Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 4 Issue 18 | October 22, 2004 |

   Cover Story
   News Notes
   A Roman Column
   Straight Talk
   Time Out
   Slice of Life
   Book Review
   Dhaka Diary
   New Flicks
   Write to Mita

   SWM Home



Love on a Blue Afternoon

Ahmede Hussain

Shormi woke up from a long nap by the sound of a cat screeching. The rain had just stopped and the curtains were tightly pulled. Bright sunlight that fell on the mirror had given her face a raffish charm. There was a small photo-frame on the bedside table. Shormi looks much younger in black and white, helping a toddler walk. The boy is holding a toy gun and is staring at the camera with a menacing look. Both of them look forlorn; like the ice creams they consumed years ago on a holiday-trip to Cox's Bazaar -- long lost and forgotten.

The cat came and sat at the windowpane; its shadow fell on the Persian carpet and grew bigger as it walked past the room. Shormi got up to her feet, staggered down the room to pick up the cell phone. She was wearing a dainty yellow sarong and a white T-shirt; and there was certainly something about her uncertain manner, as well as her clothes, that suggested a moth. The cat was gone when she returned and it started raining again. Shormi smiled approvingly as she looked through the window -- she expected it to rain. It had been raining heavily too when she and Iftekhar got married fifteen years ago. On their way home, the windshield was so blurry that the chauffeur could not see anything on the street. She reached down to hold Iftekhar's hand; he smirked and said, "And Shormi means shy."

But it was only drizzling outside and there wasn't any cloud in sight; it should stop soon. She put the cell off and lay down with only half her body in the bed. It was getting dark outside, now that the yellow and red lights from the billboard entered the room. Beams of light criss-crossed over her face as she stared at the centre of the ceiling fan, which looked large and overpowering from the bottom. Small patches of silvery blue were coming out of the white centre. She turned her head left and saw the cat walk out of sight with a kitten. Suddenly the electricity went off with a loud bang; the fan made a cracking noise as its speed gradually slowed down, it stopped still after a while.

The blind look went out of Shormi's eyes; she sprung up to fetch some candles. She could not see anything on the tea table at first, gradually things started to become visible: an empty tube of hair conditioner, packets of used matchbox, a blue box and two mugs put upside down. She opened the box and put her hand inside; it was wrapped with an old-newspaper from inside. She softly rubbed the surface of the box with her hand; but Shormi forgot that she had stuck a safety pin on its cover the other day. Blood spewed out of her index finger, she fidgeted across the room, while licking the finger. The cat screeched again; she gave up the search for candles, turned the cell on and it started ringing. It was Nouman; "Can I talk to Mrs Ahmed?" he asked in a girlish tone.

To Shormi the surname sounded wrong, misspelled. She turned round and hobbled out of the room with the phone at her ear and said, "Yes".

"Maa it's me Nam. I am at the airport," he said.
She knew that her son was on the phone; but she expected him to be faraway, in a remote place, in a private school in Chelsea or Denver. Nouman had been in touch with her for the last three years, mostly by email; she did not expect him to call her now. "Where are you baba?" she opened the door of the refrigerator and took out an apple and bit on it.
"Maa I am in Dhaka now. Are you home?" he asked.
Shormi picked up a tissue paper, rubbed her chin with it and asked, "Why can't you just wait there and lemme pick you up?"
"Maa I have a friend with me. We will be staying at a hotel. Can I call you tomorrow?" he replied.
"I will call you," she said, "But baba you know nothing about the country. You can stay with me, I have spare rooms here."
"Don't worry Maa," Nouman replied.

Shormi lit a cigarette after having lunch. The electricity came back an hour ago; she reclined in the rocking chair and put the television on. Half the news had been finished; it was time for Business and Sports. The woman who was reading the Business news was looking like an actor in an ancient farce, now that the sound was off, and she was constantly tucking strands of her hair behind her ears and stared at the audience with a bleak look. Shormi pulled the T-shirt off; she wanted to sleep now.

A truck shrieked past the house. Shormi put a hand under her head and switched the TV to video mode; she stared at the blue screen. It was her only way of getting sleep for the last eight years. Eight years, she said aloud and laughed. The cat was still screeching at its peak; she got up and opened the window; a gush of cold wave filled the room. The cat, meanwhile, leaped up from the parapet and entered the room. Shormi closed the window and saw the cat limp around the room; she also noticed that one of its hind legs was broken. The cat did not resist when she reached down and took it on her lap. She had to find some antiseptic ointment.

Shormi already decided to name it Bobby. "You don't look like a policeman, do you?" she asked the cat and it purred. It was dark in the hallway; she had to hold Bobby tightly to her breast with one hand, pressed another hand on the wall as she walked by it. An old way of walking perhaps: if you just follow the wall, you won't bump into anything. She proceeded further down the corridor and could now see the mirror. Bunches of white flowers went up the frame of the mirror and there was a cold reddish glow about the edges of their plastic petals.

Shormi walked down the left further; a yellow light from the lamppost reflected in the mirror, like the nightlight she had always used when they were together. Iftekhar would not sleep without the light on she had always hated it so these low-watt lights were the only solution acceptable to both husband and wife. She opened the cupboard, took out the salve and put it on Bobby's wound.

When she came back to her room, Shormi decided not to let Bobby go. The television went blank after thirty minutes and she did not want to turn it on again. Shormi reclined on the bed instead and lit another cigarette. The cat was lying on the tea table now, its head shone for an instant in the dark, as if it were just being rained upon. Shormi put the cigarette off and lay on the bed. The sound of a car skidding off the street was heard; someone hurled F-words at the driver. It could not be properly heard, but it was high-pitched indeed and the intensity suggested something grotesque and equally grisly. Shormi just wanted to sleep, she put both her hands down her neck, then on her thigh. A loud bang was heard outside; something must have gone wrong outside, she got up and looked down the window.

The pavement in front of her house is dark and desolate. Under the lamppost two young men were hitting the windscreen of a car with hockey sticks, their other friend, a third, pointed a dagger at the owner of the car, who was relatively young and looked vulnerable in yellow light. Shormi looked at the car; its front window had so far put up a fierce resistance, but soon it would break into pieces.

When they were done, two of them walked closer to their friend -- who was now spinning the dagger -- and whispered something in his ears. He laughed and walked closer to the owner and thrust the dagger into his belly.

The second part of Love on a Blue Afternoon will come out in the next issue.



Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2004