CHAPTER 1: ONCE UPON A TIME
One evening, while standing on the veranda of their 6th floor apartment, Sonia fell—with a big thud—in love. The thud was so loud that she was afraid it was audible to everyone in the neighborhood, including the man she fell for—a stranger pacing in his balcony of a building right across from where she stood. The young man, lost in his own fog, did not notice being noticed. He finished his cigarette and went inside, while Sonia stood glued to the balcony.
Sonia generally learned about the neighbors from the train of gossip that the maids ran from one apartment to another. But she knew nothing about the balcony that housed such a handsome fellow. How could she not know about his existence?
“It's because he wasn't there when you guys moved in,” said Kheya—the girl from next door. “He went to study engineering somewhere in California. He's here for the summer break.”
“How do you know all these?” Sonia asked in an agitated voice, “why didn't you tell me that you know him?”
“Why are you angry with me?” Kheya said surprisingly, playing with the orange kittens that Sonia's cat had recently mothered. “And why are you interested in him? He's a jerk. He thinks he's all that—you know—smart and good looking—the kind of shit girls like.”
“But he is—I mean he looks—I mean as much I've seen from a distance…” Sonia stuttered.
“He's Ripon's older brother. He used to pull my leg every time I went to visit Ripon. I was really glad when he left. ”Kheya picked up one of the orange striped kittens and put it on her shoulder. “Will you give me this kitten, p-l-e-a-s-e? My cat betrayed me when we moved here. Cats love places over people, you know.”
Sonia's heart went numb with ignominy. For the last two weeks, she had spent most of her time on the balcony—waiting for a chance to be sighted by the man of her dream—while this nineteen years-old girl held in her possession the key to her world of happiness!
“What's his name?” Sonia asked in a meek voice.
“Your friend's brother…”
“Rajon. Weird name, isn't it?”
Sonia suddenly left the room.
The following morning, she brought a sealed letter and asked Kheya to deliver it to Rajon.
“The kitten will be yours if you can bring me a letter from him,” she said in a sulking tone.
Kheya smiled. She could not think of a job easier than this. Grumpy and old though he was, Rajon was a good brother and would never say 'no' to his brother's best friend. Kheya happily agreed to play the role of a matchmaker.
CHAPTER 2: THERE WAS A MAN
At twenty-five, Rajon was considered an epitome of perfection. Tall, fair, handsome, and with a promising career—he was pursued by all the Mrs. Bennets of the town. But Rajon refused every offer of marriage that came his way. He was waiting to be noticed by his destiny, he used to say. That evening, when Kheya handed him a sealed envelope, Rajon was surprised.
“Why do you have to write me a letter? What happened to that chatterbox mouth of yours?” he said teasingly.
“Why should I write to you?” Kheya was equally surprised by his question. “Look straight at the building right across. Do you see the girl in blue sari? That's Sonia—and she wrote this letter. Read it quickly and write her an answer, NOW! Kheya said impatiently.
“Why the rush?”
“Because…she wants it.”
“But why are you so eager?”
'”Because she won't give me the kitten until you write to her—that's why. I want that kitten and you are going to earn it for me.”
“Why?” Rajon asked.
“Because she's the prettiest orange kitten I've ever seen.”
“No, I mean why should I earn it for you?”
Rajon smiled. He agreed to be her pawn, but demanded a little more of her time, in return. He might require the messenger's constant company—in case he needed more information regarding the sender. “After all,” he said, “a letter of love is a matter of patience.”
“I can't give you more than a week,” Kheya snapped.
“Then I demand daily visit. You'll sit and talk with me everyday, and behave—no, not like that—no pushing or punching—but like a civilized person. Aren't you an adult now? And a smart one too?”
Kheya's face flushed with anger. She grinded her teeth and arched her brows and pushed the obnoxious man one last time before agreeing to his proposition.
CHAPTER 3: AND THEY LIVED…
Even though Kheya came empty handed, she assured Sonia of a bright future and promised to bring her a letter within a week.
“But first, tell me about yourself,” she said, “start with your favorite color and other stuff. I've seen my friends fussing over these silly things. I don't get it though. What's the big deal about knowing or not knowing each other's stupid details?”
“Wouldn't you like to tell the man of your love everything about yourself?” Sonia asked curiously.
“Hell, no! I consider love an emotional disorder. It makes people go crazy for no reason. Love demands total surrender. It makes you suspicious and mean, overprotective and greedy, and it replaces your independence with a feeling of insecurity. I can't imagine surrendering myself like that. Love is a disease that I want to be away from.”
“I want to be there when you catch that disease,” Sonia said smilingly.
“We'll see,” Kheya said. “But for now, let's make sure that you are cured.”
Kheya was a meticulous planner. She could not execute anything without proper preparation. She made a seven-day calendar and wrote down specific information about Sonia. In a narration divided in seven parts, she presented Sonia as the most suitable companion for any man. Once her story was complete, she went to deliver it to Rajon.
On the first day, she explained why blue was Sonia's favorite color.
“Isn't green your color?” Rajon asked. “I've noticed your obsession with all shades of green.”
On the second day, Kheya talked about all types of fragrant jasmines that Sonia liked.
“I know you don't like anything that smells. You are not a flower-liking kind,” Rajon commented.
Kheya spent the third day introducing Sonia as a brilliant student of economics, who was finishing up her Master's degree.
“In two years, you'll be a graduate student yourself. I hope you'll stop hankering after that old dude, Shakespeare,” he remarked.
On the fourth day, Kheya introduced Sonia's favorite singers and actors.
“I don't think you're into cheesy movies, are you?” he asked.
The fifth day was about food. Sonia was a chocolate person.
“You're too much into hot and spicy food. That's a bad habit,” Rajon said.
On the sixth day, Kheya told him about the songs of Tagore and Nazrul—Sonia's favorite.
“Ripon said you broke your violin the other day. Did you have it fixed?” Rajon wanted to know.
On the seventh day, Kheya exploded in anger.
“Why do you keep asking me irrelevant questions? she asked him.“Why haven't you finished writing?”
For a whole week, she had been playing the role of a motivator, while he sat at his desk, with his eyes fixed on Kheya— constantly questioning her and occasionally scribbling a few words on a piece of paper. But her patience finally ran out that day. “Give me whatever you've written,” she said, “it'll be enough to make her happy.”
As Rajon refused to comply, Kheya dashed toward his desk to grab it from him and saw Sonia's letter—still in its sealed envelope—lying over a pile of papers.
“You haven't even opened the envelope! How could you do this? I'm done playing nice with you!” Kheya snatched the unfinished letter from his hand and ran out of his room.
“Kheya, wait, don't give it to her!” Rajon shouted.
But Kheya was already gone. She ran to Sonia and handed her the crumpled letter. “Here, take this,” she said, “and thank you for the kitten.” She picked up the orange kitten on her way out.
Sonia's heart started jumping like a restless deer. As she unfolded the crumpled letter, her face grew pale, and her heart pounded its beats of desolation. She sat dumbfounded, holding Rajon's unfinished letter in her hand, addressed to Kheya.
Fayeza Hasanat teaches at the University of Central Florida. Her translation of Aami Beerangana Bolchhi (For the War Heroines I Speak) by Neelima Ibhahim has been published by Bangla Academy last November.