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by Jasti Victor  
7/10/2010 / Short Stories

The high pitched voice shocked Manorama, who woke up and looked out of the window unto the street. It was empty, with not even the usual stray dogs, but was thankful that the street lights were on, whereas in the house, there was no power from the evening. Looking around the dark room, it took some time for her to make out the faint outlines of her three children, all girls, sleeping beside her on the carpet that hot summer day and looked at the clock. It was 03.45, startled she looked at the cot at the corner of her one room house and finding it empty, sighed; her husband Isaac Daniels, a gardener in the Department of Horticulture, Hyderabad, still had not come back from work. He had told her that he would be coming very late at about eleven in the night because of the ongoing exhibition; his department was organizing for the visiting foreign agricultural delegation. She sighed again, it's the same old story whenever an exhibition is held, the lowest rung of the department have to bear the entire brunt of the work. She smiled for herself and thought, 'At least I have more free time than my husband and regular customers to sell my vegetables. Of course I have to depend on the creditor's whims and pay exorbitant interest, but what to do, at least I earn. God willing someday I will have my own capital.'

Then before she could know what was happening, she heard the same blood curling shout "Bhago" this time it was accompanied with the sound of running feet, but at a distance. "Oh my God! Not again," she whispered as she looked around with alarm, but was met with complete silence. Sitting down on the carpet she wiped off the sweat of her youngest child sleeping nearest to her, with the tip of her sari and sat calmly trying to make sense about the loud shouts. In no time her eye lids started drooping, heavy with sleep and she lay down and closed her eyes, knowing that she had to get up only at five. Hardly as she laid down when she heard a rumbling sound as though a muffled drum was being played at a distance. Frightened, she got up again not knowing the source of that sound and then it became clear as the sound was nothing but of running feet, and this time it was coming towards her house. Getting up she once again looked out from her window but could not see anything and it was only after full two minutes that she saw a police jeep pass by in front of her house at a great speed that she realized that something was amiss. Maybe it's the start of the usual communal riots.

Sleep eluded her and knowing that her neighbor Padma would be first to know about the ruckus and brief her about it, she went about her chores. She finished her cooking for the day and taking bath was ready and was about to wake up the girls when she heard the unmistakable sound of a police jeep halting in front of her house. She waited with baited breath to hear the knock but was startled by the loud banging. Scared stiff that something bad had happened to her husband she opened the door to find two policemen standing outside.
"Yes," he answered.
"Your husband Elisha is injured and is in the Gandhi hospital. Please come."
Pale and turning cold, she could only mechanically say, "But the children"
"Don't worry amma. You will be back in an hour. Lock the door from the outside."
"No, I will tell my neighbor to keep a watch."
"Ok, but do it fast."
The police were silent and did not tell her of how her husband got injured nor any of the details. And when she reached the hospital she was taken straight to the emergency ward to meet the duty doctor.
"Your husband was stabbed and is now in ICU after we operated him."
Fear stricken and shocked, she could only say, "Oh My God, but why?"
"The police are investigating it."
As he was sleeping, she was asked to come back in the afternoon.
Going home she found her daughters all dressed up and ready to go to school, when Padma, her neighbor barged in and announced that the schools were closed because of the ongoing communal unrest. With fear writ large on her face she told her neighbor to look after her girls as she had to go out to sell the vegetables.
"Are you mad? There are communal riots from yesterday night and as the situation is getting worse, anytime they may announce a curfew."
"But what do I do Padma, if I don't sell the vegetables, it will rot and I will have to pay back the money to the money lender."
"I have being telling you not to borrow money from that rascal as it is not worth it. That fellow will squeeze you dry if you don't pay back the money in time."
"Now what should I do?" said Manorama and stared crying.
"Don't cry, you stay at home today and may be tomorrow early morning you may be able to sell."
But the situation turned worse, as by afternoon, curfew was imposed indefinitely for two days at a stretch. Manorama got worried that as this was the beginning of summer the vegetables will either rot or shrivel inspite of the care she had taken in sprinkling water and keeping them under a wet cloth. On the third day, curfew was relaxed for just two hours in the morning, for those who would want to buy essential things. Manorama hearing that she would be having two hours to sell the vegetables, got ready and was about to go out when her neighbor came in with two other ladies.
"Mano, do you have tomatoes?"
Manorama knew that some of the tomatoes were in the early stages of getting spoilt, said, "No they are spoilt, I cannot sell you those."
"But Mano these women have no vegetables and no men folk at home to go out to the bazaar to buy."
"Amma, please sell those vegetables at least," pleaded one of the woman.
"If I sell you these tomatoes, my regular customers will not buy any vegetables from me."
"Ok we will buy other vegetables also."
"But I cannot sell all these vegetables to you only as I had also to sell some to my regular customers."
"We will pay you double the price."
"No I cannot do that."
Padma stepped in and taking Manorama aside, said, "Sell off all the vegetables for three times the price, as you won't have time to go to your regular customers."
It did not take even an hour for all the vegetables to be sold off, and as she counted the money, she found out that she had enough money to pay off her debt as well as enough capital for future purchases. Thrilled, she was about to go to her neighbor Padma's house to share her good fortune when she heard an ambulance stop in front of her house and her husband was brought in on a stretcher. He was heavily bandaged in the mid section, but was able to sit on his cot as soon as they laid him. The medical personnel accompanying him cautioned her that he is still under danger but were discharged as there was no place in the hospital and as per the wishes of the patient. He gave strict instructions on the diet and the medicines and a help line in case of any emergency.

Though Manorama is a Christian, she prays to God only when her vegetables were not sold or when she has a crisis in her home or when the creditor harasses her. But now as her husband hovered between life and death, Manorama prayed and her prayers intensified as she feared the worst and the time she spent on prayers increased as the days stretched to weeks and the weeks to months.

It was only after three months that her husband, Isaac Daniels, fully recovered was ready to report back for work. Manorama was down to her one last hundred rupees as she had spent all her money as well as the capital she had kept aside. Her husband's salary was not credited and she realized that she has no option but to again borrow from the creditor for her to start her vegetables business

For once she prayed about it, "Jesus Christ, please help me."

Her husband resumed duty on July 1, 2010 three months after that dreadful stabbing incident on 29th March 2010 following the outbreak of communal riots, but came back home, within an hour.
"We both are invited to the Secretariat to meet the Chief Secretary," he announced.
Shocked, she asked, "For what?"
"I don't know, but what I know is that the Director of Horticulture himself is coming to take us in his van. We have been asked to be ready by four in the evening."

At five in the evening the Director of Horticulture took both, Isaac Daniels and Manorama to the Chief Secretary's cabin in the Secretariat who gave a cheque of five lakh rupees. "These five lakh rupees is the cumulative total of what was assured to you from the Chief Minister, the Federation of Indian Industry and The Foreign Agricultural Association. You will also receive the insurance amount directly from the insurance company, for the days spent while recuperating as well as for the medicines you have spent. We are now promoting you to be the head gardener and initiated the procedure for your wife to be absorbed in your department. The Minister for Agriculture has put on record of your unstinting hard work and dedication and as per his directions you were promoted as well a job was created for your wife. Any thing you want to say?"

With tears in his eyes, Isaac Daniels shook his head.

Back home, the entire family knelt down and prayed over the five lakh cheque before presenting it in the bank.

"I knew it, as soon as I prayed, that Jesus Christ will answer my prayer," said Manorama with tears in her eyes and hugging Padma, as soon as she came home, bringing her three girls along with her, "But never did I thought that He will bless us so much. I have now a job and I don't have to go carrying that heavy basket over my head from house to house."

"Now that God had blessed you with a job, spend more of your time with your children"

"I will," answered Manorama, "But I will miss my regular customers."

"Oh no, not again," said Padma laughing loudly.

Glossary: Bhago (Hindi) Run

Victor Jasti lives in India and is passionate about writing short stories based on the Bible and real incidents. He also writes Christian fiction and poetry. Five of his poems were published in Temporal Currents compiled by an American author, Ms. Christine Tricarico.

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