CRING! The phone rang with such fury at seven in the morning. Rajiv was about to take a quick shower before leaving for the airport. He had an important conference in Nepal at noon. He quickly dropped his towel on the granite kitchen counter-top and rushed to get the phone. He didn’t want to wake Neera or the children up so early in the morning since it was the weekend. Rajiv dreaded working on weekends and at this very moment he dreaded the phone call that seemed interminable
‘Hello, Bhaia. This is Mannu. I called you so many times. Your cell phone was off! Selim Sir is missing!!!’ Mannu began to wail and Rajiv could only gather the words that Selim Sir –Abbu, left abruptly without noticing anyone.
Rajiv’s head hurt, his heartbeat raced faster than ever. Sweats formed but he still tried to maintain calm in his voice. ‘What do you mean by Abbu is missing? Maybe he went on a walk or something’.
‘ No Bhaia! He deliberately left!’ Mannu retorted.
Within a matter of two hours Rajiv was at the old home in Gazipur where his father had been staying for the last five years. He tried to get Mannu, the caretaker, to talk but he kept on crying loudly and blaming Rajiv solely for his father’s disappearance.
A week earlier — Gazipur Old Homes
**Salimuddin always loved to observe the first rays of the sun. He fondly remembered how he encouraged Rabeya to do the same. She felt irritated in the early years of their marriage wanting to sleep a little bit more before the morning humdrum began but later as the years went by her immense love for her husband inspired her to sacrifice the morning catnap. He remembered those lovely days as if they were still fresh.
Moving away from the window Salimuddin looked aside and took the photo frame that had his favourite family picture, in hand. The silver front was rusted and the leather back almost gave away but the picture in it slightly faded and tarnished still transported him back to the exact time almost forty years back. He was holding his eldest son Rajiv on his lap while Rabeya sat next to him. This photo was captured in a studio because Rabeya insisted that she wanted a ‘fine’ family picture hanging on the wall of her living room just like the neighbours. Rabeya also made it a point to get an extra 4R copy to set in a photo frame in their son’s bedroom. With a smile on his face Salimuddin remembered the simplicity and childlike nature of his late wife.
Wondering about his past he sat down on his bed and looked out the open window again from his small ten feet by eight feet room in Gazipur Old Homes. The room wasn’t modern by any standard but neither was Salimuddin. He particularly liked the old mosaic floor which he was told by Mannu, was out of fashion nowadays. The best thing about the room was that it had a single window that overlooked a small garden where the residents of the Old Homes did their daily exercise.
Salimuddin clinched his eyes and lay down on his bed trying to remember more of his days with Rabeya. Oh yes! Rabeya, the most beautiful girl he had ever met. He fell instantly in love with her the very moment he saw her. One summer in seventy-five he visited his friend’s colleague’s home in Chittagong and there he met her for the first time. Rabeya brought a glass of water for him and the very moment Salimuddin laid his eyes on her his entire body quivered as if he had high fever and he instantly realised that he had never seen anyone so beautiful as her in his entire life. That very day when he returned from Rabeya’s house he decided in a whiff who he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. As he depicted that very winter Rabeya became his for eternity as they got married.
Salimuddin remembered his next precious moment when Rajiv was born, with the darkest pitch black hair anybody had seen. Everybody blessed the little one telling him that he would one day become a very renowned man. The predictions became true because Rajiv indeed became very popular and obtained a high flying job in a multinational company that did not let him stay in the country for more than two weeks at a stretch.
‘Good morning Sir! May I come in?’ someone knocked at the shabby wooden door. It must be Mannu thought Salimuddin, such a meek boy, always taking good care of him. He loved to chat with Salimuddin in his free-time and would ask him to recount stories of the war. Years of experience as a government officer having to move from one city to another helped Salimuddin acquire many stories worth telling.
’Come in – Mannu, is that you?’ reiterated Salimuddin. ‘Yes Sir!’ and then the door gently pushed open. Mannu seemed all smiles and in high spirits. He donned a new lungi and a t-shirt and brought some fresh bed covers for his room.
‘What’s the story Mannu? Why do you look so happy?’ asked Salimuddin. Mannu looked surprised then he remembered Salimuddin’s mild dementia and forgetfulness about particularly recent events. The doctor had told Mannu that Salimuddin’s long-term memory was fine though.
‘Sir, it’s Eid in a week’s time. I will be going home to visit my family in Panchagar. The only person I will miss from here is you. But I will be back soon, just after a week. What do you want me to bring for you sir? We have had a bumper harvest of high-quality ripe mangoes and lychees this year. They are all formalin free!’
‘Get some for my grandchildren as well’ The words came out in a rush, without much thought. Salimuddin may forget a lot of things now and then but he clearly remembers how Rajiv’s eldest daughter Manira loved mangoes. He must send some to her.
Thinking of Manira made Salimuddin beam up. The little girl was beautiful, almost a look-alike of Rabeya. She loved spending time with Dadajaan but he was becoming too forgetful and Neera – Rajiv’s wife found that alarming. Almost immediately all his smiles were gone. Yes! He was forgetful but he would never create any situation that was harmful for his grandchild. He forgot where he kept his wallet, or perhaps his spectacles or the remote control. These were all small things but he didn’t understand why they bothered Neera so much.
Well! It was not for him to understand. Neera was very modern. She was an architect and had to work 9-5 everyday. Even though she had almost three maids at her apartment still it was a nuisance for them all to be collecting things after him. Salimuddin understands their concern. Rabeya wasn’t there to look after him anymore. Salimuddin was a little bit forgetful even in his youth, he would callously drop things here and there and Rabeya would collect them all without a single word of complaint. He wondered again how she managed his beautiful family with such tact.
Thinking about Manira his heart cringed a little and he felt the urgency to talk to her. He asked Mannu to get the cell phone for him. The cell phone was shared by everyone staying in the vicinity and they charged Tk ten per call. Rajiv gave him Tk 5000 per month for all his upkeep. At the beginning Rajiv visited him almost every week and after five years at the old home the meet-up reduced to twice a year especially during Eid. He complained of staying too busy with work and getting no time to commute such long distances.
’Getting the cell phone in a minute sir’ and Mannu ran to get what his ‘Sir’ had ordered. In a moment he rushed back with the mobile device and handed it over to Salimuddin, who already had a notebook held in his hands where he had jotted down important numbers. He carefully selected Rajiv’s land phone number and made a call.
‘ Hello this is Dadajaan, is this Manira?’
‘Oh Dadajaan how are you doing? I miss you a lot’ suddenly tears welled up in Salimuddin’s eyes and he felt like choking but somehow he managed to put out words
‘ How’s my little Shoeb? Doesn’t he miss Dadajaan?’
‘Of course he does’ said Manira. ‘Do you know Dadajaan that he stood first in his term final?’
‘No. I didn’t sweetheart. You remember Mannu from my place’
‘Yes, I do Dadajaan.’
‘Well he is going to get some mangoes and lychees for you all. Dadajaan will send you the fruits soon once he comes back from his village.’
‘Oh! Thank you Dadajaan.’
‘Is Rajiv home Beta?’
‘ No, Baba is out but mom is home. Do you want to talk to her?’
Salimuddin didn’t understand why but he just didn’t feel like talking to anyone else.
‘Its ok Beta, tell Baba to call me when he gets back home.’
‘Ok, Dadajaan, stay put we will come visit you on Eid! Bye.’
‘Bye sweetheart’ and –click– the line ended there.
Why didn’t he want to talk to Neera? He didn’t know maybe because he just wanted to hear his loved ones voices. He felt a little down, his excitement from the morning seemed to die out. Mannu realised things were not right so he left soon afterwards.
With closed eyes Salimuddin dreamt of an idea. He decided that this Eid he would visit Rajiv’s place rather than wait for them to come to him. His plan was simple and precise. He would go in the morning and surprise them. He felt ecstatic with his plan. Tears rolled down his eyes thinking of the fact that he would be able to see his grandchildren and his beloved son, legacies Rabeya – his love of life, left behind.
For few days in time Salimuddin was sprightly waking up early everyday making plans. He even paid Mannu to get a good backpack for him from the market. He bought few gifts for the children and a nice cotton sari for the ‘Bahu’.
Just a week was left before Eid and the entire place went into a joyous mood. All the staff were more than happy. Salimuddin just loved the festive affairs; it reminded him of his good old days with his family.
Mannu knocked again and barged in without permission. He had a glee on his face and the cell-phone. ‘Boro Bhaia called Sir!!’. It was a happy moment since Rajiv rarely even called and that was such great news for both of them. Gladly Salimuddin received the call.
‘Rajiv Baba! Are you all right? How are you Baba?’
‘I am doing ok Abbu, how are you? Manira told me you called a few days back. I couldn’t call you back, I was really busy with foreigners visiting the factory and then I had to go to Italy for a week and I couldn’t call you. Sorry.’
‘Its’ ok Baba I know you are busy, no problem. When are you all coming here this Eid?’
Rajiv’s voice shook a little but then he said ‘Abbu, I called you about that as well. I am so busy all year through that I don’t get to spend any time with family so this year they asked me to take them on a short trip to Maldives and Srilanka for a week. Please don’t mind! We will come and meet you the very next week after we come back to Bangladesh. I will make sure Mannu stays with you all these days and he doest leave for village. He can go after we come back from our trip’.
Salimuddin for a moment couldn’t reply and since Mannu was looking at him eagerly he slowly managed to put in the words ‘Its ok, Baba. I will be fine. You all go; give my love to Manira and Shoeb.’ Then he put off the cell phone. Mannu right away knew that it was not good news but he didn’t bother Salimuddin at that very moment.
That very night Salimuddin made the final plan and he was determined as ever. At midnight when everyone was asleep Salimuddin took his backpack, few clothes and that photo frame with him. He looked back at all his furniture and touched them one last time as if they were alive and feeling his emotions. He left the old home without a warning, only a small envelope for Mannu where he thanked him for all he had done and left some cash which he had been saving from his allowance amounting to almost 80,000 Tk. He asked Mannu to take the money and go back to his village and build his dream home as he had told Salimuddin.***
The next morning when Mannu discovered everything he burst into tears and called Rajiv. Within a matter of two hours he was at the old home and noticed the local police and authorities about the disappearance.
About two days later the local OC was informed of a body found in a graveyard in Banani, which resembled Rajiv’s dad. The body had been taken to the morgue in Dhaka Medical College.
Rajiv was hoping against hope that it was somebody else but fate had already turned its back on him. It was Salimuddin; his beloved father. His dead body seemed calm and contented. The authorities later told them that Salimuddin’s body was found lying beside his wife’s grave. The dead body had a rusted photo frame in hand. •