Continued from “Growing Up in Dacca”
The Sentimental Terrorist - 29
Amala, Inside a closet
Once the word spread that I was travelling to exotic Switzerland – a place where every rich Bangladeshi would like to spend their honeymoon – all manner of relatives, apartment block residents and lesser-seen friends from university days showed up.
Thin, sallow-complexioned Saira Hussain, a former classmate and a job hunter like me, also came to see me. Her father was still in service and her family’s financial situation was far better than my own, and yet she had been unsympathetic to my tribulations.
‘What are you writing for the newspapers?’ she’d said. ‘They hardly pay anything, do they?’
At the time it was my theory that, once I had ten articles published in leading newspapers, I would find some suitable job opening.
She had pooh-poohed the idea as fanciful.
‘What does it matter?’ she’d said. ‘You can write a hundred pieces, I tell you. It won’t make any difference. You need to have a rich, influential father . . .’ Her eyes glinted with malice. ‘. . . Or you need to sleep with someone.’
She wasn’t far wrong. That’s the way things are done in Bangladesh. Everything is a matter of connections, especially gaining employment in a government office or at university, the likely possibilities for someone with my or Saira’s qualifications.
But now when she came to visit me, having heard of my imminent departure, I saw a new respect in her eyes. She realised that it was my newspaper articles that had tilted the balance in my favour vis-à-vis the other candidates; she herself had applied, but hadn’t even been granted an interview. She took me aside, away from some other ‘friends’ who had also come a-visiting, and wanted to know who I had spoken to in order to be selected as a candidate for this training seminar. She knew perfectly well that I was a woman with no connections. I saw the look of pretended disbelief on her face when I said I had made it on my own merit. Her next question: would the training be followed up by a job offer?
‘No,’ I said, with a measure of anxiety.
‘Come on, don’t lie to me,’ she said.
When I insisted that this was indeed the case she looked sceptical, but I saw that her spirits had been lifted.
‘So what are you spending all this money for?’ she wanted to know. ‘You have to buy the ticket, don’t you?’
‘Just like that.’
‘Don’t expect me to believe that,’ she said. ‘You’re not such a fool, are you?’
Shahid Raza, who lived in the apartment just below ours, also turned up, and took me aside to talk with me privately. He had a personal request to make.
‘Listen, duhita,’ he began. ‘I know you have to bring back many things for many people, but I need you to bring something back for me as well.’
‘Tell me, dada,’ I said. ‘Please let me know what I can get for you.’
Mr Raza’s daughter Nikhat had been ill for several years now. She suffered from a hormonal disorder, some malfunction of the pituitary gland, and needed regular injections. Some of these injections had serious side-effects including migraines but they couldn’t be avoided. A few months earlier it had become possible for her to receive the medicine by means of a patch attached to her skin. This wasn’t as yet available in pharmacies in Dacca. Raza wanted me to get a few of these patches for her, as he’d heard they had far fewer side-effects. Naturally I couldn’t refuse such a simple but important request.
‘Definitely, dada,’ I said. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll get this medicine for Nikhat if it is available anywhere in Geneva.’
Nikhat and I had played together as children in the small park opposite our apartment block before her health problems had confined her to the house.
On the eve of my departure my mother made fish curry – the fish itself was rohu, a river fish, my favourite – and rice. She gave me a list of dos and don’ts, typical of Bengali mothers, and a list of things I needed to buy for the house.
* * *
‘And then?’ my companion asks.
‘Tell me about yourself now,’ I say. ‘Where do you live?’
‘I’m from Afghanistan but I live with my husband in Paris.’
‘Oh, have you been married long?’
‘Only three months. I will tell you all about it, sister, but please finish your story.’
Continued to “A Small Robbery in Geneva”