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     Volume 7 Issue 3 | January 18, 2008 |

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No Longer

Nusrat Jahan Pritom

Angry, frustrated, agitated-it only took a moment to give up on life. This wasn't like last time when this writer had tried to take the ultimate step of doing away with life.

This happened at 10 o clock at night in Dhanmondi on Saturday, 24 November. Something that I witnessed just shocked me beyond bounds. We were moving houses (for which reason I was fortunately carrying an Arabic-English version of the Quran). That's what I ran away with, blinded to the future.

Now I am not an escapist. I was just too angry with myself for letting it happen. Frustrated- I got nostalgic about how it all started. Who's to be blamed and how to reach a conclusion? It was one of those moments when two and two make four. Thoughts about my mother who had borne my sister and me for so long, about my good for nothing relatives-puppeteers to this patriarchal society (who simply abhorred my mother's great 'crime' of divorcing) and about my friends most of whom had lately fallen into trouble became of me. At least I shouldn't have been so naïve and should have been more careful especially when I knew my family's rivalry with some very influential network.

As I ran with tears rolling down my cheeks, one thing that was certain was that there was nowhere to go so late at night. I looked for some place as I sat to just think over -a mosque! But it was closed. The next hit was a madrasah-but even there no response. I was exasperated. Wasn't there any place in this spacious world for a girl to just sit and cry? The Kidney Hospital under neon lights pulled me out of my thoughts. I stammered to it's occupants some silly tale about "my uncle whom I hadn't visit for 8 years." Judging my situation, they asked me to sit in the waiting room which was practically empty. Nobody asked any awkward questions and I gave a round in the ward rooms twice just for the sake of "looking for somebody".

Around 11.45 pm they informed me that the place was about to close down. I came out to find myself near Dhanmondi lake. To be roaming around at that time didn't seem like the right thing for a 20-year-old woman. Not that I was scared. Even if I was a kung fu master, there is this social stigma which wouldn't have been there if I were male. But there wasn't time to philosophise about gender disparity, as I had to think quick. I took a rickshaw, and once on board did some brainstorming. I headed for a newspaper office I was familiar with thinking that it just might stay open all night. The guy in the reception recognized me.

I didn't want to bother him with details like the fact that some people were after me, so it was unsafe for me to stay at home. So my plan was to stay at an office to write an exclusive report on that gang. Much to my disappointment he informed me that the place was about to close down at 3 but he asked me to give a try at some television channel office.

I reached one of the offices and went upstairs. The person in charge of the crime beat was sympathetic and bluntly asked him whether I could stay and if the regulations didn't permit that, I would be happy to leave. He gazed up, thought for a few seconds and nodded a "yes" which actually left me quite surprised as that wasn't what I had expected. Again I started with the story, rather softly, but he didn't seem to be curious or anything. He just put a shawl around me with paternal affection and asked me to relax-relax?

The following day was a hunt for the answers. Just as everyday the sun rose, people commuted all over the road, regardless. To the whole world nothing had changed, but there was a storm in my mind's world. Things started happening in a rush. Like I had opened a new world to explore where I knew noone. The television journalist was pretty helpful. But I didn't want to be helped by anybody so when I departed I did it unnoticed.

There was this one thing that kept bugging me all throughout the day. How to inform my family of my well-being. Asking my TV journalist friend to call them when I would meet him next (and anticipated last time) seemed like a good idea. Here I must relate an incident. One particular incident is worth mentioning. There was this old man in the bus who approached me with a benign smile and started to ask me about the Quran in my hands. He started giving lectures of how the youth this day should be that I fully appreciated. He seemed like a "guardian type" in my isolated world. But at length, he changed colours, like a shrewd chameleon. "Where do you live? How do I contact you?" "You're a stranger" was my curt reply. But he superficially introduced himself, handed a card to me and added "You're a girl-very vulnerable. You should be careful" I plainly told him it didn't matter to me much if I was a boy or a girl. "But, you see, it matters to me that you're of the opposite sex." Then he related an unlikely tale of how his friend had married his grandsons' friend. And whether I had ever visited Cox Bazar. I distanced myself at that point. That's it! The last time I take a senior citizen in blind respect. Aging doesn't necessarily cleanse a dirty mind!

Media, lawyer, human rights' activists, NGO were all in my list and I had a pretty long day at my disposal. As night fell, there was again the challenge of lodging. My last drop was another television channel where I was promised "Eternal" help if I would just go back home. Adamant as ever, it seemed to me that they were just wasting my time. I was grateful to them for their kindness, but it was getting late. "I'll let you know what happens" and with that I moved on only to find myself in a dark, deserted road of Gulshan. All the shops were closing. As I had already used up all my money, I didn't carry a bag, no cell and therefore no phone numbers, so it was time for me to panic! I could borrow but it had to be from somebody who knew my story, who was powerful enough to match my rivals (so not my friends). At one o clock at night this was a tricky business.

To be continued

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