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THE PLAN

I was part of a trio in primary school. The spearhead was a kid called Sa'ad, who had an aunt who taught class four, which gave him a considerable amount of control and a certain misplaced respect among us class three students. It was much later when we realized that all his threats of having us expelled were empty, because his aunt surely wasn't going to act seriously on her 7-8 year old nephew's words. The other kid was Ashique, a short, skinny boy who avoided scuffles whenever possible and almost always came off worse when he did resign himself to fate.

You guys remember primary school, right? A long list of beatings, detentions, fights and what not. Eventually, the inevitable happened. Ashique got into a fight with Sa'ad. The reason I don't quite remember clearly, but I remember it was the outcome of one of Sa'ad's rather cruel jokes. He could be a real jerk sometimes. I got the news and came running from the bathroom, zipping up rather dangerously in my hurry [whoever wore underwear when they were eight?]. By the time I managed to intervene, a few punches had already landed on Ashique. I pushed Sa'ad onto a bench and pulled Ashique up. I probably should have turned to Sa'ad and given him what was coming to him, but one always remembers what to do after the situation is done and over with. Ashique and I marched out of the classroom and spent the break outside. We sat away from Sa'ad for the rest of the class. All that time, Ashique didn't say a word.

After school, we went for a walk around the big field in front of the school. 'Let's run away,' Ashique said all of a sudden in a very level voice. I gaped at him. 'Well, you see what it's like over here, dost,' he said impatiently, gesturing back towards the schoolhouse. 'I'm sick and tired of everything. I'm tired of my parents constantly shouting at me to do the homework. I'm tired of Sa'ad's constant threats. I'm tired of being slapped around by Faridullah sir [our Maths teacher]. I'm tired of going home with that blasted report card saying I barely passed. Let's get the hell away from all this.'

'Yeah, and where do you plan on going?' I asked without bothering to keep the doubt out of my voice. 'We'll go to the country,' Ashique said with an uncharacteristic manic zeal in his voice, 'we'll be shepherds. We'll just board a train go north. Rajshahi, or Nawabganj. They have decent mangoes there. We'll work hard, and eat our simple food and we won't have a care in the world and we'll be happy. We'll be free. Imagine, dost, just imagine it.'

His enthusiasm was infectious. I felt the adrenaline running through my veins as I caught a whiff of adventure. I remembered how it was in my own village. How happy the kids over there were. How we always had time to play cricket and swim in the river. After running around all day, even simple food tasted amazing. Looking after a cow isn't hard. You just plant the stake tied with the rope of the cow in a place with lots of grass and take it home at dusk. And I always wanted to learn to play the flute. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. With boiling blood, we hatched a plan.

First thing we needed, was money. We needed bus fare to wherever we decided to go and at least two days provisions. That came around to about 300 taka each. The only option was either a daring bank robbery or stealing from our parents. Though we were tempted by the first, we decided to stick to the latter. Becoming outlaws wouldn't do us any good.

Stealing from my parents was pretty easy. They kept their money in the Almari. But it was hell on the conscience. 'I'll pay them back when I return,' I kept thinking. In two days, we both had the money. One night, Ashique called me on the T&T. 'We leave day after tomorrow on Saturday. Just after school,' he said. Ok, was my reply. Then we hung up. It was that phone call which brought disaster.

His dad managed to hear the “just after school” part of the conversation and asked him what he was talking about. In congruence with the rare streak of courage that possessed Ashique for that week, his reply was a defiant, 'it's personal.' His dad, of course, didn't take kindly to being spoken to like that and proceeded to administer physical torture in order to find out the topic of conversation. After a couple of slaps, Ashique's rebellion drained out of him and he spilled the beans. His dad promptly called my father.

Oblivious to the current turn of events, I surreptitiously packed a couple of t-shirts, a couple of pants and my sandals inside my school backpack. That's when my dad called me to the living room. I think I smelled trouble in the air, because I remember being slightly scared. Or maybe my secret made me slightly paranoid.

He was calm, too calm perhaps, blowing smoke rings. He told me about kids who run away. He told me terrible stories about eyeballs, kidneys, hearts and blood being sold off. And mutilated kids made to beg in the streets. With sudden horror, I remembered getting lost in Shishumela. Outside the gates, they sold red liquids that looked awfully like blood [it was a type of lemonade as I later found out]. Unwanted, horrifying images flashed before my eyes. After about half an hour of mental torture [it seemed like days to me] and I cracked. My parents were astonished and terrified at how close I had come to leaving home. They looked at the money, the packed bag and my teary eyes. I didn't get a beating. I got a sobbing mother instead. I'd gladly have exchanged my position for Ashique's.

On Saturday, when we got to school, we were treated as heroes. News travels fast among parents. We were the duo that almost made it. Of course, Ashique and I added a lot of extensions to the story. But nothing beat what our classmates cooked up. Before long, word went around about a hair-raising escape where we made it to the bus station, got chased by the police and took off with a parked car and got hunted down half way across the country until we finally ran out of petrol. Seriously, kids have ingenious imaginations. But here, finally, is the story told as it happened.

By Kazim Ibn Sadique


Flip Side

BOOKS close and desks are scraped back. AP Chemistry notes are shuffled, returned to folders. Someone from the back hollers, 'that test was a killer.' Murmurs of agreement, as more voices rise up. 'We're all going to fail,' a girl bemoans dramatically, and everyone has a laugh.

It is at that moment when he comes up to me. Fifteen years old, dwarfed not only by the jacket that hangs loosely from his frame but by the fact that he is the youngest in a room full of licensed drivers and almost-adults. He wears a bemused expression on his face, a look that makes teachers cringe inwardly. 'Here come the questions,' I suppose they say to themselves. 'Here goes the next fifteen minutes of my life.'

He gets my attention by hovering near my desk. By now I have given up on expecting him to string together sentences and make a decent conversation. So I do my best to smile and say, 'Can I help you?'

'How do you write an essay?' The words that come out of his mouth stun me. It is a question that seems to have no cut-and-dry solution. But I try. My memory whizzes back to the hundreds of essays I must have written over the years, the many hours spent staring at blankness, the many revisions and re-revisions that left me drained, the first letters to the perfect beginning that always manage to steal into my sleep. But I don't go there. This boy, with his mouth half-open and pant legs rolled up almost to his knees, doesn't give two hoots about how to write a good essay. While my mind touches on Jhumpa Lahiri and Steinbeck, his is wrapped around GPAs and AP exams and getting A's. We are miles apart in our pursuit.

So I tell him things that are clichéd enough not to count. I tell him about having great opening lines and strong linking sentences, about concrete ideas and the words to back them up. General things, but even as the words drop from my mouth I can tell that I have lost him. 'Yeah, I can't do that,' he tells me. 'It's too complicated for me.'

It is my turn to be baffled. To me, algebra and 'complicated' crowd the same shelf. To him, words pass like mulch through his synaptic gaps. If my life had a flip side, I see that in him. He struggles with writing as I struggle with rational equations. We are in the same boat, just at the opposite ends of the spectrum.

So I go home, and I decide to call him. Just to offer advice, help him out with a thing or two. He picks up on the fifth ring. I say the pleasantries, ask him how he's doing. 'Wait,' he tells me. 'Why did you call me? What is the purpose behind you calling me? Who told you to call me?' The questions drown my good intentions. I am confused, far beyond words. But he doesn't let up. After explaining to him my purpose, he tells me, 'I don't need your help.' Fine by me. But that's not all. 'I don't need your help because you're not the best. I only take help from the best. I can't risk you helping me because you might just teach me the wrong things.' I am too dumbstruck to even utter a retort. And before he hangs up on me, he manages to say 'I didn't mean to be rude.'

A barrage of swear words follow the dial tone. I am fuming, stark raving mad. There's rude and then there's rude…

As I stalk off to my room, to write a rant article about how not to help out helpless-looking advice-seeking people, I swear to myself. Never again.

By Shehtaz Huq


The week of mayhem

IT'S that time of the year. Late March. When the agonizingly long wait comes to an end, when fate hangs in the balance hooking you in a somewhat uncompromising position of anxious anticipation and increasing dread. It is the time of the US admission decisions.

For a significant portion of the Bangladeshi teenage population applying to universities in the United States, this is a time of significant importance, and, consequently, silliness. Hundreds of applicants wait anxiously, wondering where fate will take them. And fate has its ways, let me tell you, if you didn't know it already.

So where does the silliness come from? But where there is seriousness, there is an equal amount silliness to counterbalance it. This is a time when the applicants go all funny in the head, and really, those who haven't applied are too nice to us to bang us in the head or point out the humour of the situation to us. It is also not fun to hear someone raving and agonizing about admission decisions everyday. You would be surprised by how much we, the applicants, can talk about this one topic itself.

And this brings us back to fate. Prepare to be surprised. You might suddenly get a decision from a particular university, before the date previously mentioned. Which would mean total mayhem. And then you will wake up at 4 am (or 5 am, depends, really) and walk, like a sleepwalking person, to wherever the computer is located, only this time you are not sleepwalking. Your nails will be half-chewed and in bad shape by the time you login to the application tracking system. And there it is- the acceptance/ rejection letter.

The rejections crush you. They always do, no matter how prestigious or how not-so-appealing the university is. But don't despair yet. The rest of the decisions are still to be dished out, because obviously, different colleges and universities give you your decisions at different days.

Don't forget to send in a prayer to Allah/God if you do get accepted. After all, He Has managed to listen to your prayers and grant you your wish amidst all the chaos of the millions of prayers and wishes sent up to Him everyday. The last year in school is very important and you've got to keep those grades up as well, otherwise you just might lose that scholarship.

The decisions have started pouring in. This week promises to be a roller-coaster ride of myriads of emotions for us applicants- melodrama, sorrow, hope, ecstasy- you name it, bringing with it utter mayhem; and really, what is life without a little mayhem? Prepare for all hell to break loose.

By Anika Tabassum


 

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