Purnima* day of the present month
It was one of those balmy mornings in the year 1132 in the West Bengal region.
The bright sun had embarked upon its journey. The daylight fell gently into the hut through the small window.
Damini was humming a canorous tune. Her long black tresses conversed with the ground, as she sat stirring the porridge. Drops of sweat generated by the cow dung cake’s heat only added luster to her already shiny skin. Her eyelashes fluttered involuntarily, as she made attempts to avoid the smoke from entering her beautiful brown eyes.
As she was engrossed in some thought, the porridge overflowed from the mud cup she poured into.
Rustling leaves and footsteps; jolted her from her reverie. Tapan was back from his night duty at King Vijaya Sena’s palace.
Damini had selected this day of Purnima to convey him the news. But there was something amiss about her disposition, though she forced a fabricated smile as Tapan walked in.
Four Purnima earlier
Damini curled her dainty figure, resting her head on Tapan’s hairy chest, as they lay on the mat. He planted a loving kiss on her forehead; Playing with her curly locks as she winced.
“I don’t appreciate this sudden change in our schedule,” she grumbled.
“Everything was going so fine. Both of us used to leave together for the palace and return together, but now…” Her voice almost broke.
He entwined her in an embrace. “I understand your disappointment, but believe me; this arrangement is temporary.
Once Jayasimha returns, after winding up his work, I can get back to my morning duty.”
Damini still looked skeptical.
Damini was the maid of King Vijaya Sena’s queen. This opportunity had come her way because her husband, Tapan, was a Chamberlain in the palace, and the royal couple knew him very well.
Now that the night guard Jayasimha had to take off from duty for a while, the king had deputed Tapan.
“I was flattered when the king proclaimed in the court that he could trust only me with this vital duty until Jayasimha returns. You see I am adept at wielding the sword.” Tapan’s chest swelled a few inches in pride.
Damini made a face to tease him. “Oh, you are the most affable man on earth.” She pulled his nose playfully.
“Do you know how much the queen adores me?” She swaggered. “I am entrusted with all the important jobs of the queen. She wouldn’t trust anyone with her cascading hair. Only I am allowed to oil and massage it. The other day, Aaruni’s uncouthness angered the queen. She advised her to take a cue from me in performing the royal duties.” Damini swirled her eyeballs in self-appreciation.
“The queen always compliments, ‘Tapan is a lucky man to have a multi-facet wife. You discharge all your duties with such vigor, and you sing so melodiously.’ She admires my looks too and my dimples.” Damini’s cheeks turned red as she blushed, recollecting the queen’s words of praises.
“Well, am I, not the best husband too? Come; let us not waste this beautiful night in unnecessary discussions. We may not get to spend a night like this for many moons to come. Cursed Jayasimha,” he winked at her, and they made passionate love.
Later, when he still lay resting his head on her bosom, he advised her to be careful during the nights that she would be alone. “Ma and Baba are only a call away. If you sense anything eerie, call out to them. If the huts could comfortably accommodate three people, you could have gone over there for the nights until such time I am relieved off this duty.”
“Mmmm,” she whispered as she bit his ears. He screamed, “Ouch.”
“I will be careful, only if you allow me to sleep now,” she laughed, exhibiting a set of pearl-like teeth.
The ordeal began from the following day. Damini had to leave when the sun touched the Mahua tree and would return only to find Tapan, all set to go. When Tapan returned after work the following morning, Damini would be set to leave for her work. Those were the few minutes they got to cuddle. They consoled each other, saying that it was a transient phase.
The couple was happily married for a good seven years. The only grouch in their married life was that they had no offspring.
A cozy hut amongst a few dwelling scattered here, and there was their abode. The king’s palace was accessible by foot from where they resided. Though there was a considerable distance between the huts, one could hear any noise beyond the average decibel level within that stretch.
Ma and Baba, the middle-aged couple, were their nearest neighbors.
Two days before Purnima of the present month
Tapan came rushing into the hut after his night duty.
“Look, Damini, what I found lying in the bushes.” He was holding a decently, big, black object. It had some circular hollow patterns, and both of them could vaguely see themselves in a center rectangular piece that was transparent.
“Why do you pick things like this from the ground? Who knows it might be some witchcraft.” Damini’s eyes widened in awe at the sight of the alien object.
“Oh, silly woman, who can dare talk about sorcery under our noble ruler’s auspices? Be rest assured that this could be nothing detrimental. It may be a toy, dropped amongst the bushes by some kid.” Tapan placed it on the mud platform near the window.
“Is something bothering you?” Tapan enquired as he noticed that Damini’s face was shrouded by some thoughts.
She shook her head and brushing aside his apprehensions, left in a jiffy.
Her eccentricity had become very conspicuous, since a few days. Cheerfulness and contentment had always been her spectacular features, ever since they were married. She would giggle at the slightest provocation, but off late she looked too immersed in some thoughts. He was at a loss trying to analyze her taut behavior.
As he was lazing on the mat, his eyes fell on the object he had found in the morning. Fatigue taking a better of him after a sleepless night of vigil, he dozed off, postponing the thought of examining the object some other time.
The object took a back seat in his memory as he got up pretty late, and had enough time only to have a quick bath and eat a morsel of rice and pulse mix that Damini generally kept for him.
Before leaving, he curiously touched one of those round hollow patterns on the object. Nothing happened to it, and he left, wondering why Damini had not yet returned.
Just then, Damini entered the hut.
She must have walked home with heavy steps. The sun, which would be a few meters away from receding on other days when she returned, had touched the setting point.
The day before Purnima of the present month.
Tapan found Damini in a somewhat similar bizarre mood when he returned home in the morning. Surmising that it could be some physical ailment, he decided to take her to the village physician sometime soon.
As he sat alone, sipping his porridge, his eyes fell on the object at the window sill.
Keen on finding out what it could be, he took it and touched one of those round hollow patterns, out of the few.
He was more than astounded to see Damini through it. After having her rice and pulse, she sat to assemble some flowers that she had got from the royal garden. This was a routine of hers every night before going to sleep. She would sit with a torch lighted by woolen wicks dipped in molten tallow.
Naitrup, the King’s statesman, sauntered into their hut and quietly approached Damini, who was sitting with her back to the door. He suddenly engulfed her voluptuous figure from behind, and Tapan noticed that he had an exquisite pearl neckpiece and a set of matching bangles in his hand.
“Thanks for keeping the door, ajar,” he smiled.”Look what I bought for you.”
Tapan’s body quivered in exasperation as scenes unfolded in front of him, explaining what had transpired the previous night in the hut.
It also helped in unveiling the mystery behind Damini’s quirky behavior.
‘What a treacherous façade do people carry!’ Tapan sighed.
Tapan realized that it would require discreet perception to handle the matter and something had to be done before the night falls.
He could hardly catch a wink peacefully for the rest of the day.
The sun had begun its retreating journey. The scarlet sky ushered the twilight and heralded the arrival of yet another night. The moon that was to enter the Purnima phase the following day; was already glowing.
Tapan left early and crossed Damini’s path halfway.
“You are early,” she said, looking vexed.
“I have some work in the palace to be sorted out before night falls. I will talk to you tomorrow.” A bemused Damini kept staring at Tapan’s receding figure.
Tapan bowed humbly to the royal couple, who were seated together in the main hall.
“I seek permission to talk to the king and the queen in confidentiality.”
Purnima day of the present month
As Damini wiped the porridge that she had spilled on the ground, Tapan returned from work.
“I need to tell you something before I leave for work,” Damini toyed with the end of her pallu, looking down and drawing articulate designs with her toe on the ground.
“You are not reporting for work today. I have already taken the queen’s consent.” Tapan declared.
“But the queen is not keeping good health; She had asked all her maids to report for work without fail,” Damini’s intonation expressed worry.
“You are special; you need not go. And look at those dark circles beneath your eyes. It is you who are looking sick.” Tapan playfully nudged her.
“Now get ready. I have called for the bullock cart. We need to visit the Devi temple. Don’t we have to seek Her blessings for our first progeny that you are carrying?”
Damini was taken aback by what Tapan had said just then. “Today being Purnima, an auspicious day, I had chosen to let you know the wonderful news, but, but….”
He gently closed her mouth with his palm. “Why did you not confide in me about Naitrup’s menacing behavior? You could have avoided going through the mental turmoil all alone.”
She looked at him with awestruck eyes. Removing his palm from her mouth, she gasped. “How did you come to know about all this? I had confided only in Ma and Baba. I trust them. It was deliberately kept away from the realm of your knowledge because I feared you might end up taking some drastic step that will land you in trouble. Please tell me what has happened and how did you learn about Naitrup?”
Tapan slowly removed the object that he had concealed under his garment.
“This unraveled the truth,” he said even as she gawked at it. He pressed one of those round hollow patterns. He had grasped how to sue the object. Damini watched as everything unfolded the same way that it had happened the night before yesterday.
Minutes after Naitrup embraced Damini, she turned and pushed him.
“How dare you reach here? I warned you several times not to fool around with me. My door is always ajar, because human beings reside here, not beasts like you. Only thieves and dogs enter an open house. But equating you to a dog is humiliating that faithful animal.” She jeered at him.
“Tales of your spitefulness has still not reached Tapan’s ears. I have kept him in the dark with a purpose. He might end up with blood strains in his hands. I do not want him to be handcuffed for the murder of a selfish man like you. Just get lost. I will tell the queen about your evil intentions if you continue with your dirty pranks.”
Not deterred by her warnings, Naitrup came forward. “Your complaints will go unprecedented. No one will believe you. I am the closest statesman to the king and kin of the queen.” Arrogance reeked in his face and intonation.
“For seven long years, Tapan has not been able to give you a child. I had secretly adored you every day at the palace even when my wife was alive. After her death last month, I have been yearning to have you in my bed.” He looked on with lustful eyes.
“Tapan is not the right person for you. I can provide you with all comforts in life. Why spend your days in this shanty hut.” His lips broke into a malicious smirk as he approached her menacingly.
Damini pushed him with all her might. He fell to the ground, caught unaware by her action. She proved that when a girl gets down to save her honor, she could be more potent than several men.
“Who said Tapan could not give me a child? I am pregnant with his baby,” she moved back a couple of steps.
“You are lying, I overheard Tapan lamenting to someone about his childless status, and you think you can get away by saying a blatant lie?” Naitrup refused to believe her.
“He does not know. Tomorrow on the day of Purnima, I am to tell him this good news.” Naitrup shrunk at this revelation but relentlessly approached her again. Damini let out a scream. He scampered to his feet with an impotent fury and took off like a wounded animal but not before warning her that he will attain her by hook or crook before Tapan resumes his day duty.
Damini’s screams brought Ma and Baba there. She confided in them amidst sobs.
“I will be with you every night, till Tapan is relieved of his night duty at the palace, but how are you going to handle this? I see no light at the end of this disturbing tunnel. Only God can find a solution to this tumultuous issue.” Ma caressed her head.
Even though the king was known for his righteousness, pointing accusing fingers on an influential person like Naitrup needed strong evidence.
“God has sent this object to us to resolve the matter. What can it be termed as other than serendipity. The object fell into my hands.” Tapan said, gratefully looking at it.
“The king and the queen have viewed this and realized the evil intention of Naitrup. The king summoned him last night itself and put him in confinement. The verdict will be announced today.”
Damini wiped her moist eyes.
“I have been instructed to deposit it at the king’s court. Experts will study this object and explore its functionality.” Tapan carefully placed it in a corner.
The latest version of the 21st-century Handycam, with its durable built-in battery and versatile features, proved a boon in disguise for the couple.
Purnima—– Full moon
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. The author has taken the liberty of setting the story in the time of King Vijaya Sena(1096 AD to 1159 AD) The other characters mentioned in the story are fictitious.
This is an entry in ArtoonsInn ArttrA-5 hosted at Writers Room.
This ArttrA is sponsored by Tanima Das Mitra, Claws Club Member – ArtoonsInn, and hosted by the Watchers of ArtoonsInn.
Cover Photo By Unsplash
Prompt: A modern invention from the 21st century gets transported to the 12th century. What happens next? Explore.
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