By Mohin Uddin Mizan
Ever since Hasan came to Cox’s Bazar, he noticed a child in a vegetable shop, close to his residence, sitting by her father. He always praised the child to his colleagues. He felt her eyes were the repository of all kindness in this world.
She was, maybe in between seven or eight, a thin, brownish girl with her hair in a bun. She wore an off-white T-shirt with night pajamas. Hasan always looked at her when he passed the shop, and she looked back till he merged into the distance.
One day, it was drizzling, and Hasan went to the shop to buy some vegetables, while the girl helped her father choose the fresher ones for him. All his purchases fitted into four polythene bags. It was difficult for him to hold all of them in one hand and carry an umbrella on the other.
“Would you mind if I carry two bags for you?” she asked.
“It’s fine. I myself can manage.”
“Sir, I’m used to, and not as young as you think.”
“Please allow her to take you home,” said her father.
“Okay, come under my umbrella,” Hasan responded.
They both were walking on the muddy road and Hasan asked her, “Do you go to school?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Which class (grade)?”
“Wow, is it? Really, you are not little at all.”
“How many books do you need to study?”
“What’s your name?”
The single word reply made him uneasy – Maya in Bengali meant illusion!
“Sir, we’ve already reached your flat; please take your bags.”
Hasan was looking deep into her eyes, not uttering even a single word. It seemed to him that within a fraction of a second, the child disappeared.
One week later, Hasan happened to meet Maya in Kalatoli beach, one of the most crowded spots in Cox’s Bazar.
“Why are you dabbling in this unclean water?” Maya asked as Hasan walked bare feet in the sea water.
“I love to wet my feet in the sea water, and what more I can expect in the beach; the water is the same in all the beaches.”
“True. But, haven’t you gone to the beaches in the southern part while commuting to the Rohingya camp through marine-drive road?”
“Yes, the water does seem bluer and clearer in those areas. Maybe because there are less visitors there. Would you mind walking with me?”
Both began to stroll along the beach strewn with wastes left scattered by visitors. The seawater was littered with polythene bags, coconut remains, plastic bottles, and chips packets afloat. Hasan was feeling sad thinking of the world longest sea beach’s potential to compete with Galle in Sri Lanka or Pattaya in Thailand– renowned beach holiday destinations– while passing a turtle that lay dead on the sand.
Recently, the Cox’s Bazar’s Teknaf Sea beach had been declared an ecologically critical area by the department of environment. They had prohibited all sorts of activities that would adversely affect the water, marine life, air and sand of the beach — immediately after the publication of a recent study by Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute, which found the presence of micro-plastic in fish and salt collected from the Bay of Bengal.
Straight away Maya pulled Hasan’s baby finger and said pointing to some hotels somewhat away from the beach, “This area was a small forest of tamarix and just beside it there were hills, hilly forests and hillocks. Even the seawater you see polluted now was clean; fishes used to be seen jumping out of the water and doing somersaults contorting their body,” she added.
“But this is now a history only; how do you know all these?”
“My father said. He also heard them from his father.”
Taking a deep breath and with a tone of disappointment he replied, “I see.”
“Sir don’t get disappointed; nature is going to reclaim its space very soon. You will soon see what my grandfather or ancestors saw many years ago. No one can fight nature.”
It was March 2020; people were getting infected with a new disease named COVID-19, caused by a newly discovered coronavirus in China on December 2019. Being much contagious in nature, the government announced a complete lockdown of the country. People left the city immediately after the declaration; all the government and non-government institutions were closed, except a few working on emergency services.
Hasan was not on leave amidst the lockdown as he was a development worker in an emergency project for Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, run by a Switzerland based non-government organisation– Fondation Hirondelle– in Kutupalong Rohingya camp, the largest refugee camp in the world.
In the afternoon, he ventured out wearing a mask to buy some daily necessities. He found the vegetable shop closed; Maya’s father left the city too in fear of the outbreak. Law enforcing agencies were patrolling the street to control people’s movement. People were told to stay quarantined at home to combat the spread of the virus.
On that beautiful March morning, Hasan was sauntering on the shore of Kalatoli, where there was no sign of human activity. All the seats installed for tourists were empty. The normally brownish seawater was looking blue; some turtles were crawling on the beach as if they had been playing with the crabs.
Hasan heard some sounds of splashes in addition to the roar of the seawaves and he turned his head toward the ocean. To his surprise, dolphins had returned to the beach at Cox’s Bazar and were jumping and doing multiple somersaults. The dance of these creatures with the multiple spiral shapes of the crystal water seemed to him like the smiling face of Maya.
Mohin Uddin Mizan is a Publication Officer at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) and the National Consultant at UNDP Bangladesh. He has published book reviews, poems, articles in The Daily Star, The Daily Sun, The Financial Express, The Daily Observer, The New Age, The Dhaka Courier, Indian online journal The Ashvamegh, and so on.
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