= * = * = RETREAT = * = * =
It was around nine-thirty in the morning in early March, there was still some chill left in the air. Proloy’s father had left for the office and Proloy was about to close the book, which remained open in front of him since morning and to get ready for the school. There was a sound of a huge explosion; as soon as he came out he could see a billowing smoke, huge, as if all the coal ovens in their neighborhood were set on fire. He ran up to junction of the main street from where the smoke was seen on the left, on the way to his school. Two workers of the communist party, one of them was the nephew of the local communist party leader who few years later became the Transport Minister of the state, were seen running away, they were coming from where the explosion was heard. The young man, who was the nephew of would be Transport Minister, had his upper body covered with a light grey colored Cashmere shawl. He was holding a large bomb in his right hand; the other young man had his both hands free. Proloy and others started running towards the smoke. In few minutes’ time they reached at the junction where the main street had forked into another street towards the left and a very narrow lane to the right making an acute angle measuring approximately thirty degrees. In the triangular shaped area in between the street and the lane there was a triangular shaped pond. In between the lane and the pond there was a wall about three feet high which ran across the entire length of the pond. Where the wall ended there was a small house which belonged to a Pal family; from outside, the house looked like having just four walls, painted white and a concrete roof and few dark green windows and two dark green doors. Few stairs ran from one of the doors and ended into the pond which was used only by the women folks of the Pal family, male members used another large pond which was on the other side of the street just across the house.
A large crowd was standing at the junction of the street and the lane, staring at an object, lying on the street; few boys were standing on the wall and staring at the same object.
When Proloy was small, not even started going to school, the entire village gathered at the same place. Someone had claimed to have seen a mermaid in the larger pond. People waited hours together to have a glimpse at the mermaid about whom no one had any clear idea what it would look like. But there were no end of speculations. Most of the assembled thought its upper portion would be that of a female and the lower part of a fish but there were few who thought it would be just the opposite, there was a big discussion about the color of its hair, whether it would be black or green or a completely new color whose name was unknown. There was debate over every possible thing about the still invisible mermaid. If it were wearing any cloth or not, what would be the color of its cloth if it were wearing any; whether it would be tall or short, fat or thin, having teeth or not, if there were teeth whether it would bite or not, if it would smile or not &C. Soon everybody came to a logical conclusion that the mermaid’s lower part would be that of a fish or else it would have walked out of the water long ago and the upper body of a woman and it did not have any cloth which made it stay inside the water and it would continue to stay in the water as long as people would wait. But in spite of all those sensible and logical thinking nobody showed any sign of going back to their respective houses and letting the animal either to come out or to do whatever it liked to do, on the contrary more people from the nearby villages started coming to have a glimpse of it.
Few years after the mermaid incidence when Proloy started going to school he heard a story from one of his class mates, Ganesh Gayen, who was few years older than him. Ganesh lived in a remote village and had to walk about an hour to reach the school. Ganesh had heard the story from his father, who had claimed to be an eye witness of the strange incidence. The same place where people had assembled and staring at the object lying on the street looked very different when Ganesh’s father was a boy. There was no pond and the house was also not there but there was a canal which remained filled with water throughout the year and got flooded every year during monsoon, the canal merged with another larger canal called ‘Begorkhal’. ‘Begorkhal’ merged into another even larger canal called ‘Manikhal’, which in turn merged into the river Hooghly, which eventually fell into Bay of Bengal. A Black Magician named Chand was living in a hut somewhere near the canal. The sorcerer’s wife used to assist him in sorcery. It was a sunny morning in the rainy season; the canal and part of the land on its both sides were submerged. The entire village poured in to watch a magic show which the magician was going to perform for the first time. The magician would transform himself into an alligator and his wife Sabina would bring the alligator back to human form by sprinkling magic water on the alligator; the water was prepared in advance by the magician and was kept in an earthen pot. The magician selected an elevated land near the canal. He drew a large circle on the ground with a piece of wood, spread some dry, white powder along its circumference; while uttering some spell he set the powder on fire, the fire spread along the circle instantaneously creating dense white smoke, nobody could see anything inside the circle for a while, when the powder had burnt completely and the smoke started to recede, a large alligator was seen, people started running away, those who came with small boys or girls, lifted their small ones in their arms and started running, his wife was so overwhelmed with fear that the pot fell from her hand, it broke and the soil absorbed the water, but she was the only one who did not run away, she started screaming form the top of her voice begging him to become human again all by himself without the help of the magic water, the alligator started turning side wise like a rolling dice, rolled side wise for few times then started crawling towards the water, probably being unable to bear the heat of the sun any longer, raised his head few times from the water probably to have the last few glimpses at her and then swam away towards the ‘Begorkhal’ canal. For the next few weeks Sabina was seen sitting beside the canal, day and night, always staring at the water, probably hoping for the impossible thing to happen, she was being provided with food by kind villagers and then she suddenly disappeared and nobody knew where she had gone.
For the next two to three days people in their village were glued near that pond to get a glimpse of the mermaid. Sometimes people got excited after seeing some black hair like thing in the water which turned out to be the roots of water hyacinth. Nobody dared to touch the water for the next few days. After two to three days people lost interest and went back to mind their own businesses.
Proloy pushed through the crowd to have a glimpse of the object lying on the street. There were two dead bodies, clothes off, lying in pool of blood, both the victims were male. People could identify them, one was a local barber and the other young man was a relative of the Pal family.