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The Last Request

About Shantanu Ghosh

Shantanu is a neuroscientist trained in India, Europe and the United States. He holds a passionate love for writing English and Bengali poetry. Recently he's started to write some short stories and also tried his hand in writing scripts for short documentaries and videos. When he's not in his lab, he enjoys hiking in the Himalayas and listening to music.

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Prologue :

I was supposed to take the last train out of Taraganj.
It was mostly dark, almost like a lump of tar thrown against a black wall. There were a lot of mosquitoes on the lone platform. I sat down and started swatting them whenever they came and hummed near my ears to signal their presence. I sat in silence, with nothing else to do for two hours.

 

Part 1

Taraganj is a strange name for a town. It is a village, really, and has outgrown its usefulness. A long time back, it used to be a flourishing trading post on the newly constructed railway route. But there were factories coming up. The center of gravity moved to the factory township forty miles away. Within two years, almost nothing remained of the flourishing marketplace outside the rail station except for the makeshift stall selling sweet overboiled chai and pakoras, and the old cobbler. Even the toddy seller had moved.

The ticket counter was still closed. It would open, I had been told, ten minutes before the train was due to arrive. I did not want to go near the tea shop because of the strong smell of marijuana. Someone was living life in a different domain. And I did not want to draw attention towards me in the first place. So there was nothing I could do except wait in the dark.

Thoughts started coming to my mind. Some just trickled, others barged in, while yet others ambled together with others. Some flooded my memories with restlessness, others just made me sad. Occasionally a sweet memory from a distant time would force a smile. But most of them were dark and morose. And it made me broody.

Taraganj was a town I had spent many of my childhood summers. My grandfather used to have a cottage here. The cottage is still there, just that it no longer belongs to our family.

I had grown up in a larger town not far from here. Then came my higher studies, and I moved even further. And then I landed a job in America. So I had come a long way from this small, insignificant spot on the map to the vibrant city life of New York. But I always yearned for the unadulterated air of that insignificant spot on the map where I had nice memories. Memories of walking beneath a canopy of neem, banyan, mahua, gulmohar, moringa and tamarind trees. The mahua trees especially, their sweet smell was maddening and intoxicating. Indeed they used to make cheap liquor from it.

There was a small river about a mile from the railway station. I used to row my grandfather’s boat on that river. I had a friend, a local boy who was older than me by several years. I don’t remember his name, but I hear he has gone into the city and is an insurance agent now.

 

Part 2

I remembered the first time in school I kissed a girl. She was my best friend. She was also a girl who came from a rich family. As we sat beneath a neem tree on a hot summer afternoon, I had dozed off. I had woken up startled when she had thrust her face in front of mine and it was almost a dream like sequence. It was not even a real kiss, or a peck, more like an exploration. Testing the waters. She had responded by sitting on my lap and we played with our tongues. It was fun and sent shivers down my spine and I had goosebumps, till she pulled me on top of her. I had panicked and ran away. We were both in seventh grade. Next day at school we did not speak and I avoided her ever since. I never saw her after that year.

I thought of the football games we used to play in the rains, or the many movies that we used to enjoy in college. I thought of the occasional western music concert that we all had got tickets for. I thought about my past girlfriends. But none stuck to my head as the one recurring thought of the first time I saw two sadhus fighting and wrestling each other. That image kept coming back again and again. As if the image was trying to tell me something important.

 

In a way it was symbolic. I was going through a rough patch at work, and my colleagues were not helpful. I had serious differences with my boss and I was struggling to keep my sanity and my job at the same time. So I had taken the week off after a long time, took the flight from New York and had come to Taraganj to connect with my past, one that held so many memories. I had come to find something. What, I didn’t know.

And then I noticed her, past the strands of my meandering thoughts. On the platform. A beggar woman. She was sitting hunched over a small equally squalid cloth bundle. Her clothes were torn and unkempt and dirty. She had not washed for days. Her hair was matted, her face covered with grime. She looked frail and hungry, and her cheeks were sunken. Somehow I felt, she would not welcome my intrusion. But her presence kept drawing my eyes towards her.

She had noticed me too. After what seemed to be a long time she approached me. She asked if I had any bidis. I said no. I did not smoke. She went quiet after that.
Another long silence.
“What are you doing in Taraganj?”
“I had some work.”
“Nobody has work in Taraganj. You are lying.”
I was startled.
“I work in the city and came here to look at the lovely forest.”
“You are lying.” She said with such a ferocity that I was taken aback.
An uncomfortable silence ensued.
“You came here looking for something.”
I looked up, now astonished. How in the world did she know I was looking for something? Maybe she was just trying to make me uncomfortable and force me to cough up some money. I thought it best to keep quiet.
“You came here looking for something you did not find in the city?” she continued to press. “Where do you live?”

“Why did you come here?”
Silence again. I was annoyed to say the least.

 

Part 3

She told me her story, haltingly at first, then in fits and starts, and then without stopping, The words came with such sincerity that I have seldom seen in people.

She came from an affluent family, she said. She had been married young, right after high school. On her wedding night, she was raped by her father-in-law. He said her new husband was impotent and therefore could not have children. She had walked out the next day. At first she thought of ending her life. Like hang herself by a rope. Or throw herself in front of the train. Or jump off a bridge. But she did neither, because she felt something inside her.

 

Two months later she discovered she was pregnant. She had the baby and abandoned her in front of a church. That was nine years ago. She had survived all these years by prostituting herself. Four months ago she was found unconscious and had woken up in a hospital, she said. The doctor had told her she had cancer. And she was given a month to live.

She stopped abruptly. Silence again. A silence pierced by her misfortune, like a splinter that won’t go away. My thoughts were obviously revolving around her life.
Somehow she sensed what I was thinking.
“I am dying,” she said. “Won’t you ask me what is my last wish?”
I looked her again, perplexed as to how she could read my mind so clearly.
“What is your last wish?” I asked half-heartedly, somewhat annoyed at her nagging and with a disdain in my voice that was noticeable even to me.
“I want someone to hold me and kiss me like he wanted me. I want to feel like a woman.”
It knocked me out of my senses.
“Will you grant me my last wish?”

I was taken aback by her request. More by her audacity. The thought of being with a prostitute revolted me. I felt like vomiting even thinking about it. But I was also curious. And mesmerized by her. Drawn to her like an insect to a flame. Something about her I was just not able to fathom.

Before I could say anything, she came near me and pulled me close. I could hear her heavy breathing. I could smell her sweaty and grimy clothes. I was surprised by the force and almost let out a scream. The stench from her breath was nauseating. I cringed and instinctively recoiled in horror.

“One time, just once, please,” she said. “Kiss me on my lips.”
It was then that our eyes met. Hers were fiery and red, her arched body inflamed with one last bout of passion. Against my better judgment, I found I had leaned forward. My lips touched her parched and cracked lips, unwilling to commit. I closed my eyes. It seemed like an eternity. Locked lips and biting the lower one, I found her reciprocating so forcefully. She bit me hard and drew blood. I could taste the saltiness inside my mouth.
I had never kissed anyone so passionately.

She drew away as quickly as she had pulled me earlier.
But before I could recover, I found her slump forward and go limp. Her eyes were now glassy, a mere shadow of her fiery self, moments ago. I caught her in my arms as she fell.

“Now I can die in peace. Why did you run away that day? And what took you so long to come looking for me?”

She breathed her last in my arms. The train was still half an hour away.
I had finally found what I had come here looking for. My best friend from seventh grade.

I was supposed to take the last train out of Taraganj.
It was mostly dark, almost like a lump of tar thrown against a black wall. There were a lot of mosquitoes on the lone platform. I sat down and started swatting them whenever they came and hummed near my ears to signal their presence. I sat in silence, with nothing else to do for two hours.

Taraganj is a strange name for a town. It is a village, really, and has outgrown its usefulness. A long time back, it used to be a flourishing trading post on the newly constructed railway route. But there were factories coming up. The center of gravity moved to the factory township forty miles away. Within two years, almost nothing remained of the flourishing marketplace outside the rail station except for the makeshift stall selling sweet overboiled chai and pakoras, and the old cobbler. Even the toddy seller had moved.

The ticket counter was still closed. It would open, I had been told, ten minutes before the train was due to arrive. I did not want to go near the tea shop because of the strong smell of marijuana. Someone was living life in a different domain. And I did not want to draw attention towards me in the first place. So there was nothing I could do except wait in the dark.

Thoughts started coming to my mind. Some just trickled, others barged in, while yet others ambled together with others. Some flooded my memories with restlessness, others just made me sad. Occasionally a sweet memory from a distant time would force a smile. But most of them were dark and morose. And it made me broody.

Taraganj was a town I had spent many of my childhood summers. My grandfather used to have a cottage here. The cottage is still there, just that it no longer belongs to our family.

I had grown up in a larger town not far from here. Then came my higher studies, and I moved even further. And then I landed a job in America. So I had come a long way from this small, insignificant spot on the map to the vibrant city life of New York. But I always yearned for the unadulterated air of that insignificant spot on the map where I had nice memories. Memories of walking beneath a canopy of neem, banyan, mahua, gulmohar, moringa and tamarind trees. The mahua trees especially, their sweet smell was maddening and intoxicating. Indeed they used to make cheap liquor from it.

There was a small river about a mile from the railway station. I used to row my grandfather’s boat on that river. I had a friend, a local boy who was older than me by several years. I don’t remember his name, but I hear he has gone into the city and is an insurance agent now.

To Be Continued in Part 2….

I remembered the first time in school I kissed a girl. She was my best friend. She was also a girl who came from a rich family. As we sat beneath a neem tree on a hot summer afternoon, I had dozed off. I had woken up startled when she had thrust her face in front of mine and it was almost a dream like sequence. It was not even a real kiss, or a peck, more like an exploration. Testing the waters. She had responded by sitting on my lap and we played with our tongues. It was fun and sent shivers down my spine and I had goosebumps, till she pulled me on top of her. I had panicked and ran away. We were both in seventh grade. Next day at school we did not speak and I avoided her ever since. I never saw her after that year.

I thought of the football games we used to play in the rains, or the many movies that we used to enjoy in college. I thought of the occasional western music concert that we all had got tickets for. I thought about my past girlfriends. But none stuck to my head as the one recurring thought of the first time I saw two sadhus fighting and wrestling each other. That image kept coming back again and again. As if the image was trying to tell me something important.

In a way it was symbolic. I was going through a rough patch at work, and my colleagues were not helpful. I had serious differences with my boss and I was struggling to keep my sanity and my job at the same time. So I had taken the week off after a long time, took the flight from New York and had come to Taraganj to connect with my past, one that held so many memories. I had come to find something. What, I didn’t know.

And then I noticed her, past the strands of my meandering thoughts. On the platform. A beggar woman. She was sitting hunched over a small equally squalid cloth bundle. Her clothes were torn and unkempt and dirty. She had not washed for days. Her hair was matted, her face covered with grime. She looked frail and hungry, and her cheeks were sunken. Somehow I felt, she would not welcome my intrusion. But her presence kept drawing my eyes towards her.

She had noticed me too. After what seemed to be a long time she approached me. She asked if I had any bidis. I said no. I did not smoke. She went quiet after that.
Another long silence.
“What are you doing in Taraganj?”
“I had some work.”
“Nobody has work in Taraganj. You are lying.”
I was startled.
“I work in the city and came here to look at the lovely forest.”
“You are lying.” She said with such a ferocity that I was taken aback.
An uncomfortable silence ensued.
“You came here looking for something.”
I looked up, now astonished. How in the world did she know I was looking for something? Maybe she was just trying to make me uncomfortable and force me to cough up some money. I thought it best to keep quiet.
“You came here looking for something you did not find in the city?” she continued to press. “Where do you live?”

“Why did you come here?”
Silence again. I was annoyed to say the least.

To Be Continued in Part 3…

She told me her story, haltingly at first, then in fits and starts, and then without stopping, The words came with such sincerity that I have seldom seen in people.

She came from an affluent family, she said. She had been married young, right after high school. On her wedding night, she was raped by her father-in-law. He said her new husband was impotent and therefore could not have children. She had walked out the next day. At first she thought of ending her life. Like hang herself by a rope. Or throw herself in front of the train. Or jump off a bridge. But she did neither, because she felt something inside her.

Two months later she discovered she was pregnant. She had the baby and abandoned her in front of a church. That was nine years ago. She had survived all these years by prostituting herself. Four months ago she was found unconscious and had woken up in a hospital, she said. The doctor had told her she had cancer. And she was given a month to live.

She stopped abruptly. Silence again. A silence pierced by her misfortune, like a splinter that won’t go away. My thoughts were obviously revolving around her life.
Somehow she sensed what I was thinking.
“I am dying,” she said. “Won’t you ask me what is my last wish?”
I looked her again, perplexed as to how she could read my mind so clearly.
“What is your last wish?” I asked half-heartedly, somewhat annoyed at her nagging and with a disdain in my voice that was noticeable even to me.
“I want someone to hold me and kiss me like he wanted me. I want to feel like a woman.”
It knocked me out of my senses.
“Will you grant me my last wish?”

I was taken aback by her request. More by her audacity. The thought of being with a prostitute revolted me. I felt like vomiting even thinking about it. But I was also curious. And mesmerized by her. Drawn to her like an insect to a flame. Something about her I was just not able to fathom.

Before I could say anything, she came near me and pulled me close. I could hear her heavy breathing. I could smell her sweaty and grimy clothes. I was surprised by the force and almost let out a scream. The stench from her breath was nauseating. I cringed and instinctively recoiled in horror.

“One time, just once, please,” she said. “Kiss me on my lips.”
It was then that our eyes met. Hers were fiery and red, her arched body inflamed with one last bout of passion. Against my better judgment, I found I had leaned forward. My lips touched her parched and cracked lips, unwilling to commit. I closed my eyes. It seemed like an eternity. Locked lips and biting the lower one, I found her reciprocating so forcefully. She bit me hard and drew blood. I could taste the saltiness inside my mouth.
I had never kissed anyone so passionately.

She drew away as quickly as she had pulled me earlier.
But before I could recover, I found her slump forward and go limp. Her eyes were now glassy, a mere shadow of her fiery self, moments ago. I caught her in my arms as she fell.

“Now I can die in peace. Why did you run away that day? And what took you so long to come looking for me?”

She breathed her last in my arms. The train was still half an hour away.
I had finally found what I had come here looking for. My best friend from seventh grade.

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1 Response Comment

  • Aparna Mondal03/07/2019 at 9:45 AM

    Loved reading the beautiful description which surely promises unfolding of lovely story. Waiting eagerly for the subsequent episodes.

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