The summer of 85: A story by Sreemati Sen

“Matlaa……”She ran after him. “Don’t go.” 

Following him, she reached the coconut tree that Baba had mentioned in his last letter. Matla stood there, sobbing. She held out her hands towards him. He faded gradually. She collapsed.
After two decades, Radha was back in their farmhouse. The memories of the summer of 85 came back to her. Baba had promised them a vacation of fun and frolic. Excited, they had set out for the farmhouse situated in the outskirts of Bengal.

Her parents were planning to transform the property into a tourist spot. Overlooking the Ganges, it was an idyllic location. Shambhu-Kaka and his son Matla were the sole work force. Santhali* by origin, they had transformed the barren land into a property of immense commercial value.

While her parents remained busy with their marketing strategy, Radha spent most of her time with Shambhu-Kaka. She woke up with the rooster and followed Kaka around. He acquainted her with the numerous animals and birds that lived on the property. Matla chose to observe them from afar. Three years older to her, he appeared wary. It was during a boat ride, when Radha toppled off the boat, that the boy rescued her, putting his own life into jeopardy. The ice was broken. A new bond was formed.
The vacation was coming to an end. It was time to head home. The night before her departure, Matla in his broken Hindi invited her out for a boat-ride. When she smiled, he sprinted away. Radha knew that he must have mustered enough courage to seek her out. Her heart sang in the excitement that night. A tiny voice whispered that it would be a memorable ride.  

As the moon shone in its full glory, Radha slipped out in stealth. Matla stood waiting beside his boat. He held out his hands for her. The boat swayed throwing her off balance. A pair of strong, brown hands caught her. Making her sit on the edge, he rowed the boat out to the Mohona*. Leaving the oars, he sat beside her, humming a Santhali song. A love song! Touched, she threw her hands around him and sat there basking in the moonlit night.

The first rays of the sun woke them up. Panicking, they started rowing back. Groups of boats could be seen advancing towards them. They spotted Shambhu and her father. The boats reached them soon. Baba gave a menacing look to Matla and dragged her off.  Radha was packed off to Kolkata that day.  She never went back to the farmhouse. The names of Shambhu-kaka and Matla never cropped up.
Baba had left the property to her. In his last letter, he had begged forgiveness for the crime he had committed. In a fit of rage, he had killed Matla that night and buried him the under the coconut tree where she sat now, leaving Shambhu insane.
Radha promised the fading figure of Matla that she would take care of the old, bedridden Shambhu-kaka.  


Santhali: A tribe which occupies parts of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa
Mohona: The point where the river meets the sea