ONE DAY IN THE CITY
By Mastura Tasnim
I unfold my wings and look down at morning Dhaka city. Already the cars are lining up in front of that red light and sweaty humans look up at it anxiously. I fly towards the smoke-belching machines, in search for the sodium on their occupants. A bald man carefully takes out a napkin to wipe the salt off the top of his smooth head, and I curse him to high heaven.
A little girl peeks at me through a car window as I swerve to avoid. The young ones are notorious for breaking wings while making wild snatches, as well as intentionally drowning a few of us. What joy they get from it I don't know, but as I far as I've seen all humans are fairly evil if not foolish.
A gust of wind throws me sideways into one of the buses and I barely save my right forewing. I adjust my antennae ever so slightly and cautiously fly upwards, staying a safe distance from the warm steel exoskeleton of the bus. The flight seems endless, and the rush of air in the slipstream of cars wrenches at my guts. Even my strong, agile wings cannot maneuver very well through the traffic. Thankfully, most of the time the cars are at a stand-still.
Nearing the bus window, I spot the driver sitting at the front, craning his neck to look at the signal, occasionally leaning out his head to spurt copious amounts of mucous on to the pavement. He moves too much for my liking.
There, right behind the driver, sits a young female flaunting a variety of colours soothing to the eye. I instinctively move towards her, the pink and the yellow in her scales reminding me of some exotic little flower. But then my antennae catch up with the scent of her companion, who boasts a shock of hair on his head and a light beard, both of which make him sweat profusely. He seems quite distracted by the female on his right and a thin line of sodium-filled water beneath his collar is visible even to the naked human eye. I fly onto it at once, as lightly as can be, and take a long-awaited sip. It sends a shiver down my thorax, and everything seems to fade for a while. There is a flurry of movement, and then darkness.
When light seeps in again, both humans are peeking at me through the gap in the female's palms. I flap my wings vainly against the fleshy walls of my cage. “Poor little thing, stuck in Dhaka traffic, must've been dying for a drink,” coos the female.
“I have a bottle of water in my bag, do you want me to..”
“No, you fool, I don't want to drown the darling,” she laughs.
The male seems mildly abashed and looks away.
“You do know what they say though, of yellow butterflies?” The female bats her eyelashes at him, much like our males dancing with their wings splayed out.
“No, what do they say?” he asks, his pupils wide. She has regained his attention in one fey movement.
“That whoever they visit will host a wedding in the near future.” She smiles at him then and quickly looks away, turning a very pleasing shade of pink. If human mating customs were anything like that of a butterfly, they would have consummated then and there.
“Is that so…That's very interesting…” The male seems flustered, unnecessarily if you ask me. Even I can read the signals, and I'm not even of the same species! I feel like pushing them towards each other, if I was any larger and not held captive, I probably would.
The bus has been moving for some time now, I didn't notice because of the chatter of the love-birds and also because this cage of sorts was saving me from most of the air turbulence outside. The Lord taketh, and the Lord giveth.
The unusual silence persists through three more stop-signs. I flutter uselessly against the cage, but the female keeps a firm grip and a wary eye on me.
At last, as if to break the silence between the two, the male quips up with the silliest of questions. “So what do the other colours indicate?”
I thought she wouldn't reply. “The white brings death to a home while the red heralds true love.”
I feel like rolling all of my 34,000 eyes. We are tiny creatures, one of us trapped in one of their hands right now, yet they would have themselves believe we play a part in their destiny. Fools, the lot of them.
“I suppose we couldn't find a red one somewhere around here, could we?” The male is smiling now, rather coyly.
“You'll find them in Ramna. I dare say your true love is waiting.” She sniffs and turns her head away from him to look outside, forgetting all about me as she reaches for her bag. By some pure luck, the traffic is at a standstill and I flit out the window and across the steaming car bonnets and only faintly hear the bickering of the couple I've left behind.
A little island on the way hosts a cloud of dusty flowers and I get down searching for one with sufficient nectar. I find some quite juicy ones along with a young bright male with numerous dots on his wings and an impressive span. He beckons me over, with tiny gestures from his bright little wings, and seeing me hesitate, breaks out into a full dance. Waving his wings hither and dither, he hypnotises me in seconds. I think the correct human term for the thought going through my mind is “hubba, hubba.”
The sun beats down mercilessly upon the humans as some of them turn up their ACs while others flap newspapers frantically, while yet others squint through the white heat of noon-time Dhaka.
On a tiny island nearby, beneath the shade of leaves, two yellow butterflies flit from flower to flower, dancing to an ancient rhythm, blissfully drunk on nectar.