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FICTION

Doesn't Mean I'm Lost

Story: Shehtaz Huq
Photo: Rovan Shams

The asphalt is unyielding, grinding the pebbles into the soles of my feet as I walk briskly, I hope past the chattering tourists gawking at the architecture and the disgruntled homeless man pushing his shopping cart across the sidewalk. “Look at the legs on that girl!” he hollers, at no one in general. I pause, turning his way, and am in the process of shouting out a semi-sincere “Thank you!” when an urgent hand grabs my elbow and steers me in the direction of the train station.

It is full of light, soft amber hues that emanate from the ceiling and the base of the pillars. Up ahead, the soaring arches lead my eyes towards what appears to be a sky studded with a thousand stars but is really the painted ceiling. Like a cathedral, this place is. I stop once again, craning my neck heaven-ward, but the tourists bump into me and my harried guide is half-dragging me to the ticket machine. We feed singles into the slot and punch in the appropriate numbers on the touch screen monitor. I wait, with somewhat baited breath. The travel bag slung carelessly across my shoulder weighs down heavily on my unaccustomed frame, and with impatience I grab the ticket the machine spits out at me and follow my guide to Track 114.

“This is your stop,” he says, his face flushed beneath his tan. We exchange a quick hug, promises to look each other up on Facebook, and then my conductor is calling out the departure time for my train and I am jogging down the platform. The doors slide with a whoosh! Uncharacteristically cold air chills my bare arms, and I sink into a leather chair with relief.

This is it, I tell myself. This is my stop, this is me on my journey, this is me on this train going across state lines to reunite myself with that ghost of my past that I have been divorced from for this interim.

The landscape falls away as the train lurches forward. Monoliths of concrete and steel and glass melt into the vast openness of the river. Hills ring that edge of the horizon, and where the gray clouds hug the water the sky is rimmed with a tint of sun-kissed gold. My forehead is against the window, eyes tracking the steady motion of the waves even as the train moves farther (and closer) and the minutes scissor by. This journey, according to the PA system, is supposed to take an hour and twenty-eight minutes. In reality, though, it's taken a lot longer.

Six months, a year, a year and a half all these milestones that I kept track of, cherished, tucked away in memory's golden casket. I had counted down the days until this inevitable moment, this reunion that I had craved ever since that last goodbye. The teary embrace at the bus stop, the proclamations of love and affection and fidelity they had meant much, they had meant the world. They had buoyed my lonesome hours, my days filled with the anticipation of this hiatus's end. “So long I have waited,” I had joked in the past, to friends whose smiles were stretched thin from the sustained patience it took to bear with me and my hysterics. The nightmares, the panic, the heart-pounding dread that this endeavour of mine was going to fail their words had soothed me through the mania, had gotten me this far, had put me on this train going from Somewhere to Where Next? “Good luck,” they had told me before I left, but I didn't know then why they would wish such a thing. Now I know.

Too soon, the last stop is called. For thirteen stops I had been counting the railroad signs, but this is it. By now there are only two other people in my compartment. We shuffle to our feet, gathering our things, checking our reflections in the tinted mirrors fogged up from the inside. My palms are cold, not from the frigid air-conditioning but from sheer dead. What if nothing goes according to plan? What if the moment my feet hit the asphalt the realisation will cut into me, cold and knife-sharp, that…

And then I see it. Validation, in the form of a smiling face and a warm embrace. I am home.


This week's piece was selected because of it's down to earth story. We have 'Pop' as next week's topic. All submissions need to be sent in to ds.risingstars@gmail.com by Sunday noon. Word limit: 350-500 words.
Good luck.

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PRAWN

By Md. Raied Arman

“If tomorrow starts without me
And I am not there to see;
If the sun should rise and find your eyes
All filled with tears for me…”

This poem might just be enough to describe the state our protagonist is in at the moment. But unlike the poem, the sun hasn't really risen here. It's raining in torrents and so are the eyes of our protagonist. But again unlike the raindrops, the teardrops are falling silently. Teardrops which have been generated from an emotion of extreme hollowness.

Our protagonist is a temporary household assistance, in Bengali a “Chchuta Bua”. She is a woman of about 35 years whose husband left her years ago. Even a few days back she used to have a son, a Jewel, a hope for her carrying on with life. Now she doesn't have anything but the memories and emptiness inside her. OH! The memories... there's so many of them... but one particular memory seems to give her the most bereaved feeling. Prawns. If she could just manage a handful of Prawns.

Her son once became lucky enough to taste fried prawn. The woman, for whom she worked, gave her some leftovers one day when her son was 5. She served those to her son and probably witnessed the most charming view of her life. The 5 year old angel was eating those prawns with utmost delight. She had never sees her son so contented before. From that day her son grew a great affinity towards prawns. Every now and then he would ask for prawns. To her greatest dismay she never managed to give prawns to her son ever after that day.

Her son would ask, 'Maa, why don't you cook fried prawns instead of these vegetables?'

'They are costly'
'But the people at the bazaar are buying loads of it everyday.'
'They have money, they are rich.'
'Why don't we have money? Why aren't we rich?'

To this she had no answer. She thought even the wisest of men couldn't have answered it.

A few days back, her son caught fever. She didn't take it seriously and continued working at houses. Two days later after returning from work she found her son muttering words and quivering horribly. She rushed to him and grasped him as tightly as she could. He was burning with fever and she knew that she was losing him by every second. She kept grasping her to her chest in a faint hope that she might just be able to keep him away from death.

She asked her son as if to divert him from dying, 'Son would you like to have fried prawn?'

'No maa, they are costly and we are poor.'
'It doesn't matter'
'It's the rule'

'I DON'T CARE ABOUT ANY RULE. I'll cook you prawns when you get well, OK?'

But there was no answer.


A Merry ol' Tale

By Abul Hashem

A bird once rose up early and he caught a little worm.
He watched a flock of other birds gather like a swarm.
He asked a tiny birdie 'bout what was going on.
He heard the horse was very sick and thirsty since the dawn.

A horse once stood there by the river but he could not drink;
Stood staring at the big blue boat with leaks about to sink.
He wondered why the men on board did not fix the ship:
Maybe they were pirates whom the sailors had let slip.

Some sailors once wore britches worn though they were quite good men.
They had a mighty sturdy boat which carried crowing hen.
Some said the hens were bad luck and so wished that they would change
But others just accepted that the ways of God are strange.

A nasty storm picked up as some sailors fixed the mast.
The prophecy about the hens then came true at last:
Misfortune struck the big blue boat, it drilled few many leaks.
The sailors glared at crowing hens as though they were some freaks.

The ship then started sinking as the sailors blamed the hens,
Which made the horse unable to drink as it really got tense.
The birds disturbed by the ruckus learnt about the hens
And since that day they always spoke against the crowing hens.



 

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