Beast of Burden, a short story, story of Durga, story of a housewife, story of every housewife in a patriarchal society:
“Where is my dress Durga?”
“Is the Tiffin ready?”
“My handkerchief is not in the pocket of my pant.”
“What do you do the whole day? Cannot even iron a tie evenly?”
“There is so much debris in the bin. The sofa sheet is wrinkled.”
“I’m bored with the same Tiffin. My table is in astray. You did not lock the roof door properly at night. You should clean the toilet regularly. See how ferocious the fan blades are looking. Cannot you wipe them up?”
“What else do you do the whole day?” I suppress the query that I never dare to ask. I know it is the most prohibited question for any “good woman” yeah so-called “good wives”.
I want to scream at his elephant ear – “I wake up with the alarm even when sleep keeps my brain dizzy, my limbs pain in strain for daily drudgery and ask for more rest, more sleep. I get fresh, soak all the clothes that you, my dear hubby had just taken care to throw on the floor near the machine the previous night. I start cutting vegetables, washing rice, pulse, fish or meat or anything that is included in your food list. I work like a spring machine hearing nothing, caring nothing for the hunger that irks my stomach.” I want to gush out but words are as numb as me or I lack the vigour to utter them. So it continues as it is.
In the midway of my cooking my beloved spouse shrieks out, “Durga where are my sandals?”
His feet are so big in comparison to mine that there is no question that I may have worn them. Whenever he mounts the bed, he just throws them carelessly inside the narrow gap of the divan. And it is my morning routine taking the duster’s handle and then bending on my knees and thrusting my head in the deep dark of dust to rescue those precious pair while he meditates on the bed with an irritated freaking face yawing and cursing my low efficacy in this expedition.
Something smells bad.
Oh, God! The curry.
I just pull out the sandals and my head gets a heavy bump.
“Oh! Durga cannot you work cautiously? What a mess you create in the trifle.”
I have no time to hear his unavailing lecture so I run to the kitchen to find my hard-toiled curry is burning and over-pouring rice gruel disarrays the oven without caring a fig for my partner’s next reprimand. I try my best to control the situation with wartime sincerity but the freaking order panel starts its course again at my bewildered ears.
“Durga, where have you put my towel?”
“You’ve put it somewhere at night after using.”I just shouted from the kitchen wishing not to leave my battleground.
“I always put it in right place.” He grumbled.
But the sound of clashing utensils and cracking of cumin seeds in oil just ignore the whimper.
I prepare his tea, toast and boiled egg and hurried to the table. After all, he needs a healthy breakfast.
I put them on the table.
I utter and rush to the kitchen feeling the squalling in my belly and rebellion of my tossing brain. I have been working from dawn on an empty stomach.
But I just pay no heed. I have no time for it. I have to finish my cooking and prepare his lunchbox proportionately maintaining a fine balance of carbohydrates, protein, sugar and saturated fat. And foods are to be cooled before putting in an airtight container. Otherwise, the leakage-proof gutter will be damaged and lost its elasticity as well as utility very soon.
Those gutters! How easily they get damaged unlike the women like me who are not allowed to get damaged.
I recall my mom. She used to tell often when I used to fondle with my elastic hair band and she was ready to comb my hair.
“Durga never pulls the elastic too much, it will lose its elasticity and will tear.”
“Don’t wrench any relation out of its capacity. Anything related to capacity and tolerance will break one day.” She mumbled on.
I astonishingly turned back finding her forlorn eyes smothering in unknown pain and self-pity.
“What’s up mom?”
“Nothing”. Her tone dropped. I then wished to kiss her pale shrunken cheeks. My mom. My dear mom.
Sometimes I also feel so – on the verge of breaking off my tenacity as if cracking out of a pan, scattering all over howling shouting creating a mess.
But I swallow my anger, hatred and humiliation day after day and say nothing.
Beast of Burden.
“Durga what is the hell of you? You keep the breakfast open on the table. Just care a fig for health and hygiene. How many times have I to tell you this?”
I say nothing just twinge like a stricken beast with silent mortification.
I assume he comes to the breakfast table as early as I turn my back to the kitchen what he usually does every day. So I feel no need to put a lid and even if I do so I have to rush back with the sound of pulling a chair to open them off. Otherwise, he will shout “Durga, you know I am going to sit for breakfast, what is the need of putting lids on them? It will spoil my time.”
I just mute myself and allow him to throw up his grievance, and disgust on me. And then he leaves finishing his breakfast, slamming the polished wooden door behind me.
Durga holds her breath for a second and blinks for some time as if to adjust to the vacuum of sudden freedom as well as silence. Then she cleans everything on the table and checks the lock carefully again and again. She wants to be all alone, at least for some time. She dusts and washes up the kitchen and rooms before arranging everything in order.
Then on a plate, she arranges her food and came to the balcony. This is her time, her quality time. She needs some time just to sit and think and chew.
This is her everyday routine. When she was a new bride she was more energetic and lively. She indulged in household chores even out of her capacity to please her husband.
Was she successful? Did he ever feel pleased and blessed? Did he ever utter a kind and grateful word to her except abuse?
She takes a morsel and peeps outside the bars. The streets are now busy handling the hustle and bustle of moving crowds and vehicles. Durga likes to watch these in her languid motion. She has already lost her appetite and is feeling dizzy. The clock is turning 11 and she has to take bath, and finishing her meal. She looks out thrusting her weary face on the bars of the window.
A bulky man with a pot belly is thrashing a van driver who is already struggling to move his van with a huge burden of goods. The skinny, bone-decked, weak man can’t paddle the van properly with feeble foot pressure.
But the plump man who cannot bear his own body weight and cannot move an inch without gasping for air continuously keeps charging the van-man of laziness and condemning him with harsh words.
Beast of Burden.
Durga forgets to finish her food though she is starving. She shoves her head more on the bars to have a clear look and awaits with bated breath for the catastrophe – what will happen next?
She feels terrible. Excitement hammers her brain shivering all over her body. Her eyes widen as if to envision her own destiny.
Can he bear the load?
Will the paddle move?
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.