The Hungry Stones: IV
Our two lives went on with their dull routine for some time. Then there was a break in the monotony. An aunt of my husband came to pay us a visit.
The first thing she blurted out after our first greeting was this: "Well, Krum, it's a great pity you have become blind; but why do you impose your own affliction on your husband? You must get him to another wife."
There was an awkward pause. If my husband had only said something in jest, or laughed in her face, all would have been over. But he stammered and hesitated, and said at last in a nervous, stupid way: "Do you really think so? Really, Aunt, you shouldn't talk like that"
His aunt appealed to me. "Was I wrong, Kumo?"
I laughed a hollow laugh.
"Had not you better," said I, "consult some one more competent to decide? The pickpocket never asks permission from the man whose pocket he is going to pick."
"You are quite right," she replied blandly. "Abinash, my dear, let us have our little conference in private. What do you say to that?"
After a few days my husband asked her, in my presence, if she knew of any girl of a decent family who could come and help me in my household work. He knew quite well that I needed no help. I kept silence.
"Oh! there are heaps of them," replied his aunt. "My cousin has a daughter who is just of the marriageable age, and as nice a girl as you could wish. Her people would be only too glad to secure you as a husband."
Again there came from him that forced, hesitating laugh, and he said: "But I never mentioned marriage."
"How could you expect," asked his aunt, "a girl of decent family to come and live in your house without marriage? "
He had to admit that this was reasonable, and remained nervously silent.
I stood alone within the closed doors of my blindness after he had gone, and called upon my God and prayed: "O God, save my husband."
When I was coming out of the household shrine from my morning worship a few days later, his aunt took hold of both my hands warmly.
"Kumo, here is the girl," said she, "we were speaking about the other day. Her name is Hemangini. She will be delighted to meet you. Hemo, come here and be introduced to your sister."
My husband entered the room at the same moment. He feigned surprise when he saw the strange girl, and was about to retire. But his aunt said: "Abinash, my dear, what are you running away for? There is no need to do that. Here is my cousin's daughter, Hemangini, come to see you. Hemo, make your bow to him."
As if taken quite by surprise, he began to ply his aunt with questions about the when and why and how of the new arrival.
I saw the hollowness of the whole thing, and took Hemangini by the hand and led her to my own room. I gently stroked her face and arms and hair, and found that she was about fifteen years old, and very beautiful.
As I felt her face, she suddenly burst out laughing and said: "Why! what are you doing? Are you hypnotising me?"
That sweet ringing laughter of hers swept away in a moment all the dark clouds that stood between us. I threw my right arm about her neck.
"Dear one," said I, "I am trying to see you." And again I stroked her soft face with my left hand.
"Trying to see me? " she said, with a new burst of laughter. "Am I like a vegetable marrow, grown in your garden, that you want to feel me all round to see how soft I am?"
I suddenly bethought me that she did not know I had lost my sight.
"Sister, I am blind," said I.
She was silent. I could feel her big young eyes, full of curiosity, peering into my face. I knew they were full of pity. Then she grew thoughtful and puzzled, and said, after a short pause:
"Oh! I see now. That was the reason your husband invited his aunt to come and stay here."
"No!" I replied, "you are quite mistaken. He did not ask her to come. She came of her own accord."
Hemangini went off into a peal of laughter. "That's just like my aunt," said she. "Oh I wasn't it nice of her to come without any invitation? But now she's come, you won't get her to move for some time, I can assure you!"
Then she paused, and looked puzzled.
"But why did father send me?" she asked. "Can you tell me that? "
The aunt had come into the room while we were talking. Hemangini said to her: "When are you thinking of going back, Aunt? "
The aunt looked very much upset.
"What a question to ask!" said she, "I've never seen such a restless body as you. We've only just come, and you ask when we're going back!"
"It is all very well for you," Hemangini said, "for this house belongs to your near relations. But what about me? I tell you plainly I can't stop here." And then she held my hand and said: "What do you think, dear?"
I drew her to my heart, but said nothing. The aunt was in a great difficulty. She felt the situation was getting beyond her control; so she proposed that she and her niece should go out together to bathe.
"No! we two will go together," said Hemangini, clinging to me. The aunt gave in, fearing opposition if she tried to drag her away.
Going down to the river Hemangini asked me: "Why don't you have children? "
I was startled by her question, and answered: "How can I tell? My God has not given me any. That is the reason."
"No! That's not the reason," said Hemangini quickly. "You must have committed some sin. Look at my aunt. She is childless. It must be because her heart has some wickedness. But what wickedness is in your heart?"
The words hurt me. I have no solution to offer for the problem of evil. I sighed deeply, and said in the silence of my soul: "My God! Thou knowest the reason."
"Gracious goodness," cried Hemangini, "what are you sighing for? No one ever takes me seriously."
And her laughter pealed across the river.