By Tasneem Hossain
“If only you had some wisdom, then you would not have raised that issue. I am going to block you. I am going to sever all ties with you. Bye!” The harsh words kept echoing in Farzana’s head. Her eyes moistened. She could not control the incessant tears rolling down her cheeks. The man behind the counter looked at her sympathetically. Farzana tried to smile back but her face distorted. She had never ever been able to control her emotions.
She was standing in the immigration line to board the next plane to New York from Dhaka.
The last one year came flashing back.
She had come in contact with Tariq during an official online meeting in Bangladesh.
He was a man of great repute. They had to contact each other often for business purpose. Gradually, their relationship changed from that of an acquaintance to very close friends. They would talk almost every day. He would go on telling her about his life. How he had built a million dollar business. How unfortunate he had been in his personal life. She would listen patiently.
She met him twice during two workshops on financial management. Tariq had invited her many times but somehow they had never been able to meet in the real world.
Tariq was a short squarely built man. But there was an air of personality that was undeniably magnetic. His well-articulated deep voice and the twinkling smile in his eyes were enough to make women swoon over him. He was witty and had a sense of humour that made him very attractive. He had sharp twinkling eyes but something told Farzana that he was a sad man, hiding behind his witty and jovial nature.
Their professional relationship turned into friendship.
Tariq would tell her details of the problems he faced in life and ask her to pray for him. Farzana became emotionally attached to him as a friend and would pray for him religiously every day.
Four months passed. One day they were chatting lightly and having fun in an online conversation on Messenger. Suddenly, Tariq got irritated and muted the Messenger box. She had never faced anything like this before. She felt insulted. She called and urged him to unmute, but he was reluctant.
A week later Farzana sent Tariq birthday wishes on his phone.
He called her and apologised. He told her he was very sick that day and couldn’t control his anger and, hence, had muted her.
Life became normal. Months passed. Farzana would wait for him to call or message her. When he called he would go on talking about his problems, his life and sometimes even flirt with her. Farzana knew he was just having fun. She would ask him to be serious and then again they would have the normal conversations.
She never called him because he was a busy person and he would remain sick for days too. Sometimes Farzana had doubts that he was lying to her.
“Why? We are not romantically involved. We are just friends so why does he lie to me?” she would ponder.
She was getting ready to meet Tariq today. He had invited her for a candle light dinner in one of the fanciest restaurants ‘Rose La France’. This was the first friendly meeting with him. Farzana wore a pink chiffon blouse and saree. The white pearl necklace set with earrings and bangles were a perfect match: simple, yet elegant. As she looked in the mirror, a smile curled up on her face. The reflection of a tall fair woman with an athletic supple and strong physique with a pair of hazel coloured eyes and thick black eyelashes stared back. She brushed her shoulder length wavy auburn hair. She was an attractive woman in her 30s. She was aware of the fact that her presence, anywhere, made quite a few heads turn.
Tariq picked her from her home and they drove to the restaurant. Somehow Farzana felt very conscious of herself as Tariq smiled at her.
“You look ravishing.”
“Thank you,” she smiled.
“Is it happening? Is he falling in love with me?” Farzana was quiet for a while.
Farzana wanted to change the topic, “You can recite so well. Please recite the poem you were reciting on that day over the phone.”
“First you have to kiss me,” Tariq said mischievously.
Farzana burst into laughter. She couldn’t stop laughing.
Tariq looked intently at her.
“Why do you text? Don’t text me.” suddenly Tariq fumed one day.
Click!No sound on the other end. Farzana called every other day to check but the calls would only show ‘calling’, no ‘ringing’ sign. The messages she sent also didn’t pass through.
After trying a few days she realised he had blocked her everywhere without any reason that she could think of. She would cry long nights. No one knew that she was suffering inwardly as she would act totally normal in front of her family.
Farzana knew that Tariq was the only child and couldn’t control his emotions, but deep down he was a compassionate man. He always made amends so sweetly and genuinely that it was impossible to resist.
Tariq loved the way Farzana talked. The smile on her lips and twinkle of her eyes somehow vibrated through the calls. He could visualise the innocent smile on her happy face talking with fervour. She would also listen to him talk patiently for hours.
“Oh Lord I am in love with this angel!” The moment it popped in his head, he felt his nerves playing havoc in his mind. He cut off the line. He blocked every single thing: Telephone, Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber.
“No, I cannot destroy her life. She is such a kind soul. I am not suitable for her. I am a devil, and she is an angel. What if I propose her and get married? What then?” He kept rambling, “I am sick and she will suffer seeing my illness. I cannot let anything sadden her.”
Tariq had a very traumatic childhood. His father was an alcoholic and mother was on drugs. Almost each day they would have fights. The fights did not end just in verbal abuse but would turn into physical scuffles.
He lived in terror of such violence as sometimes he would also become the victim.
His father would point at him and say: “Ah. This bastard! Who is his father? Tell me now or I will kill him.”
His mom would just sit there and keep laughing and say. “Why? aren’t you man enough to have a child of your own?”
His father would then push away Tariq and start kicking his mother.
One day Tariq’s grandparents came and took him away. That was the turning point for him. He had a loving aunt who started looking after him. Slowly his life became more meaningful. He started to have great results at school.Soon he got involved in sports. The confidence in him attracted the attention of his teachers and they started mentoring him for inter school competitions.
Success followed him everywhere. It was as if he was with vengeance erasing his past life and pouring the best that he had into his present. Rather than being defeated by the harsh childhood he had had, he became adamant to succeed. But the trauma remained with him. Often he would have panic attacks and it was difficult to calm him down.
On top of that he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder on his 39th birthday. Occasionally, he would become violent and would hurl abuses at anyone who came in contact with him. It seemed as if his parents’ demons overpowered him during those times. He seldom remembered what he had done. He was an informed man and knew the consequences and symptoms of this disease.
As he had suffered in his childhood, he didn’t want anyone to be hurt by his behaviour. So he asked his caretaker to tell him everything that happened during those attacks. Later when he regained sanity, he would beg forgiveness in such a gentle way that no one could stay angry with him.
Though he was a famous and moneyed man, his compassionate nature earned him respect from everyone who came in contact with him.
For some days she had been having stomach aches. She saw a doctor and had to do some tests.
“You have appendicitis and need surgery,” the doctor informed.
“If something goes wrong and I die?” she mused.
She knew it involved a major surgery. Though fatality was rare but it could happen.
She didn’t want to leave the world with the regret of not having talked with Tariq. So she contacted Tariq’s friend, told him about her surgery and requested him to tell Tariq to call.
That evening Tariq called. He was very rude with her and threatened that he would not unblock her. She pleaded that she wanted just to talk normally with him before the surgery. She wanted to be mentally strong and prepared. She just wanted him to be friends again. He cut off the line.
The next evening Farzana called him. He had unblocked her. They talked for an hour. Farzana disclosed to him about the surgery next morning. The call ended on a friendly note of wishes and prayers.
The next morning, as Farzana was getting ready, he called her and wished her. These small little gestures made him irresistibly charming.
The surgery was successful.
Days passed. Farzana was happy. Sometimes in the mornings Farzana would see that Tariq had called her at night, knowing fully well that she did not take calls at night. She would say “sorry” in her texts.
“Has he fallen in love?” She would muse.
Another evening he called and told her that he was sick. Farzana was concerned.
“You know I have been praying the whole night for your…”
Stop! She was cut short in the middle of her sentence.
“You know what? This is why I don’t want to talk to you. If only you had some wisdom, then you would not have raised that issue. I am going to block you; I am going to sever all ties with you. Bye!”
Tariq knew that Farzana had developed a soft corner for him over time. He had fallen madly in love with her. She was there all the time in his heart.Whatever he did he could not get her out of his head. Her gentle sweet smile was like a magnet and oh her eyes! Those had so much innocence and concern that they were irresistible. He had fallen madly in love with her.
He knew that if she saw his condition when he had those panic attacks, she would not be able to bear it. She was too gentle. She would be heartbroken for him and he could not let that happen.
He would call her but somehow it was so painful not to be with her that he would become rude and cut the line off. There was an unbearable silence as Farzana sat dumbfounded. She couldn’t say a word.
Suddenly all emotions dried up. She knew that Tariq was a self-made man. Though soft at heart, it had made him proud and egoistic too. But it did not give him the right to be so discourteous and ungrateful towards her. He knew fully well that she wished him well unconditionally and his welfare had always been a priority for her.
“This is the end,” she muttered. “I have been supportive of him all through, prayed for him every day. Yet, he treats me like trash. He knows that I care for him too much. Perhaps, this is why he has taken me for granted.”
The thought of abandoning him suddenly made her realise that she was in love with him. It would be unbearable for her to part with him.
She couldn’t take it anymore. “I have been sympathetic all through but there’s a limit to being compassionate. He has his tantrums, but I am also human. I have my pride.”
In her heart she knew that she loved him. But there was no hope for this love to materialise. So she needed to leave him before she did anything irrational.
Her decision was final.
She decided to go back to the USA. She knew if he was ever alone and needed her, she would come back to help him; give him company in his old age. But right now she needed to leave.
“Your ticket Madam.”
“Oh, sorry,” Farzana replied unmindfully. She showed the ticket and passport to the immigration officer.
Leaving Tariq without telling him was painful. She couldn’t hold back her tears. The man behind the counter looked concerned. Farzana gave him a reassuring smile and wiped away her tears confidently.
She felt a heavy stone lifted away from her chest. Too much neglect and verbal abuse had made her strong. She was free now.
“Thank you,” she smiled and waved. “Have a wonderful day!”
As she walked towards the shuttle bus, she felt the warmth of the sun on her face. Everything around her wore a brighter look. She was ready to face the world: alone but stronger. The needle pricked her heart and she flinched in pain.
“Is he thinking about me and in pain?”
Whenever Tariq needed her she had this feeling inside.
“It can’t be!” Her pace slowed down.
Tariq stood behind the glass looking at the girl whom he loved with all his heart. He prayed silently. Teardrops rolled down his cheek for the first time
She would never know…
Tasneem Hossain is a multilingual poet, op-ed, columnist, fiction writer, translator and trainer. Her writings have appeared in different countries. She has authored two poetry books and a book of prose.
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