On Tuesday was supposed to be a slow day. With mostly stories about National Mourning Day observed across the nation and floods hitting in the northern region, the morning shift did not have much to worry, even with the in-charge taking a holiday.
But when Akib found the street cordoned off by the police, he paused and called the office staff to check up on what was happening right outside his office.
“Sir, they’re raiding a militant den” was all it took to motivate the 21-year-old journalist to take an alley behind Square Hospital to exit on Mirpur Road in Shukrabad. He tried going around via Russel Square, but found even more police and fire service personnel blocking the road.
The police was raiding Hotel Olio International, a three-storey-building right across from the Dhaka Tribune office. Confusion ensued when other media had reported the militant was hiding in Hotel Olio Dream Haven - located in the same building as the Dhaka Tribune - until firsthand accounts clarified the situation.
At 8:32am, Akib’s phone rang. A colleague was inquiring about what was happening. He described what he saw – barricades, police in riot gear, fire service and to cap it off, an armoured personnel vehicle. The colleague asked Akib to send as many photos as he could, and continue posting updates.
Around the same time, Tilka was calling Akib. This was the first day of her three-day vacation that she had been looking forward to for months. The shortest of briefs was what it took for Tilka to grab her clothes and make a dash for the door.
She left her home in Mohammadpur and hailed a CNG. Her phone began to ring. More colleagues were calling from their homes, concerned about a possible militant hideout right under their noses. For them, a raid was a distant fact; reporters would provide information from the scene which they would collate and prepare for publishing. Today, they were the grunts on the ground.
Tilka exited the CNG at the intersection of Dhanmondi 27 and walked to the Daffodil University campus in Sobhanbagh, where a narrow alley led to the office after many twists and turns.
She saw the office building and the cordoned hotel which looms over one-storey shacks of tea stalls and budget housing. The mouth of the alley was blocked off by police who were restricting access. Tilka would have to somehow find a way to get in.
That is when the first explosion went off, followed by two gunshots. Before the echo of the gunshots could pass, the police opened fire.
After a dozen rounds or so were fired at the hotel, another explosion went off. Police replied with another volley of bullets.
At the same time, Akib, patiently reining in his excitement, was waiting for his colleagues to show up when the second-storey wall of the hotel exploded out onto the street less than 25 metres from him.
The resounding explosion forced him to his knees. He saw the debris fly between instinctive blinking and his ears ringing. With each gunshot, he winced, concerned a stray bullet could injure, or worse, claim a life on the National Day of Mourning.
Akib turned and ran towards Russell Square. The police cordon seemed like a safe area for him to collect his breath, and there he waited to be reinforced by his colleagues.
Tilka had an eye for opportunity. Perhaps silently screaming “carpe diem” she began recording the scene. The police also saw this was something to remember. They took out their phones and began to record, too.
Seizing the day, Tilka snuck past the guards posted at the alley, crept behind fire service and SWAT members and ran into the building housing the Dhaka Tribune office.
From her floor, the carnage was on eye level. She saw an entire floor bereft of a wall that had found a new home on the street. The body of the militant lay mangled in the hotel room. The street below was littered with debris. A black suicide vest strapped with explosives lay on the ground. Police were running around, calling for the Bomb Disposal Unit.
Soon enough, the police chief arrived surrounded by his bodyguards. He briefly spoke to the media who were now allowed on the scene.
While other reporters vied for the scoop, Tilka knew she was getting it all on her phone. She had the best seat in the house from her floor. She oscillated between taking photos and recording videos and updating colleagues of the latest developments.
Tilka went up to the roof for better footage and saw the police chief enter the building. She knew he was coming in solely for the view. She hurried back to get out of the way of his guards who would be sweeping the floor for any further threats.
The elevator door opened. The IGP stepped out.
“Slamalikum,” Tilka told the police chief.
IGP Shahidul nodded and replied “Slamalikum.”
They both passed each other without a further word.
During the security sweep, one of the police officers noticed a bottle of JD on a desk. He surreptitiously reached for it, twisted the cap open with a glint in his eyes, sniffed in, and put it down dejected after realising it merely contained water.
Akib joined Tilka in the office after the cordon was lifted. As he inspected the blast site from inside the confines of the office, a glint in the window caught his eye. He stepped closer for an inspection and saw the unmistakable mark left by a bullet in the thick glass plate.