Today was awful. Slaughterers had marked their presence by the break of dawn; they were bargaining about the price with their father. Malu kept moving her miserable gaze around all the people there; she kept caressing her beloved children all while screeching nonstop. She must have sensed that she would soon be abandoned. It must have reminded her of that day when these same barbarians came and bargained, just like today. That day she was so unbothered; she must have thought what could go wrong for me in my own home, but she was utterly wrong. The commotion must have reminded her of the day when these same slaughterers mercilessly took our beloved children away from her, those poor little souls. She was shrieking with the horrid thought of once again losing her beloved children. Alas! This day, the haggling was over her price; they were negotiating her price. Eventually her price was decided, the deal was made, Abhin’s father shook hands with those barbarians, and Abhin witnessed all this silently. He could not say anything; he did not have the right to. Malu was taken out with her three children. She did not realise until she was close to the butcher’s vehicle that she was being shifted from her home.

She stopped. Abhin’s vision was blurring from his own tears; those three years flashed in front of him in just a moment. He took a trip down memory lane. On a hot afternoon, he was fighting with his father. “College?” His father shouted, “completing school is enough; you will come to the fields with me from tomorrow and work with me”. Father followed the ‘janmi kudiyan’ tradition in the family: the oldest one was the head of the family, the one that gave orders; the others should follow it without a question and with submission. Abhin was quiet. His father roared at his sister, “Is he dumb? Why is he mute? Why is he not answering me?”. Abhin’s sister Bhadra; after their father, was the one with the voice in the family, rather than a sister, she was a mother for the young boy whose mother left them long before. “Acha”, Bhadra softly called their father and told him, “He wants to study further; wouldn’t it be nice if we fulfilled it? Let him study”. The father turned red from anger and said, “Study? You want to listen to this idiot and let him loose? No! Absolutely not!” he again shouted. “There will not be change in what I said, you will join me in the field and work with me” father adjourned. Abhin with his teary eyes yelled back with grief, “No, I will continue my studies no matter what anyone says”, he said choking on his own words, the little boy was whimpering. Father was furious, his self esteem was questioned by the fragile boy, until today no one had objected him, but today for the first time this little fellow was opposing him. Father screamed at him,” You-are a cheater, you are extremely selfish, from this moment you are nothing to me, we no longer have any relation. Get out of my house!”. Bhadra begged to he; father, ” Acha, he is a child, where will he go? I will talk to him and make him understand”. Father left in anger. Bhadra held her brother and began assuring him that father was just angry and everything would be fine once he cooled down. Abhin told her, “Chechi, I want to study”, and with that, he burst into tears. “Don’t worry. We can fix it” said Bhadra. The family quarrel affected  their father immensely, Abhin did not have a mother, poor child never really asked for anything, this was the first time he asked for something from his father and it turned out woeful. Father sat down and thought, “My anger and lashing out unnecessarily are affecting my family”, he sighed.

“It has been ten long  days since I talked to my son”, thought the father. Abhin was not having his meals; all that the poor boy wanted was to study further. The father was ready to let him, but his pride prevented him from saying it out loud to his son. “Why am I so ashamed to talk to my own son? After all, he was my own, right? No! I can’t,” the father kept babbling. He got up abruptly and started leaving, as if he had found a way to solve this misery.

“Abhi, Abhi,” Bhadra called out to her brother as if to convey something joyous. “Where is this boy?”, she murmurs to herself. Then came his answer: “I am here; why are you yelping like this? What happened?”, he inquired. Abhin came down from the attic; he was busy counting the coconuts stored there. Bhadra excitedly took Abhi with her, saying, “Come with me and see what father has brought home”, She took him to the stable. He tried to protest, saying that he had work to be done, but she did not let him go. There was a new guest in the stable—a little, naughty, and beautiful goat. It had been Abhi’s wish for ages. Father approached him with a grim face and said, “Abhi, you have to look after this little one; don’t starve it when you go for your studies. She is your responsibility!” his father exclaimed grimly. Father went out, and Abhin’s face flushed with joy. His happiness knew no limits; his father started talking to him, gave him permission to study, and even gave him a little bundle of joy. She brought so much happiness into his life. He held the little goat closer and asked his sister, “What should we call her?”, then he thought for a while “Hmm, how about we name her Malu?”, ” You call her whatever you want to; after all, she is your responsibility,” Bhadra said and went into the kitchen.

Through the next three years, Malu became his companion. Malu became a mother, and her child Manikutty also became a mother. Malu became a mother for a second and a third time. Abhin completed his studies, old age was taking its toll on their father, Bhadra got married, became a mother, and left to live with her husband. Now the stable had seven residents: Malu and her children. Abhin took over his father’s field, and although he could not shine like his father in the beginning, he would not give up that easily. Bhadra, who was equal to his mother, was now settled down with a family of her own. 

But nothing was permanent; all the happiness they were experiencing was about to be destroyed. On one fine day came the message that turned their lives upside down. “Abhin! Abhin! Where is everyone?” It was Suresh, Abhin’s close friend, whom they all called Pankan. “Why are you shouting, Panka? Did someone die here?” Abhin asked, rather annoyed. Pankan was exhausted from the run; he was wheezing and hence could not speak. Father came out coughing after hearing the commotion and enquired why Pankan was shouting. Pankan was catching his breath and could not utter a word. Abhin felt a tremor in his heart. Something was wrong. He grabbed Pankan with anticipation. “Panka, will you say something? What happened?”. Pankan broke the news: “Bhadra had an accident; the village hospital refuses to take her in and was told to take her to the hospital in the town. You have to come with me; your brother-in-law is alone there and is struggling with that infant child in his arms “. The father grabbed Pankan with anger and anticipation. “What happened to my child? Tell me”.  “Leave him alone”, Abhin separated them and made his father sit down. Abhin wanted to know what happened to his sister and why they had to take her to the hospital in town, so he asked Pankan. Then came Pankan’s reply: “Bhadra was fetching water from the well, but all of a sudden the walls of the well crumbled and she fell in; she is unconscious now. People from the village hospital said she had fractured her skull and ribs. For going to the town hospital, we would need a car, but only Dineshan has one in this village, and he has gone to his wife’s home. When there wasn’t any way, your brother-in-law had to take Bhadra to the town, along with their child, in a bullock cart. We have to hurry up!”. Pankan took Abhin and rushed him to the hospital in a bullock cart. 

There was a long 40-kilometre distance to the hospital. It has been 7 hours since Bhadra lost her consciousness. It was dawn when they reached the hospital. Abhin saw his brother-in-law sitting there holding his child; he seemed lost and broken. He could not say a word. The nurse was scolding him, “You unscrupulous! How could you bring this bleeding girl in a bullock cart? She lost the child in her womb; we could not save it.” And that’s when we got to know that Bhadra was pregnant for a second time. The main nurse went away to the doctor’s chamber, muttering something to herself. Abhin saw his brother-in-law breaking down; he was crying in agony: “I lost my child”, “Bhadre” he called out to his wife, “we lost our child”, Pankan tried to calm him down, but Abhin was completely perplexed. The child was gone, but I have to save my sister at any cost, Abhin decided. The doctor came and gave them another shock: “She is in a critical condition; we will have to operate her in order for her to survive. You have to pay five lakhs today if you want the operation to happen by tomorrow morning”. Abhin was broke. His mind was occupied by the thought of bringing the five lakhs and saving his beloved sister. He did not know how or from where he would bring the money; all he knew was that he had to save his sister. No,  she was not just his sister but his mother; he would save her. Abhin woke from his despair.

“They married out of love; his brother-in-law had no one other than them. He worked on the field with his father; he was a good farmer and a good person. And so when she told them they were in love, we married her off to him without a second thought. They were very happy. No, there was no time to waste thinking about all this; it would do no good. All that his brother-in-law had was the house that they lived in; no, that could not be mortgaged. Where would they live after all this ends? Me and my father could survive even if we were left in the street, but she should live happily. As long as I have the heart to work, I won’t have to live on the streets”, thinking all this Abhin rushed back home. He told his father everything, and the old man fell into despair. He sat down and started to weep. But Abhin rebuked him, saying, “Acha it is not the time to cry; even if we have to sell everything, we have to do it and save her”. His father agreed with him and told him to do what was necessary to save her. The patriarch has lost his old courage and pride; old age is wearing him down. He is weeping quietly. Abhin asserted something; he went out and found the land broker. “If you want to sell immediately, you might not get the full value; if it is urgent, I will bring a buyer,” the broker said. Abhin had no time to argue over the price; Bhadra’s life was at stake; the price was her life.

“I will give four and a half lakhs for the land and the house; will you sell it to me?”, asked the buyer. Abhin was mortified. There was a decent price for everything. Five acres of fruitful and lush land and a house built by the ancestors that resembled a palace, Abhin remembered the time when the filmmakers from town took an interest in the house and were ready to give 10 lakhs, but his father denied it and chased them away for evaluating his property. “If you agree on this price, I will buy it; I will give you the money, and the paperwork can be done after 2 days”, the buyer asserted. “There is a fair price for everything”, Pankan tried to interfere. The buyer did not like it; he was adamant in his stand. Abhin looked at his father; he was completely ruined. “These scoundrels were taking advantage; no, there is no bargain over my sister’s life”, Abhin thought. “I agree,” said Abhin. By four in the evening, the buyer had brought the said amount, but it was not enough; they were short of fifty thousand more. He ran to the hospital with the money he had and begged the doctor, but he refused to operate without remitting the full amount. Abhin felt like killing everyone and running away, but he could not; he had to save his sister. Abhin gave the four and a half lakh to the doctor and requested that he carry on the operation and that he  remit the remaining amount after the operation. After his constant pleas, the doctor agreed. The doctor warned him to pay the remaining amount right after the operation; he assured him that he would not cheat and that he would not play with his sister’s life. It was seven in the evening; she will be operated at seven in the morning tomorrow. The hospital staff were making his brother sign some papers. He was illiterate, but Abhin knew what it was. It was a surgical consent form that stated that if something happened to her, the hospital wouldn’t be responsible. No,  he wouldn’t let something bad happen to her. He left Pankan at his brother-in-law’s side and went back after deciding something. Soon after he came, his father asked about the episode in the hospital. “What are you saying, son?  Tomorrow, after the paperwork are done we will have to leave this house. How are we going to pay them fifty thousand more?” Father asked, to which Abhin remained quiet, “Don’t stress me out in this old age, son tell me what we are supposed to do”. With teary eyes, Abhin replied, “On my way here, I met with the butcher Mammad; he will be here with his people. You decide on their price and let them go”. Father was baffled. “What are you saying, Abhi? We took care of them as if they were our own children. How are we supposed to give them away, that too as meat?”. Abhin kept quiet for a second. “I have to save my sister Acha” he said, and he went into his room, closing the door behind him. There was only a lingering silence.

“Abhi! Abhi! Are you sleeping in this broad daylight? Come out and help me get them onboard!” Mammad shouted from outside. Abhin woke up from the noise and came to his senses. Malu was standing back facing the vehicle, with a hesitant look. Mammad was mercilessly tugging on Malu’s rope and dragging her away. Abhin called out to Mammad and told him, “stop! I will shift her into the carriage”. Abhin took the rope, held her in his embrace for the last time and kissed her a final goodbye, saying, “Forgive me, Malu; you are the only person I have to apologise to in my life, and I will always be grateful to you”. Malu and her children—all of them—were loaded into the carriage and sent away.

Even when everyone, including the children, were crying, Malu was silent. She stuck her head out of the carriage and kept looking at Abhin; this broke Abhin’s heart more. At that moment, Pankan came on his bullock cart with the message that the operation was successful and Bhadra was safe. Abhin once again looked at Malu, who was still looking at him silently from the carriage, and she went away. She came into his life as his luck, she brought him abundant happiness, solving one of the biggest crises in his life, and today she left him while solving yet another crisis in her own life.

The crisis was averted, but Abhin was not at peace; he was not happy; all he was feeling was pain. One day we will lose anything and everything that we love so dearly. Nothing in life is permanent. Abhin lay down on the veranda and slept for awhile, maybe for the very last time in his house.