The old banyan tree opposite was shedding dry leaves one after another. Placing herself on a chair in the verandah Pritha was witnessing the annual event. She heaved out a deep sigh, like the falling of leaves, her years had been shed off one by one. The banyan tree would recover soon having new green leaves grown all over it once again, but the fallen leaves of her age won’t ever re-appear. She wondered how soon sixty springs had gone by. She could still clearly remember her girlie days. She felt cheerful and at the same time her eyes were filled with tears; she should be prepared to depart from the earthly hearth any day from now. But how could she? She’d been waiting for Mainak like a mammon for so many years. He said he’d come back and if he came what he’d do without seeing her around?
She couldn’t forget not for a single day that special evening for the very rare experience of the first and last kiss on her lips by Mainak, when he came to say adieu before leaving for the States for higher studies. Looking at her stunned quizzical eyes Mainak had assured her, “Don’t you worry, I’ll come back after three years and then…..” He winked meaningfully at her. Now sitting alone in the verandah tears rolled down her cheeks; she’d been waiting thirty-eight long years for him and peculiarly the hard reality was that still now she believed that Mainak would definitely come back some day to her.
Years rolled on too fast. She’d completed master’s degree and then teachership training. By then three years were over and Mainak was to come back from the States as he’d promised. She waited for a few months for Mainak to turn up, but he didn’t. Then she started to enquire. She’d personally gone to Mainak’s house only to discover that three years back Mainak’s father had sold out the house and gone to his native place to settle down there permanently. Nobody could provide her his address. She was a complete wreck by then. She lost her appetite and sleep, became thin, lost her composure and was developing depression.
Pained by the frightful sight of her daughter’s condition, her father shook his head, “No, he won’t come back. No point in waiting for him any further. I won’t pay heed to your objection any more, I’ll find you a beautiful groom. In the meantime, look for a job. You have a master’s degree and teachership training, so try your luck starting with the local schools first and keep scanning through newspapers everyday under ‘situations vacant’ column.”
She said woodenly, “Please papa, don’t do anything with my marriage, I cann’t keep your word. Mainak will definitely come to me some day.”
Her mother was furious, “Then live with the false hope and wait and die unmarried….” And her father said in despair, “You know very well we’re not keeping good health and we may die any day. Hape you ever thought what you’ll do after we die?”
No. Pritha never gave it a thought before. She somehow managed to say, “Please don’t worry, I’ll find me a job and somehow pull on. I may not be your son, as you two had always longed for, but I must not fail discharging my duties towards you.”
From that very day Pritha undertook job hunt painstakingly and roamed about one school to the other. Ultimately she landed in a local girls’ school. Ms. Smriti Sen, the headmistress of the school, was a divorcee and led a women’s forum fighting against injustices and atrocities committed against women. She hated the male folks all over the world as though they were lechers. She was well-acquainted with Pritha and knew almost everything about her. She grimaced, “Yeah, after your parents are gone, you’ll find it very tough to survive in this male chauvinistic society that too without financial independence.” She paused for a brief moment to murmur, “Our maths teacher will be resigning shortly to live with her husband abroad. This news still remains a secret. Don’t tell anybody, I’ve a good grip over the school-board members. I can manage them and let you have the job. But you’ve to promise me you’ll be joining the women’s forum. A young and intelligent girl like you will be an added strength to our forum. Moreover, we’re ageing, so someone has to shoulder responsibilities. What do you say?”
Pritha didn’t let off the straw of hope, “Of course yes, I’ll join the noble cause and definitely see to it that I contribute whatever is in power to make the forum stronger.”
Ms. Sen measured her words before saying, “Then submit an application for the post and leave everything to me. And one more thing, not a word about the job to anybody.”
After nearly a month, she joined the school. Within a short time she was thoroughly busy in teaching and carrying out various activities of the women’s forum. A whole-time maid took care of household jobs and of her parents. After few years, one by one her parents had passed away, leaving her along in the world. But that hardly bothered her as she was more matured; financially well off and actively involved in multifarious social activities.
Rendering more than thirty years of sincere service to the school, she retired only day before. Now she’d ample free time. She finished cooking her lunch and then positioned herself on a chair in the verandah watching shedding of banyan leaves.
Suddenly she sat erect on the chair. A convoy of seven to eight foreign cars was gunning down the road towards this end. The small car running in front of the convoy stopped at the gate of her house. A smart bald and somewhat fatty man, thoroughly westernized in appearance, got down from the car and opened the iron gate. Then glancing once at her, the bald man ran up the stairs, “Pritha, I’ve come.”
“You should, I’ve been waiting for you since long.” Pritha, now at sixty, had no difficulty in recognizing the bald and fatty Mainak of sixty-four.
“To study and teach others, am I too late to come back?” Mainak asked innocently proving that he’d found no fault in his act.
Pritha concealed a deep sigh, “No, not so late, only thirty-eight years have just elapsed in sweet dreams and, of course, in pains and mental agony.”
Mainak bluntly confessed, “Ah well; for that matter, I too have painfully suffered all these years. You’ve not married?”
“How could I? You promised to come back to me……” Shame chocked up Pritha’s voice.
Alien men and women got down from the other cars. Turning towards them Mainak laughed, “Haven’t I told you, my bride is still waiting for me? You all have lost your stakes.”
“Yeah Professor, that’s why we’ve come down here from the other side of the globe to witness such an unimaginable re-union. Really the legend about mystic India fits too well. Here, as it now turns out, people are bonded not by motives but by hearts.”
A co-professor of Mainak made a sad face, “I’m jealous of you, Professor.”
Mainak told Pritha, “They’re my colleagues and some are my students. They didn’t believe, anybody could wait these long years for somebody. That’s why they’ve come to witness this moment; I should rather say our re-union.”
Pritha asked with wide eyes, “How were you too sure that I”ll be waiting unmarried this long for you?”
Mainak smiled, “I was always too sure about you because I knew you’re my kind of a girl. You may say it gut feeling, but I believed by heart that you’ll wait for me as long as it takes me to come back to you and it’s proved now I was right.”
Pritha mused, “I’m overwhelmed to know that, Mr. Mainak.”
Mainak turned back and shouted, “Priest, please come over here with the goods.”
Pritha saw astonishingly that a priest was coming up the stairs holding two wedding caps. Behind him the group of foreigners was carrying various other things. A young lady fitted nicely in tight jeans came running and focused her handycam at them, “I’ll record this memorable moment, Professor…..” The delighted pair of sixty-four and sixty thankfully let her shoot them.
Mainak pointed towards one end of the garden, “Priest, the wedding rites will take place there. Please take the things over there.” Then he murmured into Pritha’s ears, “Do you remember that evening thirty-eight years ago? Standing there I promised you that I’ll come back. Isn’t it?”
Pritha’s face turned pink. Here wide eyes smiling, she nodded, “Y-e-s.”

~ Night Awaits Dawn ~
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