A Nomad's Home
Posted by Zubier Abdullah on 16-02-2020
A Nomad's Home
I shifted the blanket, pulling it over me and Abu, sensing the change, did the same. Pretty soon we were tugging at the small patchwork blanket in between us, kicking at each other, like unconscious football players after an ethereal ball. After that, both of us woke up. Abu promptly went back to sleep but my mind felt fresh and I got up and stretched my legs. We were staying near the edge of a small bazaar and already I could hear it come alive. There were indistinct voices rising musically, the sizzle of eggs being fried somewhere on a hot pan. The moon was full in the sky, floating there like a great big coin. The sharp smack of the cattle drovers resounded into the night, followed by a chorus of moo's. It was around 4 in the morning now. The call for prayer would come soon. I wondered whether I should wake my brother but seeing the serene peace on his lined face, I thought better of it.
He would have to wake up sooner or later. Now he can take refuge in his dreams.
Walking through the bazaar, I decided to see what we could steal for the day. The trick was to make sure that you weren't spotted. And - if you were spotted, to run. We didn't have many possessions - a comb between us and a spare set of clothes so running came easy. We ran and we got away as regularly as the trains roared past the bazaar. Did that make us good or bad thieves? There was Nizaam - the butcher. He and his son were trying to coax a goat away from its brothers so that they could do their work. Do the animals realize what is going on and if they do, why do some fight back while others quietly relent? Maybe brother and I would have goat meat tonight but not likely. It had been weeks since we had meat of any sort. The last meat we had was half of a chicken which had died in its cage. I thank Allah that we didn't get sick from eating it but times were hard then. Meat was the absolute worst thing to steal because it takes such a long time to cook. It leaves you exposed and the chances of you getting caught rise ever so higher.
The last time we had meat, we were in another city. Sylhet maybe or was it Jessore. All of the cities start to look the same after enough travelling. The same run down houses and the same concrete buildings - broken roads everywhere, welling up with mud and the same weary faces greet you wherever you go.
Except in Dhaka.
In Dhaka, walking by the rail line, you will witness a passing of worlds. In the north the city is a wailing monster of sounds and sights - giant pictures on giant billboards tell you what to buy, restaurants glare at you like nosy neighbors and the sound of car horns become a sinister symphony. As you pass through, the city shows its age. The artificial age of the new parts of the city slowly become replaced and as you go south, the quality of life increases. Quality of life for people like us at least.
In the rich areas, it is the poor who are poorest. My brother taught me that. Though he and I do not beg to survive, sometimes we have had too. He more than I. When our mother died a few years ago, he and I started moving around throughout the country.
We were born in Dhaka in an unnamed slum. We were here for the longest - at least until Ammu died. Our father wasn't around much when we were younger. When I was a baby, Abu was six and he was the one who took care of me. My first word was boo and I like to think that was for Abu. After Ammu died, we couldn't find our father. He had disappeared and the two of us searched for months and months to find him. That was five years after I was born. My brother taught me that in the rich areas of the city, no one wants to give a poor child money. No one. Sometimes there are people with white skin who give you a lot of money but a few months living in this city and they become wiser. They do not give you money after that; their eyes look at you as though you are nothing more than a bothersome insect.
So we steal.
I had come up to the place where Rafiq Bhai was unloading his wares - fruit and vegetables mostly. Red tomatoes, purple brinjals - it was a mad sea of color in the early dawn light. I had to make sure that I was being sneaky. I walked slowly past, watching the scenario with my peripheral vision. Bhaia always said - if they think you are interested in what they have, you will be caught.
We had never been caught but we came close.
Once was last year - that was a tough time. We were in Chandpur, living near the rail line and just like this one, there was a bazaar there. Eid coming up in a week or so and we were set on celebrating it early. We decided that we would be bold and steal a chicken. The plan was simple - Abu would create a diversion, bumping into a stranger and inciting an argument with him while I would put a chicken in a sack.
We did as planned . But as we were moving away, the chicken pecked a hole through the plastic sack that it was in and poked its head out. It started squawking - that mad unintelligible sound. When the chicken seller saw this he chased after us and though we weren't caught, Abu suffered a nasty cut climbing a fence. That cut became infected .If it wasn't for the help of a local NGO doctor, Abu might have lost his leg.
The call to prayer had begun and I saw my chance. Rafiq moved away from the stand and before anybody could see me, I stole a few bananas and apples from him. Hiding them in the sack I always had with me, I went back to my brother.
"Brother wake up."
"Let me sleep Tanim." he said.
"Brother it is time for prayer."
"Then you go pray. I am sleepy."
"Brother, what would mother say? Get up."
After a few more minutes of this, he got up and we walked to the nearby mosque to wash up and pray.
We prayed but nothing happened. It never did. Our lives went on as before but at least we would have enough food to eat for the day. Brother , of course would say that the bananas were His way of helping us but I knew better. I had brought the bananas after all.
I had brought 5 bananas and we would have two each and save one for harder times ahead. In the distance I could hear the rumbling of angry men .
"Brother, something is happening. Let me go see." I said.
He could hear it too. Years of living on the road had given us the ability to sense trouble brewing. Without it, we wouldn't have survived. Not in this city. Not in this country. "I'll take care of our things. Go and see what’s happening."
I did. I slipped out of my shirt and slung it around my waist. I moved through the crowd, like a shadow.
Rafiq Bhai was screaming.
"Someone took my bananas. I had 40 there and now five are gone. I was right here. Do you know who took it Faruq?"
"How would I know?"
"You were here the whole time. You saw what happened."
"I wasn't here the whole time."
"Liar. I saw you."
"Who are you calling a liar you son of a bitch? I said I was not here."
I slipped out. I heard enough. Brother and I had to go. Now. Before they realized that I had been there. Breakfast would have to wait. We had to be safe.
"Brother, we have to leave."
"Yes brother. I can feel it in the wind. They will come looking for us."
Ahead in the distance, I could hear the dull roar of a train heading south to Chittagong. That would be our next destination.
We moved away from the bazaar towards the tracks. As we waited for the train to come, brother and I each took a banana and started eating.
"We have a fun life don't we brother?"
"Yes Tanim we do."
"You know when I am with you, I feel at home."
"As do I brother. We are each other's homes. Now come. The train is almost here."