By Shah Tazrian Ashrafi
Rosey, formerly Jameel, lived in Dhaka, a city which fumed like a truck in trouble and grew out of an old patch of fertile land. When the first rods seeded its soil, buildings bloomed like concrete flowers and native tigers ran away for dear life, their footprints erased by the tires of metallic animals. The new city with its poor infrastructure, claimed its victims on a regular basis — rivers, animals, earth, air, people. Rosey walked the streets dressed like a paste jewellery store, a shiny horse with a rose in her hair and high heeled hooves. Her hair was an undulating ocean of embers when lit by the sun’s fiery rays. She trotted on the busy roads like a cautious horse as her high heels rang in the pedestrians’ ears — thak, thak, thak.
Some children would run away when they noticed her, some would hide behind their mothers as their mothers would say, “Bhoy er ki ache? Kicchu hobena. (What is there to fear? Nothing will happen.)” She was aware of their dread when they saw her emerge from a crowd of ordinary and ‘acceptable’ people. She knew they thought she would abduct them and turn them into her kind. She also knew how stereotypical the human mind was — how unwholesome, how hostile it was towards anything different. As opposed to the children who feared her kind and those grown-ups who abhorred them, there were still some she knew who wore the garb of humanity, who did not fling the term “Hijra (eunuchs)” as a slur — people like Saleem bhai (brother), Ruma chachi (aunty), the vegetable vendor, Kakoli, and Rubel, the postman.
On that day, the air in the market was thick with flies and the unholy stench of meat, sacrificial animal gut and excrement; the ground was tinged with blood and boric acid. Beggars, Hijras and Bedes (nomadic tribals) populated the streets; some in their usual clothes, some in their best; and some with all of their limbs in proper places, some amputated. It was as though Qurbani Eid ( where animal sacrifices are made to God on a particular date by a particular person) had given them a secret clarion call — a call only those living in the cages of poverty and in the margins of society could decipher — as if it was their turn to sacrifice the meat.
Rosey had put on her best clothes, an olive salwar-kameez embroidered with mirror and lace-edged elephants and whales, which she bought from Chawkbazaar after a great deal of haggling. Because she had exhausted all her budget buying the coveted salwar-kameez, she could not afford a new pair of earrings. So, she borrowed them from Pinky. They glittered realistically and masked the fact that they were fake diamonds.
“Khub Shundor Lagche tomake, Rosey (You are looking very beautiful, Rosey),” Pinky had quipped.
“Thank you, Pinky Appa (older sister),” Rosey had replied, her English pronunciation awkwardly pretentious.
“If the Jameel inside you had a liking for girls, he would have followed you like crazy,” Pinky had said before bursting into a horse-like laughter. Rosey, along with others, laughed too, and her vanity was flattered. The rose in her hair seemed to grow plumper watered by her self-conceit.
They all decided to head out to collect meat after Zuhor (the second prayer for Islamics) and a little before Asr (the third prayer for Muslims), when the sun was pleasant and on its way into the river and most of the butchering would have ended. The city corporation’s pink trucks would be out to swallow all the garbage like hungry metallic creatures. The waste would be regurgitated by the trucks into Buriganga, Dhaka’s favourite river for disposing refuse, sewage and dead animals. If Nawab Siraj ud Daulah (ruler of Bengal, 1733 – 1757) and his predecessors saw the plight of Buriganga in the twenty first century, they would rub their eyes in disbelief. The blue river on which their boats once floated was all sooty and smelly.
Rosey glowed with the sun that fell on her sandalwood skin and wore the unexpected fresh wind in her hair. When the wind blew the rose off her hair, unfazed, she plucked a few bougainvillea flowers from a hedge and placed them in her coiffure like stars in the sky.
She and her friends walked through Asad Gate, basking in the receding sunlight that radiated in frayed patches from the canopy made by tall trees. They caused a commotion when they jostled a man into the drain. The man while shamelessly urinating by the footpath, had whistled at a girl passing by. So Rosey and her friends pushed him till he fell into the drain. No one said anything to them. Was it out of fear or some superstitious belief or the sanctity of their deed?
The group entered a compound that housed the living quarters of government employees and spread out. After around three hours of loitering, frightening a few children (not by their deeds, but by their existence), annoying the residents into giving them expensive meat from imported Australian, Indian, Pakistani cows and goats, they left, feeling euphoric with their loot.
Against the backdrop of a cotton strewn sky, a sparrow flew into the broken shade of a lamp post and nestled itself inside, wary of the pointy shards of the remaining glass. Rosey watched the bird fly up before they all trooped into the street-side eatery.
They placed the bags of meat on the ground within their line of vision as they settled themselves for a heavy meal.
“Should we threaten them and ask to charge us nothing?” Majnu joked.
“It’s so hot in here, I feel like I am inside a cooking pot!” Pinky shouted.
“You didn’t have to wear such a heavy sari,” Rupi said to her.
“Oh then should I have worn sleeveless kameez like you, showing my hairy arms?” Pinky replied and they all shrieked with laughter.
Rosey took a few selfies as the others chatted — pouting her red lips, tilting her chin upwards, arching her eyebrows, and basking in her own admiration. While posing, she noticed Jameel at times, as though he was peeking from the window of her soul. She abhorred his exposure, brushing aside his existence though he hung on inside her like a permanent fixture.
Right outside the eatery, it took an expired, unchecked, and lawless cylinder in a pickup van to herald the arrival of death. When it worked its charm and exploded, fire engulfed the eatery. The gas containers inside the eatery exploded. It was as though the containers had embraced the role of the sacrificial fire that burnt the animals on Qurbani Eid (where the sacrifices were accepted amidst a blaze of flames).The raging fire smoked everyone and everything inside, the human meat, the sacrificed animals’ meat. The eatery turned into a cooking pot indeed. A fiery one. It was as though the truck’s cylinder had heeded Pinky’s words.
As Rosey burnt with her fake diamond earrings, fancy dress and hairdo, the sparrow peeked from the lamp-post to see what the commotion was all about. It took flight when the billowy smoke started colonising the air, unaware of the fact that the city had claimed 22 victims, who had been sacrificed by the fire on a day perfectly reserved for the act.
Along with the phantoms of expensive Indian, Australian, Pakistani cows, goats, camels, and lambs, those twenty-two people’s wraiths wheeled into the sky, formed a web that rolled like a bicycle tyre. In a few seconds, they would waft into the other world, crossing the stratosphere, the mesosphere, all the spheres. In flight, Rosey’s fake diamond glistened. They all clasped their hands together and kept their eyes closed, knowing they were going to a world where no one would be an object of derision for being a Hijra or different in any way. In that world, there were no faulty cities built on lust.
In that world, everyone was valued equally — all differences were brushed aside.
Shah Tazrian Ashrafi is a regular contributor to The Daily Star, the leading English newspaper in Bangladesh. He’s a 12th grade student (Bir Shreshtha Noor Mohammad Public College) who has a passion for writing. When he’s not writing, he’s reading. And when he’s not reading, he’s thinking about wild animals
Dear Reader, Please Support Kitaab!
Help promote Asian writing and writers. Become a Donor today!