"Can't a man even get payesh and shemai on Eid in this house?" Altaf Shaheb screamed from the drawing room while watching the news, "There used to be so much joy in this house. It used to feel like Eid. But your mother has grown so sluggish now, Saadat! She used to be such a good cook. Our neighbours back in the old neighbourhood were crazy about your mother's chicken bhuna. But now I can't even get a plate of payesh the night before Eid."
Altaf Shaheb's voice kept on getting louder and louder with each sentence. He could hear his wife taking out the plates and serving the payesh but it was taking longer than Altaf Shaheb's patience could afford. He couldn't break character and show remorse now, not after 26 years of marriage. He threw the remote control across the room and against the wall. When Saadat had had enough and left the room, Mr Altaf kept cursing his son and blaming his wife for giving birth to such an abomination who had the audacity of getting up and leaving in the middle of his father's tantrums.
The texture of the grains, the sweetness oozing in his mouth, the milk melting on his tongue—it was perfect enough for Altaf Shaheb to not shout at his wife anymore.
A hand popped up from the curtains and handed Mr Altaf a bowl of payesh.
"Can you do anything in time these days?" shouted Mr Altaf as he put a spoonful in his mouth.
It was just as delicious as the day she first cooked it. The texture of the grains, the sweetness oozing in his mouth, the milk melting on his tongue—it was perfect enough for Altaf Shaheb to not shout at his wife anymore.
"I've invited Zia Shaheb and his family over tomorrow," he said, "Cook something nice. Especially that chicken bhuna. It should be done by tonight. They're coming in early tomorrow right from the Eidgah."
Altaf Shaheb looked at the clock. It was 11:30. It's probably going to take her the entire night if she starts now. He had his outrage prepared in case his wife even moaned a hint of protest. She didn't. She hadn't protested against anything in the past 26 years. Altaf Shaheb thought his wife quietly accepting all his demands would bring him peace but it didn't. He doesn't feel heard this way. Through every howl at her, every object thrown against the wall and every insult, Altaf Shaheb knowingly kept pushing his wife, hoping she'd finally break, that he would be able to mould a new person out of the corpse of his wife's broken soul. He couldn't. The 18-year-old young girl with puffy cheeks cried for the first and only time on her wedding day as she lay beside this vile human being. Altaf scolded her and shut her up. His wife hasn't shed a tear ever since. Not in front of him, at least.
What happened to his wife when Altaf Shaheb wasn't home was none of his business.
"Maa, can you please cook your special korma?" said Saadat as he walked past the kitchen, "My friends are coming over. They loved your korma the last time."
The gas level keeps on fluctuating in the morning. She had to start cooking now if she wanted to finish before dawn. She ironed out the panjabis for Saadat and Altaf Shaheb and kept them right where they could find them in the morning. After her husband and son went to bed, she went to the kitchen and closed the door. She took out the marinated chicken and started with the roast. After the egg bhuna, korma, pulao and kabab, it was time for the last item of the night. Her special chicken bhuna. It was the only recipe her mother taught her before she came to this household. As Altaf Shaheb would come home late from the office, with his fury waiting to be unleashed upon his wife, her chicken bhuna would be the only thing that would calm him down. He would devour every last piece of the curry like a madman and go to sleep. Those were the only nights her cheeks would be left unbruised.
It was 3:45 am. She had to finish before Fazr. The oil from the pan kept splashing across her face and her eye sockets and yet, she wouldn't blink. The fire was intense enough to burn her hands if they weren't burnt enough already. Blood dripped from her burnt palms and into the curry.
"That's the secret, Zubaidah," her mother had said to her in confidence, "It's the blood. But don't let them know. Your father doesn't and neither should your husband or any of those men. They love the taste of blood as long as they aren't aware of it."
"Zubaidah," she said out loud. It had been years since someone had called her by her name. That night in the kitchen with her mother was the last time she'd ever heard her name.
The curry was almost done. She could recognise it by its colour. She had already lost her taste buds. Rice, curry, vegetables, betel leaf—she couldn't taste anything. She chewed her tongue off over the years and the last time she could taste anything at all was the poison she took. With a hint of spice, it was bitter and left a mild yet long-lasting aftertaste. It was still here in her tongue, or whatever was left of it.
The chicken bhuna was done. She placed it on the dining table with the rest of the items. She kept the payesh and shemai right where Altaf Shaheb could find them in the morning before going to the Eidgah. The pulao, roast, korma, egg bhuna and everything else were arranged perfectly on the table. Zubaidah won't be here in the morning. She won't be needed as well. She'll be here after 9 pm when it'll be time for dinner again.
There were 5 minutes left before Fazr. Zubaidah peeked into Saadat's room and took a glance at her son's face. Her beautiful boy. All she ever wanted was for Saadat to ask his mother how she died.
Zubaidah walked out the back door of the house. She walked past the jungle and into the graveyard. Grave number 1089. Zubaidah lay down on her grave and closed her eyes before the first ray of sunlight could touch her skin.
Hasib Ur Rashid Ifti is a writer who is currently studying at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.