Rahad Abir was born and bred in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is a fiction writer. His short stories have appeared in The Penmen Review, Aerodrome and Toad Suck Review. His wining short story ‘‘I am in London’’ is appearing in an anthology from England. He has worked as journalist, university teacher and interpreter. Currently he is working on his first novel.
He knew it was simply unfair to go out on a date with his student’s mom. It involved risk too. But he said yes when she asked him. He was confused and fascinated and lost. The relationship was about three months of old, mostly talking and texting over the phone. Every evening he visited her home to tutor the second grade boy, and she hardly ever seemed to take any opportunity to talk to him then.
On an early somnolent afternoon in July, he waited by Curzon Hall gate of Dhaka University, and his roving eyes fell upon every rickshaw and CNG auto-rickshaw (little semi-taxi) that appeared at the gate. He endeavored not to notice the beggars—either elderly or kiddies—who only walked up to the passengers at the very moment they reached their hands for wallets or purses to pay fares so that it’d be psychologically embarrassing for them to refuse their request for alms.
She turned up around half an hour late. A leg, so light-skinned, and then another, slipped out of a CNG auto rickshaw, he watched. A small woman, wearing a black sari, approached him with short steps. Four eyes met for a moment. A smug smile came out of her crimson lips. He smiled her back.
The dating spot on his mind—Curzon Hall pond—by that mid-afternoon, got almost full of people sitting by the pond’s edge. Fortunately, an unoccupied concrete bench was found.
‘‘You look gorgeous,’’ he said.
She gazed into his eyes.
‘‘Well—’’ he looked at her—her hair, her black dress, which she had put on for him. His eyes tried to read hers—her beautiful light eyes, twenty-seven-year-old olive skinned face, full crimson lips. Shortly, a naughty grin appeared on her face.
He remembered the same grin over that face, when one evening the young pretty mommy of his pupil brought a tray of snacks in the middle of their The Very Hungry Caterpillar studies; but whilst leaving the tray she, unlike the other days, looked into his eyes and grinned, ‘‘Have a nibble.’’ There was something else in that look, the way she grinned—everything thrilled him.
Later that night he received a ‘‘you’re so handsome’’ text on his phone from an unknown number. The following night the same text buzzed, at the same time. He called the sender, however, no one answered. Weeks after, one late night his call was received. But the receiver was completely silent. His voice turned impatient, ‘‘I know it’s you, it must be you; if you like me why’re you scared of talking to me?’’ And, that night, she spoke.
Later, he would imagine that it was not him, it was her who killed him, and he would remember the same grinning face with disgust, and curse himself, in the last and long five minutes of his life. He was a soft sort of guy—sentimental.
‘‘Why not we take a rickshaw ride instead?’’ she said, holding his arm.
He glanced at her, rolling his eyes from the water striders in pond. Her hand was soft and warm and real. He figured that she wanted more intimacy. Shortly, as two bums squashed into a rickshaw, the warmth of her body ran through his, but her face didn’t glow, changed no color. She asked if he was uncomfortable being with her because he’d not held her hand yet. He blushed, grasped her hand straightaway, and in a moment as her breast erratically touched the back of his arm, he trembled. He trembled again, after the dark fell, being with her in a CNG auto rickshaw, on the way home. This time he put his arm around her waist. For the first time in his twenty-two-year life, he couldn’t resist the temptation to rub a woman’s naked fat little tummy and she couldn’t stop drawing her face to his, and finally the lustful lips met, carefully escaping the driver’s eyes.
Beyond this intimacy, beyond this heading for home, beyond this purposeless rickshaw riding he bought her green coconut juice from a street vendor. While nibbling Chinese nuts he talked about his Hindu upbringing, his old family house, and his ties with relatives living in Kolkata, India. Likewise, he learned from her that she made up a story to her mother-in-law about her whereabouts this afternoon. What’s more, he learned about her unhappy relationship with her husband, whom at the time was working in Dubai. Although not being a devout Muslim, he, during the early months of their marriage pressured her wear a burka which she refused. He also learned about her first-and-only unsuccessful love affair (here she chuckled since the second attempt was turning out to be wonderful) before getting married.
Another late afternoon, they met at British Council on Fuller Road. Unlike the first day, he hired a rickshaw to Elephant Road, where he’d arranged to have use of his friend’s flat for an hour. During the rickshaw ride, he held her hand. Though, his hesitant hand tried to be convinced that the age difference between them was not evident. His roving eyes searched for any familiar eyes on street. Somehow, later, his fear would come true when a pair of eyes would fall upon them on Johnson Road, just for a moment, without his knowledge.
They met in a small shared flat, under a naked hundred-watt Philips bulb. On a yellowing, tatty bed-sheet. This happened again. While, another day, her mother-in-law was picking her son from school.
Traffic was always crazy and awfully slow on Old Dhaka narrow streets. To get out of it, some drove wherever it was possible to drive—lest it was the pavement or the opposite wrong route—resulting in more traffic. Being stuck in English road traffic for twenty minutes in a CNG auto-rickshaw, while heading back home together in one evening, he worried because she was running late. Glancing around he then remembered that Dhaka’s largest brothel once operated a block away, set up by the British. During his school days, as he passed the brothel street one day, many strange-behaving and odd-looking women of different ages, standing by the outside doors, waved at him. Laughed at him. He was both charmed and unnerved.
The CNG auto-rickshaw reached near the Judge Court on Johnson Road. Here he should have left. She grasped his hand tightly. He looked into her eyes. She blushed, and laughed, and said, ‘‘I love you.’’ He shuddered. Her lips moved, saying something. He slowly walked down the street, not knowing that this happened to be their last and final meeting.
A little later, he walked into the apartment for the tuition. The living room’s light wasn’t turned on, and instead of the little boy, the grandma emerged. She looked cranky and her voice sounded hysterical. ‘‘He’s not feeling good tonight, we’ll call you when he gets better.’’
The very next day he got a call. ‘‘You bastard Hindu, son of a bitch.’’ The unknown voice began swearing all at once. Before he could swallow the bubble of shock and say anything, the unknown voice apparently tried to grab him over the phone and shred him to pieces. They found out everything, must have seen them last evening, he feared. He went cold. Forgot to breathe. Sweating like a pig.
He never contacted her. He changed his mobile number the day after. For three weeks he mostly stayed home, telling others that his finals were coming. He worried about her, wished she wouldn’t have been in big trouble.
The air began to get dry from mid-November and there was a whiff of winter. Looking through the only window from his tiny room, he thought of her. Thought of a pair of crimson lips.
Two months after, in one night at about nine thirty, his mother told him that someone came to see him, waiting in the stairway. His heart sank when he saw the boy, who was member of a so-called street gang.
‘‘I’ve an urgent need to talk with you, can you come outside for a moment?’’ the boy said.
He scanned the boy’s face in the dimness of plaster falling old yellowish walls, glanced over his left shoulder down the stairs. The main door of this two-storey building, over a hundred-and-fifty years old, remained open till eleven at night. Two ground floor rooms were rented to a book-binding factory.
‘‘What’s it about?’’ He asked, ‘‘Say here.’’
‘‘It’s private. Just come out for a minute, bro.’’
‘‘I got my finals, I’m busy.’’ And to his surprise he saw another boy climb the stairs. ‘‘OK—’’ he was about to close the door.
‘‘Bring him down,’’ a voice burst out, following the second boy.
The first boy grabbed his hand.
‘‘Leave him!’’ his mother screamed.
Momentarily, a small crowd gathered there. His mother, father and his younger sister managed to free him from their hands, obstructing the three guys from entering.
‘‘Do you want us to break into your house?’’ the man roared, ‘‘Bring him here now.’’
‘‘Tell me what happened,’’ the father repeatedly asked.
Crowds had already filled the stairway. ‘‘Your bloody son slept with a married Muslim woman,’’ someone blurted out, ‘‘Hand him over to us. We’ll figure this out’’
The news incited a sudden excitement in the crowd. He could feel this even shrinking into a corner of his room, locking the door well. Out there, there were overheated arguments, shouts, broken swearing at his father. The crowd threw bricks into their street-facing windows. Later, when everyone had left, he learned that they grabbed his old father. Slapped him. Ripped off his shirt. For a moment, a burning fire inside him wanted to take the big knife from kitchen and go after the scoundrels in the street.
But that night he neither opened his door nor went out nor went in front of his father. His mother cried. She swore at him sitting by his room’s door. Moaning how he put the whole family at risk. Why did God still keep her alive? To see all this disgrace? To see her husband beaten by young hooligans? If she knew this before, she’d have choked him to death when he was a little boy.
His best friend called and informed him that his student’s mom was in the hospital and fighting for life. She had become pregnant, taken drugs to abort the baby that resulted in nonstop bleeding. He also told him to stay safe. If possible to go into hiding somewhere for a few weeks.
It was not only about his safety, his father, and especially his sister should take care, too. Father in no way would agree on leaving the house vacant. The local commissioner had long been trying to evict them and grab the house. But above all, the reality was he had brought shame for his family. How could his father, an upright man, go out in the neighborhood now? Who’d want to marry his sister now? ‘‘Blood will have blood,’’ he shivered with fright. If he could, he’d have slipped away into a CNG auto-rickshaw by night and never be seen again.
With this thought, he jumped up out of his chair momentarily. He looked for something hurriedly in the closet. The second shelf from the top belonged to his sister. A long scarf came to his hand. His eyes watched the spinning ceiling fan. Spinning, round and round. Winter was not that intense in the old part of Dhaka. He made a loop at one end of the scarf. He turned off the fan and tied the other end around it. Then he wept.
He stood on the top of the bed head, facing the loop-end that waited for his neck to embrace. He took it. Now, just a little jump, and everything would be over. A bit of smile crossed his lips. How would her baby look if it had survived? He wished he’d have believed in God. ‘‘Please, let there be another world after death,’’ he said. He imagined his hanging body from the ceiling fan; still, calm like the serene morning light. The light had slipped through the window, and in the middle of the room he was hanging; hanging by a long scarf. He took a long breath, and glanced at the wall clock. Seven to two in the morning. He gasped as the big thinnest red hand neared the last minute. When it was ten seconds to two, he counted every move of the red hand. ‘‘Fifty one, fifty two, fifty three, fifty four, fifty five…’’