A sarcastic smile flickered across my lips. I looked piercingly at the chignon of the girl sitting by the window in the third row of seats of a Mirpur-bound bus. I was in the fourth row, sitting behind her. The young woman's bun was adorned with a garland of different small white flowers. I tried for a short while to understand what flowers they were. The young man seated next to the girl was whispering in her ear non-stop. I craned my neck to see the girl’s face, but could see only the back side of her superb neck and her left ear. The left ear, it seemed to me, was unoccupied and it was listening to a very low murmur of the Phalgun wind. It was Valentine’s Day.
I descended the bus at the Rampura Bridge. Before getting off, when I was at the bus door, I managed a look over my left shoulder to see the couple, particularly the young woman. Her eyes were smiling, presumably to a witticism of her handsome partner. She had dimples.
I am a man in the late thirties and my doctor has advised me to walk at least 20 minutes a day to delay impending Type 2 diabetics. The doctor said the walk could also be a remedy for my insomnia. So, I began my routine walk to my office through a walkway in Hatirjheel.
The first person I encountered during my walk was a flower seller. The man was selling red roses at a makeshift shop on the walkway.
“Do you want some flowers, sir? Red roses?”
I looked at the man carefully though my eyes were blinking more rapidly than normal due to my sleep problem. His falcon-beak eyes caught my attention. He was much younger than me. I lowered my eyes to the flowers he was arranging on a table. The man was placing the flowers on the table as if he were offering those to a deity. A jute bag was hanging from his left shoulder.
“Sir, these are fresh from Savar. See they are still sleeping in a fog wrap! Do you want some, sir?”
“No. I have no one to offer a red rose to.”
The flower seller was taken aback at the outspokenness of my answer and was trying to find his next move. Standing there, I saw the morning breeze rippling the Hatirjheel water.
“How much?” a young man intervened. He was indicating a bunch of red roses on the table.
“Sir, I am waiting for you since daybreak,” came the flattery reply, unusual though, from the flower seller.
I resumed walking. The flower seller got his right customer and he looked fairly content with his new client. But he called after me and said, “Sir, if you have some more time to spare I'll share another matter with you.”
Readily I decided not to entertain his request. The way these sellers and vendors persuade people into buying their wares! But something strange of which I was vaguely aware, prevented me from saying “No.”
I walked back and sat on a concrete bench near his table.
“Sir, if you don't mind me saying, I also sell love potion apart from flowers,” the man said, looking directly into my eyes.
“Love potion!” I mumbled in surprise.
“Yes, it is, Sir! In fact, that's my main item,” he said indicating his jute bag. “Only one ampoule is enough, sir. You can also choose category.”
“Category! What category?”
“Not all forms of love are alike, sir,” the man said with a witty but innocent smile on his face.
“Category is a big factor, sir. If you choose Guinevere-Lancelot, you would be successful but risk factor would be very high there. For Shiri-Farhad, I can't tell you for sure; the journey would be a tremendously long one, yes, sir, almost as long as the 40-mile canal Farhad had dug all by himself in a mountain to marry Shiri.”
I have heard about Shiri-Farhad (Shirin-Farhad) but knew nothing about Guinevere-Lancelot.
“The potion, I guarantee you, sir, will stamp out alternating moods of lust for and hatred of women from your eyes. A fire will be kindled in your heart and your heart will burn until it becomes a heart of gold. Of course, it will all start with your falling in love with a woman. But it will not stop there. When you reach a certain level into the affair, you will begin hearing joys and cries of humanity, feeling pleasure and pains of the animal kingdom and seeing smiles and tears of plants and trees. Then, sir, only then, sir, nature will reveal all its beauties before your eyes.”
“Do you need one potion, sir? I always give concessions to people who really need the solution.”
I stood up and looked at his flower-heaped table and his jute bag which contained love potions of different categories. I left, feeling his falcon-beak eyes on my back but their sharpness was gone by then.
The sharpness of our memories also fades as time flies. Doesn't it?
When, on a Spring day nineteen years ago, Moon had put her arms round my shoulder and looked into my eyes, I saw a deep blue sea in her eyes. She put her right palm on my forehead and said I was running a fever. My fast-racing heart prevented me from speaking. I felt the warmth of her body. There was something very mysterious in the air. The whole world had come to stand on a single point. A few drops of tear rolled down Moon's cheek, but why still remains unknown to me. Then she smiled at me, revealing her dimples, her eyes still glistening with tears, she put her lips on mine.
The following few days Moon held sway over my every thought and activities but I could not remember precisely what had happened that day. I experienced sweating all the time and traversed city streets aimlessly. Then I went to her.
“Listen, Moon, I want to tell you something …”
Moon's reaction hurt me. I expected submissiveness after that incident, but she maintained the air of independence as before. Her cheery posture impinged on my thinking process at that time.
“Please tell me your something, Raihan.”
“I want to marry you,” I said, rather awkwardly, putting stress on the word “want”.
“I am not thinking in this way,” Moon said tersely, without adding anything.
Seven months after the incident, Moon left for Italy to pursue her graduation. Her brother was settled there. We had no communications until recently when she sent me a friend request over Facebook.
After reaching my office at Karwan Bazar that day, I failed to concentrate on my work. In the afternoon, I made up my mind to read Facebook messages that Moon had sent me since our reunion courtesy of the social media. She wrote: “I know you still hold a grudge against me. You didn't answer my previous three messages. Raihan, standing on the beach of the Venetian Lagoon, I reflect I am stranded in the past just as this bay is enclosed by islands.”
“We grew up together in the capital city and are distant relatives. You know I am not a woman of selling my soul for any purpose. You wanted to marry me in that Spring. There was nothing wrong with it but the problem started when I had rejected your marriage proposal. I loved you as I knew you as a fine young man with benevolent ideas. But I was mistaken. You revealed your true self after my rejection of your proposal.
You compelled me to leave my country. I wanted to study in Dhaka, and you know, wanted to be a social scientist. But, here, I have become nothing.
“When you had slapped me and seized me by the throat, I had seen only cruelty in your eyes. Where did you keep such cruelty hidden before that Spring? But, my heart had really broken when you had called me a whore. This broken heart has never been mended.
“If I had married you, it would have been for love. But my love for you vanished when you had tried to coerce me into marrying you.
“I shouldn't write to you about the past after so many years. I guess I am spewing those to relieve me of the burden of the past. Of course, it is too late, but I am too tired of carrying with me those memories.”
I hired a CNG-run auto-rickshaw to get to the love potion seller. Reaching the spot, I did not find him, but saw another man selling flowers there.
“Have you seen the man who sells flowers here in the morning? A thin young man with very curved eyes and a jute bag on his shoulder?” I asked the man.
“I can't understand, sir. Yes, my elder brother was attending my business in the morning here, because he is an early riser. But his eyes are normal as ours. Rather, I should admit, he is a bit weird. How can you help it when your girlfriend commits suicide because you won't marry her?
“My brother is a good man, but he refused to marry her for his desire to be a poet. He wanted the girl only as an inspirer of his writings. The girl was forced to marry someone her family chose – a well-established man. But she fled home and my brother turned his back on her. After her suicide, my brother stopped writing. He, however, still carries a jute bag on his shoulder and a note book and a pen in the bag and talks about peculiar things which none make any head or tail of.
“He, I mean my brother, is dead, sir. You agree it or not, we businessmen, big or small, know that a person who lives always in his or her past is already dead.
“Sir, crazy people are still born in the world. The girl was crazy. Who dies for a would-be poet nowadays, sir?”
I looked at the lake. A dead dove was floating on the water. Evening breeze was ruffling its body mildly. The love potion seller sprang to my mind:
“Sir, love is no war. I mean you shouldn't put love and war in the same box. And you know, sir, everything is not permitted even in war.”
Tears welled up in my eyes. Tears, however, couldn't mend any broken heart.
Nevertheless, nature, against all the odds industrialisation has inflicted on its grandeur, is rising again in this Spring to welcome a new couple. All the radhachuras
in the city are coming out from their winter hibernation to bloom.
Sadat Sayeem is a fiction writer.