Thoughts On A Rainy Day
Farah Tasneem Tracy
It is one of those days when you simply don't want to get out of bed -- the weather outside your window, the tingling, lazy feeling in your bones and the warmth of your quilt all make you wish this day would not start. You wish there would be no urgency following your getting out of bed -- no scurrying off to shower and shave, no hurriedly prepared toast and tea for breakfast, no darting off to the streets, all the while wishing you would get a CNG soon enough so you wouldn't be late for work, again. Fortunately, it is also one of those days when you don't have to do all those hastily done errands to get to office; it is a holiday. So, you can actually stretch and turn in your bed as long as you want.
A part of Shihab wants to do exactly that, but another part of him quietly wishs to get up, sit by the window, sip some coffee and stare at the rain. Propping up his head just high enough to look through the window, he sighs heavily. This kind of weather made you slightly sad -- the sky was overcast, the scene outside was as still as a snapshot and everything looked cleaner. It had been raining all night and now it was a drizzle; the exteriors of nearby buildings had been washed by the rains and now sported a darker shade of their original colour.
This day can be lived differently, Shihab thinks philosophically as he strolls around his room. He could be motivated to finish preparing the presentation he had due on Monday. No work, he reprimanded himself silently. Take a break. Good enough. Only problem is he just does not feel energetic enough to really take a break. Okay so be it, I will just have one of those days when all you do is nothing, for a change. He freshens up and steps outside with his umbrella.
There are only a few people on the street, most of them hurrying toward some kind of a shed or quickly getting into a CNG or cab. It is only wise to walk on the sidewalk as the streets are submerged in muddy water. The infamous sewerage system; every time there is overnight rainfall, the roads clog and the morning brings endless plights for office-goers and civilians alike. Bad day for the sun and sun-lovers. A young woman passing by looks curiously at him, stopping momentarily before gliding inside the gate of a house with an enormous mango tree. Shihab feels there was a slight amount of teasing in her gaze.
It must be the umbrella, Shihab concludes. He stands under the shade of the mango tree to take another look at the umbrella. His lips break into a grin; the umbrella is made with a bright, colourful printed cloth. Of course men do not usually carry such umbrellas. It was Shaila's umbrella and Shihab being the sloppy fellow that he was did not quite realise, a man carrying that umbrella may indeed make an odd scene.
He now remembers a talk he had had with Shaila about this very umbrella.
"Shaila, I have no fashion sense but even I know that this umbrella is ridiculous-looking," he had commented sarcastically, knowing fully well it would not register well with a woman of acute fashion sense.
Surprisingly, Shaila took it well enough, "Oh Shihab, how honest of you to admit it; you really do not have any fashion sense. This print is not ridiculous and hideous; it happens to be Batik. But I suppose you don't even know what that is either, do you?" she said with a playful glint in her eyes.
Shihab had shrugged.
So much for Batik, he thinks now. But that was how Shaila was, always had a keen eye for detail, and admired all things beautiful and abstract, always eager to know about things that were obscure and beautiful. He remembered during a visit to a downtown market in Tokyo, she had picked up a hideous doll and toyed with it curiously. To his disbelief she started to haggle for it as well. "Shaila, I am sorry to say that that is the ugliest doll I have ever seen. There's no point in dragging that thing all the way to Dhaka."
She gave him a cold look, but kept silent.
On the flight back home she patiently explained to him what the doll was and why she had bought it. "It's a Daruma doll, Shihab; it is a symbol of good luck and protection in Japan." For luck, she had said, for luck. Ironically enough, luck was one thing she did not have much of.
Shihab is frowning now. He bats his eyelashes quickly to get rid of the drops of water that run down his forehead. He isn't aware of the rain anymore. He is transported back to the day Shaila announced her premonition about her timely death.
"Shihab, I know it." She said it calmly, but her voice quivered. "I can feel it. Something inside me is not right. I am not going to make it."
Shihab thought it might be one of her numerous hunches that came and went like the kalkboishakhi. Shihab, don't take the bus to office today, please, go by a cab. Shihab, I have a bad feeling about travelling a long distance, we will reschedule our trip, ok? Shihab, all that water makes me nervous. I know I am probably the only person you know who has not been to Cox's Bazaar, but I get bad vibes.
Shihab was not superstitious. But he usually obeyed her anyway. But now she was talking crazy. He tried to laugh it off. "Are you saying that you are going to die? Well, let me inform you my dear, so will everyone else."
Her face darkened. "Shihab, I am serious. I think I am gravely ill."
Two weeks later the doctor's diagnosis confirmed it. Terminal cancer. It was too late.
It was Shihab who fell apart upon hearing it. Shaila was rather strong about it as though she had felt it coming. Only, Shihab feared, she had felt it coming.
"Shihab, can I ask you something?" she said one day.
Shihab looked exasperated.
"I know it's hard to take in, but I have accepted it. You should try to accept it too." Shaila spoke slowly, softly as though she were a grown-up trying to explain to a child what he had done wrong. "I know I have little time to live, but whatever time I have I want to spend it happily. I want to be with you and do all those things I put off until now because they were perhaps whimsical. When I leave I want to take happy memories along with me, and leave even happier memories with you."
"Please don't leave me. I will be alone without you." Shihab broke down in a plea.
"I will always be with you in spirit. I promise."
And she has kept her promise. For the few months that she was alive after that day, she kept him and herself busy. Shaila's capricious wishes were fulfilled. She went to all the places she wanted to go to and did all the things she wanted to do.
She went to every painting exhibition in town along with Shihab. She spent hours in front of paintings that looked like crooked lines or mismatched colour patterns to Shihab, examining each painting with probing eyes. Shihab stood beside her, watching her; he saw the expressions play on her face as she switched from painting to painting. Sometimes her face was pensive, sometimes sorry, sometimes angry and rarely joyous.
They went to a particular streetside phuchka vendor near the Dhanmondi Lake on a weekly basis whose phuchka Shaila claimed was the best. She insisted on watching foreign films with subtitles. Shihab understood nothing of those films, but he was just glad to have her by his side. One evening, while returning from one such film screening, it began to pour heavily. Shaila urged the rikhshaw-puller to stop, got off the vehicle and started walking happily in the rain. Shihab had feared she might do that. He reluctantly joined.
Oddly enough, he found himself enjoying every bit of their aimless walk. Shaila was chattering constantly, barely caring that she was completely drenched and her shalwar was splattered with mud. When they reached their building, it was Shihab's turn to do an act of surprise. Despite Shaila's constant protests, he carried her up four flights of stairs before putting her down in front of their apartment door.
Shaila was laughing a shy laugh. "I'll say, that was quite unexpected, Mister."
Shihab smiled back. "Well, Mrs., aren't you the one who said, sometimes you just do something because you feel like doing it, not because you anticipate some good will come out of it?"
"You learn fast."
Her death has taught him so much in so little a time. But even with all her teachings and advice, he couldn't avoid being crushed after her death. He had stopped going to office, answering phone calls and going out of the house altogether. A growing feeling of loss gripped him, and it was days before he got used to not having Shaila to help with the domestic chores. However, it took even longer to get used to not having her around in his life; to get used to her being with him in spirit only.
The sound of the gate being pulled open startled Shihab back to reality. A uniformed guard stood there, half-soaked, even under an umbrella. His umbrella was appropriately black. "Sir, my Madam said she has seen you standing under the tree for some time now. She asked if you would mind coming inside the house for tea."
"Madam?" Shihab looked perplexed.
The guard motioned to a second-floor balcony. Shihab found himself looking at the young woman who had interestingly eyed his umbrella some time ago. She was looking at him but her eyes were not teasing. They were rather solemn now, much warmer. He wonders what Shaila would have done if she were here.
He wonders if he could do what Shaila would have done; if he could be slightly whimsical or be like what he was during his last days with Shaila; if he could do something just because he felt like doing it. He smiled as he realised he could. Shaila had taught him something before she died. Shihab knows now a part of her will always be with him. Maybe it is this leftover part of her inside him, or maybe it is just a side of him that he has rediscovered, which makes him take the decision. He nods imperceptibly to the woman and then walks inside the house.
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