on a Blue Afternoon
looked at Nasser's face as they walked down the narrow streets.
He was tall; almost six feet, she presumed; she had to move
her head up to have a look at the mole on his chin. It was
almost late in the evening; the traffic on an otherwise busy
street had thinned down significantly. There were hardly any
passers-by, and those who were still there, waiting in queue
for the last bus to come, tired and exhausted, did not even
look at the woman in a purple sari walking by holding the
hand of a man younger than hers. When she was putting on her
clothes she had thought about it too; if it was in the morning
or in the early evening people would have ogled at her; she
could not rule out the possibility of something more obscene
happening. A truck loaded with baskets-full of vegetables
and dried fish shrieked past them. She held his hand firmly
and said, "Dhaka kills me".
at her and said, "You studied in England, right?"
do you know that?" she was somehow surprised.
punched on his chest; his eyes only grinned through his horn-
rimmed glasses in reply. "Oi," she said, "tell
me how do you know this."
laughing, now wholeheartedly, put his arm around her waist
and whispered in her ear, "You are so beautiful."
a cab slowed down at them; a middle-aged face came out of
the window and said to Shormi, "Get in the cab honey;
I will give you more."
chased the yellow taxi as it speeded past them hurling more
abusive words. All of a sudden a group of men crept up on
her and started asking questions. One of them was the little
boy who had sold her flowers that day; Shormi recognised him
as he came out of the throng and shouted, "Madam, what
are you doing here?"
could not answer; she was shivering violently. Realising that
nothing was wrong, the mob, disappointed, scattered away.
was panting heavily when he came back; he said, "Suckers!"
glow about the edges of her nose-tip returned, though she
had put a hand on her mouth in a dazed way; both her hands
were still shivering, she still did not know what to say.
Nasser held Shormi gently, stroked her back and said, "Let's
go back home." But she did not respond.
in his embrace, seemed to have shrunk. She felt relaxed; an
all-powerful sense of insecurity that had been eating at her
all these years melted away.
kissed her forehead and muttered, "Let's go back baby".
looked up and said, "Oi! I was seven-years-old when you
looked surprised; he tucked a strand of her hair behind her
ear, stroked her chin with his long fingers and asked, "How
do you know my age?"
her head on his chest and said, "I read it in the newspaper
that you were twenty-seven. 'Twenty-seven year old writer
gets death threat from zealots' or something like that."
he grinned and asked, taking his mouth closer to her earlobe.
him away, laughing and both of them started walking back home.
H H H
had just started when Shormi woke up early in the morning.
She looked at Nasser; curled beside her like a baby. He turned
and muttered something as she raised his head up from her
shoulder blade and gently placed it on the pillow. She turned
round too, hugged him from the back and stroked the mole on
his chin. Shormi wanted to wake him up; Hasna might come at
any moment for her housekeeping chores and she did not want
the maid to find Nasser here. She rubbed the sleep from her
eyes and stared at his face again-- at his nose, jawbone and
did not turn up at work that day. Shormi, meanwhile, had watched
television, and later stood at the window to look at the ledge
where Bobby used to sit. She made breakfast, lit a cigarette
and when the clock struck past twelve, she woke him up. Nasser
smiled and looked across her face.
am so sorry," he said and smiled.
when they got home Shormi gave Nasser one of Ifthekhar's T-shirt
and a pair of shorts to wear. It had been there in the chest-of-drawers
for so many years; but they still bore his smell. She did
not know why she had kept his clothes for so long; Shormi
had never thought that Iftekhar would come back. A common
friend had been updating her regularly about Ifthekhar's whereabouts,
which mostly covered how he emigrated to England and got married
again. The latter was illegal as Shormi and Iftekhar had not
been divorced; they, in fact, were officially married till
been surprised by Ifthekhar's behaviour that day. Contrary
to what he had been in his last days with her, Iftekhar looked
benign and mellow. Those hysterical outbursts of anger were
gone and were replaced by a docile faceless expression. She
was amazed that he did not reproachfully stare at her exposed
navel. She remembered how during the last few days he had
frantically talked about sins and atonement, and had blamed
her for ruining his life.
Shormi recalled Nasser had said something. She smiled and
said, "Get up."
called when they were having lunch. "Something bad happened
to me Shormi," he said in a laid-back voice.
am having lunch Iftekhar," she replied and asked, "How
is fine. I am just screwed up Shormi," he said, faintly
trying to add up bits of emotions in his voice, "Laura
left me three years ago. I quit my job."
don't know what to say Iftekhar," she replied. Then she
added, "And I don't know what you want from me."
leaped up, came across and put a slice of watermelon into
her mouth. Shormi gave him a playful poke in the ribs; Iftekhar,
meanwhile, replied, "I want to meet you Shormi…Please
meet me once…Please".
came closer and whispered, "I am going down to fetch
nodded and said on the phone, "I don't see the point
of meeting you."
insisted, "I just wanted to see you once. Please don't
be so cross."
hated the idea of seeing him again, but she agreed. "All
right. I will meet you for the last time. But don't expect
anything from me," she said; then added, as if to mock
him, "Please don't expect much. Things have gone too
went back to the bedroom she found Nasser sitting on the rocking
chair, absentmindedly holding the newspaper. He did not finish
his lunch and within moments it seemed he got extremely worn
out. Shormi came round and asked, "What happened?"
up and said nothing; as she got closer her eyes caught the
headline of the newspaper-- "Zealots Declare Bounty on
Young Writer's Head," it said in a black-and-white numbness.
(to be continued)
(R) thedailystar.net 2004