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Black Lotus

Nothing is constant in this universe. Everything in this world keeps on changing with time. Even a stench of raw soil also changes time to time. The smell of a same land on a sun scorch summer afternoon transformed when first rain drops of monsoon kissed it. That is an entirely distinct scent of same primal dust. That odour has resemblance to an aroma which normally a newborn baby has. Each human being has a very different odour from each other. Anny senses it with her each customer, yet they try hard to cover it up with cheap perfume, a strong after save lotion or by just a cigarette. Still, Anny gets it every time. Maybe this is the stench of their souls, our souls. That smell comes from the beneath our skin, our bones, probably from much deeper space, dark & cold. Anny feels this since her childhood. Her father all the time scents like a half boiled fresh new rice. This scent comes when new unrefined rice comes out from the husk and boiled in scalding water. That Aroma comes out from the clay pot when it is half cooked. This was the rare scent she used to get whenever she slept by cuddling him. But wonderful feels like this does not stay for long. These are the distant memory of Anny, to fade & blurry. Anny is sitting alone, near her only one window. It is square, maximum two feet by two feet. Nothing glorious to watch through it. A very usual road filled with necessary shops, those are supposed to be in such area. A non-maintained drainage system passes near outside the window. The dirt produced by this entire area each day carried out through this small canal. An invisible fog of foul odour all the time covers this vicinity. A thought continually arises in Anny’s mind. Each day she consumed so much dirt from her each customer where they deposit. She can rinse the sweat, dirt & blood from her body. But the stench of an eradicated spirit, how she can remove that. Are all these getting deposited into her soul only? Anny is still sitting near the window. Nowadays, she has more than enough time now to seat idle and think. There is no meaning of all those thoughts, but they don’t stop coming to her mind.

Shiuli stays opposite her room. She is sitting outside her room on a concrete slab. Shiuli is swinging her legs and looking at the corner of the road. Maybe she is younger than Anny. She all at once called her name.

“Anny Didi, when you will teach me English again?”

Anny raises her left eyebrow and says,

“What happen, Shiuli? You are showing so interest in learning English.”

Shiuli blushed with a shy smile, then says,

“Didi, Namita told me I can earn up to five hundred bucks’ tips by saying some English word during the job. It will impress customer.”

Anny loughs at full volume.

Civilization has a very unusual nature; it creates lots of big and beautiful cities. Such a shine, so many colours but same time produces a dark, trivial hidden world inside of each city. Anny and all these girls belong to that world only. There are so many names & faces, but to our society they have only one unified identity. They all are prostitutes. The oldest profession of human civilisation.

Anny when first came here, she was hardly sixteen years old. She was scarcely ready for this daily suffering. She had been sold by her mother itself. Her life was not supposed to be like that. They had a tiny but happy family. She still recollects, like it was someone else’s memory. Those green fields, in faraway those smoke coloured hills, a small house & the smell of new raw rice boiling in the kitchen. A faint sound still roves in her head during the sleep. Someone is calling her from a very long distance, but she could not understand what he was saying to her.

Anny gets up from the chair and moves to the opposite of the window. A low bed lying over there.

Two pillows, cottons of those pillows are already cramped and hard. At least these are not a comfortable one for sure. One bedsheet tries its best to cover the shame of teared mattress behind it.

The wall of the room is not finished well. The chunks of cements are hanging discretely from there. Proper time and care were not given to it, it’s visible. A rough feeling is always presence on the surface of the wall. It’s clearly signifying the life of Anny too.

There is very little furniture in this room. After giving commission to the agent, police and local political party, nothing much left in hand. Somehow, she just stays alive. Anny gets down below the bed & bring a black old iron box. The compact world of her. She brings out a compact wallet and recounts some money again & again. Three thousand seven hundred & fifty, repeated counting does not able to change the figure. This is the balance amount left with Anny to live.

This worldwide pandemic and nationwide lockdown put her in such a situation, she does not know how long she in fact they can arrange food for themselves. There were no customers at all in the last couple of months.

So many people are doing charity for migrant labour or homeless people but nothing for them. Because they are such a dirt. They are utterly untouchable, unspeakable. They merely don’t exist.

Anny tries to stand up but her head spins quick. She somehow hardly holds the corner of bed and able to avoid the fall. Anny thinks in her mind, this is second time it is happening to her today. She is not sure, but one doubt is floating in her mind. Anny sits on the bed a little longer, putting her hand in back. She looks at the shade of asbestos above her head. Then finally she makes her mind.

She opens the door and looks for Bitto, the teenager boy roams around this area. He is the one person who brings all the required items to them, obviously with the exchange of money. But each girl loves him like their little lost brother. Bitto is sitting near the stationery shop and watches the TV with full concentration. Anny shouts his name to grab his attention.

It’s almost faded dark. Before the first sun ray touches the thirsty earth, air brings the message. Dawn is near. A faded, distorted square shape light of street halogen falls at the floor through the window. A seepier tone of monochrome effect across the room. Anny is sitting folded leg above the bed. She is holding a brown envelope tightly in her hand. The packet which was delivered by Bitto in evening. There are many things to think about, but Anny is thinking about the light on the floor. It is so strange how a same source of light projects a different texture of light in various times. The same yellow light of the halogen bulb in the evening so energetic, so lively. As those lights are radiating life particles, its wet, glossy & shining. Same light at dawn looks like a thousand-year-old dust, tired & crumped. Is light as a matter-of-fact change or we only see what we wish to visualise from the inside? Surroundings are only our own deeper reflection. Very far away, a wall clock proudly declares that it’s already four o’clock in the morning. Anny puts her chin tenderly on her knee. She knows this is the time to take the steps. She creeps to the tiny washroom and closed the door.

The light of washroom is good enough to see those two thin red lines inside that compact rectangular frame. Yes, now almost it is confirmed that Anny is pregnant.

Her eyes are all of a sudden filled with water. Life is so shady; it is almost impossible to distinguish that those water droplets are originated from happiness or a pure grief. How many emotions every day betrayed us in such a way. Isn’t the funny part of life?

Anny wipes the tears by the back of her palm and comes out from that tiny, suffocative room. She asks her mind why a tint of sadness every time embraces her in all happy moments.

A drop of blue why always spills over on the full bag of yellow. Why can’t we have plain & pure happiness? Unrippled.

She is not thinking about what people will say. She gives that thought up when her mother sold her only for few pennies. Her mother wants to live a baggage free life with her new partner. From that day she knew very well to survive in this vicious world she needs to be her own. This is not so rare in their trade that you conceive and be a mother. This is only a financial loss, or rather we can say it for some, it is a long-term investment or a retiral benefit. But for Anny it is different. She did it intentionally; Anny wants to be part of his lineage; she desperately wants to carry his blood line. All started a year before.

That day was as usual, as the other day happened on this filthy street. Lusty eyes were checking options and other end were looking for the hope to live another day on this earth. Stink of country liquor was mixed with high-pitched perfume made the air intoxicated, as it did every evening. Anny dressed herself little differently that day. No loud colour or makeup. Barely a touch of lipstick along with a peach colour sari with a deep maroon blouse, a light touch of eyeliner as dark as night. Honestly, Anny that day didn’t expect any customer even. She knew this is not the appearance of her customers were looking for. Anny was not in a mood to entertain anybody that day. She was standing in the doorway of her room. In an instant her eyes collide with a pair of unknown eyes on the road. A man, about in his late thirties. Mixed of grey and black hair. At least three days, he had not saved. A blue jeans and black shirt tried to give a distinct appearance on his darkish brown skin. But what grabbed her attention were his eyes. Those did not fill with desire; in contradictory, were full of static vigour. This was rare, at least here.

She downed her eyes, but looked at him secretly. He was checking something on his phone then lift his face and started looking around abruptly. Putting his two hands in the jean’s pocket, he was gently walking forward.

With her full surprise, he stopped in front of her only and requested to come in. Even she was not in the mood as she allowed him to enter.

After closing the door, she scrutinised him properly from top to bottom.

“How would you like to pay? Hourly or for the night? One thing more, there is no negotiation afterwards. You need to make full payment in advance only.”

He looked a little surprised initially, and then he smiled.

“Okay, that’s not an issue. So how much I need to pay for a night?”

“Two thousand only.” She was sure that he would bargain on price definitely. Everybody did.

He was by then observing the entire room, bed, even the toilet. It was like he came here for room rent.

He took away his wallet and handed over a bundle of two thousand rupees’ notes. Then said,

“This is thirty thousand rupees; I want to stay for coming seven days here. So, I am paying you for day & night both.”

Anny thought it was a joke in the beginning but after looking at his eyes, she understood it was not. Her eyes were becoming big and breathing faster. She held her fist tight.

“Hey, listen, this is not a hotel that you will stay here, and I don’t do my job twenty-four hours. So now get lost from here.”

His face had some confused expression on his face, mixed with a little sadness. He scratched his head, then cleared his throat by force. His eyes were agile.

“well, I understand that absolutely.”

He then took back the pack of notes and offered her one, two thousand rupees note.

“One night. Hope now that’s appropriate for you.”

Anny said nothing but took the money and like a ritual unhooks her blouse. In the beginning, he didn’t notice that. He was starlet by observing her actions.

“Hey. Hold on, need not do that.”

Now it was Anny’s turn to get surprised. Was he belonging to those few people who want to do the undressing by their own hand, fulfilling their fantasised desire? They were the most damaging customer in all aspects.

She yelled,

“Look, no fantasy business here. No tearing clothes or different styles. I don’t do all those. Either you have a traditional way of sex or you can leave by taking your money back.”

He shrugged his shoulder and then replied,

“Oh, God. Why you are so apprehensive in each word I said. I didn’t mean that. Only say that there is no need to undress yourself. I am not here for having sex with you.”

“Then what for you are here?”

“I am genuinely wanting to stay tonight here only.”

“Hey, you, now listen carefully. Number one, it’s not a guesthouse. Number two, if you don’t like to have sex with me, then please leave with your money. I might be a filthy prostitute but not a beggar.”

She continued,

“So please, take your money and move yourself. I want no more problem here.”

She showed him the door. He did not move at all. He looked at her with deep, penetrating eyes. This time some witty sparkles were there. He smiled and said,

“Well, the same I want to. No more problem for tonight. I think I have the exact solution. Just listen one time if you don’t like my proposal. I will go. I promise.”

Anny looked at him inquisitively. He continued,

“See, I need to stay tonight here. I desperately need that. I understand your problem too. But you know, we can talk for the rest of the night instead of having sex. So basically, I am paying you to listen to my rubbish thoughts as people do with their therapist. You know.”

He shrugged his broad shoulder for another time.

Anny giggled and said,

“So, you will pay me to be a listener of yours.”

“Yes, you seem to be correct.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Undeniably.”

Anny felt he was saying truth. His eyes were fixed on her. And there was no fickle. She never came across such a customer since she is in this trade. It was quite unnatural, unreal.

She said,

“So apparently what we are going to talk about?”

“Well, why not we start with your name?”

It was tricky for her. She every time said the name to her customers what they wanted to hear, based on their faith. It appeared like people could be unfaithful to their close one, even to themselves; but in faith or religion, they always seem to be uncomfortable. Anny each time guessed her customer’s religion, based on their dress, pendants or any other ornaments and choose the name which made her customer comfortable.

Sometimes she is Ayesha, sometimes Amrita or plain Anny. She could not remember anymore what her actual name was.

In latter part, of course few regular customers enquired about that she was known as an Anny then why she said that. She answered also quickly that Anny was her made-up name, the actual name was what she had told him.

Lot of times she amazes that what are these customers who want the pleasure like a trained professional but protecting their purity of faith. So, she presents as they want it to be. But there she was a little confused; she was not sure what religion this strange man belongs to. Her maximum vote was to Amrita only, and she was about to say that, but he unexpectedly spoke out.

“Leave it, no need to say. Some wise man once said once, ‘What’s in a name?’”

That one sentence instantaneously changed the entire backdrop in front of her. This unfinished wall, that dirty bed, the pale-yellow lights, all evaporated like dust particles. Now there was a white wall and a green board. Classroom of standard ten in the missionary school. In a white chalk, one line written there,

‘What’s in a name?’- Romeo Juliet–CA 1600.

Like an enchanted one, she forgot where she was & started reciting, ‘that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’

That man strangely looked at her and then moved forward few steps and then asked, looking at her eyes,

“Who are you?”

She answered calmly,

“I am Anny, who’s blood & flesh you just now bought, for entire night.”

At the top of the self there is a minuscule rectangular opening, covered by a cement grill. Basically, that is for air ventilation. A lizard is hanging there for a long. It is laying as a dead, not a single movement there. Anny is resting on her bed. Since she got the kit test report, she was about to keep on thinking. She looks up blankly till the time this tiny filthy lizard grabs her attention. She follows the eyes of it and able to notice a grasshopper over the edge of the photo frame.

Anny tries to understand why this lizard waiting for so long. Eventually she realises that if it needs to catch that grasshopper for lunch, it’s without a doubt tough. First, it is quite a long distance, for that poor creature. It needs to jump enormously to make that happen. Second, a running ceiling fan in between is increasing the risk manifolds. If it could not make the jump that long then it will be fully sliced by the blades of high-speed fan. It’s like for food you may get away from your own life. After assessing the surroundings, Anny becomes more curious about that lizard. What it will do, leave the food and turn back from that danger and eventually die in starvation or it will do something different, something radical.

That lizard is waiting patiently. God knows what is going on inside its tiny head. It does an unexpected move for survival. It jumps straight to the hanging rod of a rotating ceiling fan. Then changed its angel and with one smooth and swift leap, it catches the grasshopper.

Anny is astonished how a such filthy lizard turns its greatest obstacle into an advantage. Quite impressive of such level of animals. Hunger for survival is such a hard driver that it sometimes got crazy. Like her mother, she just ate the flesh of her own daughter implacably for her self-existence. Is self-love being the only thing that all species priorities or only we.

Anny puts her two hands back over her head and looks up at the ceiling. There is a storm of thoughts flowing through rapidly within her mind. The shadow of each thought is reflecting in her blink free open eyes. Swiftly she gets up from the bed. She needs to find a way for her survival & her upcoming child and the rest of girls. She must.

“Purpose, Anny, Purpose. Why we are here. The biggest question is that.” Indrajit said those words compassionately. Anny put her head casually on his broad shoulder. It was almost six months then they first met. He now came regularly here and stays for three to four days at a stretch. Indrajit continued,

“We all are here for a purpose. Anny, our paths do not cross each other’s without a purpose. But how would we know what is the purpose? That’s the biggest question of our life. It chases us all the time. We unquestionably ignorant to that call. But we must answer that call one day, it is inevitable.”

“I don’t understand all those such big words or greater philosophy of life. For me, it’s an endless fight with fate to only just survived. You don’t have to do that by design so hence have luxury to think about it.” Anny replies statically.

Indrajit turned his head towards her gradually and then smiled. Somewhere Anny read that, smile of a person represented his or her soul. It unambiguously reflected the trueness of that person’s heart. Indrajit’s smile was a perfect harmony with his spirit. He smiled from inside. That comforted her. She forgot all other things in the world looking at it. He said,

“I understand from where you are coming.”

“No, you don’t. You are the prince of silver city. Living in hell is not the thing of yours.” Anny said with little agitation in her voice.

Indrajit continued,

“Hey, that’s not a fair statement. We all have our own hell inside. Difference is only this, that they don’t look alike. We all prisoners of our own, even freedom is just a state of mind.”

Anny this time chuckled and said,

“I know I can’t win over you in a word game. I don’t know why I still start this again & again.”

Indrajit pulled her near him and said,

“Remember one thing Anny, when you can’t get out of your hell, then get the sharpest version of yours out of it.”

Anny leisurely closed her eyes. The beating sound of his heart the only sound around her. Each beat was creating a ripple in the universe. She was feeling each vibration in her skin, in her consciousness. A unique fragrance was coming from him. In one word it was difficult to express that feelings. It was sweet and strong, but the most striking was the purity of that fragrance. She never got that in her lifetime. That Aroma had a paralysing effect on her. It engrossed her in a cold & soothing peace.

It is a late afternoon. Anny right now finished her lunch. She spreads her open hair over her back to let it dry properly. A prickly silent is all over. A crow is sitting on the edge of her window. It is looking at her with a distinctively. Anny tries to understand what that looks want to express. What is in it? A blunt meaningless view of a low intelligent creature? No, it’s not. Entire dark eyes are full of one thing. Anny knows that thing very well. She understands the meaning of that vision. It’s hunger, the never-ending black hole. Anny brings some left-over food and gives to it.

At the same moment, Shiuli runs into her room like a storm. She is out of breath because of exhaustion; tears are flowing non stop from her eyes. Somehow, she catches her breath and says,

“Anny Didi, Namita!” She breaks in to a loud blub before she says something more.

Namita is one of the few oldest residences of this colony. She is now almost in her mid-forties. She has two teenage kids. As she is over her youth already so earning in not so great nowadays. Because of some old customers, she is still managing her survival here.

Anny jumps on her feet and says,

“What happen to Namita? Tell me, Shiuli, what happen?”

“I can’t, please come with me now.” Shiuli by some means says these words mixing with her sobbing sound.

They both run to Namita’s room without a second thought.

Indrajit was lying on the floor. Anny was in half sleep near him, in a crouching posture. Entire area was black that day because of power line fault. Over the window a starry night. Indrajit was staring towards that without a single blink. Anny did not understand this man yet wholly. He never opened himself up. She knew the name he told that’s also not real. Still, they didn’t have any physical intimacy but repeatedly came back here. Why? Anny opened her eyes and asked,

“Will you answer me a single question, why you are here?”

Indrajit didn’t move or blink. He kept on staring at that dark sky filled with shiny stars. He said in a very low voice,

“Do you know why you are here?”

“Yes, I know, because my mother sold me, so that, she can buy some happiness for her.”

Indrajit turned this time to her and smiled.

“That you believe. Believes of yours are not necessarily the truth.”

“What do you want to mean? Why you always create a diversion of incomprehensible statements. Why you eternally running away from yourself?”

Indrajit took a long pause. Then breathed,

“Anny, I have everything in my life. Money, fame, reputation, success, anything you name, I have it. Few months back my car escaped a very fatal accident narrowly. That single moment changes everything in my life. That split of seconds was like an infinite time for me. Only one thought was at then, in my mind. If I die right here what I shall leave behind. Nothing much except a bunch of decorated, dry consolation message on my desk. Believe me, that moment I feel my entire life nothing but a large void, entirely meaningless.”

Anny was listening to him with her eyes wide open. Her eyes were shining in starlight like another couple of stars. He continued,

“Yes, you are correct I am running away but not from myself from that identity. Anny, I never want to become all this. My dream was to be an author; I want to pour my heart into the ocean of black & white, but completely lost. I didn’t know the reason for my presence, my purpose. That day I came into this lane by mistake. I wanted to be alone. Tried to live with no trace of my that identity. And then I saw you. A white lotus in the iniquitous garden of Eden. I don’t know what happened to me. I felt a relief, a touch of peace, a comfort of being home. As a sailor feels when he is lost and suddenly finds a lighthouse form far.”

Anny came over Indrajit’s chest and lowered her face near his lips. Then said,

“Do you get your home now?”

Indrajit looked at her with an intense and then said,

“Yes Anny, I am home. I understand my purpose. I will enlighten people by my writings. I will show them path, relieved them from their misery. I don’t know I will succeed or not, but my efforts will be genuine.”

Anny asked in a dense voice.

“And what about me?”

“Anny, though, you don’t know who you are, but I know. You are the part of the supreme power. Anny, you are a warrior. You can win any opposition; nothing can stop you. People will always look up to you for solution. You are a born leader, a saviour.”

“I think. It lost your mind. That’s why you are saying all this.”

“Look at my eyes Anny, do they say the same?”

“You know my entire life story, from where you derive this I don’t know.”

“Anny, I am not saying what you were. I am telling you what you could be. Simply listen to your heart and let go your past.”

Anny said nothing. She was looking into Indrajit’s eyes. Even in dark those were filled with thunders. He continued,

“Anny, listen to your heart and response to that call. You will see your life will be touched by light.”

Anny, out of blue, smiled mischievously and then said in an innocent tone,

“Do you know what my heart is telling me, should I response to that now?”

Indrajit understood what she meant. He took a pause and then did something which never thought of doing.

He pulled down Anny’s face down by force and placed his lips tightly on her.

Anny was shivering, like the way a butterfly flaps her wings when she finds nectar or a petal tremble with a touch of moist cool air of spring.

Fire touched them. Lights were not far anymore.

“This is totally insane. How she did it, I still can’t make that out.” Rosy murmurs to herself. Entire colony is now waiting outside the hospital anxiously. Namita attempted a suicide by cutting her hand. It was most fortunate that her daughter noticed that accidentally and informs others. Entire colony is in shock. Actually, it was not shock. This entire incident tapped the most fearsome point of each one. Deep down, this is the biggest question for everyone. Is this the ultimate end they must face?

Doctor comes out from the operation theatre and says,

“She is fine now. You can see her after some time. But only one member at a time, please.”

Everyone pushes Anny to meet her first. They know no one can comfort a disturbed mind by her talk, as Anny can.

Anny slowly pushes the door of hospital cabin. Namita is laying on the bed. A pouch of blood hanging beside. Drop by drop red blood reaching to her with a massage that you are alive. Her eyes are closed, and she places her one hand on her forehead. Anny silently sits near her. When Anny enters the room, she received the odour of medicated disinfection’s agent. But now there is no such odour, now entire air filled with a smell of wetland where colourless & dead old leaves are piling for ages. They are decomposing in water and create an odour which is very raw and broken in nature. Anny knows from where this is coming. She sighs a longer than normal and then puts her hand over Namita’s hand.

Namita opens her eyes with lots of pain and then removes Anny's hand forcefully, then retorts,

“Why you bring me here. Who has given you such audacity that you can take a decision like this about my own life?”

Anny does not reply. She remains calm.

She continues,

“Why you save my life? I don’t want to live anymore.” She screams.

Anny put her hand on Namita’s hand and hold it softly. Namita could not control herself anymore. She breaks into tears.

Anny still not says a single word. She now places her hand over her head. Tears are rolling over her cheeks too now.

Without asking a single question, Anny understands why Namita did this. A mother can may tolerate infinite pain to herself but watching the hungry face of her own children helplessly, days after days. This is something beyond control for any mother. Anny knows that.

Two days already passed, Namita recovered physical damage, but mental trauma is still there. Today, in this lazy afternoon, all girls are united in Anny’s room. They are sitting in a scatted manner, inside room and some part of outside.

It rocks them all till their core. Namita is only the beginning. If there is no income then one by one, they all will be end there, eventually. They don’t know what the way is out of this. But survival is the only one instinct which pushes us to cross our limits beyond our imagination.

Saleha is a mother of a three years daughter. She immediately cries harshly by gripping her daughter.

Anny starlets and moves to her and asks,

“What Happen Saleha?”

Saleha says deeply.

“I want to live Anny. I want to live.”

Those lines are starkly echoed in this entire room, which is filled with so many hollow hearts.

“Anny, don’t let us die. Please.” Saleha says this with a dense ardour by holding her hand.

Anny slowly flops beside Saleha. Her eyes are blank. She does not notice so many painful individuals look up to her with a hope. The thoughts are running through her mind like a sandstorm. Why her? Why everyone looks up to her for this. She is not a leader. She is also one of them only. Then why each one expects she will get the solution of it. She even doesn’t know what she will do with herself and her unborn child. Why that old hunger each time come in front of her?

So many empty stomachs are silently crawling towards her. She closes her eyes. A fetid odour of burning human hair, embracing her from the back and edging forward.

A loud music of mobile tone breaks the silence of room. All turns towards the source. It is Shiuli. She hanged the call and smiles uneasily. Rosy puts her hand over Anny’s shoulder and says,

“Anny, what we will do now?”

“I don’t know. Nothing coming in my mind.” Anny says in a slightly rough tone. The frustration is no more hidden in her voice. Frustration is very infectious. The entire clan of this colony understands that their last hope is fading out. Even they understand they may expect an impossible from Anny. Still looking at her for a miracle. Again, mobile rings noisily. Yes, it is Shiuli again. Anny yells this time,

“What is this, Shiuli? If this is so important than go out of the room and talk or else shut this up.”

Shiuli nervously smiles and puts the phone in silent mode swiftly.

Saleha murmurs in a low tone.

“Then there is no more hope for us this time.”

Death does not make our life so miserable that a loss of hope does. Anny scans all the surrounding faces. Dry, skinny & vulnerable faces are floating somehow. Hope is not ready to die yet.

Emptiness also has its own style of presence. Nothing is truly empty. Anny is lying over on her belly. Meeting is over a few hours back. Anny is alone in her room. Summer is not showing any sign of giving up. Entire room of her is frowsty. She forcefully drives her mind out from current problem. Keep on thinking on that same issue does not help her, anyway. She is missing Indrajit badly. He never gave her any solution, but constantly illuminated her mind in such a way that she found the solution on her own. She exhales a long breath; she does not know when again she will meet him.

Her chain of thoughts abruptly breaks by a light touch on her back. She swiftly turns. It is Shiuli. She is standing near the bed with a poignant face. Anny asks in a bitter voice.

“What happen Shiuli?”

Shuli tries to say something, but it’s like someone holds her back. She bites her lips harder. Anny again says sedately,

“Tell me, Shiuli, why you are here now?”

Shiuli says with a hesitation,

“Didi, I did not want to disturb at then, that Raju was the culprit. He was calling me madly continuously.”

Anny smiles faintly. She thinks this girl remains child inside her grown-up body, still. For such a minor issue, she should not have felt guilty. She says,

“It’s okay, Shiuli. I didn’t mind. I am sorry too for shouting at you. I lost my temper momentarily, dear.”

Shuli says nothing, but a broad smile spread over her face.

Anny wants to ease her so asks casually.

“Who is this Raju guy and why he was calling madly?”

Shiuli chuckles and says,

“Don’t ask me Didi, he is a crazy person altogether.”

“Well, then why you are blushing so much when talking about that crazy person. So, tell me more. I insist.”

“He is the supervisor of the nearest construction site. Probably he is from Bihar and have wife and two kids there. You know Didi, the funniest thing about him is that he thinks he loves me. He all the time saying the same.” Shiuli loughs loudly.

Anny observes her quietly. Suddenly Shiuli says,

“Tell me, Didi, isn’t he a crazy person? We can be a pleasure for men but can’t be a love. We are the untouchable, murkiest soul in the world. Thinking about being someone’s love, wife, & family of our own is a sin for us. That idiot does not understand that.”

During the conversion, Shiuli wipes her corner of eyes for upcoming tears drop. Even she does it swiftly and secretly, but it does not go without notice of Anny. Anny understands that feelings. We humans are strange creature. We put everything on the bet to get someone’s love and attention. Anny asks politely.

“So, he was calling you repeatedly to tell that only.”

“No, he is now in his native town with her family, still nagging like a child to have a talk with me over the phone. Even he said he is ready to pay me online my rate too for that.”

She smiles shyly and then continues,

“And you know, Didi, he is not the only one. Almost my all regular customer has a same request. You know what they want to talk about. They are desperate to do that.”

Anny’s eyes are suddenly sparkling like thunder. She tells Shiuli,

“Shiuli, please asks everyone to assemble at my place in half an hour.”

Storm is over now. The monotonous noise of rains is also fading out now. Rain has its own whiff, very light but very distinct. It has a mixed aroma of green grass with morning dew. It has the essence of hope. Anny is sitting near her single window. Because of the storm, there is no electricity. A candle is burning himself in the corner of room. The flame of the candle is dancing with the wild wind. That creates a collage of unfamiliar shadow on the wall. Anny is thinking about how interesting it is. Shadow and light are playing with each other so proficiently, coexisting beautifully.

It really amazes her why they are at their best when they are together.

Is dark inevitable to give purpose to light. Without a calming dark night a bright day is meaningless. So, when they hold each other hand, the magnificent time of day arrives, mesmerizing evening.

The Air becomes heavy post rain; it streams like a pregnant cat. Anny feels the difference in the smell of air. It’s almost three months since that evening meeting. Anny called all the girls that day and explain the survival plan. She said that day clearly,

“Sisters, this is our survival fight. We simply can’t give up. Before I share my plan, tell me one thing honestly.”

Everyone looked at Anny’s face with interest. Anny continued,

“How many of you have fixed customers and how many of them are in touch with till now?”

A humming noise spread over the group. They found it. Each one had an ample number of loyal customers of her and most of them are in touch with them.

“Well, then reach out to them and convey the message, you are ready to take care of them over phone call or video call over a charge.”

Entire group was siting like a statue, they looked dull. Anny swiped her eyes all over them and then said,

“I know its not enough. Even don’t know how much it will help all of us, but trust me, we have to try. This is our one way to survive. It will not be easy, but it may be help us provide food to our children.”

They started discussing the same amongst them. In a trice, Saleha spoke.

“I am ready to take a chance.”

“Me too.” It was Rosy. One by one they all agreed to try this way of earning money.

Shiuli then said,

“Then let decide the rates together.”

Anny said,

“My suggestion five hundred for phone and thousand for a video call for an hour. What you say?”

“Rate is okay compared to labour involved but one hour, I don’t think they can stand for that long.” Shiuli said the same in a very serious face.

Entire room broke into a huge laughter. After so many long days, smile was back on their face. Anny sighed a relief.

No one noticed when Namita came to the room and sat silently in the corner. She slowly came to Anny. It filled her eyes with tears. She held her hand and said,

“Anny, if you are not younger than me then today, I shall touch your feet.”

“What are you saying, Didi?” Anny said in a shock.

“Yes Anny, today you really appeared to us as a goddess and save us by providing food.” An excessive sob choked her voice.

Anny is sleeping. She is inside her dream. A smoky colour mountain in background. Green paddy fields are in front. Lousy breeze creating waves over there. A young girl is running in that paddy field. She is wearing a red frock which is flying like a victory flag in air. A middle age man is calling her from far.

“Come home, dear. Hot rice is waiting for us. You take the first portion of that. My daughter. My Annapurna, My Devi of food and nourishment.”

Anny now knows her proper name.

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