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     Volume 4 Issue 20 | November 5, 2004 |

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Love on a Blue Afternoon


Power was still out when Shormi came back home after a long walk. Bobby was sitting idly on the bed watching her put on the white shirt. As she finished doing up the buttons it lost interest and leaped up to stretch lazily. She had changed the quilt while going out; Bobby strode down the hibiscus pattern on it and stood between the pillows. She walked to the washroom while thinking about the things that had happened a while ago. Immediately after she had finished talking to the man, Nouman called.

"Mum, I am fine. Can we meet tomorrow?" he asked excitedly.

Shormi was buying some candles in the street; trucks howled past the makeshift-shop and she had to put a hand on the other ear to hear properly. She asked, "Where are you Nam?"

There was a silence on the other side, a muffled voice in English-- probably of Nouman's friend's-- was heard, for a moment Shormi thought she had lost the line.

"Nam, God, say something," she screamed.

The other voice, meanwhile, argued with Nouman in a furtive manner; the boy seemed to have agreed with the man to do something and said to Shormi, "We are staying in a hotel mum, we are fine, don't worry."

"When do you want to meet? You and your friend can stay in my house," she said. The vendor put the candles and the cigarettes in a package and hunched forward to give it to her. She paid the man and walked briskly to cross the road. Silence, meanwhile, resumed on the phone again; and as the whispering got louder and became almost audible it sounded more and more like Ifthekhar's voice. She knew it could not be him. Funny she had been thinking about Ifthekhar for a month or so, especially since Nouman had started contacting her through email. In her mind, she had pictured Ifthekhar in London working with a multinational bank, happy and contended. So far, Nouman had deliberately avoided talking about his father, which Shormi found rather amusing. Her eleven-year-old son had been growing up and, unlike the Ifthekhar she knew, had learnt not to poke at a healed wound.

She crossed the street; Nouman replied after a brief pause, "We are fine mum"; "Can me and my friend come to your house in the evening tomorrow?" he asked.

Shormi smiled at the street urchin who offered her a bunch of dahlia. "Of course we can. Will your friend be there too?" she tiptoed on the street to avoid empty potholes.

"Yeah, sorry for that. So, tomorrow, at six mum?" he asked.

"No problem," she replied.

"I will call you in the morning," Nouman said.

Later that night when she had finished typing the class-lectures, Shormi got up and randomly picked up an old-newspaper. She sat on the rocking chair and sipped at her tea: Muslim Fanatics Razed an Ahmadiyya Mosque; An Alleged Outlaw Lynched by Mob; EU Leaders Trumpeted Historic Constitution; Girl Raped in Kushtia. Her eyes fixed on a news piece; sandwiched between the news of a rape and the EU constitution lay the man's smiling photograph. She stared pointedly at the photo and smirked; now she knew where she had seen his feminine face before; he looked strong and macho in a short spiky beard. "Young Writer Gets Death Threat", said the heading. She read on:

Young writer Nasser Hussein got death threat today from the zealots. In a letter sent to Nasser's home in Banani, Shaukat Osman, leader of a little-known group Harkat-ul-Zihad Al Islam Bangladesh (HJAIB), wrote, "Your days are over; get ready for the final day of judgement". The twenty-seven-year old writer, in fact, earned the wrath of the fanatics, when his first book "In the Name of Allah" was published this year. The book depicts the story of a Muslim man who falls in love with a Hindu woman and gives her shelter when riots break out.

Little has been known about the HJAIB and its elusive commander Osman who is also known as Sheikh Farid. The group is thought to be an umbrella organisation for radical Islamic groups that operate in the country.

Meanwhile, sources in the home ministry said extra police force had been deployed in and around Nasser's home. Different political and cultural organisations condemned the threat describing it as an attack on free speech. Attack on intellectuals is on the rise after a small member party in the ruling coalition government tabled a blasphemy law in the parliament.

She reclined further and put both her hands on the arms of the chair. The electricity went out with a loud bang; the cat, disturbed by the sound, sprung up from and scurried to and fro on the carpet. She lit a cigarette, took a long drag and closed her eyes.

When Shormi went to the hospital to visit him, she found three policemen standing at the cabin. She peeped into the room; Nasser was lying on the white bed wearing blue jeans and a black T-shirt. A nurse stood at the bed and leafed through a stack of papers. Both of them did not notice her presence; she turned round slowly and saw Dr Mizan walk down the corridor with a file. He said Nasser was doing well and would be able to leave the hospital soon.

She thanked the doctor and followed him into the cabin.

Nasser was awake and smiled at her. Sunlight came through the white curtains in abundance; a grey shadow of the grille fell on bunches of flower that was put idly on the bedside table.

Shormi smiled back and sat on the chair; "So," she said, "How are you?"

Dr Mizan was talking to the nurse in a low tone while browsing through the pile of papers, which she was holding when they entered the room. He did not take his eyes off them and said, "He is fine ma'am."

Nasser smiled embarrassingly, first at the doctor then at her; she was wearing a purple sari and a blue blouse. "The room looked pretty clean," she said and looked at the apples on the table at the side of the flowers.

The comment, it seemed, had made Dr Mizan uncomfortable; he gave the papers back to the nurse, waved her to go and said, "The minister came to visit Nasser sahib last night. She brought the apples."

Shormi laughed and said to Nasser, "You have become quite famous; do you like apple?"

He got up smirking and drank water from a plastic bottle. Mizan came forward with the file in hand and put the back of his other hand on Nasser's forehead.

"The fever has gone," the doctor said and told Shormi that he would be back in an hour.

She got up, thanked him again and said, "Nasser, he says you will be able to go home after two days."


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