Shahidul Zahir

Translation: Mehedi Hassan  

Just as Hafizuddi arrived in front of Babupura slum, he got caught in the eyes of Mawla.

Mawla cried out to him, “Hey, Hafizuddi, where did you bring it from?

Mawla was a neighbor of Hafizuddi. He was quite lean with kind of a longish face. Under the great fir tree, he sat every day from morning to dusk with Betel leaves and cigarettes to sell. Hafizuddi didn’t look at Mawla and also didn’t consider it necessary to answer his question.

Inside the slum, near the tube-well used by everyone, Hafizuddi noticed Abeda. After serving her duty as a maidservant, she had returned a little while before. Someone, bending down, taking his face near the mouth of the tube-well, was washing his face- a particular gesture was only being seen from behind. Karam Ali’s young daughter was washing something setting them down on a brick. With her back naked, sitting on two bricks gathered up, Abeda was cleansing her black skin. Hafizuddi was used to with this kind of scene. Not going near, from far away, he called her, “ Come to me, Abeda.”

Turning her eyes in a flash, Abeda saw Hafizuddi go to the room. With only one look, she spotted the thing in his hand and got astonished. “ Have this man gone mad! Otherwise, why the bedfellow has come home with flowers! Besides, why he has asked her to come? Wouldn’t he wear the flower on her bun like a hero of the Bengali movie just as she enters the room?” Quickly, she tied her wet hair into a bun. She mused over her thin and rough hair and became upset. Would the Flower be appropriate with this ugly hair!

As Abeda got into the room, Hafizuddi asked, “Is there a bottle in the room?

“Yes. what is the use of a bottle?” Abeda took a bottle from a dark corner of the room. She gently undid the bun with her left hand.

“I will put the flower in it. Go fill the bottle up with water.”

Abeda went to the tube-well and filled the bottle up with water.

Hafizuddi inserted the long stalk of the flower through the neck of the bottle and sink it into the water. In the dimness of the room, the yellow color of the great dahlia appeared lustreless.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Hafizuddi asked.

Abeda could feel the happiness of Hafizuddi. She said, “Yes. Where did you get it from?”

“From college yard. Everyone was plucking the flowers for the martyr day celebration. I also took one.”

“It is very nice of you.” Abeda became amazed at the softness of her voice. She asked, “Would you go out again?

“Yes”. He came up to the wicker basket placed at the door.

“For you are already there, eat something and then go,” Abeda asked him.

Hafizuddi halted, “What I will eat?

“I have some boiled rice.”

“Boiled rice? Where you get it from? Haven’t you eaten?”

“No. I have had my lunch at the house of my lady.” Abeda lied to him. Lying to her husband was not new to her. However, Hafizuddi agreed. He asked, “Where is Tohura? I haven’t seen her since I came.”

“I don’t know. Maybe, she is playing somewhere around.”

“Look after her, lest she gets lost.”

“Okay. Now I am going. Shut the door when you leave.”

A few boiled rice. Hafizuddi devoured the rice, making sound ‘hapus hupus’.

Abeda came back again with a broken Dixie in her hand. She said, “Couldn’t have a bath today. There is no water to have a bath.”

She changed the half wet sharee with a dried up one. She scrubbed her hair using the wet sharee. She, taking a gesture like a bow and making sounds like chotas chotas, thrashed her hair. Drops of water rained throughout the room. Hafizuddi turned agitated. “What the hell are you threshing your hair in front of me?”

Abeda didn’t show any reaction. She plowed her hair with her fingers and spread them on the shoulders. She discovered the flower kept beside the fence. She asked, What would you do with it?

Which one? Hafizuddi washed his hand and scrubbed his chin with his wet palm.

“This one. This flower.”

“What I would do?”

“This is what I am asking. What you would do?” Abeda sate beside the bottle and touched the soft stigma of the flower with her fingers.
“Nothing.” he scrubbed his face with the lungi and stood up.

“It would get dried up,” Abeda said.

Hafizuddi didn’t respond. He took the great whisker basket and said while going out, “Keep an eye on the flower, lest anybody has stolen it.”

She said, “No one is eager to your flower,” and laughed.

When Hafizuddi left, she took up the flower from the bottle and caressed it with her fingers for a long time. She tied her hair into a bun and tried to insert the flower in it. This heavy flower fell down repeatedly. At last, she pressed the flower against the bun with her hand and watched herself into a small mirror. She was not satiated by watching herself in the dark of the room. She wished to go out in the light. But she couldn’t because there were people around.

At once, Tohura, with dust all over her body, entered the room.

“What is it, mother? Who has brought it?”

“Your father. Don’t touch it, if so he would kill you.”

When she came, after finishing the job of cleaning utensil in the afternoon at the house of her mistress, the daylight faded. She saw Hafizuddi sitting under the fir tree, chatting with Mawla. Tohura, seated beside her father, was watching car running down the road. She saw her mother come back and ran to her.

Right away, Abeda started to cook. She got ravenously hungry. They only had pulse soup and bread for dinner. She cooked dal. And at the time of baking bread, it got dark. Abeda lighted up the lamp and sent Tohura to fetch Haizuddi. Hafizuddi came and Abeda poured pulse soup on a tin plate for Hafizuddi and for Tohura into a bowl. Taking bread from the Winnowing basket and dipping into the pulse soup, the two started to eat. Abeda also began. At first, she tore the bread and then dipped a piece of it into the soup left in the dixie.

Seated on a piece of wood, Hafizuddi ate dinner with his head lowered. Tohura spoiled food at the time of eating. Abeda admonished her by saying “This adult girl hasn’t learned to eat yet!”

Hafizuddi looked up and watched her eating. And he said to Abeda, what you touched my flower for?

Abeda couldn’t understand to whom he said that. And said, “who, me?”

“Yes. Whoever but you!”

“Why I would touch the flower?” Abeda grew a little angry, “ What a silly flower!”

“Don’t lie to me. Didn’t you thrust the flower in your hair?”

Now, Abeda could realize the matter. She said, “Who has told you that?”

“Whoever it was. I myself found hair in the flower.”

Abeda discerned that it was no use of taking the matter any further. But she felt uneasy to admit. She said, “While scrubbing the hair, one might have fallen on the flower!”
Abeda smiled. But Hafizuddi didn’t see her brisk face because his head was bowed. So, he yelled, “Don’t lie to me, you old women. It puts me in a bad mood!”

Abeda was about to outburst, but she refrained herself. She wished to beat Tohura and said in mind, “Stupid girl, can’t keep a secret.”

Suddenly, Hafizuddi said, “Now it is yours.”

The words came so swiftly that she didn’t have the time to be amazed! She said, What I would do with it?

“Whatever you wish.”

There was no extra softness in his voice. Abeda also had no time to come to ponder over it immediately. But she shook inside because of an unknown bliss.

After dinner, Hafizuddi went out for a walk. At first, Tohura got afraid of her mother. She thought, “Getting her alone, she might beat her! It was not at the least in the knowledge of Tohura that father made mother enchanted. Abeda tidied up the room silently. She said to Tohura, “Go make the bed and sleep.”

Tohura couldn’t make the bed properly yet. Abeda came and placed a kantha on a mat and then made Tohura lay on it. Tohura pulled the kantha up to her neck and kept lying. She said, “Ma, I would take the flower.”

Abeda was doing her chore. She noticed Tohura’s eyes open. The pale light of the lamp reflected from the eyes of Tohura. She finished her chore and came to Tohura. She put out the lamp with a whiff. Abeda bent down and touched Tohura’s forehead gingerly with her lips.