Silent Words | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 27, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, July 27, 2019


Silent Words

There was a faint sound of an old dog crying somewhere. It was as if a blind man was trying to play an ancient untuned violin. Its shrieks turned Rubi’s blood cold. She almost fell asleep but woke up at the howling sound.

Startling out from slumber she stared at the man lying on the bed, wrapped in white gauge as if he was mummified. He looked like a dead soul in a shroud. Half of his body was covered with a light blanket, and a tube was sticking out of his throat. It was divided into two segments. One was used for feeding, and another for breathing. Other than that, he had wires sticking out from both arms. His whole body was paralysed and his eyes were blindfolded. The only moving part of his body were the fingers of his right hand and his heart that still pumped within his carcass. Through those five fingers he communicated with Rubi, who carried the message to others.

Rubi was a young girl who had learnt to understand the signs formed by the fingers and what letter they represent. The number of tap delivered by a particular finger represented a particular letter. It took her only two days to learn all the signs because the urgency of the war had pushed her, hunger supplying her inspiration. War changed everything like it always did.      

Minefield took this man’s senses away except for his hunger and the ability to breath and of course the ability to move the fingers of his right hand. He has been like this for three months now. Everyone mistakes him for a corpse because he looks like one. There have been patients like him who came and went away, but he keeps on breathing through the tube. Rubi wonders which one is better, breathing through a tube or not breathing at all.

At first, Rubi cried almost all the time because she didn’t know anything about the whereabouts of her family, where they were, or even if they were alive at all. But now, it did not seem to matter to her anymore. People are always captured by life as it comes. Now she wonders what this man beside her feels or thinks. She wonders if he has anything to say to anyone. Rubi feels a keen curiosity to learn about this man, who he is, what his name is and about his loved ones.

She hopes to know him better for there is no one except for this quiet man who communicates with her like the rune of windy autumn communicating with narcissistic owls.    

Sometime Rubi thinks she understands the man. There have been times when Rubi without any sign or anything went up to this man and straightened his blanket a bit, adjusted his pillow and even sang for him faint lullabies. She doesn’t know if he can hear any of it but she sometime feels that he does.

Today the doctor will be a little late. There has been bombing near the hospital a few days ago and now the area has became a terrifying residence for people who are still alive. Most of the doctors and nurses ran away, but some of them have started to return. Rubi and some other nurses remained because they had nowhere to go. Yesterday, two nurses came back and assured the return of some doctors today. They are maybe already on their way now.

Rubi looks at the body on the bed. She wonders if this person living like cadaver is in pain or in peace. Rubi sometime finds his inactivity harmonious, but most of the time she finds it excruciating even to think of living in this condition.

How can anyone live in peace when one is barely breathing. But this is just an assumption, and Rubi isn’t certain of anything. Only joy can be shared, not pain; only pleasure can be perceived, not sufferings. 

That is when Rubi notices the ring finger of the man moving. She snatches the pen and paper lying on the table beside the bed and keeps on writing letters that form words, which shape sentences that create language and eventually expresses desires. But to Rubi’s regret she cannot always comprehend what those are. After all, her education in minimal. She can write the letters, but does not always understand the full implication of those letters turning into words.

She stares at the distorted letters of her handwriting, she tries to figure out what they mean. To her, those are just short scratches of pen. She sits silently and gapes at the paper for a long time.

Finally, it is nine o’clock at night. She leaves the pen and paper on the table and goes up to push medicines through the tube into this vessel of life. She takes five tablets, crushes them and adds some liquid to the powder. She takes the liquid paste in a syringe and goes to the white figure of a human body resting on bed. All she has to do is to set the syringe to the mouth of the tube and push the syringe until all the medicine is passed through the barrel that is now a part of the man. But instead, she cuts the tube with the scissors that lie on a tray on the other side of the bed where medicines are kept. She does it with steady hands.

The body does not move, not even a little. But its essence vaporizes and merges with the breath of all the dead cries of thousand souls. The body opens like Pandora’s box to release the struggling, wounded chimera waddling on the boulevard of fabricated hopes to live. It is released from the phantom everyone compelled him to believe to be a reality. Now he is free to accept the truth, free to live in it.     

The doctor comes later that night and sees the man’s condition. He searches for Rubi but cannot find her. What the doctor does find is a sheet of paper on the bed side table. On it there is a sentence written in Rubi’s distorted hand writing. The doctor reads it over and over with perplexity but the sentence does not change. From the moment it was curved on the paper till then the order of the letters remains the same. “Kill me,” it read.


Abdullah Rayhan is an English Department student at Jahangirnagar University.

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