The new gateman has acquired a flute. He begins playing it after the Isha azaan every evening, when he is most assured that the chaos in the blind alley outside will not interrupt him. The gates are locked at midnight, and until then, he is only required to keep a cursory eye on the comings and goings of the building's residents. The CC camera does the rest. This affords him about three or four hours of practice, with a dinner break in the middle. He has thus been able to level up pretty quickly - to the relief of all those forced to listen to the same tune on repeat until he masters it and expands his repertoire.
He's been working at this building, this city, for almost a year now, so he's not exactly a 'new' gateman. The one before him, went home for the Eid holidays last year, and met a sticky end because of some land dispute. The funny thing is, he wasn't even a stakeholder. The new gateman is the dead man's brother.
This wouldn't even be the first time the neighbourhood has seen this kind of arbitrary violence. There was that journalist and his partner, who were slaughtered in their own home, three doors down, for loving who they loved. Apparently, sentiments had been grievously injured by their lifestyles. It's been a few years, and nothing has been done about the deaths.
This year kicked off with election campaigns. Each candidate took to the streets with ear-shattering pomp and fanfare. One hired people to walk down the roads in parades, chanting slogans. The sight of them would hold up traffic and strike fear in the hearts of female pedestrians, because the space between a parade and a mob is as small as a single heated glance. Another candidate deployed open trucks, in which buxom beauties gyrated to popular remixes in the hopes of attracting voters. Surprisingly, not a single sentiment was hurt by this stunt. The most popular method of canvassing, however, was to blast a customized slogan song through loudspeakers at decibel levels designed to make the ears bleed. Migraines became the new normal.
As the elections drew closer the candidates upped their campaign efforts. The sanctity of the quiet time between Isha and the midnight curfew was penetrated by the vote-seekers canvassing every alley, including this one. The gateman continued to play. The residents could hear his mournful folk tunes filtering through the waves of noise.
Suddenly, the budding flutist didn't seem so annoying anymore. Here was a man who had lost a brother to political greed and violence. Financial hardships had uprooted him from the green serenity of the countryside and dropped him into this ugly, grey city, forcing him into a life of mind-numbing routine, in a neighbourhood intimately familiar with intolerance. But he'd be damned if they would steal his music.
Every night, as they hurried in through the gates before the curfew, the residents began to stop to compliment his playing. They paused to greet one another in the stairwell to comment on the sweetness of the tunes. People who had lived side by side as strangers for almost a decade, became nodding acquaintances. Friendships began to blossom.
The elections came and went. The results suprised nobody. The campaigns came to an end, and the noise level went down from 'unbearable' to merely 'irritating'. Life went on.
Come evening, once the Isha azaan ends, a hush falls down on the neighbourhood. And the gateman picks up his flute to play.
Sabrina Fatma Ahmad is Features Editor, Dhaka Tribune.