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Muddy PathA pristine Mai Loi, unsoiled by muddy paths on a dark rainy night, is delivered by her husband Kabir to a grocer.

 

So, she can sleep with him to repay their debt...

Previous Story: Complementary Relationships

"It was monsoon season," Rosh started speaking. Isha, who lay cuddled up beside him, had wanted to hear a story.

"Rain poured over the fields of Varanasi. Undisturbed by its constant clatter on his thatched roof, Kabir hummed while he worked on his loom, weaving."

"When will this rain cease?" Mai Loi fretted. "The bazar has been closed for days now. We've run out of flour, we haven't sold any cloth, and we've got no credit left with the grocers."

Before Kabir could answer, there was a knock on their door. Mai Loi opened it. Some sadhus had come visiting. Kabir looked at his wife. She looked back at him, knowing what had to be done.

After the guests had been seated and served water, and the host was deep in conversation with his guests, she slipped silently out of her door, into the rain outside.

She walked over to the grocers' shops, to see if someone would lend her some rice and dal. Most shops were closed. The ones that were open, seemed grumpy at nature's disruption of their business.

"Have you brought cash?" they asked.

She shook her head.

"When will you pay?" they asked.

"When someone pays us," she answered.

They looked up at the gloomy skies and shook their heads. They needed cash to buy more groceries. Most of what little they had, had been rationed out on credit already.

Loi went to several grocers, but all wanted cash now. After all, they had families too, and mouths to feed. Rain had affected all the poor artisans.

Despite his fame, Kabir was still a poor weaver. Poverty is a greater persuader. And, there is only so much credit that fame can buy. You can't feed hungry mouths with goodwill you've gathered or good deeds you've done. Loi understood all this.

She walked and walked, further and further from home. Pleading, asking. Without luck. Going further than she had ever ventured before in the past. Seeking with hope, but growing more hopeless with every denial.

A grocer she did not know, finally agreed to give provisions on credit, on condition that she spend the night with him. Loi stood speechless in the rain, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, not knowing how to respond.

"You are wet and weary," he weaseled. "Don't think too much. Take what you want now. And come back later."

Seeing her rooted silently at his door, staring stupidly at the puddle in which she stood, the grocer took her stupor as her consent. He gave her the provisions.

"Go feed them now," he said. "They must be hungry. Come back tonight. I'll wait here for you."

Shocked at what was happening, but strangely powerless to protest, she obediently turned around with her groceries and walked back home.

The skies were overcast and gloomy. Rain and wind lashed at her. But she did not feel them. She did not feel her load either. She thought neither of duty, nor of shame. She thought of nothing as she walked back, except to reach home and cook, as her husband expected her to.

She walked past the closed shops. She walked past the dripping huts. Step by step. Like an automaton. She knew not when she reached. She knew not how she cooked.

But before she knew it, it was over. Food was cooked. It was served. It was eaten. The guests left. She ate what was left. Dishes were done. She moved around the house, doing what had to be done, unthinking, unfeeling, and somehow unseeing.

Kabir noticed it. As they retired to their beds for the night, he asked her. She told him, simply.

"Then you must go to him now," he said, when she had finished speaking.

It was then, that it hit her. It was payback time. And the payment was usurious. She objected.

"You were told the price," he reasoned. "You took the goods. Now pay for them."

"But...?" she broke into tears.

"Everything will be fine," he consoled her. "Go now!"

Her limbs felt powerless and her body dead-weight. Almost painfully, she stood up and walked slowly to the door. Once at the door, she shivered involuntarily and almost fell.

"Wait," he called behind her. "It is dark, and still drizzling. The puddles will be treacherous. Let me carry you there."

He wrapped her in a blanket and lifted her on his back. Then, stepping out of his home with his load, he walked slowly and silently to the grocer's shop.

Once there, he put her down and waited outside the shop. Mai Loi lifted the canvas covering the shop front, and walked into the darkness inside.

The grocer was awake. Anticipation had stolen his sleep. She was late, but he was delighted to see that she had finally arrived. He shot up from his bed, and fumbled in the dark to light a hurricane lamp.

Then, he moved closer to guide her to where she could wash and dry her muddy feet, before getting into his bed with him. But neither her dress, nor her feet had any trace of wet dirt.

"You just walked through dark puddled paths," he asked, surprised. "How are you unsoiled?"

She told him.

"What?" he was shocked. "Your husband brought you here?"

"Yes," she answered. "He waits outside for me."

"Does he know why you are here?" he asked again.

"Yes," she answered.

"And he still carried you here?" asked the astounded grocer. "Why?"

"To repay our debt, as you desired," she croaked, suddenly overwhelmed by her grief.

Moved deeply, the grocer stumbled out into the dark wet street with his lamp. He immediately recognized Kabir.

Crestfallen, he fell at Kabir's feet and begged his forgiveness.

"Rise friend," said Kabeer. "It is a rare man who has never gone astray."

Long after Kabir and his wife had departed, the grocer sat silently inside his shop. The night was long and lonely. He appeared at peace with himself and his world, but steady swirls of guilt churned his brain like a vortex.

Whirl, whirl, whirl.

"He pondered on his life," Rosh concluded, "and on what had happened. Hot tears dripped down his cheeks sporadically, impregnated by the salt of his guilt and heated by the sense of his shame."

"When dawn broke, he stood up finally. He sought out Kabir and became his disciple. And remained devoted to Kabir for the rest of his life."

Next Story: Read sequel to this story: (Publication Pending)

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