Mother jumped up as soon as she heard her daughter's voice, and hurried from her bedroom. But when she opened the door, she found her daughter standing alone, holding a small suitcase in her hand.
Mother asked anxiously, "Where is my son-in-law?"
"At New Market", proclaimed the daughter and walked in.
"Why New Market"?
"To buy a sari."
"What am I going to do with a sari? I don't need a sari now", said Mother. And then she paused a little, and asked, "Are you going to stay over tonight?"
"No. We have our tickets booked. We are going back by the 9 pm train. We must be at Gandhi Nagar tomorrow morning."
"But you were supposed to stay tonight. That's what you had written in your letter."
"Yes I did. But I cannot keep my word. He must go to work
"You really won't be able to stay just for the night?"
"Ma! Please don't make that request tonight. Next time we come, we will definitely stay over."
"I don't believe you", sighed Mother. In a hurt tone, she said, "Are you not my daughter? Have I not devoted my life to bringing you up? Don't I have any say over you?"
A smile appeared on Daughter's face as she said quietly, "You look angry. Come on, let's go indoors and sit down."
The door remained ajar. Mother and Daughter entered the bedroom. Daughter put the suitcase on the floor. Then she pulled Mother and made her sit on the bed. She sat beside her.
Mother said, "You have changed a lot."
Daughter said, "You are right. I have changed a lot. An unknown boy came into my life and changed me overnight. Now I live in a trance. You know what he tells me all the time?"
Mother was curious. "What?" she asked.
"He says that he will bring heaven into my hands."
"Don't believe him. Boys talk like that after they get married. Your father also used to say similar things to me."
"Did you believe him then?"
"Yes I did. I was naive."
"I am also naive like you. I believe everything that he tells me."
"That's bad news. You will be miserable. Let me tell you, if you want to be happy, ..."
Daughter put her right hand on her mother's mouth and said, "Please, Ma, don't say what you were going to say. It would hurt me very much."
Mother moved Daughter's hand away. She looked sharply at her daughter for a moment, and then looked away. She did not finish what she had started saying. She remained quiet.
Darkness was falling outside. Mother got up and turned the light on, and then sat down on the bed again. Daughter put her head on her mother's lap and lay down. Mother stroked her on the forehead and asked her, "What would you like to eat?"
Daughter said, "Nothing."
"I'm not hungry."
"I won't take that for an answer. I have made rice pudding for both of you. You must have a small bowl of it."
"Okay then, I will."
Mother got up, went to the next room, and came back with a bowl of the rice pudding and a spoon. Daughter sat up. She took the bowl from her mother's hand and started eating. "It's excellent," she said.
"So take a little more."
"No, no more."
"Just a little bit."
"Ma, this is why I am always afraid to say good things about anything that you cook."
Mother did not say anything. She came back to the bed and sat down. Daughter finished eating and went to the next room. She washed her hand and mouth, drank some water, and came back to her mother. She lay down again, with her head on her mother's lap. While lying, she asked, "When will Dad come back, Ma?"
"Very soon", said Mother. She paused a little, and then asked, "Are you longing to see him?"
"Yes, very much."
"That's a lie."
"Lie? What do you mean Ma? I miss you all the time when I am there."
"Then why do you write so few letters?"
"I don't get the time."
"Do you have so much work to do?"
"Believe me Ma, I do."
"There are only two of you in the family. Why should you have that much work at home?"
"There's a lot, really", said Daughter, and paused a little. Then she said, "Your son-in-law is going to buy a house soon."
"Where we live."
"Have you seen the house?"
"No. But I have heard that it is a single-storied house with four rooms and a big dining space. The kitchen is apparently very beautiful as well. In front of the house, there is quite a bit of empty space."
"How much will it cost?"
"About three hundred thousand."
"Where will he get the money from?"
"We have saved some money, and my father-in-law will give some more. We will take a loan for the rest. I will come and take you there after we buy the house. You will come with me, won't you?"
Mother kept stroking her daughter's head and said, "Sure, I will."
Daughter said, "It will probably be next winter when I will take you there. You will like it. I have not seen the house, but I have heard that it is in a nice place. The Ganges is nearby, there is a soothing wind all day long, you won't need a fan even on a summer day. You must come."
"I said I will."
Daughter paused a little and said, "You know what your son-in-law told me?"
"He said that he would decorate the house in a very picturesque way."
"He will plant flowers in the open space in front of the house. Rose, gardenia, togor, hasnuhana, shiuli, and many other kinds. In winter, there will be dahlia, chrysanthemum, cosmos, ... won't it be great?"
"Yes it will be great."
"You know what else he said?"
"He said that there will be a Persian rug in the living room. Expensive sofas will be placed on it. In one corner of the room there will be an aquarium, multi-colored fish will swim in it. In another corner, there will be a book-shelf, with many books, from all over the world. In yet another corner there will be a colored television, a VCR, and a tape recorder. Some nights we will not sleep at all. We will see movies or listen to songs all night long. Your son-in-law is a very good singer. He has a beautiful voice."
Mother's jaws tightened at this. She said, "Don't trust the words that men say. They say many such ridiculous things to impress women."
Daughter sat up and said, "What are you saying? Are you telling me not to trust my husband?"
"That's right, you shouldn't."
Daughter stared at her mother's face for a while. She could not understand what her mother wanted to tell her. So she got angry and asked, "Did you not trust Dad when you were my age?"
Mother replied, dryly, "I told you, I did trust him only because I was stupid and naive."
"Don't you trust his words now?"
"Because your father did not keep any of the promises he made to me."
"No. Not even one." Mother paused. "You know what your father told me right after our wedding?"
Daughter laughed and said, "How would I know that?"
"Let me tell you. Your father told me that he would buy an apartment for me, and I would live like a queen in that apartment. That's something that he hasn't done even today. I have had to live in rented apartments all my life. Instead of being a queen, I became a servant. I was reduced to skin and bones by doing household chores."
Daughter smiled, "What else did Dad tell you?"
"Lots of things. He said that once a year he would take me for an airplane ride. Forget once a year, I haven't enjoyed an airplane ride even once in my life."
Daughter smiled again, "What else did he say?"
"Many, many, many things. I don't exactly remember all of them." And then she became pensive and started thinking of the false promises her husband had made to her in the past. She recalled something and started saying, "Yes, I remember. Your father used to tell me that we would lead a life like no couple has lived before us. I assumed it would be an extraordinary life. Months passed by, and then years. I became old. Where was that extraordinary life? We are spending an ordinary life like any other couple. There is nothing new in it. So I don't pay any attention to your father's words these days. I hate him."
Daughter interjected, "But Dad hasn't come back home yet."
Mother rebuffed, "That's how he works. Absolutely no sense at all. He knows very well that his daughter and son-in-law are supposed to come this evening and yet..."
She couldn't finish her words. Footsteps were heard outside the door. Mother stopped.
Daughter said, "Maybe he has come back now."
No, not Father. It was Son-in-law who came in. He had a packet in his hand. He touched his mother-in-law's feet and handed the packet over to her, saying, "This is for you."
Mother asked, "What do you have inside? A sari?"
"I have brought it for you."
Mother put the sari on the bed and said, "Sit down please."
Son-in-law pulled a chair and sat facing his mother-in-law. Mother asked acrimoniously, "I heard that you will leave today."
Son-in-law replied, "Yes."
"Why? Weren't you supposed to stay here for the night?"
"We couldn't make it work this time."
"Are you really so busy?"
Son-in-law remained quiet for a little while and then said, "I haven't come here on vacation. I have come with some office duties. I couldn't even spend more than one night with my family. I went to see my parents in Bardhaman yesterday, and have come to see you here today. Tomorrow we will go back to Gandhi Nagar. I have to."
Mother could not say anything after this. She got off the bed.
Son-in-law asked, "Where are you going?"
"I'll be back in a moment", said Mother, and fetched a bowl of rice pudding and a spoon from the next room.
Son-in-law looked at the bowl and said, "Is that for me? I won't be able to eat that much!"
"Yes you will be", said Mother, and handed the bowl over to her son-in-law.
Son-in-law did not protest any further. He started eating the pudding with the spoon. After a while, he said, "You must visit us next winter."
Mother sat down on the bed and said, "Let's see what happens."
Daughter got angry at the response and said, "What do you mean by that? You will have to come, absolutely."
"Your father's health is not good."
"You don't have to worry about that."
Son-in-law said, "We will be very disappointed if you cannot come."
Mother only smiled a bit.
Son-in-law finished his rice pudding and put the bowl on the tea table. The he rinsed his mouth, drank some water, and sat down on the chair again.
Mother asked, "Is it true that you are going to buy a house?"
Son-in-law turned sharply to his wife and said, "Why did you have to tell Mother?"
"What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing wrong. It's just that I asked you not to discuss these things with anyone at this stage. Let's first buy the house, then make the news public. But you obviously could not wait."
"It is going to happen any day now."
"Yes, when the day will come, you will break the news to others. It was not a good idea discussing the matter now."
Daughter said sharply, "Have I broken the news to a man on the street? I have only told my mother. What's the problem with that?"
"It is not a problem. Just ..."
Now Mother snapped, "If that is the case, why did you mention it to my daughter?"
Son-in-law did not reply. He kept quiet.
Mother continued, "Why are you silent? Answer me. When you have not made up your mind about buying a house, why did you talk about it with her? Why did you say that it is in a beautiful place, with the Ganges flowing nearby, bringing soothing wind all day long, so much so that one doesn't need a fan even on summer days?"
Son-in-law did not say a word. Daughter remained silent as well.
Mother paused a little, and started again, "Why did you tell her that there will be some open space in front of the house where you will have flower plants — rose, gardenia, togor, hasnuhana, shiuli, and what not? Why did you tell her that in winter there will be dahlia, chrysanthemum and cosmos in the flower garden?"
Son-in-law still remained quiet. Daughter also did not say anything.
Mother did not stop. She became more agitated, "Explain to me why you told her that you will have a Persian rug in your living room, and expensive sofas? Why did you tell her that you will put an aquarium in one corner of the room in which colorful fish will play, in another corner there will be a book rack with books from all over the world, and in yet another corner there will be color television, VCR and tape recorder? Why did you have to tell her all these things? Not only that. You told her that on some nights you would not sleep at all, rather watch movies and listen to songs all night long. Admit that these are all lies."
This time Son-in-law opened his mouth. He said, faintly, "Everything is true."
Mother snapped, "True? Everything? Who are you kidding? These words are downright lies. You are making false promises to my daughter, peddling false dreams to her. You have no idea of the consequences."
"What will be the consequence?"
"When she will not get any of the things you talked about, when she will realize that all promises are hoaxes, her life will become unbearable and meaningless. She is my only child. I love her very much. Don't spoil her life. Don't present all those false dreams to her."
Son-in-law mildly protested, "But these are not false dreams. Please don't misunderstand me. You will see, we will gradually get all the things I promised."
"All the things? How much do you earn?"
Son-in-law felt very insulted. His face turned red. He could not find the right words. So he looked at his wife and said, "Let's go. We shouldn't be late."
"Let's go", said Daughter angrily, got up from the bed, touched Mother's feet, and looked ready to leave.
Son-in-law stood up from his chair. He touched Mother's feet, picked the suitcase in his hand, and said, "See you."
He added, after a little pause, "I am not peddling false dreams to your daughter. You can trust me."
"Your father-in-law also made many promises to me one day, peddled many false dreams to me. At that time, I was as old as my daughter is now. I was naive. I believed everything he said. But your father-in-law did not keep any of his promises." She paused a little, and continued, "Now I do not believe anything that a man says. You are all the same."
Daughter and Son-in-law did not say anything in response. They just stepped out of the room. Before leaving, Daughter only said, "It's a pity we did not get to meet Dad. I really wanted to see him."
Mother said, "Why don't you say a little longer."
"That's not possible. It's already quite late."
Mother did not say anything more. They left. Mother moved from the door to the window. She saw Daughter and Son-in-law walking down the street and finally vanishing in the crowd. She could not see them any more. But Mother did not go back to sit on the bed. She kept standing at the window, and at some point her eyes started streaming with tears. She wiped the tears from her eyes and whispered, as if talking to her daughter, "Poor girl! You will also be disillusioned, just like I was."
Just at that time she heard her husband's voice from behind, "Why are you standing at the window? What are you watching?"
Mother turned her face to look at her husband and said in an irritated tone, "So finally you got the time to come home! What great thing have you been doing till so late?"
Father smiled and replied, "Yes, you can call it great work."
"What do you mean?"
"I will tell you", said Father. "But first tell me, why don't I see our daughter and our son-in-law? They wrote that they would come."
Mother said, solemnly, "They came and left."
Father was surprised. "When did they leave?"
"A little while ago."
"But why? They were supposed to stay for the night!"
"It seems that our son-in-law must go to work tomorrow. They could not stay. They are busy people."
"So busy that they could not stay long enough to meet me?"
"And you are so busy that you could not come back early enough to meet them."
Father got irritated. He said, "Don't say stupid things. Of course it is too bad that I could not meet them. But has it ever happened before? Did you say anything about me to them?"
"Why should I talk to our daughter about you?"
"How about to our son-in-law?"
"Nothing. Well, maybe one little thing."
Father looked somewhat frightened, "What?"
"Our son-in-law has started presenting false dreams to our daughter. I told our daughter not to believe a word of those promises. I told her that all men make such promises after marriage."
"And what have you told our son-in-law?"
"I told him not to peddle these false dreams to my daughter. I told him that the consequences are not good. But don't think that they left because I had told them these things. They had planned not to stay for the night before they came."
"Still, it was not proper for you to say such things."
"I think it was. I don't want my daughter to chase false dreams like me."
Father was surprised. "You chased false dreams? What for? Who made you chase them?"
Mother said in anguish, "You. You have made me."
"You told me after our marriage that you would buy an apartment for us. Have you done that? You said that we would take airplane rides every year. Have we done that ever? You said that we would live a life like no other couple has done. Have we done that?"
Now Father understood the whole thing and he burst into laughter. Then he stopped laughing, and stood facing his wife. Very softly, he said, "I did not show you any false dream."
"You didn't? Then where is our apartment?"
"Let me finish", said Father. He continued, "Do you know why I was late coming home this evening? I was late because of you. Because of your house. It's a house that I am going to buy for you, not an apartment. I now have three more years before my retirement. After retiring, you don't expect us to stay in this dirty little town, do you? No. We will move to Haridwar. I will buy a house there. You will be the official owner. A small and beautiful single-storied house. If you open any window of that house, you will see river, mountain, woodland, and other small houses. Wouldn't that be wonderful? We will spend the rest of our lives there. Of course, sometimes we will go on trips. You may be thinking how we are going to go. Well, not by trains. Never. We will take flights to Delhi, to Madras. We have struggled a lot all our lives. Now we want to put an end to the struggle. We will spend the golden years of our lives peacefully. Maybe you are thinking that I am lying, bluffing. Just wait a few minutes. A man is going to come any minute now. He has a beautiful house in Haridwar that he wants to sell. I have told him that I am going to buy that house. We haven't talked about the price yet, but today we shall. Right in front of you."
All doubts, all disbelief, all sulkiness, all bitterness vanished from Mother's face. The fresh radiance of a new dream spread over her face. A certain excitement showed on that fifty-two year old face of hers. And yet, she could not be completely free of disbelief. Doubts poked at her like thorns. Mother asked, "Is this true?"
"Don't you believe my words?"
"You have been deceiving me for twenty seven years. I do not dare believe you today."
Father smiled and said, "You don't dare? Okay, then you should hear."
"Footsteps on the stairs. Someone is coming up."
"I cannot hear anything."
"Try to listen carefully. Be very attentive. Can you hear now? The man is coming up, his footsteps are becoming more and more clear. He is the man from whom I am going to buy the house. A very nice man."
"But I cannot hear anything."
Father got angry. He said, "Why can't you hear? Are you deaf? I can hear it very clearly. Pay attention now. Try to hear. Can you, now?"
Mother could not make out very well whether there were really any footsteps on the stairs. Once she thought she could hear something. The next moment she thought she could not hear any sound. Still, she tried to convince herself that she was hearing something, and said, "Yes, I can."
Father said passionately, "Can you?"
Mother said, "Yes, I can."
Published in Parabaas, January 2016.
The original, titled Dreamworld (স্বপ্নঘোর) by Ramanath Ray is included in his "Collected Stories (Vol.1)" (গল্প-সমগ্র, প্রথম খণ্ড), published by Banishilpo, Kolkata, 2000.