>Short Fiction-A Quiet Birthday

>It was his birthday today.Nineteenth of August,twenty seven years ago,he had arrived on this planet.Till about eight years ago,everything had been nice and jolly.Then fifteenth of July had come,bringing with it a complete new chapter in his life.A chapter filled with a year of police beatings and abuses.A chapter filled with total alienation from family and friends.A chapter filled with an uncertain future.Mercifully,he was led away to a secluded jail for seven years of rigorous imprisonment.A tiny cell with one small window would be his home for the next seven years.But he didn’t mind.They could’ve hanged him for all he cared.

Samarth Babu’s eyes twinkled as he fondled the diamond.It was a thing of beauty,pure and spotless.The pawn shop owner gently laid the gem into its velvet pouch and replaced it inside a safe.He leaned back in his creaking chair and almost laughed out loud at the fortune he had in his hands.The scene played before his eyes,like it happened just yesterday,when the wizened old man had come up to him and given him the diamond.
“I want to pawn this diamond.How much will you give for it?”
Samarth Babu almost jumped out of his skin when he saw it.Such a thing rarely made an entry into his small,almost obscure shop in a forgotten bylane.Obviously,this man was in some urgent need of money.The businessman in Samarth Babu calculated the diamond’s worth between fifty and fifty five thousand,but said,matter of factly,”Hmmm….fine looking diamond you’ve got here.Let’s see….I can give you forty..no..thirty five thousand for this.Not more.”
The old man had looked at him with pleading eyes.Something about wanting the money to free somebody.Old story.Samarth Babu had heard plenty such stories in his career.After a lot of haggling,the price was fixed at thirty eight thousand five hundred.Samarth Babu had not given much thought to this deal as there was no way the old man could raise that much cash to repay him.After the stipulated period,the diamond was going to be included in his personal collection.
Now,looking out of the window of the dreary little shop,Samarth Babu found himself wondering about the old man.How had he come into the possession of such a diamond?And whom did he want to free with the money?He drummed his fingers idly on the counter as these thoughts churned about in his head.Somewhere above him,an aged grandfather clock gave a feeble ring,announcing lunchtime.

Bikash Roy.At another time,in some other world,this name might have been bestowed upon some bright young physicist on the brink of an important discovery or a hot blooded revolutionary or even a brooding poet drinking his way to utter helplessness.In this world,the name belonged to prisoner number fifty seven,imprisoned in an average civil jail on the outskirts of Midnapore.It could accomodate upto seventy prisoners and at any given point,five or six of them could be found crammed in a tiny hopeless room.The cells were filled with all sorts of men.Men who strutted about,implying their importance,men who maintained stoic silences throughout the day,only to break out crying in the middle of the night,men who had given up on life.The cells were a study of human nature and psychology.When one is happy,healthy,surrounded by loving family and friends,it is very easy to take the simple joys of life for granted.Here,in the stale and dank cells,having to share sleeping space with five other people,having to smell terrible breaths,having to endure horrific hunger pangs,the little things of life came back to haunt the men,leaving behind a deep ache and longing.Prison teaches you well.

It had been seven years since Bikash had seen a flower bloom.Sitting on the mud floor with his legs crossed,he rested his head on the damp wall behind him.Today,he would be discharged.Free to go.But where?Life,as he had known it,had come crashing down that fateful day,fifteenth of July,when the unthinkable had happened.The scene was imprinted on Bikash’s heart and memory for a lifetime.The treachery which had robbed his parents of everything they had.The endless rounds of lawyers,courtrooms and legal gibberish.Finally when the ruling was done in their favor,the celebrating family did not notice the ice cold looks of their opponents.On fifteenth of July,Bikash had come home from the fields to see his home consumed by flames.Those greedy orange flames.Licked and ate voraciously through every childhood memory,every smile,every tear.Sometimes,late at night,Bikash could still hear the desperate cries of his parents and sister,trapped inside the inferno.

The murder had been easy.Bikash had simply climbed upto Indrajit Babu’s house,broke open the window and before the bewildered money lender could comprehend anything,Bikash had attacked him with a carving knife.He was still stabbing and screaming at the bloodied and punctured body when the police arrived.He calmly got up and let himself be taken.He did not care what was going to happen to him.Indrajit Babu deserved his violent death.

Samarth Babu jerked up from his sleep.Momentarily confused,he looked around,as if seeking reassurance from the withering shop.The paint on the walls was peeling off and the walls themselves threatened to collapse someday.Samarth Babu was waiting for his friend,Manikarma.Both had decided to go into partnership.Today the diamond was going to be theirs.He stretched his hands and began polishing his glasses when he looked up again,startled.Was that the old man?His heart beat faster.No no.God,don’t let it be that old man.How could he have raised the money so soon?This diamond,my diamond…..He peered closely through his glasses.Some other old man.His heartbeat returned to normal.Samarth Babu relaxed once more.

It had taken every ounce of district defence lawyer Girish Sen’s mental prowess and physical strength to have the sentence reduced.The district judge was clearly not in a pardoning mood and had sentenced Bikash to seven years rigorous imprisonment.Bikash’s attitude had made matters worse and he was sentenced to seven years rigorous imprisonment with an amendment.Solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement is a terrible punishment,often the worst.With death sentences,there is not much suffering.A needle prick,some delirious moments,you’re dead before you know it.A noose around your neck,it breaks the spinal connection with the neck,you’re dead.A firing squad will pump bullets into you till you die.Being confined in a room with only your thoughts for company will kill you in ways you wouldn’t have imagined possible.

Bikash had survived the seven years in complete isolation by staring at the small window opposite to his wall.He played the scene from the fifteenth of July over and over in his mind.If only he had come back earlier.If only they had learnt of the treachery before.If only his parents and sister had been out somewhere.If only….two futile,worthlesss words.

The diamond had belonged to the Roy family for generations.It was a harsh,sometimes wistful reminder of their days of glory.Passed on from one generation to the other,Bikash’s mother had possession of it.Just a few days before their beloved home burned to the ground,she had given it to her father in-law for safekeeping.Was this telepathy at work?The old man with his wrinkled face and torn shawl had gone to great lengths to safeguard the family heirloom.After the massacre,when he learnt about Bikash,he had decided to pawn it to raise money and save his grandson.The pawning part went well,the latter part did not.Sushodhan Roy had died of a heart attack just days after pawning the diamond.The bundle of notes was found by a nosy relative who hid it from everyone’s eyes and later took home to a joyous wife.

The formalities completed,Bikash was heralded outside the jail.For the first time in seven years,he breathed deeply,taking in as much clean air as he could.He was temporarily blinded by the shining rays of the early morning sun.A hen ran around some chicks in a far corner,cackling merrily.A stream of clear water flowed somewhere down,licking the stones into shape.A mild breeze began to blow and the trees swayed to its rhythm.Nature seemed to welcome prisoner number fifty seven,Bikash Roy.He looked around the jail once more.He was almost sorry to leave it.Sorry to leave the hard discipline and isolation for the meanness and deceit of the world.Slowly,he trudged homewards.

Nobody gave him a second glance as he walked towards the spot where his home once stood.Wild grass grew tall from the ground.Brown and dry.With the swaying of the grass,Bikash could hear his sister Laboni’s laughter,his mother’s voice calling him for lunch..his father’s sighs at night,unable to find a way to pay his loans off……
He fingered the grass absent mindedly when he mirthfully remembered that it was his birthday today.Twenty seven years ago,Bikash Roy had arrived on this planet.He had a loving family.Twenty seven years later,Bikash Roy stands in the middle of tall brown grass,looking over flourishing crops.He has no family.And today is his birthday.

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