The Color of the Heart

aamreeta
8 min readSep 30, 2018

The untimely shower caught Naren by surprise. Since morning there was no indication of rain, he was near Atul’s paddy field when he felt the light droplets on this forehead. And now, the drizzle was showing the signs of becoming a heavy downpour. His face couldn’t hide his irritation.

“Naren Da ! Come under the umbrella. Don’t get drenched in this untimely rain . You will fall sick.”

Naren looked up towards the source of the long forgotten yet so familiar voice. Baijayanti was on the other side of the field holding her vibrant yellow umbrella. He watched her as she walked fast to catch up with him. Her slender body moved rhythmically with her pace. The familiar smile on her face threatened to open the floodgate of old memories that he had shut down many years ago.

“When did you come?” he asked, his words barely escaping his mouth as he felt a lump forming in his throat.

“Reached Jorhat yesterday, I took the morning ferry here.”

She carefully stretched across her hand to cover him under the umbrella. The familiar dewy fragrance of her wet hair increased the uneasiness curling inside him.

“Don’t bother! It is just a light drizzle .” He tried hard to sound casual.

Baijayanti had dreamt of this moment countless times over the years; she had scripted, practiced every word she wanted to say to him over and over. But when he was walking just next to her, she lost all her words. The scar in the deep corner of her heart that took so long to heal was suddenly fresh again.

“ I heard you live in Mumbai nowadays?” Naren asked after a long awkward pause.

“It’s been five years.” she said,her voice carrying an unmistakable sense of pride.

“I have heard it is a very big city, even bigger than Guwahati?”

Naren had hardly set foot out of his small village. He had once been to Guwahati, the biggest city in their Assam. He was bedazzled by the shine and glamour of the city. The tall skyscrapers, broad roads crowded with countless cars, glistening city lights mesmerized him. He often wondered how it would be to live in a city like that.

Baijayanti smiled at the innocence of the question.

“You cannot even imagine how big it is. Much bigger than Guwahati.”

Her eyes sparkled as she talked about the big city. “It is like you are lost in a sea of people. No one knows you, and no one cares what you wear, what you eat, or what the color of your skin is. It is easy to blend in.”

Naren knew the hidden scorn in her words were directed towards him. He had no complaints; he knew he deserved to live with that guilt. How many times he wished that he dared to speak up when there was time.

“How is Khuri ? Is she well ?” Baijayanti asked. She had heard the news that Naren’s mother was ill.

“It’s been almost a year she is bedridden. We took her to many places in the city for treatment, but her condition is getting worse.”

Baijayanti couldn’t imagine that strong powerful woman confined to bed. But somehow the same thought made her feel a little bit better as if there was some divine justice in that.

She could never forget the insult that woman hurled upon her when Naren took her to their house asking permission to marry. It almost crippled her spirit and pushed her to the brink of self-destruction.

“This dark skinned hideous girl cannot be my daughter-in-law. Naren, if you insist, you will see my dead body. Do you think your mother is incapable of finding you a suitable girl? Have all the girls in the village died that you had to find this vile thing to marry.” Baijayanti still remembered every word Naren’s mother uttered that day and every word she thought Naren should have said if he had mustered enough courage.

She cried for days. She knew the dark color of her skin was always under scrutiny ever since she could remember. Everyone sympathized with her mother for having a dark-skinned daughter as if it was the biggest misfortune. They say fortunate are the daughters who take after their father. But for her, it was the bane of her existence. They called her ugly; they called her names. She silently listened, without any complaints. But she never felt so alone and angry as she felt the day she heard those words from Naren’s mother. She was angry with everyone, her parents for bringing her to this world, god for her existence, Naren for not having the courage to speak up. But it was a long time ago, she thought. That was a different time, different her. But it still pained to think about it.

The petrichor of rain-drenched soil lifted her mood a little. She took a long breath to soak in all the freshness of air into her mind. The muddy road ahead seemed much less annoying.

“How is the family? Your wife?” She didn’t know her name, nor did she ever wished to know.

Naren didn’t say anything for a long time.

“It is okay,Naren da. We should be able to talk about it. It was a very long time ago. I have forgotten. Haven’t you ?”

Naren looked into her dreamy eyes where once he had lost his heart. Was it truly that easy for either them to forget? He remembered the day he gathered enough courage to express his love to her. It was a warm spring night filled with festivities. The village was getting ready to celebrate the spring festival of Bihu. Naren and Biajayanti,along with the other youths of the village Bihu dance troupe, were returning home after a day-long practice. In traditional Mekhala Chadar Baijayanti looked more beautiful than ever. Under the moonlight, the red bindi on her forehead shone brighter than the sun. He remembered the incredulous look on her face, when he confessed his true feelings for her, but her shy,silent acknowledgement spoke volumes. He promised to love her for eternity. He was proud of his 17-year self. But today, years later he felt nothing but shame for failing to honor that promise.

Baijayanti saw a broken man in front of her. She wasn’t sure if she was happy, angry, or sad. All she remembered how lonely and betrayed she felt when she saw his wedding procession passing by their neighborhood. For days, she had wept inconsolably, drowning in a sea of anguish. But then came a moment, a turning point, when her tears ran dry.That day she decided she had to get out of there.

“ I want to go somewhere else, Ma,” she told her mother,her voice laced with determination. “Find me a place to stay.”

Some days later her uncle in the city told her about a family in Mumbai who needed a housekeeper. Her father was completely against it.

“You are an educated girl. You cannot go and be someone’s domestic help.” He was furious.

“I don’t care father. There is no small job. This is the best shot I have to get out of here.”

The raindrops were getting bigger and bigger, and before they knew it turned into a heavy shower. Baijayanti’s umbrella gave up the battle against the rain and flew away in the strong current of wind. Both of them looked at each other for a moment and roared in laughter before running to find a shelter near Jadu’s tea stall.

“Jadu doesn’t open his stall on Sunday afternoons. Otherwise, It would have been nice to have a hot cup of tea in this rain. What do you say?” Naren said.

Baijayanti tried to squeeze the excess water out of her dupatta.As the rain-drenched clothes clung tightly to her body, Naren couldn’t help but notice a mix of emotions stirring within him,underlying those feelings was a bittersweet nostalgia, a reminder of the intimate moments they had once shared and the dreams that had slipped away like raindrops through their fingertips.

“You didn’t tell me about your wife. I have heard that she is very beautiful.”

Naren didn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure if she was mocking him or she genuinely didn’t know. The truth was that Naren married an extremely nagging and demanding woman, who could never be satisfied with anything. After his mother took ill, she left him to stay with her parents. She blatantly refused to stay with them and take care of an invalid. Naren couldn’t blame her.

“She is with her parents now, I don’t think she plans to come back.” For the first time, he admitted to someone that the situation with Monimala was beyond repair. Telling the truth is liberating. Naren thought.

Naren knew Baijayanti hadn’t married. Was there a possibility of any redemption? He wondered. He didn’t have the courage then, but there was not a single day that he hadn’t regretted. Could there be a sliver of a possibility to make up for his past mistakes?

“I am getting married next month,” Baijayanti’s words marred his thoughts. The sand castle that was taking shape in his imagination came crashing down in an instant. There was a long silence. Naren didn’t say anything.

“ Wouldn’t you ask me anything about him?”

“Does it matter?”

“ I don’t know. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. After you got married I couldn’t stay here any longer; it was very hard. I don’t know how easy it was for you, but for me it was unbearable. Mumbai gave me the blanket of anonymity; I could heal. The first day I went to Meena baidew’s house, she said ‘Biju, you are not a housekeeper, you will stay with us as a family member, we all have work that we need to do, you will help us with that.’ No one ever showed me so much respect and love Naren da; I cannot tell you how healing it was for me. Then I met Daniel one day. He worked as a sound engineer with Meena baidew. He was the first person who told me my dark skin is not ugly. There is a world beyond skin color. When I first met him, he was so surprised to hear that someone refused to marry me because of my skin color. He told me one of the world’s biggest supermodel is dark-skinned. It is not the color of the skin that mattered; it is the color of the heart. I don’t have anything against you Naren da, the wound you gave me healed a long time ago. But the scar remains. Maybe one day that will go away too.”

Naren smiled. He knew she needed this closure. The insults and injuries she had to go through, she needed to redeem that.

Baijayanti’s phone rang. Naren saw a picture of a golden-haired, blue-eyed man staring out of the phone. A smile flickered through her face as she answered the phone.

The rain had long stopped. Naren stood up to go. He looked at her; she was still busy talking, the smitten look in her face told him all he needed to know.

He started to walk. The muddy road embraced his tired feet. Out of the corner of her eye, Baijayanti saw him leaving. She kept staring at the road as he became smaller and smaller.

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