Shanti’s Dreams

From the Delta: Anthology of Bangladeshi writers
Contributed by: Tulip Chowdhury

SHANTI’S DREAMS
Tulip Chowdhury

Shanti opened her eyes. The soft light of the early morning crept into the room through the creaks of the wooden doors and windows of her bedroom. She shared the small room with her three siblings. They were her sisters and she was the eldest. Being the eldest was like a milestone in every passing moment in her life. It meant she was responsible for taking care of her siblings and look after the home as well. The love and responsibility often held irony in her roles as “boro meye” ( eldest daughter). Even then, upon waking she remembered that the rice left from yesterday would be sufficient to feed her three sisters and that would mean she would have to go without food. It also reminded her every day that they were the ones going to school, and she as the eldest had to drop out to help her mother who was often down with health complications.
As Shanti stretched her limbs she could already hear her grandmother, Mayabibi’s voice calling her.
“Shanti, why don’t you get up and get some food ready for your father? I cannot move with this aching joints.” She was speaking from one of the three small rooms that made the whole cottage,
The bedrooms were separated with bamboo mats and so Shanti could also hear her father moving around, getting ready for the day’s work. He coughed occasionally and she could hear his footsteps too. It was a busy time for her father, Tara Mia. The harvesting had begun and he was bringing in crops for the village headman. Outside the kutum pakhi, a kind of yellow bird that is supposed to be bringing in messages of new relations with their songs started to call out with its clear notes. Shanti jumped down from the wooden cot in which she was sleeping. The bird seemed to suddenly add wings to her feet. Shanti’s world was full of dreams with hopes of getting married. She was fifteen and that was a late stage age in the village to be married. Often villagers pointed out to her mother,
“You should get rid of that Shanti for she will soon be too old to get a groom. You have other daughters to think of.”
Shanti had wanted to continue school but for her family’s needs she had given into staying home. Marriage seems to be a road to a new life, a saver to the monotonous household chores. Responsibilities had burdened her life. But the heart, young and hopeful gave away to praying and daydreaming about a better life that could come with wedding bells.
‘Maybe today this bird is calling for some wedding in this house.’ Shanti whispered to herself as she carefully put on her repaired sandals and sauntered out of the room. ‘Wedding bells ringing would mean me for I’s he eldest of the sisters.’ Maybe she could find a husband at last. Her parents were really anxious to have her married.
She opened the front door of their small cottage and was just in time to see a yellow bird flying overhead. Her heart started to sing. Those yellow birds were supposed to be the harbingers of marriages. And, to think that she had seen it with her own eyes! Hopes built castles in her mind. Shanti picked up the earthen pitcher from the porch and took it upon her waist. She would have to fetch water from the nearby pond before getting the food ready. But she quickly poured out the last of the water from the pitcher for her father and left his food and water beside the earthen stove. Her father would come to seek his food in the small, mud-walled kitchen that had been built near the main cottage.
It was very early in the morning. Only her grandmother was up for the early prayers. There was a pot of puffed rice in her grandmother’s room. After morning prayers the old lady had some of that and so she ate much later after the sun was high in the sky. Shanti took a quick look to make sure that her mother, Heeraboti, was not up yet. Her mother was had not been in the best of her health and had been sleeping late. If her mother still in bed that would mean that the day’s chores would have to be looked after by her, cooking, cleaning and feeding. When her mother felt better she usually handled the cooking.
‘Oh’, thought Shanti, ‘I would have to return quickly to give food to the sisters before they go off to school’
Walking on the narrow path that led to the pond, she quickened her steps. The earth on the path was wet and a little slippery with the morning dew. She noticed that the grasses were holding dewdrops on their tips and the fields looked hazy with the fog. Her hair, loose from the knot she had made earlier, swayed from side to side as she walked. She had left her sandals back, walking barefoot was better. Her slender body moved gracefully with each step. Shanti’s youthful face held a natural freshness that comes with the early spring of life. Her steps were light but one could have seen that her eyes were dreamy as the song of the kutum pakhi echoed in her ears. Watching some girls walking to school, she thought of the days when she herself used to go to the school. She had attended the school until she was ten years old. But then her mother had said that she must learn to take care of the family because she would soon have to be married off and besides she needed help to take care of the home. Her father, though a farmer was more in tune with the modern times and had insisted that she continue to go to the school since primary education was free for girls. But her mother was more interested in the marriage and was afraid that further schooling might make her over qualified in the eyes of the villagers. Anything that can be a hindrance to her daughter’s marriage could not be allowed and so Shanti stopped going to the school.
As she walked, Shanti was aware of the coolness of the morning for autumn had set in. The monsoon had passed and the days were getting cooler. The mornings whispered of the coming cold days. The sky no longer got dark with rain clouds. She looked up at the blue sky full of white fleecy clouds. Some grasses had grown in the middle of the path and seeing them laden with dew, she stopped and let her bare feet sweep over them. The touch was heavenly. But there was another reason behind the act. There was a saying that if young girls touch the early dew then they get married quickly. A secret smile spread over her face. The village girls start getting married even before they reach puberty. And now fifteen, going on to sixteen, a year or more and she would lose hope of getting married at all. This was more so because her father could never be able to afford to give the dowry. The amount of dowry would get bigger as she aged. That left her chances of marriage to her looks and the qualities she possessed. The matchmaker, Habib Mia had already started saying,
“ Tara Mia, your daughter is older and so demand for her is less. You can attract the grooms with a good dowry.”
Whenever a marriage proposal came it’s always packaged with dowry. Shanti’s father asked the matchmaker,
“What about those government rules against dowry? My daughter can read and write after going to school and can even take up a job with garment factories. She is good looking and a good girl.”
Habib Mia shook his head as if annoyed by the man’s ignorance and said,
“Don’t you know the government rules are on papers mostly? In our village the rules are the age old ones. Though these days mobile culture has girls and boys having relations and getting married but those are the waylaid people. Good girls get married according to their parents’ wishes.”
At such times Shanti’s father felt better off without a mobile phone. He could not afford to buy one any way and it kept his girls safer from getting into “lines”, as mobile dating was called. If he had any hopes of buying a mobile phone he put them shelved them up. Shanti had been nearby when her father was talking with Habib Mia and she saw his humble frame go softer. His gentle eyes looked confused and she wondered how her father, nearly sixty years old was going to manage his family with four daughters to marry off. Shanti’s mother was his second wife. The first wife had died along with the first baby on childbirth.
With all these thoughts crowding into her head, walking on, Shanti was thinking that she would have to take care of her face a little more, maybe put on some turmeric to improve her complexion. When any possible groom’s family came to see her it was the face that first drew attention, the face had to be pleasing at least. Shanti was not exactly a village belle, but she was beautiful with a good, curved figure. She was not fair, was not very tall, nor could she boast of fine sharp features. But her face held a serenity that captivated one’s eyes. Her dark complexion was enlivened by the huge black eyes that seem to penetrate right through you. The eyes were shaped perfectly and the long lashes gave them a mysterious look. The pert nose gave set above the wide generous mouth gave her face a look of decisiveness. The lips seemed to be set in a perpetual smile. Her hair, long and thick reached well below her waist. Her countenance had an image of goodness and trustworthiness. Shanti, meaning ‘peace’ seemed to reflect the image of her name.
But alas, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. And the prospective grooms who had approached Shanti’s father seemed to fail to notice the beauty of the girl. They often said,
“Your daughter is dark complexioned and it is fair skin that everyone likes.”
Besides, they seemed to think that she was not worth taking as a wife without dowry that they demanded. The subject of her marriage was a debated question between her parents. Her mother imploring her father to agree to dowry and sell some land and have Shanti married off. If the eldest one did not find a husband how would they look for the younger two daughters?
Her father would smile at Shanti whenever her mother started on the subject and say,
“There is the Almighty and I am sure He will help me if I am on the right path.”
Shanti was always on lookout for signs all around her, signs that would show her the way to getting a family of her own. The villagers held many beliefs and superstitions about girls’ marriages. Shanti, growing up in the village followed them rigorously. She never ate boiled eggs or never wore a new sari without washing it. She avoided eating food that had garlic in it. These were just a few of the hundred other things one abided by if one wanted to catch a good husband and catch him early without being pointed out as “boyoshko” (aged) even if that meant aging sixteen or seventeen.
Nearing the pond, she could hear the village men calling out to each other as they got ready for the day’s work. Walking barefoot she loved the feel of the cool earth under her steps. The path was damp from the morning dew. She hurried thinking that the morning had caught up with too much of daydreaming. Getting into the water of the pond to fill her pitcher, she was still in a happy mood as the sight of the kutum pakhi flying overhead came back to her repeatedly.
A number of village women were around the pond .Most of them were there to fetch water. But some were bathing though the water was quite cold. It was the family rule to wash oneself before entering the kitchen if they had shared a love night with their spouses. But these bathing women had a look of pride in their faces. Male dominating society gave them an air of superiority when they could relay the message that their men had been with them. They felt honored by the intimacy.
Cheerful gossips of other women were mingled with the splashing sound of the water. Two small girls, heedless to their mother’s warnings took to jumping into the water from the large rock near the pond. Their splashes caused waves in the water and added to the din and bustle around. The pond with its rows of coconut trees all around it looked lovely as the sunrays glistened on the trees. The sun was climbing higher in the sky and Shanti hastened with her pitcher, walking into the water.
As Shanti filled her pitcher with water, her hair became loose and fell all around her face. Leaving the pitcher floating on the water for a while she hastened to tie up her hair into a coil at the neck. A middle- aged woman who was sitting nearby spoke up,
“Shanti, can’t you even braid your hair? If you go about with loose hair early in the morning, no one is ever going to marry you.”
“I will keep my hair tied from now on.” Shanti replied softly.
It was considered to be good to listen to what the elders say. Though in her mind she began to wonder about what really was going to bring a husband for her? Tied up hair, the yellow bird, looks or fate? Shanti puzzled over the possibilities and she felt rather sad. Why did she have to be a burden to her parents? Why didn’t the wedding bells ring for her?
***
When she went back with the water to the cottage the sun was already up and everyone was moving around. Her mother too sat on the porch, slowly brushing her teeth. Her sisters were getting ready for their school. Did they eat their cold rice? Shanti wondered. That was usual breakfast for them. They cooked rice only once a day and so the mornings started with panta bhat .( cooked rice soaked in water)
She went to the earthen stove and started the fire, her mother would need some hot water to drink for her cough. She stared at the fire and softly mumbled to herself,
“Everyone has something to do for his or her own self. But look at me, I just wait for a husband…..everyday my life is the same…waiting and waiting.” In the headman’s house she sometimes watched cinemas and other programs on the television. She had watched stories of village women getting educated and becoming independent.
“But my parents would never allow me to go back to school. Cinemas are fairy tales, they cannot be true for me….” she told herself.
Up above on the branch of the mango tree the yellow bird called again. Shanti’s heart filled with hope. Caught between poverty and ignorance, girls like Shanti just hoped for miracles. Their miracle being a husband who would brand them as “married”
Shanti needed some firewood and so she got up to go to the nearby piled wood. As she did so a small blue butterfly settled on her shoulder. Butterflies are supposed to be the symbols of love. And right then the ‘kutum pakhi’ sang out very sweet notes from the jackfruit tree again. Shanti felt as if her world held a new promise for the day. Maybe, finally the miracle will take place. Shanti smiled to herself. Indeed was this all true? The day stretched ahead but it held some secrets for her, secrets that kindled fire somewhere deep in the soul. Maybe all her beliefs will make the wedding bells ring but happiness? Do all those come in the same package? Her mother’s voice woke her from her reverie,
“Shanti, can you please bring some hot water for me?”
Somehow, Shanti was not so sure. Birds, butterflies, duties: where was life heading? She went on kindling the fire so as to warm the water as soon as possible. Her heart danced with anticipations, another day began with countless dreams. But she was having a new dream that day. Maybe she could ask her father to go to try her luck at the garment sector and earn a living. That would be opening new roads, she might find a husband on her own. She had watched cinemas where people fall in love. And if she was earning she would be helping her family as well. Just then a house lizard called out from the cottage and seemed to say, “theek, theek, theek…” ( Right, right, right…).
Villagers have a firm belief in the fact that house lizards can read into people’s thoughts. And so Shanti began her new dreams with the biggest one looming ahead. When will all dreams come true? Her delicately shaped fingers, dirty with ashes and dirt, put more woods into the earthen stove and the flames danced to new life. In the fire Shanti saw butterflies, kutum pakhi and house lizards, they were all calling her.

End

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Daughter of Freedom
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A Dance of Life

It is pure love that makes me dance around despite my aching bones and sagging muscles with this special person. Age has brought its decay to my body in many ways. But he has revived my heart with a special light that makes me forget aches and pains of old age. My heart is reborn and I feel as young as a frisky two year-old. There is magic in this love.
He has come late in my life but I am so glad that the miracle did happen. With the joy of this blessing, I clutch him to my bosom and sway to his favorite music around my spacious living room. When we dance to Blue Danube, I feel his body responding like a flower swaying in the spring breeze. The sweet motion mesmerizes him and he closes his eyes, surrendering to my touch. His smile says he is in heaven and his face snuggles on my neck. I love the tenderness of his skin against mine. His gentle breath makes me hold my breath. At times I hum his favorite songs as we move with our lively steps. He loves that and I could feel his hands holding me more lovingly until he and I are one.
Music is not always required for us, often we dance to the melodies of life and love. We celebrate each moment when together. At such times, he is in my embrace in the late hours of the night as the world sleeps. In the silence of the darkness our music is our breaths following each other in faithful turns. Our heart pounds to keep the beats. In daytime as we sway together, we hear the wind whistling to our steps.
I have the dance of my life with him. When spring comes, we blend with the beds of daffodils and tulips. When the gentle breeze sweeps by, we toss and turn like the dancing flowers, so happy together. The wind often carries his body’s scent to my nose and it is absolute love for me. He needs not mention that he feels all that too, no need for small talk or any show off. The pressing of his body against mine tells me all. The spring flowers are mostly perennials and will wither away. But our love will remain on the wheels of time. Soon summer and then other seasons will follow. When autumn leaves cover the fields we can dance Mazurka and our boding will only grow.
Our love is of a special kind and together the heart strings will sing beyond times. I will love him no matter where I am. The thought of mortality makes me sad and I do not want to part from him. But today, I will keep those thoughts aside and enjoy the moments with my love. And we will dance many more waltzes while I can still be in steps with him. He is the best dance partner of my life.
I know I will never let you go and neither will you. As we dance through the days, I shall hum your favorite tune with the words,
“Be happy and have a long life, my newborn grandson.”

End

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In the Arms of the River

In the Arms of the River

Dark clouds raced across the vast sky. Badal, a young man in his early twenties was traveling on a launch towards his home in Barisal. The monsoon’s rain was at its peak and it rained incessantly. Sometimes the rain was playing with passing phases and sometimes there were downpours. The world seemed to be a soggy place with the frequent wet days. The soft wind blowing over the river was cool and soothing.
Badal stood at the entrance of the upper deck of the large launch. His dark eyes held dreams and a smile played on his lips. A handsome young man, he was feeling happy with daydreams fleeting across his mind. He was going to his village Kaliya, in Barisal. The blue and white launch, Cynthia was carrying him along the mighty river, Meghna. It  was one of the biggest rivers in Bangladesh. Sailing on that river was in that time of the year was stressful. With heavy rainfalls, the river was full and the current was strong. The rain didn’t worry Badal much since the sky was a bit cloudy only on the day he was traveling. The occasional gusts of wind reminded him of storms but the sky did not have the reddish scowl that comes before a storm breaks out. The weather was gloomy but there were no hints of a storm or heavy rain.
Badal was thinking of a sweet face that will soon have a scarlet bindiya on the forehead. He was thinking of Mishty, his bride to be. The placing of the shindur ( vermilion color) on the mid parting of her hair and the bindiya ( round spot on the forehead) would mark the beginning of their wedded life. Badal could imagine how beautiful Mishty would look in her bridal attire with the forehead marked with the round scarlet color.
“Rain cannot be stopped on rainy days,” said Badal speaking out his thoughts. As it started to rain and raindrops fell around him, he was humming a happy song. When the rain drops struck the deck the sounds of “Pit…pit..pitter..pit…” sounded like music, a sweet song in his heart.
Badal’s face was radiant and his eyes held a dreamy look He was finally going to marry Mishty. His future father-in-law had not given his consent until Badal was settled with a good job as a supervisor in a garment factory. His lean, handsome features had attracted many female workers who worked with him at his factory in Dhaka. But Badal was firm and never yielded to anyone. Mishty lived in his village in Barisal. The meaning of Bangla word mishty was sweet and Badal thought it was so true for his Mishty. She was all good and sweet in nature. They had grown up together and she was beautiful beyond her looks. There was tenderness written in her eyes and her face was heart shaped. The pert little nose set above the wide generous mouth gave her face a look of extreme sweetness.
As the launch sailed, the occasional heaving from the waves grew in frequency and were higher. The waves, Badal noted were growing larger. He looked at the passing boats. Most of the large, open boats carried passengers. Some smaller ones were loaded with water hyacinths that the villagers fed their cattle with. Two large, open boats carried piles of earthen- wares. From one of them, a boatman was singing away folk songs that touched the hearts with their sweetness. Badal felt happy as he listened to the songs as he quietly watched the far away villages outlined in the horizon. His thoughts wandered. How far away was Kaliya and how far was his home? And how long before he can reach Mishty?
A gentle smile played on Badal’s lips every time he remembered his bride to be. Nostalgia stirred his heart on thoughts of the youthful days when Mishty and he used to share long lazy afternoons under the mango trees, eating juicy mangoes. He recalled the days when she would hide some delicious guavas in the folds of her sari and bring them for him. Finally they were going to get together and build a home. Impatience tugged at his soul all the while he was thinking of his coming wedding and Mishty.
Badal went back inside the launch and sat down. He was glad that he had got a window seat. He could pass his time while he looked out at the passing scenery. The fellow passengers were mostly asleep. They had been sailing for almost ten hours and the small children were restless. An old woman huddling nearby reminded him of his mother. She wore a white sari like his mother and had a kind face.
My mother must be looking forward to my homecoming, I will have to buy her a new sari for the wedding. Badal thought.
There were two toddlers wailing as their mothers tried to calm them with some candies. He looked at the children wistfully.
Maybe, thought Badal , one day I too will be traveling home with my little son or daughter. He liked children and planned to have a big family. He thought of Mishty and how she too wanted to have at least four children.
Thinking of his beloved and their wedding, he remembered that he was carrying gold ornaments in his small handbag for the Mishty. He quickly opened the chain to make sure that the red box of the ornament was there. Things got stolen so quickly on public transports. He relaxed at the sight of the box, wrapped with some brown paper. He was also carrying the red sari that the new bride was to wear on her wedding day. He didn’t forget to buy the red slippers with high heels that Mishty had shyly told him to buy and the red lipstick too.
As the launch continued to progress with occasional blasts of its loud horn, Badal’s thoughts became engrossed with plans for his wedding day. But the launch was swaying harder and harder. Badal looked out. The river looked a bit rough with waves rolling rather angrily. The sky had become very dark indeed. And on the western sky an angry red scowl had appeared. Badal felt a touch of unknown fear in his heart. For that red sky was a hint of a brewing storm.
Why thought Badal, only short while ago there was only the rain in the sky but now the sky looks so angry.
He looked at the far away coconut trees lining the villages on the riverbank. The trees were tossing and turning crazily. The wind must have picked up force and that meant a storm was coming. He felt little concerned. Just at that moment the launch started to heave up and down as if a demon was shaking it.
“The storm must be blowing fully!”. Badal whispered to himself, shivering with anxiety. The wind was roaring and from somewhere an eagle screeched loudly. The bird’s call penetrating through the howling wind seemed sounded ominous. Badal remembered that eagles were birds of prey and they called when death was near. Fear clutched Badal’s heart.
Then suddenly the storm broke out with lightning and thunder crashed loudly. Outside a wall of rain and wind involved the launch and hell broke loose. The violent wind started lashing out against the launch and it started swaying crazily. The sleeping passengers were all awake and all started praying loudly together, calling out to the Almighty.
“How can there be such a storm? The rainy season does not have these sudden storms called the kal boishakhi” ( summer storms in Bangladesh). Badal asked the man beside him. His voice was hardly audible against the roar of the wind.
“Do storms these days give warnings? Weather has changed.” snapped the man. “Here I was going to visit my sick mother and only God knows if I can find her alive.” His bearded face was bleak with worry and his eyes filled up with tears.
Badal thought of river disasters he had heard of so many times, launches, trawlers and boats caught in the storms and capsizing. He thought of the hundreds of people who lost their lives in the catastrophic storms. His heart seemed to stop beating as the launch gave a violent lurch. The vessel seemed to be dancing crazily on the water. Badal took another look outside.

Through the window he could see the huge waves crashing against the launch and it was absolutely dark as if the day had suddenly gone into hiding. The angry whistle of the wind mingled with the screaming of the passengers. Children and adults cried out for help. The launch rocked crazily like a toy. The passengers and their belonging were pitched from one side to the other as the launch lurched viciously on the stormy river.
The idea of jumping into the river suddenly flashed in Badal’s mind. He had heard that some people could be saved from the river. He made a mad rush for the deck. He could hardly move for other people too had started rushing outside to jump into the river. Maybe that would be an escape from certain death before the launch capsized. As Badal finally reached the deck, the force of the storm hit Badal full in the face. The mighty wind seemed to be set on taking the launch to the bottom of the river. Badal heard a voice warning him of coming sure death. Blindingly he reached for the railing of the launch and jumped into the mad river.
Fighting for life in the heaving waters, momentarily Badal had a vision of Mishty in her red sari, she was waiting for him with her arms opened wide. Badal felt the cold water biting his body since he had taken off his shirt that was clinging and making moving difficult. Then he felt something against his bared back. He thought of holding on to the solid form but then shrank with shock, for it was a small body, a dead child. His thrashing hands groped for something to hold on to.
But a tremendous force seemed to be pulling him downward. He recalled that he was in the arms of the mighty river Padma. But then again he thought, no, it was Mishty pulling him closer to her. Then the eyes of his mother seem to stare at him with all the worldly love that he had known. He tried to swim against the violent current of the stormy river. But the force of the water, wind and the rain, were too strong against his failing strength. But he kept hoping. He might find something to cling on to and might still be alive when the storm was over. He screamed out for help. Only the shrill cry of the wind seemed to answer him.
The storm continued with its tremendous force. Howling and scowling like an evil spirit. As Badal continued to thrash around the water, the launch had already started to sink. He caught glimpses of shadowy figures of people from the launch jumping madly into the river.
Drowning voices crying for help filled the air. Badal felt weak as his hands and feet fought to keep him above the water. He seemed to be caught in a tug of war with the water. It was pulling him down and he was trying to keep floating. His eyes were closing but his senses still wondered, will he ever see his Mishty with a scarlet bindiya on her forehead? Suddenly the bindiya seemed to be washing away from his bride’s forehead and settled on his heart. It was a huge, scarlet bindiya. The blazing vermilion from the bindiya made the water all red and the swirling mass was pulling him down, down. It must be Mishty calling me, came his thoughts.
Badal let go of himself to the arms of his beloved, it was not the river but his Mishty. She took him in to love and cherish forever.
End

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Ameena and Her Nosepin

When Ameena’s mother put on a small, gold nose pin on her nose, Ameena felt very special. The nose pin had a sparkling white stone in the middle. It seems to give her a place of her own among her two older sisters. She was twelve years old when the nose pin was put on her nose. Ma had invited three village women for the special day. They had sung some folk songs and then one of these women had pierced Ameena’s nose. It was the first celebration of an event in Ameena’a life. Ameena often wondered why her mother had given her such a special treatment. After all, she often heard Baba complaining how, as the third child, she had turned out to be a daughter. She sometimes wished that she could turn the events back and become a son, the torch bearer of the fmily. Why there are so many women in the village who had two daughters and then the third child was a son. And this gave Ameena a feeling of having failed her parents, as if being a third daughter was something to be ashamed of. But the nose pin seemed to raise her spirits a bit, maybe her mother was not so disappointed after all.
Ameena lived in the quiet village of Bongaon in Habiganj. The village held a special place for girls after they had their nose pins, sort of looked up on as budding women. Ameena’s sisters were teenagers and were already married. And so Ameena, with the nose pin was shown a light, as if to remind her that she was soon going to be a lady like them. The nose pin was like a significant stepping stone to her. Ameena was a dark complexioned girl. But she had the most beautiful eyes, large and dark. The curved eyebrows seemed to compliment the eyes that had a hint of sadness. Once you looked into the eyes you felt like knowing her more, to asking her if she was happy. The wide, generous mouth with the beautifully shaped lips held just a hint of smile. And over it the pert nose with the nose pin now added a hint of mystery; a mixture of the sadness and smile. A poet would say that Ameena’s face was sheer poetry. The white stone on the nose sparkled when it caught light and added grace to the face. Ameena spent long hours staring at her reflection in the small mirror that hung on the wall of her mother’s room. She liked her face so much more with the nose pin! Especially when the sun was pouring through the open window she would stand in the light so that the sunlight caught the stone fully and it sparkled just like a star! Why, even her father seemed to treat her with little respect after she had got her nose pin.
Every morning when Ameena washed her face in the pond she took special care of the nose pin, she was very careful. She did not want to lose her pin. If it fell in the pond she would never get it back. There were other girls around her in the morning. They all came to fetch water and wash their faces. Ameena felt proud of her nose pin when she looked at girls of her age, those who still did not get the nose pin. The little white stone made her stand out among other girls. She felt more loved and cared for by her parents. At the same time she felt sad for them, maybe their parents have not been able to provide them with the nose pins. She felt lucky in that sense. Her parents were also like other villagers, relying on the daily earnings of selling their meager cash corps. But her mother had saved money bit by bit, to provide her daughter with the dignity of a nose pin.
Ameena often sat under the coconut tree with her village friends. The wind would sway the tree and the sunlight would make intricate designs on the ground. Ameena and her friends would feel refreshed as the wind blew over them. The sky overhead would loom like a vast canopy. Birds twittered on the trees nearby. Quite often the friends would remark how beautiful Ameena looked with her nose pin. They would speculate when and how they too might get nose pins. The village lay serene and beautiful below the pond. The yellow mustard flowers looked like sheets of gold under the bright sunlight. Then suddenly Ameena’s mother would call out her name and the girls would scamper and fill the pitchers to go home.
It seems as if by sheer magic of the nose pin that Ameena was soon wedded off to a rickshaw puller. Her in-laws provided her with a gold nose pin, the only gold ornament. Her own parents were gave her a chain and ear rings made of silver. It would all be less significant than the nose pin. According to the village rites it was compulsory for the in-laws of a girl to provide the nose pin for the bride. During the ‘gaye halud’ Ameena’s mother opened her white nose pin and put on the red stone that had come from her in- laws. Red was the colour of love and warmth for the villagers. White should not be there in matters of wedding. Ameena’s mother and other village women sang the folklores as she changed the nose pin,
“ shundori khulo tomar baper barir ful
phindo tomar shoshur barir nak- ful
hasho tumi ekhon shundori putul..”
( My beautiful open the nose pin of your father
wear the nose pin of your in-laws
now smile my beautiful doll…”
Every time Ameena went to fetch water from the pond in her in-laws house the other women would praise her nose pin. They would say that her marriage had added to her grace. Indeed the nose pin made her look so very happily married!
“Manik Mia had got his bride with a red, gold nose pin! How lucky you are!”
Manik Mia was Ameena’s husband. He was liked by the villagers for his gentle manners. He was hard working and came home to his wife at least twice or thrice a week. He was a dark complexioned just like Ameena but very handsome and manly looking. Ameena smiled shyly every time he said,
“The nose pin makes you look so lovely, my wife!” He would call her “Bou” (wife) over and over again as if to make sure indeed Ameena was his newly married wife.
Compliments from her husband made her blush and she would cover her face with the end of her sari to hide her face. Her husband would pull the end down and hold the face, the lovely dark face and say,
“ amar bou kalo, kintu jogoter alo…” (My wife is dark but the light of the universe.) and he would love her endlessly. Ameena, just into her puberty found a man in life, the very first man of her life. When Manik Mia was home, dawn would find them both lying in each other’s arm till they got up to bathe in the pond. On such day’s Ameena would look at the face of her mother-in-law very shyly and ask her what to cook for the day. Her mother-in-law would suppress a secret smile and sigh. Her son was very happy indeed with his wife.
Ameena , happy beyond words often opened the little box in which she kept her old white nose pin and stared at it. It seems as though it was this pin that had brought her all the luck. But alas! Good things last so short.
Within a year of her marriage Manik Mia died on a road accident. A truck hit the rickshaw and he was killed on the spot. By that time Ameena was already the mother of a two month old son. The villagers carried home the dead body of her beloved husband. She stood over the dead body dumbfounded. The baby was in her arms. The baby cried in her lap wanting to be breast fed. Ameena just could not go inside the house to feed the baby. Her place was there in the yard where her dead husband lay. It seems as though the red marks from the oozing blood on the white cloth covering his body was like the red stone of her nose pin. She felt as though she was wearing a drop of blood from her husband. She touched the pin as if to make sure that it was there, the gift from her dead husband. Her mother-in-law came and gently took the baby from her. Some village women sat around her and took off her bangles, her chain from the neck and her ear rings. A widow was not supposed to have any jewelry on her body.
“Nakful…nakful….oita khulo” cried some women. (Open the nose pin…)
“ Ameena held on to the nose pin as if to say “No, no, no…” to their requests. No, her husband was there with the nose pin, this was the symbol of her marriage. Her heart cried and she seemed to feel an evil string pulling her somewhere down, down to a dark void.
Her mother- in- law came near and said softly.
“She has a son and so she can wear a nose-pin. Let her keep her nose pin. But let her wear a white one. Red should not be worn by a widow.”
Someone got Ameena’s old white nose pin from the house. And then a woman was changing the nose pin. Ameena put on the white stone. She at least was given the dignity of being a son’s mother through her old nose pin. She looked at the white cloth covering Manik Mia. The white stone and the white cloth; all looked so alike! Maybe if her mother had given her a pink stone all this would not have happened! Maybe the white nose pin was not all so good after all! But and then, she wondered why did the red nose pin favour her for such a short time? Ameena stared on at the dead body of her husband. Her son continued to cry on for her milk. Overhead the sky suddenly darkened and clouds gathered. The sun disappeared behind the clouds. Crows started cawing ominously from the trees nearby.
“White nose pin, red nose pin; how did these touch her life?” A voice seemed to be echoing in her head.
Ameena just wondered as she stared at the baby’s face. For this baby she was to use the white nose pin! She wondered what luck it would bring for her son! The baby in her lap, the dead husband in the yard, the changing nose pins; all these were a blur for Ameena. She kept on wondering how a nose pin so small could rule her life! The pride of having a son has blessed her with a white nose pin. Which nose pin would come next?
End

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Together Here After

Love is a gift from the heaven and when a man and a woman fall in love, they feel bliss conquer their hearts. Yet, this gift is like a delicate thread when it is shared by two people who are not supposed to be in love. But what can these people do when cupid has pierced their hearts? Just wishing to be out of love does not help for deeper feelings cling on. Love is not something that you wash away like the wave that crash on the seashore and erases the writing on the sand. Trust and belief in love holds these two people, Rani and Joy together when their relationship is hidden from the outside world. They tread the dangerous water of love with ominous shadows following them all the time.
***
A year back, on a beautiful summer day, they found love in the most unlikely place. When they least expected for Cupid to strike, it did. In the small town of Manikganj, in Bangladesh, where Rani and Joy lived, married people hardly dreamed of finding new romance in life. Both were standing for the bus when they happened to look at each other. Their eyes met and for a fraction of a second the world seemed to stop. Both heard a voice echoing to the eternity,
“Why, you are the love I have been seeking all my life!”
And they were connected, a strange chemistry between them. Both were in their early fifties but at that moment they were reborn, a new of wave of gladness surrounded them. When people fall in love the world finds a new definition. The real world forgotten, Rani and Joy found joyous world of being for each other only. There was only an acknowledgement without words, a recognition of being the soul mates who were destined to meet.
“Going to Tilpara right?” Asked Joy. The public bus that ran on the route once a day continued to their destination as the last stop. All other waiting people, mostly familiar faces seemed to be heading to Tilpara. Joy and Rani desperately hoped that no one recognized them. On days before, if they had boarded this same bus they had not been conscious of known faces. But on that fateful day when their heart locked to each other, they wanted to overcome all hurdles on their ways.
Rani nodded and smiled in answer to Joy’s quest. Joy thought that was the most beautiful smile he had ever seen in his life, a smile that seemed to send the sun into hiding. When Rani looked at Joy, the face looked as if she had known him all her life. When their eyes locked momentarily, each could read hear songs of their souls. It was not a single song of love but all love songs echoing together.
Rani moved and came nearer to Joy so that they can converse in a softer tone. At that moment, it seemed to be only natural that she should be near him. That was where her she belonged. They stood as close as they dared without having eyebrows raised. Rani could catch the faint cologne as she stood near Joy and she knew it was her favorite fragrance from Hugo Boss. Joy catching Rani’s perfume wanted to hold her in his embrace, it was such a light scent and yet seemed to draw him close. But the place was Manikganj, and in these small towns tongues lash out faster than a whip. Here gossip traveled like news bomb shell. On their very first day of meeting they knew they were playing with fire.
The hot summer day had the sun shining listlessly. A soft breeze came like a blessing from the heaven. Wispy hair outlining Rani’s face blew into her eyes and she moved them away with her hands. Joy marked that she was wearing a wedding band and looked at his own left hand. He wore a wedding band too. Both knew that they did not believe in the bonding of a ring with arranged marriages like theirs. Both had married on the choices of their parents and shared the same roof with their spouses as if out of the expectations of the society. Those marriages were like marriages of convenience. The rings did not hold two hearts together, love did. They smiled knowingly at each other.
Rani was wearing a white red bordered sari. Joy thought she looked like a goddess with her perfect oval face and the beautiful features. The eyes were widely set giving her a look of being surprised every time she looked at him. The wide generous mouth seemed to hold a set smile. Rani’s complexion was dark and to Joy she looked like a magpie. Fair skinned Joy, very strong and manly, was a perfect complement to the soft and tender beauty of Rani. They stood like husband and wife as if spiritually married right and then and there.
Honking loudly their bus rolled in. They boarded the old bus that groaned with every move and yet seemed to be putting on lively speed as Rani and Joy boarded. The happiness of their hearts seemed to give new wings to the moving bus. They were blessed to have found each other and yet once at Tilpara, they would go on their separate ways, to their own homes. The thoughts of parting put a sad note on their bubbling hearts.
***
The society in which Joy and Rani lived, would say that love seemed to have chosen the wrong time and the wrong people. But Rani and Joy were only aware of the singing in their hearts. It was the same love song that they sang, a music that penetrating into their lives beyond boundaries of culture and norms. They were the star crossed lovers and soul mates. When soul mates meet, they instantly recognize the other. They were born to be together though life has brought them to each other in a strange station. But and then the course of true love never runs smoothly.
It was forbidden love that they shared. It was a strange love born in their hearts. People would say that were cheating on their spouses. And yet to Joy and Rani their love was a gift of the heaven. Otherwise how can two hearts feel as if all the butterflies in the world were fluttering in their hearts when they were with each other? They met in public places, never were alone with each other and yet love was as vibrant as ever. They knew the lines they could not cross, knew none would jeopardize the family life they lead and yet they could not live without the other. They had to talk, they had to write and they had to see each other occasionally. Like drops of rain on famished plants these little exchanges of love kept them alive, the infrequent meetings were like life elixir to them. They were hidden panacea for each other, they continued to live through each other.
When the scarlet ‘shimul” flowers stared up at the brilliant blue sky of summer, when the fat drops of first rain fell on the thirsty boughs, Joy and Rani could be found standing on the river bank. All around them birds would be clamoring and butterflies would be fluttering. They would be surrounded by the bursts of summer colors. And there they could be together just for a short time, stolen moments from hard realities of life. At times they would share lunch or tea somewhere far away from home. Together for an hour at most and yet that would be their heaven. Just a glimpse of each other and that filled their hearts eternal joy.
***
One day, on one of their dates, they were sitting beside each other at the restaurant. Rani and Joy had been seeing each other for a year. They were starting to share the appetizer when Joy took hold of Rani’s hands. Each could feel the electric sensations pass through their touch. Joy said,
“In this world we can never be truly each other’s. Suppose like Romeo and Juliet, the inevitable death was to come to us at the same time. It may be natural death but surely then we will be together from there on.”
Just when Joy finished speaking the lights went off. It was completely dark. Rani felt Joy’s hands cup her face and the next moment his lips were on hers. That was the first and the most passionate kiss of their yearlong love affair. When lights came back they continued to stare into each other’s eyes. And yes, while they looked into each other’s eyes another world unfolded before them. All those sweet dreams of having children together, living as a couple; it all became real…
***
They are in the world here after. They have a beautiful home, a small cottage with a beautiful garden all around it. Roses, jasmines, lilies and swaying weeping willows adorn the garden. There is a tranquil lake flowing beyond the field that surrounds the house. Joy is sitting in the porch calling out to his five-year old son and the toddler daughter.
“Maya and Mahi, Come to Papa, I am waiting to hold you in my arms.” He calls out to the small children playing in the front yard of the cottage. The children look up from the toys they were playing with. They see their father holding out his hands, calling them. They forget their toys and both of them get up and race into the open arms.
Joy hugs them. He plants kisses on their soft cheeks in turns. There never seems to be enough kisses for them. He smothers them with the love of his heart. He calls out to Rani who is busy painting away on her canvas. Joy and Rani , both are artists in this happy world they share. A simple home, two loving children and a simple life and yet both are in heaven.
“Rani, I think our children are hungry.” Joy calls out.
Rani puts down her brushes, takes a long look at the splashes of color on her canvas. The abstract work is taking a fabulous turn, maybe it will a grand piece of art work. Joy is the one who works mainly on nature and Rani gets her inspiration from his style using vibrant colors as he paints away the flowers and the trees, the sun and the sky, the birds and the butterflies. Rani finds a hidden life behind all that he paints with his heart. Their hearts and minds find solace in each other, they seem to breathe together.
Joy joins Rani. He hold Maya in his arms. He stands behind Rani and takes a long look at her work. He likes the theme portrayed in the picture. It shows a mother and child holding hands. The background color is of different shades of blue as if to show the mystery of a mother child relationship.
“This is going to be one good piece Rani!” Says Joy. “I think you should send it for the upcoming national art competition.”
Rani looks at his eyes. Joy’s eyes seem to be always full of dreams and hope. “I will, if you send one of yours.” She replies simply smiling at him. She holds forth her hands for Maya seeing the child arching away to come to her mother.
“That’s not fair.” Joy says laughing softly. “When Ma is around, Maya does not want her Papa anymore.”
It is always like this between Joy and Rani, the playful vying for the children’s love.
There is so much they share. Their work is passion for both of them and then both love reading. Afternoons are always spent reading for the children. They read turn by turn for the children and then they recite poetry for each other. There is perfect solitude in their family life. They are immensely happy. This happiness comes for they have each other in a life that is blessed by mutual love and respect. They are not well off. Art does not fetch money in plenty and yet they never feel unhappy. Sharing life to them is more important than becoming solvent with money. They have dreams. Maybe at least one of them will end up getting a national award for the art pieces they are getting ready. Their children will grow up and grow into wonderful people, kind and loving to others. They will go on living in this small cottage because this is where they began their life when love opened its doors.
***
Joy and Rani continued to look into each other’s eyes, their dreams holding on to the tremulous hearts. The dreams were simple dreams, dreams that people who love each other. And yet they are afraid, very afraid of having their dreams shattered. In their society no body favors them. If their relationship was found that will be the end of their bliss. Their hearts beat fast in fear even as they dreamed, even as they held hands. Maybe someone will discover their dreams and make it the traveling news of the town…?
Their firm belief in the life here after came to Rani and Joy and multiplied their happiness. Maybe going to the next world is a debated question for many but for Joy and Rani, life here after is the dream they lived on. They held firm a firm belief in true love and that it will take them to their desired land, a world of love in life here after. After all miracles wait to happen.

End

Friday Towel

Every Friday the wet towel lay under the fan, waiting for the swirling air from the fan to dry it. It was Rumi’s towel. She was a writer and had been writing for quite some time.
A beautiful woman within her thirties, for the past five years she had been writing to various newspapers. She wrote for those weekly supplements that came out on Fridays. If she was lucky and got some publication the towel would be dry and it would be in its place in the wardrobe or else the towel had to come out, had to get wet.
The towel was one of those soft cotton towels that come from Thailand. They are made of 100% cotton and are soft to the touch. Rumi’s towel was of a mild pink colour and had prints of cherry blossoms all over it. She had bought it from a local departmental store and cherished possessing it. She never took it to use it for a bath but on Friday mornings the towel came out of its place and the owner used it in her own way. On Fridays Rumi would hold her breath and full of anticipations, open the newspapers, hoping against hope that her writing would be published. Her short blunt nose would quiver and her large dark eyes would grow larger as she scanned the pages for her name. Her short straight hair would be messed all around her face for she did not brush her hair when she woke up in the morning. First came the news of her publications, her morning freshening came later. Upon opening her eyes she ran straight to the front door for the newspaper. She would skim through the pages and then the end result would decide whether the towel came out or not.
It was Friday and as usual Rumi was up and around, ready to open the newspaper the moment the delivery boy sent it swishing in through the small space beneath the door. Like an eagle she swooped on the paper as it came in and opened paper to book review page. She had sent in a review the week before and was in great anticipation. To her opinion the review was very well written. But the editors didn’t seem to think so or else why didn’t they put them up? At times she wished that she could cast some magic spells on the editors and have them put up her work. At times the editors seemed to be some unreachable gods. With all these thoughts running through her mind she turned the pages of the Friday supplement. First page, second page, third and then coming to the last page she slumped into the wicker chair, totally crestfallen. No, nothing from her was there. She had also sent some features a few weeks before. Secretly she had been hoping that maybe those would make it to the press. The hopes she had survived throughout the week fell into dark, unfathomable voids.
Feeling as if her feet were made of lead, Rumi slowly walked to the wardrobe in her room and opened the drawer. Out came her pink towel. She sat on the end of the bed and blew her nose into the towel. Her eyes clouded over with tears and great drops dropped one after another into the pink towel. Next came the great sobs, her body shook with the gnawing pain in her heart. How could the editors be so heartless? Why could they not put up at least the book review? She had read some reviews which did not seem to be any better than hers. But they were published. Rumi turned the towel in and out as the tears flowed on from the swollen, reddened eyes. Her nose quivered with bitter twangs of pain in her heart. Oh damn these editors, maybe they accepted articles from people who they liked. Rumi sobbed on into the towel, she felt helpless. She did not know any of these editors personally. She clutched the towel against her cheeks, its softness a comfort to the sad face. The soft cotton was getting wet all over. Rumi wondered how the eyes held onto all that water inside. If she had collected the tears in a glass there might have been a glass full by this time. There was a mirror in her room. She glanced at it. Her eyes were swollen and puffy and her nose all red from all that friction against the towel. Her whole face was the picture of an emotional catastrophe. Did the editors know how they made the writers cry?
Placing the tear drenched towel by her side and Rumi picked up the Daily News supplement once again. Absent mindedly she flipped through the pages. She stopped on a page. What was that, her name showing? How could it be? She looked again and there, in big, big letters was the heading “On Becoming a Couch Potato” and beneath the heading was her name. How come? It was really her writing and with a beautiful illustration too! How come she did not see it when she went through the magazine before? Like the sun spreading its rays through a cloudy sky a wide smile spread all over Rumi’s face. She looked up at the ceiling as if angels were blessing her from the top. She spread her arms and gave a delighted shout as if she had conquered the Everest. God has smiled at her at last and the editors were not cruel people at all!
Rumi looked at the wet towel lying on the chair, the tears on the towel seemed to dry up in a flash and even it seemed to be winking at her! The wailing voices from of her towel seemed to be replaced by happy laughter. She wondered if like her eyes the towel too had played tricks on her!
Her heart sang songs of hope. Maybe next Friday too her towel would remain dry!

Awakening at Death

A dreaded disease that kills life before actual death, stuck Naima with its full venom. When cancer was diagnosed in her pancreas, it was in the final stage of its destructions of her body. Naima, a woman in her late thirties, was in the hospital, fighting for life.

Naima’s beautiful appearance was replaced by a lifeless look all over her. Her skin was clinging to the bones, the flesh and muscles seemed to have gone into hiding. The eyes held a haunting look beneath a hairless head. Like a ravenous animal cancer was eating away her whole being. It was raging like a wild fire, burning everything to its core. However, her mind was still sound and she was very much aware of the multiple tubes that surrounded her. Through the tubes and by mouth, she was consuming more of medicines than food every day. But she had no complains for they lessened the sufferings inside her body.

Staring at the drops of sodium chloride solution intravenous passing into her body, Naima knew that efforts to hold her on to this world was becoming a losing battle for the attending doctors. When excruciating pain ripped through the body, she wished that God had numbed her senses. At times she felt as if bombs were exploding inside her and she longed for the end. But then, the faces of her twin daughters and her husband came before her eyes, and she came back to life. She knew that she wanted to live for them.

Naima’s husband Manna, sat in a chair beside her bed. His handsome face showed the strains of sleepless nights. At the beginning of the hospital days, he used to hold her hands, kiss her forehead every once in a while and say, “I love you.” At times he picked her up from her pillow and held her with his strong, manly hands. She felt certain that Manna and the girls, Javy and Ivy kept her alive, not the medicines.

However, lately Manna did not say the three magic words or kiss her as often as he used to. Naima felt hurt but she understood how stressed out he was. When the eight -year old twins came to visit their mother, they were mostly silent, bewildered by the storm that was sweeping over their family. Their mother, the solid rock in the big world was always in bed. She did not take them out to the park or bake brownies anymore. Mommy no longer took them to toy shops to buy Barbie dolls. They wondered why Daddy, who solved all problems was not able to have Mommy up and about like before. Whenever they asked their father to do something for Mommy, he just said,

“Pray to God to help your Ma.”

The sisters often kneeled beside their mother’s hospital bed and prayed. Mommy had taught them to pray like that before going to bed and she was sleeping most of the times. Their disheveled, dark curly hair seemed to speak of their troubled life. They closed their blue eyes tight and the freckled noses quivered as their soft lips moved with whispered words to God. Naima’s face lit when she saw her daughters praying and whispered to herself, with a miracle God might answer the little girls’ prayers.

Naima was tired of staring at the walls of her cabin. The smell of disinfectants used around her made her nauseous. Each day in the hospital was like waiting for the clock to sound its final bell. Her heart was like a dry land waiting for rain, Naima waited for a miracle to ease her pain. The cancer was like a mountain on her being while death hung overhead. She wondered why she was punished. Like many puzzles in life, she had no answers.

***

It was a week day but Manna had not gone to work. The doctors had called earlier informing that cancer was racing within each and every part of Naima’s body, that life hung on her last breath. He sat beside Naima as she lay on her bed, eyes closed. Ivy and Javy were with their grandmother. The maximum dose of morphine had been given to Naima to ease the pain that was making her howl like an animal. As the medicine took effect, Manna could see her body relax and the groaning ceased. She fell into a merciful sleep.

Manna took out the mobile phone from his pocket. He had put it to silent mode before entering Naima’s room. Carefully he checked the incoming messages and the missed calls. As expected, there were four missed calls from Poppy. He wanted to go to the hospital corridor and call Poppy. But he knew that some relatives were sitting there. Since Naima was sleeping, he decided to call Poppy and talk softly.

He called the number that he called frequently those days and listened to the ringing at the other end. It seemed as though the person at the other end was waiting for the call and answered immediately.

“Poppy, my love,” Manna said very softly. “Naima is in her last stage, we may lose her any moment.”

The person at the other end was talking loudly. It was a female voice but the words were not clear. Manna and the person on the other end of the line seem to have perfect understanding of the situation at hand. Manna’s voice was low but he was completely absorbed in the conversation.

“Don’t worry about me.” Manna was saying. “You have your dinner and go to bed.” And then continued, “Yes, I will come, I will stay the night with you if possible. Javy and Ivy are going to their Granny.” He paused for a while and then ever so softly whispered,

“I love you Poppy…don’t forget that no matter how long I am away from you. Only few more days and we’ll be together. Bye.”

Manna put the phone away in his pocket after making sure that the ringtone was in silent mode. His hands reached out to hold his dying wife’s hands, they were still warm. He watched her chest rising and falling under the white quilt. He felt relieved that she was still sleeping and so had not heard him talk on the phone. Manna yawned, his mind was far away, in a small apartment where a woman called Poppy waited for him.

Naima’s eyes moved under the closed eyelids. Manna did not catch the light movement. She had woken from her momentary slumber when Manna had started talking on the mobile but had been lying with her eyes closed. Uncanny intuition told her to pretend to be asleep. Although it was difficult to keep the eyes closed when all she wanted was to see the last sights of the world she was leaving. Angels whisper messages to the dying. So Naima, despite the urge to see the last of the daylight through the window did not open her eyes. She listened to Manna’s conversation on his mobile phone. Listening to him, she felt as if death suddenly laid a hand on her heart and a vulture called “Poppy” waited to claim her dead body.

Naima wondered who Poppy was. It was clear that Poppy was going to take her place as Manna’s life partner as soon as she was gone. She had known of lust and a man’s need of a woman. But and then, what about the fifteen years of marriage with Manna, the children, the beautiful home? What about the five years of courtship they had? How did all those get erased so easily? What did true love mean? All the confusions made her feel as if her last breaths were her enemies. She did not want to breathe anymore. Her eyes still closed, she tried to vision Manna with his new woman, imagining her with different faces. But she could not replace her own image beside Manna. Oblivious to Naima’s racing thoughts, Manna watched her, wondering if the eyes will open again.

A pain, worse the pains of cancer, swept through Naima’s body. It was the pain of a broken heart, the ache of losing the love of her life. Manna was no more hers, he was Poppy’s. With gasping breath she wondered what a blatant lie was the saying, “Love is eternal.” She saw death extending a welcoming hand towards her. But Javy and Ivy were calling to open her eyes, with tears streaming down their eyes.

Death stood between Manna, Naima, Javy, Ivy and Poppy with different translations. While the inevitable end waited, Naima felt the flicker of an awakening in her. Her eyes opened for a second, Manna’s eyes looked into hers: in the mirrors of the souls they had become strangers. Naima tried to defy the endless sleep that was overpowering her whole being wondering, how diabolic love could be, so kind and so cruel.