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The last flight of stairs

Subrata Chowdhury |

They were just back from a babymoon in Darjeeling, Tonmoy and Sheela. They had gone to the same college in north Kolkata during their student days, though Tonmoy had been senior to Sheela by two years.

Tonmoy had studied science, Sheela arts. Tonmoy had become a professor in a suburban college, while Sheela had remained a homemaker after their wedding last year.

Sheela had to vie with two other girls, Malabika and Shoma who were in the fray to win over the playboy, Tonmoy Sen, the tall, virile and good-looker the whole college was charmed with. A boy jealous with his popularity was Pradip Ghosh. He had lobbied with a dozen other non-descript boys and formed a coterie to sneer at Tonmoy at the drop of a hat.
***
Is it not Sheela I am looking at? That was the question a shrill voice had asked from a distance on the Mall in the crepuscule. It was Shoma. She had Pradip behind her as the couple approached Sheela and Tonmoy.

“Tonmoy da, you could be picked from any distance and even in twilight away from home”, Shoma said. Pradip remained glum. Shoma asked for Sheela’s mobile phone number and gave hers in return before walking back to Windamere Hotel.

The next day Shoma called up Sheela, “Hi, what is your plan this afternoon, why not sit together for a cup of Darjeeling tea? Where? Say, Glenary’s that would be the best place”.

“Okay, but I will call back after speaking with Tomu, I don’t know if he has some plan already”, Sheela replied.

An hour was spent in the cozy atmosphere of the heritage restaurant up La Denla Road. Shoma waxed eloquent over Sheela’s beauty. Tonmoy and Pradip sat side by side but hardly exchanged a word. At the time of their parting, Tonmoy, however, extended his hand to Pradip and said sotto voce, “Drop in someday returning back, Shoma knows where we stay.”
***
Once in the city, the couple had gone back to their life — Tonmoy going to his college at 9 am and coming back only at 7 in the evening while Sheela remained engaged with her household chores, especially, preparing special dishes for dinner.

“The Sarkars are wishing to come this Sunday, will it be alright?” Sheela asked one morning.

“Sarkar who?” Tonmoy asked perplexed.
“Shoma and Pradip,” Sheela replied.

Sunday mornings were what Tonmoy, like people in general, especially awaited. But, this Sunday, Tonmoy preferred to go to the bigger market in Maniktola.

He took a cab on the way back as he was loaded with two bagfuls of produce. After all, Pradip Sarkar from a rich family in Bow Bazar! Sheela had asked Lakshmi, the cook of the Roys, her next door neighbor, to lend her expert hands in the evening for preparation of a few special dishes.

Pradip and Shoma arrived around 8 pm and had brought along a box of sandesh. Soon the party split into two groups — Sheela inviting Shoma to her bedroom for a tête-à-tête while Tonmoy invited Pradip to his parlour.

For a change, he had bought a bottle of premium whisky. After the first round, the otherwise glum Pradip had become loquacious. He embraced Tonmoy with enormous emotion and regretted his aloofness during their college days.
***
The following Saturday, Tonmoy took Sheela to a senior gyneacologist. Everything was alright, the lady doc said. But, she put in a piece of cautionary advice that Sheela should be very careful in her movements as it was already more than six months. She should eat a lot and a diet-chart was added to the prescription.
***
Pradip’s house was not far from Tonmoy’s flat. The hospitality was sincere and the atmosphere was chummy. Pradip and Tonmoy had left behind their animosity and Shoma had grown quite fond of Sheela.

Shoma confided in Sheela about Pradip’s inability to help her conceive even after three years of their marriage. Even then, the evening had passed intimately over a little sherry for the ladies and scotch for the men.

It was time for bidding goodbye. Pradip had accompanied Tonmoy a minute earlier and Shoma was helping Sheela down the staircase from their first floor sitting room, when Sheela turned to Shoma and said, “I have eaten a lot dear, and…….” She could not finish.

Before Shoma could hold her back, she went tumbling down the last flight of stairs. The thud and uproar brought in Tonmoy and Pradip who had been waiting outside on the pavement. “Oh my God!” Pradip whimpered.

Tonmoy was beside Sheela in a flash, “Are you hurt? Sheelu, look at me, are you hurt?” Tonmoy shook Sheela. She did not answer; she broke into a heart rending cry that shook the whole house.

The thick towel was not enough to hide the profuse bleeding from Sheela’s womb. Tonmoy held her head on his lap while Shoma tried to comfort her in vain. The car was directed by Pradip who sat in the front seat to a nursing home in Park Street. Sheela was carried on a stretcher to the ICU.
***
Morning light was slipping in through the drapes by the reception desk. Tonmoy and Pradip had spent the night on a sofa while Shoma had been provided a settee outside the ICU. “She is stable now, you can go home”, the resident doctor addressed Tonmoy.

“Tonmoy da, don’t be upset, pull yourself up, go and have a little sleep, have something to eat, should we come?” Shoma had asked while leaving Tonmoy at his door.

Tonmoy was visiting the nursing home twice a day. Pradip had also come twice on his way back from office. But, Shoma had not failed a single morning and a single evening to pay visits. On the fourth evening, she accompanied Tonmoy to his house. She had brought a lot of food for him in her car which the chauffer carried inside and left.

“Tonmoy da, have a shower and eat your dinner”. She had a shower too in the guest bathroom and when she came out, she had her wet tresses hanging loose on her flexuous back. She served Tonmoy and comforted him. When she left for her home, it was past eleven.

Shoma followed it up for the next seven days till Sheela came back home. The doc had advised complete bed rest for a month until she had recuperated. A nurse had been hired to look after her, help her to the toilet, and feed her when she was feeling nauseated and so on. Pradip and Shoma kept themselves updates with her condition.

They had come down on a Sunday and stayed back for long. All the while, Sheela kept silent and often shut her eyes out of fatigue. Tonmoy saw the couple off to their car. “She is still feeble and not out of shock yet but she will recover soon, take care” Pradip consoled Tonmoy.

“Yes, it is taxing” Tonmoy sighed.
“Tonmoy da, time is the best healer”, Shoma encouraged as she lightly passed her hand over Tonmoy’s shoulder.
***
It was Monday morning. Tonmoy was getting ready for work. He sauntered inside the bedroom. He was happy to see Sheela looking out of the window. “Good morning, dear, you look like a freshly bloomed rose”. Sheela did not react to what Tonmoy said.

After a while, she said, “Tomu, sit beside me, I have something to tell you”. “What is it?” Tonmoy asked eagerly.

“It was not an accident, she had tripped me, she is a murderer, she has killed my baby…” She broke into a wail.

Tonmoy was wet to his skin in sweat as he keyed in Shoma’s cell phone number from the other room. The line was disconnected. After a while, the call came back, “I was serving Pradip his breakfast, tell me what is it?”

“Listen, I will not let you go like this, you have killed our child, you tried to kill Sheela, I will either kill you with my own hands or send you behind bars soon, she has told me everything…” Tonmoy’s voice trailed off in a murderous rage.

There was hysterical laughter from the other side. Then the reply came in broken syllables, “If…you…do…hat…I…wil… bring…a…rape charge…on you…it is all in my mobile phone…ha…ha…ha…Shoma guffawed.