Beyond the pale

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Beyond the pale

Ariful Abir

There are black clouds in the sky. Raindrops are announcing their arrival. The flow of the wind indicating that they want to go somewhere far away, too far from where they are now. They’re just rushing restlessly in one place only because they have no destination to go to. The shattering sound of lightning was heard somewhere nearby. There was no existence of anyone or anything in the road except a dead crow. A small leaf twisted into the wind and disappeared somewhere. Nilima was watching all this, grabbing the grill of the window. Suddenly, she sensed the presence of someone behind her and turned around. Her younger sister was standing silently by the door.

Nilima came to her and said, “Safia!”

Safia clasped her. Nobody knows how long they had been cuddling each other, they were stunned to hear their mother’s voice from behind.

Saleha Begam said in a serious tone, “Don’t cry. Don’t cry at all.”

 

About a month ago, Parvez came to see Nilima. They liked each other from the first sight. Their marriage was destined with the consent of the two families.

Parvez is an elegant man. He is tall with a square jaw that makes him look more gracious. His complexion is bright. And he has a beard all over his cheek. There is probably no handsome man like him in this northern region. He is generous just like he is gorgeous.  He recently completed his graduation and got a job as the assistant manager of a pharmaceutical company. After a month of work, he left it and started a printing press with his savings. And he succeeds there as well. In a very short time, his reputation in the business spread. Today, he was supposed to get married to Nilima. A phone call this morning affirmed that Parvez is no more. He went to buy a sari for Nilima and died in a road accident.

 

Saleha Begam said to her husband, “Don’t sit idly. I can’t stand lazy people at all”

Listening to his wife’s voice Mr. Matin became even more stagnant. He doesn’t care about anything nowadays. He just read books all day long. The only thing he is concerned about is Nilima. He asked his wife, “Where is Nilima?”

Saleha Begam replied nothing and left the room.

 

“Father!”

Mr. Matin has come to Nilima’s room. He loves his eldest daughter very much. Nilima took her father by the hand and sat him on the bed. At first, they both were dreary silent. No one said a word. A rustling noise came from the bookshelf of the room. It could be a mouse or something. Or it may be an illusion of the mind.

Except for a little while, Matin asked his daughter, “Do you feel guilty about this?”

Nilima remained silent. She tried to hide a little sigh, but couldn’t. Matin said, “When you were little, you used to get upset sometimes. Then you came to me and stood silently. I used to put my hand on your head. You used to grab my thumb and sit in my lap. And after a while, you would start to feel better. I know, nothing can break your heart.”

Nilima looked at her father and smiled a little. Mr. Matin finds many words in that smile. No one else has the ability to see the meaning of it.

 

“I won’t eat unless someone feeds me.”

Saleha Begam said, “Eat quietly. Don’t bother.”

After two daughters, Saleha Begam’s youngest son Sehan was born. Being the youngest member of the family, he grew up very fondly. Nilima loves him the most, even more than other members of the family.

Once, Sehan had a fever, at the age of four. It was very intense. Every one of the families was scared. At that time, Nilima used to awake every night and kept an eye on her little brother. The fever lasted for about 5 days. One night, Sehan was seeking water. Nilima gave water to her brother and assisted him to sleep. After a few moments of mumbling, Sehan falls asleep. Then, it seemed to Nilima that Sehan has come to this family as a little ray of sunshine. If he lost, the whole family will be covered by the darkness.

 

Nilima approached and started feeding Sehan. It made Safia a bit jealous. She said, “I also have to be fed.”

“I won’t,” Nilima replied.

“I knew it. You will return the lipstick I gave you last week.” Saying it, Safia left the table.

Mr. Matin and Nilima started laughing at this. Only Saleha Begam didn’t join them.

 

Safia is sitting in her room. The room is dark. It is full of an invisible solitude. In one corner of the room, a spider is tirelessly weaving an insatiable web. The rain has stopped long ago. Water is dripping from the leaves of a coconut tree next to the house. The echo of thunder can be heard distantly. And another sound that is heard is the ticking of the clock, ‘tick-tock, tick-tock’.

“Barapu!” Safia looked back in amazement and saw that Nilima had brought food for her.

“Eat.” Nilima seemed to give a kind of order.

“Feed me,” Safia said.

Nilima began to feed her.

“It’s a good thing that it happened, isn’t it?” Safia said it with a bit of hesitation.

“What?” Nilima asked curiously.

“That, Parvez is no more,” Safia said in a hoarse voice looking at Nilima’s eyes.

“Shh! Shh! It shouldn’t be said. Don’t say anything like this ever again.” Nilima said in a hushed voice.

Safia said nothing then. After a while, Nilima asked, “What good thing do you see in it?”

“That you’re staying with us for a little longer,” with a little smile on her lips Safia answered.

“Don’t say anything like that again, okay?” Saying it, Nilima hugged her.

“Barapu, I can’t think that one day you’ll leave us.”

“I won’t”

“Won’t you marry?

“If needed,” Nilima said with a fancy smile on her face.

They hugged again. They can hug each other in this way for ages. Although they argue with each other quite often, there is a sweet relationship between them. Because of Saleha Begam’s teaching profession, she couldn’t spend much time with her child. So, Nilima and Safia didn’t build up much intimacy with their mother. They choose each other for this.

 

Three years have passed. Mr. Matin is now much older than before. Saleha Begam is almost always sick. She was a teacher at a government primary school. She can’t go there anymore. She has been sent to compulsory retirement. All the responsibilities of the family are now on Nilima. Safia got married last year. She lives in Dhaka with her husband, now. Only Nilima did not get married. Saleha Begam has tried a lot to get her married. But Nilima didn’t show any interest in it.

One evening, Mr. Matin called Nilima to his room. He took Nilima’s hand and sat her next to him. He can no longer sit on the bed by himself as before. Matin put his hand on Nilima’s head and said, “I want to tell you something before I die. Forgive me for hiding this truth for so long. Forgive me, dear. Forgive me.” He began to cry. He couldn’t say anything more. His coughing started. And after a while, he fell asleep. Nilima heard Saleha Begam is crying from the next room. Nilima knows why Saleha Begam is crying. Nilima knows the truth. She knows why her name doesn’t match with her other siblings. She just doesn’t want to believe the truth.

 

It is gloomy weather outside. The wind is blowing hard. The sun is about to sink and the crows are all coming back home. A branch of a tree is repeatedly bent by the speed of the wind. It looks like it will start to rain soon.

Nilima is standing alone holding the grill of the window. Dense clouds have begun to form in the sky. A drop of rain declares its arrival. A mild roar of sky spread throughout the atmosphere. The blowing wind seems desperate. They want to drift away to somewhere, far away. But they are just rushing restlessly in one place only because they don’t have any destination to go to. Suddenly, Nilima sensed the presence of someone behind her like the smell of rain and turned back. Parvez was silently standing by the door. It was that Parvez with the square jaw. Beard is all over his cheek. And he is alive.

Nilima looked at Parvez with a blank stare. No one makes any expression. A fragile lizard was waggling his tail on the wall. Suddenly, she stopped wagging. After a few moments of silence, Parvez began to talk,

“I couldn’t go against my mother’s will. She found out all about you at the very last moment. And she couldn’t accept it. Last night she died. She wanted to see you before she passed away. It doesn’t mean that she accepted you in the end, but, because of me, she wanted to…”

Nilima turned around. She looked out of the window. A small leaf twisted into the wind and disappeared somewhere. Parvez approached Nilima. He put his hand on Nilima’s. Just like Adam held Eve’s hand in the past so that we can exist now. Nilima said nothing. They both looked out of the window.

The clouds in the sky have begun to move. A gentle breeze is blowing with the firefly. Seeing the speed of the wind, it seemed that they want to go somewhere, far away, too far. But they have no destination to go.