Anita slowly walked backwards away from the twinkling colorful lights of the White Hall Community Centre, Dhaka. Guests were being dropped off at the gates of the majestic venue; gentlemen impeccably dressed in Panjabi, Sherwani or western Formals; ladies in beautiful, colorful and expensive sarees, high heels and well accessorised with heaps of gold jewellery. A strong aroma of exquisite food as well as strong perfumes filled the evening air.
Anita felt someone slightly tap her shoulder.
“Anita! What are you doing, here?”, an elderly lady asked her with concern in her voice.
Anita blinked numerous times to make sure the building tears don’t mess up her heavy eye makeup and pinched the corners of her eyes, as she calmly replied with a smile,
“I’m just waiting for someone, Aunty, why don’t you go inside. Mother is an absolute busy bee today! I will be joining you soon.”
The lady smiled and made her way across the huge garden path that led into the main Hall.
Anita took a deep breath, turned around and walked out the gates of the Community Centre, without looking at anyone, in case they might try to stop her again.
Dressed in a heavy aquamarine Katan saree, adorned with a heavy gold necklace and earrings and bangles, Anita was now walking down the sidewalk of Sat Masjid Road. In her right mind, Anita would have taken off her expensive jewellery and put them away in a bag, or left them with someone at her brother-in-law’s wedding at White Hall. But Anita was not in her right mind. Which was why, she was walking aimlessly on the streets of Dhaka, looking like a newly wed bride. The fear of being mugged didn’t bother her, the horrible crime stories that usually filled the news columns didn’t bother her, either – in fact, the sheer feeling of literally walking away, made her feel something she didn’t feel for a long long time. Freedom.For once, she took a decision. She did something on her own. She may have put her life on danger, but it was her life, wasn’t it? She smiled at the thought.
Before marriage, the inside joke was, Anita will be in trouble when she got married! The carefree girl, who hardly knew how to take care of her-self, what will she do, when she has to take care of her husband and his family? Will she laugh at everything away? Will her in-laws laugh at her sillyness? What will her in-laws say? Will all her answers be “I don’t care!”.
Anita recalled a similar night, only a year ago. Only, that night, she was the bride sitting at the throne-like stage at the same venue. She couldn’t say, it was the happiest day of her life. Like a traditional bride, she wore a beautiful Lahenga, and shyly smiled at everyone, who greeted them with best wishes. Her husband, stood next to her, shook hands with the guests. As she thought back, she realised, his manner was not polite or humble at all. She now thought of him as a hunter who caught a delicate prey.
Since her marriage to Kamal, Anita’s change surprised her family and friends and eventually shocked them. At first, it was a bliss for the parents to hear her in-laws, shower Anita with praises. And as time passed, the praises became demands. Initially, everyone was pleasantly surprised to see Anita play a fantastic role of a wife. Her friends teased her to write a book, “How to keep Kamal Happy.” As time went by, she became, so embedded to play the role of a perfect wife, she forgot her friends, her dreams, her emotions and revolved her life around Kamal. What she didn’t realise, was in the process of relentlessly tryingly to “keep” Kamal “happy”, she lost herself. She spent her waking time constantly worrying if she had done something wrong : did she smiled a little too much with people? Despite the fact, that she herself was not much of a skin-showing fan, did she wear something that was too revealing? Will Kamal loose his temper if she didn’t sit with him at dinner? Will he be angry if she watched something on TV that he didn’t like? Will Kamal make a scene if she tried to apply for a job again?
A sound of jingles brought her back to reality. A middle aged rickshaw puller stopped next to her and asked,
“Apa, are you lost?”.
“No.”, then she climbed into the rickshaw and urged him to move, “চলেন”
“কই যাইবেন?”, he asked whereabouts to go.
“সোজা”, she replied to keep going straight.
After riding for a long fifteen minutes, when he didn’t receive any further direction from his customer, he slowed down and asked her if she had further to go.
Again, she replied no, and told him to keep going straight.
The rickshaw-puller climbed down from his seat, unwrapped the scarf from his head, hold it in his hand humbly and adviced to wrap the expensive jewellery in it. It wasn’t safe for her to wear them, so openly. They may be mugged.
আপা , দয়া কইরা আপনার গহনা গুলি এইডার মধ্যে বাইন্ধা নেন । দিনকাল ভালা না! পায়ের তলে রাইখ্খা দিয়েন ।
Then he urged:
“Lady, my wife and kids are waiting for me nearby. I haven’t seen them all day. If you give me permission, can I go see them for a minute? My wife will be mad, if I don’t return home in time, and between you and me, if you pay me a bit more, I can give my kids a treat tomorrow”
আপা , আমার বউ বাচ্চা পাশেই আসে । তাগো সারাদিন দেখি নাই । আমারে দুইডা মিনিট দেন , আমি একটু চেহারা দেখাইয়া আশি। আসলে এই সময় আমি বাড়ি ফিরি । বেশি রাত হইলে বৌটা রাগ করবো আমারে দুইডা পইসা বেশি দিয়েন বাচ্চাগ একটু ভালা খাওন দিতে পারমু!
Normally, Anita would sense grave danger. She would sense, that she was walking into a bait. But today, she really didn’t care. She felt dead, anyway. She nodded and watched the rickshaw puller put his ride aside and make his way into a slum. A lady, slightly younger came out to him and gave him some water in a broken cup. He told her something and she shook her head. Then, she looked at Anita. The rickshaw puller then, stroke her head gently and returned to his ride.
সত্য কথা কইয়া দিলাম হাফেজারে , বৌরে মিথ্যা কৈলে আল্লাহ মাফ করব না!, he smiled as he admitted that he confessed the truth to his wife. According to him, a husband should never lie to their wife.
For the first time in a long long time, Anita smiled. The smile reached her heart and she felt a warm sense of faith. She told him to drop her off at a house where she grew up. As he left, she gave him all the gold. The humble rick-shawpuller did not want to take what didn’t belong to him, but she reminded him of his kids. She made a request to not sell the bangles and give them to his wife. And also send his kids to a charity school, like Utso.
When she reached home, for the first time since she left White Hall Community Centre, she did something normal. She checked her mobile and found 63 missed calls. As she picked up another call and heard Kamal shouting profanities over the line, she said,
“If I was mugged, you’d tell me off for leaving the premises, if I told you I was out with a friend, you’d raise a finger on my character, if I told you I was raped, you’d say I dress provocatively and I deserved it, so I am giving you no more explanations. I am TELLING you now that I would not like to see you face for a while. For a long long while.” And she hung up.
© Tasnim Hafiz 2013