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Strangers: The Artist Boy and the Dagger Girl

Long, bare legs all over the place. Thin as thin, jaw jutting, nose cutting, hair knotted tight behind her head. Her eyes behind her sunglasses are, no doubt, half Nefertiti - half Persephone. Against the pillar, telescope-confident. She's a lanky mannequin of sparseness, less is more, less is more, apart from the crochet jacket (a pretty little attitude misfit hanging loose about her waist).

Mediterranean-Mexican sun-gulping skin, hair in rambling curls falling behind ears, in front of ears, pushed away from pretty smile flash, flash, melted, broken and he's gone. Black vest turns aside for the curves of his arms to show themselves with innocent immodesty, and they can envelope everything. His eyes, his eyes are delighted; they think they can save the world (with a touch of melancholy added for artistic integrity).

You see her, and then you see him running, he's late, what is this beautiful boy late for? For her, you realise; he runs up and hugs her and you can imagine him whispering apologies and sweet things in her ears, and “My God, it's been so long”s with a touch of an Italian accent for no particular reason save perfection.

Her taut lips pull into a smile, they can't help it. Her swan-feather hands, too, seem to clutch his neck a little tight, though you never really saw it at all.

“How've you been?” you nearly hear him say, and you can feel him trying to pull the truth from behind her sunglasses.

“I'm hungry,” you think she says in reply. You imagine him pulling out a dollar coin, with an amused this-is-all-I-have shrug and his hands, if they weren't so coarse, might have been feminine. You can nearly hear her roll her eyes.

“Alright. I'll pay.”

And they're walking off, away, away. But you can't leave them now, you have to know their story. There, you're imagining again, following them.

You can see the little bit of shyness now, in the sideways glances he takes when she's not looking. And you can see the slightly stiff nonchalance in her walk, the exaggerated swinging of the hips and the lightly parted lips of a girl who knows somebody's watching. Who are they? What are they to each other?

He is telling her of his latest painting he's an artist of course, with his careless clothes and impossible eyes when he says blue you think of freedom and heartbreak, and when he says red, you are blinded. She is silent in her lampshade skin, and she walks like a river running.

“I seriously have no money,” he tells her.

“I just got a contract,” she tells him. He cheers, loud and embarrassing, but it's not embarrassing because he's picked her up and she laughs, a weird laugh that sounds exactly as it is written ha ha ha. People are half staring-half smiling, and then he puts her down again; she's a little stiffer and he more shy.

“Which company?” he asks. She's a model, obviously, you knew it by her legs and her knife-edge face.

They sit at a table outside because she doesn't want to take her sunglasses off, though he would never have guessed that was why, leaning back against the metal chair into the sun. He's telling her with closed eyes of the latest girl, taking embarrassed peeps now and then to gauge her reaction, and she is thinking of something else, somewhere else, heavy eyes blending in with the dark haze of sleeplessness around them.

“Jet lag?” he asks, because he knows that she's not listening, and she launches into a mocking description of the runway girls, her words as cutting-fine as her teeth.

What you really want is for him to kiss her at the end of it all, though you know he won't, because she says that they're just friends.

And then you remember that you actually know nothing about them, absolutely nothing at all.

By S. N. Rasul

I‘m in my dad's box-shaped car headed towards Banani. It's been a while since we've gone out. Sporadically, pity grabs hold of me and tells me to take a look at the ageing of a lonely man past his prime, and I give in to its demands. Watching someone grow old is a different kind of breaking in a different kind of heart with a different kind of sound.

Even when we're alone, I'm alone. There's silence. But the presence of sound isn't everything, I realise, and time passes with me trying to look out for him on the road, turning the invisible wheel with my mind, jamming on the invisible brake. I look into the side and rear view mirrors to make sure he's at a safe enough distance. There's something vulnerable about him when he drives, something that shines a light on me for the world to see.

We're headed for the house of one of my chachas, my dad's cousin. Stuck in traffic, right before iftar, he chats on about how long it's been since he's seen his cousin, his side of the family. Our lives, having always been intertwined more closely with that of my mother's side of the family, have missed the presence of my dad's, with his sister now settled in the United Kingdom and his aunts and uncles and their sons and daughters never ones to be too involved in the goings on of distant relatives, relatives who once were not that distant.

He parks outside their apartment in Banani, on a road that had slowly been devoured by the corruption of Dhaka, now emitting high-rise buildings from the ground, holding two-floor universities within its walls. Iftar time had come and gone in the car, and since neither of us are fasting, we aren't in a hurry. We climb up to their apartment, where my chachi greets us.

It's been a long time since I've seen her as well and age has spread across her once high cheek bones to the tips of her hairs, greying and withering as it went along. Her smile is weak and her walk feels troubled, her shoulders slumped, arching downward slopes carrying the weight of the world. We are taken to the living room where a massive book shelf adorns the eastside wall. It's a subject of much envy from my part, as I scrutinise the titles that rest on each row column. The smell of novel paper permeates the glass doors and fills up the room.

Most children would not look forward to a meeting like this. But as much fun as it is with my maternal cousins, who are too often wrapped up in the price of everything and the value of nothing, I appreciate the hours spent here in the presence of people who have a little more to say, a little deeper to dig. We sit down and in a short while my chacha is here.

And now it's just the four of us, and I lean forward in my chair, playing the audience, ready to listen, and the elders talk.

What they talk about is important I can tell, but in context, it really isn't. It's a more elegant style of complaining, one where the participants are outraged enough for the anger to show in the curvatures of their mouths and the slamming of their fists, but not enough for them to leave the confines of their rooms and change, to not contribute to a problem that has far exceeded the requirements of an epidemic, to not continue to do so when the same problem was not irrevocably imprinted in the hearts of a nation that was bleeding and yelling for mercy and no one listened. It's mostly politics they talk of and I don't know most of the people mentioned. Everyone's evil, from what I can gather, but it's still interesting. When I was younger, their opinions would influence me immensely, and without knowledge, I would judge. I still harbour some inheritances, mostly in the form of languidness and frustration, and a lot of apathy; a disease that seems to have taken everyone in its embrace.

Ask 'what is wrong here?' and you will find almost every answer to that question in this room. “What isn't wrong here?” they'll start. They'll say how there's corruption, famine, drought, theft, crime, etcetera, etcetera in every pore and how no one does anything about it. That is true, no one does. People get together in their living rooms and complain to each other about it. And all the while, there's the hum of an air conditioner in the background.

As old men tend to do, my dad and my chacha-chachi transfer their conversation to the time of their prime, when they were young, when 'things were so much better'. They recollect on the absence of so many channels and easy satisfaction, of when their parents could shop for groceries for an entire family with a ten taka note, of war but peace. They turn to me and say, “What did you guys get? You guys got nothing. Ours was the time to live.”

I respectfully nod my head. What can I say? That it's all their fault? That because of the seed sown by their generation we are reaping monolithic trees which spew gargantuan amounts of carbon dioxide that is corrupting our lungs and roots that climb up and shackle us to the ground? We didn't ask to be born here, now; they threw us in a cage and blamed us for the bars.

It's almost midnight and quick goodbyes are exchanged. They make false invitations to us to show up whenever we want and we make false promises to do so. I feel mildly inspired by the vigour and promise myself to change, but only temporarily. Our car cruises to our apartment without having changed a thing, without having cleansed a soul.

I climb into bed and for a few moments, I reflect on the conversation. I enjoyed it, despite my complaints. Before my eyes close, I feel the need for fresh air, but it passes and in apathetic solitude, I sleep.


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