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Short Stories
Afsar Ahmed
       SHE came and stood again beneath the pawpaw tree. The tree was just a step off the courtyard near a runnel under the roof. Next to it was a lime tree. A brood of hens was picking at the wet ground. The chicks twittered. A soft darkness swiftly enveloped the pawpaw tree. Over the paved space before the outer room a sheet of tarpaulin was being hung. A scaffolding had been erected by a border of bamboo driven into the sides. A canopy was being made with the heavy tarpaulin. Below, the carpet for seating was being laid out. Two, three, four, six pillows. Two bolsters among them. All the sheets and pillows from the bedrooms have been brought out today. A milad-mehfil at Zainuddin Kazi's. A Maulana is coming from Calcutta. There will be a lot of people, the paved yard will teem with them. The praise of the Prophet, the Darud Sharif, will be read aloud. Through the openings in the carved pawpaw leaves the fireflies, within reach a moment ago, rose towards the sky. The sky is so vast. So high. The seven-layered sky. No one can go there. They say that Allah lives there. Allah is everywhere. Within the heart too is His home.
       The darkness thickened and congealed. Only the fireflies sliced through the black layers to shoot away in different directions. The pawpaw and lime trees sank into the dark. Somehow, Farida's body too was lost. It seemed she could not find herself. A lantern was lit. Light burst forth. The fireflies vanished.
       As a tall shadow moved away, Farida asked in a low voice, "Who is it?"
       "Is it you, Farida? Rashid here. I didn't see you." The shadow approached.
       "Why are you coming closer?"
       "I'd better see your face, whether you are really Farida."
       "What a way to look!"
       "Will you give me a glass of water?"
       "Get lost!"
       Just then Malek's mother could be heard bawling, "Farida- Farida!"
       Farida seemed to find wings on her feet. She stopped only in front of the kitchen. Malek's mother had taken off her kurta and was fanning herself. Her face was stippled with sweat. Black moss-stains on a white face. She let down her bulk on the ground with a thump. The silver band round her waist glittered in the light of the lantern. "Went off for a spin, you slut? And here I am trying to cope. Only sixteen, and hot tides in the blood already!"
       Malek's mother will go on now. Over and over in the same vein. Farida shrank into her own shadow.
       A whole lot of pots and pans had to be cleaned. Farida clanged the vessels into a pile one by one. She shifted the wood under the pot of rice on the oven. There was a small kerosene lamp burning nearby, she lit another and went out by the back door. She found her way down a tussock. Reaching the bank she sat scouring the pots and pans noisily. A whisk from her sari doused the lamp. The fireflies were back again, glinting like the silver belt of the Kazi's wife.
       Sullen and unhappy, Farida suddenly tied a firefly into her sari like securing a gold coin and threw the end of the sari over her shoulder as if it held a bunch of keys. A bunch of keys over her shoulder at last. The smart she felt was real. Farida has tied the household keys into the end of her sari and thrown the bunch heavily over her shoulder. Farida is mistress of a household. Someone's wife. Such women scour vessels too. They do the work of the house.




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