The Soothing Blue Light
Moinul Ahsan Saber was born in 1958 to father Ahsan Habib, one of the former main modern poets of Bangladesh. Saber emerged as a writer and gained fame with the publication of his first novel Porato Sahish in 1982. The fiction writer is the executive editor of popular weekly magazine Saptahik 2000.
His fictions include Aadmer Jonye Opekkha (1986), Pathor Somoy (1989), Char Torun Toruni (1990), Manush Jeikhane Jai Na (1990), Dharabahik Kahini (1992), Opekkha (1992), Tumi Amake Niye Jabe (1993), Kobej Lethel (1993), Prem O Protishodh (1993), and Songshar Japon (1997). Among other works in the media Pathor Shomoy was adapted into Television Drama by Bangladesh Television and he had written a screenplay. He also wrote Liliputera Ber Hobe, based on Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift.
by Moinul Ahsan Saber
Jahanara wanted to know, “Did my words enter your ears?”
He replied in a very timid voice without any other option, “Hmm.”
“Your 'hmm' won't do. You have to remember whatever I've said.”
“But, you are speaking of the money so suddenly that…”
“Don't talk rubbish! It's our land. Why won't you know when to fill in the installments?”
Hafez wanted to yell at her and say, “Is that so? Our land, is it?” But he refrained, and stood up to go to work.
Money for the installment has to be gathered, but it is not possible to get an advance from the office. A few months back, he had withdrawn a hefty amount as an advance for some other important reason. He has yet to pay that amount back. Thus he has to manage the money from some place else. It's not something very difficult to achieve, but not very easy at the same time. He does not feel like asking for money from anyone. For instance, he could ask Shafique for the money. He has a lot of money, and five-ten-fifteen or even 50 thousand taka would be no problem for him to give away. But, the relationship with Shafique is such that he could never bring up the topic. He could knock Mr. Ismail at the office, and Hafez had decided to do exactly that. He had asked Mr. Ismail for loans once or twice in the past. They have family business, and thus it would be easy for him to extract some money from there. Hafez had decided to take some money from Mr. Ismail and the rest he would withdraw from the bank, even though he did not want to touch the limited amount he was trying to save; but then again there was nothing else he would be able to do.
He was overworked at the office that day. He had to take care of two extra errands during work. Mr. Ismail called up his family business and had the money brought over and handed to Hafez. Nobody in present times will ever give anyone else a loan on such short notice, and so he decided to do something helpful for Mr. Ismail if he ever has the chance. The other errand was to withdraw the money from his account from the bank adjacent to his office. The job that would have taken 10 minutes normally cost him more than half an hour to do because of the rush at the commercial bank. He could not even take his seat as he was summoned to the MD's office. The MD berated him severely as he was missing for such a long time. Apparently Hafez was summoned twice during his absence.
He was not saddened because of being scolded. The MD had all the rights to do so, even more so as he was missing during office hours. It was neither because of being assigned extra work; after all he went missing during office hours and had nothing to complain about. He realised that he was sad when he left office in the evening. But he could not put his finger on the reason why he was in such a state of mind. Hafez ended up doing something he would never do, in fact had never done before: he went to the park and sat there on a bench for a long time. The parks in this city are not safe after a certain hour. There are the threats of prostitutes, pimps, and miscreants who would rob you in a blink of an eye. But he was not bothered by anyone during the time he remained seated staring out with blankness. It was maybe because of his shabby appearance and sad state that no one even though of him carrying a good amount of money on his person.
He walked back home from the park a bit late in the night. Jahanara with scowling eyebrows asked him, “Did you get the money?”
He kept silent.
“Where were you all this time?”
“There was work at the office.”
“For so long?”
“I was not feeling good. I spent some time sitting at the park.”
Jahnara scowled once more, “Oh… did you get the money?”
Without looking at Jahanara, Hafez said, “Yes.”
Hafez could not tell whether a smile broke out on Jahanara's face or not; he was not interested anyways. He sluggishly, opening the buttons on the sleeve of his shirt asked her for a cup of tea.
“So late in the night? Ok, wait a while.”
As soon as she brought the tea over, Hafez instinctively snatched it away, placed it on the wardrobe and grabbed Jahanara in a strong hug. She could not react to this sudden act instantly, but a while later she started to squirm and piped out, “What's happening here?”
“Nothing”, he said gripping on harder, as if he wanted her to become one with him right that instance. It was no easy task; Jahanara with her weighty body softly nudged at Hafez, which was enough to shove him away. Just as Hafez extended his hands towards her once more she said, “What's wrong with you?”
He asked in a raspy voice, “Why?”
“Have you any idea what time it is now? How can everything be dependant on your urges, will you not look at my side of it?”
“You never look at my side of it.” He started extending his hands towards her once more.
“You will never grow up. Babu is in the other room; he might barge in any time.”
Hafez retreated. He knew that it meant not now, but later. But it was not easy later either.
He stood at the balcony after dinner for quite a while contemplating how they never interacted with the people in the other house next door who left two weeks ago, even though the two houses were practically touching each other. He came back into the room to find Jahanara packing her belongings to take with her to the trip in the morning. The mosquito net was in place, the bed ready, so he slipped into it. Jahanara did not take long and went to bed shortly. He attempted to get close to her once more. Jahanara in a surprised tone said, “What's wrong with you? I need to get up early in the morning!”
“What would be wrong with me?”
“Why are you acting like such a cockroach?”
“I am in no way acting like a cockroach!”
“I have to get up early. I can't afford to be tired I don't like these things.” Jahanara tried to get out of
Hafez's grip, but he was holding on to her very rigidly this time. He paid no attention to how she was trying to get free. Jahanara stopped resisting. But, after the act was over, he realised it was absolutely one-sided; she had not reacted one bit. Hafez picked himself up from her, and shifted to the other side with shame and frustration. Jahanara on the other hand took no heed and turned to go to sleep, as if nothing had happened. Hafez realised that his sadness from the time he had left the office had heightened. He was angry and shameful at the same time.
He couldn't sleep much. After seeing Jahanara, Babu and the servant boy embark on the bus, he returned home with a bad headache. Not being able to think of anything else, other than his headache, and the whole house being empty, he decided on making some ginger tea. He was trying hard not to give too much attention to his throbbing head. It happens, and so what? The ginger tea was not a remedy, but still it would divert his attention. He went to the veranda with a cup of the brew; it was better outside the apartment than being inside with nothing to do even though the sight was not appealing. All the other houses surrounding him seemed to be hanging barely just about to come crashing down on his building.
Jahanara will be back within a week; which meant that he will have to go and fetch them back. Though he had very little conversation with her when she would be around, he still had something to quell his loneliness. He was feeling very lonely now, and so visited the master bedroom, and then stood in Babu's room for a while. He rummaged lightly through Babu's text books and copies. The boy was strangely very grave in nature even in this early age; he speaks very little, and more so never laughs out aloud. But Hafez had peace of mind in regard to his child; he is a good boy and Hafez needed not to worry about him.
He returned to the balcony. Strange thoughts of how his loneliness could have been lessened started to run through his mind. He first thought that he would not be so lonesome if the flat opposite to him was not empty. Then he thought that he would not be in this state if he was living there. He knew it would never be possible for him to rent such a place ever, but there certainly was no harm dreaming about it. His thinking diverged and he was saddened for the owner of the flat; it did not mean that the flat would get new tenants just because it was rented out once before.
He returned home late that night. No one was at home, so there was no point in returning home early to his misery and loneliness. He thought of watching a cheap movie, the six to nine show, but decided against it thinking it to be a waste of time anyways. He visited a friend instead. He told the friend of getting some free time after such a long time to be his purpose of his visit to socialize a little. He visited another friend after staying there for quite some time. The other friend and his wife were hospitable, and the wife was very friendly . He felt good for his friend for having such a quiet, peaceful and happy family. They offered him dinner, and he accepted. On his way back he bought two cigarettes from the vendor around the corner on his street; he was an occasional smoker, and enjoyed it very seldom. He reached home quite late.
There was nothing better to do other than going to sleep. But sleep was hard to come by at that moment. He decided to smoke one of the cigarettes before hitting the sack. Taking the lit fag to the veranda he stood there and observed some change in the surrounding. He was thinking of his second friend and his happy family while dragging on the butt. He was an employee at an institution just like Hafez; no family inheritance; yet such an organized little family! It was inspiring. Was he a bit jealous? Just a bit? He was just about to embark on the thought when he noticed the change. Looking to his right he noticed curtains fluttering in the wind in the other flat. He was perplexed. It was just this morning that he was thinking that the flat could not be rented out, at least not for a longer amount of time, and yet there were curtains hanging covering the windows! Within a moment he went into Babu's room the view to the master bedroom was clearer from there. He noticed curtains hanging in the windows there too. Soothing blue light was seeping out through the fluttering curtains. He thought he heard laughter. A woman. His doubt was cleared when he heard a second voice, a man, laughing as well. 'Would you look at that! Here I was thinking that the flat would never be rented out, whereas people have moved in and are laughing their hearts out!'
He woke up early the next morning. He was habituated to drinking two to three glasses of water on an empty stomach before brushing his teeth and washing his face. With nothing to do after that, he felt like going to the balcony once again he did not know why and was feeling a bit embarrassed to do so. But he had tried to look into the other flat from Babu's room quite a few times. He could see nothing; there was no wind either that would shift the curtains just for a few peeks. He was astonished at his curiosity though. 'Who are they? What type of people are they? And why am I curious about these things in the first place? Aha! Curiosity is not a crime. And then again I have nothing better to do being alone all this time anyways.'
He finally grabbed an old magazine and went to the balcony to pretend to read it while veiling his embarrassment. He kept on glancing every now and then while pretending to read the magazine. The thick heavy olive green curtains were not helping one bit. He could guess that the occupants of the flat were very rich and tasteful. All rich people do not have good taste, but these people definitely had both money and good taste. The flat's owner appeared in the veranda opposite just as Hafez was thinking about all these things. Just as the man came and stood at the balcony Hafez was hit strong with realization, 'I know this man!'
It is not unusual that people are sometimes recognizable from their faces, but they actually have no acquaintances with them, and your hand starts to rise in greeting gesture on seeing such people. The same was about to happen to Hafez, when he checked himself in the last moment. He definitely knows the person, yet he cannot greet him unless he is absolutely sure of his identity. The man was about his age, so it was obvious that they could have known each other from, college, or university, or from childhood as friends even. The funny thing that struck Hafez was, not only were they of the same age, but they looked quite alike as well. The man was definitely fairer than Hafez, but the similarities were evident. Similarities aside; who was he? He was not looking at Hafez though. It could be that he would recognize Hafez with a glance and his identity would be revealed.
The man went inside without sparing even one glance at Hafez, as if he was not even there. It was as if that there was nothing to be known about anyone standing in the adjacent balcony. Was he a bit arrogant in nature? It would be nothing surprising at all; he had money, taste, and even a nonchalant appearance by face. Hafez was not angry at him for these reasons. To spend his time he kept on peeking at the flat once from Babu's room and once from the veranda from time to time before heading out for office. He caught a glimpse of the wife. He was astonished once more. The woman looked familiar as well! The chance that both of them were acquaintances was rare. Maybe the woman looked familiar as the man looked familiar. But he could know both of them at the same time too. A feeling of anxiety kept poking at him for not being able to recognize them for certain. But he came to the conclusion that they were a good couple from whatever he saw from the glimpses.
Translated by Hasan Ameen Salahuddin
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