A Winter's Tale

Posted by Zubier Abdullah on 16-02-2020

Originally published in GolpoKotha magazine in 2016

It always amazed Naima how it felt colder after he had left - seeing his back receding made her realize how much meaning the cessation of his touch had.

In these moments, she felt so alone. He was the sole traveller who had peered into her secret heart and now he was leaving.

She thought about how everyone had someone like that– one, maybe two people, privy to the darkness that lay beneath. To the rest of the world, she was a prim and proper girl and yet, to the man walking away, she was a flawed human being, with thoughts and deeds which she, herself, could not discern let alone understand.

Naima watched for him coming back. He always did. Yet, she couldn't help feel as though this time, things hadn’t frayed but had broken.

She forgot how it had started. The arguments that they had shared over their tumultuous love life had attained a periodicity about them. The fights neither came too early nor too late; they just came, the way the birds would take wing and fly away when winter was approaching.

True to her training as an economist, she had guessed at the underlying pattern that dictated their romance.

She wanted to call him. She didn't though – she was rooted by the firmness of her convictions. Naima thought of the argument again. It was different from their usual pattern. She had started it this time – normally he was always the instigator. She thought, with a bittersweet smile on her face, that whoever started it, she was the one who ended it.

After the initial spark, the words would soar between them like cannons fired between two opposing armies. Their arguments were chaos in verbal form. She would scream and he would shout and sometimes plates and pots would fly and crash into the walls.

This would continue until one of them would issue an ultimatum. Usually that would be her.

All of them would be – stop doing X or she would leave. A few years ago, it was gaming. He would spend the whole day and most of the night sitting in front of his computer screen. She would come back from work and find him where she had left him. The only times he would get up was at dinner time or when he felt horny. She sometimes wondered whether he would have ever graduated from York University without her. In moments of lucidity, she thought not.

Naima had a rule – ask nice. Otherwise, fight. She did. He didn’t listen to her.

He shrugged off her words as though they were wind. She took the next step. While he was out, she sold his computer and deleted his games. She waited to see how he would react and wasn’t disappointed –a fleeting moment of heartbreak etched across his face, so vivid that you could see it from miles away. This passed through, like a cloud passing over the sun and was replaced with a dawning realization of what had happened and then, with fury.

That was the first of their major arguments – the world wars, as she liked to call them. Others came after – why wasn't he getting a job, his reluctance to move into a new apartment and his reticence about their future. Each was an island of contention in a mutually shared archipelago of unhappiness.

This was different though – this time the battle would be atomic.

The wind battered her face and she cried.

She broached the subject when he was at his most suggestible- after they had finished making love.

It was a lazy Saturday morning when they turned amorous. The leaves fell to the ground rhythmically and underscored their lovemaking.

“I need to talk to you Nuhash.” she said. Nuhash was smoking – something she disliked on normal days but allowed after sex.

“What is it?” he asked. For a moment, she didn't want to say anything and let him enjoy his peace. The last few weeks had been tough for them both. Yet, she knew that if she didn't do it now, she wouldn't do it at all. The future would become the present with this unspoken wish lying between them.

She steeled herself.

“I want to move back.” she said.

“Back where?”

Bangladesh, she wanted to say. “Home.”

The word hung between them in the silence.

“This is our home.” he finally replied.

“No it's not. Not mine.” Her mind flooded with images of her childhood – an excruciating cavalcade of bittersweet memories; the dusty choking heat of Dhaka and the incessant blare of the cars. Memories filled with heart rending sweetness – the taste of the first green mangoes of the season, the smell of her mother's hair after she had soaked it in turmeric water, the sound of rickshaw bells tinkling on Friday morning like clear silver music.

She steeled herself – first serve for her - “I want to go back.”

“For how long?” he volleyed back.

She hesitated for a moment, choosing her words carefully “Forever.”

She explained her reasons and he listened to most of it without interrupting. She had difficulty finding the words to express to him how everyday had begun to feel like to her - that everything had suddenly become monotonous and that each interaction that took place here was suffused with a cold separation. Wherever she went, she felt like an island; an unmoored boat floating through the ocean amidst windy silence. She could only describe the secret feeling in her heart by saying that she felt the same ache that birds shared - the secret pain that told them that it was time to go back home.

As she talked she realized how long this yearning had been building inside of her, almost from the first moment that she had left Bangladesh. She hoped he felt the same but they had never spoken of it before.

After she was done, he talked. For the first time, their arguments were a discussion. There were no raised voices – their views were punctuated by silence and tears. He didn’t want to go back home – he told her what it was like there. He didn’t stick to the usual reasons that people use to dissuade others of returning back – the traffic, the noise, the corruption. Rather, he told her, with an unshrinking seriousness in his eyes, that it was not safe for people like them in Dhaka. He told her of the killings that had been going on, of the muggings and the murders that had, over the course of a year been transformed into something of a national sport. The underlying zeitgeist was conform or die. He wouldn’t do either.

When they had finished, there was nothing left to say. She was entrenched on her side of the line and he on his. As she explained to him, she wanted to go back and give something back to the country that she had left behind ten odd years ago and he thought it was preposterous. There was a reason people leave that place, he said, there is a reason Toronto is one of the most liveable cities in the world and Dhaka one of the least. To him, it felt as though she was discarding the life of comfort and wealth that the two of them had built together and retreat back into a country of chaos and death.

In the end the two of them, lovers mere moments ago, had started on the road to becoming strangers. They found themselves on opposite sides of the question – “Is it better to serve in Heaven or reign in Hell?”

The chill November wind made her hair dance and pulled her back to the present. As he caught a bus, she knew in her heart of hearts that this time, there wouldn’t be any reconciliation.

She hoped regardless.

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