It had snowed.
It had snowed last night.
The cold air had made a sweep through ribs. Debosmita was trying to put the kettle out of the oven. She held kettle by her bare hands. The warm feel replenished her cold palms. Another morn at the hills. She looked out of the casement. White carpet of snow flakes had been laid out. The trees looked like sculpted figures.
Simran had said she would drop her son here, before she would go out to fetch firewood from the forest.

Simran, a woman of her own.
Working morn till night.
Taking care of her son, her husband, her father in law, her family.
The more Debosmita looks at Simran, the more she stays amazed and amused.
What amazes Debosmita is the gut of Simran. Losing her father, mother and her family in avalanche, she had not gone mourning.
Debosmita still remembers the first day she met Simran, after joining this school at this remote place.
She came to her house, one sunny morning, with a bag full of firewood.
A woman with a face , dimples forming at her cheeks.
'Want to store up firewood?'
She had asked her.
Debosmita, after losing Aniruddha, took up this job at this place, deliberately for she wanted to break free from the memories of Aniruddha at the town where she had lived for six years.

'But it is summer almost...the trees are blooming, the temperature is so lovely, birds are singing...'
Debosmita had said.

Simran laughed.
Her dimples on cheeks went deeper.
'Apko nehi pata...'
(You can never know...)
Simran had said, as she dropped down the heavy sack of wood from her shoulder.
Debosmita had noticed how the rope that helped the sack to hang from her two upper arms, had cut through her pirhan.
A red pirhan with floral embroidery.
Only the shoulders were patched and ragged.
The rope had made those patches torn, making opening through which her bare shoulders could be seen. Blood patches grew there.
Debosmita had asked Simran then.
'I saw the squirrels digging grounds...it might snow...the rodents are also going into the ground...it might snow...'

Debosmita had asked Simran to take the sack straight to the living.
'Came here alone? Joined that school at the hilltop? That missionary one?'
Simran had asked.
Her face lit up.
'Yes...just one month so far...'

'Yes, heard from Farhan...'
'My son...he reads in that school and he told me about you...'
Simran had said.

From then on Debosmita and Simran had become friends.
In this place, Debosmita had found a friend in Simran.
Every day, as early as seven in the morning, Simran would arrive.
She would bring flowers from her garden.
Sometimes would also arrive with her home cooked foods, a curry of turnip or a bowl of lentils.
Debosmita would listen from her the stories of the land, the backlash of insurgency, the stories of families ruined forever and so on.
In turn, Debosmita would read for her gospels from the Bible, teachings of the Quran, Aesop's fables.
Simran would listen to them, wide eyed.
Sometimes she would weep.
Like that other day she wept profusely hearing the story of 'Kabuliwallah' from Debosmita.
'Why crying?'
Debosmita had asked.
'I miss my parents...'
She had said.
Debosmita then embraced her.
'Don't cry...who lives forever?'

The tea with butter was almost ready when Debosmita heard the knocking at the gate.
Simran had come.
She looked disturbed.
'What happened?'
Simran sighed as she got indoors.
Debosmita brought her cup of tea.
Simran sipped.

'Want to listen to stories from me? Or will you tell me what happened in the town?'
Debosmita asked her, smiling.

'You know madam, you have told me so beautiful things...but they are all in books...in reality... It is not that flowery...'
Simran said, suddenly.

Debosmita was perplexed.

'Just saying...'
Simran said as she finished taking her tea.
'Will have to go today...got works...'

Debosmita also got ready.
She would have to take extracurricular classes for the children at school.

The next morning, Debosmita was again waiting for Simran.

From seven to ten she waited.
Simran didn't turn up.
'Must be busy with works...'

While going to school, she thought of taking that dingy lane where Simran lived.
Though she had never been to Simran's hut, she once heard of the place and the lane from her.

Getting directions from the boys playing on the lane, she arrived in front of a wooden hut.
It had a simple yet beautiful cane fencing.
A small garden there was there with vegetables being grown.
She knocked at the door.
Farhan opened the door.
'Oh! Madam! Andar aiyey...(come inside)'
Farhan said, a bit surprised and shy.

Debosmita found Simran lying on a cot.
There was no one else in the room.
'What happened?'
Debosmita asked.
Simran tried to sit up.
'Got fever...'
'Taken medicine?'
'No...he had gone to the medicine shop in the town...would return soon...'

Debosmita noticed Simran's right hand then.
It got swelled.
'What happened?'
Simran said.

For the next few weeks, Simran didn't come.
Debosmita also got busy with her works.

One day, at school, Farhan met her after the school broke off.

'Madam, mother had sent this for you...'
Farhan brought out a piece of string with a beautiful flower made of cotton and cloth attached to it.
'What this?'
'She told me to give it to you...a rakhi...made by her...she told me to give it to you...father didn't allow her to go to your place...he had beaten her up...and also told her that for a woman like her there was no need to get literate and to read books...'

Farhan said.
Debosmita felt a charcoal burning somewhere, deep deep inside her.
She looked at the rakhi.
'Farhan, boy, tie it up into my right hand...'
She asked him.


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