n. the realisation that each random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own
The heat was nothing short of unbearable as he stared at the bold yet intricate patterns painted on the CNG in front of him; he flinched as the CNG driver leaned out and spat violently on the scorching tarmac. He internally thanked his luck for the air-conditioned car he was stuck in and turned to look outside. The sun seemed to be pegging away at everyone’s energy reserves, in an already overflowing city. He turned again to stare straight ahead.
It was barely 5 PM and Madam was in a very anxious sort of mood. Or maybe it was just irritation? He never had been very good at reading people. Some people thought he was indifferent to his surroundings. Often he felt like they were right, like they knew him better than he understood himself.
“Where’s the change?!” he was forced out of his traversing thoughts. He furrowed his brows for a split second in order to get his focus back. The car had been stuck in traffic for the past 35 minutes, to be exact.
This wasn’t remotely outrageous to someone who literally drove a car for a living on the crowded, wild streets of Dhaka. However, he knew Madam and her family detested being stuck in traffic, inevitable as it was.
In his opinion, they only complained to make daily life more interesting; he even had a word for it: habitual annoyances. Something so irritating you simply cannot get used to it. So, instead you appease yourself by complaining about it.
Why else were the wealthy always never content, always finding fault? But then again he didn’t know what he was talking about, since he rarely complained about anything. He had always preferred contentment with nothing rather than disappointment with everything.
“It was right here yesterday,”said Madam as she dug her hand into the front seat pockets, exasperation flashing across her face.
He shook off the rude intrusion into his unwitting analysis of social class and muttered out, “It’s right here,” and pulled out two 100 taka bills out of the glove compartment.
“How’d it get there?” Madam asked, her irritation evident. At this point, thankfully, the cars finally decided to move and the traffic edged forward.
Madam’s phone was ringing. It always was.
Sometimes he wondered how his life would have been if he had stayed in school. It felt like a lifetime ago. He liked studying and learning. It helped him look at the world differently. But it was expensive and his father said he couldn’t afford it. He knew a lot of friends resented their parents for this, but he didn’t.
He never dwelt on resentment for too long, because it always led to regret, which was a feeling he didn’t particularly enjoy.
Suddenly, the day of his wedding appeared and disappeared just as quickly in his mind; there was a lot of rain, loud voices and the bright red the bride was wrapped in. He cared about his wife. Or at least he thought he did. She was smarter than him and more perceptive of their surroundings, so he listened to her, most of the time. They got married when he was 22 and she was 18. He knew they would be expected to have children soon, it’s what was expected of them, but he wasn’t too invested in the idea yet. The car next to them honked loudly; a stream of curses followed; a dog barked.
He found himself mildly amused as he was reminded of his mother. They didn’t talk much. She still lived in the village where he had grown up. Growing up, he always listened to her so she wouldn’t hit him. He still listened to her, and maybe that’s why she preferred him to his brother. Or maybe it was because he was the only one who sent money back home every month.
A happy sound broke through his increasingly gloomy reverie; Madam was laughing. He was sure she was on the phone with her daughter who studied abroad. Over the years he had noticed, that like him, Madam also liked to find contentment in simple things; complain that she might, at the end of the day she was kind and always grateful for the life she had been given.
Out of nowhere, a deafening clap of thunder made him shudder and he pressed down on the gas as the street cleared. He mused long and hard for a few seconds and with a lingering exhale came to the conclusion that he also agreed with Madam’s philosophy; bitterness had always seemed redundant and life was only as disappointing as you were willing to make it.
The writer is a student at London School of Economics and Political Science.