Note: Based on HOP, a weekly social event by Boys of Bangladesh (Bob), this short story was published in 2008 in Adorsholipi, the first-ever LGBT lifestyle tabloid to be published in the known history of Bangladesh. No copies of the magazine are available today, but Mondro hopes to recover a copy and archive it someday.
It has happened many a times before. It is happening again, this very moment. Selim gets down from the running bus opposite Rapa Plaza; he has to cross this easy busy road on his way to Dhanmondi-27 lakeside. The day is coming to an end and so are the scorching days of the steamy hot sun. It’s mid November now, and Selim enjoys the soft sunrays that plays coyly on his neatly goateed face as he crosses the road; his faded jeans tears the white traffic smoke apart as it climbs up his averagish torso, finding its way to oblivion.
Fridays are almost as busy for Selim as any other day. There is the laundry, the visit to his father’s grave following the Jumma prayers, the chat with Mike at 3pm sharp, and of course, there is HOP – the weekly evening thingy.
Fridays, in a way involves a lot more planning for Selim, because there are always unprecedented events and supposedly undue responsibilities. This time, it was Lazz Pharma. Nanu has been complaining for ages about the red Bengay cream for her aching shoulders. She thinks it is made of chilly paste, or else there is no reason for it to burn so severely. The Green Bengay cream is supposed to be a much cooler one she believes; thanks to her green Mint toothpaste, her green Menthol Shampoo, and her substitute for green Betel nuts, i.e. green Chloromint! And to make things more complicated, none of the local pharmacies had it. And the only pharmacy Selim’s family can think of in these situations is Lazz. And it’s Lazz that gave him the license to go out this afternoon and consequently made channel for his pocket money – straight from Ammu’s purse.
One Green Bengay (Selim likes pronouncing this name over and over again because this is the only word through which he can utter his identity in public and it is always exciting in a strange way), a bottle of Clairol conditioner for his hair and a large can of Pringles for his tummy. All of these have to be covered by the money. Well, of course there are other expenses to cover that Ammu doesn’t know about.
Rawnak has a party at his cousin’s place (he can use the place as his cousin’s family will go to their native village) next Thursday, and Mukul and Kalpa, the new talk of the town will be going there. Rawnak has also managed to get Tony’s (Taslim bhai) confirmation, which means it is going to be the most talked about party of this month.
In a party like this, Selim cannot think of going without spending half the day at Habib’s Salon. By saving bit by bit everyday, Selim will, as he has done many a times, be able to groom himself with a professional touch. But he has to save some more this week, as he has to return five hundred taka to Munia which he had borrowed from her. Every one used to say that they would make a great match – Munia and Selim. They are inseparable in campus, always hanging out together, going for shopping together, sitting next to each other in class, and were, in fact, a subject of gossip for a semester. But now everyone knows Munia’s boyfriend Akash, and Selim to them is just another wag-tail loser. Selim, however, doesn’t care because Munia is always there for him.
After pondering for weeks on what to buy for Akash’s Birthday, it was Selim who convinced Munia that a nice tie would suit the occasion most. Munia was supposed to meet Selim at Coffee World this evening. But suddenly this Hop thingy popped up, out of no where. It’s not that HOP wasn’t there, it was very much there, every other Friday of every month, some new faces, and lots of old faces, waiting and greeting with broad grins. Sitting idly in the stairs by the lake and talking nonsense had never been as worthwhile as in the HOPs.
For Selim, it’s the last HOP always till it’s Friday morning and he is bored to death again, when HOP happens to be the only antidote which promises those faces whom he had met very recently and about whom he knew so little, but who have become his centre of attention, involvement, commitment or whatever you term it. The number of family invitations and school alumni programs he had missed just for this new bunch did not cross ten, though Selim knows it will become uncountable very soon.
Is it just friendship based on the common ground of sexual preference? Selim thinks at times. Maybe not, maybe there’s more to it. Maybe it’s the outlet – the ventilation through which Selim can isolate himself from the world which has kept him isolated all these times.
He always felt being isolated from friends and family. His parents loved him a lot but it always occurred to him that they loved him without knowing him. He loves Ammu a lot too. But at times it seems staying away from her would make life a lot easier. He cannot stay over at any of the parties. Ammu starts calling at 10 sharp and he has to go home. Selim knows he has to move out alone someday soon. He is just tired of asking the question ‘Have place?’ and even more tired of saying ‘No’ to the same question.
He will move out, Selim says to himself as he passes by the flower shop adjacent to Rapa Plaza. A few more steps and his true world is waiting there for him; a world where everybody is so comfortable having Kingshuk aka Selim among them.
They call him Kingshuk because that’s what he told them. It is the trend there. Almost everybody knows each other by fake names. No one even knows where he studies. They know only very basic things about him like – where he stays, what’s his mobile number, at best his frequency of buying clothes from shops like Ecstacy or Soul Dance; these have defined the periphery of others’ interest in him. Kingshuk is more or less the same as Selim. But unlike Selim, Kingshuk doesn’t have Rice meal thrice a day. Kingshuk always hangs out at Kozmo or Pavement with his friends, and unlike Selim, Kingshuk can never think of buying jeans from opposite Dhaka College. Kingshuk is just a bit brushed up version of Selim, that’s it.
Selim smiles subconsciously as he enters the lakeside and there they are. Quite a big gathering today, he thinks. Selim always feels a bonding and attachment towards this bunch. No matter how shallow the connections might seem, Selim knows it is rooted somewhere deep. Zeeshan is the centre of attention today, with a bundle of homo-erotic view cards in his hands that he got from a tourist last week. The pictures seemed to be from 80’s, though very well preserved. Just when Kingshuk decided to indulge in the 2D curves of the latin models in the pic, his phone rang. It was his ever nagging, ever questioning sister. Taking the call will surely spoil his day. So he just made his cell go mute and out it in his pocket and tried to concentrate on the pictures without much success. Who knows, it might be something important. His mobile started vibrating again in his jeans pocket. Whatever… Kingshuk said to himself and took it out; no, it was Munia this time. ‘Where the hell are you? Am waiting at ETC. for the last 10 minutes!” Shoot! She is just on the other side of the road. And no strong excuse ready for her! Kingshuk couldn’t think of what to say. ‘Hey am at Apollo! My Nanu suddenly got very sick and its quite tense here. Can I get back to you later?’
It was quite dark outside now, and the night bugs were out of the box. Everyone was talking about having some coffee but couldn’t decide where to go. Just as Kingshuk was going to suggest a place, there was a buzz in his mobile. It was a text message from his sis this time. Nanu has been admitted to United Hospital, she had a major heart attack and might require ventilation, which means she might go into a comma forever. Kingshuk was sweating standing by the cool foggy lake. It was him. He knew it. It must have been him. It’s all his recent deeds that brought this on him. Lies…so many lies, have become his key to escape these days. He couldn’t think of anything else and started walking towards the gate. He had to see Nanu. Raju grabbed him from behind. ‘Am going to United Hospital to see my Nanu, she is dying because of me…’
The journey by CNG seemed to be a never ending one. He could remember how those smashed betel leaves felt that Nanu gave him from her mouth. Or the way she used to fall asleep cooling him off with the handfan all night long. And all those Pitha in the winter. And Salami’s during Eid. All thi sdwill end now, just because of him. No, just because of them. This bunch changed him. Changed his life. Took his Nanu from him. But then he rememberd what his Nanu told him, ‘ What you get in life is not what you asked for, but how you asked for those things’. All Selim wanted was happiness. Maybe the way he wanted it was not the right one for him.
No one was crying in the lobby. All looked rather relaxed. Nanu will be doing fine soon. That’s what the doctors said. It was too much for him to take. He was overwhelmed, all this stress, Selim could sure use a smoke. He slowly walked out of the hospital. And there they were again…. Raju, Andalib, Andrew, Bipul, and some anonymous known faces from HOP, all looking anxious.
Kingshuk couldn’t help running towards them and gave Raju a big hug. He could feel their hands patting his shoulder, could feel their warm breath on his neck. Kingshuk aka selim said to himself
‘With a lost identity in a lost community, maybe all is not lost yet!’
Written by Shateel