Chhidam reckoned he would have to tread the path he had cut for himself. What he had said to Chakraborty with his own mouth had spread throughout the village. He could not fathom what consequences would follow if something different were to reveal itself now. He thought he had no other choice but to stick to this statement; he could think up a few other stories to save his wife.

Chhidam urged his wife, Chandara, to take the blame of the crime on herself. She was thunderstruck. Chhidam assured her, "Do as I say; you have no fears, we will save you."

The words of reassurance came out of his mouth, but his throat turned dry, and his face turned ashen.

Chandara was no more than seventeen or eighteen years old. She had a strong, round face and a short and compact body; there was such gracefulness in her healthy limbs that it seemed she had to make no efforts while walking or moving. She was just like a new boat — small and compact, which floated effortlessly and with ease. She was curious about everything and loved to gossip with the neighbours. While going back and forth to the ghat, she would lift her veil ever so slightly with two fingers and see whatever interesting there was to see with her two skittish dark eyes.

The elder sister-in-law was just her opposite — she was awkward, clumsy, and careless. She could not manage the veil over her head, her child, or the domestic chores. There was not much to do, yet it seemed she did not have a moment's peace. The younger sister-in-law did not speak much with her. She would make a few sharp remarks in a soft voice, and that would have the elder sister yelling at the top of her voice and bothering the whole neighbourhood.

The husband and wife in each couple shared striking similarities in behavior and characteristics. Dukhiram was somewhat large — he had big bones, a short nose, and two eyes that looked at the world unknowingly but did not want to know or question. Such quiet but terrible and such strong but helpless people are rare to find.

And Chhidam seemed as if someone had carefully sculpted him out of a shining black stone — ship-shape and flawless. Every part of his body was a perfect blend of strength and skill. Whether jumping into the river from the highest point, pushing the boat with the oars, or climbing up a bamboo tree to cut the choicest branches, there was grace and skill in everything he did. He oiled his long black hair, lifted it with great care from his forehead, and dropped it over his shoulders. He liked to dress in style.

Although he was not indifferent to the attractions of the other maidens in the village, and he wished to appear attractive in their eyes, but Chhidam was especially fond of his young wife. The two quarreled and then made up; no one came out the winner on such occasions. There was another reason why the two shared a strong bond. Chhidam used to think that the faithfulness of a restless and capricious woman like Chandara could not be taken for granted. Chandara used to think, my husband has his eyes everywhere; if he is not reined in properly, he might leave.

Since a few days before the present event, the husband and wife were going through a period of misunderstanding. Chandara noticed her husband went away, sometimes for one or two days, saying he was going for work. But he never returned with any extra money. Suspecting something was amiss, she also started behaving in a fickle way. She began going to the ghat every now and again, went around the neighbourhood, and returned home and spoke about Kashi Majumdar's middle son in great detail.

For Chhidam, it seemed as if someone had poisoned his days and nights. He could not focus on his work. One day, he rebuked his sister-in-law. She threw up her arms in despair, and addressing her deceased father, said, "That girl runs like the storm; how can I look after her! I know it; she will bring ruin on us someday."

Chandara came out from the next room and said softly, "Why are you so scared, Didi?" That started a fierce quarrel between the two sisters-in-law.

Chhidam rolled his eyes and said, "If I ever hear that you went to the ghat alone, I will break your bones."

"The bones will mend," Chandara said and made as if to go out.

Chhidam leaped, dragged her into the house by holding her by the hair, and bolted the door from outside. When he returned home from work in the evening, he saw the door was open, and there was no one in the house. Chandara had traveled through three villages and reached her uncle's home.

Chhidam brought her home after much pleading and persuasion but accepted his defeat. He realized that just as difficult it was to hold a droplet of quicksilver in a fist, it was impossible to restrain this slip of a woman — she could slide through the gaps of the ten fingers.

Chhidam did not try to restrain his wife again but lost his peace. The suspicion-filled love for his restless young wife turned into an intense throbbing ache. So much so that, at times, he thought if she were to die, he would get some peace. People are more envious of one another than they are of death.

At such a time, the terrible incident occurred.

When her husband told Chandara to take the blame for the murder on herself, she looked at him, stunned. Her two black eyes, like a dark flame, burned her husband. Her whole body and mind craved to shrink in size to escape from the clutches of her devilish husband. Her inner soul turned away from him.

Chhidam reassured her, "You have nothing to fear." He tutored her on what she should tell the police and the magistrate. Chandara heard nothing; she sat still like a wooden statue.

Dukhiram depended on Chhidam for everything. When Chhidam told him to put the blame on Chandara, Dukhiram said, "Then, what will happen to sister-in-law?"

"I will save her," Chhidam said.

The beefy Dukhiram felt relieved.


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