Thursday, May 4, 2017
She woke up as the first rays of dawn grazed through the tiny window. For a while, they toyed around on the floor made of dried mud, forming patterns of different colours and hues. But as the sun ascended, they spread around the single-roomed house, lighting up every corner.
She hated waking up this early but the uncomfortable hay mattress she used, did not allow her the luxury to sleep late. Gazing silently at the thatched roof from where tiny specks of light had begun to beam through, she wondered why they couldn’t live in a larger house. Ah! Anything would be better than this miserable shack!
She could hear her mother talking to the neighbours outside. Oh, how loud were they! A cackle, a gasp, a squawk, a sigh. This wasn’t conversation. This was noise. God! Couldn’t they be quieter? The shrillness of their voice could easily wake up the whole town!
Just as she begun to straddle around, wondering how long her ears would be able to bear the piercing sounds, her mother barged in.
“Oh dear”, her mother said running towards her and gathering her in an embrace, “I am so lucky to have you”. “What’s wrong, Mom?” she asked, sensing the soothing arm of her mother around her. It felt like feather.
“They took away Mrs. Nugget’s son today”, her mother said, her tone bereft of the usual sharpness. “Big fat Tom?” she asked. Her mother nodded. For a second, she was glad. Big fat Tom, as she liked to call him, was extremely annoying. She hated the way he moved around, unable to balance his weight on his legs. At times she saw him through the window, lazing around in the sun, eating corn with his wide mouth. But then, Mrs. Nugget loved him and pampered him to the core. It was for her sake that she should be sad.
“Who took him, Mom?”, she asked, knowing fully well what the answer would be.
“The Master”, her mother replied hesitantly, “Anyway, I am leaving for work”, she said moving towards the door. Before anything further could be asked, her mother had left.
If there was one thing that nobody talked about in their house, it was The Master. Even a passing mention of the man was forbidden. Though curiosity made her collect all the information about him that she possibly could, her understanding was still limited. For one, he was whom everybody in the neighbourhood worked for. He was also whom everybody in the neighbourhood was scared of. Nobody told her why. But there were instances when she had overheard her mother’s friends crying about how mercilessly he had taken their children away.
Nobody knew what he did with them. But the tales were ghastly. Some said he sold them. Others said he locked them in his basement and made them work as slaves. However, once taken, they were never heard from again.
As the day progressed, she decided to take a stroll. Stepping out of the house, she saw everybody engrossed in their daily business. A man was feeding his horses, a woman was washing her clothes, a pig was swaddling in the swamp and a cat was sleeping under a tree. Lazily glancing around the street, she made her way towards the shed where her mother worked. Even from this distance, she could see a lot of movement. People were entering the shed empty handed and leaving with baskets full of goods. What these goods were, she couldn’t really see but the shine off their white surfaces flashed across her eyes. She often wondered what exactly her mother’s job was. Did she make these baskets? Or did she paint the merchandise white? Whenever she asked her mother about it, her queries were typically met with silence.
“What are you doing here?” her mother shouted, “Go back home!” For a moment, she was taken aback. She hadn’t seen her mother coming out of the shed. “I just came out for a walk”, she responded. “Young ones like you are not supposed to come out for walks unattended”, her mother said, barely suppressing her anger. A bark made them both turn. A black dog with a collar around his neck had woken the cat from its slumber and sent it running. Suddenly, her mother grew fidgety and began to look around with fear writ large on her face. Her eyes came to rest on a man in the adjoining field. “Master...” her mother blabbered.
The man was tall, mustached and muscular. Wrapped in a dhoti from waist down, he was kneeling before a cow, praying with folded hands. The cow was busy feeding on the grass which had been neatly laid down in front of her, unaware of her own importance. Steadily, the man opened his eyes and stood up.
She looked at him for the first time. He certainly didn’t appear to be as ferocious as all the tales said! The dog went running to him and began to lick his feet. The man smiled and patted him. This was just the moment when his gaze fell upon her mother. With small but sturdy steps, he made their way towards them. She could feel her mother cringe as he approached. As tall as he was, he looked down at her mother and muttered, “You look nice and healthy. I am having guests over tonight. I think you’ll suffice”.
And then he swiftly walked away, leaving them both too stunned to move.
That night, her mother was taken. She didn’t realize when, she didn’t realize how. But when she found out the next morning, she didn’t know what to do. Mrs. Nugget came over and at her insistence, told her the truth. Her mother had been the meal of The Master’s guests last night. As hens, the primary purpose of their life was to please the taste buds of their masters. The masters loved everyone selectively. Dogs were their family members, Cows were their Gods, Horses were their vehicles and Hens were their food.
Just like Big Fat Tom and her mother, she and Mrs. Nugget too would be on somebody’s plate someday. If God was good, they’d be cooked in whole. Or else, they would be slowly ripped apart and served as a leg piece, a breast, a wing or a pie.
After all, only human lives mattered.
Chicken were mere protein.