Anjona sat at the table her husband
and son had been holding for them and tried not to think. She
watched her family as they talked, joked and laughed while they
ate and sipped slowly at the cup of tea she had ordered. She
was going to the seaside with her family--this was a good thing.
For a few days she would not think of mother-in-law or her sister-in-law
or about the “women trouble” (as her husband called her in law
problems whenever she had attempted to discuss them with him).
For a few days she would be glad just to be alive. For a few
days she would feel what it was like to be alive.
But how could she have said something like that
in front of the maid, in front of her grand daughter? Anjona
couldn't decide which was worse. Everybody was done eating and
drinking. “Are you sure you don't want anything to eat?” her
husband asked her. When she shook her head without saying anything,
he called to the waiter for the bill. The bus assistant came
to their table with a smile and said, “Aren't you Blue Bird
passengers? The bus will be leaving in fifteen minutes.” Her
husband nodded and said, “We'll be out in ten minutes.”
The assistant left. Her son began an argument
with his sister about changing their seats. He wanted to sit
with ammu this time. Her daughter said no and stuck her tongue
out at him. Her husband interrupted their argument, “No fighting
that was the deal, remember?”And all through this, while all
this was going on around her, Anjona sat there with a slight
smile fixed to her lips and saw and heard nothing. All through
this, all she could think of was after all these years making
a home for her husband, being a good little wife, after the
pain and pleasure of having two children, what was she? No matter
how nice she was, no matter how 'good' she tried to be, no matter
what care she took of her mother in law, Anjona still was the
girl whose mother had not taught her properly how to sew because
she had once sewed uneven pleats in her mother in laws blouse,
she would forever be the fatherless girl whose sisters eloped
and whose relatives made bad marriages, the girl whose family
was not quite up to the mark in terms of character and morals.
“Nothing really changes in life,” she thought to herself sardonically;
“We just grow heavier, older and more wrinkled.”
Anjona left the shiny roadside restaurant with
her family and boarded the bus. The honeymooners whose happiness
she had wanted to steal a glance at was nowhere in her mind
at the moment. Yet when she climbed into the bus, the man's
seat was empty and the girl was standing half in the aisle trying
to put a bag in the overhead compartment. Her head was covered
with a red, heavily embroidered orna effectively hiding her
face. Anjona would have passed her by unnoticed this time except
for something familiar in the way the girl's slim body moved.
As Anjona moved forward, the girl slid into the darkness of
her seat and could be seen no longer except as an obscure shadow
the contours of which merged with that of the bus window and
Puzzled, Anjona followed her husband and children
to their own seats, wondering why the look of the girl felt
familiar. This time their disagreement resolved by their father
the son came to sit with the mother directing a triumphant smile
at his sister. Anjona took a scarf out of her bag and handed
it to her husband to wrap around their daughter's throat. Her
son chattered to her excitedly about all the things he expected
the sea to be, and the crabs he was going to catch and the shells
he was to collect, the bus and the journey, the food he had
just ate as the bus once again resumed its journey. Unlike the
daughter who was older, in his intense excitement the son did
not require too deep a response to any of his talk and judicious
interjections of hmm and really? from the mother were enough
to keep him happy. Soon he began dozing, his head occasionally
bumping against his mother's shoulder. Someone snorted in their
sleep somewhere at the back. Anjona sat and thought. Throughout
Dawn arrived peeking through the ragtag curtains
spread over the bus windows. An hour at most and they would
be there. People were stirring throughout the bus waking up
to the unaccustomed-to early light. Anjona watched a shard of
sunlight scraping her son's cheek as he slept. His immature
face seemed to bear a queer imprint of his father's face. He
was a good man, the children's father. But that didn't make
much difference to her life. Anjona had decided to have a 'talk'
with her mother in law once she got back home. It was about
time. For once she would behave with them the way they behaved
towards her. For once she would attempt to be someone.
Her husband stretched and looked at her, “Haven't
you slept at all?”
“No,” she replied briefly.
“I've had a grand sleep,” he yawned, “But I'm
still sleepy.” Anjona moved the curtain and looked out of the
window without answering. Her daughter rubbed her eyes and sat
up straight. “Ammu, are we there yet?”
Anjona didn't answer. Someone at the front called
out to the bus assistant, “Bhai, how long till we get there?”
The assistant walked down the aisle holding on to the backs
of the seats “Half an hour at most.”
“That was fast,” said Anjona's husband.
“Yes sir, the roads were clear and our drivers are very good.”
The assistant moved to the front of the bus again.
“Are we early?” asked Anjona.
“Oh yes, we're only supposed to be at Chittagong by now. We're
almost an hour and a half ahead.” He reached across and shook
their son awake, “Come on sleepy head, don't you want to see
the sea?” The child sat up and blinked then smiled eagerly at
his parents. “Where is it? Where is it? Are we there?”
“Of course not, stupid, we'll be there in half
an hour.” His sister replied with a wise air. Their father laughed.
“Abbu can I sit with apu now?” Asked the son.
“Okay…but no fighting!”
Anjona's husband climbed out of his seat to let brother and
sister sit together. She moved to the window seat; he sat down
beside her. He dozed off again almost immediately, despite the
low pitched yet excited chatter in the seat beside them. After
a while he asked, “Aren't you hungry? You didn't have anything
to eat in the night.”
“Didn't feel like it,” she replied shortly.
“Is there anything wrong?” he asked.
“What do you mean wrong?”
“Well, you sound…”
“I sound what?” she didn't even let him finish.
He turned and looked at her. “Look,” he began, “If I have …”
“Your mother told my maid that because of my
family background I go dancing off the first chance I get.”
He didn't say anything. Just looked at her.
“She said it to the maid,” Anjona repeated. “In front of our
Her husband exhaled slowly. “If Amma said…”
“Yes yes I know, you're not to be bothered with women trouble,
its not your problem. It never is.” Anjona moved her body slightly
away and looked out the window. Wisely, her husband stayed silent.
Soon they had reached Cox's bazar, and they
were even treated to a glimpse of the sea like a trailer of
coming attractions for a forthcoming film. Her son was bouncing
up and down on his seat in excitement, while her daughter tried
to retain her composure in keeping with her elder sister status.
But her excitement at the sight of the waves billowing onto
the sandy beach was betrayed by the sheer exuberance of her
smile. “Ammu did you see, did you see?” they clamoured. Although
this was the first time for Anjona too, somehow she didn't feel
as excited as she had thought she would be.
The bus stopped and people began trickling towards
the exit still half wrapped comfortably in sleep. Anjona checked
the seat pockets a last time and followed her children off the
bus. She climbed down onto the road and stood a bit to the side
with the children, while her husband went to the side of the
bus to see about their luggage. The people who had got off before
them had already got their bags and were beginning to drift
away some looking this way and that for rickshaws, some moving
purposefully ahead to their destinations on foot. It was then
that it happened.
Her husband turned and beckoned her to come
and help him with their bags. Anjona told the children to wait
there while she went and helped their father. As she walked
towards him, the couple she had thought of as honeymooners were
walking towards her carrying a bag each. The girl still had
the red orna covering her head. As they walked toward her, for
the first time, Anjona saw the girl's face. She stopped in mid
stride. It was Sheila. Her mother in law's niece. That was why
even in the darkness of the interior of the bus Anjona had felt
that the girl was familiar, for Anjona had known the girl for
the whole twelve years of her marriage. Sheila who was studying
history at the university. Sheila whose mother had complained
that marrying their boy to Anjona had not been such a good idea.
Sheila who was now walking with her hand lightly yet intimately
resting on the man's arm. Sheila who was not married.
Anjona felt a peculiar sense of satisfaction,
bordering on cruel exultation. Well, well, well. Now where would
the good name of the family be? This family whose daughters
danced off with men the first chance they got? So this was how
Sheila spent the time she was supposedly staying in the university
hall studying with friends. Now what would Sheila's mother and
aunt have to say about this one wondered. Particularly to the
undisciplined, misguided, coming from a bad family daughter
Thoughts raced through Anjona's head in seconds,
vindictive, cold, satisfied thoughts. Then their eyes met and
she looked at Sheila's face. For a second there was recognition
in the eyes that were glowing with happiness and then there
was just heartstopping fear. Ashen white, the girl's face twisted
in fear, as if the future had come and suddenly stood right
in front of her. Her male companion (he was a boy really, Anjona
now saw) not understanding, was looking at her with concern
and was asking what was wrong. In about two seconds he would
follow her stricken gaze and look at Anjona.
And at that moment Anjona felt as if she could
never ever look into her daughter's eyes again with a clear
conscience. She felt that forever after when she would laugh
with her daughter in shared happiness, or ask to be let in on
a secret that only children were supposed to know, there would
always be a small place where that sunshine could not enter.
And that small piece of darkness she would carry around in her
heart for as long as she lived, perhaps longer.
Anjona smiled at Sheila's stricken face. There
was so much that she wanted to say in that one smile so much
disappointment, and joy, and love, and laughter was stuffed
inside her that it was like a fire in her belly that reached
and seared the inside of her throat. Anjona said nothing for
there were no words that could say the things that needed to
Anjona walked past Sheila as she walked past
the other people from the bus. She smiled at her husband, a
smile as clear and happy as her daughter's, a smile that could
swallow misery and turn it into something so preciously close
to joy and said, “Come on, hurry up you slow coach, the children