Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Houri

Translated from the Bengali: AHMEDE HUSSAIN

“You are an ass and the rest of your life you will remain one,” Rocky Mirza said, condescendingly blowing a ring of smoke at him, “We live only once, mate, my philosophy is live like there is no tomorrow, have fun. Think of our old chum Hafiz; our sad and dejected friend kicked the bucket within two years after his intended dumped him. And here I am drinking bucketsful of pleasure. If it’s Samina today, tomorrow it will be Bilkis or Rosina, or Tamanna…”

“Stop it, mate. You’re a man of many talents, I agree,” Shafiq interrupted.

“Not really, I just want to have some fun. The world centres on pleasure. But what is the point of telling you these things? You and Hafiz are birds of a feather. What has your celibacy given you? You still have time, mate, get married, don’t make the mistake Hafiz has made.”

Strange thoughts jostled Shafiq’s mind: Rocky was right. What hopes Hafiz had of building a life of purity, honesty and sincerity! What dreams his dead friend had had! Into his second year at the varsity, he fell in love with Nipa, a classmate, but as soon as they graduated, she left the country for London to get married to a Bangladeshi chartered accountant. Hafiz remained punch-drunk for a year or two; then he joined a college in Dhaka. A year later he suffered a stroke and bid farewell to the world.

“He was such a nice soul,” Shafiq said.

“That’s why I am warning you; you have all the symptoms of this nice-soul disease. Get rid of them,” he said and poured some whiskey into Shafiq’s glass. Shafiq only drank occasionally: boozing, on the other hand, was like breathing and sleeping for Rocky. He recalled stories that he had heard from his friends about Rocky, how he started this business, and within years how he had earned millions. He was a billionaire now with two wives, who lived in two different houses in two different parts of the city. And this bungalow in Gazipur was for him to have pleasure, to have some fun as he put it. Shafiq had not been in touch with him; they had parted their ways as the gulf between their wealth grew wider. Today their paths had suddenly crossed in Motijheel, and as Rocky would not let go of him, he had to get into his car; then quite suddenly Rocky told the driver to go to Gazipur. Shafiq protested, but his friend paid no heed to it. Deep down in his mind Shafiq wanted to have a look at this bungalow of his friend; he had heard stories from the others, stories in which girls as beautiful as houris melted at the touch of his rich friend.

“Hello…Why are you still holding that burned-out cigarette?” Rocky shook Shafiq by the shoulder. Startled, he stubbed out the butt and said, “Excuse me?”

“Listen then. Chuck these nice-soul things out of your system; you will make a real, honest-to-good mess of your life otherwise. It has been seven years since you graduated and what have you achieved since then, tell me?”

Stray thoughts, thoughts of failure, clogged his mind again: Rocky was right, what had he got from life? Weeks ago he had been made an officer in the bank he worked in, the probationary period being just over, and still he, his retired civil-servant father, his mother and two sisters, lived in a rented house. He needed to marry his sisters off; he would not be able to get married before that, he knew, that was the custom. His younger sister was a paragon of beauty; the family was getting proposals for her hand in marriage. Of late, she had been taken up by modelling; from her behaviour to choice of clothes, Tumpa was different from her brother and sister. Her choice of profession had caused quite a furore in the family. This morning she asked for five thousand takas from Ma, and being turned down by her, she came to his room, “Brother, can you lend me five thousand bucks?” The word ‘lend’ reminded him of failure, his own life’s failure and along with it came a train of other words: sorrow, shame…

He had been thinking a lot of her, especially after people in their locality started whispering about her: that she was keeping bad company–some of it was idle gossip–he would be happy if it were mere gossip—had traveled to his ears. She finished her honours in social welfare and without consulting anyone, all of a sudden, became a ramp model. How much she earned to be able to afford to buy such glitzy, upmarket clothes, and expensive cosmetics he never understood.

“Why have you become silent, mate? The whiskey is of a good brand–Teachers. Will you call its taste bad? But even though Hafiz was a teacher he left the world. Only shaitans like me survive in this world, there is no room for goodness in it,” he said and started laughing hysterically.

“Why should you be a shaitan? The really bad people are those who, like me, have failed to earn money.”

“Let’s not talk about money. You could have at least got married. If you can’t get married why can’t you go to a whore, mate? Your conscience does not allow you to do that, right?”

Shafiq half-smiled in reply. He said, “When is your houri coming? You said that a surprise was awaiting me.”

“She will come on time, mate, don’t worry,” he said, “There is one thing I must tell you, I have never shared my houris with anyone, but today I am going to make an exception. You can have her, mate!”

“Really? Is it because you have boozed too much?”

Rocky shouted in reply, “Rocky does what he says he is going to do.”

Rocky’s phone, as though in rackety competition with its owner, suddenly started to shriek.

“Is everything okay, Hassan?”

“Yes, boss. I have picked her up from Kalabagan.”

“Where are you now?”

“Getting nearer, boss.”

From the conversation it became evident that a girl was really coming, Shafiq thought. The rumour had it that Rocky had never had a girl for more than once.

“All right, mate! I want to go to heaven with you,” Shafiq said.

“That’s like my friend,” Rocky sprang up from the sofa and hugged his friend whom he had met after such a long time. The doorbell, meanwhile, was frantically ringing. “Go, mate! You are going to receive today’s houri,” he said. With a shivering hand Shafiq opened the door.

“Brother! What are you doing here?” Tumpa, after spending a few hours in the beauty parlour, was looking like a houri, a real one. The screechy glass that fell from Shafiq”s hand answered to his sister’s question.

Shahed Zahidi is a Bangladeshi short-story writer.

This work of translation was first published in The Daily Star. Published with the translator’s permission. 

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