I fell asleep within my sleep and woke up to find myself in your dream, which is also mine.
Shuvo did not see it coming. But the punch was already set in motion. Billu threw his fist into the air and ran behind it like a mad dog, aiming at the unprepared target—who stood by the olden door of an outworn classroom. The punch landed on Shuvo, who then fell on the door, which then collapsed on the floor—and would have crushed him, hadn't Billu—suddenly realizing the magnitude of his action—pulled him away.
“I almost killed you! I almost…I-eeeeee!” Billu cried hysterically, holding Shuvo in a tight embrace.
“I'm okay,“ Shuvo tried to comfort him. “I'm not hurt, look.”
“But what if it fell on you and smashed you, like a . . ..” Billu could not finish the horrible sentence.
“But it didn't! You saved me!”
“No…..! I didn't!” Billu pushed Shuvo away and ran.
Shuvo chased him, asking him repeatedly: “Why did you hit me? What'smy fault?”
Billu darted through the school gate and vanished without answering.
“Tell me, Billu! What did I do?”
He kept screaming until he woke up.
“Why do you want to find him?” his mother asked him in the morning, at the breakfast table.
“I need to know why he punched me.”
“But why does it matter?”
“I don't know, mom. But I don't like this feeling—of—being haunted.”
He left the house without waiting for her response.
Dhaka had not changed much since his last visit. Only the roads went narrower and the buildings went higher; trees died and people thrived like weed; drains and manholes flowed everywhere, like gaping wounds on a rotting body. Everything looked the same. Feeling a dire need for a cigarette, Shuvo stopped at a roadside store for a pack of 555. 'Ahhh,' he thought to himself, afterinhaling the first puff, 'Dhaka smells the same now.' He stood under the deciduous night jasmine tree by the school gate and watcheda group ofchildren—pickingthe dropped blossoms from the ground with their mouse-quick fingers.He remembered spending countless childhood mornings here—gatheringjasmines and threading them into garlands for his mother.
“Hey, Shuvo! ” shouted a middle-aged man.
It took him a while to recognize Selim. They used to call him 'Scarecrow Selim' for his frizzy hair and lanky limbs.
“Good to see you!” Selim said, as they walked toward a teashop.
“Yeah, isn't it good—to be able to see? I'm not seeing though; I'm remembering.” Shuvo said smilingly.
“You haven't changed! Still talk in riddles,” Selim teased. “Where did you finally settle?”
“Won't call it settling. It's more like a jiggle,” Shuvo said, looking somewhat lost in thought.
“What do you mean?”
“Between two jumps, there's a moment of pause. Between two pauses there's a jiggle. And until the next pause happens, the jiggle becomes eternity. I'm inside one such jiggle.”
“You're a poet now?”
“Nah. Poetry is hard to live on. Life's nothing when measured in poetry. I mean—life and poetry never get along—I mean, life is like an antonym for poetry, especially when both are lived in a land that never gets you.”
“It's as if poetry is the upside down sky lying dead underneath an aimless billabong, without any hopes for the stars…”
“But where's this jiggle taking place?”
“Why should London be there?” Selim looked confused.
“Why not? Didn't the British take England with them everywhere they went? A city can be anywhere, depending on who decided to brand and ship it there. So, yeah. I'm from a city named London that's not in England.”
“You don't live in London then? “
“I do, and yet, I don't,” Shuvo said placidly.
Feeling perplexed, Selim changed the conversation. He talked about his three children and his still beautiful wife. He had married Mira, whom Shuvo might remember as Shyamolee's friend.
“Shyamolee—her hair was dark, like an ashwattha tree; and her body—entangled, in a green cotton saree,” Shuvo murmured.
Selim smiled. “Didn't you have a fling with her?”
“Not really. She doted on me, which made me feel proud. Like a moonvine she twined around me—as if I was her albizia tree. And I fancied myself to be her destiny.”
“You wouldn't recognize her now. A mother of six and beaten by poverty, Shyamolee works in a garment factory now.” Selim sighed. “And Billu—the boy who was expelled from school after the fight...”
“It wasn't a fight.”
“Anyway. He drives trucks for a delivery company across this street.”
Shuvo sprang up from his chair and dashed out of the teashop, leaving Selim in his baffled state.
Billu was walking toward his truck when Shuvo arrived.
“Why are you following me?” Billu asked.
“I've been looking for you,” Shuvo said.
“To thank you for saving my life.”
“I did no such thing,” Billu said curtly.
“But you did!”
“Maybe. Or, maybe I killed —some part of you, or me—who knows!”
“Why did you punch me? What did I do wrong?”
“That's all you came here for? To ask me that question?” Billusounded angry.
“I need to know,” Shuvo said earnestly.
“Look at you, a college educated, privileged gentleman,” Billu sneered, “whose life seems meaningless… for not knowing!”
“Please…,” Shuvo pleaded, “I need to know!”
“Take your brooding somewhere else. I got six children to feed.” Billu drove away.
He was lying on the stairs, blocking the path. As Shuvo tried to pass him, the man suddenly grabbed his ankle and said, “you've killed me!” Shuvo ran up the stairs to the roof, and the man followed.
They found Shyamolee lying on the roof, soaked in moonlight.
“Don't go near her!” the man yelled.
“Move away from the moonlight, Shyamolee! It'll melt you!” Shuvo shouted.
“Move away from the moon, Shuvo! She'll burn you,” the man screamed alarmingly.
“Too late,” Shuvo murmured, “you can't unopen a fallen door, nor can you close it. You're a powerless man.”
“And yet I'm the one who haunts you, ” said the man and sat beside Shyamolee.
The two bodies slowly dismembered inthe moonlight, like polarized dust particles. Horror-struck, Shuvo jumped from the roof and found himself lying on the bedroom floor—cowered among specks of dead dreams—like a stillness of life absorbed in a ripple yet to quiver.
Fayeza Hasanat teaches at the University of Central Florida. Her translation of Ami Beerangana Bolchhi (For the War Heroines I Speak) by Neelima Ibhahim has been published by Bangla Academy last November.