The black hole

by Sadat Sayem

black hole‘Have you heard that humans are going to Mars?’
‘No. Really?’
‘Yes. It will be their one-way journey. No return to mother Earth.’
‘One-way’ and ‘no return’ hit me, where I could not spot, but my voice tilted slightly.
‘Who are sending them to the planet?’
‘Mars One.’
‘Never heard of it.’
‘Mars One is a global initiative with the goal of establishing a permanent human settlement on Mars.’
‘Fantastic! But, there is no oxygen, no water.’
I looked at Rimi with disbelief in my eyes. She could read my eyes but continued with more force:
‘They will live in tent-like capsules. The first unmanned mission will depart in 2020 to prepare for the settlement. Crews will depart for their journey to Mars starting in 2026. Subsequent crews will depart every 26 months after the initial crew has left for Mars.’
‘Where have you come across all this information?’
‘Mars One’s web site.’
It was the lunch break. Our other colleagues were in the office canteen. We could hear all kinds of laughter coming from there. Ours is a private commercial bank. Rimi and I work here — in different sections, but we have intimacies despite having some differences in our age.
‘Palak, would you like to go to Mars?’
She looked directly into my eyes as if she was looking for an instant and serious reply to her question.
Our other colleagues say the girl is a ‘crack’. ‘Beware, Palak, beware.’
I made no reply to Rimi’s question but reacted:
‘It seems you are all set to go to Mars! Right?’
Rimi slowly walked to the windowpane, removed the screen and looked outside. My eyes followed her. We saw a portion of blue sky from the high rise. It was summer; the sun was blazing down. But, through tinted glass, the daylight looked soft and inviting. The sky was beautiful.
‘If I could travel through space! Sitting on a wheelchair, yes, on a wheelchair like the
one Stephen Hawking uses for his movement if I could cross light years’ distance in deep space!’
‘Imagine, Palak, what charming it would be if I could travel in intergalactic space. There would be pitch-black dark out there but…’
She stopped and looked at me with unease. I saw blushes on her cheeks.
The lunch break was over. Our other colleagues were returning to their desks. They were shedding off from their mind all the natters they had over lunch. Our job demands maximum attention. Rimi left for her desk.
After office, Rimi and I were waiting at the parking. The office bus was already there, but waiting for all the passengers of the same route to come.
Evening was setting in. I looked at the sky. I saw a flock of herons crossing the city sky to reach their abode. Jibanananda Das sprang to my mind: ‘All birds return home, rivers too — life’s dealings come to an end.’ I lowered my eyes, looked at Rimi and hurriedly said:
‘Would you like to watch the full moon with me?’
She fixed her eyes on me. I saw a glow on her face.
‘The day after tomorrow, Saturday, I mean, will be a full moon. This time it will be a supermoon. We can go to the National Museum of Science and Technology at Agargaon. They have moon-watching programmes.’

2
I am in a spacecraft. But it is rather like a sports car and there is no crew but me. My journey will be commenced shortly. I hear the countdown. Now I am flying past the moon. Now appears Mars. Why is it blue? It should be reddish. Have humans already settled in the planet and altered its atmosphere? I am travelling very fast but I can see everything around me with ease. I see Pluto with Charon. It is noon on the dwarf planet, but the sunlight is similar to the twilight on Earth. But I feel no difficulty in
seeing its landscape clearly. Now I am crossing the Kuiper belt and before me lies the heliosphere.
Suddenly I hear a signal — ping, ping, ping. Instantly I recognise the source of the signal. I change my spacecraft’s direction towards it. It is coming from the Andromeda Galaxy. Now I feel pitch-black dark out there. I am speeding past star after star. Visibility returns. I see Rimi is standing on a small asteroid that is moving towards the event horizon of a black hole under its immense gravitational pull. Again signals are coming. My heart sinks. I am desperately trying to catch up with her but interstellar medium is holding my spacecraft back. If she falls into the black hole, I will lose her forever! Again, visibility is gone. So dark out there, so dark, so dark. Signals are still coming.
I woke up and heard my phone almost finished ringing. There were two missed calls from Rimi. I called her back.
‘Where will you wait for me, Palak?’ she asked.
‘In front of the black hole.’
‘Black hole, what black hole!’
‘Oh. No, no, no. In front of the Museum.’
‘Ok, bye. Good night then!’

3
It was a sunny afternoon. I was waiting in front of the National Museum of Science and Technology. It was the first time I came here. A huge sculpture of a dinosaur greeted me with its fiery eyes and sharp big teeth but very funny front legs, or rather, arms — mini and hanging loosely. Excitement was there, deep in my heart. The sun was in the west. The daylight was softening. A gentle breeze was blowing. But tension was creeping into my mind.
My mobile rang. It was from Rimi.
‘Hello, are you Palak?’ a man asked in an anxious voice.
‘Yes. Who’s speaking?’
‘I found your number on her call list. She is now in Orthopaedics Hospital at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar. She had a road accident near Asad Gate.’
‘How is Rimi?’ I asked with heart in my throat.
‘Very sad, she is no more. What relation are you to her?’
I saw darks dancing around me, taking the shape of a mouth of a dormant volcano and I was inevitably falling in the dark cavity. I collapsed on the pavement.

***
In that evening a huge red moon emerged from the horizon. City-dwellers watched it from balconies, parks, footpaths and, of course, from the Science Museum. Astounded, they talked about its size and its colour. But, had you watched the moon closely, you would have seen it was bleeding. With the supermoon, Dulali* once again rolled down the sky, this time on a wretched city.

*Dulali is a protagonist of Shahidul Zahir’s novel Se Rate Purnima Chhila (That was a moonlit night).

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