Passing the lazy hours during the pandemic, reading old and already-read storybooks, helping my mom with daily chores, I felt like a sedentary, retired old man — passing his days passively in an uncertain situation. I had finished my S.S.C. examination and was waiting to start my college life.
I say “uncertain situation”, because I didn’t know which college I was going to be admitted to. Perhaps, my family was going to shove me in Notre Dame College, because that has always been the brand, and education is now to be within the glorified brand, right? And, I dare not break the flow of the stream, because I am the only male in my family, and men are supposed to be strong because of deeply-rooted toxic masculinity.
So, I was passing my days waiting for a breakthrough that would enable the global system again, though I had no idea how it was supposed to happen.
I was half-lying on my bed supported by my pillow on my side, and the serene sunlight was swaying on my storybook, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell — a heart-touching love story. I was already with Eleanor, speculating how she had been pressing Park’s book against her heart and making my heart somersault. Suddenly, my heart somersaulted again; this time, in real life. Not actually a somersault, to be precise, rather it winced at the desperate, dry, shrill voice of a girl on the street.
It was Ramadan, and almost time for iftar. People were not allowed to come out at the time due to the pandemic. I lifted my head from the book and looked through my bedside window to find the source of this supersonic voice, but I couldn’t get a clear view of the street.
The voice was yelling, “Don’t you people have any trace of kindness in your hearts? My two little brothers and I have been fasting only by drinking a few glasses of water at sehri. We don’t even know if we are going to have anything for iftar, whereas you people are just lying on your nicely arranged beds and waiting for iftar time, when you will grab almost every item among the colossal amounts of food arranged at your dining table, inserting quadrupled amounts of food into your stomachs, so much more than you actually need.”
I was bewildered, though this had been the daily routine and the laments were more or less the same, everyday. The girl was nearly 12 or 13 years old. The girl’s family consisted of two other little boys only, both of them aged around 4 to 7 years. The girl was begging for food and lamenting. It seemed to me like those words were particularly designed for me, as I looked at my dining table and stared at the stacks of iftar arranged there. For some reason, at that moment, I felt flushed and ashamed, looking at my own bed, looking at Eleanor and Park.
As everyday, I went to my veranda, driven by momentary vulnerability, and I could see the girl’s tarnished world. She was holding one of her little brothers by her side and another one was on her lap. I wondered, perhaps for the hundredth time, what her story might be. The girl was yelling and begging for food. I noticed that she was mostly rejecting any money from anyone who wanted to throw it from their veranda. She was saying, “What will I do with money now? The shops are closed by now, and I need food for my brothers. If you can give any from yours, please do. My brothers are crying.”
Fifteen minutes passed. She was returning through the road beside my house — empty-handed. I winced. To be really honest, at that moment, I wanted to sneak out to our dining table, grab some of those neatly arranged items, and somehow give them to that girl, even if it was a scanty amount. I couldn’t tell my mother, because I knew her. She wouldn’t waste any of those nicely cooked items on them because I meant everything to her, and they were hers none.
I saw the girl sit on the side of the road under a shade with her two brothers. One of them laid his head on his sister’s lap, and the other crouched on the dust. The girl took out just a bottle of water from her pants’ pocket and placed it before her. She raised her arm in a manner to pray. I didn’t know what she prayed for or wanted from God; perhaps that was also regarding her two little brothers.
After some moment, I heard the call for Maghrib prayers (to me, a call for iftar). I rushed inside. But before that, I caught a glimpse of the girl opening the cap of the bottle. I reached my dining table, grabbed my bottle of frigid water, and finished it promptly. Then I reached for my iftar. But just for a second, the thought of the girl crossed my mind again. We were all used to that.
Soon, I shed all other thoughts regarding the tarnished family, and dived into the stacks of delicious items made by my mother, nicely arranged before me. She is a really good cook, I have to admit.