Shishir (Winter) 2021 Stories - Tejaswinee Roychowdhury


A Burned Out Cigarette
By Tejaswinee Roychowdhury


I still remember that summer morning of 1946 as if it was yesterday. It smelled of sea and fish. Seagulls squawked and ship horns screeched. Men and women took time off their goodbyes and stared at us. We were an unusual couple at the time, him and me; and we’d stopped losing sleep over the raised eyebrows and the pursed lips.

As the ship from that port in Lancashire left for Bombay, I wondered when I would see him again for I knew why he had to leave. I had to believe that it would be soon. “Wait for me, I will be back home for supper”, he said and planted a kiss on my forehead. So, I waited. Because that is what you do when a loved one has to leave you for a moment or two; you wait.

Three months into my wait, one late November morning as I kneaded fresh dough for teacakes, the postman brought me words from him. I was elated.

“Dear Cecelia”, he wrote, “Conditions in Bengal are worse than I imagined. I brought three of my little sisters and my parents from Dacca to the safety of Calcutta. I must go to Noakhali to fetch my older sister and her husband. They are not safe there; they will be safer here in Calcutta. I will return to you and my life in London soon. Keep my supper warm.

Yours, Dinabandhu.”

I noticed the date of postage from Calcutta. October 6, 1946. I had an uncle working there. He had sent a letter to my aunt, and she told me things — spine-chilling, blood-curdling things. I was a God-fearing woman, and I used to pray with conviction, but my prayer voice trembled that night. I prayed for his health, and his life, and I waited. Because that is what you do when a loved one has to leave you for a couple of months or four; you wait.

Bowler hats were replaced by baseball caps or empty heads, and skirts became shorter or became trousers. Faster two-wheeled and four-wheeled vehicles crowded the streets. Radios fell out of style. Music had become strange. Movies had aliens, spaceships, and talking bears in them. “They are Ewoks”, once corrected my nephew through a mouthful of Christmas pudding.

I kept to my bakery because it was hard to keep up with the insanity of the world. Whenever a customer walked in, rang the bell at the front desk, I hoped it was him. But it was never him. Postmen and postwomen came and went. They delivered everything that I wanted, but never what I needed.

Over the years I wrote and rewrote the reply to his last letter inside my head. I never wrote them down because he never left an address. Besides, I would not require the help of written words when I would stand in front of him once again, would I? I knew what to say, and I waited. Because that is what you do when a loved one has to leave you for three decades or six; you wait.

Time was unkind to me. I watched the skin on my hands loosen and wrinkle, and I watched my hair lose the brown it was born with. In the evenings, I sat in my chair on the porch with Eva and stared at the gate. Before I left my apartment in the city and moved here to my nephew’s place, I gave the landlord’s son my new address should he come and look for me.

I wrote it down for him. “Your father should remember him”, I said. “He was a barrister and he lived in the apartment beside mine.”

The young man smelled of gin at ten in the morning, but I think he understood. My eyes were weak and he would be older than me, but I would know. I would always know. So, I stared at the gate and I waited. Because that is what you do when a loved one has to leave you for a lifetime or few; you wait.

“You should let go and enjoy the rest of your days”, Eva told me a few years ago. “My man never made it out of Auschwitz like the rest of us. It helps to let go. You know inside your heart, the truth. Let go, Cecilia.

I did not listen to her, not then. But today, having watched her in deep sleep inside a coffin, I wait with a cigarette between my fingers, unbothered by its putrid stench. Today, I lack faith. Hope without faith; have you ever wondered what that is like? It is empty and hollow, the hope; and it burns away like a cigarette that has reached the finish line.

I am not waiting for him; I am waiting for my cigarette to burn out. For if it does before he walks in through the gate, I will know that he isn’t coming home for supper after all.


Tejaswinee Roychowdhury is a writer from West Bengal, India. She is also a lawyer having post-graduated from the University of Calcutta. Her work is published in Kitaab, White Enso, Indian Periodical, and elsewhere, including in an international episodic anthology by Sweetycat Press.


Our Contributors !!

Some of our writers!

  • We occassionally invite writers to send their musings. Do send in your work, and we will host it here.
  • Do visit the Submit page to submit your work.