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Peace be the journey

Yon turned the electric windows up like he was Paul Walker and glanced to his left to see Zarif do the same. He gave a sardonic grin which Zarif returned with a sneer, his double chin making him look like a grimacing pig. He looked in the rearview mirror to see if Nahiyan's white Corolla was in place with the camera.

'Why do you have dark circles under your eyes?' his mother asked at the breakfast table. Ayon shrugged, 'had trouble sleeping.' She eyed him with a pained expression, 'Do you have to look so scruffy?'

'I just woke up! What do you expect?'
A flag emerged from the passenger window of Nahiyan's car. Ayon could see Arbaab's ratty face holding the camera and the flag steady. Nahiyan, only on his fourth night out, was gripping the wheel tightly. Ayon could imagine his pale baby face, his knuckles going white on the steering wheel. Nothing more than a schoolboy looking for a rush. They were all schoolboys looking for a rush. The flag waved once and they gunned their engine to a start and started moving slowly, side by side, in first gear.

The results hung from the notice board. Straight As. People barely noticed him, the quiet kid who sits at the back. If anyone wondered how the backbencher got this good, no one showed it. Only Arbaab, wearing his smarmy smile, came over to pump his hand vigorously, 'Well done, dosto.' This guy didn't miss a thing, except grades above C. Ayon disentangled himself from him and headed home.

He had good news today.

The flag came down and Ayon forgot about the world as he floored the pedal before quickly punching in the clutch and shifting up. The usually quiet heavy Nissan engine roared as he streaked down airport road with Zarif's black Corolla right beside him. The wind was pounding the window on its passage, looking for a way in. He saw the speedometer climb steadily into the 70s as he kept shifting up.

He lay on his bed, throwing the cricket ball up in the air and catching it as it fell, absentmindedly listening to the fighting in the next room. It was two in the morning. They had been going on all day and Ayon could hear a distinct tiredness in the bouts. Wouldn't be long now till they decided to sleep.

The car keys tinkled in his pocket as he shifted to a more comfortable position.

They swerved around Kabaab Ghar and headed towards Kakoli with furious speed. Neither Zarif, nor Ayon had the lead. This one would probably go down to the wire. Speedometer was creeping up towards 110km/h.

'Man, this is insane!' Nahiyan said in a low shaky voice, as he fought to keep his car straight. Arbaab grinned maniacally and let out a wolf howl that seemed extremely magnified in the claustrophobic confines of the car. 'This is it! Can't you feel it, boy,' he said, checking that the camera was still trained on the two racers. Nahiyan flared his nostrils at the patronising tone but didn't answer. 'Oh, oh, oh! Something's happening now!' Arbaab sat up straight. Up ahead, the black Corolla seemed to gain a burst of speed as it inched away from the Nissan. 'Zarif's finally putting the moves on!'

This wasn't happening. His engine seemed to splutter out a cough as Ayon watched the nose of the Corolla move ahead by a handbreadth. The engine spluttered again, the trusted car that he had been racing every weekend for nearly a year. Can't be! He had checked the engine today! Zarif pulled ahead a little more as they reached the Mohakhali Flyover. Now his rear doors were level with Ayon's front bumper. A voice howled in frustration at the back of his head. And suddenly he realised he hated his car. Every inch of the worthless junk. Anger such as he had never known ran like liquid fire through his body. He realised that he hated his classmates. He hated his friends, his life. He hated his dad for the secret stash of condoms he found hidden in a carton of old books. He hated his mom for knowing what was going on and being too weak to do anything about it.

And most of all, he hated Zarif.

Nahiyan and Arbaab stared as the Nissan turned suddenly and clipped the Corolla just as it was about to get ahead by a car length. The Corolla took a 90-degree right turn and flipped over in the path of the Nissan, which did a forward somersault, crashing on its trunk and flipping again. Like tumbling lovers falling head over heels for each other, the two Japanese cars climbed up the flyover, crashed through the railing and went flaming down to Mohakhali signal.

'Don't you dare stop, you turd!' Arbaab yelled, when he saw the expression on Nahiyan's face. 'Keep that accelerator floored! We were never here, you understand me? We were at home, in our beds, sound asleep, you got that, nutbrain?' When Nahiyan nodded, Arbaab considered deleting the video. Then he calmly removed the memory card. This video was worth at least fifty thousand views on YouTube.

By Dr Who


The Gods of Old Men

I died when I was ninety-seven years old. Though old age had crippled my memory to what my mind deemed necessary, to a point where the only things I could remember clearly were, selfishly, my first kiss, one for which I had waited for nineteen torturous years, and the day I got my first paycheck, for which I had waited even longer. Both these moments in time, as clear as winter skies, represented two of my most cherished achievements and both reflected how self-serving, how vain I had become.

During my times of solitude, sitting on one of the benches placed right on the edge of the lake near my desolate one-bedroom apartment, where I would eventually die, I pondered about these moments, scrutinising the details associated with the events: the girl's hair, the feel of her breath against my lips, the pimple on the corner of her face and the coarseness of the cheque against my fingertips, the three zeroes after the 11, the bank branch where I deposited it into my very first account; and I would relish these moments with such intensity and vigour, thinking of the rush of adrenaline, and the sense of accomplishment associated with each stretched-out moment, reliving them over and over again.

On rare occasions, when my memory would be kind enough, I remembered faces. The faces weren't as crystal clear, as if I was near-sighted and looking at them without my glasses, but they would be recognisable blurs of familiarity, friends and loved ones and the outlines I had once attached myself so dearly to. There was my wife, always in her conservatively tucked-in saree, almost always brandishing kitchenware in her hands, a clichéd housewife if there ever was one, oppressed by the heavy-handedness of her husband. My son came next, the one who had been paying for my place near the lake, and I'd always see him as he was when he was a child, his cuddly cheeks inside the palm of my hand, squishsquish, and his hair ruffled to bring out a toothless grin. My inability to see him for the man he would eventually become, always seeing him in his prepubescent years, acted as a thorn in our relationship through most of his adult life, and from which we never recovered 'til my very last day. Sometimes I witnessed fleeting images of my parents, long gone, and I would quietly miss being strong and young and healthy and still being taken care of.

And then came the random faces, armed with the visages of lost opportunities and regrets and the contours of love lost and love almost-found, and once one of these came, I'd be entrapped within the boundaries of my own self-loathing, as regret upon regret piled up to form surrounding mountains of missed chances. During these times, the fiercest waves of anxiety would hit me, with the realisation that I had wasted almost a century of my life, and I would panic that I had been insignificant, my actions and words amounting to nothing.

But these moments seldom came on the bench, for which I was grateful. And for some reason, it was always on that bench, the recollective forays into the past. Maybe it was the soft, coarse mumble of people swirling around me, on their evening walks or just taking shortcuts or lovebirds holding hands whispering into each others' ears, or the view of the lake as the sun was about to set, drawing the day, and eventually my life, closer and closer to an end. Or maybe it was the dusk, speckled with swivelling clouds, orange nimbuses pouring through the gaps. It was a place and time where my mind and body both relaxed allowing for the interruptions of bygone things.

When I was elsewhere, I was just a lone figure, sleeping or watching useless TV or roaming around the shady halls of my apartment.

Old men, they became such fools. Assuming there were no physical mishaps, it was a grand time to enjoy oneself. No responsibilities, being taken care of, adequate money to treat oneself to a few luxuries. But we fail to do that; easier said than done. We go back instead of moving forward, stumbling and struggling through the mazes of a past fast fading, trying to bring back to life forgotten moments of glory, and these miniscule nuggets of irrelevant history became our gods, claiming dominion over what we do and how we do things. They were omnipresent, following us everywhere we went, not letting us go, no matter how hard we tried.

When I died, I was ninety-seven years, four months and twelve days old. My skin had become wrinkled to a flapping mess, my bowel movements out of control, and my mouth foaming white. My hair was a thin, white patch hugging the contours of my head. As I lay dying, a slight numbing pain ripping through my chest, I found myself disappointed with only a tinge of fear. I didn't see the clichéd white light; I didn't see any beautiful angels ready to take me to heaven. My life didn't flash before my eyes. I didn't recall even my most cherished memories: the kiss, the cheque or even my wife and child. The only thing I saw, before I couldn't feel the pain anymore, and the darkness closed in to a sweet nothingness, was myself, about ten years old, a random distant memory, as I stood in front of a mirror, suited up, perfectly dressed, looking into my own eyes, profoundly confident and ready to take life by its horns and tame it, a life the ten-year old has no idea will never come.

By S. N. Rasul


 

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