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The weakest link

"We’ve captured and detained one of the men involved in that incident, sir. I was asked by the Chief to bring you here to carry out the interrogation.”

Both men walked with a purposeful, brisk pace. Onlookers watched and followed their every action, their eyes darting towards each significant gesture made. The shorter of the two was gesticulating with curt, controlled motions - all the rest of his emotion was directed towards his animated speech with the other man.

The stranger only listened, nodding and softly asking a short question every once in a while as they made their way to the South Wing. The man's question was answered with a cacophony of words - clearly, the officer was having no qualms about adding his thoughts on the matter. The stranger took all that in intently, his piercing brown eyes shining. Their journey finally ended in front of a nondescript white door.

The officer looked up at the man, nodded once and then carefully procured a key from his breast pocket. The lock opened with a slow, dull click that indicated a rather large bolt - whoever was inside was being kept inside.

The officer saluted smartly to the stranger, showed him inside and then slowly shut the door. He then locked it. He seemed hesitant about releasing his grasp from the doorknob. After a quick, almost-unnoticeable sigh, he let go, turned on his heels and walked back the way they had come through.

Inside, the stranger found himself in the company of a single fluorescent tube-light, a worn grey table, two collapsible chairs and of course… the man in question.

The somewhat portly man was sitting with his back straight, his body arched expectantly forward and his fingers interlocked in front of his face.

“He's probably going to get defensive - it won't be a straightforward interrogation this time”, the interrogator nonchalantly observed.

The seated man locked his watery, beady eyes with the newcomer's and flashed a humourless, yellow-toothed smile. Everything, from his dusty uniform to the dried-up tousled mane to his unkempt moustache and especially his discoloured teeth, clashed magnificently and almost intentionally with the sterile surroundings. The interrogator took all this in - this wasn't going to be very pretty. He had no choice but to break the man.

He slowly pulled up a chair and dragged it towards himself, scraping the legs along the ground deliberately. He made a show of performing some minor stretches and finished off by rotating his head on his neck - the cracking sounds took the perpetrator by surprise, he noticed. With a final bit of calculated theatrics, he propped himself onto the chair and brought it up to the table - he might have burnt in Hell for the sin of Sloth. The look on the handcuffed-man's face justified his actions.

“You are Rashid Harun, correct?”, the man began.
“Rashid Harun Polash, if you please. You can call me Polash - my father gave me that name.” It wasn't merely a suggestion; it was a means of establishing familiarity. The interrogator was not going to offer any such luxury - he brushed off the reply and continued to the next question.

“Mr. Harun, I'll get straight to the point…” He abruptly stopped and observed his reaction. Rashid's face contorted for a fraction of a second and he slowly leaned back, his interlocked fingers now unconsciously clasped in the Christian symbol of prayer; his crossed thumbs pressing against his lips - a sure sign of forcibly calming one's nerves. He was now on the defensive.

“You have children, Mr. Harun?” The interrogator had thoroughly examined all the information on the officer - former officer, that is - in front of him.

Rashid's mouth opened slightly but he regained his composure instantaneously. He found the chink in his interrogator's armour.

“Yes. Yes I do. Two of them, in fact. One is a boy, the other a girl. The boy is fourteen and my daughter is nine. Their names are Rashid, after myself, and Jhumki, who is named after my own mother. Rashid Jr studies at…”. But his incessant flow of pointless information was suddenly stopped by the interrogator's raised hand.

“I asked you a simple question, Mr. Harun and I expect you to answer thusly.”

Rashid acquiesced and went back to his previous posture - he felt like he had probably connected to this man to an extent. He would use this later to his advantage.

“It is possible that one day, Rashid Jr may do something inappropriate and worth severe punishment. What then would you do to your son?”

“Why, scold him of course. Maybe a few slaps. Too much violence with the child will make him resent me - and adults in general, as well. There must be limits.” Rashid said smugly. “Why do you ask? Are you having trouble with your child?” Rashid took the risk.

“Yes I am, as a matter of fact. He has recently got himself into a spot of trouble. Of course, I am doing everything to resolve the matter. That's part of my duty as a parent.”

“Yes, yes. Of course it is.” Rashid wore an indulgent smile that disgusted the man.

“Mr. Harun. If your son had, say, misbehaved, with another person or a stranger, what do you think would happen - say, if he was extremely rude to me… what do you think would happen?”

“Well I sure hope he never does such a thing with you, sir!” Rashid smiled that revolting smile again.

“Answer my question.” The sharpness of the command took Rashid by surprise. His smile melted off immediately.

“Yes, yes. Of course, sir” he said, rolling the 'r'. “I would expect you to politely tell him what he did wrong. You should ask him his father's name - that being mine - and then taken him straight to him, I mean, me. I would have dealt with him appropriately.” Rashid nodded with self-importance after having told his interrogator about the 'proper' way to deal with children.

The interrogator suddenly stood up and towered over the seated officer. He sidestepped the table and walked towards the door and stopped. With his back to Rashid, the man's voice came out somewhat waveringly.

“That was a sudden show of wisdom, Mr Harun. You're absolutely correct. When a child commits a wrongdoing, others may judge him but they are not allowed to pass judgement upon him. That is the most important duty of the parent - to pass judgement upon their child and thus, groom him to maturity.” The man spun on his heels and stepped up to the back of his chair. His grasped the top and stared into the mean black eyes of Harun Rashid, ex-police officer.

“Clearly, that thought wasn't going through your head when you and two other officers beat up a teenager for passing a remark about your stench - a comment I concur with.” The man added viciously.

Rashid was suddenly taken by surprise. He thought he had slowly relaxed his interrogator's rigid demeanour. By finding the common ground as parents, surely the man would have to come to his level to continue the conversation. That growing bond of familiarity would have weakened the interrogator and allowed the accused to control the flow of the conversation - something, he thought, he had been doing all this time. That wasn't the case. The interrogator had been at the reigns all this time - the so-called 'common ground' wasn't a weakness, the interrogator had turned it into part of his arsenal.

Rashid was about to retaliate - to prove an innocence that could hold up to this man. But the disorientation upon his realisation had affected him. Before he could speak, the interrogator began.

“Do you know why you did it? Of course you do. True, the boy misbehaved but it's not like you don't know how to deal with the situation. No, instead, you took advantage. Hidden behind your badge, which is conveniently in the shape of a shield, you were protected from rebuke through the power you unrightfully wield. That in itself became your justification to cordon off any feelings you had as a human, as a parent. You hit the boy because you felt like it. You kicked him because there was no one who could challenge your authority. Above that, you involved two more officers of equally depraved morals. Why? Because you felt that thrill of sadistic power that gave you the notion that you were above others in stature. That's probably why someone like you joined the police in the first place, isn't it?”

All that was said with a fire and emotion than cowed Rashid. More than that, the piercing truth of the words assaulted his being like no other. He gurgled something in his throat and opened his mouth. Failing to find the courage that was never there to begin with, he hung his head and mumbled a faint “Yes”.

Within ten minutes of such a dramatic turn of events, the officer that had accompanied the interrogator unlocked the door and walked into the room. He briefly glanced at the disgraced policemen and then looked towards the interrogator.

“Thank you, sir. His answer will hold up in court. He will never wear the badge again. And he will never besmirch the role of honest policemen”, the officer said with emotion. “The black car outside will take you to the Detective Branch now”, he added.

The interrogator shook hands and turned towards the door.
“Mr Harun, you threatened that would not only kill the boy if he reported you, but you would kill his father too, right? Well, now that I've met you, know this: you don't have the guts to even touch me. I'll give your regards to my son.” He ended sarcastically.

Rashid looked up towards the back of the man as he walked away. He face was rigid with shock as he figured out who the boy's father was.

By Le Chupacabra

The roads we take…

He lay very silent, sifting through the events of the past few hours. Hours that had tainted his life, hours that had affirmed him an orphan, hours that had snatched away his dad, hours that had announced him as the son of a loan defaulter….

He had been attending his Economics class in school, when his Khala had picked him up unpredictably to inform him of his father's suicide.

Dumbstruck from then onwards, he had not uttered a single query. Why, When and How did not matter anymore. All that mattered was that he was no more.

His mourning relatives had a lot to say, though.
'Aha re.. amar eto bhalo bhaita keno emon korlo? (Oh, Why did my so dear a brother do a such thing?)---said his aunt.

“Aro flat kino, bou-er shokh mitao….(Go on buying flats to please your wife!)another piped in.

True, his father had borrowed heavily to purchase their dream apartment, but had that been exclusively because of his mum's insistence? Had Dad never wanted it, he wondered. As is human nature, had his Dad not wanted to give his family every extravagance possible? How happy they had been---planning the interiors, the initial milad on the occasion of their moving in to their new flat, the housewarming party……

It had just been a month that they had shifted. And by then, his father had grown impatient, somewhat desperate. As he now stood reluctantly in the embrace of his consoling uncle, he couldn't find a clue to what had happened.

A week later, as he sat taking his Physics mock at school, he could feel the growing stress between him and 'others' he had once called friends.

No fighting over his mum's kebabs', no chitchat on Steve Bhai's latest music venture, no word of greeting, solace, not even a farewell uttered; all that welcomed him at school and coaching were whispers, murmurs, ridicule on how his dad had cowardly escaped the bank loan.

Unbearable, he analyzed his situation. Things had to change….
“Hey Ryan!”-he called out to this guy he'd been friends with, since playschool.

“Hey man! How's it going?”- Ryan forced a cheering smile, not quite meeting his look. “Look, I'm sorry about uncle. I wanted to call you, but…”

“Whatever. It's alright. Are you going to Chem class tomorrow? Should I pick you up?”He pressed on.

“Uh-no, I'd take a rickshaw. I didn't know you still had your car…”

With a sudden pang of regret, it dawned on him that they longer had possession of their Prado. The creditors had taken it and must have, by now, sold it off. He wondered who was driving it now; his father had never quite believed in the 'driver' culture and it had always been either him or his dad behind the wheels. A flash of remembrance swept through his mind, the image of his dad and him fighting over who'd be driving the family to his grandparents' place.

“What did you do Dad? How could you do this to us?”he questioned to himself.

“I got a class to attend, pal. Take care”Ryan's cold send-off brought him back to life, to reality, to this nightmare that had to be termed as veracity.

“Ryan, what took you so long to deal with that thief's son? What was he saying?

Asking for some bucks to repay his dad's loan?” He heard a voice pipe in loudly to Ryan.
Not waiting to hear Ryan reply, he left for home.

As he boarded a Metro bus and almost bought a ticket to Gulshan, he wondered how long it would take him to forget that they no longer resided there. Paribagh was their new ‘home’; a room in his khala's place. Temporary lodgings, his mother had called this; leaving this, they knew not where else to turn .

“Dibo Gulshaner ticket?”
“Na, ami Paribagh jabo” he replied, shrugging off memories of 'their' home in Gulshan.
Last night Shagufe had called.

Shagufe, his solitary residue of a friend had called to convince him not to attend the next day's Moral Science class. She had wanted to say more, but conditions had not allowed it.
“Who're you talking to, Shagufe?”
“A friend, mom”-Shagufe had countered.

“Not talking to that guy again, are you? How many times do I have to remind you to stay away from him? We don't want to get into some scandal...!”
And the line had gone dead.

He got into trouble because of her call, at home. Having always seen his Khala as an utterly pleasant personality who had always a good word to share, he had never imagined her to be this acerbic. They were feeding him and his family, giving them shelter, was it not enough favour on them for him to remember his limits.

“What sort of girl calsl a guy so late at night?” His khala demanded. “My sons too went to school but no girl ever called them up, and that too so late at night.”

Through gritted teeth, he reminded himself that this truly was not his home.

He went to school, despite Shagufe's pleas. After all, a day not spent at school suffering a barrage of comments meant a full day at home of brooding and yet not being able to justify his father's death. The latter hurt him more.

The buzzer sounded to inform students of the end to Art class and the start of Moral Science. Students filed in, until the teacher, a plump middle-aged woman arrived.

Noticing him, Shagufe looked away, embarrassed for yesterday and for what was to ensue next.

Suicide was the topic of conversation that day. And his father's suicide the underlying theme. The teacher emphasized with all the 'hadis' and vigour she could muster on how very worthless a father, a man is who, in fear of being powerless to convene debts commits suicide. Eyes darting towards him, his teacher's pinpointing him this way brought him this bizarre surge of emotions he had never before experienced.

With a hand raised to catch the teacher's attention, he stood up to leave. He could see Ryan sinking deeper into his chair and Shagufe looking at him sympathetically---for the last time, he decided. Right before he exited from the school doors, he turned back to get a complete view of the place he called his second home and to give the others one of himself, for the last time.

He went home to find his cousin's PC free. With just two hour's permission of usage, he sat back in front of it to live out the one trait he had always loved: writing.

A good piece of my mind is what these people need, he thought. He wrote his heart out, that day. His best piece, ever--an article explaining his position as the son of a reputed man, the death of whom exudes mystery. Finishing it, he mailed it to Shagufe, who was not only his friend but also the editor of the school's weekly newsletter.

His Dadi had had a meeting with his mum that day and had outright told her that, the only means of support she and his Chachas could provide them with was a monthly Tk. 5000. They had their families to think about, didn't they?

The no-interest loans to his Chachas, the monthly payments and shower of gifts on his Dadi his Dad had never forgotten to provide, all lined up in his mind.

His sister, a kid of 9, came up to him to inquire why, despite pinching herself so many times; she was not being able to get out of this nightmare. While she sobbed in his arms and told him of how awful the people at school were, he pondered on how long he'd be able to withstand all this. Not long, something told him, it would be over shortly.

He owed one last explanation to someone--- his mum. Sentiments are difficult to put down in words; he had never before felt this to be so true. He could never bring himself to articulate how much he loved them and how badly he was left with no other option…Some things were probably better, if left unspoken.

As he opened the bathroom closet to bring out the blade he had noticed there the other day, his mirror image told him of how very much he resembled his dad. People told him so time and again, but he himself had never realized it this way.

The newspapers the next day, reported the suicide of the son of the loan defaulter who had killed himself in a similar manner. While the incident brought new light on the father's death, it helped to bring about fresher indication of killing, not suicide, until it was finally established that he had actually been killed by his business partners.

The widow and daughter got back their flat and business, but nothing compensated for the loss of the father and son; and the filth people had darted on them.

His article did come out that week, courtesy Shagufe, and helped clear out loads of misconceptions but, too late it was for Ryan to apologize and moral science to stand corrected.

This story is true to some extent and I had a school-friend who suffered the way the character in this story suffered, but unlike 'him' was courageous and brave enough to face up to the world.

By Reesana Sifat Siraj


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