This story was written during the Duckbill Workshop in Delhi. The participants were given various triggers and asked to write stories using them. Our thanks to Abha Iyengar for allowing us to use this story.
We were busy digging the land for Parsuram’s tooth. Till we found it, he would have us work the field. We had already worked the last week, day and night, and not found his tooth.
He claimed that it had fallen in these fields, and he needed it. “Look,” he said, baring his thick lips and pointing at the gap in the front where his tooth once was, “ I cannot get married like this.”
We would have laughed on his face otherwise, but these were different times. If we found his tooth, we would get the Rs. 500/- he promised. We could then return the money to him and pay the debt our parents owed him before they died. In the meantime, we had to till our very own land for his tooth.
“Look, Chotu,” said Ramu, my elder brother, pointing, “is this the tooth?” Something glinted in the ground.
I moved the mud around the gleaming piece with eager hands, but it was just a bone splinter. Ramu passed a weary hand over his sweaty forehead, and leaned against the big peepul tree. “This is like forever,” he said, his body drooping with disappointment. “I’ll just come,” he said, and he went behind the tree. I waited, as I always did for my brother.
He emerged from behind the tree after a while, holding something in his hand. His mouth was closed, his eyes filled with pain, but his cheeks glowed almost eerily in the bright moonlight. He opened his hand and held something out to me.
“The tooth, you found the tooth,” I began to jump, “we are free, free.”
He nodded and sat down, hand open in front. Only then did I see the blood around the tooth.
“Shh,” he put a finger to his lips, “let’s clean it.” We rubbed some mud on it and wiped it against our shirts to made it sparkle. It was a better tooth than Parsuram could ever hope to have. He should be happy.
We dragged our feet, tired and spent, but excitement coursed in our veins. Freedom was at hand. We did not think beyond.
We knocked on Parsuram’s door. He came out, bleary eyes. “Why are you here? Continue digging.”
“We have your tooth,” we said. I held my hand open to show it to him.
“I’ll take it,” he said, and made a grab for it.
We were relieved, a burden lifted. He had a tooth, we were a tooth less, but it was a small price to pay. We would have our land back in our hands. If we could have, we would have jumped for joy.
But we were not allowed this jump.
“Go dig again,” he said, pocketing the tooth.
“Why? You have your tooth. You can get married. We had a deal…”
“Yes, I can get married now,” he gave a toothless grin.
“So then?” We looked at him, fists tight against our sides, trying to hold onto something slipping away.
“ That’s not my tooth,” he said.