The Banquet Hall, story of hunger
“WILL IT BE LIGHTED AND DECKED TODAY, MOTHER?”
The mother was ironing the clothes. Her eyes were heavy with the strain and drudgery of the day, her lips were dry and her cheeks pale and shrunken.
There seemed just a shallow motion of treble across the cornea as she listened to the boy’s questions, but her tired voice quivered a little to answer him though with some pretending indifference.
The boy’s heart sank at the careless easy flow of his mother’s attitude as he was exuberant with the thought of another feast, the light, the decoration, flower, bustle of beautifully dressed men, women and children and most of all the fragrance- the delicious fragrance of which he never tasted.
On his small, shabby couch he started weaving the dream… dream to be one of them. Blazered men with magenta ties and women with fine silky hair and flippant dresses, the fairy-like girls with purple hair band as if they were all from a dreamland where no hunger pang could clutch the throat, thronged the beautifully decked banquet hall. There were all the ladies beautifully dressed in fashion, not like his mother- they were so surreal!
His mother had no such dress, she never smiled in such a way. She was always busy with her work fretted, disturbed and confused.
But his elder sister Radha five years older than him had his taste. So he slipped out of the tin shed small room in search of Radha. She could help him to get some information to placid his heart. The hall was just a few steps away. But they never invited them.
One day he asked Radha
” All who came there are their relatives and friends”.
Radha explained grumpily,
“We are poor and no one wants us.”
Anita Masi came and praised mom. She washed and ironed so well, she did her clothes all night, urgently. That day was her sister’s marriage. Mother prepared all her clothes- that were needed for that ceremony. She praised us, and gave thanks to us, but never invited her. At night she was looking gorgeous and happy with the dresses my mom arranged for her but when she passed our house she feigned as if she does not know us, why?
But after a week of the ceremony, she again appeared with the previous friendly smile and the urgency in her voice.
And mother happily welcomed her and tried her best to make her content with her work.
“Why have you not refused he?” Mehul asked arrogantly.
“She is my customer. She paid me.”
“But she did not invite us.”
Mother smiled the most transparent smile and took Mehul in her lap, soothed his dishavelled hair upward and kiss his forehead.
“We are not their relatives, not their friends.”
“Why not? She always talked and asked for your help when needed.”
“That is another matter. We are of different statuses.”
“What is that?”
Mother dropped him from her lap.
“Oh Mehul! Go and play. I have a lot of jobs to finish. I can not answer your foolish questions anymore.”
“So he thought not to bother her anymore but to search Radha instead.”
” Didi, didi” he shouted as he found her near the hall talking with a bright boy and giggling coyly. He was taken aback. Radha was so introverted and quite type he thought. “What is he doing with that boy?”
He called again. This time Radha lifted her face and turned towards him. She smiled radiantly.
” Come Mehul, meet my friend. He is a guest here and we will come today at night as his guests to attend the feast. It will be great fun. Will it not?” She shook my shoulders in excitement. Her eyes were brimming with the joy of achievement. I looked furtively at the boy who seemed uncertain and nervous, though he tried to smile at me.
I tried to be happy like her but I was not sure about it.
That evening we feign to be ill and did not eat anything to keep ourselves hungry enough to stuff good food which we never relished but just smelt before. Radha ironed out the best clothes over and over again when our mother went to the market at night. She would be late as she had to deliver her work to the other houses. So she advised us to close the door and be safe. We dressed quickly. Radha tucked a black plastic inside her Salower’s string. I looked at her questingly. She smiled “I have planned to bring some food for mother, she will be surprised.” Her happiness made me happy and afraid at the same time. But I did not show my suspicions to her. I also wished it crazily.
When we approached the hall we stared at the decorated palace.
” How beautiful it looks.” We uttered in chorus. There were flowers, and lights as if we were in a king’s palace.
We waited and searched for that boy. But he was nowhere to be seen.
” Didi where is your friend?”
” Must be nearby or may be busy inside. I told him, we will come this time when the city clock will strike just 8. It is not yet. Is it??”
Just then the clock banged madly. We waited patiently at one side keeping our eager eyes on the entrance. A rush of crowds hustled near the hall. They were laughing and talking loudly. Some of them ignored our presence and some of them threw some puzzled obnoxious looks at us. The boy was seen for a moment or two but he appeared too busy with his friends and acquaintances. He looked at us but could not recognise us. Radha smiled at her and waved her hand, but he just ignored her. He looked agitated and anxious at our audacity.
” Hey, what are you doing here?”
One tall, white, robust man, suddenly appeared from nowhere and started scrutinising us with his hawk eyes.
Our throats dried in fear and humiliation. I was about to cry when Radha said desperately, “We are guests.”
The man burst into a teasing guffaw and looked at the other men who already gathered there to watch the movie.
” Guests?” He chewed out the word with hatred.
” I know you. Go out of here. Or I will inform the manager immediately and you will be the guest of the police.”
I looked at Radha and my choked cry flooded out in a whining sound. But she was furious with rage. Her fair pale fragile face sparkled in blue, red, and pink under the colourfully decked building lights. She clasped my hand and then strode across the road ignoring the vicious looks and collective laughter of the men behind. We walked on silently. The small distance from the Banquet Hall to our hut seemed so long for the first time.
Hey, I am Munmun, the phoenix fabulist who wants to tell you stories. I love to read stories and I love to weave stories. I feel life is an amalgamation of multiple stories, colourful threads, and threads of pain, pleasure, hope, and hopelessness. We just need to pick those hues and arrange them, knitting them with our own emotions and perception. So let’s celebrate the stories of life.