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    Volume 9 Issue 9 | February 26, 2010|

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Sharbari Ahmed

The guards at the gate whistled appreciatively as Patience, Yasmine and Asma alighted the gharry. They were whisked through the gate quickly with smiles and caps being removed. Yasmine even saw one of the young GIs bow as Patience and Asma walked by. Yasmine had worried they would be interrogated and detained for no good reason but it was obvious her worries were unfounded. It gave her hope that the evening would be a pleasant one.

They could hear the music all the way at the entrance to the camp. Asma glimpsed the multi-colored streamers flapping around on the whirring ceiling fan and got excited.

“I think there is fun to be had,” she said.
Yasmine and Patience smiled at the determined look on her face.
“I want to have fun,” Asma said. “For once. Oh! I see the buffet.”

Yasmine walked in slowly, behind the others. Patience was confident they would be the most interesting women in the room and she was, naturally, the most beautiful one. Almost at once, Patience and Yasmine were surrounded by men. Asma had made a bee line to the buffet, where she was helped by two eager, young GIs who held her plate and utensils while she exclaimed over every garnish and finger food as if it were a nugget of gold.

“Of course, Phil,” Patience trilled when the young man shyly asked if she remembered him from a mere eight days ago. To him, she was surreal, like a movie star. He did not expect a goddess to remember the lowly likes of him. Yasmine tried to furtively scan the room for Edward and found, instead, several pairs of resentful female eyes (Red Cross nurses) glaring at her. She was the only woman dressed in a sari and stood out.

Where was Edward? She wondered and smoothed the folds of her sari down. She felt a hand on her elbow and spun around, excited, to find a stocky man, who was decidedly not Edward, grinning at her. Almost at once, Yasmine got a bad feeling. He was smiling but his blue eyes were cold. He didn't show his teeth. He looked familiar. He must have been at the club at some point.

“Wanna dance?” Louis asked.

Yasmine did not want to at all, but Edward was nowhere to be found and she had not come just for him (so she kept telling herself), and she was a businesswoman after all. He was a potential customer. She nodded and allowed Louis to lead her to the dance floor. And lead her he did. He spun her, pulled her, pushed her, and all but threw her in the air. It made Yasmine laugh, in spite of the chilling feeling this man gave her.

Edward had seen her, and wanted to go to her. He thought she looked stunning and wanted to tell her but then remembered his mission at that moment was to find a corsage. It seemed, given the effort she had taken with her appearance, an imperative endeavor. Besides, she seemed well looked after right then. Louis was not the ideal candidate but he had promised to be a gentleman and was obviously in a better mood. An officer kept his word. More or less.

While Yasmine was being tossed about on the dance floor by Louis, the anchal, or sash of her sari, which was pinned (she thought securely) to her bodice slipped off her shoulder--with her bodice. It was only a slight slip, revealing nothing really but a thin brassiere strap, but Yasmine was not comfortable. In his clod-hopping enthusiasm, Louis stepped on the bottom of the anchal when it drooped to the floor, almost ripping it off her shoulder.

“Oh, shoot!” he said. “Did I mess it up?”
“No, but I think I should sit down and re-pin it,” Yasmine said, relieved for an excuse to stop dancing.
“Good, I'll join you,” he said. Yasmine barely stifled a groan.

He followed her to a table that was decorated with green and gold confetti strewn on it and matching baloons tied to the backs of the chairs.

“I'm suprised those things stay up at all,” Louis said cheerfully after Yasmine re-pinned and adjusted her sari. “How do you keep it up?”

Just as Yasmine was about to answer him he put two fat fingers in the waistband of her petticoat and tugged gently, once. The sensation of his fingers on the bare skin of her stomach startled her so that she shrank back from it and froze. It was done with such presumption and familiarity. He pulled his fingers out, slowly, grazing her lower belly. His blue eyes never left her face.

“Say, where do you think I can get one of these for my wife? I doubt she'll wear it but she's always asking me junk about what women wear here. She can always use it as a curtain or something,” he said. His voice was quieter suddenly.

Everything he had done and said was deliberately designed to humiliate her. Why does he hate me? Yasmine thought.

“Where are my manners?” Louis said suddenly. “Want some punch?”
“No, thank you,” Yasmine said quietly. “Can you please tell me where the powder room is?”
“I'll show you--”
“No, please don't trouble yourself,” she said. “Just point.”

He did so and Yasmine walked quickly out of the mess hall, before the tears that had welled up in her eyes fell. She passed Patience, who saw she was distressed. Yasmine shook her head when she saw Patience to indicate that she should not stop dancing and draw attention to her. She also passed a small redheaded nurse and two others who were standing against a wall watching Patience and Asma enjoying themselves with barely concealed hostility. Yasmine was conscious of their rancorous gazes on her as she slowed her pace and walked by them. She nodded to them politely. Only the redheaded girl nodded back and smiled. She hoped no one noticed the tears on her cheeks.

Yasmine stepped outside for a cigarrete. It was a cool and pleasant night. 1942 was finished. She had no real hope that 1943 would be any better. She had her business, her mother, Patience and her health. But somehow she knew none of it was quite enough. There was an ache.

“Yes, sir, there is an ache,” she said to no one in particular. She could feel it in her stomach. In the Chittagong dialect that her mother and grandmother spoke when they were together the expression for being in love translated to, “my stomach is burning for you”. Yasmine remembered that suddenly and smiled. Most people referred to the heart when they thought about love. Chittagongians thought about their stomachs.

But I'm not in love, she thought. So why this ache?


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