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The man, or boy, if you wanted to be politically correct, sat in the corner. He cut a desolate figure, amidst all the hullabaloo of the busy city street, that lay on the other side of the glass doors. Maksud figured that he could not have been more than twenty three and that too by a stretch. If someone had put a gun to his head and asked him that he would most likely have gone with something a little less. Twenty one, Yeah that sounded about right.

He was wearing jeans. No, not the designer labels, but jeans all the same and pretty good ones too. Westecs or maybe Ecstacy, if he had bought from here. If not, Bangkok seemed a distinct possibility. They were of the faded variety, the almost white stone wash somehow matching nicely with the dirty denim color. If from his distance on the other side of the café, Maksud could see that the boy's cuffs were not aligned with the bottom of his shoes, in what was the universally acclaimed way of wearing jeans. They went quite a bit longer disappearing between the soles of his feet and the flat of his sleek black sandals. Well that was the way kids wore them these days. Maksud had taught enough students to know that.

He was wearing a T-shirt as well. T-shirt and jeans, the accepted dress code of the new millenium, Maksud couldn't help but smile inwardly. How different it had been in his time. He remembered how well his parents, father most of all had drilled into him the importance of dressing well. Clothes maketh the man. If his father had known about that he would doubtless have loved it.

The T-shirt the boy in the corner donned though, Maksud was willing to bet, came from tinsel town. The fitting was too well done to have come from some cheap store or the well renowned Bongo. It was white in color. Sensible, Maksud thought to himself. In this heat, wearing light colors was usually a very good idea.

The boy himself was frail. Not anorexic but remarkably thin. Maksud stifled a frown. If he had seen his kid like that he would not have liked it too much. But, after all, he reminded himself, in this day, thin was in. He was a pretty good-looking chap as well. Dark eyes with lush eyebrows, a stubble of beard on his chin, a pencil thin mustache atop his full upper lip. His hair was cut nicely in the front but at the back it fell down to his shoulders, dark as midnight. The nose was a bit flat but on the whole the sunken cheeks and prominent jaw-line gave him a look that Maksud thought, had charmed many a girl.

His food lay untouched on the table in front of him. Not surprising, when you counted his frailty along with the fact that he had ordered what looked like quite a hefty piece of chocolate brownie. Maksud looked closely and realized that he had nibbled on it a bit and had then put it away. Why he had done that was a question not likely to be answered.

The boy sat quietly, his posture not straight and upright like Maksud had been taught in his time, but slouching so that he almost appeared to be lying down on the comfortable red couches. Maksud probably saw a hundred boys like this every day, After all he was a professor at one of the best universities in Dhaka and he was accustomed to teaching and dealing with kids this age. He liked his job very much, and felt that the kids he taught everyday more than made up for the one he had lost to the New World, not too long back. For his kid Maher, the call of the New World and its promises of freedom had proved irresistible.

While Maksud was drowning in his thoughts, the kid in the white T-shirt (for that was what his overeager imagination had dubbed his object of interest), proceeded to pull out a packet of Benson Lights from his right pocket and extract with extreme care a solitary cigarette. Maksud for some reason watched this with eagle eyes, his gaze never for a second wavering. The boy frantically shuffled through his pockets but after a while gave up the search. Apparently he had forgotten his lighter today.

It was just when he was on the verge of asking the waiter for a light that Maksud did something, which he would somehow regret later. He was not an impulsive man by any stretch of the imagination. But before he knew it, he had gone up to the boy, his own shiny silver Zippo in hand and said, " You need a light?"

For obvious reasons, the boy was startled. You would be too if a guy that was as old as your father not only did not prohibit smoking but was seemingly encouraging it by offering him a light. The boy looked at Maksud for a second, his gaze intent and jaw firmly set. He seemed to try and make up his mind as to whether or not Maksud was kidding.

" You do need a light, don't you?" Maksud enquired this time, his right eyebrow slightly raised.

" Yeah..thanks," he managed to reply. His voice was muffled because of the cancer stick that he held pressed between his lips. He extended it, still somewhat unsure of the situation. Maksud proceeded to dispel any doubts by confidently lighting the tip. It was a gesture that you saw in offices and not roadside cafes but for Maksud it did not really feel out of place.

"Thanks a lot," the boy repeated a little more assured of himself. now that he had dragged from the cancer stick. He proceeded to release smoke from his nostrils and mouth but was courteous enough to do it far from Maksud's direction.

" No problem," Maksud replied, smiling now. " Could I have a seat though?"

" Ofcourse," he said and proceeded to sit upright. Maksud interpreted it as a sign of respect and his judgement of the boy grew. He was pretty simple, like most other kids his age, but he still inherited an air of maturity about him that impressed the university professor. If he stuck to the right rungs in the ladder, this kid was destined for great things. Maksud could almost see it. He must have good parents- in spite of the fact that he smoked.

" The names Maksud by the way," he said while extending his hand out to be shook. The boy grasped it in a firm grip and nodded. He did not venture his name though.

" So you come here often?" Maksud asked of the boy when he had made himself comfortable in the adjacent sofa.

" Not really, today is my first time."

" Don't like the food?" Maksud asked gesturing towards the nibbled brownie.

"Not very hungry," the boy replied with a smile.

" Ah! Well...The brownies not what this place is renowned for!" Maksud replied with a grin.

For the first time the boy smiled. It made him look very young and very handsome. Had he thought the kid would be twenty one? No way. Nineteen at the max.

"For a second I thought you were going to lecture me on the evils of not eating well."

" Well I could if you want me to...but I prefer not to."
" Yeah, that's cool..."
" Anyways, I really got to go now. I have classes in a bit. Thanks for the light. I owe you one." The boy proceeded to throw Maksud a mock salute as he gathered his belongings and put them in an Adidas shoulder bag.
He took one more bite off the brownie but decided that it did not agree with him.

" Thanks again. I will see you around?" It was more a question than a statement from the boy.

" Yeah..probably. I think you will." Maksud smiled and threw him back an elaborate salute in reply.
Just before he opened to doors to get into the street Maksud hailed him.
"Wait...I didn't catch your name kid....What'd you say it was?"
" I didn't say," The boy said grinning broadly at Maksud now. " Its Maher."
For a second Maksud was shocked. And then for no reason at all the boy continued. " My father named me that. He died when I was four."
" I am sorry..."
" Don't be," Maher said and spilled out through the doors into the bright sunshine.

It was seven days later that Maksud read the news item in the paper which told of one Maher Ahmed, who had committed suicide by jumping off his apartment roof. Below the caption was a picture of the boy from the cafe.

By Quazi Zulquarnain Islam

Book review
The rice mother

“Grains of rice stick to her body but time will not touch her. She is the keeper of dreams…"

"The Rice Mother", a novel by Rani Manicka, is a moving story that comprises of three generations of women. Far from making the reader bored with the constant stream of maintaining a family's story, it entices us and keeps us spellbound throughout the novel. Instead of comprising of chapters, the novel is divided into several segments, each segment relating the story of one member of the family. It's only when we reach the end that we realize these segments are in fact recorded stories that one of Lakshmi's granddaughter's took the trouble of recording, in an effort to make a 'family trail'.

Lakshmi, the lady who is referred to as the 'Rice Mother' throughout the novel, is first introduced to us as a carefree Indian girl, who is as free as a bird, till her mother decides to marry her off. Overnight her life changes; she is whisked to Malaysia with Ayah (her new husband) who is as old as her mother. Lakshmi's mother believes that she is securing a good future for her daughter when Ayah's sister arrives with a marriage proposal. Being the unfortunate wife of a compulsive gambler (for whom she had left the riches and dignity of her father's house), Lakshmi's mother is blinded by Ayah's gold watches that he flashes in her face. Lakshmi is thus unprepared when she marries Ayah and comes to his home in Malaya, learning that the gold watches and display of wealth was all false, and that her husband was a mere clerk.

However, despite her less-than-ideal surroundings, Lakshmi soon starts changing things to her liking. She also makes a close girlfriend called Mui Tsai, with whom she shares secrets and Chinese checkers games. One day when she and Mui Tsai go to visit a fortune teller in a visiting fair, they get the shock of their lives. The fortune teller, after making dire predictions about her friend, turns to Lakshmi and says: "You will have many children but never happiness. Beware your eldest son. He is your enemy from another life returned to punish you. You will know the pain of burying a child. You will attract an ancestral object into your hands. Do not keep it and do not try to gain from it. It belongs in a temple." Lakshmi pays no attention to his words, denouncing him as 'fake'. She soon gives birth to two beautiful twins: Mohini and Lakshman. After that follows five more children. Life seems perfect till the war suddenly comes. Suddenly one by one, all the fortuneteller's predictions come true. But for Lakshmi's family, hope lives on…if not in the form of her children, then in the form of her grandchildren…

'The Rice Mother' is an amazing book. If it really isn't a true story, it can be claimed as a remarkable example of a writer's creative genius. Plus, even if you pick it up for some leisure reading, the book will serious make you THINK!

By Jennifer Ashraf

Rabbits on the Rooftop

One day Hare and Bunny were having another great day on the rooftop, eating grass and playing around. All of a sudden they hear their owner's footsteps. They see another Rabbit named Jasmine. Hare quickly rushes over to Jasmine and welcomes her to the rooftop.

A few months later, Jasmine and Hare have six kids. The first was a male named Jack; the second a female named Heather; the third was a male named Archie; the fourth was a male named Jake. The last two were both females named Kelly and Andrea.

With Hare taking care of his kids, he had no time to play with Bunny and Bunny felt left out.

A few days later it rained very heavily and all the babies were floating around in the water. Jack and Heather were smart and climbed into the pots to keep from drowning. They helped everyone get into the pots.

The owner saw all this and finally decided to put them all into cages, and keep them in his house. He opened the cages in a little room and let all the Rabbits run around. This was the first time he saw all the babies and he played with them all day. He gave all of them food, and little upside down bottles with holes so that water was dripping down.

The owner kept them in that room for months while he was doing something for them upstairs. One day he put all of them into the cages again and took them to the rooftop. There, there was a greenhouse filled with grass and plants. He opened all the cages and let them run around.

Bunny did not feel like running around. So he went into the bushes. He saw another female Rabbit named Ariel. Just like Hare and Jasmine they had kids. They had five kids. Three were female and two were male. Their names were Janet, Jason, Harold, Sabrina and Cookie.

All the children of Bunny and Ariel, and Hare and Jasmine were playing together for years. Six years later all the Rabbits left and moved into a new house.

In the mean time, the owner died and in his will he left the Rabbits with daughters of his Aunt.

By Edmur Sayedul Huq


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