The bridge over Disang Noi

I was on the other side of the grey bridge made of cement, the sand and dust and pebbles adding a grainy quality to it. And from my side of the bridge, I saw how the road sloped downwards with a line of areca nut trees: Crops of green leaves rendered golden here and there, by a touch of the sunrays, sitting atop lanky columns. Up ahead, young banana plants sprouted out of the brown-green land, looking like dwarves against the areca nut trees. And a few paces beyond was just the brown-green land that dropped and fell into the river, Disang Noi. The water reflected the green of the trees, the grey of the bridge, the blue of the sky and the white of the clouds that formed the swirls of a brush on a canvas. On the other side of the river, the land rose again, grey in tone, slanting in posture, before turning into an expanse of greenery that stretched and disappeared into a wall of trees. All I could see from where I stood was the green of trees and the land; and the green rising up to the white clouds in a blue sky that was beginning to splash red and purple.

At the other end of the bridge, quite into the distance, a red dot blinked. It revealed the contours of a WagonR as it shot out of the greenery. I knew it was a WagonR because somebody from our village who long ago shifted to Sibsagar town had recently purchased one and when he made his annual trip to check on his property in the village, he had to give all of his time to the villagers who wanted to check out his car from inside and out. The red car almost flew on to the bridge and came to a screeching halt in the middle. There it stood, just like that, in the middle of the bridge, for what seemed like eternity. And then, a very attractive man got down. He bore the confidence of a city man. Dapper in a black leather jacket and oval sun glasses, he walked up to the parapet, leaving the door of his car open, and leaned against it while smiling at someone inside the car. He then looked up at the sky, ran his fingers through his hair and smiled again as if acknowledging the greetings of the lovely weather. I was taken by the sight of this handsome man and kept admiring him till I heard the clap of a door. My eyes darted to the car and a gorgeous woman by the other side of it caught my breath. There she stood stretching her arms over her head, revealing a perfect figure in her jeans and a dark brown leather jacket that came down to her waist. Her long black hair shone in the sun rays and she smiled as she stretched, like she knew how blessed she was. She was definitely a city woman, particularly a Guwahati woman, bold and sassy. Not like the women of our village, most of whom were demure and the ones who were bold in demeanour were cast as characterless and witches. She shot a glance towards my direction, where I stood by an areca nut tree. I suddenly felt shy and turned my gaze towards the ground. I saw my bare feet, the grey of dried mud on my brown skin; I was in my father’s rice field in the morning catching fish in the standing water with my siblings. The mud, in fact, had even soiled the hem of my frock that hung above my knees. Get her to wear mekhela chadars or punjabi kurta, my father had been telling my mother for some time, she is already eleven years old and as tall as an areca nut tree. I wish I was wearing something long that day which could have hidden the mud on my feet and legs.

The woman walked over to the man and they both leaned by the parapet. They looked into each other’s eyes and laughed a lot. Were they husband and wife? Were they lovers? I didn’t know but I felt wonderful just looking at them. I wanted to be her, gorgeous. I wanted to step out of a car someday looking as beautiful as her. And I wanted to be with a man like him. Somebody who could take me on a car to the middle of a bridge in the midst of an alluring landscape and make me all the more beautiful just by the warmth of his presence.

I turned my back to the bridge and peered at the thicket of bamboo plants, a little off the road, settled in an enclave within the huge compound of our village headman’s eldest son’s residence. My fifteen year old sister was there in that enclave with her seventeen year old lover, the village headman’s grandson. The boy was studying in Dibrugarh and whenever he came home, I escorted my sister to that enclave. She spent some time with him while I killed mine by walking up to this side of the bridge, staring at the Disang and daydreaming. That happened to be one of our last visits to the enclave. My sister was shortly engaged to a twenty year old man from a nearby village. She was married by the end of that year.

I squinted my eyes and concentrated hard on the bamboo grove; like I was trying to relay to the man and woman that I was waiting for someone. They might wonder, after all, what was a girl doing all alone by the highway? I stood like that, with my back to the bridge, for an enormous while. But there was no sight of my sister emerging from the bamboo grove. The rendezvous was not yet over. So I turned towards the Disang again and sat down by the roadside. A cow sat a few paces away from me, leisurely waving off flies from its back. The man and the woman continued to talk and laugh on the bridge. The door of the car was still open. Then, in some time, another dot appeared at a distance on the other side of the bridge. The couple got into their car and the engine started. They drove past me, smiling and talking, taking away an experience from the bridge and ignorant of leaving a bit of that experience behind with me.

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