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The Letter to nobody, really

I taste the sharp mint of the toothpaste as I brush my teeth. It is somewhat early in the morning, and I am thinking of you. When did you sleep today? Are you still suffering from insomnia? Or you, did you buy a new dress again? Did you wake up yet?

I am sitting in a poorly air-conditioned car. The sun's harsh rays are filtering in through the glass; I am uncomfortable. I look at the hawker kids on the street trying to sell candies, and I am thinking of you. What were you telling me yesterday? Your baby sister can draw beautifully, even better than you? I could sense the pride in your voice. I remember the sketch of that ship you'd once drawn. I smile in wonderment, remembering how beautiful it had been.

What was it you were telling me? Was it something about what you and your sister did to pass the time without a TV? Was it watching horror shows on Youtube? I had laughed so hard that it took me hours to stop thinking about it.

I am perched on an uncomfortable little stool; my backside aches as I listen to me biology teacher drone on about fungal properties. I am trying not to fall asleep, and I am thinking of you. I remember how the three of us used to make up stories about how wonderful a future we were going to have. We were to work in the same building. I was going to be the scientist, you the business firm owner, and you, the famous architect. We were going to be successful, happy, and pretty. Everything was going to be perfect. I laugh a bit.

A little mechanical beep jerks me out of me reverie. I realise it is my phone signalling that I have a message. I check and see that it is you. “Call me when you get home,” you've written. I am suddenly not sleepy anymore. Something is going on; I can't wait to get home.

It is dinnertime and I am eating my food. There is kebabs today. I am looking at the slightly burnt and yet succulent piece of meat, and I am suddenly thinking of you. You like the food in my house. Sources say you eat properly when I am around. The thought makes me warm and happy.

It is late at night and I am thinking of how we used to play our little girl games as a child. They were eccentric, odder than odd: Lizards (the game in which we climbed us the school corridor grills and moved about sideways towards the end of the corridor); Random Basket balling (where we made sure everybody laughed constantly while playing); and crazy adventure make-believe games played in the school store-rooms left for storing desks (which, by the way, was our sci-fi setting).

I giggle a little thinking about one particular game: where the three of us would stand in the middle of the school field, facing in three different directions. We would then count to three and start running suddenly as if our life depended on it.

I am thinking of the three of us. Alone, we may never have been all that, but together, we make the three sides of a really funny looking triangular shape. We have our own little three star handshake, and we sure never hesitated to be right there to say just the coolest thing. Although we never tied each others' braids and blurted out other people's personal thoughts, we liked to share the deepest and the shallowest secrets (which, by the way include crushing on odd people and giving in to nature's calls at the oddest places as toddlers). And we have a blast following all our peculiar traditions. Whoever said three people don't make a good group couldn't have been more wrong. Even though things may never turn out to be as we wanted them to be, you make me feel it's still going to be alright. You two make me feel happier on happy occasions and better on sad ones.

I am once again jerked out of my reverie by the mechanical beep of my cell. This time, it's a call. I smile as I pick up the phone and say, “sup?” “Wait a second,” one of you reply and then vanish on the other line. After a little click, we are talking and laughing together. And then, the conference continues.

Dedicated to Sanj and Jas.

By Nuzhat Binte Arif


The college life

You speak English?

Ever since I've been going to college in the United States, I feel like I've been living in a world of misconceptions. Although I've been to the US numerous times, I've obviously never been to college here. Now that I have to live here for months at a time, I realize how life is without family and without the comfort of 'home'. And also how people's views are so generalized. Bengalis', on the whole, tend to think that life abroad, especially in the West, is easier, happier, trouble free and just generally better. Let me say that that's not true, at least not for everyone. Since day one, whenever I've mentioned to anyone that I'm homesick or that I can't wait to go back to Bangladesh, the response is more or less the same, 'Why in the world you want to go back so much? Isn't it much better here?' By 'it' I suppose they mean my life and thinking about it, it really isn't the way others make it seem.

It's not like my life here is horrible or anything. The classes are different, my mind is 'stimulated' every day and I have met interesting people and done appealing things. But it's just irritating that most people take it for granted that I should be happier here than from where I came from, just because it is perhaps materialistically wealthier. I believe happiness lies where you can make yourself happy. I probably haven't been able to yet but I wish people would not put down Bangladesh because the options are more limited there. It all depends on you (I sound just like my mother).

Then of course there's the perception that accompanies from coming from Bangladesh. Most of my fellow classmates don't know where it is; I'm lucky if they can even pronounce it. The teachers are more likely to know where it is and then they are surprised with my fluency in English. For example, my Humanities teacher and I were in a discussion one day about the paper I had written when she asked me to confirm where exactly I was from again. I told her and for a few minutes she looked at me. 'You know, it doesn't seem like you're form abroad at all' she said. 'It seems like you're from Oklahoma or something, the way you've so seamlessly eased into the system here.' My answer to her then was - globalization. It's not like I've emerged from some cave or something. In this day and age of the Internet, cable TV and cell phones, I don't really see any difference from my lifestyle in the States to my lifestyle in Bangladesh or the lifestyles of other teens.

Of course there are some misconceptions of my own that I've had to put aside. I thought American college kids regularly got drunk on Friday nights and did thinks that civilized people shouldn't talk about or that they were generally a partying lot. But most people I've met so far are serious, studious and not at all that way. Of course you have your usual share of hippies, gangsters and users but there are also the nerds, geeks and socially immune. It just goes to show how similar we all are at the end of the day, and how better we'd all get along if these darn misconceptions didn't just get in the way.

By Nisma Elias


Cracked

It was not the rain drumming down on the windows. It was not the distant wail of traffic. It wasn't the cold of the bare stone floor, or the muffled yells of a couple fighting seeping through the thin walls. There was no real reason why I woke up, other than the fact that I did. For a long while I lay in bed, watching shadows on the wall, wondering why my body refused to shut down even though it was almost two in the morning.

The boxes stacked almost ceiling high gave me an odd feeling. The room was desolately bare. No paintings on the wall, no carpet on the floor. Even the bed was stripped. Save for the comforter I had bothered to unpack, there wasn't anything in this place that said I was home. A plaque, I thought, one of those cheesy 'home sweet home' things to hang outside my door. I almost laughed out loud. My mother would never stop berating me for moving out.

I rolled out of bed. The cold of the floor sent shockwaves up my legs. The weather, I decided, was definitely not amused.

The neighborhood was deathly quiet. No televisions blared. No radios played. No babies bawled. Even the quarreling couple upstairs had decided to shove it for the night. It hit me right between the eyes just how calm it was. Why not? A city girl, city-born and city-bred, is prone to be disconcerted by silence.

I walked over to the window. It stood bare, flooding the interior of my apartment with ghostly moonlight. If I stood to its right, I could see past the trees to the street that, no matter what time of the daylight hours, was always choked with traffic. Right now it stood empty. The amber glow of the streetlights threw into focus the contours of leafless trees and lopsided trashcans.

I stood a little longer, shivering ever so slightly. That's when I saw her.

She was walking down the street, arms shoved in the pockets of her coat. She had a scarf wrapped around her face, and with every other step she would lurch to the side. For a second I thought she had a limp. Then I saw the glint of a strappy silver heel. Ah, yes. You haven't been in the city long enough if you haven't broken your heel while walking home from work.

The girl came hobbling up to my apartment building. She stopped by a streetlight, dug around in her purse. I caught a glimpse of keys clasped in her mittened hand before she ducked inside.

I was…curious. Sleep deprivation, and the stress of moving, drove my half-awake body to open the door. I poked my head outside and got slammed in the face by a blast of cold, cold air.

I could make out the sounds of the girl moving about. I heard the revolving doors creak open, and the sound of her shoes clicking on the marble floor. No one greeted her. By my guess, the night guard was probably sleeping off his hangover behind the counter.

She started up the stairs, taking them two at a time. I heard her labored breathing. I peered over the banister, and saw her making her way up. She brought with her the smell of wet prunes. It was oddly familiar and sickly sweet, and it the closer she came the worse it got.

Then she reached the third floor landing, and just as she looked up at my face her hand slipped off the banister and she plunged down three flights of stairs.

The scream snagged in my throat. I bolted down, heart in overdrive, pupils dilated to the max. I hadn't heard the girl scream, and it scared me. Most people would scream…

I got to the last landing. As I stood there, the smell of wet prunes and the cold dread of the unknown sliced through my freezing cold skin. There was no one there. There was nothing at the bottom of the stairs, no crumpled girl lying with limbs splayed at odd angles. The only thing that I saw was a heel, shiny silver, lying in a pool of fluorescent light. And a single streak of blood, running down the stairs.

By Shehtaz Huq


School daze

“Mom, I don't want to go!” wailed the small child, as he desperately tried to clutch his mother's hand, while the teacher dragged him to his classroom. By the time he took his seat and looked out of the window with tears in his eyes, his mother had left. He didn't talk to anyone that day, and neither did he take his food. When the bell finally rang, declaring the end of the day, he ran to his mother's outstretched arms. It's a wonder that although after so many years, I still remember it as if it were yesterday. So many years have passed. So many classes I have attended, so many teachers who have taught me, and made me the person I am today. So many friends who have been with me through thick and thin, during good times, bad times, happy times, sad times; or better still friends who were always there for me.

As I slowly grew up, and got promoted to higher classes, so did my pile of homework, and the weight of my school bag! The teachers became more demanding, but still, they always treated us with motherly affection. It didn't matter to them whether the student concerned was the best student or the dunce of the class. I still remembered the day, when, during the art exam, I couldn't draw a Hilsha fish, and sat there gloomily. Our class teacher, Sarwat Miss, came to me, and told me to draw an eel fish. After all, a fish is a fish, she said. Although I got a “D” in that paper, a I remember the day whenever I see Sarwat Miss.

And then there were the occasional treats, known as the “Games Period”. Sometimes we were taken the Abahani Field, and then we had our very own home ground stadium i.e. our school backyard! Where our games evolved from see-saws and hide and seek to basketball, cricket and football. The numerous times we got hurt, cut ourselves, got our school uniform muddy………

No matter which class we were in, the definition of school never changed- fun, friends, tiffin periods, bunking classes, teachers patting on our back when we got the answers right, or on the cheek if we were wrong, the sliding tackles during football matches, one of our classmates dropping off his chair in the History class (apparently he fell asleep) all these things made us realize that school was a home, away from home.

Time seems to grow wings when we try to slow it down. This was no exception in our cases! All of a sudden, we realized that we were too old to be in school. Too old to bunk run after the football around the field, too old, just too old………. Those days, those memories will never come back, but will always occupy a special place in our hearts. Even as I look at my school now, I cannot help wonder what I have gained, and what I have lost…………

By The Dark Lord


 

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