On the worst nights, I hold on to your pictures, your smile immortalised in the faded slips of paper that were hidden away for the past three decades. I don’t remember ever meeting you. I don’t remember us ever telling each other our names, our lives, or our secrets. No, our lives had been entwined in one another through childhood scrapes, teenage escapes, and womanhood’s constricting drapes. When my 24 year old granddaughter comes to me with her lovely “friend”, I smile. I pretend not to notice the little longing stares they give each other when I’m making them some tea. I pretend not to notice how they hold hands under the table, giving each other little smiles as they poke each other. They drink tea and talk about the great adventures they go on. Your recipe is still unchanged, a perfect blend of spices, leaves straight from Sylhet, and the freshest milk I can find. My husband knew. He was a good man, one who was very loving and did everything to make me smile. He’s been gone for a few years now. I miss him too, but not as much, or as long as I have missed you. He knew the little secret our granddaughter hid and loved her regardless.
You would have liked him. He would have loved you. Just as much as I did. On the bad nights, when Searchlight bullets and the excruciating screams of our mothers and older sisters jolt me awake, I call my granddaughter. She takes after you; never listens to me, stubborn, bold, and always unafraid to stand her ground. She takes me to see a doctor for something called “Post Trauma Stress Disorder” and depression. I go once a week to talk to a professional. Did you know that grief and scarring events can make people sick too? I always knew it! I knew pain too, was a sickness, one we have to cure like any other disease. I always stood by it watching you get sicker and sicker. I could do nothing but watch you wither, our societies, and in turn, us, still ignorant of the sickness of the mind, let alone the means or methods to cure them. The world remains unchanged since our time. Our beloved country, the very earth of our motherland is still in shambles, and your front and mine meet in the breaking of each other’s prayer grounds, the beating of women for imagined slights, the trafficking of young girls to be child brides. Trafficking is what they call it now. We always looked to find a word better than ‘selling’. You’ve always been right, we are not objects and commodities to be bought and sold on a market. They call it trafficking now. My daughter is a lawyer working for women’s rights. She and her husband moved me to New York City to live with them. It’s every bit as beautiful as we imagined, my love. We longed to leave our little hometowns, and when I stood at the top of the world on the Empire State Building, the beautiful city skyline below saw nothing but my tears, as I could hear your voice ringing in my ears. We’re going to be successful, working women. We’re going to be the first educated women in our families.
We’re going to push ourselves to our very limits. We’re going to mint money and travel the world with our adopted son and daughter, with a cat called Biryani in tow. We never got to live through that last dream. I was married off months after receiving the news. I beat myself up everyday, wondering if I should have gone and dragged you to my place. Maybe you would be alive today. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to see your body on a pyre, ready to be burnt, the scrapes of your noose still fresh upon your delicate neck. I don’t remember what you look like. I can’t. I had loved you for as long as I can remember, and I have failed my own love, in forgetting how you looked. You were beautiful with your sleek hair intertwined in complex braids and your crisply draped saree. The few photos we have together have faded. But technology is wondrous now. Phones today have no wires and they can even send pictures and videos. You can call someone from across the world for nothing. Love is so beautiful to see now. I remember waiting a month for your letters, your anger when you had to wait two months for mine, my resignation when I no longer could look forward to letters sprinkled with your favourite perfume. What purpose lies a world full of convenience when I can’t share it with the woman who had always been my ‘home’? What good lies in a world where technology can connect you to a person thousands of miles away, when the person on the other end of your line is long gone, grasped by cold hands beyond the grave? What good is all the music of the world, when the tune your heart beats to has been forever silenced? Calls were so expensive that hearing your voice was a crime of daylight robbery. A crime I would let the greedy bastards at the phone companies commit with reckless abandon, only so long as I could hear you speak. My daughter married a charming young man from America. I still struggle to pronounce his name correctly, but he seems to be honoured even when I try. Their little angel is all grown up now too.
She’s been very careful about giving her secret away, not knowing that her parents knew, and that I had known a long time ago. I will wait until she is ready to tell me. Her partner is a writer too. We bond over old classics and she teaches me all she knows about the great legends. It’s honestly quite hilarious to watch them exchange stolen kisses when I turn my back, and pretending that the kitchen was too hot to hide their blushes. I remember our stolen kisses, from a time when society knew far more judgement. On the good nights, I dream of us running through rice fields with flowers braided into our hair, as young as we were when we had last held each other. I listen to all these new English singers, trying my best to perfect my pronunciation even now, decades after. Their words remind me of our love, of the brilliance the world should have been able to see. You were always the better and faster learner. The world didn’t deserve you. You would be proud of today’s generation. They are unapologetic in our neverending crusade to have the rights to be ourselves. They have Pride Month now. I wonder if it is a sign that the Pride Month was assigned to the month you had graced the world. We celebrate the progress we have made and come together in parades so huge you would think a war had been won. And it is being won. The Parades take over entire cities, everywhere you can see love, happiness and support. These developed countries are no different than ours. Darkness is a curse more ancient than our sisters who were burned, flogged, beaten, abused. Sometimes, rage consumes me. It knows no bounds.
You and I were the tale made for gods and mortals to be in awe. It is unfair that your light had been put out so quickly, especially only when it was beginning to burn so bright. What sort of malevolence must the fates possess to allow two lost souls to have found their colours and purpose in another, but for a mere passing moment in already ephemeral time, giving us glimpses of a world we could never have hoped to be a part of? The rage died over time, as society foisted a husband and children upon me. I had duties to uphold, and my in-laws were furious that I continued to work, never making any compromises with my career. Their beatings fueled more fire, but after all, society had beaten us into adamant steel. The embers lie in the darkest abysses of my soul, in hellish pain that even angels fear to tread. They are cold, but the slightest spark could turn these into flames. I wish we both had been born at a time when society was progressive. Our existence wouldn’t have been met with secrecies, intrigues, and violent beatings. I locked you away deep inside my heart, and had even forgotten that I had your pictures until my granddaughter was cleaning up the attic. She asked who you were. I reacted poorly.
My voice had ceased to exist as the pictures, however damaged and faded by time, reminded me of your visage, of your loud laughter in the face of our societies trying to smother our voices. I told her that it was a tale for another time. You would’ve loved the little spitfire, her tongue is sharper than yours. She probably could have given you a run for your money. I know you would have matched her, barb for barb, sword for sword. They wouldn’t have ever understood us. When had they ever? We lived every day like the very next could tear us apart, we lived so fast and we laughed to make these scarce moments last while we still had them. You and I have lived a lifetime in mere moments, and I know that my soul had grown old with you, even if my body hadn’t, when it had inevitably become time for you to leave me. On the best nights, I dream of nothing but you exploring the universe, marveling at the immaculate balance and beauty of all that it has to offer. I envision creation enveloping you in the dim light of distant galaxies, in refined pictures of stars and planets that you would have given an arm, leg and soul to see. Now you travel the stars in your own way.
First Queer Short Story Collection of Bangladesh