(Continuing from previous issue )
This could be the reason why Maria went to Abu Hurayrah's shop whenever she had to buy cigarettes. Another reason could be Abu Hurayrah himself and his indifference towards her. She was not pretty sure about either of the two opposite possibilities. She also felt a sense of insult by the way Abu Hurayrah avoided looking. The day his cat collided with her ankles, she named him Abu Hurayrah and that very night she saw him in her dreams, along with his cat on his lap. He was telling her the story about the prophet's joke, the name he gave the follower who always carried a cat. At the end of the dream she found that the man was actually barochacha holding the holy book in his hands and asking her to swear that she would never smoke again. In the dream she got the smell of barochacha's Panjabi, incense stick and atar, the only alcohol free perfume that barochacha ever used.
The next day she went to Abu Hurayrah's shop just to find out how he smelled. It occurred to her that all the men who wore these full sleeved panjabis during the sweaty days of June must stink as their special panjabis (oralkhalla or angrakha, God knew what) are made of synthetic fabric, unlike barochacha's ones. She didn't really need to buy cigarettes or anything else.
Before going to the shop, she didn't make up any excuse or have any thought about what to answer when she would be asked what she needed. Fortunately, Abu Hurayrah was not in the shop and a little boy was sitting on his plastic stool instead, playing with the cat, the slick gray cat whose name she didn't know. Maria asked where he was using a pronoun, the boy said he had gone to the tailors right beside the mosque. Maria knew which mosque he meant. The boy's accent was a bit different, like that of a stranded Pakistani, locally known as biharior mawra.
She hired a rickshaw and while passing the crossroad where the mosque and the tailor that only sewed panjabis were, she stole a glance of the inside of the eight feet by ten feet shop congested with several sewing machines and piles of fabric on the floor. He was there, changing his dress turning his back to the road, she could only see his wide shoulders that were the color of brass and not his face. She noticed that he had very thick black hair that he usually hid under his turban. She remembered that his beard was not that black, rather a bit brownish. Perhaps these details were mostly her imaginations that existed from the time she planned to go and examine his odor.
Late that year, she broke up with her boyfriend for he started to insist on room dates more frequently. It was not that Maria did not like all those kissing and cuddling and getting wet inside her panties. She even let him touch her breasts over her bras once or twice. But after some time she found it repetitive and not worth taking risks and telling lies. He was also trying to evacuate his friend's place where they usually met just to have proper and complete sex. He also arranged protections and bribes for his friends(for staying out for a couple of hours) who shared that place.
But Maria felt a weird kind of repulsion to think about making love on the bed that had dirty bed sheet stained with unknown men's cum. Perhaps she fancied something like the palanka on which dadi and dada slept.She said she wouldn't do it there and asked him to find a better place. After that she stopped picking up his calls. One day Pia called her and said that he was looking for her and he might come to her house. According to Pia it was wise to talk to him just to avoid his being seen in her neighborhood. Maria's cell phone did not have any option to block calls. She switched it off.
She didn't pay much heed to what Pia said because she thought her boyfriend, being an outsider of the town must not have as many local friends as needed to gather enough courage to risk the trouble in a neighborhood where he knew Maria had been living since she was born. Although she was orphaned and did not have a brother to protect her, the size of her paternal family always gave her confidence. She knew there were neighbors to criticize them for losing their values which they stuck to before the deaths of barochacha and dadi.
Those people were not wrong, Maria admitted. Her aunts started going outside without burkha since dadi died. The girls started wearing jeans and boys seen in the mosque only on jummajamaats on Fridays. Still, she believed her family was respected and cared for. The absurd faith and boasting about family reputation was never examined or argued over.
Sometimes she also felt guilty for missing prayers and going close to a boy before marriage, but these thoughts did not last for more than twenty minutes or so. It was trendy to have a boyfriend and she thought it was okay as long as she did not cross the line, of course she was not sure where the line lied. Barochacha always said that Allah asked people not to cross the line. She relieved herself thinking that she came out of the relationship before crossing any line.
It was four or five months since the afternoon she chased Abu Hurayrah, she did not keep counting as she happened to see him every now and then though never tried to detect his smell, she thought it would be silly as he always had a row of glass jars full of lozenges and packs of biscuits between he and his customers. She dreamt of him once or twice again, but was not driven by any devastating passion to chase him all the way. The afternoon she went out with Piaafter a long time was to be ended in an auspicious evening. It was Shab-a-barat evening and people were getting ready for the whole night prayers and women were busy making rutis from rice flour and halua from semolina and dal to be distributed among the poor. For Maria, the evening was not as auspicious as it should have been. She did not have the slightest fear in mind that she might have been followed by someone till she gets completely lone. Pia was a bit anxious about extending the territory they would roam, Maria was not.
Pia and she bought some cosmetics and books, sat on a fast-food shop, drank coffee and were on their way back home. It was expected that they would return home before the sun go down. But sometimes Maria made a delay intentionally just to express a kind of rebellion. Pia and shestarted smoking for the same reason, just to show their friends that they did not obey all the rules. Nobody ever asked her why she was late. Only her mother used to keep silent for a long time after seeing Maria return late and her frowning face said she was displeased. To avoid seeing her mother's frowning faceshe dropped Pia on the lane and did not let the rickshaw enter as it would take more time to go all the way to Pia's gate. Maria ignored the dissatisfaction of her best friend about having to walk that long and asked the rickshaw puller to hurry.
By the time she passed the crossroad where the mosque and the Panjabi sewing tailors were, the evening prayer was already done. While she passed the dark and narrow road by the side of the abandoned hospital quarters and the pond that had been used for washing the hospital sheets and curtains once and was being used as a dumping ground then, her rickshaw was pulled from behind.
They knew she would scream, they had preparation. One of the guys pulled her down from the rickshaw and another inserted a dirty handkerchief inside her mouth when she was only half way of wailing. She felt like vomiting for the kerchief was stinking. The third boy was obviously her ex-boyfriend, she could recognize as it was not too dark. The moon was already up and almost full. She did not stop moving her limbs to rid from them but they dragged her to the abandoned quarters, about twenty yards away from the road where walls without roof stood like a forest inside a locality.
There were shadows and covers could be found easily, the sights of the passersby were not to reach that far. She kicked between the legs of her ex-boyfriend very hard and he sat down right away holding his crotch with his two palms. Other guys laughed out loud and he shouted angrily, "Shuorerbaccha" "Swine". It was not clear whom he addressed.
When they almost reached the ruin of the old building, suddenly there was a sound of sharp whistle. The whistles that traffic police use, the mahallaprotirokkhabahini or local defense party members also carried those whistles and blew them after midnight. People said it was just to make the thieves know when to start their work. Maria knew the defense party did not work before 10 pm. And in the night like that one they were not supposed to be on duty. Even the government offices stop in the religious festivals, defense party is just a local arrangement formed by the committee of theelderly citizens of the neighborhood, nothing connected to the municipality.
But the whistle kept being blown and it startled all three of them. Maria could manage to use her left hand to pull the piece of cloth from her mouth and scream again. There were sound of recitation of verses from the loudspeakers of mosques. Soundfrom at least three mosques' megaphones reached the place. But the owner of the whistle seemed to hear her voice. The sound seemed to come forward. A stray dog started to bark agitated by the whistle. Two boys that held Maria's forearms from two sides ran away quickly and her ex-boyfriend managed to stand up and leave as fast as it was possible for him. Before leaving he threatened that he would not let go of her that easily.
Maria felt that her heart was beating like a drum and she could not find her dopatta. Perhaps it fell in the middle of the ground while they were half dragging and half carrying her to the broken building. She was too exhausted to stand up and tried to recite the verse that must be uttered in the time of danger, La ilahailla anta subhanakainnikuntuminazzwalemin. She wondered why she didn't try to remember it when they attacked. She felt she was out of danger and a line from a Bangla song sung by a Kolkata band came to her mind when she saw the full moon, "eifagunipurnima rate chalpolaye jai" "In this full moon of spring, let's run away". She felt puzzled why that line came to her memory.
She was about to lay her head on the grassy ground when she saw somebody walking fast towards her. She felt a sudden chill running through her spine. She remembered her dadi's childhood stories where jinns came down to earth on some occasions to help good people and harm bad ones. She knew she was not good enough to be sent an angel to for help, or a jinn, for that matter.
She closed her eyes and mumbled the verse which was struggling hard to overcome the tune of the West Bengal song. Then she heard a kind voice, "Othenapa, basayjan" "Get up, sister, go home" It was Abu Hurayrah. And he smelled good.
The writer teaches at Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University
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