The Flesh Dies Before the Bone


Nayeem Ehtesham


I’ve been standing here for an hour, in the bone-crushing cold, with only a full-sleeved shirt between my pale skin and the late December chill. All morning, I’ve been fighting the urge to go to Ma’s house — Ma, who doesn’t want me there — and beg her for a warm blanket. Maybe I could ask for some food as well, maybe she would spare a few hundred taka if I told her that I needed to see a doctor.

The truth is, I’m hungry and I need to see a doctor. And I want to keep believing that my Ma still loves me, in her own surreptitious way. It is a belief that falls apart every time I stand in front of her, as she looks at me with her scarlet eyes, disappointed. 

“How long have you been standing here?” I recognise the voice. How can I not? I turn my head and meet Monsur. He is wearing a thick coat and a muffler, gloves guarding his aging fingers. 

“About an hour. You are late,” I say.

“No, I’m not. Do you even own a watch? And take this,” he offers me his muffler. I gladly take it and wrap it around my neck, covering a half of each ear.

“Buy me breakfast. And a cigarette.” 

“We need to talk, Asif,” Monsur says, looking down. 

Something inside me sinks, drops as if I’ve been pushed from a rooftop. 

“Buy me breakfast and a cigarette first.”

The restaurant is quiet, our breakfast is warm, porota and vegetables. I throw my cigarette butt into a nearby trash can and dive in. Monsur watches me as I lick my thin, emaciated fingers.

“How is your mother? Have you seen her since your Baba’s funeral?”

“No.”

Baba’s funeral was a small, pleasant affair, with real and fake friends muttering what a good man he was. I was mostly happy that he was going under, finally out of sight. I hated that man. I try not to remember him, but the image of him sitting in front of the TV set, doing nothing, keeps flashing itinerantly. He was very good at doing nothing. 

“Your Baba was a good man,” Monsur says.

“You’d say that. You were his best friend.”

“He was a good man, Asif.”

I want to punch Monsur in the face. I check the urge by shouting at the waiter for another porota. 

“This has to stop. I can’t see you anymore.”

I drop my spoon and look at him. He is staring at his lap, and my eyes meet his bald head.

“Why? Has your wife found out, or am I too old now?” I say.

He doesn’t look up. His voice is low and almost unintelligible, “I have a daughter your age, Asif.”

“You’ve always had a daughter my age.”

He leans back against his chair, sighs, “This has to stop Asif. You are twenty-five. Get a job, get into a university. Go to your Ma and apologise.” 

Apologise? I can still feel Monsur’s fingers around my neck, choking me perpetually, in the darkness of our garage.

“What will you do? Apologise to your wife?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he looks up, picks up his cup of tea, “I’ll keep sending you money, don’t worry about that. Wait…”

He stretches his hand and touches my glass. I follow his eyes and see what has caught his attention. There’s blood on the glass where it touched my lips.

“What is this?”

“Gum infection, I was about to ask you for some money. To get a doctor’s appointment.”

Monsur looks at me this time, askance, and I return the gaze, looking him straight in the eye. 

“Are you seeing other men?” he says.

I take a sip from my cup of tea. On its black surface a reflection of the window sways left and right, making it look like a TV screen.

“It’s just gum infection. I’m malnourished, Monsur. In case you haven’t noticed.”

“Asif, I have a family,” says Monsur, “are you seeing other men?”

My father was watching TV when I had walked up to him. I told him everything. He listened, and when I finished he had looked back at the screen. I was eight. That garage, that TV, that man — I’ve hated them ever since.

My head hurts. I need money to see a doctor, and buy needles. The last one broke.

Monsur gets up, slowly pulls out a thousand taka note from his wallet. I reach out and take it. He keeps looking at me for answers.

“I wish you were looking for another boy as well, Monsur.”

His shoulders drop in resignation. As he walks out of the restaurant, I decide that I’ll never see this man again. I don’t know if I’ll miss him. Maybe I’ll attend his funeral. If he dies first, that is.     

 


Nayeem Ehtesham loves to read and believes his degree in computer science has helped him write funny stories using his computer. 

 

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