by Debasree Banerjee
A witch, they said, a sly woman,
a woman of darkest fantasies,
a maiden with the darkest mind,
of blasphemy and heresies.
Worshipping a pagan God,
an ancient winged god of evil.
When no one knew who that was,
all concurred that it was Devil.
The priest, the clergy and bishop,
farmers and the merchants’ guild,
the simpletons and the traders,
they agreed that her fate was sealed.
Tight jawed, biased and predisposed,
before the village, the inquisition sat.
“Let her burn at stake”, they said,
“for she’s a witch and we know that.”
“Didn’t we have the King’s son,
falling deeply in love with her?”
“She uses magic and ghastly spells,
to have beauty that doesn’t wither.”
“A fearsome snake to be crushed,
let’s all see justice being done.”
All nodded as someone said so,
all agreed to that, but for one.
A merchant he was, from faraway,
who travelled there every year,
with bales of cotton and yards of silk,
the only one that shed a tear.
He still remembered those days,
when the cold had made him ill.
He’d lain in her dainty lap,
while she nursed him with her skill.
He owed her his life, he knew;
Tremulously he said, “Lord forgive,”
He told his story, but they just asked,
“What herbs or potions did she give?”
He looked at her downcast glance,
and spoke up with all his will.
“It wasn’t potion, my Lord,” he said,
“I believe it was just a pill.”
“Look, ye all, did you listen?
She entices men from far and near,
and knows all that is to happen yet,
for she is none but the Devil’s seer.
“Speak ye evil woman, you speak,
if you have something to tell.”
“My herbs never harmed,” she said,
“they just made people get well.”
“And what about your porcelain skin,
and the lushness of your mane?”
“Is beauty a thing of shame?” she said,
“Punish all pretty maidens, then.”
“You speak louder than you should,
and dare challenge the inquisition.
Remember girl! Your life and death,
rests just on today’s decision.”
A half-smile played along her lips,
her eyes spoke louder than words.
They burnt with the fire of anger that cut,
deeper wounds than many swords.
“I know that you shall let me burn,
even if today, I swear by God;
for didn’t I spurn the Bishop’s love,
and the proud Prince, my Lord?”
“To all ye folks that say today,
that I’m a witch, that should burn,
for saving you from sure deaths,
is that the reward that I earn?”
“You ask me of my parentage,
You ask me of my kith and kin;
My father was a troubadour,
I know not the land he lies in.”
“But I know this thing for sure,
the doctors let you bleed to death,
balancing humours, they do it;
and yet hold all your good faith.”
In labour, your womenfolk die,
Aren’t they your own kin?”
Does the priest claim to absolve,
all the men folk of such a sin?”
“It’s all so good that I shall burn,
and would not require an epitaph.
But I shall keep on mocking you,
and you’ll always hear me laugh.
So, as much as her lover cried,
as much as they felt ashamed;
she burnt at stake, with a laugh,
no one knows if she was framed.
To this day, on moonless nights,
she still laughs, the villagers claim.
Some believe they’re too weak-hearted,
others say, they’re not to blame.
For no one knows her real name,
’coz she was the Witch of Salem;
but I just say she was a woman,
that no man could ever tame...