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(From "Jeebaner Purono Brittanta" - Collection of short stories)


Something strange happened as I was getting into the bus today. Me, Riazul, I keep my eyes peeled out here. But it was all so sudden that I was stunned. Well, no big deal, really. But it was so unexpected, it left me shaken.

I've been here all of five years and I have got the hang of this place the way things work here, the good and the bad, I've seen it all. Our native folks here, I know them well. We bump into one another once in a while but we keep our distance, we keep our noses out of each others affairs. We've better things to do than to get under each other's skin. We do meet sometimes, but we aren't family. Of course, people who hud¬dle together in one place can't help but become a group. Like, I stay at Suba's house. He has bought the apartment. I’ve rented one of his rooms. Iliyas lives in another while Suba himself lives in a third room. He has been here nine years, says he wants to spend all his life here. Guys like Suba can say that. They aren't like us. They don't have much feeling for their homeland. Our hearts ache to be back there... they aren't like that.

I am sending money home and keeping some here in the bank as well. Besides the rent and the little that I've to spend on my food, I don't waste a penny. Money is to be saved. Isn't that why I'm here? But is that the whole story? I just said that I've come here only to make money.

Well, no, there's something else. There's something that I haven't said. But right now, that's not the point. The point is that I'm kind of smart, and yet I was taken by surprise! Didn't see it coming, really.

What happened is, there I am standing at the bus stop, waiting to go home after work. There's a bus every twenty minutes. No. 6 and No. 36 stop in my neighborhood. I am standing there waiting for one of these buses to take me home. A No. 36 is coming. Good enough.

My God, I am barely in when someone barrels into me. I'm about to fall off the step, but he grabs hold of me. With his other hand, he holds on to a seat handle to save himself. A black devil straight from hell! And he says: “Oh, sorry! So Sorry! Extremely sorry!" The devil takes your apology! Why did he have to rush into the bus like that, just when the doors were closing? I am hurt, and he thinks he can win me over with a little 'sorry'? I’m not the sort who lets off steam by cursing under my breath. I need to scream at him. Who would understand Bangali in this damned place? I look the other way and give it my all. Dirty pig! Did you come all the way from Sri Lanka to die and rot out here? Dirty swine! Stupid moron!

“My dear friend, aren’t you being a little too harsh on me? I didn’t do it deliberately, you know. I just lost my balance.”

What the...? The Sri Lankan speaks Bangali! A dear brother from my native land! Great Allah! I am so ashamed of myself. A dear old Bangali from my homeland! Seems new in these parts. Seasoned travelers like us mustn’t lose our cool; we are examples for the young ones. I almost embrace him right there. How had he come here? Which route had he taken? How long had he been here? Where did he live? I bombard him with questions. He only stares at me with his big eyes, saying nothing. What’s wrong? Why is the guy being so strange! Something shifty about him. What can I say? We all have dubious pasts, or we wouldn’t be here. None of us is clean. Now, what is his number? He listens, and keeps mum. My bus stop isn’t far away. I ask him again “So? What’s the story?” Finally he opens his mouth. I’m a student,” says he.

Allah! Have they now started sending folk abroad with student visas? A pretty clever ploy to make a few bucks! That must be it. What’s the harm in spelling it out, son? We are all brothers in this alien place. We don’t need to hide things from each other! I tell him, "My dear friend, tell me honestly, how much did it cost you? What was the route, and what are your plans now?"

He just stares silently at me with vacant eyes. At last he says, "I've got a scholarship to study here."

"How much money did you have to bring from home?"

"Not much. Why do you ask?"

"I mean, how do you manage your expenses here?"

"I just told you - the university foots the bill. Why are you asking me all this?”

“How would I know if I didn’t ask?” Irritated, I try to drive some sense into his head. This lad has come so far to study, with a scholarship and everything, but look at his attitude! I have to drag the words out of him. Is he bragging? Bragging about his station in life! He’ll be nowhere in a few days! Trying to become one of these foreigners at the cost of his own brothers will land him in hell, I know it!

“Do you live nearby?” the boy asks. Aha, now he speaks. “Just two stops away, at Raiano,” I tell him, “that’s where I live.” One would think that after this he would tell me where he lived. But he didn’t utter a word. I had to ask, “Where do you live?”

“Not very far from here- in Barcola. My apartment is in Sanita Contovelli.”

Ah. Not too far. Three stops from my own bus stop. I go into my shell – let’s see if he wants to talk to me. The bus was just a few minutes from Raiano. But the kid just wouldn’t talk! You’ll get into a mess without contracts, kid! But he didn’t seem to bother.

Oh well, let me do my bit. He is a brother; after all, I should give him my address. I gave it to him as the bus slowed down near my stop. Cross the road, go right and then on your right, the third floor of a four-storey building. He had the sense to tell me his name and then ask mine. I am Riazul, of course. He says he is Rakib.

When I was looking at this bloke, Riazul... Or was he Rizawul? Oh, I’m confused. As I got off the bus, I thought – maybe I could’ve talked with him a little more. But I hadn’t thought about it when I was with him. Or rather, I hadn’t allowed the thought to strike me. Have I come here to socialize with Bangalis? Then I would have stayed on in Bangladesh.