Bhikhu apprehended that Pehlad might disclose his name to take revenge. Of course, he would not think twice of the consequences with his house being set on fire and all. The police had been trying to arrest Bhikhu for quite a long time now, and his murder of Baikuntha Shaha had only aggravated the whole situation. Besides, it would be too risky for him to appear in public within the next twenty/thirty miles of the crime area. Before dawn he arrived at the town of Mahkuma and docked his boat against the ghat. He took a bath in the river — washed the bloodstain away from his body and entered the town — famished and penniless. Left with no choice, Bhikhu begged to the very first person he encountered on his way to the town, “Two paisa, sir?”
Looking at his disheveled appearance and especially his thin disabled arm, the man took pity on Bhikhu and gave him a paisa.
“Only one, sahib? Give me one more!”
Angered, the man replied, “One wouldn’t do for you, huh? Get out of my sight!”
With much difficulty Bhikhu swallowed his rage and an urge to hurl a dirty remark at the stranger. He gave the man a keen, hard bloodshot glance instead.
That marked the beginning of his life as a beggar.
Within a few days he mastered quite successfully the tactics of one of the oldest professions ever. Like a beggar by birth, he learned all the right gestures one needs to know asking for alms. As he refused to take a bath his hair gradually twisted into unruly dreadlocks, allowing space for some lice families to thrive. Someone gave him an overcoat which he used to hide the wound on his shoulder. However, he decided not to hide his lean arm no matter what- his strongest advertisement. He tore that arm of the coat apart to make a good display of the wound, also managing a wooden cane and a tin-mug to go with it.
From dawn to dusk he used to beg under a tamarind tree by the side of the town-road. In the morning he would have his breakfast with some puffed rice, and for lunch he cooked by himself in a nearby deserted garden. In an earthen stove he sometimes cooked small fish and sometimes, vegetables. After a square meal he would lean against the banyan, smoking a bidi to his heart’s content. Then he could be seen to take his seat again and resume his session. In a wheezing hymn he would continue tirelessly, “Give me a paisa, give me one, and find God in return …”
Hundreds of people passed by Bhikhu every day, and on average one out of fifty gave him a nickel or a cent. He earned six to eight taka a day. On weekly haat days he earned altogether more than what he did on a regular day.
The rainy season was gone by then. Bhikhu rented a small dilapidated hut close to Binnumajhi’s home to spend the nights. He got a thick blanket from a malaria patient who had recently died. He also made a somewhat thick bed for himself, stealing straw from other people’s hay stacks. The shredded clothes he got from his frequent visits to the city worked as a pillow for him. When the cold winter-wind would blow, he wrapped himself in a warm cloth- carefully fetched from his ragged knapsack.
Enjoying such comfort and belly-full a meal each day, Bhikhu regained his former health sooner than expected. His chest widened, showing muscles at each move he made of his arm. He begged for alms in a usual calm and affected tone, but if anyone refused, his rage knew no bound. Innocent passersby had to confront his verbal abuse when no one else was around to hear it. When girls went to the river for a bath, he would emerge out of nowhere pretending to beg. He took pleasure frightening them, and grinned boastfully in response to their plea for him to step aside. This uneventful life without the company of a woman was of no liking to him. He remembered and then, craved for his eventful past.
Not so long ago he had spent countless wild nights at local pubs drinking. With tottering steps he would make his way to the closest brothel and spend the rest of night in a delirious frenzy. Sometimes deep in the night he, along with his gang members raided farmhouses. Surviving all the counter-attacks and injuries, they claimed the valuables and just vanished in the dark without a trace. What else could be more satisfying than a sight where a husband would be beaten up mercilessly just before the eyes of his wife, or the horror of a mother wailing at her dying son? Actually, he was happier even when he had to hide there in the jungle and here by the riverside, successfully keeping the police at bay. Many in his gang had been incarcerated for many times, but he, only once- seven years for kidnapping Shreepati’s sister. Very soon he managed to escape, too, by climbing over the prison wall in a stormy evening. Then he broke into a farmer’s house, and at broad daylight snatched ornaments from a village woman. Afterwards, he took away Rakhu’s wife and reached Hatiya through Noakhali crossing the sea. He left her there on her own after six months of living together. In the following months he continued his feats of getting into new gangs and plundering villages far far away- all of which he could not remember now clearly, just that a few days ago he slit the throat of Baikuntha Saha’s brother.
What a life once he had, and what had he turned into now!
The same man who took pleasure slaughtering people now only satisfied his agitation by throwing abuse to a random pedestrian who denied him alms. His physique retained the same strength but with no way out to channel that. Sleepless merchants were there in depots counting notes deep at night; and many a woman was left alone home! Instead of owning it all just with a sharp machete he silently passed his nights in a hut, pathetic and solitary.
More often than not Bikhu’s anguish knew no bound especially when he could not help taking a look at his disabled arm. Among those countless cowards, frail men and women on the loose, he was the one with true vigor and thirst for life. Just because of his missing arm, however, he was rotting himself to death in a dark corner. How could someone possibly be so unfortunate!
Perhaps, he could bear with it all simply by acknowledging the reality as it was, but staying single forever was an idea Bhikhu was completely unable to even entertain.
At the entrance of the market there was a woman who had been begging in the area longer than Bhikhu. She was not that old and quite well-built. The only problem with her was that she got a very bad gangrene in one leg right below the knee. The wound helped her earn more money than Bhikhu and hence she did not care to cure the condition. Sometimes Bhikhu went to her and asked, “Won’t it cure?” Unable to hide his enthusiasm he continued, “Please, do something about it! Get the treatment and you won’t have to beg anymore. I will take you with me to my place.”
“As if I am interested!”
“Why not! You will be at our home, and I will take care of you. What’s wrong with that?”
She was not so easy to win over. Chewing on a mouthful of tobacco, she replied rather carelessly, “After a while you will throw me out. Then who will give me my gangrene back?”
Bhikhu promised her loyalty, tempted her with a prospect of happiness, yet she declined. Heavy-hearted, he went back to his hut.
Motiur Rahman is a lecturer of English at Dhaka University of Engineering & Technology.