‘I cannot let you work here. You are too young!” I told the girl clearly. But she was adamant. She looked up at me with her big, sad eyes and pleaded, “ Memsaab, please let me work here. My father is dead and I have a sick mother to take care of. Please memsaab, I assure you I will do all the work sincerely. I won’t let you down. Just let me work here.”
Her dark eyes were so sad and bleak that my heart softened. What is the harm in letting her work? I reasoned. She must be around fourteen, and she said she needs the money badly. Also, I wasn’t going to stay there for more than a few months, and I did need someone to take care of the house. So, I made my decision, “Okay, fine. You can work for me. But, what is your name, dear?”
“Geeta.” She said in a quiet voice.
“Okay, Geeta, now listen to me. You can start working tomorrow. Come early in the mornings, around 7 o’ clock.”
Her eyes filled up with gratitude, “Thank you memsaab, I will be here exactly at 7.” And with that, she was gone.
I was in Balrampur; a small town in West Bengal and my father’s native place; to sell off all his land and the ancestral house. I had been there only once when I was very young, since my father had lived most of his life in the city. But after his death, the family had fallen into hard times and I had been forced to take the decision of selling off the family property.
It was, of course, going to take me a good deal of time to sort out the deeds of the property and find a buyer. So, I had to stay in the town for some months. Our property lay almost at the outskirts of the town. I needed someone to clean out the haveli, and also perform chores for me, but no one was willing to come to work this far. It was then that Geeta asked to take up the work.
Geeta was a capable girl. She performed the chores reasonably well-cleaning, washing, scrubbing- she did everything and never grumbled or complained. She was a very quiet girl. She spoke less, and smiled even lesser. She was quite strong, belying her scrawny built. She had a pale face, with a pointed nose and pinched lips. But her big, black eyes were the most imposing feature of her face. They stood out in contrast to the whiteness of the rest of her face, but the overall effect was quite lovely. The girl had such an innocent charm, that I found myself bonding with her despite everything. Her air of sad misfortune made me feel very protective about her, and I often gave her extra clothes, food and any such things that I felt might benefit her or her sick mother. Every time I gave her something, she would look at me with those big sad eyes, gratitude clearly showing in them, and she would give me one of her rare smiles. My heart used to swell up with affection for Geeta whenever I could elicit a smile out of her. In a span of few months, I became very attached to her. And it was very obvious that she revered me. She would do whatever I asked of her, and put her best efforts in her work to please me. She was always waiting on me, ready to do whatever I asked. I used to wonder what she would do once I went back to the city, but the thought wasn’t very pleasant, so I used to push it aside, hoping to address the issue later.
Meanwhile, I had secured a buyer who had agreed to buy the house and the lands for a reasonably good price. My work almost done, I started making arrangements for going back. But I realized my impending departure had had a big effect on Geeta. Although the quiet girl didn’t say anything, she became quieter and more withdrawn. Her beautiful black eyes, which were always sad before- though I hadn’t thought this possible- seemed to have grown sadder still and she had stopped smiling completely. My heart went out to her, but there was nothing I could do. After all, I couldn’t stay there forever, leaving my job and my parents in the city.
The night before the day I was supposed to leave for home, I found it difficult to sleep. Thoughts of Geeta kept me awake and it took me a long time to fall asleep. Almost as soon as I had fallen asleep, it seemed that somebody was waking me up, calling out to me in a soft voice and pulling at my sleeve. I opened my eyes and found Geeta standing in front of me. I looked at the time. It was 2 a.m.
“What happened Geeta? What are you doing here so late at night? Is everything all right?” I enquired, concerned.
She did not reply immediately, but stared at me with her dark eyes. There was something different about her eyes then. Their sad quality had been replaced by something else, which I could not define. They seemed to be burning with a strange intensity, and it made me shiver a little. I could not see her clearly, but her gaze bore into me like two glowing pinpoints of light. After a long time, she spoke in a soft whisper, “ Don’t go memsaab. Please, do not go. Stay here. Please.”
Transfixed by her burning gaze, I found myself speaking in a whisper too, “But Geeta, I must! I have a family in the city. I have a job! I cannot leave everything and stay here.”
My words seemed to change something in her. Realisation dawned in her eyes, and with a last intense look, she was gone.
I could not sleep the rest of the night, and as soon as it was morning, I decided to pay Geeta a visit. The child had seemed really hurt, and I could not rest till I soothed her. So, I went into the town and inquired from the townsfolk where Geeta lived. Everyone seemed to look at me strangely. No one said anything to me. At last, an old man answered my questions, “But what will you do by knowing where she lives? It isn’t there anymore. Last night, a fire broke out in her basti, and Geeta and her mother were among those who died.”
The man walked away, leaving me numb and dazed. I knew, then, why she had visited me that night. Her love for me was so great, that she tried to reach out to me even from the other side of death, making one last attempt to stop her memsaab from going away. I was filled with grief, that I could never fulfil her wish, in life or in death. The grief never really left me. I knew I would never forget her burning gaze, when she had come to me in the night, asking for some confirmation of my love for her. And I was right. Her dark, melancholic eyes haunt me even today.
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