Three betrayals

A cowherd’s been tied up to a tree all day. Another, a herbal potions seller, is holed up in a temple, leaving behind his young wife and two infant children to the care of his Tulsi plant.

Last night, the first man’s mother, finding him finally sedated by drink, tied him to the auspicious Banyan tree of our street with three rounds of strong hempen rope – a human amulet among the hundreds of silver ones tied to it over the years.

The man was inconsolable. He had drunk more than he had ever drunk, shouted more than he had ever shouted, and broken more bamboo sticks on the back of his cow than she had ribs.

He had shouted over and over, “I can bear one betrayal as a man. Another, as a cowherd. But if I bear the last, I will be a coward.”

The first betrayal had come about fifteen days earlier. His wife, the same fair-skinned wide-hipped tall woman he had paraded up and down the street a year ago to the envy of all men of marriageable age, had delivered him a daughter. Had the man’s childless elder brother not begged to buy her off him, few can say what would have become of the child.

The second betrayal had come last night. His cow, the same heavy-bodied large-uddered Jersey he had paraded up and down the street to the envy of all cowherds of some financial standing, had delivered him a male calf. This time no one begged to buy it.

The third betrayal had been coming every day for the last four months. The man had been buying two potions, one for his wife to get a son, and one for his cow to get a she-calf.

He was sure the potions seller had swapped the vials every day.

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