The Last Journey

By: Sayani Bhattacharya

The man in his early forties tottered with the ragged bag hanging from his right shoulder and his four-year-old-son sitting on the left one. He held the boy from his side with his left hand and dragged himself. As he walked along the deserted unpaved path, the scorching sun right above the head smouldered him. He took a deep breath fighting his hunger and thirst decaying his verve. The bottle he still held in his right hand with God-knew-what-hope had been empty since almost a day. It was unlikely that he still had faith in miracles.  

It's been three days he had left his shack in Mebha, a small village in Andhra. The bag he carried could hold only a few clothes and an old album. It had Reva's photos from their wedding. It was her only memory he could have for the rest of his life. He left all others in the shack along with the dreams their entwined hands had once weaved. A month from he lost his job in the brick kiln, Reva died quietly obscuring her hunger. With her, she took along the new life growing inside her.

The boy stooped on his side and rested his head on his father's.

'Amol beta?' the man asked in his croaky voice, 'are you hungry?'

The boy did not speak.

The man shook the empty bottle and muttered under his breath, 'you asked for water, this doesn't have a single drop left.' and then with a deep breath, he tried to sound cheery, 'see, we've almost reached.  Can you wait for fifteen more minutes, honey?'

The boy still chose reticence. 

'Are you still vexed with your dad, Amol?' the man asked in a wheezy tone, 'that he didn't try enough to protect your mother, or that every night you had to go to bed famishing? You've every right to do so...every right!' he almost broke down. 

***

The old couple sitting on their haunches and gobbling down a handful of sago left their food and stood up astounded. The lady held the man's hands and spoke feebly in her teary eyes, 'my Ashu, my son!' 

As the weary figure appeared dragging himself at the door, she lurched towards him, hoping to see her son after six long years. Who had thought this countrywide lockdown would a bring a mother and her son together!

Ashu glanced at her mother unmoved and walked up to the middle of the yard. Then he crouched down to lie his son down on the ground. 

'Ashu!' his mother came closer and touched his bewhiskered face, 'how're you, beta? How did you come all this way?'

'We walked, maa', Ashu uttered in a low voice, 'took us three whole days.'

The old man spoke for the first time, 'where's Reva? Have you left her all alone there?'

Ashu glanced at his father from the corner of his eyes, fighting his tears back, 'Reva...' he inhaled deeply and continued in a husky voice, 'baba, I didn't leave her. She left us to live on our own.' 

Glancing at his son lying quietly, he turned to his mother in a haste, 'maa, quickly bring some water for Amol. Reva never complained. With an empty pocket and no job I made her sleep starving every night. She never said a word. But Amol asked for water. I have kept him thirsty for a whole day. Give him some water, please.'

The old couple thudded down on the ground. The cold frozen body lying on the ground had long left its life.