The Game: Ashapurna Debi

The car left the tarmac highway to turn into a bumpy road.

Touching her husband’s hand on the steering lightly, Sabita said, ‘Can’t you drive a little slowly?’

Turning his head to smile at her, Amlankusum asked, ‘Why, are you scared?’

– I’m not scared, I’m enjoying the drive. I don’t want this road to end.

– This road isn’t ending anytime soon. These people live in the back of beyond. Really, couldn’t Samaresh have got a job somewhere else?

After a pause Sabita said – But how beautiful the scenery is.

– Rubbish, madam. Scenery my foot. So far away from civilisation – so very far. It’s strange, I must say.

– What’s strange?

– All of this. This getting back in touch with your unsuccessful lover and my spurned heroine. It’s just like a novel.

Sabita said gravely – This gentleman named God is a full-fledged novelist. Or, if you like, a dramatist.

– That doesn’t mean there’s quite as much drama in everyone’s lives. Just consider the whole thing. There I was in love with your friend, convinced that having her was all I needed for fulfilment, and then I met you, and my viewpoint changed drastically. And you, while flirting with my cousin, ended up marrying me – and now the two of us are on our way to their house where we’ve been invited. None of this is natural.

Sabita said placidly – And yet it appears so marvellously natural that there doesn’t seem anything remotely illogical about it.

– They’ll be very happy to see us, don’t you think?

– Since they invited us so earnestly, that should certainly be the case.

Amlankusum drove in silence for some time.

– Are you sure of the road? Can you find the house? – asked Sabita, breaking the silence.

A conversation in a car is not exactly a conversation, it’s more of scattered, desultory exchanges.

Amlan said – I have an accurate map.

– How much longer?

– Almost there.

When they had nearly arrived, Sabita suddenly made an unusual suggestion.

She said – How about having some fun and fooling them a little?

– Fooling them? – Amlan asked in the surprise. – How?

– About our lives, for example.

Amlan turned towards her to ask – How do you mean?

Sabita smiled, blushing. – Never mind, I was just saying.

– But you didn’t. Why this sudden plan of fooling them? What’s the plan?

– Nothing, just a trick we’d play on them.

Amlan laughed. – But can you please tell me what you have in mind?

– I was thinking… let’s say this is how we fool them… we’ll pretend to be pining away for our old loves, our lives are barren now, there’s no love between us, we’re at different poles… as though we don’t even know each other… wouldn’t we be fooling them thoroughly?

Twisting the steering, Amlan said – Wonderful idea! Really, you women have such fantastic imagination. I wouldn’t have been able to come up with such a superb trick even if you’d given me a week to think it up. What fun.

– Isn’t it? You think it’s fun too? Sabita laughed like a child, clapping her hands. Then she stopped laughing and said – It seemed such fun when the idea popped into my head… I was only wondering what you’d think of such childishness. You’re willing, then?

– Why not?

– Now tell me, what’s the first thing we should say when we get out of the car? How should we behave to prove that there’s no love lost between us? Come on, tell me what we should do. Let’s say… you’ll tell me grimly, ‘We’re here, Sabita.’ I will retort even more grimly, ‘I didn’t need to learn that from you.’ Then we’ll follow your cousin into the house… Like it?

With something like a smile, Amlankusum said – Wait a minute, let me apprise myself about the drama before taking on the role… During the rest of this journey I have to reconcile myself to the fact that you may have married me, but you aren’t happy, you haven’t been able to forget your old lover…

– What do you mean! – Sabita scolded him. – It’s not just me alone. Make it ‘We haven’t been able to forget our old lovers’.

– Oh yes, of course. You composed the story, you see, so it’s not unusual for me to get it wrong at first.

Glaring at him, Sabita said – You’re not allowed to get anything wrong, mister. No salary for you if you do. You must have seen a lot of unsuccessful lovers and jilted lovers in films, think of one of those characters.

– Very well.

– What is it, don’t you get the game?

– At first I didn’t, but now I have.

Sabita asked sceptically – Let me hear what you’ve got.

Smiling faintly, Amlankusum said – What’s the use of talking? Let me start the game, you can check for yourself whether I play my cards right.’

Amlankusum had indeed grasped the game, he bid perfectly, played his aces flawlessly, every day during their stay. In fact it was Sabita whose game went to pieces now and then.

On the day that they were to return, Sabita’s former lover told Sabita’s husband in private – I couldn’t have imagined this, Amlan. To tell the truth I got married quickly out of rage at your behaviour. But still I was content to think you had found happiness. But now you’ve dispelled that contentment too.

Taking Sabita aside, Amlankusum’s cousin told her – I may address you as my cousin’s wife in public, Sabita, but I can never forget that you’re still the same Sabita to me. I just have this burning regret that you threw away your life needlessly.

The car travelled along the same road, although in the opposite direction now.

After passing much of the journey in silence, Sabita said – We really fooled them, didn’t we?

Chuckling, Amlankusum replied – Well, it’s better to fool others than to fool ourselves.

Sabita asked doubtfully – What do you mean?

Amlan laughed. – How simple things would be if only everything we say means something. It’s because we cannot get the meaning of all we say that the world turns so mean.

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