Wednesday, August 15, 2018 | ePaper

DARK STARS

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Reza Noor :
Mahmoud never thought that life would be like this; never imagined wherever he set his eyes there would be some vivid image, which would surprise his sense of  wonder. He had completed Intermediate in Bangladesh, which means he is a college graduate;  but in America he is not. In America, he is in the tenth grade at Easton High School in Easton, Massachusetts. He has his parents, a brother and a sister in his family. Before going to his first class in the school, Mahmoud asked his mother, 'Aammu, why did we come to America?' Mrs Mamtaz stared back at her son with a half-bloomed smile.
Mamtaz falls into thought by the echo of her son's question. She avoided his curiosity the other day by her smile; but today, in the glimpse of the sunlight, she can envision her days in her native country as though they could be seen in a mirror.
The weather is warm in this early October. She does not turn on the air conditioner, but rather opens the window. There is a tiny pine tree branch hanging over the window. It is swayed by a gentle wind. Its brush-like leaves tremble like an artist's hand on the papery sun-gleam. She lifts her eyes indifferently and a piece of sky shines through some rare clouds. She remembers her own blue sky when she was a little girl. That sky was bigger and perhaps bluer than this one. Those clouds used to listen to her if she called them or sang a song to them.
A calling from behind breaks her nostalgia. Munia, her five- year old daughter, is coming down from upstairs.
"What are you doing by the window, Aammu?"
"Just looking outside." She replies.
"Oh, I see. Mama, Tom and Jerry cartoon is not on the TV. There is a yellow square thing that looks like a sponge"   Mamtaz bursts into laughter, "That's Spongebob, Munia,", she says, " you will like it." Munia goes back upstairs and Mamtaz opens the slider door of the living room.
A big round table and some chairs are there.This usual morning's light and shade are playing on them. Mamtaz sits on a chair; gazes at the woods by their house. It is daytime here, but evening in Bangladesh.
"Mama, mama!", Munia comes back calling her mother. She goes to school two hours later than her brother. She is in Kindergarten and is extremely fond of school. Within a couple of months arriving in America, she has a lot of friends to talk and play with. She has picked up English significantly and has an American accent. She is very good at drawing. In the recent art competition she drew the picturesque scenery of her village home: Jessore, Bangladesh. She drew the  Kopotakkho river, with its boats, long grasses by the river bank, and the place where the horizon bends down to see the fields full of crops. She got the art paper in America but the brush in her mind from the country she left behind.
The school bus stops at the end of Janet Street by the Route 138. Mamtaz  walks along with her daughter. Munia does not want to hold her hand and wants to run ahead to the bus. The yellow colored bus looks like mustard fields to her. She can almost smell the freshness of those yellow mustard-flowers of the morning she used to go out with her father for walks.
Mamtaz left her three-year old son, Saif at home because he was asleep. The extra ten minutes of sleep means he won't cry a lot when he awakes because his sleep hasn't suddenly been broken. Mamtaz heads back home as Munia gets onto the school bus. When she opens the door, she is greeted by a long weary crying.  She runs up the stairs to find Saif is awake. He is crying, sitting on the bed. Mamtaz takes him in her lap and calms him. He goes back to sleep.
Mahmoud and Munia like parahta, banana and milk for their breakfast. Her husband, Shiraz always has paratha , bhazee (fried vegetables) and fried egg while she enjoys hers with it a cup of tea. Mamtaz is having breakfast alone because Shiraz is at work now. He opens a grocery store nearby at 6 am. Saturday is his only day off. He is a hard-working man and takes good care of his family. He is a family man in every sense of the word. 
Shiraz is a likeable man; educated, understanding and full of thought about improving his quality of life and that of his children. He had a job in a bank in the small town close to his village home. Mamtaz worked as a teacher in a primary school. Life was not bad between their jobs, three children and some property. Now, all they want is a better education for their children.
After finishing her breakfast, Mamtaz sips her cup of tea. And looking plainly at
the stuff scattered on the dining room table; a half eaten paratha, a stain of the fried
egg, half-empty glasses with crystal clear water. Her eyes stop on a drinking glass. She shifts her chair a bit to get comfortable and in doing so bumps the table
with her elbow. The water in the glass begins to quiver. She picks it up and looks into it. The whole Bangladesh, as it were, trembles in front of her eyes. Before coming to America, they had all they could want, but winning the Diversity Visa Lottery put their life on a different track. Shiraz believes, this is the right decision for his family. Mamtaz thinks differently. She thinks things are not going to be the same. Their children still struggle to adjust to their new environment. Her husband does not say anything but she can see the thoughtfulness in the creases of his forehead. She herself misses her school, students and fellow teachers. If she were in Bangladesh she would be in the school now. She could almost hear the buzzing sound, like honeybees in her ear, of the little children gathering around her in the classroom.  In the field under the shades of the big mango tree, the girls used to pluck the leaves by jumping up. Sometimes one girl would lift another by holding her by the waist. Mamtaz used to smile seeing their pretend picnic cooking. She let out a sigh. Saif wakes up. She has to feed him and start cooking lunch.
Mahmoud started liking his new school. He doesn't mind that he is in the tenth grade whereas he could be studying in the university. A new avenue of knowledge has opened before him. He listens to the lectures of the teachers with an extra attention but everything is in English, which is a problem for him. He is getting it day by day and he too is almost catching an American accent. He likes the school and his classmates very much. They are very helpful and cordial. There is another reason that he loves his school: his classmate Stephanie, who sits next to him. He can ask her if he doesn't understand certain words and she always helps him with a smile. She never gets angry or annoyed with his questions. Usually he keeps his distance from the girls. He has a shyness, which normally does not go with the nature of boys; but his shyness fades away whenever he comes close to Stephanie.  Her voice and way to talking are what attract him most. Every word she utters is a song, every gesture she makes with her hands are a pair of rivers that run side by side. Every time the wind blows, her hair is a tuft of clouds full of rain and whenever she smiles there is a new bright day.
One day, Stephanie put her hand gently on Mahmoud's hand while they were talking. Mahmoud shivered inwardly. He looked at the place where her touch lay.  He didn't dare to set his fingers there, lest her mild, blissful touch would be wiped away. He looked at his hand maybe a thousand times. He kept looking at it after coming home too. His mother asked him, "Is there anything wrong with your hand, son?' He says no, and smiles, turning his face aside.
Shiraz comes home at around 7 that night. They have a good time after dinner. He plays with Saif and Munia. Mahmoud keeps busy with his homework and studying. The kids go to bed early. They are sleeping now. Mamtaz is watching TV.
Shiraz goes outside for a walk. It is almost ten o'clock at night. Little breezy. The sky is clear. Sometimes, some lonely clouds fly lazily under the stars. As they disappear, the twinkling canopy of stars smile at him. The moon, peeping out from the edge of the woods, looks very skinny like a sickle of a farmer in Bangladesh.  He lifts his head up a bit more. There are stars and stars all over. In this vast universe, how lonely a human being like him could be! He has everything- a wife, loving children, a job, a promising new life. The light of that life is oozing slowly on him. But still, a dense darkness is swaying before him from a horizon he does not know. n

Reza Noor, a poet, short-story writer, novelist, and translator, was born on March 6, 1970 in Jessore, Bangladesh. An M.A. in English Literature, he served as a lecturer of English at Jhikorgacha Women's College, until he moved to the USA on November 16, 1996. He is the author of 15 books, including, 'Sweetheart in Solitude' (A collection of poetry, 2001), 'Once in the river Kopotakkho' (A collection of short stories, 2011); 'Known Fire' (novel, 2013); 'Smell of Evening (novel, 2009).  He is the editor of a literary magazine in Bangla, Onurawnon (Echo).  Reza lived in Astoria, New York for five years where he worked for The Weekly Bangladesh, as a staff writer and literary editor. He is currently living in South Easton, Massachusetts with his wife, Leena and three children:
Deena, Samin and Ameera.

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