by Madulu Waheed
from Malas 29, 1 June 1990
National Centre for Linguistic and Historical Research
Something crawled across his leg and he woke with a start. By then, the rat was climbing the wall and the first cock crowed lazily in the distance. They’ll be on their way to wake me for fishing, he thought. With no reason to go back to sleep, he picked up his work pants and found the unmended tear at the bottom. Clicking his tongue in annoyance, he stepped into the next room and saw his sleeping wife and baby. The infant had fallen asleep as Dhaleyka was feeding her and the mat on the bed had slipped to one side exposing the bare coir matting. The nappy under the baby was soaked in urine. The man’s anger melted away. His wife had more pressing chores than mending his pants.
For a moment, he considered going to the shop and getting flour and sugar on credit, and then he remembered how much he owed. The debt’s high enough already, I shouldn’t take any more. The man lifted the lid of a the saucepan near the bed, revealing three pieces of boiled breadfruit. He took the larger piece and was about to walk outside when he realised he had no tobacco. Taking the lamp, the man lifted the cover on the bodu ashi but the remaining tobacco was only stems. Must get some leaves from the shop, he thought, it’s more important than food!
Heading towards the shop, the man had a coughing fit. He braced himself against a fence. If I had some eucalyptus oil, my cough would be cured. Maybe it’s caused by loss of appetite and not eating. I’ve certainly taken enough disprin. Recovering slightly, he entered the shop and someone asked, ‘Hey Kalhu Huttu, what’s that blood?’
The man looked down and there was blood on the back of his hand, and more splattered across his t-shirt. The cough came back and there was nothing to hold on to, so he sank slowly to the ground.
From a distance, dressed in white and smiling, a familiar old man came towards him. Kalhu Huttu tried desperately to get to his feet but he couldn’t. He began to crawl, and tears covered his face. ‘Master, my condition hasn’t changed,’ he pleaded. ‘My wife and children are hungry and blood is coming from my throat. There’s no medicine and I’m in debt. Where’s the wealth you promised me? I perform my prayers. I cause no harm. I go fishing every day… I can’t live like this any more.’
The holy man said nothing. He smiled and and pointed his finger to the sky. Kalhu Huttu looked up into heavens that glittered like silver necklaces. Light was everywhere.
‘Isn’t there any alternative for me?’ he complained. ‘My father, my grandfather, both died without ever experiencing a comfortable life; without tasting decent food; never being able to afford beautiful clothes! We don’t have medicine when we fall ill. You said it wouldn’t happen to me. Fulfil that promise!’
The white-clad holy man kept smiling as he spread out his wings and began to fly away, disappearing back into the distance.
In despair, Kalhu Huttu shouted uncontrollably through the tears streaming across his face, ‘You are a deceiptful man, don’t come back here again! You thief! Goodbye forever, I never want to see you again!’
Raging, he thrashed around and his throat began to choke.
‘Kalhu Huttu, wake up,’ called the soft voice of a woman.
He opened his eyes and felt his body soaked in sweat.
‘Aren’t you going fishing today?’ asked Dhaleyka.
‘Yes, I am.’ mumbled her husband, sitting up and wiping the sweat from his face. He thought about the dream as Dhaleyka handed him the fishing pants. The tear was mended.
Before he could put a foot to the ground, a loud voice outside announced it was time to go fishing. Still half asleep, Kalhu Huttu shuffled out the door, straight into the cold breeze of dawn. Shivering, he wandered towards the fishing boat beach. Dawn cocks began to crow. It was a new day once again – the same as any other day.