For a Pinch of Life | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 08, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:18 AM, August 08, 2020

For a Pinch of Life

A damp siren screamed at the rushing wind. Black and thick smoky clouds slowly clotted in a grey sky, as if preparing for some kind of a ritual.

The siren blared again. The tilting waves splashed against the faded yellow ferry that was once sunny yellow. Rusty parts of the ferry's body were exposed to the mighty waves of the Karnaphuli River.

When was the last time he talked to his father? Selim tried to remember. It was more than ten hours ago. His father was not picking up the phone.

Terrible thoughts flitted through his mind. Maybe his father could not pick up the phone because he was sobbing beside his recently deceased wife. The lack of insulin failed to hold on to a life that had been struggling to escape for a long time.

Selim knew he should not allow such thoughts cross his mind. Maybe his father was running from one pharmacy to the next. But what his naïve father was doing was a wasted effort. Selim would not have crossed hundreds of miles to go the city if there was insulin near their village.

Selim had a really hard time. It was like an invisible hand choking his throat and with each passing hour, the grip was getting stronger.

A melancholic journey it was for Selim. Melancholic not for the toil but for the miserable start of an important journey. He took his seat on the second to last row of a rickety bus. And right after ten minutes through their journey, a woman who sat beside Selim threw up, and that too, right on his lap.

How could one scream at someone who was sick? Selim could not. Then he had to use all the water he was carrying to remove the traces of vomit from his only good shirt.

He could not get rid of the stench though. He also could not drink water throughout the whole journey.

The bus took Selim to the only train station in the division. He had reached the station only a minute before the train left. Somehow, he managed to squeeze his one foot inside the train but could not buy a ticket. When TT came to check tickets, he tried to hide in the toilet. But the ticket checkers are used to this kind of tricks. They pulled Selim out of the toilet and threatened to throw him out of the moving train if he didn't pay the fine.

The amount in Selim's pocket continued to dwindle.

He had to walk a quite a bit till he reached the area where the pharmacies were supposed to be. Maybe he was misguided, or maybe didn't understand where they were located.

After following the instructions some other pedestrians, he arrived at a fish market where yet there was no pharmacy.

Then he saw the man. He was perhaps in his mid-fifties. His well-parted silver hair glowed with an aura of wisdom. In a melodiously pious voice he asked Selim if he needed any help.

Selim felt somewhat relieved. He told him of his problem. The man promised to help him.

The man walked with Selim.

Selim walked beside the man.

Selim found himself in a narrow lane of the city.

A dark lane with a broken lamppost that huddled to the ground. A dog slept on the sidewalk and a small pocket knife was held against Selim's throat.

Selim was forced to give away the money he had with him.

But then out of desperation he requested the man to give him some of his own money so that he could buy his mother's insulin and return home.

The man proved to be kind. He allowed Selim to have the amount he needed and kept the rest.

Selim found a pharmacy after walking for a few minutes. He bought the insulin, and then rushed off to the station, but the train had already left.

The man at the ticket counter suggested that he take the ferry. He went to the ferry station by bus. He had to keep standing the whole way. It cost him the amount he had saved for his meal.

He felt dizzy. Dark shadows filtered his consciousness. His eyes were dry even though he wanted to howl like a madman.

Once again,he pulled out his phone. The first drop of a heavy rain fell on the cracked screen. He saw his phone was about to go out. He might be able to make only one phone call.

He wanted to know how his mother was doing. He wanted her to know that he was coming home with the insulin. He wanted to assure his mother that she would be all right and that she would recover really soon. She would once again be able to breathe normally.

But his father did not pick up the phone. Maybe he was still going from one pharmacy to another in search of the medicine. That man really did love his wife.

Selim ran amid the rain and thunder and gushes of wind. He fell and stumbled in the slippery mud but protected the insulin though by now he was quite certain the insulin would not be needed anymore.

As he neared the house, he noticed the people.

A lot of people were there. Men-women, boys and girls of different ages. Most of the elders were crying. Including Selim's mother.

His father was dead.

He was near the town in search of medicine when a truck hit him as he was about to cross the road. He did not notice the speeding truck because he was looking at his phone. His son had called.

 

Abdullah Rayhan is a student of the Department of English, Jahangirnagar University.

 

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