on a Blue Afternoon
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.
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
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.
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.
the surname sounded wrong, misspelled. She turned round and
hobbled out of the room with the phone at her ear and said,
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?"
Shormi picked up a tissue paper, rubbed her chin with it and
asked, "Why can't you just wait there and lemme pick
"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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
second part of Love on a Blue Afternoon will come out in the
(R) thedailystar.net 2004