It was a day of summer. Dust was flowing all around with the heated air. Howling crows were squealing over an electric pool. They seem hectic. It’s maybe the heat, or the spice Jhalmuri Ayesha is selling that makes them frantic.
Ayesha is a girl of twelve. Tangled hair, rough skin, torn dress. Yet, she looks as cute as a parrot. She sells Jhalmuri beside Rampura bridge with her brother. Her brother’s name is Saifuddin. Saifuddin is twenty years old.
“You didn’t take money from that bald guy,” Saifuddin said.
“Who are you talking about?” Ayesha was startled.
“That bald guy with a mustache, short height. You missed him.”
Ayesha felt upset. Whenever Saifuddin let her take the responsibility, she messed up. Yet, Saifuddin doesn’t get angry. He believes, one day, Ayesha will learn.
“Don’t regret. It’s just 5 taka. Five taka is no money. One day we’ll have five lakh, okay?” Saifuddin took his place and said.
Ayesha was standing still, keeping her head down. Maybe tears were waiting to burst out of her eyes. When Saifuddin told her father was waiting to meet, Ayesha cried out loud out of joy.
“He is begging beside the Police plaza today,” Saifuddin said, “He expects to see you at noon.”
Saifuddin doesn’t love his father that much. But Ayesha does. However, Ayesha doesn’t know her father’s role in her life.
Mohammad Siraj Uddin is their father. He used to be a rickshaw puller. But things were shattered when he met with a road accident. Now he’s a cripple. Cripple and beggar. He begs at Ramna Park. Occasionally he comes to the Police plaza to meet her daughter.
When a freight truck crashes with his rickshaw, Siraj gets injured and loses one of his legs. Since then, her wife Zubaida left the family. Who wants to live with a disabled person?
“Father!” Ayesha saw her father sitting with a sack. He goes running toward him.
Siraj cuddled her.
“Did you have your lunch?” He asks.
“What did you eat?”
“Rice, curry,” She said.
“I brought you biryani. Here, take. Share with Saifuddin. Okay?” Siraj said,
A drop of tears started to fall from his cheek. He wiped it out swiftly.
“Father. I want to go with you. I haven’t gone to Ramna park for a long while now.”
“Not today. But I promise I’ll take you there soon, Okay? Today, I’ve to go back.”
Siraj and his family used to live in Mohammadpur. After the accident, his wife Zubaida left. Then there was a whisper that Zubaida started prostitution. After this rumor, Siraj couldn’t live in his old place with prestige. He left Mohammadpur 5 years ago. Since then, he doesn’t live with his kids so that no one can know that his child’s father is a beggar.
“Have you started your school?” Siraj asked.
“Hmm,” Ayesha mumbled.
“Go to school regularly, okay? Don’t miss a class. You’ll be a doctor one day.”
“Yes, baba, then I’ll fix your leg,” Ayesha said, smiling.
Siraj kissed her forehead. Then he left. Ayesha was standing, holding the biryani packet silently. She saw her father taking a bus and disappearing. Even after the bus faded away from her sight, Ayesha kept staring at the way her father had gone.
It is winter now. Father hasn’t come for months. Ayesha seems desperate nowadays. She doesn’t even join her brother to sell jhalmuri. Saifuddin added more spicy foods to their little business. But he is angry with his sister. He wants Ayesha to contribute.
One Day in the morning, Ayesha left rampura for Ramna park. She wasn’t sure whether she wanted to go. But she loves her father. She loves her mother too. However, she hasn’t seen her mother in her 12 years of life. Mother left her when she was little; unable to walk, unable to talk.
Ayesha doesn’t know the way to go to Ramna park. She doesn’t know anything about anything. Yet, she started to wait for a bus.
Here comes a bus. She gets onto it and tells the conductor to carry her to Ramna park. Because she is a child, the conductor promised to take her there without costing her money. As she is a girl, most of the men on the bus gave a deeper look.
Ayesha fell asleep a while later. And the bus kept moving. When it arrived at Azimpur, Ayesha woke up. She gets off the bus quickly and starts searching for something. But she doesn’t know what she is looking for. She started walking without destinations.
After walking a couple of hours, she came to the Azimpur graveyard. There, some people were gathering with a dead body. Ayesha listens to an announcement of death about a man named Siraj. And they mention the deadman as a beggar. Ayesha realizes that the deadman is no one but her father.
She started feeling something. She didn’t feel these kinds of feelings before. She starts trying to get into the graveyard. But they didn’t let her in because she is a girl.
It is midnight now. Ayesha is sitting beside her father’s grave. It’s cold here. As time goes on, the cold is soaring. An owl kept on changing her place from one tree to another. And a fox is staring at Ayesha for a long time, far away from here.
Ayesha is not alone. Here is another woman in the graveyard. She is also noticing Ayesha for a long time. Her clothes are dirty too. A few moments later, she came and asked, “Are you hungry, girl?”Ayesha says nothing. She just stares at the woman with fear in her eyes.
The woman gives a piece of bread and a banana to Ayesha. Ayesha takes those and starts eating without giving thanks to her.The woman smiled and turned around. She went for where she belonged.Seeing the woman go, Ayesha shouted, “will you take me with you?”
The woman replies Nothing. She didn’t even turn back as she was hiding her tears. Ayesha remained silent. She just stares at the woman from behind. She peers at the footprints. She kept on staring even after the woman disappeared from her sight. She remembered one day her mother left her like that. She was at the age of 7 months then.
Written by: Ariful Abir.
Department of Management
Govt. Titumir College, Dhaka.