One is drawn towards the layers of emotions detailed in Lipokmenla Ao’s short story “The Ritual”. Her story in revealing tiny yet rich moments of life brings forth happy fusion of humour and something deeper and more lasting
“Tajungla, Oh Tajungla…” Rongpangba called out in a fit of exasperated worry. It was almost six in the evening, and the long summer air had become an excuse for Tajungla to stroll about, unaware of time. Upon hearing the cry, Chubala the nosey neighbour had come out of her house to indulge herself into the matter. “Your daughter running errands?” she remarked leaning against the barbed wired fence as she laughed hysterically accompanied by eerie snorts. Rongpangba had become immune to his neighbour’s hollow remarks and only paid close attention to the road outside his house. Tajungla would return any minute, and he prayed that she wasn’t captured or already butchered, being weighed on the scales at the black market where they sold stolen goods and animals. His imagination was almost roaring, when he caught sight of Tajungla trudging along the road, snorting loud as she caught sight of Rongpangba waiting by the verandah. “There is your daughter” Chubala chuckled, as she walked back inside her house.
Tajungla was Rongpangba’s two year old pig. She was different from the other animals Rongpangba sheltered in his backyard. She was a peachy two hundred pound teacup, a smart four legged trophy for Rongpangba. “My love” exclaimed Rongpangba as he knelt “no more venturing out” he demanded as Tajungla rubbed her wet nose against his chest.
One hot May morning, the neighbours had assembled in Chubala’s compound to discuss the widespread wave of the virus outbreak. There was Narola, Bendangla and Lanula, the colony spies. The children in the locality had tagged BBC, FOX and CNN to each of them, while Chubala was entitled the role of Doordarshan.
“I hear that we should drink garlic juice” said Narola, while Bendangla strongly shouldered this suggestion by testifying “My brother did that and the corona left in twelve hours.” Neither Narola, nor Chubala and Lanula questioned the one myth that suggested Bendangla was an ‘only child’ in her family, and stood there assured of the potion that cured the incurable.
“I also heard that cow dung helps” said Lanula. To this, Chubala retaliated “We are not Hindus! Let us have some shame, why believe in nonsense.” She said this as she suggested “Have you heard? If you drink your morning urine, your immune will get stronger.” They all agreed.
Now it was time to discuss the host for the weekend tea gathering. Because of the pandemic and the closure of churches, the locality had decided to conduct prayer meetings in small groups of five to ten families every first Sunday of the month.
“I’m telling you, I cannot host this one, my house is on repair” said Lanula. The others were hesitant too, until Chubala decided to come up with a solution. “Rongpangba my next door neighbour is always free and does nothing all day. His house is big and he has no children, we should ask him to conduct the gathering in his house.” They all agreed, and by a minute, the news was sent to the colony whatsapp group. Now the whatsapp group had fourteen members, of married and single individuals consisting of eight families, excluding the children. Rongpangba had just finished his dinner when he heard his phone beep to the sound of the message. Unlocking his three year old Samsung, he gasped to the text sent by Chubala in the group. It read;
“ MARK 12:31 ‘LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF’
DEAR NEIGHBOURS, WE INVITE YOU FOR THIS MONTH’S PRAYER GATHERING AT THE HOUSE OF MR.RONGPANGBA , WHO SO GENEROUSLY THROUGH THE GRACE OF THE LORD HAS INVITED US TO SHARE GOD’S LOVE. LET US ALL GATHER IN PEACE AND LOVE.
FOLLOWED BY LIGHT REFRESHMENT”
And in another message sent privately by Chubala, he read “HOPE YOU DON’T MIND.”
Rongpangba turned off the mobile data as he put his empty plate down the sink. “But I just held last month’s gathering at home.” He frowned in confusion as he looked helplessly at Tajungla who looked at her father in an exchanged understanding of confusion.
The day of the gathering soon arrived, and with it the arrival of the neighbours and their clamorous mob of children. After prayers were conducted and the message shared by Chubala the volunteered speaker, it was time for tea and Rongpangba had arranged for about thirty cups of milk tea in borrowed cups from the nearby houses, along with butter biscuits he had ordered from Mokokchung.
As they indulged themselves in tea, Mr. and Mrs. Imti caught sight of Tajungla peeping through the kitchen and assured Rongpangba that he was lucky to have a pet such as her, who was witty and loyal. Chubala noticing the praises breezing towards the kitchen frowned and looked at the teacup in disgust.
“It is better to keep a pig than have a son like yours” Mrs Imti remarked as she looked at Chubala who laughed along with the room. “Your son drinks still? His liver by thirty will be gone” Subula, the colony nurse suggested. “A son like him needs to be bashed up, and then he will get some sense” said John, the self proclaimed colony macho. Chubala’s son was an eighteen year old colony thug who would be caught at least twice a week for stealing from shops, or sometimes for damaging public property. The colony chairman had already issued a last warning for him after being caught stealing iron rods from the church store house after the lockdown was imposed.
However, in a few days, Chubala’s son was tested positive for the virus, and transferred to the isolation ward in the District Hospital. With no record of travel history, or transmission through another infected person, his case was recorded as one being of thievery. A week before he was diagnosed, he was caught stealing N-95 Masks from the Hospital store room, and having been caught red handed by the sweeper in charge, he had confessed to have sold them in the market for half the price.
Now the news had spread like wildfire, and the colony whatsapp group would always be filled with prayer requests from different households for Chubala’s son, accompanied with;
“THE LORD HAS HIS WAYS, ALTHOUGH HE IS SINFUL, MAY THE LORD HEAL HIM THROUGH REPENTANCE”
In about a week, Chubala had decided to eliminate her daily outdoor activities. And after locking herself out for too long, she decided to eye on her neighbour. In her established spying base, she noticed how Rongpangba had taught Tajungla to shake hands and to sit, while commanded to do so. She had also caught sight of how Rongpangba would laugh whenever Tajungla would snort in a fit of musical excitement when he would play THE BEATLES on his phone. “Hooligans!” she shuddered off as she pulled down her window screen. “What’s so amazing about a little pig that’s above average. Besides, she’ll taste the same when made into sausages.” As soon as she had uttered the insidious, the most sadistic idea had struck her malicious mind. She grinned!
The next day, news had spread around the colony that Chubala had encountered a vision. Around seven to eight of the neighbours had gathered outside her compound that morning, including Rongpangba. Chubala soon made her entrance, leaning her face against Narola’s bosom, breathing heavily as she hushed down the commotion.
“Tell us what did you see sister” the crowd chanted.
“I cannot, I…” Chubala eyed Rongpangba, who in a fit of worry uttered “Do tell us Chubala”
Chubala having been assured by her dear neighbour, decided to embark on her lecherous vision. “I had a vision where my son is healed.” She then heaved “The angel of Abraham that saved Isaac had come down and slit its wrists, that when my son drank of it, he was restored back to health.”
The neighbours then started to clap in joyous celebration, but noticing Chubala’s frown decided to ask her why she was keeping away from such heavenly joy. To which she uttered “You see, the angel had come disguised as something.” “What?” they asked. “As… Tajungla” she whispered, that which set the whole crowd into silence.
A day passed, and the whatsapp group received no messages. The second day passed, and no one uttered a thing. On the third day, Chubala yet again accumulated a crowd as she wailed sitting on the verandah of her house. “My son! Oh how a mother misses her son. A single mother, why does this curse leap unto me instead.”
The neighbours now started to mumble, “Perhaps we should ask Rongpangba to sacrifice his pig. After all, human life is more important.” And after much consideration, the crowd marched to Rongpangba’s house for the discussion. He stood there listening to everyone, but without a word uttered. Chubala had passed the gospel that no other animal could be used in place of Tajungla, for she was symbolic of the Heavenly Manna, and the ritual would only be progressive with her blood.
The next day, Rongpangba had called for the colony men to collect Tajungla’s carcass. Chubala opened her window as she watched the men folk gather in joyous frenzy. “Oh how the tables have turned” she assured herself as she grinned in her moment of heroic conquest.
“The head shall be given to Chubala” Rongpangba proclaimed aloud as he sacked Tajungla’s head away in a corner. “And the members of our colony can have a light feast by what remains of my Tajung.” He said this as he walked inside his house leaving the men to their business.
In a week, Chubala’s son had been discharged after his stay at the hospital. The whatsapp group was now flooded with congratulatory messages and gratitude to both Chubala and Rongpangba. The next day, as Chubala swiped open her whatsapp messages, she noticed a text by Rongpangba. It read;
“1 CORINTHIANS 15:33 DO NOT BE DECEIVED. ‘BAD COMPANY CORRUPTS GOOD MORALS.’
I INVITE EACH OF YOU TO THIS MONTH’S GATHERING AT MY HOUSE. LET US GATHER IN PEACE
EXODUS 20:7 ‘THOU SHALL NOT TAKE THE LORD’S NAME IN VAIN’
5:00-6:00PM FOLLOWED BY LIGHT REFRESHMENT.”
At the gathering, after verses were read out and the prayer points shared, Chubala stood up “I had a dream after I had fed my son the soup of Tajungla’s sacrifice.” Then looking at Rongpangba, she teared, “Tajungla was seated on the branch of an olive tree in human form in Heaven, and she asked me to thank her father for using her in God’s ways.” Then reaching out to Rongpangba, she uttered, “I thank Rongpangba for his sacrifice. A good neighbour is scarce and a gem to many. If it weren’t for Tajungla, my son would not have made it.” She said this as the prayer meeting ended and it was now time for tea.
“So what is for tea today?” Mr. Imti asked Rongpangba, who smiled in complete pretence. “I do not know myself” he laughed as he called out “Tajung, Oh Tajung” who snorted to her father’s call, trudging as she pulled the wheeled table by her mouth. “Sausages from the leftover pork of Miss Chubala’s pig butchered last week.”
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Lipokmenla Ao is a student with an MA degree in Literature from NEHU, Shillong. She was consecutively published under the National 'Wingword Poetry Prize' (2018-19) for her poems "Home" and "The Solitary Man." Apart from writing poetry, she has a deep love for story writing. She currently works as a freelance writer for an NGO based in Sri Lanka, "WeForUs."