by Abu Siddik
(Berhampore, West Bengal, India)
A bright morning in Spring.
A weedy boy, capped, dressed in shorts, bare footed, a scythe in hand, knocked the door of a big white house. Nobody came. He waited with drooping head for a while. Again he knocked. A dwarf, middle aged man with bulging belly, thick-lipped, clean shaven, blared, “Hullo! Why are you banging my door? Who are you?”
“A mower, sir. The butcher sent me,” he grinned.
“Too late! The sun is quite up. You, peasants have no time sense! Take your tool. Come quick. Uproot these weeds,” he jeered and pointed to the flower garden and groused.
“Weeds! They are riots of colours! They smell so sweet! And they soothe your eyes!” The boy coddled.
“Who hires whom?” flared the man.
“You hire me, sir” the boy trembled and mumbled.
“Fine! Then do what I say,” he glared at the boy.
The boy stood like a child before the rows of the flower beds. Butterflies and bees were feasting in relish. A breeze was blowing. And above white clouds were lazily sailing in the blue sky.
“O, lovely flowers! O, sweet flowers! Don’t lament for your brutal death,” the boy moaned and caressed them with his hand.
“Make haste. Why are you moving lips, boy?”
Meantime one more boy arrived and the man shouted, “Follow the boy and stack the stalks in a corner. My flower has withered, and I won’t keep bees buzzing on these weeds! Move hand boys. Cut, cut, bleed them!” He roared and stomped his feet on the grass. His shoes became dirty with smashed leaves.
“Whose flowers are these?” the second boy, sandaled, lips red with betel juice, hair thick and long and carefully parted in the middle, screwed eyes and asked.
“They dazzle, and you say your flower has withered!” he blinked and looked baffled.
“Be civil or I’ll kill and hang your carcass on the dead tree!” he looked fiery.
“Why are you so furious, sir? We are talking no nonsense. These flowers are your labour of love! They are ravishing! We can’t gaze them for seconds! How can
we touch them? It is a sin! And we can’t commit a sin. God bless you! Pardon us! Wages or no wages, we cannot kill!”
They withdrew from the garden and stumbled to a grassy spot. They stuck scythes to the soil and lay on the grass and began to chew its blades nonchalantly.
The man was puzzled. He was taken aback by the audacity of the boys. He brooded over the issue and quickly changed his way. He became softened. His voice was sweet.
“Clear the yard, my boys! It has stolen my sleep. My flower is gone, and they are dancing in glee! The aroma of the yard chokes me! O, boys don’t waste time! Clear and carry your cash!” He coaxed.
“We can’t,” they flatly rebelled while wallowing and yawning on the bed of grass.
“It’s forbidden, sir! We are lovers of beauty, and we worship flowers! Our duty is to guard them! Grass, thickets, nettles, and weeds we can clear. But flowers….” They began to croon in a dialect. The tune was sweet and sad.
“Stop. I say stop! Are you mowers or singers?” The man tampered and asked.
They ceased and mournfully looked at each other.
There was a silence.
The scene was the same—a mild air was blowing, a few clouds lazily trailing across the sky, the butterflies and bees buzzing and feasting on the swaying blooms.
The man’s anger was assuaged. He was moved. The music burnt his heart, and he felt a terrible pain for his lost love. Recovering from the throes of pain he limped to home and fetched tea and sweets.
“Drink, boys,” he softly said while handing over the tray.
They jumped to their feet, snatched the plates, and began to gobble.
The man gazed and beamed.
“Together we wither!” He wistfully eyed his field of flowers, sighed and wiped the corners of his moist eyes.
“Our wages, sir?”
“Yes, my boys,” he fumbled his pocket and first time in his life paid them without counting.
And the hired boys whistled, and hand in hand they marched toward their village. ***