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  • Writer's pictureCrone

The Well

The other day I received an email from Dabinder Basra. The name was vaguely familiar but I wasn't sure from where. The text said that we were in a creative writing group. It all came flooding back. I'd been to his house. He is a Sikh and I had learned a little about his religion and traditions, which was fascinating. And I remembered that he'd written a story that I'd thought was very moving - I said to him, was it about a well? Dabinder was astonished that I'd remembered and kindly gave me permission to post it here.


The Well Dabinder Basra

He sits on the small wooden stool watching her at work, amazed at the lithe fluidity of her movements. She is a ballerina, graceful and elegant, her every motion an unrehearsed dance at odds with the crumpled roundness of her body. 

She has her back to him oblivious to his presence, her gaze fixed intently on the small fragile woman that lies before her on the tired wooden bed, gasping in pain. The air is thick with the smell of sweat and sweet scented herbs. An old oil lamp burns lifelessly in one corner of the room, its glass protection a faded shattered memory, its flame casting broken, misshapen shadows along the four walls.

He takes a deep silent breath, searching for the cool respite of clean air, aware of the stench of his own body, of the trickle of sweat making its way down his spine and into the deep crevice of his anus. Feeling the itchy wetness of his groin, he shifts uneasily on the stool, almost toppling over. She turns her head rapidly and looks at him over her shoulder, her eyes ablaze with anger, red and sparkling bright orange in the dim light. He sees the leathery texture of her skin, the dry chapped lips and the hair lifeless and hanging like dried straw around her scarecrow face. Her mouth opens to speak.

'It will be a while yet. The Guru cannot be rushed. The child will arrive when He wills it.  Be still and wait,' she rasps. Her voice a rusty hacksaw blade slicing through the thick muggy air.

He watches as she takes the baby and wraps it ovingly in an old and worn blanket.  Carrying the child in her arms she walks across the room and places it delicately in a beautifully carved wooden cradle. Turning, she walks back and whispers something to the mother and the look in his wife’s eyes is an icy dagger burying itself deep inside his soul. The tears cloud his eyes, harsh and acidic making him wince, his breathing, short and sharp, spasmodic, tightening his chest. He looks across at his wife. She is crying, her chest rising and falling in uncontrollable sobs. He walks across the room and stands looking down at her. Leaning over, he slowly caresses away a tear with his forefinger.  Their eyes meet and she tries to smile.

'Clean yourself up while I wait outside. When you are ready we will go', he says.

'And the baby?' she whispers.

'I will pay the old woman. She will know what to do.'


'Silence. We will not speak of this again. You have ten minutes. I will wait outside.'

She could not remember how many there had been over the years. Could not recall their faces or the faces of those they left behind. They came from all over. Hindus and Sikhs, Muslims and Christians. The rich and the poor. The politician and the farmer.  The taxi driver and the shopkeeper. They came by train and by car. They came by rickshaw and by scooter. They came by bicycle and they walked. From cities, from towns and small rural villages. From the heart of Mother India. They came asking for pity, for sympathy and forgiveness and left speaking of cricket matches and movies to be watched. She listened and in her heart she cursed them and their sons for all eternity.

Because when the darkness set in and she lay back to sleep, voices haunted her. They spoke to her in low and hushed whispers, tender and sweet and full of love for a life that they would never know. They spoke of dreams crushed and hopes shattered. Of schooldays and birthdays and the tender sweet kisses only a mother can give. Kisses to quell the pain of hunger, to dull the ache of grazed knees and broken hearts. She loved them and cherished them, gave them names and identities, histories, husbands and children to nurture.

And when the voices were too loud to bear she would awake, her withered emaciated body trembling. She would stumble outside into the moonlit night to the old disused well at the back of the farmhouse. The well where her children lived. She would gaze down into its bottomless depths and call their names in a high banshee wail that went unheard in the blackness of the night. Roopa, Naila, Mary, Devi, Sukhbir... Her babies... Her daughters.

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