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A SLAVE

  • Published at 03:25 pm September 3rd, 2016
  • Last updated at 05:58 pm September 8th, 2016
A SLAVE

Parul was supposed to come by nine sharp. She didn’t. I waited till twelve o’ clock, alone. I was too upset. I felt like crying. Women, God knows why, are so moody!

When I reached home, I found a small note left by her on the table.

“Call me on this number -- 69762,

in the evening

-Parul!”

I had called her on their neighbour’s number many times before. But today why should I call her? Didn’t we finalise after a lot of talks that on Monday we would leave for Tangail by ten in the morning? There, we would get married at Majid’s place.

I lay in bed all through the afternoon. My lunch, ordered from a nearby hotel, remained untouched. I used to do this when I was young—skipping meals for being sad. I did that today. I kept thinking, “It’s over with Parul!” As I thought this, I felt low and cheap. In the evening, when I went out to make the call, I was still upset and my lips quivered a bit while speaking.

The owner of Green Pharmacy asked in utter shock, “Are you sick?”

“I’ll make a call.” I said dryly.

Parul was nearby, probably. She picked the phone immediately and spoke in that childish tone that made my heartbeat race every time I heard her. “Listen! I got a job in a school. Can you hear me? Such a poor phone connection today!”

She was too excited and spoke in an animated voice. I heard her incredulously and stuttered, “You were supposed to be there at nine … “

“Oh! I remember that. But listen we have to postpone the date. We don’t have the emergency any longer! Besides … “

“Besides?”

“With your current business state, if we get married now, we’ll have to starve.”

She blurted out more. Once she laughed! Well, I got the message—Parul wouldn’t come to marry me. But it was just yesterday when we went out and bought household items. She roamed the entire market, even after she exhausted herself. It was just yesterday when she blushed profusely before asking the salesman for a double bed cover. But now she simply said “with your current business state … “

It was quite a blow for me. I was never really brave. Or else, I’d have committed suicide. I’d have taken poison or jumped from the three storey building. But I did nothing. I was a soft person, you know, by birth.

It was a bad year for me. Accidents, downturns in business followed. Irfan took a loan of four thousand taka from me. He died suddenly. I ordered one wagon of salt in Ramgonj that simply vanished without a trace. I suffered heavy losses in other businesses too. I could barely stand on my feet. Women are quite visionaries! I realised. Parul had foreseen my future!

I lost touch with Parul. I never went to see her. Yet, we bumped into each other now and then. Sometimes while lingering around the same bus stop. Whenever she saw me, she said affectionately, “What a surprise! You’ve lost weight. How is your business?”

“So so.”

“You have lost weight. You want to go out for a cup of tea? It’ll be my treat.”

The other day it was in front of a cinema hall. I wanted to avoid her. So I pretended not to see her and started walking past but she called me, “Listen! Listen! Did you come to watch films?”

“No,” I said.

“Come here! Listen to me!”

“What?”

“I have a birthday programme today! My friend’s son’s birthday. Can you please choose a gift for me? Come with me!”

Every time I saw her, I was amazed. I couldn’t possibly comprehend how a job with a three hundred taka salary made her so confident and proud! She never mentioned our marriage again. It seemed a trivial thing that once we had fixed a date to get married. Her sparkling look and chattering rather indicated that her life was much more meaningful and happening now.

On April 13, Parul got married. I almost forgave her for not sending me a wedding card, because if she did, that would have been another act of cruelty on her part. That evening, I went to watch a film after having a square meal at a restaurant. Then I went to a friend’s house and chatted late into the night. I behaved as if Parul’s marriage hadn't affected me at all. As if it’s a common thing to fix a marriage date with someone and then marry another person! As if it happens all the time!

That night I felt the air warm in my room. Sleep eluded me and as I lay there, I mused. If my businesses got better a bit, I would marry a simple girl and I would burst out laughing while telling her how Parul ditched me.

But with time, things got worse. I lost most of my savings in a small business contract. I was in deep water. I fired the boy servant and had to dispense with a few precious things that were bought with much difficulty—a transistor, a record player and an expensive table clock. Then one day, I practically starved the whole day with half a loaf of bread.

I had had no idea about how cruelly this city treated someone with no money to support himself. I realized it soon while roaming around this cruel and heartless city. At that time, I felt famished all the time. Even the mere sight of rice at roadside hotels, covered with a piece of cloth, made me sad. Poor working class people having a good meal were a welcoming sight. “Such happy folks,” I considered them and my eyes would fill with tears. I scrabbled about to survive. Once I took a job as a salesperson at New Ink shop, writing advertisement for a soap company. In the midst of all this, Parul was erased from my memory.

Then one evening, I was going past the Mohammadpur market when I saw Parul all of a sudden. A cute child with her, wearing a red dress, looking like a doll. The child was walking, holding Parul’s sari. Just to avoid Parul, I took a turn down the next corner. It was not needed, though. Parul was too engrossed with her daughter. For a split of a second, I thought this child could have been mine. But the next moment I was weighed down by the thought whether Sobhan Mia would give me a job or not.

I was lucky I got the job. Every morning I walked from Shegunbagicha to Mohammadpur. I worked all day at Sobhan’s Mia’s firm, checked the accounts and returned to Shegunbaghicha late at night. It was an impoverished existence. If I woke up in the middle of the night, I felt like putting an end to this life.

I started walking the streets with my head down, trying to avoid the gaze of my acquaintances. Even so, I met Parul twice more. Once I saw her in a rickshaw with a handsome man. Probably she married this guy. I heard from Shofiq that Parul had married a good looking and well off man. Another day, I saw her with a girl chattering and laughing. But she didn’t notice me. Even if she did, she wouldn’t be able to recognize me. Poverty, hunger and stress changed my feature a lot. Besides, to avoid the curious and pitiful looks of my friends I had grown beard. Long beard and sunken cheeks were enough to conceal my identity, yet I adopted a different style of walking. That’s why even Shofiq, my ex roommate, didn’t recognise me.

I was certain if I met Parul, she wouldn't notice me either. She would rather walk away hurriedly like Shofiq. But Parul did recognise me instantly. She was shocked perhaps. For a while, she said nothing.

I said as casually as possible, “It’s been a while! I have an important meeting. I need to rush.”

Parul kept staring at me. There were hints of pain and shock in her eyes. When I started leaving, she said, “What’s happened to you?”

I tried to smile and said, “My business has failed Parul. OK, Bye!”

Parul said nothing more. I was astounded. Her eyes were full of tears. She looked away. She stood there in silence for a while and then trudged across the road.

I almost forgot Parul. The life I was leading now had no space for such insignificant emotions like love. But with a few drop of trivial tears, Parul re-established herself. I felt once again the utter pain of having lost her and it overcame all other sorrows of my life. I needed to feel this pain.

The writer is a fiction writer. Her debut novel will come out soon from Bengal Publications