The Tk20 Note

 

She sat there, her headphones blaring into her ears and the car’s air conditioner beating away the summer heat away from her body. She was there but her mind was scattered and dripping from her head. Like water in cupped hands she often felt like her sanity was flowing out. She tried to cup the hands tighter but her sanity was stubborn, it refused to stay.

She shook her head fiercely, like that would shake her off her thoughts and tried to concentrate on the music that was playing on full volume, making her eardrums ache. Every time the car pulled a little bit forward her heart jumped right into her throat and beat crazily. She wanted the traffic jam to last forever but the car moved another meter closer to the beautifully built mansion with tables flourishing with food, people awaiting her command, and the money of wealthy parents. The mansion which in a few minutes would swallow her, imprison her mind and body as it had been doing for the last 17 years. She was about to go inside what looked like a castle from the outward eye but was nothing more than a fancy dungeon.

She looked at the car’s sleek black and bullet proof body and wondered how she was shielded not only from danger but also from happiness. Her nails involuntarily dug into her thighs as she thought about the lonely, cold walls of that house, her footsteps that would echo in the complete emptiness. Tears clouded her vision as she thought about the table at dinner where all the chairs would be empty except one- the one she would be sitting on, cutting her food into particles with her knife because she wouldn’t have the appetite. She never did. The only reason she would be sitting there would be because her mother would have made that routine call telling her, “I’ll be late today. Have your dinner, okay? You have to stay healthy. I love you.”

But they both knew that staying healthy was just a fantasy for her. Nevertheless, she would obey the orders of this stranger she called Mother because she loved her in spite of the fact that she only heard her voice over a phone every day and occasionally saw her face appear in her room. So she loved every stranger which meant that  she loved everyone in the world, for they were all strangers to her. 

She could see the mansion now. It was like a Christmas gift box wrapped in sparkly paper but lacked the actual gift that would give the child joy. How ecstatic every vein in her body had been when she had gone on her monthly visits to her father. Not because she would meet him but because she would finally get to see how much the world had changed since she last saw it. She had drained her chauffeur out of verbal energy with the curiosity in her eyes- the eyes that resembled that of new born baby’s, still unacquainted with the world.

But that seemed like ages ago, almost like it never happened. Like a memory from a fairy tale she had dreamed of. Her fairy tale- being forced to go to school, attend boring lessons, complaining to friends about a dress she could not afford, eating stale food from the cafeteria, walking a long distance home while gossiping and giggling with friends. This fairy tale of hers was reality for those girls she could see clutching their stomachs from the blissful ache of laughter. She emptily smiled at them not knowing what to feel.

Suddenly someone tapped on the window across her seat. She immediately removed her headphones and stared at the amputated old man with ragged clothes begging for alms. She looked at the man as if he was a treasure she had been looking for. She reached into her pocket and brought out a Tk500 note and was about to offer it to the man when her chauffeur shoved it out of her hand and told her with lingering irritation underneath his voice “ The maximum amount you can give him is 20.” She blinked at this information but understood really well- less is more. She gave the man a Tk20 note instead and watched as the old man gave her a marvelous toothless smile and a gesture of blessing. She felt her heart expand more than it ever had. She grinned like an idiot.

For a long time after that she would replay that incident and wonder how that small Tk20 note was seeing more of the world and its inhabitants than she ever had and probably made the people who received it as happy as that old man had been.

So, she gave a beggar a Tk20 note every time she went on her visits. At times when she was not lucky enough to be stuck in traffic, she would slip a note through the window and let it fly towards the footpath. Then she would sit back and imagine its journey and came to the conclusion that it would have a better story to tell than she ever would. When she let the last note slip through the hospital window, she smiled at the end because she knew what she felt- happiness.

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Home…

Thousands of thoughts bubbled in the cauldron of his head. His eyes bored themselves on the flickering lights of the streets. Numerous shadows passed by but none spared him a glance. Loud whispers on mobile phones pressed hard against ears, exhausted feet making hurried steps. The streets kept heaving shifting and breathing in spite of the late strokes of the clock on the tower. They all seemed to be going somewhere. They went east, west, north and south but he knew they were all going to the same place —– home, wherever it maybe.

 

For that young bald man getting into the cab, it was a neatly kept house where a woman with a sour expression would open the door and the only reason she would be up at such an hour would be solely to make a series of complaints which neither her husband nor the world could tend to. For that old man with droopy eyes and a half smile it was where a warm fire would be lit in front of a sofa and a dog would come running towards him gleefully with all the love in the world in his eyes for his master. For that twenty something woman with a guitar slung on her back it was where a bed waited for her to spread her painfully aching body and heart, where she would sojourn till the morning called her to meet her needs in a world that went within and without. So home was a place somebody or something waited for you. Our protagonist smiled at that thought and dropped more cigarette ash to the pool beside his feet. Then he put the sweet burning monster between his lips and let his feet be his guide. The stream of people consumed him and he moved along with them helplessly, too tired to oppose. No, he did not mind at all.

In a matter of time he found himself downtown. Why was he here? Well, where else could he be? He was a nuisance to everyone on the other side. There were not many points he could use to defend himself. He dropped out of school, mixed with the “wrong” people, was the epitome of scum like manners and was the ignominy of his proud family. A smile stretched across his lips at the list of his accomplishments. Hands inside the pockets of his inadequately thin jacket he walked inside the door with a broken down sign on top of it which might have read “Bar” once upon a time but was now undecipherable. The smell of tobacco and whisky allured his nostrils. He sat on the squeaky old tool at the end of the counter and leaned against a column. He lit up a cigarette and devoured its smoke with his lungs and soul. He looked at all the lazy bodies slumped all around the bar, smoking and drinking without any care of the world. In spite of their placid faces there was belligerency in their eyes. He met the eyes of the shabby looking bartender for a second but he went on trying to make the stained glasses shine. And they did shine but they did not sparkle. He knew this man was not here for a drink but was not bothered by the least.

He closed his eyes for a moment when suddenly he heard somebody call “Hey!” He turned around to see a group of people sitting in the corner table looking at him expectantly. Among the familiar strangers he found the woman with the guitar from earlier that night, leaning against the wall, puffing away with half closed eyelids and giving him a frail smile. Looking at the empty seat beside them he placed himself on it and one of them lit his cigarette. And there in a cloud of tobacco smoke, surrounded by nicotine addicts, sitting on a hard wooden bench he found his home.

 

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