Short Stories

The Strange Course of Love: By Buddhadeva Bose

Ila is pacing up and down restlessly in her room when Shobhon appears outside the door. The only information about them we need is that Ila is twenty and Shobhon, sixteen.

Ila (brusquely): Who’s that?

Shovon: It’s me.

Ila: Ah… Shobhon? (gently) Come in. (Shobhon enters) Sit down. (Shobhon sits down) Have you heard what your Amal-babu’s done, Shobhon?

Shobhon: What’s he done?

Ila: You haven’t heard? (acerbically) He’s getting married, you see!

Shobhon: Then so are you.

Ila: (suddenly stops pacing up and down and faces Shobhon) Look, Shobhon, I’m warning you, you’re becoming cheekier by the day…

Shobhon: I’m sorry.

Ila: (quickly patting Shobhon on the shoulder) Well, so’m I. Please don’t mind – I’m not in my senses today.

Shobhon: So I see.

Ila: Listen. Your Amal-babu is marrying Pamela Mitter – can you imagine! Pamela – ha ha! (Ila laughs drily.) What do you think of Pamela’s looks, Shobhon?

Shobhon: Ug-ly.

Ila: Ah, Shobhon. You have discerning eyes. Pamela… her face is exactly like a halibut’s, isn’t it?

Shobhon: (after some thought) Very much like a halibut’s.

Ila: Not very much, Shobhon, exactly like a halibut’s. Take a good look when you can.

Shobhon: I will.

Ila: And he has to pick halibut-face to… have you brought my cigarettes, Shobhon?

Shobhon: I have. (takes the packet out of his pocket and gives it to Ila)

Ila: (rips the cellophane wrapper off the packet and opens it with such force that the entire foil-covered tray slips out on the floor.) Damn!

Shobhon: Here you are (picks it up and hands it back to her).

Ila: ‘kyou. (putting a cigarette in her mouth) Want one?

Shobhon: No.

Ila: Have one. Never mind, don’t, you’re still a child. (tosses the packet on the dressing-table, then picks a lighter up from the teapoy nearby to light the cigarette) What I simply cannot understand, Shobhon, is how he could choose this halibut-face – ugh, what taste Amal has! Just as well, Pamela will suit him just fine. Do you suppose, Shobhon, that I would marry him, that I would even consider marrying him, even if he threw himself at my feet and licked the soles of my boots and sobbed?

Shobhon: Why are you pacing about that way? Please sit down.

Ila: if you run into him, Shobhon, tell him that Ila is ashamed today, that she feels sorry for herself, for having consorted with someone whose taste runs in that direction…

Shobhon: I will.

Ila: No, don’t tell him she feels sorry for herself. You can tell him instead that… never mind, there’s no need to say anything at all. If you run into him, say nothing about me. All right, Shobhon?

Shobhon: All right.

Ila: And if he tries to say anything, if he tries to say anything about me, Shobhon, just give him a resounding slap. Can you do that, Shobhon?

Shobhon: Of course I can.

Ila: No, don’t say anything, there’s a good boy, don’t say a word. There’s no use making a scene. Let him do whatever he wants, what relationship do I have with him anymore? (remains silent for a while, then throws the cigarette out through the window) Let him die, let him go to hell, let him be ruined – what do I care? And yet and yet and yet, Shobhon, yes – you know that I loved him, Shobhon – can you tell me why he didn’t marry me? Yes, of course I would have, I was ready to. If he asked me even now, at once I’d – you’re laughing, Shobhon?

Shobhon: Oh no, why should I laugh?

Ila: What do I do now, Shobhon, tell me. What use is it to stay alive? Now I wish… if only I’d died earlier… but who would have thought such a thing would have happened. No, it’s no use staying alive. I’m going to kill myself, Shobhon.

Shobhon: You’re determined to?

Ila: I’m telling you in confidence, Shobhon, don’t tell anyone else. Tomorrow… by this time tomorrow I’ll be dead.

Shobhon: How will you kill yourself?

Ila: With poison – no, I’ll shoot myself. Can’t you get me my father’s pistol without anyone knowing, Shobhon?

Shobhon: Do you know how to fire it?

Ila: That’s true, I’ve never fired a gun in my life. What if I miss – how terrible! There’ll be a bang, everyone will get to know, such a scandal – but I won’t have died. I’ll have to die of shame instead. No, I’m going to poison myself – opium, strychnine, potassium cyanide…

Shobhon: Where will you get all this?

Ila: You’ll get them for me.

Shobhon: Where?

Ila: That’s true, that’s true, this is a big problem. So many varieties of poison in this world – but not a bit to be had to kill oneself. What’s to be done, Shobhon, what’s to be done?

Shobhon: What if you don’t kill yourself?

Ila: (after a brief silence) Yes, you’re right. You’re right. No, I shan’t die, I shall live. I shall live. I’ll show him that he means nothing to me. I consider him insignificant, I loathe him – no, I don’t even loathe him. He will realise I never loved him a bit (suddenly stops, then speaks hoarsely) But I did love him, Shobhon, you know that.

Shobhon: Come and sit down here, have another cigarette.

Ila: (sits down beside Shobhon, puts her hand on his) You’re a nice boy, Shobhon, a very nice boy.

* * *

[ One year later ]

Shobhon: (answering the phone) Hello.

Ila: (on the phone) Is that you, Shobhon?

Shobhon: Yes, it’s me.

Ila: Listen Shobhon, I’m going to… it’s Ila…

Shobhon: I know. Tell me.

Ila: I’m going away. I’m leaving Calcutta tomorrow, India three days later.

Shobhon: Our misfortune.

Ila: No, don’t say that. I’m feeling just as horrible about leaving all of you.

Shobhon: Why are you going?

Ila: Just… holidaying.

Shobhon: You don’t care for India anymore?

Ila: it’s not that; I have to go somewhere far away – that’s why.

Shobhon: What! Are you planning to settle in England?

Ila: I might. It was all very sudden – I didn’t even get a chance to meet everyone…

Shobhon: So soon after Ranajit-babu’s wedding…

Ila: Don’t say that, Shobhon, don’t say that.

Shobhon: I’m not saying it – everyone is.

Ila: Who is?

Shobhon: Everyone.

Ila: What kind of people are these, what kind of people. But Shobhon, that’s why, that’s why I have to get out of this country.

Shobhon: You’re wise. It’s far too hot here.

Ila: (after a pause) Um, Shobhon, let me ask you something. Have you run into him… Ranajit?

Shobhon: I have. I went to their house the other day – we were invited.

Ila: What did you see? Is he happy?

Shobhon: So it seemed.

Ila: (after a pause) I’m glad to hear that.

Shobhon: Really?

Ila: Yes, Shobhon, really. Let him be happy, I don’t want anything more than that. Let him be happy – I’m going away. Now I do think I’m not coming back – no, I shan’t come back. Perhaps we’ll never meet again, Shobhon, don’t forget me.

Shobhon: You and I shall meet. I’ll go to England next year, as soon as I’ve passed the ISC examination. And I’ll bring you back when I return. If you don’t want to come, I’ll force you to.

Ila: (laughing) Shobhon, Shobhon, of all the people I know, you’re the only one who loved me a little.

Shobhon: Do you want to know my plan? I’ll have a job waiting for me here as soon I’ve got my engineering degree in England. Then… then I’ll marry you.

Ila: You’re getting too impertinent, Shobhon…

* * *

[ Four more years later ]

Shobhon: Hello.

Ila: Is that Shobhon?

Shobhon: Yes it is.

Ila: It’s Ila.

Shobhon: Oh, Ila. So glad. So kind of you to have … me up…

Ila: Not at all.

Shobhon: You’re the first person I thought of when I came back. How are you?

Ila: I just found out that you’re back. I had phoned earlier too – you weren’t home. Listen, will you come over? Just once?

Shobhon: Of course I will. And not once, but a thousand times. I would have even if you hadn’t asked.

Ila: Ah, Shovon, what a good time we had in London those first few months, do you remember?

Shobhon: I’d expected you to stay, if not forever, at least a little longer.

Ila: Do you suppose I was unwilling? But I had no choice, my mother fell ill suddenly… but we didn’t meet the day I was leaving, I had hoped…

Shobhon: I tried my utmost, but something came up…

Ila: Never mind all that now. Do you remember what you told me on the phone the day before I left Calcutta, Shobhon?

Shobhon: I wanted to marry you, and you scolded me. (laughing) Oh Ila, the things people say when they’re children!

Ila: When are you coming over, then?

Shobhon: How about this evening?

Ila: Yes, come rightaway, this evening.

[ A pause ]

Ila: We’ll meet after such a long time. Three years – no, even longer. Where was it that we met last? Wait, let me recollect – at the Chinese restaurant in Soho, wasn’t it?

Shobhon: Ah, that Chinese restaurant. What a funny place. How funny the man’s accent was. But still, the food was superb. Later I took Marjorie there quite often.

Ila: Took whom?

Shobhon: Marjorie.

Ila: Who’s Marjorie?

Shobhon: My wife.

Ila: (choking) What did you say?

Shobhon: My wife. I’m telling you in confidence, Ila, don’t tell anyone else. I haven’t let anyone know yet. The idea is, once Marjorie gets here…

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