When the first April hurricane (the Kalboishakhi) struck one afternoon, Tuli ran out of her room, her hair flung open, up to the terrace. Sujoy and Neepa stared in horror as their Boudi (sister-in-law) summoned them from the terrace, sitting on the high walls, her feet dangling over the open courtyard… two floors below! They looked at each other and were terrified about their Jethima, (elder aunt) Mahamaya, who, accompanied by Manik (her cook), was running helter-skelter trying to shut the banging doors and windows, and wasn’t even faintly aware of the cataclysm happening above. Sujoy’s mom and aunt had not yet returned home. So hadn’t Chhorda (Neil). They began waving their hands at her frantically asking her to get down — when Neil entered.
Seeing Chhorda, the two children ran inside. Neil got a tad perplexed and followed their eyes through the courtyard opening, assuming they were looking at something in the sky.
And then he saw her!
He was horrified and instantly ran up to the terrace.
A clamor of thick air engulfed him completely as he stepped onto the terrace. A wild wind, filled with dust, that twisted into a vortex of air currents, danced like a fierce tornado around him. Trees swayed vociferously against an ashen sky and the advertizement hoardings on top of buildings shuddered threateningly. Stunning white streaks of light slashed across the ominous sky, which darkened every second, usurping the earth into submitting into its wild desire so as to annihilate it completely. Rumbling thunder snarled menacingly all around them. The hurricane danced on the terrace to and fro, getting Neil completely off-balance.
He shaded his eyes from the dust and saw Tuli. An unnerving bundle of challenge — sitting in a bright orange sari, the anchal (end of the sari) of which flew like a blazing fire. She sat solemnly on the wall, unperturbed, lost in thoughts, oblivious to the gyrating madness around her.
He didn’t want to call out to her and scare her. She’d fall. Fall from the second floor down onto the courtyard. He quietly walked towards her and held her hand.
“Come,” he softly beckoned.
She turned and looked at him. He was in his favorite blue T-shirt and jeans. She didn’t smile. She simply looked at him. Her eyes boring into his despite the hurricane cutting in between them.
He tugged at her. “Come down,” he said. She remained unmoved — a challenging look in her eyes that spoke so many unsaid things. It said, Why are you bothering me? It said, Don’t come near me, I might love you.
Neil looked away. “Come on,” he said.
Then suddenly the big drops fell. The heavens tore apart, water tumbling down from it with a force, intending to inundate the earth and obliterate it completely.
He extended his hands and held her underneath her arms like one would hold a child. And pulled her off the wall onto hard ground. The rains began drenching them completely. He caught her hand and ran for cover towards his room on the terrace. Tuli ran along. Then on reaching the room, she suddenly wrenched her hand free and swerved in the opposite direction, towards the stairs. Neil stood at the door of his room, watching her, getting wet. Tuli reached the stairway and turned. She winced her eyes through the thick curtain of rain and waited. Then suddenly she ran back, her feet slipping on the terrace floor — into his arms.
She wound her hands around his neck and buried her face in his T-shirt, as he took her inside. Fire was burning inside despite the incessant water outside. He slowly bolted the door with her clinging onto him. And then the window.
The water raged outside with interrupted clasps of thunder shattering the universe. And fire raged inside. They flung themselves onto the small bed and he began kissing her tenderly. She gave in slowly, gently. Neil had never made love to anyone before and his hands quivered. He paused after each step and looked into her eyes, waiting for her to say ‘Stop’. But she was Kalboishakhi personified and tears of blocked emotion streamed down her eyes. She loved him hopelessly, wanted him, wanted to run, fly anywhere away with him, far from reality. She suddenly realized all that and cried choking with the emotion. Neil stopped midway and looked up to her.
“What happened?” he pulled himself up and caressed her face.
She opened her eyes and threw her hands around him, making him bury his face in her bare breasts.
“I love you,” she could manage to say. “I love you so much…” she cried like a baby.
Neil looked up. And kissed her. He wanted her to become an inseparable limb of his. Never wanting to let her go. His passion burst forth in spurts as though he wanted to take revenge on God for not giving him Tuli. And then he became a poet and was writing a beautiful poetry, playing a soothing harp. And then suddenly he was a ravaging devil, equated with the mood outside, wheedling her out of her sanity, as if punishing her for punishing him.
Tuli was like a piano, on which he played a pitiless symphony, a neurotic orchestra — she submitting completely to his feverish passion. Her own temperature soared until it reached the crescendo. She felt numb with the fire that danced through her. She never knew such an inferno existed in her until then, which was burning her from head to toe.
The storm raged for an hour outside. When it stopped, it had become evening.
She slept naked. Neil lit a cigarette, sitting naked beside her. He was suddenly apprehensive. She was missing from downstairs and the entire household for over an hour. He put on his jeans and the T-shirt that was thrown wildly on the floor and went outside, closing the door behind him. He crossed the terrace and looked down from the boundary walls bordering the courtyard. No one was around. The corridor and the courtyard below were watery. Everything smelt of fresh earth.
Taking a wild risk of leaving Tuli sleeping nude in a room with an unlocked door, he quietly raced downstairs.
He quickly saw around. And found the three ladies huddled inside the huge kitchen, sipping tea. Manik was cutting vegetables.
They spotted Neil. “You’ve come?” asked his mother. “Want something to eat? Got drenched?”
He sensed they hadn’t a clue. Ma hadn’t guessed that he came from upstairs and not downstairs. They hadn’t missed Tuli either. But how could that be? Her room was simply shut and not locked.
He tried out something. “Is Boudi still sleeping?” he put in rather casually.
Then he got the confirmation.
His mother became very quiet. Then said casually, keeping the other two ladies’ eager ears in mind, “I keep telling her not to. But it seems she likes your room very much. She must be up there. Neil, please send her down. I’ll get her to do some household work.”
Neil heaved a sigh. He turned to race back upstairs and saw Sujoy standing against the railing and looking at him. Neil’s heart skipped a beat. Sujoy was a witness. He paused a while and then walked across to him.
“Hi!” he smiled.
Sujoy was old enough. Neil sensed he understood something.
He said in a low voice, “See the rains? Your Boudi and I were sitting on the stairs and watching the rains. It was so scary! Why didn’t you come up and join in the fun?”
Sujoy looked up at him and simply said, “I did.” Then he slowly walked off with his head down.
Neil raced upstairs. Sujoy was old enough. But knowing how much he loved him, he wouldn’t let him down. He hoped!
Tuli was oblivious to all the tension and slept naked under the fan, a little curled up, from the growing chill around. Neil felt she might catch a cold and pulled the covers over her. Then he closed the door and held her tight. “If I have to face a raging society outside for her, I will.” He promised silently and kissed her cheeks.
Instinctively she wiped it off. He kissed her again. This time she opened her eyes. She seemed to be a little surprised to see him. And then she remembered everything. She threw her hands around him.
“Wake up sweetie-pie, the world’s raging downstairs.”
She sat up with a jerk and the covers fell off from her breasts. Neil caressed one and bent to kiss the other.
“Don’t!” she pushed him away. “Don’t make me go so crazy.” She smiled and pulled back the covers.
“Get dressed fast. People want you downstairs. Everybody knows,” he said solemnly.
“What?” her mouth fell open.
“You’ve committed a sin. Won’t you get punished for it? Ma is standing downstairs with a whip.”
“What rubbish!” she finally understood. “I have committed a sin? What about you? Isn’t a Boudi (sister-in-law) supposed to be like a mom?”
Neil folded his hands, “Okay, my mom,” and then cupped her face in his hands, “Now get dressed.”