The perfect ending?
Three people holding one another's hands while walking into a deep, lonely forest, covered with white glistening snow- this is the picture my mother cut from a newspaper when she used to work as a domestic help; when we were little. My brother and I were the only people in her life, even back then.
There was something in that picture, something breathtakingly amazing. We all felt that way, especially my mother. For reasons unknown to us, Amma has always kept this little piece of paper with utmost care. On hot summer nights, when we used to sweat like anything, she used to take that out. She used to put all the talcum powder she could afford on both of us, and we would point-and-laugh at each other in jest!
Amma said that snow is like powdered cloud, and it had the power to heal anything. We had our doubts, but it was also a nice thing to believe in.
The three figures in the picture were shadowy, but we could sense the uncertainty in them. Amma wasn't a story-teller; she would lose her track whenever she tried to tell a story to us. She actually never even tried that hard. In those burning nights, we would just stick together in our tiny hut, listening to the heaves and hassles of our adjacent neighbors, literally. Like the three figures in the picture- together; in fear and cold, and probably in helpless love. We would close our eyes and see the snowy ground; the hot summer, the stinky sweat would just disappear in to a magic land of hope, love and togetherness. And snow, everywhere!
Thus Amma used to tell the story of how three people held one another's hands and crossed the unknown dark forest, without really telling us anything. She allowed us to create and live for our own versions of that untold story.
We had our own versions, our stories. Each with the perfect endings!
Thus Amma became the greatest story-teller I could ever know.
When my height reached Amma's, I stole the paper-cutting from her purse. That day, I also discovered a photograph of three of us taken at a studio. We all are pretty well-groomed, and covered in powder, obviously! I wore a little hat and my brother donned a pair of goggles. He was funny-looking even back then! Amma was wearing the only saree she had. We looked like clowns, but really happy ones!
I took the paper-cutting and decided to keep it in my purse, when I could get one. Even my brother had pictures in his second-hand wallet. Those are mostly of his favorite actresses. He is such a show-off!
I kept the picture with me all the time. It was my gateway to a better world, where every storm ends, and everyone lives happily ever after. Whenever I felt my air was too heavy to take in, I used to find a corner and look at that. It was old and almost torn, but I could clearly see three people, holding hands till the end.
I could breathe again.
I can see the picture burning.
Ahh! I wish I could see it one more time. I wish I could feel the creases on the paper on my palm. I wish I could close my eyes and find myself in that snow-covered forest, holding my mother's hand in one and my brother's in another; breathing heavily in snow, leaving snow-puffs with every breath!
I wish I could breathe again, in fresh air.
I closed my eyes hard. I tried to imagine the nasty, scorching flames turning into soft snow flakes. I have always loved imagining myself enjoying a snowfall. But the fire is too strong to melt my pretty snowflakes down; it's eating everything up!
Is a blizzard better than a fire-breakout? Who knows? I have never experienced the first.
Now I can feel my body burning. I used to complain that the hot summer days left my body burnt. I take my words back. I know now what burning really feels like.
I wonder if my mother and brother are suffering like me! They were working on other floors. I hope the fire didn't reach there. If it has already, I just hope that they are safely out. If they couldn't, I just hope they have finally found the way to our snowy forest. Please God! Can you hear me? Can you make that true?
The picture is burnt to ashes already. I will try to close my eyes again. I know I will be seeing the image with my closed eyes. I know if I can, I would also see Amma and my little rascal brother waiting there for me, to hold my hand. I know we have crossed the dark forest. But I am not sure if it is our perfect ending. I am not sure!
I wish I was.
(A fictional homage to the victims of the Tazreen fire breakout, November, 2012)
Mehnaz Tabassum is a student of M.A. in Literatures in English and Cultural Studies program in the Department of English, Jahangirnagar University. She can be reached at email@example.com