B l e s s i n g
(a short story)
by Farida Hossain (Bangladesh)
It wasthe month of February. Spring in Bengal. The whole of Bangladesh, particularly its capital Dhaka was busy celebrating the language movement. "We want Bengali as our state language. We want to talk about our land, we are all brothers."
All these idealistic slogans seem to be important for only this particular day. People babble and speechify endlessly-patriotism. love, sacrifice, Rifat was sick of these words and these talkative people. Standing on the other side of the wall she could see Sheila’s room clearly. It was a double-storied house. Sheila sat by the window, swinging a rocking chair and studying. She was sixteen. Two plaits hung on both sides of her head. She was wearing spectacles. Rifat thought Sheila was too young for them. She must be studying a lot: might be the best student of her class. The best speaker, the best personality.
Rifat smiled with derision, standing in the dark. Did all these have any value, these days? In this man-made society? Only animals wandered here with greedy tongues-wolves and hyena’s ruled over the place. Sheila continued rocking and reading. Is she reading poetry then? It is time to awake. Or if I could be...?
Rifat’s eyes grew moist. There was a ripple of pain within her breast. But she controlled herself ruthlessly. Sheila was the apple of her eye-flesh of her own flesh, her life, the vibrations of her heart Her only child. It was such joy to see her pure innocence, her rocking, restless eye, the plaits, her unknown dream. Could she too be ignored and insulted?
Rifat could not breathe. No, this girl who was like an unopened champak-bud, was the only reason that Rifat was alive. She could not think anymore.
She had heard that each breath a mother took, blessed her child. Rifut would like to engulf Sheila in an ocean of blessings every minute, each second. For the last thirteen years this is what she had asked of her creator, continuously. Sometimes standing outside the wall, in the dark, sometimes waiting in front of the school gate. She has prayed for Sheila’s well being, in exchange of her own security and peace. In waking hours in her sleep. in her dreams Rifat had offered to God every particle of her men blood for Sheila’s happiness. Apart from Sheila, what did she have to live for. First she was in a women’s rehabilitation centre and then for the last ten years she has been with this orphanage. Who would believe this same Rifat was a prize student at the University of Dhaka? She was bright and bold in the full bloom of youth. She was a good debator, she could recite poetry beautifully. Rifat participated in the morning-processions, meetings tirelessly. As she had no parents she stayed in the university Hall, with an uncle as a guardian.
She met Hasib. a student leader, on a twenty first February, at the Martyr’s Memorial. Rifat had said, I like the way you sing.
: When you sang you seemed to he an active fighter in the language movement
: Had I been. I would have considered myself lucky.
They met at the campus, off and on. They sang many patriotic songs together, voiced slogans and one day they took hold of each other’s hands, unconsciously. After this they went to the marriage registrar’s office and got married. Their blood then seemed intoxicated. Rifat was Hasib’s constant companion and inspiration.
The drums of the liberation war could be heard. Every one was excited. Rifat had given birth to a pretty daughter, Sheila. When the situation got out of hand, everyone moved from the city to the villages. Rifat went to her uncle. The young people were busy organizing the war effort. Hasib was one of them. Rifat cooperated with him and his associates, in-spite of the baby. She refused to sit back. She was worried about Hasib’s restlessness. She waited eagerly for the end of the war, for freedom. She longed to have Hasib close to her. 110 would come stealthily at night. Those were the golden moments for Rifat. Nine months rolled by in this terrible tension. Independence was imminent. And it was then that the darkest night of her life came.
Hasib had come and left in the evening. Rifat’s sleep was a happy one full of sweet memories. Suddenly unknown people entered the room and awakened her. She could not see clearly in the dark. But she could guess who they were and the disaster took place. They gagged her mouth and lifted her. She fainted. She could not remember the rest.
Then… came the sixteenth of December. The country was free. Many soldiers and evacuees came back home. Hasib came and saw and understood everything. Rifat could not tell what went on in the heart of the man who had won the war. When Rifat came to his door-step, wounded and ill flash opened the door, to find the bird battered by a storm. No one could speak for a long time. Rifat thought somewhere gongs were being sounded- the terrible noise overwhelmed her. She felt she was drowning, getting lost in a wilderness. Hasib was silent. He had turned into a stone. Rifat, wounded and hurt, fixed her eyes on Hasib’s. She extended her trembling arms towards Hasib, convinced that her lover, her anxious husband would eagerly take her in his arms, press her to his breast. But no! Had Hasib really turned into a stone? Where was his eagerness, his thirst, his impatience for a reunion? Could he then not believe that his Rifat had come back?
He was sweating. His muscular arms were still, he was tightening his wrist. Behind his shirt was his heart also still? Where had Rifat come for Shelter? To embrace a heart of stone, she had stretched her arms. Was this the same Hasib? How could she make this mistake?
She did not remember when she lost consciousness. Her outstretched arms withdrew silently. When she regained consciousness, she was in a nursing home. Hasib had sent a fat cheque for Rifat through Dr. Rakib Choudhury who worked in the nursing home. Rifat did not shed a single tear. She returned the cheque to Dr. Rakib Choudhury with great humility. She said - thanks! I have got my due, Dr. Choudhury. I hey of you to give me news of my daughter. Even if I do not have an address. I will come here to get information about her from you. Will you help me?
Dr. Choudhury had agreed. Rifat stayed in a Mother’s home for some time. After that she went to an orphanage.
Now the bright university student had adjusted herself to the noisy atmosphere of the orphanage. It was in the children here that she tried to find her own daughter, Sheila.
To think that a man who had fought to save the mother land from being desecrated by the enemy, could not give shelter to Rifat! She had come to hate spineless men like Hasib. All those empty slogans! Patriotism-sacrifice for the purity of all mothers! Was Rifat not one of those mothers? Hasib could not even summon the courage to ask her.
: Holy are you!
Did the think she would die? Commit suicide? Would not bring herself to show her face to anyone?
But no, she was a fighter she did not come to the world to kill herself. Orphaned in her infancy, she grew up in her uncle’s home amid many adversities. Being a good student she earned scholarships to bear the expenses of her studies in Dhaka. So Rifat survived.
She will go on! She would prove to spineless men like Hasib that because he refused to give her shelter and love her life did not end in failure. Even if she could not be a wife or a sweet-heart she would always live on as a mother. She will raise a wall of protection around Sheila with her blessings-from a distance. She would clear the air for her child with her constant prayers- till her last breath.
(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Jan-April 2014)