Awkwardly, Bidhubabu said, “Let it be, let it be; it does not matter. You can give back to me whenever you have it on hand. What is the rush?”
Feeling even more awkward, Nikhilbabu said, “No, it is indeed upsetting. I have sent you away three times. Today, I would have certainly returned the money; in fact, last night I had kept the money aside. But this morning, Mr. Bose was unrelenting. His son has been sick in Benares; a telegram had come that he was in need of money.
Bidhubabu said, “You did the right thing in giving him the money! What does it matter! When he pays you back, then you can repay me. Let me see if Bipin can lend me some cash…”
Saying, “I too need money today,” Bidhubabu stood up to leave. As soon as he departed, the disconcerted look dissipated from Nikhilbabu’s face and he said to himself, “What a scumbag! Losing sleep over such a meager amount.”
Outside, Bidhubabu’s disposition also transformed. Lowering his voice, he muttered, “Looks like that moron is going to be a pain.”
Upon Bidhucharan’s arrival, Nikhilbabu assumed the façade of having anxiously spent his days looking forward to seeing Bidhu Babu, and that his arrival had relieved him of this anxiety.
“I am saved! Welcome Bidhubabu. I think of you every day. There will be a local theatre show ‘Ganesh-Opera’ in our neighborhood today. Would you like to come? There is no pleasure in such things without agreeable company! Please do come.”
Bidhucharan’s entire face lit up with joy as though he just came to possess the moon. Lifting his glowing eyes, he said “Sure, of course! What time?”
“Eight. Eight in the evening.”
“I shall come.”
Just then Nikhilbabu’s six-year-old daughter Mintu appeared and said, ”Baba, maa says we have run out of sugar!” Bidhubabu started to strike up a conversation with Mintu. He never converses as much even with his own daughter. “Baah! Khuki, your frock is so pretty! And the ribbon is also gorgeous!” Another ten minutes passed engaging in similar chit-chat.
Bidhucharan’s primary objective to come here was to obtain the ten rupees. But he could not bring himself to press for it. On various pretexts, he tried to linger on, in case Nikhilnathbabu himself broached the topic. Bidhucharan had a firm sense of decency.
And Nikhilnathbabu had a righteous mind. He did not raise the subject at all.
An extreme cold has descended upon Fatehpur Sikri this year and has inflicted immense suffering on poor people…Nikhil Babu went on expressing his concerns over this in multitudinal ways.
The clock chimed nine times. Nikhiknathbabu said, “I need to get ready to go to work.”
This time Bidhucharan babu could not hold it any longer. In desperation he asked, “Did you get back the money from Mr. Bose?” Nikhilnath acted as if he fell from the sky, “Right, right, I forgot. I have the money for you.” He started fumbling in his pocket.
“Oh gosh, where are my keys?” He went through all his pockets. Under the table, on top of the wardrobe, he searched everywhere. Strange, the key wasn’t to be found. Bidhucharan also aided in the search and finally said, “Let it be; what is the hurry?”
Bidhucharan saw the show by himself. He really liked Uttara’s acting. That there is a deep connection between body and mind cannot be denied. There was evidence to that end – he shed copious tears at Uttara’s pain. The next morning he realized the pain in the heart had taken refuge in his throat. It was difficult to swallow and he had two swollen tonsils. He measured his temperature and found that he also had a mild fever. The mild fever gradually increased; and then, the bedridden Bidhucharan pondered that had he not met Nikhilnath, he would never have gone to see the theatre. It was also true that had those ten rupees not been the root cause, he would not have gone to meet with Nikhilnath just out of the desire for his company. Analyzing thus, Bidhucharan grumbled, “That rascal will kill me financially and physically.”
Bidhucharan was confined to bed for a week; plus, he had to spend seventeen rupees and 87 paisa towards his treatment.
It was the sixth day of the month. Sitting in a room downstairs, Nikhilnath was engrossed in mental calculation. Tomorrow is his pay-day. Net pay would be fifty five rupees and 47 paisa. The house rent would be fifteen rupees and twenty rupees was owed to the local grocer. That left twenty rupees and 47 paisa. Not counting 47 paisa – twenty rupees. From that, the entire month’s grocery expenses, children’s school fees, milk, kerosene oil, clothes and laundry expenses. Paying ten rupees back to Bidhucharan would be impossible!
But his wife had a bit of money. She had saved some money from the household expenditures, but Nikhil was not aware of the exact amount; moreover, he did not want to deprive Shobha of this small sum of money. How could he ask for it?
He had borrowed money from Bidhucharan in order to bet on a race. Needless to say, he lost. He could not divulge this to his wife guilelessly. He had thought he would somehow manage to repay the amount. But every month – doing the mental math – he realized that it was impossible to manage. It was becoming difficult to ward off Bidhubabu much longer on false pretexts. Everything had a limit. Nikhilnath was thinking what to do next; at that instant he overheard Bidhu’s voice from the turn of the alley, “Yes, I’m just on my way to see Nikhilbabu.”
Nonplussed, Nikhilnath hurriedly rose up and went into the adjacent secret room and immediately bolted himself inside.
Mintu appeared, “Baba was sitting right here. Maybe he just stepped out.”
“Alright, when he gets back tell him I had come.”
Bidhubabu left. No sooner did he leave, than Nikhilnath stormed out of his hiding place, screaming “Oh! Oh! My god!” There was a hornet’s nest in the corner. Wounded by the sting, Nikhilbabu, disoriented, moved about aimlessly. He poured some water from the pitcher and started splashing it over his eyes and face. In no time, his left eye lid swelled up and closed over, and his distended right cheek drew laughter from Mintu. Nikhilnath went upstairs and lay down.
Right at that moment, two men showed up assisting Bidhubabu. Engrossed in thought regarding how he was going to retrieve his money from Nikhilbabu, and walking down the street in an absentminded fashion, he slipped on a banana peel and fell. He cracked his head, and also broke his arm. Aided by two passers-by and bearing a lot of pain he managed to reach Nikhilnath’s place since his own house was far away.
Nikhilnath was upstairs, lying in bed. On repeated summons, he came down and with his right eye saw that Bidhucharan had returned.
Seeing each other they simultaneously said, “Save me.”
Nikhilnath has not yet paid him back.
Bidhucharan has still been making his rounds.