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:: Stories: Till Death Do Us Apart! (Love / Romance)
At 52, Ahmed Hussain was going through what every man of his age went through - a series of monotonous, undesirable life events. He lived in Mumbai with his wife and children. His two daughters were married and were no longer a part of his family. They just occasionally came to visit him. His two sons were still struggling with their life. They had little time to think about the family. His eldest son, Sultan constantly tried new ventures and suffered heavy losses. His youngest son, Salman was also earning his livelihood, although his source of income was never consistent. His wife spent most of her time in the kitchen or doing something or other in the household. If at all she was free for sometime, she dedicated it to the television. Ahmed often felt lonely. He had given up his timber business a year ago. Then He had decided to involve Sultan in the family business and take a much deserving retirement after consulting the entire family.

Now for over a year, he had been living a dull lonely life. He woke up every day at 6 am, which was a habit he couldn't get rid of. And that gave him more hours in a day to spend. But there was nothing he could spend his time on. His wife kept herself engaged in her chores throughout the day. His sons went out to work. After having his morning cup of tea, he used to spend almost an hour reading the newspaper. Being on the fifth floor, he couldn't think of going out for a walk every now and then. Often times he daydreamed about his native place in Hubli, a town in Karnataka. He had seventy acres of land there. He had built a cottage in one corner and used the rest of the area for farming. His younger brother, Afzal looked after it. He had purchased the land few years ago, planning to settle down there after his retirement. Till then he had allowed his jobless brother to take care of it, who was to keep, half of the farms yield to himself. Many a times he toyed with the idea of settling down over there, but his family, he knew, would never agree to it.

Finally one day, Ahmed decided to talk to his family. He was tired of his loneliness and craved for some fresh air of life. It was the month of Ramzaan. The entire family had gathered in the house, his wife, the daughters and the sons. He spoke to his family over dinner.
"I feel we should all settle down in Hubli. We have our own farm that can provide for all the family's needs." gently he spilled the words as if they were pearls.
What followed for another few moments was just silent breathing. No one said a single word. Then the youngest one said what the others feared to say.
"Dad, why don't you go alone?"
Ahmed didn't take his eyes of his plate. He knew the family was watching him. He was hurt but was not ready to show his pain.
A moment he had dreaded for last couple of months. He felt like his family discarded him from their lives. He took a deep breath as a lump crawled down his throat.
"That's OK, with me, if it's OK with the family." He said in a casual tone and then looked up to Salman. "Now I can leave the family, Even my youngest son is talking sense now."
Salman smiled taking the father's remark as a compliment. He was unaware of the fact that unknowingly he had hurt his father.

Ahmed didn't waste much time except for the night that he spent without sleeping. Next morning he packed his bag and left his house. By afternoon he was in a state transport bus on his way to Hubli. Initially the thought of his family's casual attitude disturbed him but as he came closer to his native, the wonderful free life of Hubli, cheered him up. He started daydreaming about how he would spend his day in the farm and the town market. He got excited even before the bus had crossed the border. The view of the farms alongside the road lured him even more. He was dying to keep his feet on his land, his very own land. It was his whole life's earning and the only thing he did for himself in his entire life. The restlessness grew into boredom and finally feeling tired Ahmed fell asleep.

With the dawn of new day, came with the fresh air of Hubli and Ahmed felt it when the breeze caressed his face. He woke up to the day, he had often dreamed of, in the loneliness of his balcony in Mumbai. He got down from the bus and to his surprise there was no one to receive him. He had called earlier and informed his younger brother of his arrival but his brother was nowhere in sight. To avoid wasting time, Ahmed hired an auto rickshaw to his place. His brother, Afzal was sitting idle on the verandah. On seeing Ahmed arriving, he yelled at his children to assist Ahmed with his luggage. But he himself didn't move, nor did he smile. Afzal's wife came out hearing her husband's voice. She flashed a tailored smile on her face, which was overruled by the scorned look in her eyes. The kids tried to snatch the bag more out of an expectation of getting some gifts from their uncle than to help. Even before Ahmed entered his house, he had already regretted coming to native place. The reality bit Ahmed's dream on its face. Ahmed felt uninvited just like he felt unwanted in Bombay.
It took a month's time for Ahmed to settle down and even for Afzal and his wife to get used to the fact that he was there to stay for a long time. Their bitterness grew towards him but they masked their feelings. He was still the owner of the farm and they were still at his mercy. There was nothing they had of their own. Afzal was a mere caretaker of the land and that didn't give him enough rights to rule over it. It was not the right time to go against his brother, Afzal thought. Ahmed was not totally unaware of all this but he preferred to ignore thinking that Afzal was all he had there, as a family. His real family had comfortably forgotten him in haste of making a livelihood in Mumbai.

Somehow Ahmed managed to keep himself busy. The first half of the day was spent in the field. He used all the knowledge he had learned from his father and worked hard on the field, then few hours in afternoon was spent sleeping and in the evening he went to the town 'chowk' that was the meeting spot of people his age. There He played few sets of cards with his new town friends. And when the day came to its climax he returned home. It was the life he had dreamed of except for emptiness that he occasionally felt inside himself.

Often Ahmed attended the town fair. It was the time when everything was bought and sold cheap. Ahmed went there to buy seeds and sell his farm's produce. It was on one such occasion when Ahmed came across Amba. He had earned enough after selling his farm's yield and given half of it to his brother. But instead of going home, he decided to stay a little longer. He told Afzal that he would come a little later and asked him to go back home with the seeds they had bought from the fair. As he wandered through the crowd a bellow got his attention. There was a cry for love in the sound. Ahmed looked all around to trace the source of the sound. The mesmerizing call came from the calf, pure white in the prime of her infancy bought to the fair for sale. Ahmed went over to the calf and bowed down to look at it carefully. The calf stared at him for as long as Ahmed looked at it. And when Ahmed got up and stroked its forehead gently with his hand it came close and touched his head to his stomach. That was when both of them fell in love with each other. Ahmed approached the guy who stood next to the calf and bought it instantly without bargaining. He removed the rope from her neck that held her tied to the ground. As he walked away with the calf, the guy screamed from behind.
"Her name is Amba!"

Amba was taken away from her mother soon after her birth. Since then she was treated as an animal meant for sale. She was ignored all the time, except for the occasional visit by someone who had something to feed her. Amba looked at her new master with eager eyes. She was hoping her new master would treat her nice. She leaned a little on her master as they walked home. Ahmed kept his hand over her neck throughout occasionally stroking it softly. Ahmed was late by the time he reached home and his brother had closed the door. Ahmed decided to sleep outside in the verandah. As He sat down on the verandah, he looked at Amba and smiled. "What can I do? They have even thrown me out."
Amba went closer to him and sat beside him resting her head on his lap.
"You are going to keep me busy, it seems" Ahmed guessed as he stroked her neck softly.
Every time Ahmed got tired of stroking, Amba bawled slowly to get his attention back.
"Are you going to let me sleep or not?" Ahmed asked grumpily.
He continued to caress her till she was awake. As soon as she fell asleep Ahmed gently moved down her head from his lap and slept beside her.

Next day as the sun smiled upon them, Amba woke up. Ahmed was still asleep. Amba admired her master for a while. She licked his cheek and went out to the farm. An hour later, Ahmed woke up. He looked around for Amba and got scared when he couldn't see her anywhere around. He got up and ran into the farm and spent the next one hour running hither thither around the farm hunting for Amba but in vain. Finally Ahmed gave up. It was time for the other members in the family to get up. He couldn't believe his misfortune. A day before he had experienced a feeling of unfathomable joy and just when he was about to thank his fate, it vanished leaving the same feeling of emptiness behind. Ahmed returned back dejected.

As he came out of the farm and approached the house, he heard the same bellow that that had touched his heart before. He raised his head and looked ahead in the direction of the voice. Amba was lazing in the verandah exactly where she slept the previous night totally unaware of what Ahmed went through in the morning. She waited for him patiently. \She had seen him coming from a distance but didn't move. Ahmed didn't know how to react. Was he supposed to get angry on her or thank her for coming back? He got his answer when he went near her. As soon as he stepped up the verandah, Amba got up and went over to him slightly thrusting her head to his stomach. It was her sign of demanding attention. Ahmed had known that by now. He began rubbing her neck and Amba came closer to him. Ahmed bowed a little and kissed her forehead. She almost leaned on him and he had to take the support of the nearby wall to prevent himself from losing his balance. It was a beautiful moment, for both of them felt loved and cherished. Ahmed sat on the verandah and continued to rub her neck gently.

Some while later Afzal's wife came out of the house. She didn't apologize for making him sleep out at night. On the contrary, she grumbled about not being responsible towards the family. Ahmed got up and stepped out of the verandah completely ignoring her.
Amba followed him like a disciple. Ahmed went to the farm again. He took Amba across the farm like a guide.
"Till here, it's our land, you understand. Don't cross the border or you will be killed." Ahmed warned her. It was not unusual of framers killing the animal that went on a rampage on their field. It didn't matter whom it belonged to.
He then took her for a walk around the village. Amba followed him everywhere, even when he had to attend the nature's call.

Soon it became a ritual with them. From morning till night they stayed together, ate together and slept together on the verandah. Ahmed gave up the comfort of his bedroom and decided to sleep out in the verandah for Amba's sake. Amba wouldn't listen to anyone except for Ahmed and even to him; she listened only when he pampered her. She became restless even if he went out of her sight for one moment and same was the case with Ahmed who couldn't just leave her alone anywhere. The special bond they shared became the talk of the town, so much so that many offered to buy Amba at triple the price she was worth. It was then when Afzal's attention fell on the calf. Afzal couldn't tolerate his brother's stubbornness. He thought with the price that was offered for Amba he could get three more like her. He even suggested Ahmed to consider it. But Ahmed rejected it bluntly, without even giving it a second thought.

Amba sensed that the immediate attention she was getting would prove to be dangerous in some way. She became aggressive when people approached her in Ahmed's absence, especially when Ahmed was engaged in his ritualistic prayer. Amba stayed out of a mosque. People tried to pamper her, gave her food to eat and even rubbed her neck like Ahmed used to do, but not a single trick worked. Amba became more & more hostile. She wouldn't let anyone come near herself except for Ahmed.

Seasons changed, but the love between the two didn't. It just became stronger with time. Ahmed even stopped writing to his family in Mumbai. He had completely forgotten about them. With Amba he felt contented and same was the case with Amba. They just lived for each other and were even ready to suffer.

One day when Ahmed and Amba were having their leisurely walk, a fellow villager approached Ahmed. Ahmed stood there talking to him. Amba waited for a while, and then she became restless. She pushed him from behind with her head. Ahmed pushed her back requesting her to have patience but Amba wouldn't listen. She kept niggling him from behind. But the fellow villager was an old friend so Ahmed went on talking one topic after another. Finally, feeling irritated Amba went into the nearby field alongside the road that they stood upon. Ahmed didn't notice it and remained involved in his conversation. A while later a third friend who was passing by joined them along with his newly purchased bull. He boasted about the bull's worth and its strength. It was quite sturdy one and had double the strength of Amba. As the talked Ahmed placed his hand on the bull and that was all that Amba needed to loose her temper. From the field she had watched Ahmed patting the bull. She bellowed first to get Ahmed's attention and when she couldn't get that she dashed mercilessly and attacked the bull. The bull was taken by shock but was able to regain its balance. Furious, the bull came back heavy upon Amba. Amba was no match for the bull, but she fought with courage. It took more than the three men to stop the fight. The farmers working in the nearby farms also came for help. The bull was hurt a little but Amba's forelimb was damaged in the fight.

Ahmed was shocked at Amba's outburst. The villagers grabbed the opportunity to term her as 'insane'. Many advised Ahmed to be careful from her but Ahmed ignored every voice that rose against Amba. He took her to the clinic. Amba limped all along the way. She was not able to place her right forelimb on the ground. The moment she did that then it used to cause her unbearable pain and she cried out loud. The vet examined the leg from a distance, as Amba wouldn't let anyone touch her feet. The fracture was severe and demanded immediate attention. The vet approached Amba with a huge syringe that was meant to anesthetize Amba but Amba would let him to come near her. She allowed him only when Ahmed asked her to calm down. Amba was in pain but she didn't cry, as she wanted to obey Ahmed's order. But Ahmed was not unaware of her physical trauma. It was unbearable to see her suffer like that. He realized that Amba needed to be kept away from villagers for some time. He thought of keeping her tied, till she learned to calm down.

Ahmed followed his plan soon after he returned from the clinic. For the first time since he had purchased her, Ahmed tied her with a rope to the coconut tree near the house. Amba was still under the influence of Anesthesia. The Vet had prescribed that she should be fed after some time. Ahmed initially thought of eating along with Amba but then Afzal convinced him not to wait rill calf wakes. He said the food was served and it would be a sin to turn it down. Ahmed agreed and Afzal rushed into the kitchen to get food for his brother. On reaching the kitchen, he fetched out a bottle from his trouser pocket and mixed it into the curry. He looked around to see if he was being watched. There was no one watching except for Amba who saw the whole thing through the kitchen window. Afzal gave her a mean smile and pointed a finger at her.
"Next are you. Be prepared!" Afzal whispered out of the window and then began to laugh wickedly.

As he moved out of the kitchen, Amba bellowed at the top of her voice. Ahmed got distracted but decided not to go near her. He thought she would become restless and that was not good for her. Afzal placed the plate of rice and curry in front of Ahmed and requested him to begin. But Ahmed was not able to make his mind. He picked up the plate and went out to the verandah. Afzal locked the door behind him, thinking that forcing him to eat would raise his suspicion and sooner or later he would eat. He went to sleep thinking about the land that would be his, a day later.

Ahmed sat in the verandah staring at his plate but his hunger had died. Amba got a glimpse of Ahmed when he came out to the verandah and that drove her mad. She struggled frantically to free herself and continuously bellowed so that Ahmed could at least look at her. Ahmed didn't have the courage to watch her plight; with great pain he restrained himself from turning around and looking at her. Her rigorous struggle finally freed her. The rope broke free due to the constant pull. But Amba wasn't prepared for it. She had put her entire force in moving forward and a sudden freedom threw her off balance and she fell flat on the ground. Her fracture had worsened due to the struggle. Amba took couple of minutes to stand up on her feet but now she was not able to trace Ahmed. Her right eye still carried the stone that pierced it while she crashed down on the ground. One side of her face was enveloped with mud and blood and the pain that she experienced left her breathless. Somehow she managed to stagger till the verandah with the hazy vision. And she came and stood in front of Ahmed. Ahmed looked at Amba and lost his breath. He remained stoned as Amba ate away the rice that was served for him and then she quietly placed her head on his lap. He gently raised his hand and stroked Amba's injured eye. As the poison made its way to her heart streaming through her blood, Amba became aware of her final moment. She tilted her head a little in order to get a final glimpse of her master. Ahmed too was looking at her. Tears rolled down from Ahmed's eyes and his heart chocked with pain. They stared at each other with tear-soaked eyes till the end of the time.

Next day an ambulance was called to pick up the two bodies. And in the report, it was mentioned that both the hearts had stopped functioning at the same time.

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