An Excerpt from Fragrance of Loss
by Rahad Abir
In the dark of the dawn, Shelley Majumder woke from a chilly and damp feeling. Sufia Akter lay with her head and arm on his chest, holding him tight. She was awake? He half-turned to her with a start.
‘‘Sufi!’’ he half-sat holding her in one arm.
Sufia raised her face and hid onto his shoulder. She sounded stuffy. He touched her cheeks. They felt sticky. His shoulder felt warm and wet with her salty stream.
‘‘Hon, what’s the matter?’’
In reply she held him tighter. Stunned, Shelley tried to get her cooled off. She spoke after a long time. She saw her granny’s face in the window. She was crying and telling Sufia to be careful from her tiger-like son. Sufia held him tighter and tighter as she spoke in hushed tones. It was real and she saw it in clear eyes, she said with an emphatic voice.
Something in her voice startled Shelley. He took a look at the window. Outside the day was then breaking. He knew how much Sufia loved her granny. But the old woman had been dead for three years. Shelley tried to comfort her. It should be a hallucination. Her fears that came into her brain. But he saw the terror overtook her face.
‘‘You don’t know my father. He drank tiger’s milk.’’ Sufia sobbed. Once again she would describe the story she had heard from her granny. When her father was little, he was given tiger’s milk to recover from dysentery. And that was why he was so big and strong and had tiger’s anger.
The Monday morning light came into the room. Shelley had a usual week ahead after having an unusual week off. At forenoon, following an early breakfast, he went to the university to resume his classes. At noon he headed for North Brook Hall Road. Where, at the publishing company, he occasionally worked as a proof reader. At afternoon he started for home. On his way back, he made a quick visit to a weekly magazine office. Someone had said to him about a job possibility there. The luck favored him. A translator post was yet vacant. The editor offered him the job from next month.
To celebrate his new job, Shelley went out with Sufia for an evening movie. This time English. A Countess from Hong Kong. His favorite Charlie Chaplin directed the film that starred Sophia Lauren and Marlon Brando. All big names. He felt sorry for Sufia that she heard none of the names. And, under the circumstances, she didn’t and couldn’t enjoy the movie at all. His instinct, however, said soon she would grow a taste for English movies.
Next day, after having afternoon tea, Shelley and Sufia said Pisi goodbye. Sufia wept. Pisi wept. Together, embracing each other. Pisi in her masterful voice commanded him to move into her house permanently. She wouldn’t bother whether he paid some rent or not. He would sleep on it. He gave Pisi his word.
Every goodbye spawns a sort of emptiness, Shelley thought. He saw an emptiness shadowed Sufia’s face. Her eyes focused on nothing.
Less than an hour, their rickshaw pulled in at the front of his house. The Homeopathy chamber was open already. Sufia took a peek inside the chamber while Shelley paid the fare.
‘‘The doctor must be asleep,’’ Shelley said to Sufia. ‘‘He’s a come-and-wake-me-up doctor. Too old to practice.’’
There was a back-gate of the building that Shelley used to get to his place. An Aligarh padlock hung from the back-gate door. As Shelley unlocked the padlock he added that the doctor happened to know his grandfather. ‘‘When I first went to that doctor for a fever,’’ he began, ‘‘I told him my grandpa was a homeopathic doctor. And it turned out that he knew him. They went to the same Homeopathic College in Kolkata.’’
They climbed the stairs to the second floor.
‘‘Interestingly, the doctor forgets me every time. When I remind him that he knew my grandpa, he says, oh your father’s name is Kalidasa. Your grandpa was a great admirer of poet Kalidasa.’’
Shelley unlocked the padlock from his room’s door. This one was bigger and heavier than the main door. Once he opened the door a stuffy smell welcomed them. Sufia let her eyes a quick roll around the room.
‘‘It needs a super sweep,’’ she suggested.
She took the broom in her hand.
They kicked off a thorough cleaning and gave the room an immaculate look. Then they sat with a pen and paper to make a list of the things they needed to buy.
Urgent: A wok, a flat pan, three vessels, utensils
Semi-urgent: Bed sheet, curtains, jug, plates, tumblers
Shelley did some grocery shopping. The cooking began on the kerosene wick stove. Sufia gave the leading, Shelley gave a hand. Dinner menu was simple: rice, dal, omelets and mashed potatoes.
After dinner they sat in verandah with tea in hand. They talked about this and that. There was a scarlet hibiscus plant against the back yard wall. The smell of it was delightful. Shelley lit a cigarette, Red & White. There was nothing nicer than a good tea with cigarette after having a good dinner, he claimed. Sufia gave a try on his Red & White to be certain whether he was speaking the truth. She took a big pull, filled her mouth and released the smoke. She did it a few times. And at last she returned it wrinkling her nose with the upper lip slightly drawn up. How could he lie to her like that, expressed her exasperating eyes.
On bed they read together the chapter ‘Of the Embrace’ from Vatsyayana. And, then, their steamy eyes embraced. Bare breaths embraced. Bare necks embraced. Bare breasts embraced. Bare thighs embraced.
Bare manhood she felt. And her bare hand made him relieve himself.
Their bodies embraced and fell asleep until a new day dawned.
Before the morning sun fell on their faces, they had to wake up hearing a heavy knock on the door.
‘‘Open the door,’’ the restless voice was repeating with a repeated knock. ‘‘It’s police.’’
Editor’s Note on A Knock on the Door:
Updated version added on 31 May 2016.