21 February 1952. Bangladesh is under the political domination of Pakistan. Authorities push the decree 144 through. The Urdu language is now imposed to bengalis.
A slap in the face
A revolt breaks out
We were on top of our world, the roof of his house. I applied myself impeccably to ignore my companion’s feelings by admiring idly the curfew on the Bengali capital.
« The lights fade willingly » I observed. « They refuse to be the immobile witness of our impotence.
The fireworks had been too short. The finale fled like our dreams in the astrakhan veils of the night. The soldiers came. They took our passports. They had slapped the earth and left with two of us. We had to return home empty-handed. It had driven him crazy.
A noise suddenly razed our heads and he burst out laughing. He ran after the steel bird that threatened to defecate a bomb. Thick, white and pink fumes; were crashing into the immense sky. His sandals, too tight, were lifting large beastly puffs from the ground.
He almost fell. Then he hit his ribs and began to punch the canvas of a deckchair.
« Dust, we are only dust » I thought, sarcastic. His arms were perpendicular to his waist. He looked like an albatross. Or a fool. I remembered with vanity this line from Omar Khayyam: « Sanity for insanity, let us take what is most noble ».
Our relationship had developed like a printing of original photographs. It kept showing more and more ambiguous poses. Adda is an institution here. This word evokes a discussion about light subjects. It is intoxication. By tradition. To say everything, while outside, the fate of the world is being played out. It is all about that.
Conversing, we would have to stop worrying about the world with panache. February 21st would go down in history. Today, Bengal was fighting save its language. But only Abdul and I still seemed to be ready to talk with idleness.
After a few chats, Abdul finally calmed down. He sat down on a wicker mat. His mother used to sit on it in order to reweave her carpets. I could see distincly the old wrinkled hands again and wondered if she had been able to hide. I was about to ask my friend, but he crossed his legs with grace. He looked up and his pupils crossed my eyes, two eyes that had been fried by the heat. The brown notches that I loved the most were looking for the complicity of my eyes.
— Do you have a problem with me?, he said, and he raised a fist tapered like a colt towards me.
He was wearing a large silver bracelet, which looked like a large woman’s hand on his wrist.
— Those who are not swept by joy in front of your ideals sound boring to you. Even unworthy of living. This is also my problem. We have to kill these men.
Abdul got up and resumed his strange choreography.
— I should therefore comrade, » I replied, « accept what is not acceptable? I should throw myself headlong into writing laudatory articles? Doesn’t decree 144, reduce our beautiful language to the rank of prostitute? Nevertheless… Nevertheless, you are right. I am an incorrigible swordsman too! En garde!
I soon got up to challenge him with the long serpentine point of the hookah placed on the cardboard that served as a table.
— And I am your incorrigible friend, Rafiq, and I would soon offer you a blood-colored rose so that you would forgive me for refusing this duel that would turn too quickly to my advantage.
He became serious again and smiled:
— Pakistanis are trying to bring us to our knees from the west. Like you, I am ready to cross swords with them. Whatever it costs me…
The line of acacia kohl that was stirring under his two brown eyelashes came alive. A long moment passed like that. Then he became completely calm again. I felt he wanted to talk.
— Let’s travel, Abdul told me.
— Travel ?
My left eyebrow stretched carelessly north of my face.
— Let’s talk about women!
— I guess you know more about women than I do? I replied. Once again, you want to prove your superiority, dear friend.
— Let’s see Rafiq! How do you imagine the clothes of the ideal woman? The one who would get up at night to go with you to contemplate the full moon must be well dressed!
—I think that she would be all dressed like you. And I can contemplate the full moon from here.
He blushed and his intense gaze crossed mine with joy.
— She would simply be in a trenchcoat. With big golden earrings he laughed and twisted his earlobes.
Then he grunted:
— And a purple veil would half hide her face, which I think would be very beautiful.
— All this lacks poetry, I answered him. Let’s add to her picture a light tunic, that would fall on her modest shoulders.
— It’s incredible, my friend burst out. You have no equal to destroy all femininity!
— Submit yourself to the same exercise, light of my life.
— Good. As for me, I see her in a beige corset, a little scratched by the wind. Her complexion is a little yellow. On her, the brown and red checkered scarf of a man. Look how beautifully this blue veil is knotted at her waist. She is frail but in her gait she has something masculine. She looks like you, you know?
— Well, I say. That’s when I like it, dear friend. Where would you take this doll?
— We would go to the countryside. Rent a Russian datcha. We would read the newspaper, together, without talking, without ever touching each other.
— I don’t think so.
— Is she married?
— I don’t know. Why don’t you continue my story if you like it so much? Take this woman, I gift her to you. I don’t even like her description!
— I think not, I continued, she is not married. Do you know if she loves me?
— Does she?
— Go on?
— It’s already nightime. Where did the planes go? The great blanket embroidered with stars is covering us with its doubts and anxieties.
— Like the rags in which you and your girlfriend are wrapped.
— She’s only a dream. It’s nothing more than that.
— Tell me one thing, at least. Are you already sleeping together?
— No. There are two beds in the room. But, uh… Are you listening to me?
— How can I listen to you? How can I dream with you when a woman’s claw is clenching on my chest.
— What are you saying?
I looked down. I knew what Abdul was going to say.
— What about him?
— He wants me to marry her. You know, I… I don’t think I’d be able to love a woman.
—You must find a way !
— My brother… You only gave me the courage to enter politics. Not her.
The rain began to fall, tac tac tac, on the wicker mat.
— I love you, » he confessed.
Abdul cried. I looked at the moon and heard the cries of the martyrs in the distance, in the cloudless night. I turned my face towards him:
— Let me continue this story.
— Please let me continue to describe your woman.
— There are two beds in the room. She turns around, and there she says to you…
— Okay. Here we go. What does she say to me?
His eyes sparkled again. I said looking at him:
— So you love me. I’m going to die happy.
— Stop, my friend mocked. When you start to exaggerate, it is when it becomes the truth.
He was wrong. The next day, I didn’t go to the protests against the decree 144. My father did not allow me to go out. Adbul had been brought up by his mother. He went there. He dodged bullets with the grace of a bird. Swirling between the placards and the riddled bodies he was magnificent. Then one more treacherous or better adjusted than the others, who knows, hit him right in the head. The next day, I asked our mentor’s sister to marry me.