THIS is the second month of our winter and the duration of daytime is gradually increasing once again. I find him sitting in front of the setting sun with half-open eyes as muddled as the sky. His silence seems to claim he has been enjoying each and every moment of the day, and all through his life, almost all the evenings had to provide him with the same sort of happy ending.
Only very recently have I discovered that sometimes, in winter evenings to be particular, I totally forget to forget. The faces and words I was supposed not to recollect at all come back and disturb my now-not-so-disturbing life.
So I, stupidly careless in the cold evening, have all of a sudden recognized his once-forgotten face.
He speaks in a singer’s voice, sounding still very young. When I ask if he lives with his wife and children, he just blushes and glances shyly at me. The teenage smile on his wrinkled face! I hope I am alright! I hope I am not that schoolgirl once again, on the verge of having a crush on him!
But he and his classic denial!
He does not seem to recall that we met before. Shocked, surprised and speechless, I have to fake an introducing “hi” to him and instantly got a “hello” in reply. Then he starts telling me what I already know about him for decades. He sounds so genuinely curious while enquiring about my life that I feel obliged to retell what I have already told him a hundred times.
His version of his life
“Believe it or not, I am a modern monk”—he sounds quite confident while claiming that all through his life he has maintained an alarming distance from all of his probable sex-partners—“an irreligious monk, to be exact.”
“You know, when I was just growing up, I mean in my early teens, I used to dream of having sex with film-stars. Those wet dreams also had music in them—original soundtracks from the movies!
“But I was always worried about those dream-scenes. They used to haunt me from dawn to dusk. I can’t tell you why but I still remember each and every bit of those uncontrollable, uncomfortable feelings. The pleasures found in dreams eventually became pains in reality. I couldn’t forget the touches and smells of the dreamed bodies. Their smells hampered almost all my meals. Even I was unable to drink a glass of water without holding my nose. Oh, those ugly, awful days!
“When I left the country for higher education I was only twenty-four. That was like a cultural shock for me. It took me almost a year to cope up. And one morning after thirteen months, suddenly I discovered that I was the loneliest person there. A small town it was, in one of the richest countries of the world. But somehow I managed to remain calm and quiet. I did not lament for what I didn’t have: friends, partners, well-wishers.
“Loneliness was the only thing normal in my life. Everything else was going weird and absurd day by day. My dreams, by that time, had turned into the worst possible nightmares. I was regularly shedding a great deal of blood in those dreams, both mine and of others.
“And to my horror, waking up in the middle of each and every wet dream was always to find fresh blood on the bed sheet, still oozing out! Wish I wouldn’t dream! Wish I was equally asexual while sleeping!”
My version of his life
“How come someone can lie so passionately? How come one can so convincingly pretend?”—my voice unexpectedly sounds very objective as If I was reading aloud someone else’s commentry on his trumped-up life.
He must have sustained a surgery or something, while living in one of the richest countries of the world. He says that he doesn’t remember his mother! He must have paid a lot of money for replacing the actual events of his life with what he is telling me now. I remember he used to wish he hadn’t remembered his mother’s name, address and face. He used to curse himself in those days and tell me why he thought he was the worst son ever. To him his mother was like a haunting phantom. Her intangible presence was constantly bringing back lullabies, cuddles, affectionate smiles and other unbearably sweet memories.
It was almost forty years ago when I was in my early-teens.
I clearly remember his first sentence to me. It was abrupt and dramatic. Without any “hi” or “hello”, he directly went to the message he was willing to deliver.
“I don’t have a mother and I am not like you.”
We were in the same class but he had hardly been noticed until one morning when he suddenly grabbed my hand. I had arrived a bit early that day and unfortunately there was no one but him in the classroom. He was staring at me with red, swollen eyes. I tried to ignore his gaze and leave instantly. But he approached me in no time and seized my hand. I was shocked, irritated and surprised.
“I don’t have a mother and I am not like you.”
I could not get anything from his utterance. But before I could ask him to explain and add more words, he just ran away.
“What a weird kid! I am glad that I am in no way like him,” I thought to myself.
He bunked that day’s classes but spent the whole day hiding somewhere on the premises. In the afternoon, I found him standing outside the entrance with a nicely wrapped book. He said he’d been waiting for me since morning and that book was actually a gift. That was the first time in my life anyone offered me a present. I could not hide my excitement while receiving it. Both of us were trembling, out of god-knows-what! And not sure if I was fortunate: this was the last day before that year’s summer vacation.
A completely different week started from the next day, unbearably new for me. What made me suffer was not the book but a one-line note I had found in it. He wrote the same message again but added an audacious clause to it.
“I don’t have a mother and I am not like you and I love you.”
Things were not the same from the next morning. Surprisingly I began to believe that he had actually cast such a spell over me that I went insane, but could not find any reason why he would do that. “He is the worst person I have ever met, a nasty little creep!” I started hating him only because I discovered suddenly that I was stupidly in love with him.
“Why should my first love be a peculiar person who always loves to think that I am not like him?”
A-studious-kid-turned-obsessed-lover, I was the first person to set foot on our school premises after the vacation. The sun was yet to rise properly. I entered an always-open kind of classroom and looked outside: everything was still asleep—the flowers in the school garden, the leaves on and off the trees, the long narrow balconies, the tube-wells, the yellow staircases of the newly constructed two-storied building—everything seemed disturbed, untimely awakened by the cacophony that my heartbeats and footsteps jointly created. I was restlessly waiting for the boy to arrive.
I had not waited very long when he entered the room carrying a black bag, wearing a cap with a 2002 World Cup logo on it. My eyes fell directly upon the portable cassette player he was carrying. Most probably he was listening to one of his most favorite singers and pretended that he had not noticed me yet. Leaving the bag carelessly on a bench, he went straight to the last window. I felt so ignored that I could not resist myself from shouting at him in a wild, frustrated voice. I sounded uncool and unkind!
“I was waiting for you, Mr. Motherless! How could you not talk to me?”
He was really a weird kid, the craziest of the lovers I ever had! He did not say anything in reply, just turned around like a tree bent by a strong gust of wind and his lips fell upon mine. It was my first kiss ever!
We had been repeating at morning until the flood closed our school indefinitely. It happened to be the decade’s most notorious disaster. To us, it came as a jailer keeping us forcefully apart in different prison cells.
We were writing letters to each other every night but could not hand them over. For me, to hide the letters from my parents in a safe place was a very difficult challenge. I kept them in different places at different times of the day and always in front of my eyes.
That seemed to be the longest month in my whole life. And when at last the flood was over, we were back to school; I felt that almost a decade had passed and I turned into a different person: desperate, spellbound and always ready to dive into love.
When at last we got the opportunity to deliver the letters we were literally crying. It was ten past seven in the morning. Nobody else was around. We closed the always-open door of the classroom, maybe for the first time. Then he asked me to sit in the west corner of the very last bench. No sooner had I sat than he gently lay on my lap and lowered my face towards his. We kissed the deepest kiss! His eyes were closed. The cassette player with his most favorite song was accompanying us. The song surprisingly smelled the same as his hair and was spreading the color of his now-closed eyes. “Dekhbe amader bhalobasha hoye gechhe kokhon keno
Podmo patar jol…” (Our love, you’ll see, has become water drops on the petals of a lotus).
As if we were running out of time, in those days, everything was happening with excessive speed and urgency. Within two months after the flood, we managed to have sex. So acutely intoxicated with love and lust, I was always craving for his touch, the warmth of his flesh. So the moment he proposed a tryst in the evening, I could not say no.
We were in the same class but he was two and a half years older than me, almost fifteen by that time. Those were all his plans, out of an older brain; I just followed his direction.
He chose a rainy day and decided we would tell our parents that we could not but stay longer at school because of the late-afternoon downpour.
The buildings along with the ground were all empty by six. When we closed the door behind us, we could hardly see each other, the room was quite dark. I asked him to play the same song once again so that I can feel his presence more clearly even in the darkness.
It was still raining outside. The song and the rain together created a different music. That loud and confused melody was whispering into my ears. It was asking me questions that had no answers, was delivering messages from nobody- knows-where. For the very first time in life I felt that I owned another body beyond mine. The boy who always closed his eyes as soon as I touched him; who did not have a mother and thus was always different from me; he eventually became mine. His body turned into my body, extended and non-identical. All of a sudden, I began to feel rich and powerful.
When the song was over, the rain outside was telling me the tale of his unique life: a rhymed story that sounded almost like a poem.
“He does not have a mother and he is not like you.
He does not have a mother and he loves you.”
His version of my life
“A cute love story, though flat and full of overused images”—he sounds polite but does not mince his words. “You have simplified both love and lust quite efficiently.” Maybe his comment is ironic.
“It’s not a story!” I exclaimed. “I tried to tell you what exactly happened between you and me. I didn’t add any fiction to it, rather cut it short.”
“You must be an enchanting storyteller and seem to be good at realistic fantasy. I would like to appreciate your skill. Is this the way you invite the listeners into your tales? It’s an effective trick, I guess. When you tell the listener your story is basically about him, he can’t but feel connected.”
“Do you really think it’s a hoax?’
“I believe what you told me so far is only fantasy. An unusual kind of fantasy that sounds real, deceptively real.”
“Okay, forget it!’ I am losing my patience. “You don’t have to believe it. Just one question: tell me why you replaced your memory with…’
“I didn’t do anything like this,” he butts in. “Why the hell do you have to make up all these things? It must be a bad habit, particularly for a professional storyteller.”
“I really don’t understand why on earth any one should forget the real events of his life, no matter how much difficult and painful they are. And if it was so unavoidable, if you seriously needed to forget, then why did you fill the blank space with those bloody wet dreams and terrible asexual experiences, why not with anything pleasant, colorful and happy?”
“You are disgustingly nosy! If you cannot live without fantasy, make up your own past, do create false memories of yourself and for the people who are interested, not for me, please. I am not interested, sorry! You have crossed your limit. Don’t forget that we are almost strangers.”
I am so angry and upset that I cannot find any words to say in reply. A long silence like a thick wall now stands between us.
“I also have a question,” he speaks once again in a singer’s voice, breaking the awkward silence. “If you cannot live without fantasy and you are honestly good at creating it, why do you pick and include real people in it? My suggestion is, next time, be more creative: invent your characters, don’t drag real-life people into your not-real stories.”
I should rather concentrate on the season. In order to ignore his presence and negation, I think I must think about the night itself. I have always noticed that in winter, nights are far more engaging. I think each and every night of the year aspires to hold the glamor and position of the longest night, the 22nd of December to be exact.
Between us, the winter has kindly created a river. Surprisingly there is a beautiful bridge over its icy water. We have both noticed it, almost simultaneously. But I am not feeling like crossing it, not feeling like talking to him, not anymore. I strongly believe he also feels the same.
Hence, without answering each other’s questions, leaving the bridge untrodden, rejecting suggestions and complaints, confidently we walk apart.
Together we walk apart.
Abdullah Al Muktadir is Assistant Professor of English at Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University. He is also a poet and has published two collections of poetry and a novel in Bangla.