A short story translated from Bengali to English by
The alarm was set at 6 am but Rumana woke up just one minute before the clock struck 6 am. She stopped the ringing alarm quickly lest it disturbed her one year old sleeping son. She caressed Sajjad’s forehead to awaken him. Irritated, Sajjad opened his eyes and grumbled, “What’s wrong? You should quit this habit of irritating me every morning!” Rumana said, “I’m getting up. Please keep an eye on Babu so that he doesn’t fall from the bed.” Sajjad muttered something under his breath and went back to sleep. Rumana completed several tasks speedily. First she made some bread, cooked vegetables, prepared lunch and then put all those stuff inside the refrigerator. When she went to take a bath after preparing hotchpotch for Babu, it was 8 am. She was in shower when she heard Babu crying. Sajjad was shouting at her-“You are still in the bathroom! Who is going to change his diaper now?” Rumana replied from the bathroom-“Don’t worry. I have already changed his diaper. He will be fine and I’m just coming out.” Halfway through mopping her body, she stepped out of the bathroom and got engaged in her daily routine of feeding Babu. Taking a look at her watch she thought she was bound to be late for office today too. Still, what was most important at that point was to feed Babu as his grandmother would not be able to feed him anything else for the rest of the day. So it was all up to Rumana when it came to feeding Babu and Rumana had to spend an hour every day over accomplishing this ‘task’.
Sajjad is all set for his office. Keeping her son sitting on the feeding chair, she served breakfast to Sajjad. After he finished eating, Rumana requested him, “Please wash your plate. I’m in a hurry and the maid won’t be coming today.” By this time Babu’s grandmother woke up from sleep and entered the drawing room. She called out to Rumana, ” Oh my God! What an age this is! A wife orders her husband to do things! It’s alright. I will wash that plate for my son. Even if his wife doesn’t do it for him, my son doesn’t need to wash his plate as long as I breathe.” Sajjad also teased Rumana, “Now this is the difference between mother and wife. Anyway, enough of this rubbish talk! You were about to make me late for the office.”
Feeding her son and barely finishing her own meal, Rumana headed for her office. At her office, she was famed as a perfectionist. Very few people in that company were as efficient and dedicated to their work as Rumana was. People were amazed when she received double promotion just after two years of joining the company. Her colleague, Rashed joined the company at the same time as she did but could not make much progress with his career. After the birth of her son, Rumana was at times late to get to office but apart from that, no one could say that Rumana ever neglected her work. Still, Rashed was gossiping today, within Rumana’s earshot, with the other colleagues-“A woman is, after all, a woman. What they can do at the most is to bring up a child. And her child is her biggest excuse to be remiss in work. Whenever she fails to care for her work, she will keep producing excuses- that her child is ill, that her child is having stomach problem and blah blah blah…” Rumana tried to remember if she had ever offered an excuse that involved her child but could not remember anything of that sort and she concentrated on her work.
When she returned home at around 5 pm, she found their house full of guests. Her mother-in-law invited the guests without her knowledge. After she got refreshed, she sat down to feed her child. Sajjad came into the room and asked, “What are you doing?” She replied, “You can see that I’m feeding Babu.” Sajjad grumpily said, “Mom is taking care of all the guests single-handedly. Have you lost your sense of courtesy?” Rumana said, “I will go shortly to attend to the guests, Sajjad. Babu ate almost nothing throughout the day. Besides, I have already exchanged courtesy with all the guests.” Sajjad smiled sarcastically. Rumana does not really know the meaning of this sarcastic smile. When she got done with feeding Babu, she walked into the kitchen and found her mother-in-law wearing a peevish face. She got to work immediately. She cooked fried rice, roasted chicken, mutton curry, rice pudding one after another and when she got through everything from serving food to the guests to waving goodbye to them, she felt the pain in her right leg. But she still had the dishes and bowls left to wash and she felt the pain increasing while standing and washing the dishes. Since the last few months, whenever she was engaged in domestic work for quite a long time, she was experiencing this pain in her right leg. These days Sajjad was often in a bad temper without any reason. He started shouting at her again-” I have never seen such a mother like you in all my life. Your son is playing with dirt and making his shirt dirty but you take no notice of this.” Rumana told him, “Can’t you change Babu’s dress and put him to sleep?” Astonished, Sajjad responded, “me?” Rumana said no more. While singing her son to sleep, she felt the pain in her leg increasing more. She calculated in her mind if she could request her three years’ lover and four years’ wedded husband to massage her legs. Though she knew what his answer would be, she asked, “Can you please massage my legs? They are paining so much.” He replied, “It’s thirty minutes past 1 am. I have come to sleep after working all day in the office. Just lie down and you will be alright in a while.” The night advanced past midnight but Rumana could not sleep. The pain in her leg reached her heart. Her heart no longer feels either grief or anger but right now it is feeling some stabbing pain. She held her son close to her bosom all through the night.
Next day, on her way back home from work, she entered a shopping mall and went to the kids’ zone and asked for a set of toy utensils and house cleaning stuff. The shopkeeper asked her, “how old is your girl, Ma’am?” Rumana replied, “Not a girl, my child is just my child. But yes, physically he is a boy and he is one year old. Surprised, the shopkeeper stared at her.
Twenty five years later…
Rumana had got holidays for the next two days. Packing her things in a small bag, she was going to see her son at his house. Sajjad was out of station due to office works. The house of her son was nearby. Still, she took a rickshaw. She does not like to walk these days. Her son, Aneek was home when she reached. He jumped with joy upon seeing his mom. Rumana asked, “When is TItli going to return today?” Aneek replied, “Actually mom, TItli has got evening duty today. We can expect her by 9 pm.” When Rumana returned after changing clothes, Aneek was there with a cup of tea for her. He said, “Here is your special tea, mom!” Rumana took a sip from the cup and exclaimed, “Wow! Very nice! Thank you, son!” Aneek suddenly remembered something and told his mom, “Mom, I will be right back. TItli soaked two of her clothes but she could not wash it as she had to go out in a rush. Let me wash the clothes or else the clothes will stink. I will be back in ten minutes.” Rumana smiled and said, “Go! I can already smell the stinking clothes.”
When Aneek finished cooking his mom’s favourite dishes, he went to bring TItli back from work. While keeping the bike in garage, TItli asked Aneek, “Why do you go every day to get me home from work? I’m a police officer after all. I have to run after so many criminals. If you want, I can pick you up from your office.” Aneek said nothing. The police station which TItli was in charge of was not far from home. He feels TItli is nearby when he gets back from his office every day but he misses the time he could have spent with her. When TItli got home, Rumana told her, “Refresh yourself TItli and be quick. Aneek prepared my favourite dishes today and I can’t wait.” Rumana noticed TItli was laming slightly and asked her, “What happened to your legs, dear?” TItli replied, “Actually mom, I was in a haste while entering the police station today and I sprained my ankle.” Aneek smiled and cracked a joke at this, “You must have been swept off your feet seeing some handsome criminal. That’s why you are retributed this way.” Everyone in the room laughed.
Rumana went to bed after having some chitchat with them. Lying down on bed, she felt she needed to drink water. So, she came to the dining cum drawing room and found that TItli and Aneek were watching television. Aneek was massaging Titli’s aching leg very gently. At that instant, Rumana remembered the twenty five years old pain in her right leg. She remembered how she had raised a male kid going against the rules society prescribes when it comes to raising a male kid. She remembered how she handed him toy utensils and then gradually the brooms, detergents and Harpics and how she had been ridiculed for this. She remembered how she had developed the sensibility in her son that a woman was equally fatigued by domestic work as a man was and so he should not just help the woman in his house with domestic work but that he should equally divide all the domestic responsibilities with that woman be it his wife or his mother or his sister and that if required, he should at times take all the responsibilities of domestic chores on his shoulder.
TItli was drowning into sleep and with that Rumana’s twenty five years old pain began to recede slowly.