She'd had just gone to get some firewood, but she was left stunned, shocked
|With no firewood to cook, Paru had to rush to the forest nearby and get a few pieces for now. She usually saved a few on her attic for emergencies. But this time round somehow, she had perhaps forgotten. There were just a few twigs lying here and there. And that will be just not enough to cook rice and dal for her and her husband, Ramu. Paru and Ramu led a simple village life. With no children to call their own, both had just themselves.
Ramu, a lazy simpleton, hardly went out except to take the cows for grazing. By around 5 pm, the animals would be back home leaving him enough time to get tipsy. And that was a daily ritual. Besides, he would not like to be bothered with household chores at all. That was the woman’s domain, he believed.
Paru thought for a moment. Never ever had anyone gone so late into the forest. For, the villagers had warned all against any such adventurous visits around dusk and later. Moreover, there were no neighbours close-by to borrow from. Ramu’s house was the last one in the narrow path that led to the forest. With several wild animals making rounds at night, most neighbours had left for safer places. But Ramu unfortunately was not that well off yet.
Paru had no choice. With no firewood to cook, she may have to starve the whole night and morning too.
With sickle in one hand and a rope in another, wearing an old tattered saree and worn out footwear she walked hurriedly into the thickness of the trees, through a narrow path that she took regularly.
Brushing aside her fears, the warnings of the elderly of the village, she walked as fast as her legs could take her through the unmotorable narrow track covered with thick vegetation, tall green grass. The path was arduous. Somehow, she walked and walked and finally reached the outskirts. ‘What a relief!’ she muttered to herself.
But she couldn’t see many twigs, branches and dead wood; she wasn’t as lucky today as on other days when she could quickly grab some right at the periphery and return. Today she has no choice but venture in, deeper into the forest. She hesitated initially, thinking twice whether she should. But she did eventually.
As she walked hurriedly, she could hear the soft rustling of the leaves as the gentle evening breeze blew through the trees big and small letting out a whoosh! sound. Making her way through the hanging roots of banyan trees and several other tall forest trees, she reached the place that she frequented often and looked around to grab a few pieces of logs quickly. Her eyes fell on a pile of dead wood that lay a few miles away. While she swiftly moved to pick them, she almost tripped over something really heavy and bloated. Wondering what it could be, she looked down.
‘Gosh!, a dead body’. Stunned, shocked, she let out a loud scream. Beads of sweat began to roll down her temples.
Shaking with fear, Paru stood there transfixed with dropped jaws and raised eyebrows staring at the man lying among the green foliage in the woods. Slowly, she began to regain composure and look closer to identify. Who could this be? The face wasn’t clear. She squeezed her eyes even more to figure out but in vain. Was it a natural death? What if he was murdered? What if the culprit was around hidden in the bushes? Several questions bothered her at once.
The forest was dense, not a leaf moved, all she could hear was the sound of the beetle. There was stillness in the air, it was getting darker and darker. Suddenly, the silence was broken intermittently by a few loud barks and catcalls. Shadows and weird shapes of trees, their branches looked scary as they swayed to the gentle breeze that made its way somehow. She could hear some footsteps approaching and a few murmurs in the distance.
What if people think I am the culprit? With these and several other scary thoughts racing through her mind, she quickly took to her heels. Running as fast as she could she tore through the thick greens, branches and leaves that came in her way until she reached the verandah of her house.
What a relief! Panting heavily, she threw herself on the floor trying to catch her breath. She couldn’t wait to narrate the shocking tale to her husband. ‘O Ramu’, come soon’, she called out as she continued to breathe heavily looking fixedly at the ceiling. Yet there was no sight of him. She called out to him again, once, twice then thrice.
And yet he did not come. God, I’m sure he’s again in the outhouse drinking away’ she said to herself. Suddenly, ‘I’m here’ said a gruff unfamiliar stern voice. She turned around to see but screamed so loud that she couldn’t hear herself. There stood a face that she had just seen a few minutes back in the woods.