Abu Bakar Siddiquee :
Prior to the eighties of twentieth century there was scarcity of shops in Dhaka city where one could buy gift items according to the nature and requirement of the ceremonies such as wedding, reception, birthday or other celebrations. I had to buy something or other every now and then to give as presents in various functions. To me the shop of Mirpur Road in the Dhanmondi area seemed to be worth dropping by, firstly due to its location and secondly for the variety of collections. It was a time when the girls of Dhaka city were gradually taking up the job of salesgirl. In that shop there were some girls in job. Most of them were college or university students and used to work on parttime basis. The articles of that shop to which I got familiar were mostly the indigenous goods, local handicrafts and pictorial descriptive books on Bangladesh.
On that particular day I was selecting a gift for a wedding ceremony. A brass made chandelier that could be hung from ceiling and lit by candles attracted me. It was an assemble of four quadrangular receptacles attached side by side, each having a platform for candles. The top of the chandelier was open, but all sides were surrounded by beautiful semitransparent colourful glass making its look of an old time gas lantern chimney. After checking the chandelier very minutely and looking at it in hanging position I liked it very much. The sales-girl, who had been displaying the chandelier, was familiar to me because of my frequent purchases from that shop. Her name was 'Lima' as engraved in a nametag tucked in her 'kamiz'. The name is of Latin origin. In English the starting letter 'L' gives two most extreme words of the world namely 'Love' and 'Leave'. The first word is joyful and the last word is a sad one. Lima loved to laugh. She looked different from the average Bangladeshi girls, being quite tall with befitting health. Like Bangladeshi girl she was of swarthy complexion. At the first sight she reminded me a girl of Alexander the Great's land, but she possessed the characteristics of the Bangladeshi black pupil and the loveliness of long drawn eyes that charms and attracts people.
'Sir, buy this one, it's an uncommon item. The price is also reasonable.' Lima said. She smiled her usual sweet smile that makes her more attractive. With a pure mild smile I asked her to wrap up the chandelier.
Time was passing in its usual course. Often I used go to the shop to buy gifts. Lima always welcomed me with a smile and helped to make my choice. Lima is not married yet, it can be understood from the shyness of her smile and body configuration. I am a bachelor, about to cross fifty. All these long years of my life I was busy in study to know the art of making good mark in examination and after that I remained busy to transfer the bookish knowledge amongst the students. Gradually, I put on thick lenses over my eyes, my life, but those were for my own interest, which I did not realise earlier. Today at the end of my youth when I see my colleague's daughter is being married or my friend's son and daughter-in-law is going to England or States, then the reality dawns upon me; it reminds me of the unsuccessful part of my life, and jog my memory how being covered by the term sacrifice I am deviated from the natural regular simple course of life.
With a short notice I was invited to attend a seminar abroad. Now-a-days many intellectuals of other countries want to know about the new nation Bangladesh. So I decided to take some pictorial informative books on Bangladesh along with me for the purpose of presenting those who will express desire. I went to the shop to buy the books but got disheartened not to see Lima there. Lima was not present in the shop on that day as it was her day off. The girl who was working in place of Lima does not have enough idea regarding such books. She showed a few pictorial books of Bangladesh but the book that Lima showed me very enthusiastically on some other day was not there. That was a book having bright print and multicoloured pictures. The main characteristic of the book was that each picture is described in English, French and Arabic version. I was going through some books, indecisive to take them as I was not fully satisfied. The salesgirl understood my apprehension. She smiled and said.
'Sir, You can drop the idea of buying the books today. Lima will be here tomorrow and she has good conception about such collections.'
'That's good. I shall come tomorrow to buy the books.'
I was almost leaving just then a man entered to the shop in a rush and asked the sales girl who was showing me the books,
'Where is Lima?'
'Oh! She hasn't come. Today is her day off.' The girl replied. The man seemed to be disturbed. He asked,
'Where shall I get her?'
The girl was taken aback at the question. She stammered, 'She must be in her house.'
The man did not talk further.
As hurriedly as he entered the shop with that hurry he went out and started his car. During the conversation he met my eyes for a moment. Noticing my surprising look the salesgirl said.
'This gentleman is known to Lima. He lives in Birmingham of United Kingdom and marketing Bangladeshi goods and products in a joint venture.'
To me such an effort seemed to be of praiseworthy. Without lingering to the talk I said,
'Tell Lima to pack the pictorial book of Bangladesh which she showed me the other day. I require ten of them. Tomorrow I shall come around eleven o'clock to collect.'
The next day I went to the shop in time and found Lima in her counter. She wrapped each book separately with colourful paper; also the bill was made with a good discount. She showed a sample copy of the book and asked,
'Is this the book you have been looking for, Sir?'
I found that Lima had correctly chosen the book. While paying the bill she was standing aside and I noticed the beautiful slope of her uncovered neck. Her black thick hair spread over her shoulder went down up to the buttock. Such a lustrous hair seldom comes into view. Lima blushed as I was observing her beauty with a wide gaze. I turned my eyes in a moment. The pride of her beauty was expressed in her face. While returning the money paid bill her hand touched mine for an unnecessary longer period. The softness and warmth of her hand spread to my whole body. I was feeling uneasy and becoming smaller within myself. Why my eyes fall on her uncovered neck today? Why all of a sudden her lustrous black hair fascinated me? Why .... Lima touched my hand? Why ....?
At that moment the same person of yesterday entered the shop and came to Lima. Lima introduced me to him, saying, 'He is a teacher of university, going to London for some days to attend a conference, a regular customer of this shop. And here is Mr. Ashraf, a businessman; he has a showroom in Birmingham. He trades all sorts of handicrafts, tribal dress, leather products and jute materials, has come here to explore whether he can make something exclusive from this market.'
'I am very glad to meet you.
We should highlight our country more brightly and attractively to the other nations of the world,' I said.
Mr. Ashraf conversed with me in English mixed Bangla and said that he felt very high with my words. If I stay a couple of days more in England I could meet him in Birmingham. He gave his visiting card with address. By this time I could make an impression that this handsome looking Mr. Ashraf was around forty, well behaved and an all rounder person of modern civilisation.
I reached London in due time.
The seminar was also at its end. Those who received the pictorial descriptive book of the new country Bangladesh were very happy.
I was preparing to return home but I received an order via fax that I have to make a report about the educational procedure and educational programme of universities of United Kingdom; also have to note the effectiveness of their current system. Three months of time was granted to me for this programme.
Amongst the lists of universities that I was supposed to visit, one was in Birmingham, finished my work in Birmingham and decided to meet Mr. Ashraf by the address he gave to me. I took a taxi. After searching a lot could find out his shop. It was a small place in an untidy garage of a blind lane. A lone old Bangladeshi woman works there.
'Mr. Ashraf is out of Birmingham now.' She said.
The shop gave a dirty look. A few jute-rope-shelf and jute bag were hanging in the wall, some embroidered quilt were stacked in the rack, some clay made flower vases, few small statues, candle stands and few other handmade earthen articles were displayed in the showcase. The old woman told me that Mr. Ashraf possess only this shop. There is no other branch. She is the only staff to take care of the shop; she is paid a very low wage and that too not regularly. Mr. Ashraf frequently goes out of' Birmingham and whatever he earns he cannot even bear the cost of liquor. Still the old woman was working because she is a Bangladeshi and is not efficient in English; with difficulty she keeps the account. After that what she said that meant Ashraf is also a womaniser and a vagabond.
After three months I returned to Bangladesh. I went to Lima's shop on the very first day. I didn't find her in the counter. When I turned my eyes I saw Lima standing in front of the shop owner who was shouting,
'Everybody in the town knows about your affair; I can't keep you in the service, there will be a bad name of my shop.'
I came closer to them, Lima was surprised to see me. She asked,
'Sir, when did you return?'
'Last night.' I answered.
'You must have come to buy somethings?' Lima asked.
'No, I have come to see you.'
This unexpected answer made Lima broken into tears.
She said, 'Sir, Ashraf has cheated me.'
'Yes, I can understand that, I am very much hurt to hear the way you are treated by the shop owner.'
I came out of the shop. Lima followed me.
'What shall I do now? 'Where shall I go? How can I show my face to all?'
She burst into tears. Lima was weeping. I was embarrassed. I can't allow her to weep like that on the road. I asked her to get into my car. I brought her to my house, made her sit in the drawing room and served a cup of coffee.
'Drink the coffee. You will feel better. There are so many ups and downs in reality but one should not get absolutely disheartened.' I told her.
So long Lima was weeping silently. Now she cried out loudly and said,
'I have lost everything. I'm pregnant ... bearing Ashraf's child. What should I do now?'
I remained quiet for a long time. I took time to think. I considered so many issues. After a long spell of thought, I said,
'Don't get upset Lima. If you agree then your child may bear my identity. I shall marry you today, just now, if you wish.'
On that very day we went to marriage register's office and completed the formalities of marriage.
Lima started living in my house. She sleeps in a separate room and I stay in my bedroom. We had been passing our days almost in a normal way. We used to talk formal and dine together. Lima used to clean my room in my absence. After returning from work I find Lima was waiting for me in the tea table. At night if I fall asleep with the light on Lima put off the light. If the weather were cool Lima would wrap me with a blanket, draw the curtains of the window if there was wind.
I bought every possible artied necessary for Lima's newcomer and also for Lima. Lima delivered a female baby in due time in the hospital. She named her Proma. Gradually Proma was growing up. We used to go to the shop where Lima used to work, Proma sitting in the pram.
We used to buy the necessary items. Lima was really a proud mother now.
In the university area my colleagues were envious of my luck. They used to say that I have never faced any sort of distress in my life, never incurred any loss anywhere. Only the word gain is written in my luck. I only gained one after another, obtaining of first division and first class in educational examinations, procuring the job of a teacher in the University and availing the foreign scholarship without any effort; even at this last stage of my youth I won a wife who is much younger to me, educated, beautiful, lovely and affectionate. But I know how wretched I am. Very often I fail to sleep at night.
The other night also I failed to sleep. Lying over the bed I was thinking about the failure and deprivation of my whole life have made mistakes throughout my life one after another. During my student life. I have never gone beyond the rules and regulations of my customs and religion. I denied my youthfulness, neglected myself and refrained from having a family of my own. I studied hard years after years to obtain higher qualifications. Now at the verge of my youth I married a girl out of pity, reside with her in the same house and playing the role of husband. But till today I'm a recluse in the lone corner of my life.
Burdened with sorrow I was absorbed in my thinking. A shadow came in front of me. Looking up I saw Lima. She was on her nightdress. The light has brightened up her uncovered neck, and the lustrous hair spread over her back. She came closer to me and said,
'Aren't you in sleep?'
'I tried but failed.'
Lima came nearer and kept her long fingers between my hairs; caressing my hair she said,
'I was a salesgirl. My job was to sell goods as more as I can and my intention was to earn profit more and more from the customers. But what an irony of fate! I myself became a commodity and got sold in a total loss'. Lima's voice was sad. She kept quiet for few minutes, then said,
'But God is very great! You turned all my loss into a profit. In return I could give you nothing. You are so good, you are so great!'
I looked up at Lima but failed to say anything. I extended my hand and pulled her over my bosom. Spontaneously Lima jumped on and embraced me with all her impulse so hardly that I was unable to move. It seemed to me that a drowning person of a sinking ship in an ocean fastened a log of wood with an utmost effort to be floated and saved from the death. Lima's body was soft and warm; instantaneously our body and mind dissolved in an unspoken vow.