Photo: Anisur Rahman
The realisation that that was the wrong station hit him only after he had gotten off the coach. It was dark all around. The kerosene lamp was glowing with a very dim light within the rectangular glass lantern hanging on top of the lamp-post. The barbed wire fence hugging the perimeter of the shade-less platform was indiscernible. A ditch lay below it, with a couple of trees standing straight and hugging each other by the ditch on one side of the platform where it was elevated in comparison to the otherwise flat-plane.
There was none else other than him and this other person on the platform. The man was hurrying away, wrapped tightly in a shawl. He tried calling out to the man while contemplating about how everything looked so dead in the November cold. He was not able to recognise the station at all. The train had already gone away very far -- only the subtle hints of its tail-lights were visible surrounded with the black of the dark and a faint grinding of the wheels against the steel rails were audible from the distant.
But what type of a station was it, where there were no other passengers, no pointsman, no one to check the tickets, not even a station master, but only silence?
He wanted to call out to the man, 'Mister! What station is this?' but thought against it, given how the environment was absolutely void of any life in the bone chilling cold with a black sky hanging above his head and the cold wind cutting through the thick mist. Such a question should not have been voiced given the surroundings and how it was so unfamiliar to him.
The sandy colour of the shawl and the bottom portion of the chequered lungi were the only things visible as the man was scurrying away. A sense of anxiety and hopelessness started to rise within him at that moment and he called out, “Listen…mister!” The shawl wrapped man must have not heard him. His call had echoed and reverberated in the empty darkness, like a glass-plate shattering into a million pieces with huge force on a concrete-floor.
The sound hung around in the dark, it mixed with the cold air laced in the fog, and it entered into his chest and vibrated within his heart. The sound was entwined with fear, hopelessness, and love. He was, at that very moment, reminded of his mother, his younger brother -- the one who had given his life for love of his land, all of the people he knew, his childhood, his adolescence, and all the memories which were both real and imaginary, came crashing down on him. He was reminded of how swimming across a river to take shelter in a mosque from chasing enemies like hyenas on a prey had given him a newly found respect for life -- he was feeling quiet the same then.
He was surprised to hear the cawing of crows; it was still dark all around -- it was still night -- yet the crows were crowing, which brought him out of his thoughts to concentrate on the man again. The man had by then reached the end of the platform and was about to disembark the incline when he called out with all the desperation that was rising within him, “Hey mister, can you hear me?”
The shawl-clad man stood still. Nothing was clear -- only the silhouette of the man was visible in the dark. He started to pace towards the man, and as soon as he and reached near to the man he felt sweat on his forehead, armpits, and on the palms of his hands. His heart was racing and he could hear it beat away. He tried looking at the man's face, but could not see it for the man's face was covered in a hood made from the shawl and the face was turned away from him in the dark. Hesitating he asked the stranger, “Where are you headed towards?” He could feel his voice shake, dry out and sound haphazard. The man just pointed straight towards the fog engulfed darkness in front without uttering any sound. He felt even more hopeless at that instance.
The man started to walk again. He started to follow the man helplessly and started to think, 'which station was I supposed to have gotten off again?' He could not remember no matter how hard he tried. He just kept on sweating, despite the cold November winter. His temple, jaws, the palms of his hands, the front portion of his chest, and armpits were all wet and showing. The barren rough terrain of the path beside the railway riddled with sparse shrubbery and coarse rubble kept punishing him tripping him every now and then. He kept on walking aimlessly behind the man -- whose face he had not seen. He suddenly noticed a ditch filled with dark blackened waters below the path they were walking on. There was a vast open field on the other side of the ditch. The man was pointing towards it. The man was climbing down towards the ditch. He followed suit with monumental uncertainty without any options. The man welcomed him with an extended hand just as they reached the bank of the ditch. He still could not see the man's face. He stood there stiff as a board for a moment before advancing towards the man. He was then lifted onto the man's shoulders as if he was a child, and feeling very uncomfortable he yelled out, “Hey! What's happening here? No… no… this can't be happening!” When the man without listening started wading through the black waters towards the other side, he could not help but think how he would be drowned and left for dead. Thoughts of how he also saw the man's face while being lifted up crossed his mind. The man did not have any eyes, or a nose -- only holes and bare sockets -- and how the face was void of any flesh. A cold chill ran down his spine -- his whole body turned numb in the chill. There was nothing for him to do, for his body was depleted of all its strength and both his hands were trapped under the man's rough strong grip.
The depth of the water in the ditch was not much, but he could not help but think how the man would murder and bury him in it. He kept on writhing helplessly. He wanted to yell out with all his might. The man kept on walking without paying any heed or uttering a single word. The man kept on wading through the murky waters making as much sound as could have been made. The man kept on walking carrying him on his shoulders towards the barren land up ahead covered in the black mist.
Kayes Ahmed (1948-1992) was a powerful Bangladeshi author. He was bright and towering figure who experimented on both subject and form of Bengali short stories of 1960s.
Translated by Hasan Ameen Salahuddin.
Hasan coordinates Brine Pickles, the first Performance Literature and Creative Writing group in the English Language in Bangladesh.