"What does God mean to you, Bijju?"
There was a light breeze that brought emphasis to the vastness of the space and to the two lone figures in the dark and deep night. The moon rested on its throne with a decided air of superiority and knowing.
Bijju turned away to peer into the distance. Even if there had been light, his eyes would not have caught much. He took a deep breath. "Child, aren't you cold?" There was dread and sadness in his voice that caught her, making her feel colder. "Do you want me to stop asking?" Bijju breathed in some more nippy night air, and pulled his shawl closer around his shriveled shoulders.
"Shree, I am old and senile. You are in the prime of your youth. You have seen so much of the world, you have traveled widely, you can't possibly believe that I can give you anything. I am nothing but a poor villager, cowherd and now old man on his death bed. Ask me about my cows or this village. These are things I know." She can't know. No one could have told her. I never wanted her to know.
Shree looked at him. He looked a hundred years older than the last time she had seen him, fifteen years ago.
She walked up to him and knelt in front of his chair. She took his bony fingers into hers and looked into his eyes. Dadaji, I am sorry that you repent so much. "Bijju, you are a very brave man." Dadaji, I wish I could have spent my childhood here with you. "You have lived here like king." I wish you had not let go of us. "Don't give up on your God like this."Don't give up on her.
He started on hearing the words. He heard what she had said and had understood what she had wanted to say. But she couldn't possibly have heard about that. Why would anyone tell her.
She had not wanted to see it, yet earlier that evening she had dragged herself to it. She had spent a few minutes almost choking at the sight of what she had thought of thousands of times in the last fifteen years.
Shree left the village before sunrise. As the bus hobbled away into the hills, she saw the golden orb rise above far off palms and coconut trees. Her questions of yesterday found their way into her notebook and the ideas in her head connected themselves and wove a tight web.
Bijju looked at the bus from his spot on the veranda. I drove your father away, child. I loved my 'God' more than my family. I spent myself on that stone. I carved the stone and the stone carved me. But your father, my son, hated that stone with all his heart and mind. The day he left our home, my God left that stone. My God doesn't exist there any more.
Bijju's mind went back to the unfinished statue that had remained untouched for fifteen long years. Bijju's longest years and his most unhappy. He had never spoken about the statue again for years. He had forced himself to stop thinking about it till the previous night when Shree had asked.
Bijju went back into his house. Lying on the table was a framed photograph of his son and his grand daughter. There was also a manuscript of her latest book.
He read the first page:
"For Dadaji and his unfinished sculpture. Your Life and Our God."
She had not addressed him as Dadaji. She had not asked about the statue. She had not asked him why he had let her go away. She had not blamed him and hated him.
Bijju had let his family leave him over a sculpture. A sculpture of a woman. He had loved the sculpture more than any woman. His family had hated the mystery woman and the stone more than who ever she was. He had labored over the stone with purpose and determination. No one could understand his love. No one understood his religion. When men of his age turned to pray to idols and pictures in a feeble attempt to have their sins overlooked, he had spent himself chiseling out the curves of a woman's body in stone. He had lived for that stone. Now, the stone maiden lay weathering in a field away from the village.
Bijju opened the book. He moved his fingers over the title. "The Stone Maiden". Tears rolled down his jagged cheeks. His God came back to haunt him. His religion beckoned him. That night Bijju returned to her with his chisel.