Maleka left her husbands house. It was midnight. Everything was bathed in moonlight. She had not seen such moonshine in her lifetime. Oh, how beautiful this world was! Her sighs filled the air. She sat down under the palm in the middle of the field. How many times had she looked at this tree from afar and thought she would come and stand under it for a few minutes! She had wondered how high the tree was. How big was the sky? But she could never get out of the house. Her world had been limited to the bedroom, the kitchen, the cowshed and the ghat at the pond. Now there was so much light around her she could play hide and seek under the fluffy, diaphanous clouds. Like a little girl, she wanted to play the game of gollachut. But she couldnt. It saddened her.
A little farther down, behind the pal trees, was Manikkas house. I had wanted to love Manikka. Just wanted a little love, the turbulent longing of the heart. Manikka did not understand the yearnings of the heart, he only knew the urges of the body. He was only interested in my body. I did not yield to him. How could I offer my body without love? Was it that easy? Maleka saw herself in the shadow of the palm tree. No, it was not easy. For her, a physical relationship without love was a sin. But she became the accused because Manikka had started to like her. This was her only crime. Latif could not tolerate it. He spread the word that Maleka was an adulteress, an immoral woman.
sin? What is virtue? What is death? What is the afterlife?
Maleka sat on the crown of the palm tree. She had a birds-eye view of her village and looked around to her hearts content. She could see, even further, the surrounding villages and countryside. She wondered where all the people were. She wanted to see people. Where could she go to see people? There was the school-teacher, who had arranged her marriage to Latif in order to rescue her from her brothers home. No, better leave the teacher alone; after all, he had only wanted her good. It just did not turn out to be good, thats all. But what about her brothers?
From the crown of the palm tree, Maleka saw the village of Borokuthuri. Once, her father had owned some land there. Now, he had none. Her two brothers worked as field-hands.
Her father had died five years ago. Her mother was declared insane two years ago and did not stay at home now. She was on the streets, and no one knew where she ate or slept. There was little food in the homes of Malekas brothers. Maleka had been an additional burden on their resources. Even in their poverty-stricken condition, they could not forget that their father had once been a land-owner. So what if they did not have any land now? They were descended from a family which had once enjoyed respect and honour. That is why they had been reluctant to give their adulterous sister a proper burial. Not that they understood how their prestige would be enhanced if her body was devoured by foxes and vultures. They also did not understand how the family name would shine if the body was not buried with proper religious rites. All they understood was the false accusation.
Maleka sighed. She descended from the palm tree. Was it dawn yet? But the sun was not up. She went to her brothers home. Her older brothers wife had thrown leftover rice gruel beside the cowshed. Her insane mother, almost naked, wearing only a small piece of coarse cloth, with matted, unwashed hair, was sitting by the cowshed, picking and eating grains of rice out of the gruel. A mother hen circled close by with her brood of ten chicks. She did not fear Malekas mother. Rather, the hen put up a fight when her mother tried to shoo away the chicks. She cowed down Malekas mother and forced her to move away. The hen led her brood to the gruel and began to feed on the grains. Maleka saw her mother sit helplessly. She could not even fight off a hen. She felt her heart would burst with grief. Her mother and the hen the hen and her mother. And the sons of this mother were concerned about family honour. Maleka wanted to explode with laughter. But she could not.
She saw her younger brother and his wife sitting on the verandah. They were talking about her. Rahima, her brothers wife, was pretty and somewhat arrogant. She had behaved very badly with Maleka when she lived with them. She could not tolerate her. Now, too, she was saying scornfully, It is good that she died! She got the punishment she deserved.
Selina Hossain is a leading fiction writer of Bangladesh. She lives in Dhaka