The story so far: Apu goes looking for Durga in all probable places in the evening. Potli’s granny informs him that she has just left for home. Apu turns back immediately
He was about to enter his home when he braked to a halt. Durga was screaming as she ran out of the house chased by her mother, who was hitting out at her with something she held in her hand. Durga fled along the path which led to the gaub tree while her mother shouted out from the door at the fleeing figure: “Go away, get out, go away for ever. Never come back home again. A menace gone! Good riddance! I’ll see you to the Chhatim-tala.” Chhatim-tala was where the dead bodies were taken for cremation. Apu felt as though he was turning into stone, frozen and heavy, unable to move a step. His mother was now picking up the earthen lamp from one of the rooms. He had barely tiptoed indoors when his mother looked at him and said, “Where have you been roaming around at such a late hour, may I know? You’ve only just recovered from fever.”
He was bursting with questions. Why was Didi being beaten again? Where had she been all this time? What did she eat in the afternoon? Had she again brought home something stolen? But he was too scared to say a word; like a clockwork toy he did everything that his mother asked him to and entered the room to study. Then, fearfully turning up the wick a little bit, he spread out his little library and sat down before it. Although he was still studying the Third Primer, his collection included two heavy tomes of English books (he didn’t know what they were), a list of medicinal plants, a tattered copy of narrative verse — Dashu Ray’s Panchali — an ancient almanac of the 1890s and other such books. He had acquired each of them from different sources and although he couldn’t quite read them he had to go through them at least once everyday. Today he sat staring at the wall for a while. Then, once again turning up the wick, he sat down with the tattered Dashu Ray. He had begun flipping through the pages absent-mindedly when Sarbojoya came in with a bowl of milk and said, “Drink this up.”
Without a murmur Apu tilted the bowl and started drinking. On other days it was almost impossible to make him drink his milk. But he put down the bowl after he had drunk only a bit. “What’s that now?” asked Sarbojoya, “you must drink it all up… how will you grow big and strong if you drink so little?” Apu picked up the bowl a second time without any fuss. Sarbojoya saw that he held the bowl to his lips but was not sipping any milk. He was holding on to the bowl with trembling fingers. When he had held it for quite long he suddenly put it down and, turning to his mother, let out a choked sob.
To be continued
Extracted from The Puffin Book of Classic Stories for Girls;