch much.’
‘But I have no bag,’ pouted Shona.
‘We›ll buy a bag, chiroi birdie,’ said Morjina, tethering the cow and entering her shack.
Rofik followed them in. He picked up the rosary beads and began frantically pushing the beads down thread, irritating Morjina. How could he communicate with God at that breakneck speed?
Morjina closed her eyes and prayed the quickest prayer she could muster. ‘God, thanks for the cow. Please help us put Shona on the ladder so she may climb out of the injustice of poverty and make her dreams reality.’ That took a good twenty seconds. Dim-witted Rofik couldn›t even pray right.
At that moment, between praying and cursing, a resolve bloomed in Morjina›s heart. She would do it herself. She would sell rosho malai and shondesh before Eid to pay for Shona›s tuition. No need to waste her desserts on Rofik›s lousy taste buds.
Later that night, Morjina returned home with an order of 5 kg of rosho malai and 5 kg of shondesh secured, skin glowing in the moonlight with fresh courage. She was no longer a shy violet lost under a dark borkha. She was master of her own fate.
As she lay in bed, facing Rofik›s cold back, her pride leaked out and a new feeling crept in: morose loneliness. There she lay; emancipated and loveless, listening to her husband snore.
This story was published in Sampad’s Inspired by Tagore book in 2012.