Siham ran inside the rail station after paying the CNG fair. He is too late due to traffic congestion on the roads. Feeling extremely pissed off, he looked hither and thither for his platform. He located a signboard indicating trains heading towards Chittagong and moved towards that direction.
After reaching the trains he opened up his folded train ticket to check against the numbers of the carriers which were pasted on their body on metal plates. Finally, he smiled with relief upon finding his carrier and stepped on to it. It was a small cabin.
Four seats in total, bunker style. So passengers on long journeys can also get some shut-eye or relax a little by putting their feet up. Siham cannot sleep on the train. As a matter of fact, he cannot sleep while travelling at all.
On top of that, his cell phone keeps him awake even more. Calls from office or friends and family make it impossible for Siham to get some sleep while travelling anywhere. However, his time passes on without much trouble despite the lack of rest. He usually steps out of the cabin for a smoke every half an hour or so.
To his delight, he found the entire cabin empty. This being the middle of the week, there are not many passengers. This means his happy liberty to smoke inside the cabin whenever he wants. He saw the ticket checker passing by and called him out.
"Excuse me!" Siham approaches the ticket checker, "Do you know if anyone else is boarding on this cabin?"The ticket checker scanned the paper on his clipboard. "Yes, a passenger called Tamanna Alam has booked a seat on this cabin." Saying this he left hurriedly.
Siham's happy balloon shrunk at first at the thought of not being able to smoke inside the cabin wheneverhe wanted. But it instantly got better at the thought of a lady fellow passenger.
The funny thing is that the name 'Tamanna Alam' sounds eerily familiar to him but he cannot quite place a face to the name. Where has he heard it? Anyways, all women all over the world seem and sound familiar to him, so it really is not a big deal.
He is travelling to Chittagong because his uncle has arranged a meeting with a girl and her family with Siham and his family. This was a matrimonial meeting where the marriage candidates meet each other along with their families for the first time and decide whether they like the statistics enough to get married or not.
This is the age old tradition of this country. It is always the boy who goes over to the girl's house and ask all sorts of questions while making the girl go through all kinds of assessments.
The power of approval or rejection lies solely with the boy and his family. More often than not, the girl's family is more than happy to comply in the hopes of getting their daughter banked. Siham has gone over to eighteen girls' house so far and rejected each of them.
This particular time his mother went on a hunger strike for three days and his father issued strict orders for him to come visit the girl in Chittagong arranged by his Uncle. Therefore, Siham has set off all the while weaving delicious excuses and stories to reject the next one, as well.
He is not particularly worried; his experiences with the previous eighteen have provided him with at least twenty eight more excuses. In truth, he has big plans with his friends after visiting the girl and her family, and of course, rejecting her. He is looking forward to a big bash with his friends.
Siham's fellow traveler boarded the train just a few minutes before departure. She is a woman of barely twenty six- seven. He gets a jolt when he properly sees her face. This is the same girl from yesterday! There was an inauguration ceremony of a bank in Motijheel yesterday which Siham had to cover as his profession requires. He is a journalist.
The girl had put forth one hell of an amazing speech at the event. Thus, he remembered the name 'Tamanna Alam'.He tried to check out her face and features from the corner of his eyes. She has a lovely face. Her fair face was framed by her jet black, long hair. She was wearing white salwar kameez.
A small bindi was perched on her forehead. But the bindi was a deep bright red. Siham has scarcely ever seen a face so graceful and angelic. The next time he tried to steal a glance, their eyes met."What are you looking at so much? Is there anything you want to say?""No… I mean… "Siham's words started to get jumbled around at getting caught like that.
"What do you mean?" the girl asked with her eyebrows bunched up."No, actually, the event at the bank where you were invited as a guest I covered that story. As in, I'm a journalist. I am Siham." He answers after checking back a little."Oh really?" the girl smiles, "I am Tamanna", saying this she extends her hand towards him for shaking.
As the train's speed picked up, the pace of their conversation escalated along with it. Siham made small talk continuously. He asked her many questions as if this was a journalism assignment. Suddenly he blurted out. "Why haven't you gotten married?" He regretted asking the question instantly.
Tamanna stared at him blankly for a while. Finally she asked, "Do you know the meaning of my name? Wish. Tamanna means wish. And I have never, ever gotten any of my wishes. So I want to fulfill my own wishes which is why I never got married." She smiles after she stops."Ummm… I'm not sure I get it." Asks a surprised Siham.
"I am a girl from a small town in Rangpur. It's more of a village than town. So, a small village girl really. And small village girls don't have the right to dream big. Hence, I did not have that right either. My mom gave birth to three daughters. This was such a sin of my mother's which was gigantic despite of no fault of her own.
She got punished for this in every goddamned step of her entire life. In our part of the world, girls are given education only so that she can wait for her husband on the bed. I used to love science. But I was instructed from home to study arts.
I wanted learn swimming but I was planted in my neighbor's house to watch the local women do henna designs on each other. I was told that this is a skill that would serve me well later in life. I wanted to dream big, fly high on the sky. And my people wanted to get themselves unburdened by marrying me off." Tamanna finishes saying all this in one breath.
"Hmmm…" Siham lets out a deep sigh. A knock on the cabin door announces the arrival of a service man. He gets up and orders two cups of tea for them. After ordering he comes back to his seat and asks Tamanna, "Then what?"
"Then what else?"
Tamanna smirks a little, "Then I was put up at the auction every week. Bidders, the high profile family guys, used to come over with their families to see me." She continues with the smile still pasted on her face, "The day a prospective 'guy' used to visit, all bed sheets in the house were changed.
New curtains used to go up. Sometimes I used to wish if I could change as well. Those were some special days. New teacups were unearthed from the china cabinet. And I was put up as a particular piece of juicy showpiece draped in a red sari. My parents used to gloat about such virtues of mine that even I did not know they existed in me.
All I could do was stare mindlessly at a corner or mostly, at the ground. Questions were rapid fired at me like a job interview. They would ask about my preferences and peeves. Some liked vegetarian brides whereas some liked completely non-veg. Some wanted a housewife and some wanted an earning lady.
I used to feel like product of which the market value will be determined by the guy and his family. Among all this, I was only permitted to utter five words. That too so that no one assumes the candidate bride to be mute or dumb. Wanna know what those five words were? "Tamanna asks Siham without any warning. Listening to her he had fallen into a deep, pensive daze. His insides were churning so hard that it was almost painful.
As Tamanna kept unravelling her story, the faces of each of the girls he had rejected with various excuses in his life, flashed by in front of his eyes. "No, I don't know." He shakes his head."'Sugar in your tea cup?' "Tamanna laughs out loudly.
"What?" asks a clueless Siham."'Sugar in Your Tea Cup' is all I was allowed let escape my mouth during those visits. Only these five freaking words in the whole wide world!"Tamanna looks directly at Siham and continues her tale.
"Each time, those men and their families praised me highly while extracting the benefits of visiting in our home. Two days later, someone would show up with the news that they have decided to go another way for this reason or that. Different excuse, different day.
Each Rejection Night, Dad would go out to get high or low somewhere and when he did show up late at night, he would beat the crap out of my Mom. The higher the expectation of my father for a matrimonial arrangement with a guy, the harder my Mom would get beaten. Dad used to call our Mom and us three sisters Cursed."
Siham was listening like a dumb, mute person. He had gone numb with pain and embarrassment. Enough to not to be able to pick up his eyes and look back at hers.
Tamanna went silent for a while. After a while she said, "On the 23rd Rejection Night of my continuous auction failure, Dad hit… me. I am still carrying the scar on my face."
Siham looks up instantly at Tamanna. He noticed a small scar on the left side of her forehead. An old stitch scar. Itr was not visible all this time because she had strategically hidden it with her long, jet-black hair. In fact, one needs to go look for it to notice it at all. But once you find it you can tell that it hurt a lot.
"I never wanted a life like my mother's. And I did not want to be auctioned anymore every week. That very night I decided to leave my home. And then what became of me is right in front of you, maybe you can see.""And your Mom? Did she come with you too?" inquires Siham.
"No, I asked her a hundred times. Mom did not want to abandon her home and family." Tamanna looks out of the train window with such melancholy eyes that Siham was hurting. "She never left, not till the last day of her life. The home she built that never loved her back."
Siham cannot quite face her yet. He kept getting this feeling that instead of an unbelievably beautiful girl, he is sitting in front of a mirror. The reflection in that mirror showed himself as a buyer at an auction. He is seeing a version of himself that he had no idea of before.
From his front pocket he takes out his cell phone. He texted his mom- 'Mom, I won't go to visit any candidates anymore. I won't ever take part in any auction again. I don't want to see any girl.'
Another knock at the cabin door. Service personnel. Here with a tray full of tea.Tamanna is still staring out of the window at the loping nature. Siham brings the tea tray back to his seat and puts it in the middle of Tamanna and him. Sitting directly opposite of her, he asks smiling, "Sugar in your tea cup?"
Yasir Monon is an author and translator
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