Cover art: painting by Fawzi Karim. English translation from Bangla by Ashraf ul Alam Shikde
A dog keeps on barking outside, without interruption. It’s so exhausting to avoid feeling tired after working hard all day long! With all his tiredness, Abrar Saikat was pacing back and forth from one end to the other in his house, at the base of the snow-capped mountains in the north-western part of the world.
It seems this snowfall is not going to end this year. No, he plans to quit living in such a country, where he always feels so chilled. Leaving his job and selling this house, he wishes to return to his beloved homeland, where the melodies of birds and human-songs flutter joy in the air.
He came here leaving that world of happiness, wished to grow up, but now he has become isolated and lonely. Staring at the fireplace, he gets out of bed and walks to the window to look outside. The street lights at the base of the mountain cliffs are spreading white rays mingled with snow. The city seems to be encased in the integument of a solitary, primitive loneliness, that of a land free of humans. How surprising to realize that he has spent forty years of his life here! A successful person like him, whose work was celebrated by various daily newspapers in the country he lives in, suddenly comes to the realization that his life is nothing but a false illusion – mist.
As if in a dream, Saikat feels the life of a farmer living in his old country, who shivers all day in the pouring rain as he works in the fields and finally returns to the warmth of his family; or the life of a shepherd or boatman, who sing open-hearted and loudly all daylong and then get the urge to return to their beloved woman waiting at home.
A woman! At the thought of a woman very close to his own two eyes, his chest begins to palpitate. Despite his mother repeatedly asking him to get married, the option of returning to his native country was gone forever, on account of Sylvia. Whenever Saikat spoke about going back to his country, Sylvia, with a cup of coffee in her hand, would lean against him in a secluded corridor, and with sad, innocent eyes would say, ‘And would you leave me all alone? I cannot even imagine what it would be like without you by my side. I am afraid that after you leave, my frozen dead body might be found lying in this lonely city under a mound of ice. And this being the subject of our research: if the body dies, due to inadequate function of the brain, heart, and lungs, some of the surviving cells in these organs are still usable because those living cells are re …’
Sylvia’s eyes filled with tears as she was saying this. Controlling herself, she repeated, “Oops! I am no longer going to be a scientist – researcher in the next life. All these are simply hypocrisies of life. You see, people without the light of science are much happier than the most distinguished purveyors of science. They have much time and amenities to look into the eyes of humans, to be close to the warmth of the human body.”
She is echoing Saikat’s own words. He often says to Sylvia, “Infinite time will devour everything one day. Forgetting this, we give importance to time obtained as a fragment of that Infinite-Time, and the happiest feelings in life. Sylvia then stares brightly into his eyes, with a constant sadness spreading in her large eyeballs, normally innocent and shiny. After a long pause, she speaks to calm down Saikat.
“Don’t be annoyed. Failing to achieve the results of this research will cause all our pursuits, and so many years of work, to be meaningless. There must be a way out. And we shall also be released from here.”
“A few days ago, I was watching a documentary about human civilization. A professor with his team was trying to find authentic evidence of human civilization on a plateau he had selected in the middle of a vast mountain in southern Russia, on the border with Mongolia. And as he picks up the necklace around the neck of the skeleton found buried under the ground, he says, “It’s a woman’s necklace. Most likely she was someone’s bride when she was killed…” Based on all those pieces of evidence, he was trying to sketch out a picture of the social system of the people who lived there thousands of years ago, their biology or lust, their way of living lives, or violence.’
Although Saikat spoke in a pitiful tone, Sylvia smiled and said, “It’s also a type of fantasy – a mental luxury, if you will. Suppose they were all killed by some villain, and then after ten thousand years of research on the skeletons found by that professor and his team, including excavated material, another professor comes along and says, “Violence and war were the norm in that society.” But the funny thing is that thousands of years ago, women also knew how to fight side by side with men equally.”
“But, you know what, Sylvia, in an interview with the journalist, when the professor showed the burial where the skeleton was found, and said that at the time of her death she was a bride, I couldn’t picture being a man at that time and thinking of a scientist like Sylvia or Abrar Saikat a thousand of years later …”
“As we can’t picture now, thousands of years later, that humans will have settled on the soil of Mars. There is also a woman’s wedding ceremony…”
“No, Sylvia. I didn’t really want to talk about ‘time’ but about my ‘feelings’.”
“When I picture the living form of that skeleton, I see a bride with dazzling beauty whose face and appearance are just like yours! I can’t even surmise why that feeling was depressing to me. I felt as if I could hear the cries of these floating times. Time cries too, do you ever hear its voice crying out?”
Sylvia looked Saikat in the eye with amazement and compassion. Slowly her eyes filled with tears. Today, Sylvia, who for so long had learned to hide her emotions inside, realized that the larger the inner world, the more feelings are swept up by emotion. To conceal her own emotions, Sylvia hid her eyes beneath Saikat’s chin. She gently placed both her hands on her lover’s shoulders and unsuccessfully tried to brighten her muffled voice, “Saikat! Don’t you ever get so upset! You’ll see, we’ll make it in time to release our research!”
As he thought about Sylvia, Saikat looked at the wall clock. It’s twelve past seven PM. Just the thought of Sylvia brings a smile to his face. He turns from the window to the reading table, where a tool is placed on the other side of the table, and he almost screams, “Sylvia, you are here!!”
What a surprise, Sylvia had entered the room, he hadn’t even realized it. He has known Sylvia for such a long time and he has never seen her unbalanced at any time. On the contrary, whenever Saikat looked at her with a lustful look in his eyes, she reminded him, “Love craze will ruin research, sir … It’s just a few more months!”
The two of them are scientists, desperate to find a way of reusing the living cells in the three main organs of a dead human body. As Saikat immerses himself into the depths of this theory, a clear advancement in medical science, he is overtaken by a growing homesickness for the country and time lost from life.
He answers Sylvia’s words in a restless voice, “Sylvia, do you know what the greatest error of this civilization is?”
“What is it?”
“Forgetting eternity, we end up ruining their own lives thinking we are improving our quality of life. Nowadays, with this constant placing of the words ‘civilization’ and ‘science’ next to each other, both seem such fragile words to me. Maybe that’s the reason I have a recurring nightmare these days…”
“What do you see?”
“I’m dying. But at the moment of death, I constantly perceive, clearly in the dreams, the mutual feelings of my heart and mind. The unity between realization of dream, and the feelings of dream!”
“What kind of bullshit are you talking about?”
“Yes, Sylvia, those dreams strongly call forth for me to look back on this enchanted life. But…”
The tenderness hiding in Saikat’s innocent gaze makes Sylvia restless. She stares unblinkingly at his eyes. After a long time she says, “Such is the life of a scientist -if we are not successful, we will not be free from it. Nevertheless, don’t fret, we’re going to succeed anytime now. So after all … the sun will rise again tomorrow. Afternoon in the mystical light of the dusk, infinite time will be sitting with its smiling face on the top of the mountain, eager to see the new discoveries of humankind.”
And toda, Sylvia didn’t even wear a piece of underwear on her body? Even though he was shy, Saikat sat silently on the bed, prey to an unknown daze, ready to face the terrifying beauty of naked Sylvia. He controlled the storm as hard as he could inside his own trachea.
Sylvia, that ‘hottie’ feels relaxed as she can, laying naked before him. Sylvia’s trim figure is firing up Saikat, making him warmer than the fire in the fireplace. What’s that strange blue birthmark on the lower side of Sylvia’s navel! But, when did her short hair grow so long that it covers her breasts? There is no wind, yet it looks like those hairs are playing with the air. Saikat was even more surprised looking at Sylvia’s long hair. How fast five months have passed!
God knows, when did a scientist master such an enchanting technique of keeping her lean body hidden by crossing her left leg over the right one? A naughty smile appeared on Saikat’s lip, “Today I realized that a woman is more adorable than a scientist. Alas! Why haven’t I seen this, your flamboyant beauty, before! All those mesmerizing curves of yours tell me that it’s not the body of the dead but the body of the living person that should be the subject of research.”
Sylvia’s eyes quivered and smiled shyly. What magical sounds issuing from contact with the sculpted sections of Sylvia’s trembling body, such as the few parts that are the clearest expression of life -especially for the eyes to see, the mouth to tell. But he doesn’t want to get Sylvia so easily. He would rather tell her the story of his own death in a dream, one he dreams now and then. The realization of that dream would make Sylvia so fascinated, encourage her to carefully enjoy the charm of life or that old nomad named Time -who is known to never forgive anyone. It could be that just tonight she will be persuaded to run away from here, to the crazy idea of making a family with Saikat;she would run away with him to the rivers where rhythmic, birds continue to sing, clouds and rain distribute the messages to the souls to stay at home.
Sylvia is sitting stone still as before. Saikat knows it’s a woman’s innate shyness. Today, with the fascination of the story, he wants to drown the estuary of Sylvia’s life and her heart with the feeling of love. Saikat says, “Today, on this snow-falling night, attaining you thoroughly is really the greatest achievement of my life. I will celebrate this achievement with champagne at home and tell you the story of the dream I saw.”
Sylvia’s eyes sparkled. To rid herself of the dullness of all these ‘scientific’, ‘research’ words, maybe she would love to get lost in a magical kingdom by listening to Saikat’s stories. And her lips quiver in such a way as if she were urging Saikat to tell the story of his dream.
Saikat filled the wings of his heart and set his imagination totally free drawing from the source of his clearly viewed, fuzzy dream:
“I dreamed of a thief entering my house late at night. I screamed out as I saw him stealing all the results of our research and before I understood anything more, he stabbed me all along my stomach with a sharp knife and then fled quickly…’
These words were followed by a long pause. Then Saikat began to describe her as if he were just recounting his feelings from that dream.
“My best-known body oases, its hemoglobin, becomes unfamiliar to me. I’m feeling very cold. I am shivering. I recall, one morning grandpa called me to his death-bed and told me, ‘Hey young lad, do you know what death is like? Death is a lady with a shaved-head.”
Now, even though that lady does not exist, I see a huge mirror reflecting the light of day. And when I jump into that mirror and enter the world of flowers and dew; I know, from the empathy of love, Sylvia is drowning in terrible loneliness. I can guess, staring at the fireplace, Sylvia gets out of bed and looks out of the window. The street lights at the base of the hill show whitening light mingled with snow. Looking at all these Sylvia thinks sadly, all that is in the vicinity seems to be surrounded by the naked shell of loneliness of a primitive world. God knows, why is it that Sylvia’s unbridled tears are flowing down her cheeks? From the world of her loneliness to the world of infinite dreams, the world of dreams that has been madly sunk to make a home a while ago.
My body has moved beyond the feeling of cold to a world where the vast expanse mirror of the world seems to extend from the soil to the sky. A heavy rain has started on the land of death. All the water fountains there look like a mirror. It looks like a planet hit by a great cataclysm of rainstorms. The more water particles fall inside the mirror, the clearer views of one of the wetlands of Bangladesh are revealed. But, what a surprise! There is no sky in this Bangladesh! Surprisingly, none of these millions of mirrors reflects me! Doesn’t this world allow anybody to perceive themselves? Not seeing thyself is death! No, not that really. Death is nothing but stepping to wander in the dream of a mirror that has no reflection of you. The larger the imagination, the longer the wanderings.
As soon as I saw Sylvia smiling sweetly, the paths in front of me gradually become longer and wider; at the closing of that expanse and at the end, my dear Bangladesh is becoming really clear. Now I can see two of my childhood friends putting up a poster on the wall about the upcoming Boishakh Fair.
Even after death in this world, my center of imagination seems to have morphed into the intellect of my soul. The intellect is preoccupied with the idea that death actually comes flying into a person with the wings of his/her imagination. And that life after death is also a great elusive abstraction called ‘the sky’ where the words ‘imagination’ and ‘essence of the obsession of the past life’ are applied instead of the word ‘example’. If there is no one to love deeply, can one find a companion in the path of eternity?
The sincere quest of a scientist, the colorful imaginings, the deep love for the beloved woman -for all these virtues, the blessing gifted by the Creator and my soul, driven mad by the dream, are now being freed and are really crossing the circular mirror and stepping into the sweet land of Bangladesh with Sylvia. And now again both of my feet are touching the water instead of the ground and I can see my own reflection in that trembling water as I open my eyes wide!
I’m looking through Sylvia’s warm hug, the adolescent Sylvia sprinting with her braids tied with China rose flowers. I am realizing clearly, this scenario full of affection and warmth is reconstructing new blood cells in my body. The warmth of the newly formed blood cells awakens me from sleep -I look outside, the distant green mountains are covered with white snow.
Saikat keeps silent for a long time after sharing the narrative of his dream, trying to understand Sylvia’s reaction. Surprisingly, in an amazing posture, she is sitting still, keeping her curves unexposed.
Saikat felt like Sylvia’s lips were slightly trembling. Desperately Saikat approaches Sylvia and thinks of holding her hand, but finally, instead he just grabs his own hand; and then Sylvia disappears as he tries to hold her with both hands in an embrace. And now there is just his own shadow in front of Saikat. As soon as he came back, he found Sylvia sitting in the same position as before.
The door-bell rings and keeps ringing constantly. Then the light and shadow playing between himself and Sylvia became clear to him. Just as the door opened, the scientist Albert rushes in, and says, “I’ve been calling you on the phone over and over. You are needed at the lab right now.”
Saikat responds in an annoyed voice at Albert’s request, ‘Not going to the lab, or nowhere else for the matter, I’ll go to Sylvia’s house now …”
Albert looks at Saikat in amazement and sighs. “What’s wrong with you, Saikat? Don’t you remember that Sylvia resigned five months ago?”
Saikat returns to consciousness. He stares at Albert’s face with astonishment. Albert takes off his glasses and wipes his eyes and says, “I had no idea that the lady hated so much to work with the afterlife! I’m so sorry Saikat, Sylvia’s corpse turned up at the Lab a while ago. Wow! Just in five months, her hair had grown so long!’
As soon as he heard the words, lightning flashed throughout Saikat’s body, head to toe. It seems that death is a woman with hair as big as a cloud! He grabbed Albert tightly by the collar, “What! You’re lying … I’ll kill you …”
“That’s why I rushed to you. Oddly enough, before she died, she wrote and signed a note at twelve past seven PM. Only you have the ability to immerse yourself in all the cells of her heart and head, in meditation at the time of death. The soul that can liberate the soul of you both; in her suicide note, Sylvia gave you permission to conduct research with her corpse cells because no one understood her like you. She believed, without love, even dead cells do not respond…
The trembling lips of Abrar Saikat had lost language, but there`s a question to Sylvia’s soul seen peeping and hiding, ‘Is this the way out to our salvation.’
Abrar distractedly bowed his head and wiped his eyes. Just then his soul was startled. Inside the room, Sylvia says, “The sun will rise again tomorrow. After noon, in the mystical light of the dusk, infinite time will be sitting with a smiling face on top of the mountain, eager to see the new discoveries of humankind.’
Saikat quickly returned to the room; looking around in astonishment. Then he peered out the window at the darkened landscape outside and the lonely road beyond. Why is the snowstorm so strong outside today! This lonely world of ice shells, in its glorious primordial form, is eagerly devoted to the great age, magically like Sylvia.
Kazi Rafi a post graduate in English literature is a prominent fiction and dexterous short story writer in Bangladesh (B-1975). He has eleven novels and six volumes of stories to his credit.
His first novel Blurred Dream of Sassandra was awarded with HSBC-Kali O Kolom Award-2010 which is one of the most prestigious awards in Bangladesh and Bangla literature. He received three more awards including ‘Nirnay Gold Medal-2013’ for the outstanding performance in the era of Novel and Short Stories.
Ashraf-ul Alam Shikder (born February 28, 1964) works full-time as a translator and writer and also creates designs for the web, print, and television commercials. The Dhaka Company Herbs & Health employed him in his home office.