Sudhir arrived with a bouquet of flowers. A smile suffused his face. His heart seemed to want to spread its wings and fly.
“Hashi, I have some good news,” he said on entering. “What’ll you give me for it? I won’t tell you if you don’t.”
Hashi said, “Tell me.”
“What’ll you give me?”
“What can I possibly give you? All right, I’ll embroider your handkerchief. I’ve found a lovely pattern.”
“No, not acceptable.”
“Then what do you want? Chocolate? I have some.”
“Am I a child to be fobbed off with chocolate?”
Hashi smiled. “I don’t want to hear the news, then,” she said. “I offered to embroider your handkerchief, offered you chocolate, but since you’ll have none of it…”
“I’m off, then.”
“You simply will not tell me?” Hashi called after him.
“I can tell you if you give me what I had asked for the other day,” he said, smiling meaningfully at Hashi.
Hashi controlled herself in sudden confusion. “I’ve told you I can’t.”
But when she looked at Sudhir she was afraid. She heard him say, “I’d meant to laugh about it. But that was not possible. Forgive me. I’ve heard your wedding’s been arranged with that fellow from Santragachhi.”
“Just a minute, Sudhir-da.”
Sudhir didn’t return.
The same Alaka for whose evening visit Ajay would wait all day, hoping to catch a glimpse of her.
“Ajay-da, is pate an English word?” Alaka was saying.
“Yes, it refers to the top of the head.”
“Check the dictionary. Pate means the head.”
“So Baruna-di was right.”
Ajay said, “Tell me another word for the brain.”
“Head?” Alaka blinked.
“The head is a part of the body.”
“So’s the brain.”
Ajay smiled and said, “So that’s how well you know the language. How can the head and the brain be the same?”
“What’s the difference?” Alaka smiled too.
“In that case there’s no difference between you and that stupid girl who washes clothes. Both are women, after all,” Ajay dead-panned.
“And who is this stupid girl who washes clothes?” asked Alaka.
“The washerman’s daughter at the end of your lane. A young girl – about your age.”
Alaka smiled obliquely.”Ajay-da seems to be observing things very closely these days. Even the washerman’s daughter has not been ignored.”
“Of course! Don’t you have to verify the quality of your belongings?”
“Who belongs to you?”
“There is someone.”
Alaka suddenly began arranging her desk, distractedly.
Ajay looked out the window for no apparent reason.
The two of them dreamt their separate dreams.
The two of them lay intimately entwined.
Hashi’s hand was on Ajay’s breast.
Ajay and Hashi. Husband and wife.