“Bou-kotha-kou; bou-kotha-kou.” Heera was listening the cuckoo bird singing. She raised her torso by supporting it with her arms and tried to look through the window to find where the bird was. It must not be the banyan tree but may be the koroi tree? She always made a futile effort to see the bird. Her winged friend seemed to be quite smart in this game of hide and seek and every time Heera made an effort, she knew beforehand that success is nothing but an illusion.
But she loved illusion. She had learned at an early age that despite being decked up with mundane fun, merriment and laughter, real life is something very tough. The illusionary world is a respite; a gateway to serenity from the harshness of life. As the bird sang “Bou-kotha-kou” or “Talk to me darling”, Heera gently closed her eyes and moved into her world, her own illusionary or imaginary world; a world where she was that bou or bride whom the bird sang to. Her eyelids were trembling as in her musing she saw him approaching. His well-built body was coming towards her in a pace that she could follow every bit of it. It seemed her heart beat would match the rhythm if compared. He was almost at her arms’ stretch when she heard the screeching sound of the door, jolted a little and opened her eyes.
“Hey Madam Heera, how are you,” smiled Majeda while stepping in. Majeda, who sometimes fondly call her madam, was her neighbour and a helpful lady who willingly took the responsibility to come and help Heera every day at noontime, as her mother remained out for her cleaner’s job at a hospital. She helped her in bathing and even to use the bedpan. It seemed unbelievable but Majeda did it without any financial benefit. Both Heera and her mother failed to fathom the mystery behind her kindness and finally came to a clichéd conclusion that still there are people who do things without any motive. What they denied to accept is that it’s a concoction of Heera’s beauty and her physical state that always triggered a spontaneous emotion that can be termed as sympathy or compassion.
“I’m fine Bhabhi. How’re you?” asked Heera with a dry smile. The sudden appearance of Majeda broke her musing but she couldn’t afford to be annoyed. It was evident that she was blushing from the sudden tint of redness on her cheeks but Majeda failed to realize it. To her, like many others, Heera is the epitome of beauty. Thus the redness in the cheek can be only associated with a flawless complexion. Sometimes Majeda felt that it’s a mistake by God to send Heera in such a lower middle class family. Heera’s facial features, even without a single touch of make-up, reminded her of the heroines she saw in the movies. In that little shabby, tin-roofed room with a single window, amidst the cheap floral bed sheet, kerosene stove, blackened utensils and a pedestal fan that created more noise than air, Heera looked like an alien. She even doubted if Heera was the biological daughter of her parents. Although she never met Heera’s dead father, she could bet he wasn’t that good looking. However, she felt the man had really named his daughter accurately. She was indeed a ‘Heera’ or a diamond.
“Do you have to go to your duty today? Let me help you to get ready then.” Majeda was very fond of dressing her up. Unfortunately, she seldom got a chance for it.
“Yes I do. But you know I do not dress up as such. I don’t need it,” smiled Heera.
“This is what I really don’t understand,” Majeda went on saying while holding her lifeless legs and pulling them down. She then helped her to sit on her locally made wooden low chair which was a hybrid between a wheelchair and a wagon and began to push her towards the common bathroom.
“You never want to dress up. Always go to work just like that in your casual clothes.”
“Bhabhi, the way you’re speaking it seems I have a wardrobe full of nice clothes,” Heera smiled again.
“Arrey, at least wear those one or two you have. Tie up your hair nicely and put some lipstick and a bindi. You’ll just look like that heroine,” she pointed towards the previous year’s calendar still hanging on the wall. “But no! You always want to tone down your beauty. Allah knows why!”
They had reached the common bathroom shared by all the tenants of those rooms. It was vacant as being off-peak hour. Majeda helped Heera to settle inside and waited outside. Inside the bathroom, Heera splashed her face and looked at the mirror. Her big and curly eye-lashes looked thicker when wet. A drop of water was dangling from the tip of her sharp and aquiline nose. She gazed at her own reflection. The bird sang again, “bou-kotha-kou’’. Heera closed her eyes. Someone in another room was listening to a romantic song of latest movie. What did it say? Heera tried to listen to the lyrics. It said something like ‘moner moto bou’ …….’ (the bride of my dream). The flow and even the warmth of tears streaming down her eyes lost its’ existence due to the splash of water over her face when she closed her eyes.
“Can I ask you something if you don’t mind?” asked Majeda while she pushed her back to the room.
“Yes of course, Bhabhi.”
“Why don’t you two get married? I mean he does so much for you and we all can see how much he cares for you.”
“What’s the problem Bhabhi? Do I need a signature in paper while the entire city knows that I am his wife?”
“What do you mean?” Majeda was a bit taken aback.
“Nothing. Just joking,” this time Heera reined her emotions. “Actually, Sohel comes and takes me to my job every day. I’m sure the people around us gossip about it. May be they think that I’m a bad girl and doing some illegal or antisocial work; you know what I mean,” she said.
“No no, not at all! Nobody thinks like that. How can you do something bad in such physical cond.…” Majeda stopped before completing the sentence. She felt really helpless now as she said something which she shouldn’t have. She couldn’t think of hurting Heera even in her wildest dream.
But Heera said nothing as she stared at the lower part of her own body. The paralyzed one, lying down like a sapless twig; something that cannot do anything ever; cannot bloom a flower, cannot attract a butterfly or bird, cannot bear a fruit. How she wished if she could do something bad. She would have loved it if people ever gossiped about her saying she was a bad girl who decked up in the evening and with those thick black tresses and bright red lips went out to find her prey! To an extent, social stigma would have been much more bearable than compassion.
“Hey, you didn’t answer me properly,” Majeda tried to cheer her up while she pushed back Heera to the room. “When are we having the biriyani for your wedding? Tell me something. Have you guys got married and didn’t tell anyone? I’ll be very angry.”
“Do you think so?” Heera burst out in laughing. “It will never happen that Heera got married and Majeda Bhabhi didn’t know about it. You’ll get to know before me.” Now both of the ladies laughed.
“But tell me something Heera, what is it that is taking the time? Is it Sohel’s family who doesn’t agree or your job? In fact, you never told me what you do.”
“Leave it Bhabhi. Why are you after my marriage today?” Heera felt her forehead sweating but her throat and lips drying up. She swallowed twice.
“Is it a hospital you work? But you’re not a nurse I guess.”
“Yes…. kind of a hospital but you’re correct I’m not a nurse.”
“I asked you so many questions because my brother-in-law said he saw you and Sohel in front of a hospital few days back.”
Even her upper part of the body started to feel numb now. Heera was frantically trying to find the right words to use. Her most active part of the body, her brain, was working vigorously to find a way to distract Majeda.
“But my brother-in-law was a little confused if it were both of you as he saw the guy carrying the girl on his back,” Majeda said. “I told him it couldn’t be you as you have your own cart,” she pointed at her wooden chair. Many a times she asked Heera why she doesn’t buy a proper wheelchair or ask Sohel to buy one. Every time Heera replied that it is very expensive one, unable to tell Majeda that she cannot use it even if she has one, especially while on work.
She suddenly found the way to distract Majeda and said in a pampered voice, “You said you’ll help me to dress up; when will you do that?”
A big smile flashed in Majeda’s face. “I’ll do that right away,” she started combing Heera’s hair. “Today I’ll dress you up such a way that Sohel will take you directly to marriage register’s office,” she poked her and smiled with coquetry only to get a weak one in return.
“But it’s really true. Your love story is unique. Who gets such a caring and dedicated lover nowadays,” she continued to comb and then divided Heera’s hair into three strands beginning to interlace them into a tight braid.
“You know Shahida’s eldest daughter? Her boyfriend ditched her. Poor girl, she was all set to elope with him but the guy didn’t turn up…and she got such a thrash from her parent. But no doubt Sohel loves you unconditionally! You’re the luckiest girl in the world, aren’t you?”
Heera felt that someone was pouring melted lava in her ears. Now her eardrums were burning and gradually her whole body, her entire existence would burn into ashes. Human emotions have a wide range which, unfortunately she could experience only one or two, she thought. Also the people around her always failed to figure out the threshold between greed and necessity, between truth and falsehood and of course, between love and pity.
It was only those simple things commonly available in the possession of any woman of such lower middle class that Majeda took help of to fulfil her pledge to dress up Heera. But when she finished she was proud of her own performance. The fake pearl neckpiece, the bindi, the shiny red lipstick and the red and black salwar kameez, all enhanced Heera’s beauty despite being cheap. Heera’s pretty big eyes filled with kohl could be compared only with a lake; deep and expressive. Majeda draped the red georgette dupatta on Heera’s head like a bride and gently held her face by chin to have a look.
“Masha Allah! You’re looking so pretty,” she said spontaneously. “Today Sohel will definitely fall head over heels.”
“I hope so,” Heera said earnestly. She was on the horns of a dilemma. Somehow she managed Majeda’s query but then how would she confront the wrath of Sohel? She knew it’s going to befall on her soon. Heera kept praying that Majeda leaves her alone before Sohel arrives. This time God must have listened to her prayer and Majeda’s younger son came and grabbed her to their own room. Heera heaved a sigh of relief. No later than Majeda left, Heera picked up the small mirror and took a look to herself. There she was! The perfect blushing bride in red. No doubt it was her whom the bird called, “Talk to me darling”. Heera touched her face and then touched her reflection in the mirror. Is he really going to like it?
She heard his footsteps and put back the mirror. Sohel entered the room. He stared at Heera and for few seconds, couldn’t utter a single word. Heera looked at him and from his involuntary pause, thought Majeda’s magic really worked. A smile was appearing and gradually becoming big on her face when she heard Sohel saying, “Is this a joke Heera?” and yes, now it was coming as she expected. The frown was visible on Sohel’s face. His hand was clenched in a fist.
“How many times should I tell you this, you idiot?”
Heera looked at the other way.
“Are you listening to me? I want you to get ready in ten minutes.”
Heera pulled off the red dupatta with all her force that was increased with hope, self-denial and shattered dream.
It was late afternoon and Heera was out with Sohel for work. Today they aren’t going to any building but the spot would be traffic junction. As the traffic light at Bijoy Sarani junction turned red from green, Sohel slowly moved towards a black SUV while carrying Heera on his back with her lifeless legs dangling. Her regular tattered clothes toned down her beauty a little but couldn’t hide it completely. He knocked at the window of the car and began to say,
“Salam Madam, please listen to us for a moment; my wife is very sick madam. Doctors said she needs to be operated but I can’t afford.….We’re from a decent family madam but due to fate we’re on street today…please Madam…..whatever you feel like giving…..” he continued to say and successfully grabs a 20 rupee note.
“They must have a good background. The girl is so pretty! I feel really sorry for her…….must be a love marriage……see, how much the guy loves her…….” The lady in the SUV kept on saying to her friend as the couple moved to the next car. Sohel would definitely meet his target before the traffic light turns green from red.