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Acceptance

See the blue that withers across the sky into wispy whiteness, notice the orang-utan perched on your windowsill, the LED screen screaming words of fake wrestlers with spit muddling the camera lens, show yourself your latest piece of art and tell yourself you're talented. Define love. Try to. My heart is gold but it shines on the inside. It's a beautiful heart but it doesn't open. The insides have to be experienced, to be seen, felt, heard. There's a woman at the door and she's telling me my knees are chuffed. Reach down and feel the soreness, the slight wetness of the blood washing my skin. Bring my fingers up to my face to see the red. It's so red. I fight the urge to taste it; the woman wouldn't like that. My nose feels heavy. Fight the urge to pick my nostrils. So tempting, so tempting.

“I have to go now,” the woman tells me.

“No, stay, please,” I say. She doesn't seem to hear me. She turns around and walks into the darkness. The bulb starts to flicker. I try to remember what she was wearing. I remember the colour green. I'm not sure. She's an environmentalist. I love her. I have to tell her. Run to her. Get up and run. I get off the chair and sprint across the room, towards the door, but I trip on something, and I fall on the floor and hit my head on the side of a table. I'm lying face down on the mosaic, and I can see the green lines edging outwards from my eyes into the abyss of the blood flowing from my head.

There is a pair of feet in my vision, shoeless, smooth skin dipping into the blood. One of her toes pokes into my nose and I bring my hand up to poke it back. It feels lovely. I try to look up but I seem to be paralyzed, and it's hard to see anything properly with wet eyes. I love her too.

She reaches down and brushes the hair away from my eyes. “You have such long hair,” she tells me, “I love them so.”

“Don't you love me?” I ask.

“No,” she replies. “Let's get you fixed.” She lifts me up off the ground, my arms wrapped around her shoulders. Hoists me towards the door but the door is closed now, and it's locked. She curses at the door but she doesn't look regretful. She has to tend to me here, she tells me. I don't say anything. I let her lead me.

I can't feel her. Where did she go? My eyes are embraced by blood, closed, and I cannot see where I'm going. I hit my shin against something solid, probably wooden. I can feel pain. I hadn't expected pain.

“You ass,” her voice.

“I'm sorry.”

“It's not good enough,” she holds my hand again and leads me to a chair. I sit down. There's water on my face and I can see more clearly now. She keeps brushing the hair off my face but they're stubborn, they keep falling back, obstructing my vision. I can never see her properly. But I can feel she's beautiful. She's applying something to my head; I can feel the intermittent gentle pressure of something pressing against my scalp.

“Does it hurt anywhere else?” she asks me.

“Everywhere.”

“Why do you have to do this to yourself? Running around in dangerous places. It's annoying when you do this again and again.”

“I can't help it,” I say, my voice quivering. She doesn't seem to hear me. She kisses me on the cheek, stands up and heads for the door. The door's locked, I remember, and I feel elation. She turns the knob and the door swings open. My head starts to hurt again. I feel the blood dripping down the front of my face.

I stare at the orang-utan for a while. It just sits there, looking out the window, the only thing in common between us the sky we're under. He suddenly swings around to look at me. I feel awkward and look at the TV. The wrestling is still on. I can't hear anything. I use the remote to increase the volume but it doesn't work. The light bulb stops flickering. It goes off. The room is dark and the sunlight outside is not enough. The orang-utan's gone.

The door opens and three people walk in. I don't remember their names. There are two other chairs and two of them take seats there. I stand up and offer my seat to be polite. I sit on the floor. I can't seem to cross my legs; I feel uncomfortable.

“Let's have some beer,” one of them says. He passes one to everyone but gives me a Coke. He shrugs and tells me they only had three in the store. It's a Coke can. I try and open it but I pull too hard and cut my finger. It's bleeding. I stand up to leave and head towards the door. It's locked. I slam my fists against it. The lock breaks. Open the door, thankful, grateful. Amen. Head into the darkness. I can't see anything. I keep going on and on but the blackness seems to consume everything.

Wait. There it is. There. A flickering light. It's small but it's there. I feel good. I feel happy. I start to run towards it, as fast as I can will my feet to move. I trip again but I don't hit my head. I feel around to see what I had tripped on. I feel something wet against my fingertips. The flickering light is enough for me to see that it's my blood. I slipped. I pull myself up and start running towards the light again, determined. It keeps getting bigger and brighter. I feel my mouth curve into a smile.

I reach the light. There's a bright door. It seems oddly familiar. I try it; it's unlocked. I walk in and sit down on a chair. There's an orang-utan on the windowsill. I use the remote to turn on the TV. They're showing wrestling. I like wrestling. I feel good. I look out the window to see a nice blue sky with wispy, streaking clouds.

I can hear knocking on the door. I rise to open it. My head hurts.

By S. N. Rasul


Stars and Hot Water

We didn't see a single tiger in the Sundarbans, though they woke me up at 6:30 in the morning twice, and thrust me out into the swirling mists when the sun had barely risen. It's an unholy place, the mangrove forest, a matted jungle of roots and mud with little creeks of brackish water cutting through in random places. The grass-cutters sing songs to fend off the silence. The other tourist boats that very kindly decided to accompany us helped them along by running their generators day and night.

We were very popular out there in the Bay of Bengal. About a hundred and fifty lovely, loud tourists came and had a lovely, loud picnic on the very beach where we were swimming. The men left their wives behind and inched along to where we were, but then backed off when they noticed the guards had guns, and that anyway, we were in all our clothes. They also followed us around every night in their boat meant for fifty people (you're not supposed to have more than that, but hey, rules are for foreigners) playing disco music and being wonderfully obnoxious. We blamed them for the tigers.

We were Very Important People, actually, from the moment we landed in Jessore. We flew there in a little contraption they called a plane, whose ability to fly seemed doubtful even to the crew, who launched into a long prayer before take-off.

The reception of these VIPs had been entrusted to one Professor Shaheb, who had dressed up in a brown suit for the occasion, and whose enthusiasm nearly had him bouncing on the balls of his feet. He even had bouquets for us.

We got our luggage pretty quickly, because in Jessore, where they haven't heard of thieves or conveyor belts, you just pick it up straight from the cart outside the building.

It took two hours to get to Khulna from there, and a dinghy-ride to get to the boat.

That night I brushed my teeth beside moving water, and fell asleep to the hum of the engine.

The guide had warned us, but we're optimistic folks, so I didn't actually believe they would be so cruel as to force me to brave frigid waters to complete my daily cleansing ritual. But sure enough, the shower was cold. Fudgin' freezing, in fact. I think I stopped breathing. I hail all those without an electric heater in their house.

The morning after was the silent boat-ride. Bleary-eyed and shivering beneath four layers of clothing, I cursed myself for bothering to wake up for bird-watching. But it was actually pretty beautiful. The pale sun glittering on the water, the deer grazing on a slope we rowed past - everyone was clicking photos like mad. My camera had run out of charge, of course.

There were birds in every shape and form, darting into the water for fish and pecking at the mud hungrily. There were monkeys, and there were lizards, and there was an otter or two, but there were no tigers. Every pair of eyes was peeled for a glimpse of orange and black among the trees, and every ear was pricked for the sound of twigs breaking under a heavy paw. Our efforts were futile. On the way back, however, the guide spotted pug-marks in the mud - the sole and four claws, cut deep into the earth, very fresh. A big, strong tiger had swum the creek within minutes of our passing. Lucky, aren't we?

And so we saw many strange things, including crocodiles and a boat that appeared in the dead of night to pick up supplies and claimed to be a research vessel it was actually a research vessel, sadly, and not a pirate ship. But strangest of all things were the little spots of light that appeared when darkness fell. We city-dwellers had to scrounge the cobwebbed recesses of our memories to find a name for them. Stars, they're called. They make silver pictures in the sky. I missed them when I came back to Dhaka. You don't get that kind of beauty here, in the city of smog. But at least we have hot water.

By Safieh Kabir


 

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