By Anwar Shahadat
Translated from Bengali by Masrufa Ayesha Nusrat
During the month of Bhadro, the moon is totally eclipsed in the evening. The darkness of that night can only be compared to a blind inferno. Legend has it that even a jackal would not attack a hen’s house for fear of the dark. It is considered inauspicious to light a lamp again after its kerosene is extinguished. Uttering the name of a recently deceased person or talking about a dream is an ill-omen for all. Pregnant women have to fast during these nights; otherwise the fortune goddess will frighten them to such an extent that the fetus will be aborted. On a night like this, quadruple-headed female apparitions take part in a wild dance soiree, underneath an old tamarind tree, possessed by evil spirits. The eerie ambience of these dark nights is beyond description.
Besides, so many other bizarre things happen during these nights! If you want to raise a dog, expert for chasing the jackals, thieves or Shitala Devi, the harbinger of chicken-pox, you need to pierce the ears of a puppy younger than two months. Not only that, you must pick the thorn from a wild wood-apple tree and feed the puppy some rice mixed with Kamranga chili on the leaves of a barren and uncultivated palm–round eggplant.
And, if you want to spiritually harm your enemy — according to the sorcerer’s advice, it is this very night you ought to collect weird samples of objects for casting black magic. For example, you need eggs incubated by a pair of black pigeons; the green shoots of a palmyra tree; a torn piece of the front tuck of the lower portion of a widow’s white sari and the eyes of a drowned ebb-tide fish that habitually floats on the water…
But Furfuri the hag could not sleep peacefully in her own shed. It was not that she had strange desires like Wajed or Altaf. Completely alone, Furfuri spent these nights on the ground; an old quilt spread over hogla leaves she had inherited from her grandfather. She could not even cat-nap. Once, on one of those eclipsed nights six or seven years ago, she had fallen asleep and been physically assaulted by the trouble makers.
Ever since then she stayed awake on all the eclipsed nights of Bhadro, repeatedly uttering, “Leave devil leave, go jackal go, leave devil leave, go jackal go,” at the top of her voice to announce her presence.
Furfuri knew that her suffering had a lot to do with Shiku the sorcerer’s black magic. Unable to tolerate his continual harassment, she let go her embarrassment and complained to the Boro Membor of the Howlader family. The Boro Membor immediately went to Shiku’s house with a thick cane and threatened him, “I swear by the name of my dead father if I ever hear you messing with Furi again I will crush your bones with this. Bastard, you’ve grown too fat with glutton!” However, after the death of the Boro Membor, Shiku started practicing his black magic on her again. The Boro Membor’s sons were not like their father. Neither Shiku nor the sons respected her the way he had respected her. From then on, Furfuri tried with all her might to prevent herself from becoming the victim of Shiku’s black magic. She believed her fate had been written on a copper plate and could not be changed.
She was attacked several times on every eclipsed night. After one such attack, Furfuri went to visit Shiku’s place. Having crossed the pond, she called out tenderly to Shiku’s wife, “Chodo Bou, are you home, respond if you are!” Soburjaan, Shiku’s wife, was weaving a hogla with the leaves of elle and responded at once, “Is it Furi bachha from the other side of the pond? Please come over. In whose boat did you cross the pond?” Furfuri washed her feet with the rain water from the reservoir and entered Shiku’s house. Furfuri asked where Soburjaan’s son was, and Soburjaan replied, “My son went to collect palm with his father.” That very moment, the forever skeletal figure of Shiku appeared with his emaciated son on his left arm and a palm fruit on his right. Although he was very alarmed to see Furfuri, he greeted her calmly, “Is it Furi bachha? When did you arrive? What’s up?”
“Aren’t you even ashamed of calling me bachha so affectionately?” Shiku did not respond to her retort. His wife burst out wailing miserably, “Oh, my poor ill-fated woman!” She took hold of her hand and tried to soothe her, “Why doesn’t Allah take us away instead?” It was an unusual situation, the two opposing parties facing each other with a strangely sympathetic attitude and an absence of the expected hostility. Consequently, Furfuri spoke coolly, “Shiku! How could your heart bear doing this to a woman old enough to be your mother?” Shiku did not reply, quietly peeling the palm fruit and squeezing the juice into a clay pot. He called his son, “Come bajaan, lick the juice from the peel.”
Shiku’s wife offered Furfuri a paan roll, a betel nut leaf filling with green date seed. Furfuri crammed it in her mouth and said, “What harm have I done to you, Shiku?” Shiku did not reply, but diverted her by saying, “Are you taking paan already? I wonder if you’d like to have lunch with us, rice with pigeon gravy.”
Furfuri remembered she had eaten meat a number of times in her life. She had eaten beef nine to ten times, chicken at least twenty times, mutton twice, water-hen once, sparrow three to four times and pigeon only twice! She could almost recall the days accurately. It was in the year that Dadu, her paternal grandmother, had died, and in the initial Korbani Eid days of her first marriage. Once it was a lost pigeon and on another occasion it was a hunted pigeon bitten by a jackal. No one could tell when it was bitten but there was a fresh line of blood on the spot. She knew that it was a religious belief that dead poultry was forbidden, unless it had been killed by a predator. And the taste of a pigeon curry cooked with potatoes is hard to forget. It had been a long time she she had eaten meat of any kind. Then what was wrong in having pigeon curry at Shiku’s expense? He was inviting her warmly, not that she was asking for it.
Licking the palm fruit off his fingers, Shiku served some pigeon curry gravy to Furfuri’s plate with a coconut shell spoon. The curry was so spicy that Shiku had to quietly wipe off his nose with the end of his frayed lungi. His son Muhammad Hamid kept on asking for more meat. Soburjaan miserly served him with gravy since they had a guest, promising meat again some other day. After serving her with pigeon curry, it was hard for Shiku to understand why Furfuri would still hold a grudge against him. Shiku the sorcerer now started justifying himself with the backstory of getting the pigeon meat, “Bachha, I was not able to feed my son with pigeon meat until now. He heard from someone and insisted on having some. But where was I to get him that? Should I steal? From whom could I get it? You think they will let me survive if I stole from them? But my son kept on asking for meat!”