Alone in the Dark
Born in 23 December, 1952, Muhammad Jafar Iqbal is a scientist, writer of science fiction, children's books, and also a well-known columnist. He is currently a professor of CSE and EEE department at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology. He wrote his first science fiction work at the age of seven. He has published numerous novels and books. He won the prestigious Bangla Academy award in 2004.
Muhammad Jafar Iqbal
All alone in the house, I thought the isolation would be pleasant – actually it was in the beginning. But now, at midnight, I began to feel lonely. Isolation and loneliness are not the same. One can be free from isolation, but not from loneliness. Until I fall asleep there is no escape for me from either loneliness or isolation. Standing on the second floor veranda, I watched lights being turned off in all the neighbouring houses. The sky was already cloudy, and lightning began to strike. I can hear the growling sound of the clouds from far, and then, it began to drizzle. I am standing there looking at the wet street shining through the blurry lights of the rain. I am beginning to feel depressed.
I turned lights of each room one by one, and started to walk from one room to another. I have noticed that a strange meaning can be found in any meaningless work. I was walking without any purpose at the beginning, not noticing anything in the rooms. After a while, I began to notice the details of each and everything in the rooms. I have noticed that the drape in the living is extremely red – it is almost blood-red. I looked closely to the dolls on the bookshelf. Some are perfect mirror to human figure, but yet lifeless. Then, I noticed the books on the bookshelf. There is also the oil-painting on the wall – it is a composition of a newspaper behind a glass, a banana and a cigarette. I never before noticed those small details and colors used on the painting. My sight fell on the painting next to it – it is a head-to-chest portrait of Tipu. In any painting, people's faces come out real, but still, it remains just a painting. No one gets bothered that a human is stuck in a frame on a wall. But the painting of Tipu has a feature that makes me nervous – it feels like he is going to start moving. I used to have that feeling a lot before, I got used to it. Tonight, I didn't have that feeling, just feels like he would've been involved in leftist politics if was still alive. I began to feel sad. For no reason, I began to imagine Tipu's dead body – floating on water a thin white skin was showing off his mouth. His shirt buttons open and a few holes on his chest. The holes can hardly be noticed. I moved my sight away from the painting and looked at the china-doll beside it. A few moments later, I realized that I am still thinking of Tipu, not even noticing the naked female china-doll.
Again, I started to walk from one room to another. When I was at the end of room of my third round of walking, I clearly heard someone knocking at the door. All my nerves clenched in a second. Who could come at this time during pouring rain? I couldn't figure out. Is it an urgent mail? If it is, then the knocking would've been urgent too. But, the knocking I am hearing is from someone who is confused. The pattern of knocking is known to me – I just can't remember.
The knocking began again – a slow paced confused knocking. It suddenly struck me, I knew who is knocking. My whole body started to shiver. I stopped breathing and opened the door – I noticed that my hand is still shaking.
Tipu is standing in front of the door with his wet shirt hugged on his body and wet hair on his forehead. I opened the door and told him to come inside.
“I am all wet” said Tipu with a smiley-face.
I can clearly see that, there is no reason Tipu needed to say that. He entered wiping his face and took off the wet shirt. I noticed that he still the same, nothing has changed. As our eyes met, he felt a bit shy and smiled. I didn't smile back but kept a straight face. I noticed that smile was fading away, and slowly an expression of guilt began to appear. At one point he looked like a young depressed man who is about to break.
“Why are you here” I asked. The total silence in the room made voice sound like a rough metal without any mercy.
Disappointed and unprepared, an emotionally hurt Tipu replied “why, what is problem?”
His voice sounded so simple and innocent that it felt like Tipu is still alive – his only offense was being late to come home all wet in the rain.
With even more roughness, I said “you are dead”.
Tipu nodded his head. I told him again with a tough tone “I buried you myself”.
Tipu just looked at me and said “Hmm” in way that he didn't get what I just said.
Without any pity I had to remind him again “there is no reason for you to show up – you are a lie”.
Tipu's eyes turned sad, he took a sigh, and replied “you are right”.
“Yes! You go away.”
“Do I have to?” a startled and saddened Tipu asked me.
I couldn't keep my toughness any longer. In a tired voice I told him “ok! Stay for a while, let your clothes dry”.
Excited and happy, Tipu immediately jumped on the couch and stood up again. He began to look at the dolls on display on the showcase. He took the Japanese doll, held it for a while and put it back again in the showcase.
Looking at the bookshelf and began to bring out the science fictions.
He asked “bought any new books?”
I picked the new ones and handed to him.
Flipping through the books, Tipu said “Azimov writes real great! Doesn't he?”
“End of eternity is an amazing book.”
Browsing through the books his sight fell on the painting of himself. Leaving the books on the shelf, he moved near the painting and asked “who painted it?” His face began to dazzle in joy.
I replied “Pinu Haque”.
He looked at the painting for a while measuring all details. Then, he said “wow! The painting is really great, looks exactly how I look”.
He went to another room. I could hear him opening the refrigerator – checking what was been cooked. He turned the tap on. Probably, he just washed his hands and drank water – he had a habit drinking water a lot. Then, he went in another room, opened the cabinet, then closing it. I heard more sounds of him doing something. He was just looking thorough things – many things changed since he had died. He moved to another room, opened a window. Suddenly a song began to play from the record player. The song stopped suddenly – Tipu never had a sense of music.
He came to the room I was in whistling and drying his hair with a heavy blue towel. I felt like asking him how he was, whether he wanted to eat something. But, I knew it was meaningless. His second death anniversary was last June – asking him how was is pointless, and asking him what he would like to eat was even more. 'He is dead', is the truth, anything else is a lie. Even he is sitting just in front of me 'he is a lie'. I sat quietly and felt sad.
Suddenly without any context, Tipu asked “it is too late at night. Isn't it?”
“Are you not going to sleep?”
“As soon…” I stopped in of the middle of the sentence.
Tipu felt a bit uncomfortable as he doesn't want to leave.
I looked straight at him. The same eyes, hands, smile and the messy hair – yet, all is an illusion. Wish he wasn't dead. At that moment Tipu stood up and said “you go to bed, I am leaving”.
I looked at his face not saying anything – he gave me a pale smile. He stood near bookshelf and browsed through one book, then just stared at the painting.
I could understand that he was avoiding looking at me. He must be crying – he was always childish like that. He moved near the door. Not looking at me, he said “I am leaving”, and just walked out.
I wanted to see his face for the last time. Then again, what is the use? I moved to the veranda. I could see him walking fast through the pouring rain with his head down. The rain began to pour a bit heavier, and he began to walk bit faster. I felt, he is getting wet and may catch fever – maybe I should call him back. Then I realized that there is no use calling him back.
Under the street-light, I could see his blurry red shirt and wet hair. He is walking-by, making his shadow longer. In the rain, he is alone – in a moment he going to disappear.
Translated by Zia Nazmul Islam
Illustration by Ujjal Ghose
(R) thedailystar.net 2012