The college hasn’t closed; nor have the train times changed. The five-past-ten still arrives and leaves every day. Mr. Ticket Checker checks passengers’ tickets near the gate in the same fashion. A month has passed; yet the colored sari’s border isn’t seen waving along the gate.
Nevertheless, Bhagyalakshmi and Ashirbad still face each other with the same ferocity, standing in opposite rows. Nitai inhales his tobacco slowly; Ramcharan chews on his roasted grams without a blink. Neither passes even a slight smile at the other. There is still no exchange of words between the two.
Passengers come in so many types. Bhagyalakshmi and Ashirbad, too, ferry tons of travelers. From station to market, market to town. However, this labor is nothing more than mere labor. Bhagyalakshmi and Ashirbad’s horns boom out of sheer habit. The blare doesn’t rouse with the joy of a victory song.
As usual, the five-past-ten train arrives at the station. It’s late by ten minutes. The swarming crowd of passengers rushes in through the gate. And…Nitai’s eyes light up. Ramcharan’s face quavers. Both rickshaws—Bhagyalakshmi and Ashirbad suddenly shiver. A colored figure is seen to excitedly bypass Mr. Checker and heading this way.
The tinted face can be identified even through the gaps in the thick crowd. That girl. Nitai gets a firm grip on his cycle’s handle. Ramcharan strikes his seat to shake off the dust and lifts a restless foot on the paddle. The horns of Bhagyalakshmi and Ashirbad blow desperately.
Within moments, a puzzling blow starts to dampen this rush of resentment between the two rickshaws . Bhagyalakshmi’s horn sobs; Ashirbad’s quivers like a cracked throat.
The girl’s appearance has changed. A vermillion strip colors her hair’s parting; there is a veil on her head. She isn’t wearing those small earrings any longer. A huge pair of kanpashas adorns her ears. The girl isn’t alone. There’s someone with her. A young man. He is donning a silk shirt and a Farasganga dhoti. New shoes on his feet. Three rings on the fingers.
The man holds the girl’s hand. He smiles and so does she. Both come this way. Suddenly, they stop. It is as if they cannot see the two rows of rickshaws on the stand. They don’t even cast a glance on them—not the girl, not her male escort.
They pause in front of a taxi. Before even a minute passes, Sanatan’s shiny new taxi races away on the road, cutting between the two rows of rickshaws, scattering a cloud of smoke all over the place. The girl has left, along with her male companion.
The smoke and burnt petrol smell coming off Sanatan’s new taxi don’t hang heavy in the air for too long either. A gust of wind comes and sways the curtains of Bhagyalakshmi and Ashirbad.
All rickshaws leave with passengers. Pakshiraj, Mon re Aamar, Urboshi, Koto Moja, Joy Ma Kali, Pranaram, Shukh-Shanti, and Chol re Chol. Only Bhagyalakshmi and Ashirbad stand quietly, facing each other.
Fatigue and lethargy seem to suddenly grip both the rickshaws. No resentment, none of that colliding resolve. None of them fidgets.
Ramcharan says, “Hey, Nitai, mind giving me a bidi?”
“Here,” Nitai says.
3 thoughts on “The End of Cold War (Short Story) — Part II”
This is pure ‘Ah!’. What a simple, balanced narrative. I wish I could write like this. Not a word out of place. I congratulate you. For bringing home the beauty of your writing, and Subodh Ghosh.
Thank you so much, Prashanth, for showing the patience to read this story. I am glad you liked it. The credit for the “beauty of writing” is all Subodh Ghosh’s; I only sought to bring him to perceptive readers like you.
They find friends in each other, in abandonment. Bhaswati, this is sheer genius. 🙂