A soft splash sounded through the quiet night. The oars glided softly into the water, cutting through it effortlessly, ripples spreading out in moonlit serenity.
Devi stood at her door, watching. Her back ached after long hours in the paddy field- her husband was away in the village, where he would get drunk and spend the night in a brothel. He never told her so in clear words- but the furtive look in his eyes every morning, clouded with defiance, was proof enough of his guilt. Not that he regarded it as a crime. Man of the house, breadwinner that he was, he had the right to spend his money as he liked. He could choose his drink and his women.
A sigh involuntarily escaped Devi’s lips. She turned to look inside her hut through the darkness, the solitary lamp that burnt by the window every night now having been extinguished. The children were asleep, their stomachs sated with the thin gruel she had made. They had never had a chance to know a good appetite. “At least they will know what moderation means,” thought Devi, smiling bitterly to herself.
She stepped out into the night, her lithe brown body silhouetted against the moonlight. She cast a quick look around, pulled the door shut and walked quickly down the slippery steps hewn into the hard stone of the hillock upon which the house stood. Her breast heaved with fear and excitement- she had long anticipated the liaison and now the night was upon her, awakening her senses to new experiences, to satiation instead of obligation.
The boat sailed smoothly towards the shore, and the boatman laid his oars aside. He stood proudly upon it, back straight and strong, eyes looking straight ahead at the woman who waited bravely for him, unshackled and free. As he came closer, he saw a strange fire in her eyes- a glimmer that shocked and enthralled him at once- and then, still looking on with wonder, gasped and fell back into the water, thin lines of red mixing with the muddied waters and forming whirling pools of red.
The knife slipped out of Devi’s grasp. The feelings that had lain subdued in her bosom, the occasional bouts of intense desire that she had quenched with bitter remonstrance, were all crushed into the earth in one fell swoop. The deed done, she was a wife and mother again. Her jealousy against his wife had found vent in his death- and now, she wept with impassioned grief, primitive animal-like cries ringing through the countryside, for the sister-woman she had widowed. But she wiped her tears hurriedly- no woman deserved to live with a man who betrayed her, and she was glad to have spared another woman the agony that she lived through listlessly, every single hour.