I couldn't stop thinking this over and over again as we drove from Nilphamari to Syedpur to board a train to Dhaka. The streets were enveloped with a thick layer of white and the mist kept coming up against our windows, as if some huge, mythical creature was sleepily blowing puffs of icy breath our way. The car slowly made its way on winding, uneven roads with innumerable trees protectively bending over the streets, the dense foliage above creating the impression of an entrance leading to an evergreen sanctuary. The watery rays of the moon shone through the branches and fell upon the surroundings, transforming the countryside into a hazy dreamland that seemed close enough to touch, yet somehow distant and unreal.
A quaint, little cottage near the road, looking comfortable and sheltered in the shadow of the bamboo trees, caught my eyes. Heated coals were burning on its porch, and there was something that looked like a round bundle right beside it. Looking closer, I realized the bundle was a person a wrinkled, old woman in a ragged sari. Her knees were drawn close to her body as she huddled as near to the glowing embers as possible, the warmth of which was still unable to prevent her from shivering. For a fraction of a second, I looked into her frail, watery eyes. Then the car accelerated, and she was gone.
Soon, we reached the station. As we waited for the train to arrive, I stood there and observed my fellow travelers. Little children with cheeks pink from the cold still managed to giggle and poke each other, despite the layers of scarves and sweaters they were bundled up in, while staying as close as physically possible to their mothers, who were all shivering and trying to wrap shawls around themselves as tightly as possible. Two men stood in a corner discussing politics and the sudden cold wave, which was at the moment 7C in Nilphamari and 9C in Rangpur. A group of young boys chatted and laughed together while they all puffed out clouds of smoke, even though only a few of them were smoking. And then there were the people who were alone, silently sitting in corners and transforming into dark shadows. Their presence was almost imperceptible, only a sudden fit of coughing or a slight shiver made one aware of their existence. We all expectantly looked to the distance, waiting for the train, whereas these people simply stared blankly into the horizon. The desolation in their eyes, the lack of anticipation, was unnerving. In the utter loneliness of the station at night, these homeless strangers wanted nothing at all, simply a refuge from the cold.
Soon enough, we boarded the train and got settled in our cosy bunks. As we slowly passed through the next few stations, the beauty of the landscape still continued to mesmerize me. Miles and miles of endless fields stretched across the horizon, the mist hiding the crops of wheat and mustard flowers from our view, while the tall coconut and palm trees rose out like sentinels from the sea of clouds that seemed to have descended to the ground. As I dreamt about how airy spirits must swing on the vines of the banyan trees on nights like this, I glimpsed shadows rising out of the smoke screen. I took a closer look, vaguely anticipating the materialization of my silly imaginings, when I realized that these were no airy spirits gliding through a mystical dream. They were farmers, wading through the knee-deep fog with no protection from the cold. They looked more like pale wraiths now as they trudged home after working in the fields all day, their shoulders hunched and their flimsy lungis flapping in the bone chilling wind as they hugged themselves in a vain effort to keep warm.
The train journey continued for 7 more hours, traveling through endless stretches of greenery, beside snaking waterways sparkling in the liquid moonlight, over small villages tucked away into obscurity. Every mile made the landscape more breathtaking. It was so beautiful. It was strange to think how so many people silently suffered under all this beauty, under this deceptively tranquil, serene blanket of mist.
By Shuprova Tasneem
The sky veiled with a haze of gold, with clouds emerging, taking different shapes so as to narrate long-ago tales. Soft, sudden raindrops poured onto the earth as she sat on her plain yard with a broken house behind her. Her hair was swayed by the cold, soft wind blowing from above the sea. Her eyes stiff at the krishnochura tree that anchored its life near her small demolished aluminum house. The tender red flowers seemed like red rubies on sudden reflection of the gold that wreathe the blue sky. Memories danced in her eyes like burning flames as tears were rolling down, her heart aching for his presence.
Her wound to lose her love was young and the pain was raw. She fought with all her instincts that denied his presence. She did see his dead body; motionless, expressionless, wrapped in white cloth, with white cotton balls in his nostrils, but, somehow he was within her. She felt his presence and yet she kept seeking him. She wondered her deeds for such punishment from her Lord.
How could he leave her alone, with her heart bearing that excruciating pain of his absence? her bare heart screamed for him to return. She waited with her empty heart for him to dwell in again, and there her infinite love would shade him and never let things go so wrong again.
So many vain replays of the past revolved in her mind. If only things were different! If she did not let him go sailing in the sea in that stormy night, he would have been alive. But no one was certain that the storm would distort everything, no announcements were made in her village. Her heart told her somehow that there was something wrong and a black cat as well crossed his way but just for small intuitions she could not stop him. If he had no fish, he would have no earning, and hence they would have to stay famished. Besides Eid-ul-Fitr was about to be welcomed, so they needed some savings.
She still remembers him finishing his last meal with delight as she fanned him sitting beside. The clouds in the sky got darker and darker rubbing even the slightest ray of sunshine. The wind flew alarming; vicious and angry. She was worried but his smile and consolation made her calm. They hugged good bye and she watched him till he vanished in the mist. There was some thing that made her agonize and she sat wrapping her self in a white austere white clothes with the holy Quran in her hand, reciting verses from it.
The clouds became thicker, the wind blew thrashing, and rain took the shape of a cyclone. Each thump of raindrop, each thrash of wind on her aluminum home made her cuddle up in terror with the holy book held to her chest. A night that seemed like some hours to people leaving in cemented, luxurious buildings seemed like a thousand nights to her. At one point she remembered nothing.
Doctors and rescuers found her near her dismantled home, unconscious and her head bleeding. She was rescued from the brutality of nature and now she was trapped with her void life. She had no education, she had no earning, she was hungry and she waited for death. Her house was ruined; she had no one to look up to. She wondered who would help her rubbing her tears. Will people help her considering humanity? And, if they did, how many would? Rescuing her won't be the only solution, there were many like her and even worse. Questions revolved, uncertainty haunted, despair wreathe her heart as she wanted his company, his consolation, longed for his warmth in her arms, his breaths falling on her lips. She loves him so much. He was her universe. She gazed for a view of the daunting future without him. Nothing around her changed. Nature did not seem to show the slightest guilt for taking him away from her, the trees were still green, the sky was still blue, only she and many did not have food to eat, roofs to shelter, clothes to wear, purpose to live.
By Naima Nuren Khan
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