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On our present state

Suva watched the beautiful girl standing before her in the line. She was noticeably beautiful. It was 8 0'clock in the morning and she was waiting in the BRTC bus line with six other people. They all had been standing almost for an hour. Suddenly a black sleek motorbike came near the bus stop. Two hoodlums whistled at the beautiful girl. The girl sneered at them. One of the young men asked: 'Want a lift, honey? Don't stand in the sun, dear. It will damage your complexion'

The girl: 'Please, don't molest me, or else I will call the police. You always follow me around, shameless creatures.'

The man got angry and grabbed the girl's hand. Before the people around them could do anything, a regretful scene came about. The girl spat on the man and in return he slapped her hard. The girl fell on the pavement and the two men went away roaring on their bike. Suva helped the girl to stand up. Her lips were bleeding. Suva asked her where she lived and came to know that she lived in the opposite building. She helped the poor girl go home.

That afternoon Suva could not concentrate on her studies at the university. The mishap of the morning dazed her. In the afternoon she came home and shared her experience with her mother Mrs. Zahid. Her reaction was: 'You should not speak to those dangerous persons. What if you were the victim? I would have died, my dear. Now listen to me carefully Suva, always be careful on the streets when you are alone. Days are not as peaceful as before. My blood pressure will rise to think of you and your siblings. Hai Allah!'

Suva was quite annoyed with her mother who had nothing to do but think of absurd things. She did not pay attention to her grumbling and went to the washroom to clean up.


A day later, Mrs. Zahid was talking to her neighbor on the phone: 'Have you heard of the dangerous deed, Bhabi?' Five or six men attacked the beautiful girl of the next building." She dropped her voice to a whisper. "Now don't tell this to anyone else. My daughter saw all this with her own eyes. The men dragged the girl behind their motorbikes. The girl was injured very badly, she might not live.'

At that moment Suva rushed into the room excitedly and nudged her mother. Mrs. Zahid looked up at her and said goodbye to the person on the other side of the receiver.

'Mom, you know who that girl was? She is the daughter of our present chairperson of the Housing Society. You ran election against this Mrs. Mokhtar.' Mrs. Zahid suddenly became gloomy and asked: 'How is the girl now?'' Suva answered, 'She is okay. She just had a cut on the lips. And the hoodlums have been arrested by the police.'

Mrs. Zahid did not seem to be happy. This Mrs. Mokhtar was her rival in the housing society where they lived. She was thinking of visiting that injured girl as a courtesy and a step forward for the next Chairperson election of the society. Suddenly, angry voices of people could be heard. Both Suva and Mrs. Zahid looked down from their window of the 4th floor. All the people of the Housing Society gathered near the central monument. The banners read:

'We want justice, we want the hoodlums' severe punishment'.
'Help each other to protect our children'

Mrs. Zahid was a bit taken aback at this scene. People seemed to be very agitated and powerful enough to destroy everything. She drew the curtains so that she did not have to see the cataclysm. She gave a second thought to visiting the girl and use that chance in campaigning.

Dear readers,
I hope all of you get the picture of our country by reading the little parable. The attack on Humayun Azad has become an issue to fight for between the political parties whereas we all should be praying for his good health. The real incident has been molded into nice appetizing tragi-comedy. We all fear of the security of the witnesses of the incident (the little Tokai and the water seller girl). The countrymen and the students' society are agitated and excited. We don't know who will win between Mrs. Zahid and Mrs. Mokhtar. What we do know is that we together make a strong fist that can smack anyone or anything down.

By Sabreena Ahmed


Ashrill siren pierced the silence of the night. From underneath the blanket, my hand emerged and groped in the darkness for the switch beside my bed. In a few seconds, yellow light flooded the room and my shadow appeared on the opposite wall. My baby wailed on.

With the bitter taste of sleep in my mouth, I squinted at the light to see the baby. His face was scrunched up in distress, his eyes shut tight against the harsh light. "Now, now," I murmured, with forced patience. The digital clock beside my bed read 3:23 AM. It was six minutes fast.

"Why six?" I had asked Shahriar the first time he told me about it.
"Because I don't like the number five," he had replied very matter-of-factly.
He had shot his crooked smile at my amused expression as I had shaken my head in exasperation.
That was two years back, in the early days of our marriage. Back when I didn't get him.
To tell the truth, I never did get him.

Just like I didn't get this baby. I'd feed him, rock him gently, play with him. You'd think he'd be happy after getting smothered with all that attention. Just when you think it's safe to shut your eyelids, the roar erupts. The same routine follows every time. Your pulse races at the high pitch of its wail. Naively, for a split second, you believe its life is in danger, that it's suffering from unbearable pain and you wouldn't be able to rescue it. In that split second, the life force inside you is sucked out from your body.

Very draining, I thought, taking up the blue bundle in my arms. He was so little, my baby. Very draining indeed, when the same happens on five consecutive nights. When was the last time I could sleep uninterrupted for an entire night? Can't remember. At least the last few months haven't been that bad. Not compared to what was likely to follow. My maternity leave gets over in a few weeks. Then the real troubles shall begin.

"Why do you kick around so much?" I asked the baby. "Planning to be a football player?" (The blanket that covered him had been kicked a good distance from where he had been sleeping).
"Daddy likes cricket," I warned him.
A series of confused blinks came in response.
"Mummy doesn't like sports. She likes books." Well, she'd like to read them, that is. If only you gave her the time.
"And she'll make you read a lot of books. But you don't look like the book-reading type," I frowned slightly as the boy gave me a light kick, his impatience converted to a burst of energy.

Carefully, I got outside the mosquito net, then holding the baby in one arm, tucked the net in, in case the mosquitoes get in. Mosquitoes are small creatures but big opportunists. So you never know.

I made my way to the adjacent verandah. The cold mosaic felt like needles under my soles. I wrapped a quilt around the baby more tightly. No way was I letting that cold get its hands on my boy.

The moon spilled light into the verandah, giving the place a silver shimmer. I sat down on the wooden swing.


"It's ridiculous to have a swing in here!" I had complained to Shahriar.
"What's wrong with it?" he asked, his eyebrows arched.
"This place is so small, what's the point?"
"Why does everything have to have a 'point'?" he laughed.
"Look, if you want a swing so badly, just find a bigger house," I had left the verandah, annoyed. Why does he do this, I had thought with contempt. Why does he try so hard to get me the life that I have always wanted but can't have? We could never afford a house like that, the one where you could have a proper swing.
"You're the one who wanted a swing," he looked confused.
"Yes, but not here. I wanted a real swing. On a lawn. One on which you can actually swing on," I snapped, motioning with my hands.
"But we don't have a lawn," he argued.
"That's exactly my point…"


In the moonlight, I looked at the blunt features of the baby. What a miracle of nature. One moment he was inside my womb, kicking me. The next moment, well, he's still kicking me, but, oh, you know what I mean!

"May be you're not my baby," I joked.
"I mean, you don't look like me at all!" I pushed on.
A small whimper came from his little mouth, like he could actually hear what I say and seemed very offended. It wasn't the first time, he had reacted to my comments like that. As I kept on telling my sister, babies really do get what we say sometimes.
"Nah, how can that be? You look exactly like Daddy Junior," I sighed.
"Not at all like me when I was the one who carried you all those months. I say, look at least something like me. Anything like me. My eyes at least," I grumbled.


"Your eyes?" Shahriar had laughed out loud.
"What's wrong with my eyes?" I replied, offended.
"To start with, where are they? I can't see them," He clutched his stomach and laughed.
"Well, excuse me, they are there. I happen to like my eyes" I had protested.
"Yeah, behind those thick glasses. You can't even see properly," He grinned.
"No wonder I married you," I murmured viciously.
"What?" He bit his lower lips, trying to hide his smile.
"I know. That's the only reason why you could've married me. Probably mistook me for George Clooney. The resemblance is uncanny."
"Yeah right." I retorted.
"Anything but your eyes. The baby will look just like me."
"Don't curse my poor child," I smiled.
"Or may be," and he smiled beatifically at me, "it'll have just your eyes, if not anything else."

The soft pinkbundle they had handed me as I lay in the hospital bed, looked nothing like me. Instead, it had Shahriar's sharp nose, thick black hair and big wide eyes, in which swam a mixture of surprise and curiosity. Its expression said it was lost, just like Shahriar looked, buried under the papers, sitting with his typewriter in the middle of the night.

"Do you want to be a journalist like Daddy when you are big?" I asked the baby as it seemed to calm down a little in the verandah.

In response, it chewed something invisible in his mouth with great concentration, showing me his toothless gum.
"What's that supposed to mean? Food? A chef? Wait, I know, I know. A food critic." I declared triumphantly.
"Uhoh! What's going to happen to me, then?" I looked at the baby with genuine concern.


"What's wrong?" Shahriar looked at me, as I sat on the dining table, my face covered with my hands.
"I want to die." I mumbled.
"But I didn't do anything, I swear," he backed off, looking scared and raising his hands up as if to surrender.
"I can't cook." I looked up, with defeat written all over my face.
"That's not true. You make… uh… edible tea and… uh… exotic fried eggs."
"You are supposed to add the mushrooms, okay? I SAW it on TV," I replied murderously.
"I'm happy with it. Besides, you are putting on too much weight anyway…" He ducked as I threw him an empty plastic jar.
"No seriously, Shahriar. What happens when we have guests over? I can't just serve noodles. What will they think?" I moaned in despair.
"Who cares what they think? They should be happy with the noodles." He replied, making himself a cup of coffee.
"No, they won't be," I replied, frustrated.
"So we'll get takeouts."
"Every time? We don't have the MONEY!" I shouted.
"Then they'll have the noodles," he looked confused, as if it was that simple.
"Alright, alright. Calm down. I'll just fix a sign on the door saying, 'Sorry, no guests allowed because beautiful wife can't cook.'" He chuckled.
"Why don't you EVER take me SERIOUSLY?" I cried in anger.

That was eight months before he was shot, when I was three weeks pregnant. Eight months from that day, on the day they shot him, he was coming home on a rickshaw, back from getting me a hot water bag from the shop.

"I don't need it." I had protested, as the cramps got worse.
"Yes you do. You're in pain. I can't believe I didn't get one before even after you told me the old one got a leak. I'm so stupid." He distractedly ran his long fingers (according to my belief, they became long from years of playing the bass) through his thick black hair, the way he did when he made a mistake.
"That you are," I snapped. No one's in a good mood being almost nine months pregnant.
"I'm so sorry," he apologised, almost in a whisper, his face clouded with guilt and self-condemnation. "I'll be back in ten minutes. Then, I'll make you hot coffee and we'll put on some nice music."
"Forget it. Just stay here, okay," I pleaded, half-heartedly.
But he was already near the door, putting on his worn-out shoes. From the bed, I could see his hair fall over his eyes as he stood on one foot and struggled clumsily to put the shoe on with one hand. As he opened the door, I suddenly remembered.
"Shahriar, but we are out of coffee!"
But I don't think he heard me right. Mumbling, "Just ten minutes," he left and I heard the door slam.

The men who had shot him belonged to some political party. Powerful and so they eluded justice. There was some major disagreement over an article Shahriar had written, a piece condemning the misuse of power by that party, which had names of some rich political leaders. His devotion to telling the truth had caused him his end. The writer who wrote the truth was silenced forever, so that ink could no longer stop any more bloodshed.

Then realising that I was all alone in the early hours of morning with a posthumous child in my arms, I realised that perhaps, truth does make all the difference. The truth that the loss of a husband and a father was irrevocable hit me with the first light of dawn, will strike me with the first light of every other dawn in my life. If the truth didn't make a difference, of all places in the world, why would I be here?

By Maliha Bassam





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