Friday morning emerges bright and clear, the sky cloudless and the air fresh with early morning mist. Residents of the little town of Jhonia shift slightly in their beds as the sound of the bell ringing from the passing bicycle interrupts their dreamless sleep; but once they realise that they have no obligation to drag themselves out of their beds, they curl up tightly in their blankets and fall back to sleep again.
The paperboy, who is responsible for the soft tinkling of the bicycle, has no such privilege, however. He is required to wake himself up early every morning, perhaps even before the sun rises, grab a toast if he can, and jump onto his old and rather rusted bicycle to deliver newspapers to all the buildings around the area. He is very familiar with the route, for the town prides itself in having residents who are all familiar, friendly, and unconditionally helpful to each other. Every person has a unique trait that is known by everyone else. The lady living on the fifth floor of the building right next to the jackfruit tree is known for having too many potted plants on her balcony, and for yelling at people who complain that the water meant for her beloved plants is actually being showered on unsuspecting pedestrians.
The town of Jhonia is small, but the people have big hearts.
The paperboy doesn’t mind waking up earlier than everyone else, even on weekends. In fact, he takes a certain pride in being the first one to catch a glimpse of the daily newspapers. Just a quick glance over the first page — the headlines, the pictures — and he is satisfied. Especially today, he takes special pride because the news on the front page is exceptionally remarkable.
Girl from Jhonia stuns audience with her skills in archery, earns gold medal in the Olympics
Below the headline is the picture of the girl. Beaming and glowing with happiness, with a sparkling gold medal hanging by a shiny ribbon around her neck. The girl is Nushrat, of course. The paperboy knew her, too. She was the one who rode around town on her bicycle every day and said hello to every passerby she came across. Until she left the country after two years of studying undergraduate Applied Chemistry.
Nushrat is going to be the talk of the town for weeks, the paperboy knows, perhaps even for months. Nothing much happens in this small town of Jhonia, and the girl who left the town, the country, ten years ago and has no connection to them whatsoever, is now going to be their star. Their hero. Their pride. Because of course, the entire town of Jhonia knew she was going to be a successful archer one day. It is something that everyone anticipated.
The paperboy is not yet done with his rounds when the news starts to spread. People start opening their copies of the newspapers and perusing the front page with barely concealed interest. Whispers are passed around and recollections shared longingly.
Nushrat? You mean that good girl who always gave me a salaam whenever she saw me?
Nushrat once brought me a dozen mangoes when I was too sick to move from my bed.
I have always known Nushrat had the potential to be world-famous.
The name is on every mouth in town by the time the paperboy has tossed his last newspaper through an open door. He hums in satisfaction and turns his bicycle around to return home. The town is in an elevated mood today and he hopes that it lasts long. They deserve this. Nushrat is their joy and pride, and they deserve this sense of entitlement to her achievement.
The Auntie living just next door to Nushrat’s home gushes lovingly to her twenty-year-old son. She was such a sweet girl. I wish you had known her better, but of course, you were so young when she left. She was clever, smart, and so beautiful. I’m not surprised she won the gold medal. You know, I was the one who told her that she could win the Olympics one day…
The twenty-year-old son frowns a little as he tries to finish his breakfast as quickly as possible. He wasn’t that young when Nushrat apu had left. He was ten, and he distinctly remembers his mother saying in hushed whispers what a disgrace she was to her family. A talented person like Nushrat should not be leaving the country. And even before that, he remembers her saying how Applied Chemistry was a bad choice for her and that she should definitely try CSE at BUET. Even before that…never mind. He decides to concentrate on finishing his breakfast and escaping to his room.
Nushrat’s Chemistry teacher from school flips the newspaper close and looks around at his audience expectantly, as though waiting for applause in appreciation to his great contribution to Nushrat’s archery career. He really does not understand how archery can be considered an ideal career, but at least it got her a gold medal. That has got to count for something, right? And he and the rest of the people in the town of Jhonia shall be celebrating her accomplishment with sweets and fireworks for the rest of the year. Because that is what they do, and they are a good neighbourhood who always look out for each other.
The gang of boro bhais who strut around the town of Jhonia with an air of smugness and a false sense of authority holds a meeting with a few select members of the town and promises to distribute sweets and apples and bananas to all the families, provided that they pay a small amount for this generous donation. And why wouldn’t they? Nushrat is their daughter, their sister, their pride. They have contributed so much to her success, and they surely deserve to indulge themselves. After all, the town of Jhonia is known for being friendly; the residents have always looked out for little Nushrat. Weren’t they the ones to criticise her choice of Applied Chemistry? It definitely didn’t suit her! And her parents! They were the reason Nushrat had dropped out after two years of university and moved abroad. If it weren’t for their constant pressure, she would have forced herself to study the wretched subject.
What even is the point of Applied Chemistry?
A mere half an hour after the newspapers have been delivered all over the town of Jhonia, all the residents somehow have had their fair share of sweets. They come out of their houses and gather in the streets, talking excitedly about how proud Nushrat has made them. They share stories about little Nushrat, about how once, ten or fifteen years ago they had made an inspirational speech or said something small but significant that has subsequently led her to win this gold medal in the Olympics. The town of Jhonia deserves more credit than the newspapers are giving it, for they have been the ones to nurture and mould her, not some foreign country that has given her all the necessary training and facilities required to follow her dream.
The mayor of the town of Jhonia, at one point, gives a passionate and emotional speech and suggests that they bring Nushrat back to Jhonia, where she will be embraced with flowers. She should return, he urges. It is her responsibility to return, to work for the betterment of her birthplace, which has constantly criticised her life choices, which was a good thing of course, as it had eventually led her to realise her dream. Of course, Nushrat should return and shower them with gratefulness.
After all, the town of Jhonia is a friendly town where everyone cares deeply for one another.