By Sohana Manzoor
It was just a dialogue from a movie that Shimana was watching unmindfully. She was worried over her little girl in the ICU. On the screen, a young woman was whimpering, “But I don’t know how to be a mother. You know everything—words, hurt, every pain and joy in your child’s life.”
The other character, a slightly elderly woman, answered with glowing eyes and just the hint of a smile, “You’ll learn.”
She suddenly felt she had no air in her lungs. Mother? Who? She was no mother. She had left behind her child long, long ago. And she had never regretted the decision she had taken as a young girl. Now she had everything– perfect children, a loving husband, a good job. What was she thinking? Was she thinking of that small make-shift operation theatre? The smirking nurse and the grim doctor who warned her that she might have complications later? She was two-and-a-half months pregnant. She was eighteen and unmarried.
Shimana shivered, and Nibir turned to her immediately. “Are you okay, Shimu?”
Yes, of course. She was fine. Only her daughter, Nrita was at the hospital diagnosed with pneumonia. It was quite severe and Shimana blamed herself for not noticing it sooner. She gave a wobbly smile at the tall man bending toward her with a frown of concern on his brows. It took years for her to build up the confidence with which she walks beside him. In the initial days of her marriage, she did not know what to make of her husband who was handsome, had a very good job and was too busy to give her time. Shimana could not really complain because he provided her with every material need, gave her a handsome allowance and encouraged her to study further. But he barely stayed at home and she felt that his heart was elsewhere. Shimana struggled with her own problems and did not have the courage to tell him anything about herself. After a year into her marriage, she decided to enrol in an interior designing program.
Then one day, as she was having coffee with her new found friends at a café in Gulshan, she spotted Nibir at another table. He sat with a vivacious young woman in emerald green and their body-language shot a strong message to Shimana that they were not merely acquaintances. They were totally engrossed in each other and oblivious to their surroundings. So, no, Nibir did not notice his wife at all who was dressed in drab brown shalwar kameez among a pack of chattering women. Shimana was not sure how she survived through her time at the cafe. She returned home in a stupor. But that was when she started to examine her life and wondered anew why Nibir was married to her. As she scrutinised ruthlessly, she realised with a jolt and profound sadness that she probably appeared a very mediocre and insipid girl—the very reason why Nibir’s mother liked her. She was positive that Shimana would never be able to take her son away from her.
Shimana did not say anything to anybody. A loner since that terrifying incident of her teenage years, she had no friends to share things with. But inside, she started getting ready for the day when Nibir would leave her. She was sure that he would. The “Emerald Girl” was gorgeous. How could he not leave his dowdy wife for a life with her? Besides, Shimana practically had no claim over him except the marriage certificate. She took her programme very seriously and as she started decorating her house, she also started re-modelling herself.
She threw out her wardrobe of bright and gaudy clothes most of which were gifted to her. At the same time, she also got rid of the drab brown and grey she used to buy for herself. She started wearing clothes of softer hues, trim cut and things that actually brought out the best in her. She also started to take long walks in the nearby park. One evening, Nibir asked her, “What have you been up to these days, Shimana? You look… umm… different.”
Shimana was startled as it never occurred to her that he would notice. She felt awkward and said, “Oh, I guess, it’s the new haircut.” Nibir did not say anything but his eyes seemed to say things that Shimana did not even dare to think. She cleared the dining table and took sanctuary in the kitchen. While she had not expected any kind of compliment, her heart was beating faster because she recognised that he was actually seeing her for the first time, and that too with approval.
Then one evening, about a month later, Nibir came home with an elegant bouquet of red roses, not the ones you see in regular floral shops. These were of a deep red hue on the inside and went pale as they stretched to the tips of each petal. “Roses with hearts,” she told herself. Shimana wondered who those were for and if Nibir was on his way to court his “Emerald Girl” and if he finally meant to tell her all. Instead, when he held out the roses to Shimana with a devastating smile and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” she stood there gaping at him. They had been married for two years and nothing like this ever happened before.
“For me?” the words tumbled out of her mouth before she could check.
Nibir laughed. “I don’t see anybody else in this apartment. Do you?”
“B…but… you never got flowers for me before,” she blurted out.
Nibir went quiet, and then he said slowly, “Yes, I know. I am sorry. I should have got you roses, jasmines, chrysanthemums long, long ago. I am so sorry.”
It all happened in slow motion—as they happen in movies– Shimana slowly reached out for the flowers. She touched the petals one by one and then took the bouquet from his hands. She buried her face in the floral creation and then looked up at him with misty eyes. Nibir was looking at her with wonder and awe as if he had never seen anything so magnificent.
They both spoke at once:
“Nobody brought flowers for me, ever.”
“I did not know roses would make you so happy.”
They both laughed.
That was a new beginning.
They turned to each other and started building a life together. Days passed and Shimanto and Nrita came. Their house was full and life a bliss. Shimana never even imagined that so much happiness awaited her.
But Nibir never knew about her darkest fears. And to this date Shimana never learnt what happened to the “Emerald Girl” who had unwittingly brought about the change in her, and then their lives together.
Her dark days? Those happened years and years ago, Shimana told herself. In another life when she had thought that she loved a boy who was the very spawn of devil. And she chose to dump the “clotted blood” in an unnamed nursing home in the presence of a dubious doctor and his assistant. It was Shimana’s mother who had taken her there. Nobody ever learnt anything. “Ah, ah,” Shimana clutched her left breast. Pain, so much pain. No, Shimana had felt no pain that day. She was only tremendously relieved.
How long ago was it? Twenty years, 5 months and 9 days. For some odd reason, Shimana did not forget the date, it was 30 May, 1999. “How to be a mother?” She was a mother of two perfect children. She had a wonderful husband. They lived in a spacious apartment of their own in Lalmatia. Everybody knew them as a perfect family. Yes, everything was just right. And yet, why did Shimana remember that dingy den of a doctor after all these years? She never saw them again. And nobody would detect that doe-eyed girl who wrote down her name as Sabiha Akter in the stunningly beautiful and confident woman known as Shimana Simran today. It’s nothing, she kept on telling herself. Many things happen in life, as her mother had whispered. She had berated her daughter, but also helped to get rid of it.
Now as she sat outside the ICU, she wondered why she felt so worried over Nrita. So many years ago, when she got rid of her unborn child, where were all these motherly feelings? She stole a look at Nibir and wondered how he would react if she told him about that one incident. A mistake of youth it was, and yet it was not her fault. They call it “date-rape” these days. Whatever it was, Shimana could not protest, not then and nor later. It was all hushed up.
Nibir threw a surreptitious glance at his wife who looked out of the window. She had been unmindful quite a lot these days and some instinct told him that it was not just Nrita that she worried over. Something else, something deeper was nibbling on her from the inside. Nibir had often sensed that she wanted to tell him something but stopped at the last moment. What was it that she wanted to tell? And did he want to hear? They were happy enough together. A perfect couple, people called them. And yet…. were things all that perfect?
His thoughts flew to that other woman he loved so much. Where was she now? Would he ever be able to love Shimana the way he had loved her? The golden afternoons he shared with Rodela slowly faded away into greyish dusks. And she could not wait for him as he was too weak to rebel against his mother or leave his wife. The memory of a pair of sad hazel eyes still caused him pain. He often wondered how life would be like if he had left for Canada with her. He also wondered about his now deceased mother who had initially liked Shimana, doted on her actually, but could not accept when her caterpillar of a daughter-in-law morphed into a gorgeous butterfly. A rueful smile touched his lips. Mothers!
Shimana put away the bags and dumped the boxes in the sink. As she entered the hot shower to wipe away the day’s weariness, she wondered if she would tell Nibir what she had been dreading. She was still counting, “To tell or not to tell” as she ate her dinner and went to do the dishes.
When she came to the drawing-room after putting Shimanto to bed, her husband was flipping channels. He, too, seemed restless.
Shimana sat before him and said, “I’ve somethings to tell you.”
Nibir looked at her in apprehension. Couldn’t life flow the way it did? Why was she trying to make a difference?
Enough was enough. She took a deep breath and held on to a soft cushion for support. She closed her eyes and opened her mouth. She could see the darkest cloud looming above her and could smell something damp. Perhaps, this would destroy the world she had come to cherish so much, but she will say what she believed she should. Like the heroine of a romance she spoke, and she imagined that her words fell and twinkled like jewels at night. Were they good and strong enough? She did not know.
Sohana Manzoor is an associate professor of English at the University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh. She completed a PhD in English at Southern Illinois University Carbondale before returning to Bangladesh to teach. Her short stories, translations, non-fiction, and book reviews have been published in Six Seasons Review, Bengal Lights, The Daily Star, Dhaka Tribune, and New Age.
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