Every Day, One Handkerchief -Mahmudul Haque
Blood At Sundown - Jafar Talukdar
The Journey- Rezaur Rahman
The Story of Sharfuddin And His Powerful Relative- Rashida Sultana
Man Without His Tongue- Syed Manzurul Islam
The Days Go By- Rana Zaman
Nostalgia For The Dodo Bird - Shahaduzzaman
What Do You Have On The Menu That's Totally Tasteless?- Syed Mujtaba Ali
The Girl Who Sold Incense Sticks- Delwar Hasan
Story Of A Cold Draught- Mainul Ahsan Saber
The Fowler In Him - Hasan Azizul Huq
1971- Tamiz Uddin Lodi
Beast- Sumanta Aslam
A Life Like A Story - Syed Shamsul Huq


Sumanta Aslam
(Translated By Mohammad Shafiqul Islam)

The girl has one bad habit. Many people talk about, and it's something she also knows very well. Yet somehow she can't let go of it. One can’t say that she hasn't tried - but somehow the habit is like an addiction. She has tried to drop it, yet hasn't been able to. Shoma got furious the other day and said, “You really have to try get rid of it, Leena.” Leena didn't say anything, merely laughed in response.

Leena thinks every person has a habit. Many people simply call it a hobby. Some people love collecting stamps; some love exploring new places; some make a collection of classic songs - and there's so many more! So she has one, too. Except it is not similar to the ones given above; it is distinct. Leena doesn't know whether anyone else on earth has this habit - she only knows this one is different, quite unlike anything else. Once Jafor saheb at her office had remarked, “Madam, everything about you is lovely except for that habit.”

Leena had looked at Jafor saheb with her grave eyes. The man to some extent was of the too-eager-to-give-advice type. He always kept a smile on his face as if the whole world perpetually amused him. The man, however, had a single fine virtue. He deemed all to be equal, and really tried to help other people.

“Do you have a problem with it ?” Leena had asked in an angry tone of voice.

Had it been any one else, he, even if briefly, would have been taken aback. But Jafor saheb only laughed easily, an unembarrassed laugh. Leena again became angry. She readied herself to say something but before that Jafor saheb said, “Many people have commented on it, which is why I mentioned it. Perhaps you don't know about it. A lot of people talk about it and I thought to let you know.”

Leena was a bit startled. There seemed to be a certain tone in Jafor saheb's voice! She recalled this tone after a long time. She had forgotten about it. Deliberately! Because one has the right to deceive oneself, but no one had the right to hoodwink others. No one, not any one!

Leena felt very depressed. She often thought of a fulfilling life. When a girl starts growing up she starts to dream about a fulfilled life; so too had Leena. When she was in class nine, Chopol, her classmate, a mischievous but brainy boy, had told her for the first time in her life that he loved her the best. That day her heart had throbbed. She had been inattentive in class, unmindful at home, she hadn't been able to sleep at night. But no sooner were love's seeds barely sown that she came to know that Chopol had committed suicide for reasons unknown. Along with everybody else at the school Leena too had turned speechless. She felt as if she had no feelings left anymore. The only thing that buzzed inside her head was the thought of how much pain would compel a man to commit suicide.

“Aren't you going to the office?”
Leena is startled. She sees that her mother is standing with a plate of food beside her. Smiling, Leena catches hold of the loose end of her mother's sari. Her mother sits down quietly beside her. Touching her hair with affection she says, “Come back home early from the office today, my dear.”

Listening to her mother's soft voice, she feels close to tears. This was the one person who constantly had her best interests at heart. She was always busy thinking about how to do good things for her daughter, how her daughter could be happy.

“Ma, I don't feel good about all these things.”

“You have to try and feel good about it. Diabetes patients shouldn't subject themselves to worries. Your father is always concerned about you. Deena is also growing up rapidly.”

Bowing her head, Leena says, “Why can't you leave the elder sister alone and marry off the younger one?”

“Why can’t we do it? We can, but parents of all middle-class families worry about one thing, and that is to give off our daughters in marriage when they are of a suitable age, and to the right groom.”

Leena reflects on something for a while. Then, standing in front of the mirror she arranges her sari, its folds and its fall. She puts a little make-up on her face, and takes her handbag from on top of the bed. When she is near the door, her mother said, “Why didn't you eat anything?”

“I don't feel hungry.”

“They will come to see you in the evening. Come home a bit earlier, darling.”

Leena remains silent, and leaves the room with her head bowed down. She is already late; she should rush for the office.

As soon as she sits down in her office chair, Jafor saheb advances towards her smiling. Standing in front of the table, he says, “Why were you so late today, madam?”

“No reason. It just happened.”
“I was wondering if you were unwell.”
“Sorry, nothing like that.”
“Why are you talking this way, madam?”
“What do you mean?”
“Now I am sorry - I'm disturbing you.”
As Jafor saheb heads back towards his chair, Leena calls out in a very sweet tone, “Jafor saheb, listen.”
Jafor saheb turns back and again slowly comes towards Leena. She stretches a smile on her face and says, “Are you angry?”
“I felt a little slighted.”
“Sorry, Jafor saheb. I am not feeling well at all.”
“Any problem?”
“No, there is no problem. No specific reason.” Keeping silent for a while, she again says, “Oh yes, I discovered another one today, Jafor saheb.”
“You know, that thing you call a ‘bad habit’?”
“A dead animal?”
“What was it today?”
“A dog. It was lying in the middle of the road. The dog's flesh had turned quite black.”
“How many have you seen including today?”
Leena takes out her diary from the bag. Opening it slowly, she smiles and says, “79 in total.”
“Excellent! Another one will make it letter marks!”
“Yes. If I see another one, it will be quite a fair number. I'll be delighted.”

In a hesitatant tone Jafor saheb says, “Madam, can I tell you something?”

Leena looks into his eyes with her own rounded ones. Then she replies disinterestedly, “Yes.”

“Why do you prefer this thing to so many other things on earth?”

Letting out a breath of relief, Leena reflects on something. After a while raising her head, she again looks at Jafor saheb, wants to say something. But before she can speak, Jafor saheb again says laughing, “I have a cousin just like you. Her only concern is to buy saris. She arranges the saris in the almirah and counts every day to see how many saris she has in total. I used to know another such lady. Her hobby was to buy bangles of different types. She used to tell everybody how many dozens of bangles she bought.”

“Very interesting.”

“Yes, certainly interesting. People store away things, and then count to see how much they have stored away. People buy books, arrange them neatly in shelves, check on them every once in a while to see how many books they have bought. And you?” Jafor saheb keeps laughing and adds, “If you see a dead beast, you list it, skim through the list now and then and total up the number of dead animals you have seen. Interesting, very interesting.”

Leena seems to be taken aback to some extent. She can't think of what to say at this moment. She does not feel well. She sits up straight in the chair, moving her back away from her chair. Pulling out an office file, she puts away the diary inside the bag. There's a lot of work today. Jafor saheb gets up and goes back to his table. Opening the file and running her eyes down it, Leena does not at all feel like in the mood for work today. No, not at all!

Leena thinks about her father. What a good person! He never spoke in a loud voice. He was also a man of few words, and nowadays he had become even more silent. This man has done good for others his whole life, which is why during their times of trouble they would rush to him.

Her father after his retirement seems to be lonely. He stays by himself the whole time, reading newspapers silently most of the time. He stares off into middle distance sometimes when reading the newspapers. He seems to be thinking of something in a desolate manner. Leena feels very pained at such moments: Is her father anxious over her, about her marriage? Leena can't guess what he's thinking about.

Sometimes Leena's father calls her to come over to him. He seems to want to tell her something when she is close to him but then can't say it. But she can understand what her father wanted to tell. A father burdened with the responsibility of a daughter whose marriage is long overdue is something that she sees on his face.

Leena often thinks, does every woman hides torments, untold torments, in her heart? Or is it only in her heart? A woman hides so many astonishing events in her life, forever. She does not share them with anyone, not even her near and dear ones. Women endure everything like the dumb animals. However, what is the difference between a girl and a beast, Leena asks herself, and then answers her own question. A beast dies one day with all untold sufferings of life unspoken. The difference between a beast and a woman was that while an animal died only once, a woman died many times over.

Leena doesn't want to remember how she began doing it, out of her own wish. When this habit began, however, she was a student of class ten. One day when she went to school in the morning, she was startled by something inside her classroom. The previous night had been stormy. A tiny baby cat, wet, was lying in one corner underneath a table. She tiptoed to it. Sitting on her knees, she gazed at it for a long time. It was still. The fur was smudged on the body. It seemed as if someone had combed the hairs with a fine comb. The kitten was lying peacefully. How soft, how cute! When Leena touched it with a finger of her left hand she jumped back with a fright. The kitten was stiff to the touch. The baby cat was dead. She had felt like crying. Thinking something for a while and then taking out the diary from the bag, she wrote about the dead baby cat. That was the first; that was the beginning.

Ratul was little then. One day, after listening to his continual pleading, their father had bought for him four baby rabbits. Ratul was very happy upon getting them. Her father loved all his children, but perhaps loved Ratul a little bit more. This charge could be made not only of Leena, but also by Deena. The birth of a son, after two daughters, had made their father more content. He had distributed sweets to the neighbourhood people on that occasion. Ratul forgot to eat his meals after getting the pets. He had just been admitted to school then. He became neglectful of his studies, always busy with the rabbits. One day in a rage their father hid the rabbits, including the cage, in one corner of the room. After about three hours he saw that the four rabbits were lying quietly. Thousands of red ants had bitten them to death. Quickly grabbing the cage and holding it up, he had shaken the cage up and down to get rid of the ants. The ants left them but the rabbits had remained still. Leena saw tears in her father's eyes for the first time that day.

Apa, the chief is calling you.”

Leena starts up at peon Moslem Miah's words. She quickly gets up from the chair. Pulling the end of her sari around herself forward, Leena heads towards her boss's room quickly.

“May I come in, sir?”
“Yes, please.”

Entering the room, she stands in trepidation. Lifting his eyes from the file, he looks at Leena and says, “You look very absent-minded today. Sit down.” Lighting a cigarette, he laughs and says, “Do you still have that hobby?”

“What!” Leena makes a show of not understanding what he is referring to.

“That hobby of yours where you make lists of dead animals?”

Leena feels shy; bows her head down. Her boss laughs loudly. This man who is the same age as her father is very simple. He never acted like a boss. He enquired after everybody. But he seems to have a great sorrow in his life. After the death of his wife who had left behind two small sons, he hadn't married again. His two sons were grown up now. They studied abroad, came to see their father once in a year. They would also visit the office, shouting and laughing. Then it would seem not an office, but a home.

“Anyway”, he continues after having stopped laughing, “When I was entering my office a little earlier I saw you staring fixedly in front of you. I don't think you are feeling well today. Perhaps you should take the rest of the day off.”

Leena leaves the room very quietly. She stands by her table for a while. She keeps thinking and then taking her bag begins to walk out of the office. Jafor saheb calls out to her from behind her back, “Madam.”

Leena turns towards him.

Getting up from the chair, Jafor saheb comes forward towards Leena. She keeps on walking towards the door. Jafor saheb falls in step with her.

“Do you want to say anything?”
“Are you going?”
“I have something to tell you.”

Leena looks at Jafor saheb, giving him her full attention. Jafor saheb bends his head towards her. At this moment she feels a tenderness for the man. With some effort Leena forces a smile onto her lips. Then she says in a soft tone, “Some other day, Jafor saheb.”

Getting on the rickshaw, Leena decides to go to Rashida's house. It's been quite a while since she's been to Rashida's house. When they used to study together, they would rush to each other if they missed meeting each other even for a single day. There was so much to talk about; their conversation wouldn't finish. Everything changed after Rashida's marriage. Rashida and her husband live in the same city, but the two of them can't meet as they did in the past.

Leena laughs by herself on the rickshaw. A boy used to love Rashida but she couldn't stand him. One day he sent a letter written with blood. After scores of beseeching sentences, the boy wrote that he had written the letter after cutting two fingers of his right hand. Reading the letter, Rashida had gone straight to Leena. Showing it to Leena, she said that she was going to go to the boy's house. They put into action Rashida's desire instantly, and both of them went to the boy's house. Entering it, Leena and Rashida saw that the boy, accompanied by three other boys, was playing carom board. He was hitting the striker with the fingers of his right hand quite well. He was thunderstruck on seeing Rashida and Leena, and was sweating within a very short time. Getting close to the boy, Rashida said, “I thought I would sit beside you for a while holding your bruised fingers but it's useless now. Now I wish I could cut your two fingers into pieces and eat them after cooking them. What an ass!” He as well as three other boys had gazed at them stupidly.

Rashida opens the door instantly on hearing the knock. Seeing Leena, she cries out loudly and hugs her. Then literally drags her inside. After sitting her down on the sofa, Rashida says in a grave tone, “You came after a long time; you’ve utterly forgotten me..”

“What if I tell you the same thing, that you forgot me!”
“It would be a lie.”
“Not at all.”
“You have yet to set up a household and run it. The day you do you'll know what it is: work and more work.”
“And you think you're the only running a household, nobody else?”
“They do, but my situation's different. I'm married to an ass, he can't get by for a second without me.”
“Well, that's good, isn't it?”
“Some good!” Rashida then replaced her angry expression with a more normal one and asked, “How's Uncle, Auntie, Deena and Ratul?”
“It's been so long since I have seen them. And by the by, do you still have that bad habit?”
Leena looks straight at Rashida. She doesn't say anything, only laughs. After a while she says, “Listen, I'm going to be here with you for some time.”
“Stay as long as you like. Listen, are you thinking about marrying? Time is not standing still for any of us.”
“Is marriage essential?”
“Oh, you saying such things keeps irritating me. Wait till I meet Auntie next, I'm going to fix this problem for good this time.”
Smiling sweetly, Leena keeps pulling at the fingers of Rashida's hands. She says nothing in reply. Just looks thoughtful.

It's now fairly late at night, and there's still a few minutes to go before she reaches home.

The rickshaw is moving very slowly. Ma is certainly getting angry, and she’ll pout and not talk with her daughter for a long time. Then later she'll get a plate of food and come to stand silently beside her.

Leena can't understand why at this very moment tears roll down from her eyes. As soon as the rickshaw reaches near her house, she wipes away the tears.

While handing the fare to the rickshaw-puller, she turns her head to see the wife of the neighboring house running towards her. Panting heavily, she says, “Leena, have you heard? Durjoy has died; he was shot dead by some unknown people.”

Leena looks at the wife in the dim, shadowy light. She doesn't say anything. Holding one of Leena's hands, the neighbouring woman says, “Do you know which Durjoy I'm talking about? That very Durjoy who killed a student last year by chopping him with a cleaver.”

Leena keeps staring at her. In a desolate way. The woman becomes agitated, “Can't you place him? The one that kidnapped a girl for three days.”

Still Leena does not say anything. She stares with fixed eyes at the woman, who becomes very impatient. Taking Leena by the hand and shaking it from side to side she says, “You know, that one, when you were in class ten, the boy that...”

The woman couldn't finish the sentence. Leena stops her by putting her finger on the woman's lips. Gently Leena frees her own hand from the woman's grip and quietly takes the dairy out from her bag. She used to feel like weeping before listing each dead beast. But this is the first time she smilingly writes a new number next to the tally of dead beasts: 80. Then closing the dairy and instead of putting it back in her bag she tosses it away by the side of the road.

artwork by anisurzzaman sohel

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