AbandonedThings went from bad to worse as Dhanmaya resorted to silence after that day. She only spoke when spoken to, and that too very little. A forlorn expression made a permanent fixture on her fa
The next morning, when Harkaman woke up, he did not find her beside the bed. A moment later, the sounds of utensils coming from the kitchen assured him that his wife was in the kitchen, and that she had not done anything silly. After a while, she came with the morning tea, placed it on the table near his bed and went back to her chores without uttering a word. Harkaman sipped the tea while looking outside the window, beyond the trees and the hills. During lunch, she kept mum and appeared to be lost within herself, and Harkaman had to tug at her a few times when she stopped chewing the meal and kept staring at the plate. He did not know what to say to her and so he left for work after eating the meal.
Things went from bad to worse as Dhanmaya resorted to silence after that day. She only spoke when spoken to, and that too very little. A forlorn expression made a permanent fixture on her face and it was not too difficult for Harkaman to figure out that she was punishing herself for something over which she had no control. Once, Harkaman had tried to speak to her about the matter.
“What will happen by behaving this way? It is only going to hurt you more.” As always, Dhanmaya did not even look at him when he was talking to her. An occasional nod of the head followed by something she muttered under her breath became her only response.
A couple of months passed by and things did not change much for Dhanmaya. She had stopped weeping by now, but she was yet to come to terms with the misfortune that had left her shattered months ago. She was finding it even more difficult to reconcile with the fact that her desire to give birth to a baby would end up being just a desire and not reality.
One day, Harkaman was returning home from work. He worked as a potter in a nearby town. It was a twenty-minute walk away, and he always returned home once dusk had settled in. The sun had already turned crimson and it was only moments before that it had slipped behind the hill. It was almost dark and as he walked, he wiped the sweat off his face with the edge of his shirt’s sleeve, his shirt unbuttoned so as to let
in the air. It was then that he heard a faint voice coming from one of the bushes on the side of the road; the sound resembled that of a newly born baby’s wail. Harkaman looked around to see if somebody was there, but there was nothing around except for the cry of the child and the spreading darkness. With a bit of hesitation, he moved closer to the source of the sound. The next moment he saw a beautiful child throwing up its legs and hands, and letting out a persistent low cry. The child must be around one month old, he assumed. A wave of fear gripped Harkaman as he looked around to see if there was anybody there who could perhaps make a more legitimate claim over the abandoned baby.
“Who must have abandoned such a beautiful baby in this dark,” he muttered as he smiled at the baby and took it up in his arms. The child stopped crying completely and closed its eyes once Harkaman allowed the child to suckle his little finger. Harkaman observed the child’s face, his small eyes, now closed, and the little nose with the tiny nostrils. The child looked at peace in his arms. But the evening was getting darker with every passing second and Harkaman couldn’t figure out what he should do next. When he tried to remove his finger from the child’s mouth, it let out an instant cry, louder than before. He quickly allowed the child to suck his little finger, and the cry disappeared.
There was one thing Harkaman was sure about—that he couldn’t leave the child abandoned for the second time. He cursed the real parents of the child for deserting the little creature barely a month after birth. But soon a feeling of guilt started rising up from his stomach as he flirted with the thought of leaving the child there and heading home.
Harkaman soon became sure that if he, too, abandoned the child, like the child’s biological parents had, he would be as reprehensible as the child’s real parents. He then remembered Dhanmaya’s gloomy face and her dejected condition. Then he looked at the innocent face of the chid which now lay on his hands, safe and sound. Even before he realised, he found his feet moving swiftly towards home. Now, Harkaman knew what he was doing and he couldn’t imagine the response that would emanate from his wife upon seeing a new-born child in his arms. He smiled and walked carefully so as not to trip over some rock, for now he held a prized possession.
Dhanmaya first cringed when she saw the baby. She felt embarrassed to see in her husband’s arms a nearly one-month-old baby that she had not delivered.
“Whose baby have you brought?” she asked with suspicion even as she threw furtive glances at the baby.
“Isn’t the little creature beautiful?” Harkaman could not hold back the excitement he felt when looking at the baby.
“That is not what I asked,” Dhanmaya stiffened a little.
“I found it near a bush while I was coming home,” he said,” The baby was abandoned. What else could I do?”
“So you brought the child along?”
“What if his real parents come searching for the baby,” Dhanmaya quizzed her husband.
“I don’t know. If they were to come searching for the baby, they wouldn’t have abandoned the child in the first place.”
Dhanmaya nodded in agreement.
“But how do you know if the baby is a boy?” Harkaman was a little surprised that his wife had correctly guessed the baby’s sex just by seeing the baby, barely a month old. Harkaman himself had struggled to figure out the baby’s sex until he had removed the napkin wrapped tightly around the baby’s pelvis.
“Just because I have not been able to give birth to a baby does not mean that I can’t figure out a baby’s sex,” his wife said,” Just the face, or even the wail is enough.”
“What should we do about the child now that you have brought the baby home?” Dhanmaya asked. Suddenly, she felt comfortable about the fact that her husband had brought home a child who was not theirs. A child who must have been forsaken by his biological parents was now lying safe inside a humble hut, one that now seemed like a perfect refuge for the newborn baby.
“Maybe we should adopt the baby,” her husband suggested.
“What will others say?” she asked apprehensively even as she struggled to hide her excitement about adopting a baby.
“People will keep saying things. Who cares?” her husband looked nonchalant as he fiddled with a cigarette lying inside his waistcoat.
“Have you gone mad?” Dhanmaya admonished her husband as he tried to light the cigarette with a damp-looking matchstick.”Lighting a cigarette in front of a baby this small?”
Harkaman reacted as if he remembered something and hurried outside. He lit the cigarette and inhaled a long puff. Dhanmaya got confused and wondered what she should do next as she found just herself and the baby in the room. She then walked closer to the baby.
For almost a minute, she observed the baby’s face: the tiny nose, the sensitive eyes and the forehead, which looked too broad for a one-month-old. As she ran her fingers over the baby’s face, a touch of longing appeared on her face. The brightness in her face upon holding the baby in her arms just about validated how much had wanted a baby. The origin of the child—whether it emerged from her own womb or from
somebody else’s— just did not matter anymore. A baby was all she wanted, Biological or not, she didn’t care.