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     Volume 4 Issue 23 | December 3, 2004 |

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Love on a Blue Afternoon

Ahmede Hussain

Shormi looked at Nasser's face as they walked down the narrow streets. He was tall; almost six feet, she presumed; she had to move her head up to have a look at the mole on his chin. It was almost late in the evening; the traffic on an otherwise busy street had thinned down significantly. There were hardly any passers-by, and those who were still there, waiting in queue for the last bus to come, tired and exhausted, did not even look at the woman in a purple sari walking by holding the hand of a man younger than hers. When she was putting on her clothes she had thought about it too; if it was in the morning or in the early evening people would have ogled at her; she could not rule out the possibility of something more obscene happening. A truck loaded with baskets-full of vegetables and dried fish shrieked past them. She held his hand firmly and said, "Dhaka kills me".

He stared at her and said, "You studied in England, right?"

"How do you know that?" she was somehow surprised.

She playfully punched on his chest; his eyes only grinned through his horn- rimmed glasses in reply. "Oi," she said, "tell me how do you know this."

He continued laughing, now wholeheartedly, put his arm around her waist and whispered in her ear, "You are so beautiful."

"Hmmm," she replied.

Just then a cab slowed down at them; a middle-aged face came out of the window and said to Shormi, "Get in the cab honey; I will give you more."

Nasser chased the yellow taxi as it speeded past them hurling more abusive words. All of a sudden a group of men crept up on her and started asking questions. One of them was the little boy who had sold her flowers that day; Shormi recognised him as he came out of the throng and shouted, "Madam, what are you doing here?"

Shormi could not answer; she was shivering violently. Realising that nothing was wrong, the mob, disappointed, scattered away.

Nasser was panting heavily when he came back; he said, "Suckers!"

That pinkish glow about the edges of her nose-tip returned, though she had put a hand on her mouth in a dazed way; both her hands were still shivering, she still did not know what to say. Nasser held Shormi gently, stroked her back and said, "Let's go back home." But she did not respond.

Shormi, in his embrace, seemed to have shrunk. She felt relaxed; an all-powerful sense of insecurity that had been eating at her all these years melted away.

Nasser kissed her forehead and muttered, "Let's go back baby".

She smiled, looked up and said, "Oi! I was seven-years-old when you were born."

Nasser looked surprised; he tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, stroked her chin with his long fingers and asked, "How do you know my age?"

She put her head on his chest and said, "I read it in the newspaper that you were twenty-seven. 'Twenty-seven year old writer gets death threat from zealots' or something like that."

"Hmmm…So?" he grinned and asked, taking his mouth closer to her earlobe.

She pushed him away, laughing and both of them started walking back home.

The azan had just started when Shormi woke up early in the morning. She looked at Nasser; curled beside her like a baby. He turned and muttered something as she raised his head up from her shoulder blade and gently placed it on the pillow. She turned round too, hugged him from the back and stroked the mole on his chin. Shormi wanted to wake him up; Hasna might come at any moment for her housekeeping chores and she did not want the maid to find Nasser here. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and stared at his face again-- at his nose, jawbone and neck.

Hasna did not turn up at work that day. Shormi, meanwhile, had watched television, and later stood at the window to look at the ledge where Bobby used to sit. She made breakfast, lit a cigarette and when the clock struck past twelve, she woke him up. Nasser smiled and looked across her face.

"I am so sorry," he said and smiled.

Last night when they got home Shormi gave Nasser one of Ifthekhar's T-shirt and a pair of shorts to wear. It had been there in the chest-of-drawers for so many years; but they still bore his smell. She did not know why she had kept his clothes for so long; Shormi had never thought that Iftekhar would come back. A common friend had been updating her regularly about Ifthekhar's whereabouts, which mostly covered how he emigrated to England and got married again. The latter was illegal as Shormi and Iftekhar had not been divorced; they, in fact, were officially married till today.

She had been surprised by Ifthekhar's behaviour that day. Contrary to what he had been in his last days with her, Iftekhar looked benign and mellow. Those hysterical outbursts of anger were gone and were replaced by a docile faceless expression. She was amazed that he did not reproachfully stare at her exposed navel. She remembered how during the last few days he had frantically talked about sins and atonement, and had blamed her for ruining his life.
Shormi recalled Nasser had said something. She smiled and said, "Get up."

Iftekhar called when they were having lunch. "Something bad happened to me Shormi," he said in a laid-back voice.

"I am having lunch Iftekhar," she replied and asked, "How is Nouman?"

"He is fine. I am just screwed up Shormi," he said, faintly trying to add up bits of emotions in his voice, "Laura left me three years ago. I quit my job."

"I don't know what to say Iftekhar," she replied. Then she added, "And I don't know what you want from me."

Nasser leaped up, came across and put a slice of watermelon into her mouth. Shormi gave him a playful poke in the ribs; Iftekhar, meanwhile, replied, "I want to meet you Shormi…Please meet me once…Please".

Nasser came closer and whispered, "I am going down to fetch the newspaper."

Shormi nodded and said on the phone, "I don't see the point of meeting you."

But Iftekhar insisted, "I just wanted to see you once. Please don't be so cross."

Shormi hated the idea of seeing him again, but she agreed. "All right. I will meet you for the last time. But don't expect anything from me," she said; then added, as if to mock him, "Please don't expect much. Things have gone too far."

When she went back to the bedroom she found Nasser sitting on the rocking chair, absentmindedly holding the newspaper. He did not finish his lunch and within moments it seemed he got extremely worn out. Shormi came round and asked, "What happened?"

He looked up and said nothing; as she got closer her eyes caught the headline of the newspaper-- "Zealots Declare Bounty on Young Writer's Head," it said in a black-and-white numbness.
(to be continued)



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