The Lunar Calendar
Tara had been having a happy day till then. The inside of the cottage had been cleaned. Any cobwebs outside the house had been swept away. It was only 6 in the evening and she had finished all her chores and had cooked dinner for Shona — Green leafs with chicken from the farm next door and thick wheat bread cooked over the tawa. Tara was very excited. She and her daughter hadn’t had anything non-vegetarian in a month or so.
Tara went and stood at the open window that overlooked the vast wheat fields. The fields had started looking golden in the day now, but at that moment everything was gray. The twilight in the farms is always depressing. The utter aloneness brings up too many memories. Tara looked at the clock again, 6:07 pm. Shona should be returning any time now unless she had stayed back at a friend’s house to watch a movie. Tara was about to look out of the window again, this time with a frown when he eyes fell on the calendar next to the clock. It was 17th January. The date stood out in the immaculate room. She tried to look out of the window but her mind stayed on the calendar. That date … that date! Outside, from behind the banyan tree that stood at the end of farm, the moon began to rise. And the the shivery feeling at the end of her fingers and toes turned into a cold clutch around her heart. It was now a year since she had killed her husband.
Tara’s heart skipped a beat and sped up and within a minute she had calmed it down. She had killed her husband in cold blood or complete madness, she still wondered and now wasn’t the time to get scared. It’s been a year and no one had suspected anything. The other farmers and their families had been filled with nothing but goodwill for Tara and Shona. They had searched the nearby villages for any news of Sashi Kumar, they had asked all his favourite whores and there had been so many! and still nothing had turned up. The villagers marvelled. Sashi Kumar son of late Udayji Kumar had vanished from the face of the earth! Food grains, fresh vegetables and milk had poured in from all the neighbours. Tara would never be able to repay their kindness and from that moment on, she had started to love the lonely farm her husband had brought her to. But they were wrong, Sashi hadn’t vanished from the face of the earth. He was below the earth. Deep below, rotting from the inside out.
Tara took a cup of ginger tea and wrapped a shawl over her head and around her shoulders and went out to wait for her daughter. She probably was watching a movie with her friends. Some of the rich farmers had big TVs and cable connections and Shona stayed back if the temptation was too high. Tara smiled into her cup. It was a phrase the mother and daughter used between them. Only if the temptation was too high, then Shona would stay up and read till midnight; only if the temptation was too high, Tara would smoke a cigarette in the house. Neither of them used the phrase and the condition lightly. Tara believed in giving in to temptation every now and then and Shona was a good daughter and was almost an adult, and staying back to watch a movie wasn’t too bad a folly.
Tara sat out in the cold and drank her tea staring far into the horizon. The moon had come up halfway into the sky and was now the colour of cream. She was feeling very content. There was hot meal in the kitchen, a cup of tea in her hands and the moon in the sky was rich and creamy and was almost speaking to her. She let her mind wander back to her dead missing always missing in polite company husband.
He had been a good enough father to Shona when he was around but he had been a terrible husband. He had abused her the many years they had been married. He had suspected her of being a witch. He had suspected her of flirting with other men. He would beat her, but Tara smiled he had also been scared of her. He had bought the farm and had brought them here and had isolated them from the rest of the world. At first Tara had hated it here. The loneliness and the silence had almost driven her mad. One night within the first 6 months, they were here, she had tried to run away. She had not taken anything but had just run as far as she could. It wasn’t very far. Sashi had chased her down on his cycle and had beaten her unconscious and had left her there in the wheat fields. She had gained and lost consciousness the whole night and spoken to the moon. “I will kill him!” she had said to the orange full moon. The moon had replied, “Do it.” “I will bury him right here, where I bleed.” “I will show you the way,” the almost red moon had replied.
Tara looked up at the moon now, gleaming and grinning at her. Both of them had kept their promises that night, one year ago. Tara had hacked her husband in to pieces on a full moon night and she had known the exact spot to dig a hole in. The rage and insanity, she always thought had given her the strength to dig a deep hole. Deep enough to bury the bundle of her husband’s body.
Shona was at her friend’s house, watching a movie. Halfway through the film she had glanced at her friend and her parents sitting next to her. They had been watching her with pity and concern mingled in their faces. They had quickly looked away when caught. Suddenly things became clear. The events of the whole day replayed in her head scene by scene and every look and gesture took on a different meaning. January 17th. Today was JANUARY 17th. She had gone to school. Written the date on the top of every page in her notebook and yet the significance hadn’t struck her till now. She had last seen her father before going to sleep on this date a year ago. He had been wearing his favourite shirt and lungi combination. She had always know that things weren’t good between her parents but she had loved them. Every evening he would cycle back home after work in the fields. The noises of his creaking, rusty cycle and a glimpse of the green and blue lungi and the off-white shirt would fill her with joy. At 14, she had known that her father didn’t stay at home in the night and that her mother sometimes cried from the painful bruises he gave her before leaving home — but still, the time when he came back home to the time she went to sleep was the most normal, beautiful time she spent with her father. Her father had been so elusive throughout her childhood. The steadiness of this farm life had brought her closer to her father. She would get to see him everyday. Her mother had been very unhappy in the beginning at the lonely farmhouse. But Shona had been delighted at having her parents close by to her. And then he had gone away, left them.
Shona looked at the people sitting near her and was aware of the pity and of the regularness of this family. Father, mother and daughter.
“I have to leave, munti! Ma will be worried.” She turned and told her friend. “Yes yes. You should be with your mother today. Take care of her.” Uncle and aunty looked at her with kindness. They pressed a box of sweets on her. She put it in her school bag and came outside the house. Munti followed her. Shona hugged her tight and then abruptly went to her father’s cycle and started riding towards her house,
Everyone had remembered the date. The teachers at the school had not scolded her today. Even Buntydi who would tug at everyone’s plaits if they went wrong in the maths problem they were doing, let her be today and if anyone deserved to get her plaits pulled, it was Shona, the math dunce. Kanti ma had brought her mother saag and chicken in the morning and had refused to take the money ma had tried to give her. They had all known what day it was.
Everyone except HER.
Shona felt riddled with guilt. My father leaves me and ma and I even forget the date! The whole village had been very kind to them after her father’s disappearance. While her father was alive, they hadn’t visited anyone and no one had visited them. But afterwards, there had been kindness and friendship. Her mother had blossomed and had reminded her of her childhood ma, smiling, always cooking, always cleaning the house and even smoking.
Does ma remember? or did she forget the day just like I had. Shona peddaled faster and faster. The roads remembered her cycle tyres and she rode over the exact grooves they made day after day. Today the moon made it even easier to see the path. She was still many kilometers away from home. She glanced at the mon. It looked like a bowl of cream. Ma would often speak of the moon like this. Bowl of cream, “Look look Shona, it is speaking to me, The moon.” She would say, Shona peddaled even faster, looking straight ahead, trying to ignore the glowing, glowering moon.
It was close to 8 in the night now, Tara wasn’t worried about Shona exactly but she was lonely. She was back at her vigil at the window. She couldn’t see the moon now. It was directly on top of the house. The fields were awash with moonlight. Tara looked out in the distance to see if she could spot Shona. Instead she spotted something else. Something that made her heart beat faster and faster. Tara felt like she was almost about to faint.
In the bright moonlight, she saw Sashi standing in the field, waving at her.
It couldn’t be! She had killed him.
She looked up at the sky for guidance, but she couldn’t see the moon. Tara started crying out of fear. She looked again. Yes. Sashi in his white linen shirt and blue-green lungi stood in the middle of the field. Except this time, he was not waving. The villagers would be so happy. “Look! your husband came back.” they would say. “Forgive him. Think of your daughter,” they would say.
Shut up! SHUT UP! Tara screamed as she ran outside. It is not possible. He is dead, he cannot return as the prodigal husband. She went behind the house first to look at the moon. BLOOD RED it looked. This means murder! Had he come back to kill her? But how is that possible. Even his fingers had been chopped. no way to put back that puzzle of flesh and blood and bones. No No. Tara ran to the front of the house. She unhooked the scythe and held it in her strong hands. I will have to kill him again. She ran towards Sashi He didn’t flinch. Not like last time when he had bucked and pleaded and then bled quietly.
Tara ran towards Sashi. Her heart was again filled with rage. How dare he come back. She would once again lose her neat life. The friends she had made afterwards. The easy camaraderie with the field workers as she helped them and cooked for them. The financial independence. Her daughter. Shona had loved her father. She could see past the filthy mouth, the beatings the abuse and could love her father to be honest Sashi had loved his daughter too, all the bad things had been reserved for me. If Sashi came back and told Shona what she had tried to do to him last year, Shona would never forgive her.
She ran like a mad woman, with her feet barely touching the ground. She ran with murder on her mind. She ran towards her dead husband.
The moon had always troubled Shona. Ma would speak to it too much. Look up at the sky too often. And her father. Her father too had been scared. “Your ma is mad.” He would say. Sometimes, when she forgot to put salt in the food, he would say this. But on full moon nights, he would say this and even look fearful. Ma would sit out on the steps of the porch and stare and even mumble at the moon. “She is mad, Shona.” He would whisper. She would bury her head on his shoulders and he would take her to bed and tell her stories till she slept. He had smelt of sweat and sunlight and love.
The sudden memory of her father and his smell hit Shona sharply in the chest. The cycle wobbled as her hands went numb. She had believed till then that someday her father would come back. Sometime in her childhood, he had disappeared like this for three months. Ma and she had cried every day. They had waited and one dad her father had returned.
Tonight, however, as she smelt the mystic smell of love, it struck her that her father would never return. That her father was probably dead somewhere. She would never come back to her to tell her stories. To tuck her into bed even though she was at 15, way too old for bedtime stories. Ma never told stories. Ma treated her like an adult. That was good too. Freedom. Freedom smelt of cigarette smoke,
She pictured her mother smoking as she went through her father’s belongings. She had been looking for clues to his whereabouts. The village had looked for him high and low. Ma had given those clothes away.
She hadn’t even waited for three months, Shona thought as she pedaled closer to home.
It was a scarecrow. Her dead husband MY murdered husband was just the scarecrow. Closer to harvest, new scarecrows had been built to keep the crows and the sparrows away. Sashi’s old clothes his favourite ones, the last ones he ever wore had been through many uses and washes and had at least been used for the scarecrow. Very fitting, Tara thought as she laughed hysterically, her legs buckling under her. She dropped her weapon and sat and laughed for a while. One thing she had done well was murder. Imagine, little Tara from the valley hacking her husband. What would her parents have thought? Her father would have been horrified, her mother may have understood.
Tara slowly got up and walked back towards the house. Shona would be back anytime now.
It was as if the moon was following her. Whispering to her. She pedaled on. Just a little longer and she would be home. But the moon now strangely blood red kept telling her to dig deeper. Ma had given the clothes away. Yes. She seemed happier now. Yes. Ma had never been happy with her father, Shona had always known that. But her tall, slim mother would never be able to kill. Never, She shook her head. The moon smiled at her. Never? She was thin but strong. You know that.
Shona took the right towards the farm. She would have to ride through the fields. At places the footpath became so narrow that she would have to get of her cycle and walk. She did that now. Got off her cycle and took in the new scarecrows. There were five in total, The moon which hung over her house, threw light on the entire universe it seemed like. She counted the new scarecrows and continued to walk. She was almost home, when she smelt love again. “Baba!” she cried out.
The scarecrow closest to home was wearing her father’s clothes. His favourite white linen shirt, now almost gray but still shining in the moonlight and the blue-green checked lungi flapping in the wind.
Shona looked at the moon and spoke to herself, “He was wearing these the night he disappeared.” The moon nodded and winked. Another memory came to her sharp and stinging. She had had muddled dreams about this for a long time, but now it came to her clear! Ma standing at the door, dripping wet and naked. She had clearly taken a bath at the water pump outside.
In Shona’s dreams, there had always been a sexual tint to the scene. Sometimes, the wet naked woman had been Munti, all grown up, sometime, it was Shona herself, buxom and dark. But tonight, with the now blood red moon over her head. She suddenly knew what she had seen. “Ma killed baba?” she asked the murderous moon. “Sahi jawab!” it winked again.
Shona hovered near the scarecrow, trying to smell love, but there was nothing.
She picked up the scythe she saw next to it. And walked towards the house.
Sometimes the moon is wrong. Tara put the food out in individual plates. She had heard the cycle. Shona would be home any time now. No murder will happen tonight, she smiled to herself. The blood red moon had been lying. She heard footsteps on the porch. “You back? I had to reheat the food. Why did you take so long?” She said from where she was sitting before she turned to face her daughter.
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