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Monday, October 26, 2009

Short Story: Lovers' mistakes

I met her at a party. She was only eighteen, and had just started her first year at the university. I was a senior, a communications/journalism major, working two jobs to help pay the bills. I was staying with my parents in Uttora and while they paid for my tuition and books, all other expenses, including transportation, meals, and other incidentals, came out of my pocket. I did not have time to party much, but when my classmate Sharmila invited me to her birthday party, I accepted. It was there that I met Nora.
“Hey, Abu, I want you to meet Nora, my neighbor. She just started university and is fun to be with!” said Sharmila by way of introduction.
I stood there uncomfortably, trying not to look directly at Nora, while Sharmila did the introductions and then the two of them proceeded to engage in small talk. I felt awkward not knowing whether they were ignoring me, but I did not want to walk away from them without saying “Hello” to Nora. So I continued to pretend that I was part of their conversation and was enjoying their discussion of Hindi movies. I could sense that Nora was just as bemused, and I even imagined that she might be itching to break away from this long discussion about Hindi movies, which I knew was Sharmila's addiction, but she just had to go along with the flow in deference to the host. Finally, when Sharmila paused for a second, Nora turned to me and said, “Hi!”
“Kemon achho”, I said in Bengali. She had an innocent charm about her that was very appealing, and in her voice, I felt genuineness even when she first greeted me. We talked a little bit about school, her career interest, which happened to be diplomacy, and then music. I knew (or just guessed) that she was a singer, and she was. She went to Chhayanaut, and sang Nazrul Geeti. “Wow”, I said to myself. I knew nothing about Nazrul Geeti, except that some of them had a classical arrangement.
The party went on past 10 o'clock, and I stayed until the end. I ran into Nora a couple more times at the party that evening, and we even had a dance together. I was not much of a dancer but when I saw all my classmates were having a good time on the floor, I also waded in and found Nora who said yes when I asked her for a number.
Two days later, I saw Nora at the university, and this time I approached her as she was getting off the car at the front entrance.
“Hi, Nora. Do you remember me?”
“Of course, I do. You like Tagore songs and work as a journalist.” I was pleasantly surprised that she remembered those little details about me from a few minutes' encounter at Sharmila's party. However, I also felt thrilled that she had paid attention to my hobbies and interests and did not hesitate to let me know that she did not forget about things that I have shared with her at our first casual encounter.
She was wearing a shalwar kameez, and looked very different from the Nora I saw at the party. I felt a tug deep inside my heart, and knew that I had to show her that I was also interested. So, I said, a little hesitatingly,
“Do you mind if I walk you up to your class?” “Oh no, not at all,” she said in her sparkling voice. “And actually, my class does not start until another hour. So I am in no hurry.”

Her frankness put me at ease, and we decided to go to the canteen on the sixth floor. We found a corner table and talked about all sorts of things over coffee and sandwich.
I started enjoying the way she talked. She had a very rhythmic and musical tone, and an easygoing style. Unlike my other friends, she never disagreed with anything I said, either about pop culture, international affairs, social taboos, or what have you. I wasn't sure if she just was being polite, wanted to be nice to me, or that was her real nature. But I liked talking with her. Soon we were meeting on a regular basis before and after her classes, and hanging out together a lot. Even though we tried to meet at parks and other locations out of sight of our friends and classmates, pretty soon they knew about us and would leave us alone whenever they saw us chatting in the cafeteria corner.
Our best times were near the lake where I'd ask her to sing. She had the most beautiful voice, and I felt very thrilled that she was singing at my request. Her favorite song was Anjali Loho More, a Nazrul Geeti, and Amio Srabon Hoye, an old song from the 70s. I would just be floating with the clouds since not only did her voice soothe my nerves, but also knowing that I was with someone who was as passionate about music as I was, even if of different genres. My favourite singers were Srikanto, Jorasanko, and Subhomita. I'd sometimes hum their tunes, but often thought I had failed to impress Nora with my skills in the vocal department. Occasionally, she'd also tease me about my choice of songs and artistes, a ploy I later learned was often only to get me into a chatty mood. She once said,
“I don't know how you can worship Srikanto. I think he does not have the depth, and his voice is kind of flaky. If I get a chance to go and study at Shantiniketan, I'd like to sit down next to Aurobindo and learn from him.”
I try to stay calm knowing she was teasing me, and just played the game. “But did you hear Srikanto sing one of my favorites, ami chonchol hey? I bet if you listen to his rendition and compare it to Debobroto's or Mohiuzzaman's, you'll reconsider your low esteem for Srikanto's musical talents”.
Nevertheless, Nora liked it every time I sang amar praaner porey choley gelo ke. She'd just sit there motionless, without any comments, or any expression on her face, and allow me to finish the song, which took me a full five minutes. I never told her that it was my feeling that came out through that song. “A thousand flowers bloom when she comes” (phool phutiyey gelo shoto shoto). But that did not stop me from believing that she knew the song was written for me to express how I felt about her.
On my mp3 player, I'd carry some of these tunes and let her listen to them while we were together. But I failed to change her mind about these artistes and their repertoire. Basically, our quarrels always centered around our choices of artistes and songs. She'd interpret a song one way and I'd do it differently, and vice versa. And we did so endlessly, and she never seemed to get tired of our verbal swings at each other's favourites.
But these differences did not matter to me and I was in the seventh heaven. I was thinking about finishing my studies, and getting a full time job. For the first time in my life, I was able to see the road ahead clearly, and think about what I need to do to build a career.
Being with Nora made me feel good. My friends were constantly teasing me for going out with a first year student. Once my friend Shamim, trying to defend me, said, “Premey mojiley mone, kiba hari, kiba dome”. I took exception to this characterization, and jumped at him “Shala, is Nora a dome? I'll tell her what you think of her”. “Oh, no! Please don't, I can't face her wrath.”

Of course, I would not tell her. To shield her from my friends' jokes and other jabs, she and I would go out whenever I had the car, and sit beside the lake. Our favorite was always Ashulia, and Nora and I spent quite a few afternoons on a bench facing the vast expanse of open water. But we also spent a lot of time in empty classrooms or just talk on the phone.
She got me to use the SMS. At night, while I would be studying for an exam or hunched over the computer, she'd text me, “Don't study too hard”. Or, “please don't forget 10 oclock tmrw”. I had to work hard to learn her vocabulary.
As my final exams drew closer, I was spending more time in the library or at home studying, and could not meet with her as often. I was feeling envious of her friends and my friends who saw her more regularly than I, and going to movies or spending time together. I could not tell her that I was jealous. After all, even though we were close, nothing forbid her from seeing or talking with others, I reasoned. She knew that and sometimes I felt she was trying to make me jealous. When she'd talk about her young teachers or other friends in glowing terms, or praise their look or style, I always felt a little pain.
Soon, my final exams were over, and I was working on a couple of papers that I had sought an extension for. One evening, I went to a wedding. Some of my friends and I were hanging out at the entrance just chatting away and waiting for the groom's motorcade to arrive. I spotted Nora from a distance, and I had not seen her almost two weeks. My heart raced fast at her sight, and I was looking for an excuse to break away from my friends to go and talk to her. I could not take my eyes off of hershe was wearing a magenta saree with matching ornaments and accessories. She looked very mature, and, almost “dulhanish”, as if ready for her own transition along the path of matrimony. She finally spotted me with my friends and approached us.
“Hi Nora, look at you”, I said first.
“Look at you too! Why didn't you tell me that you were coming to this wedding?”
“How would I have known that you were coming here too?
“Well I thought you were too busy studying. Now I know what you were studying. Other girls!”
I was a little surprised that she decided to bring up other girls. I was not sure if she was just teasing or was showing jealousy. Soon the conversation turned to other things, and my friends joined in. Nora became the center of attraction and my friends were competing with each other to talk to her. Pretty soon, I felt left out, and every time I tried to rejoin the “chat room”, as it were, someone would cut me off, and try to grab her attention. I felt a little piqued and as the conversation drifted I was almost an observer. I was also feeing very empty inside, and could not reconcile that Nora, my steady girl friend, was giving all her attention to my friends, and almost ignoring me who had not seen her for more than two weeks. Soon the call for dinner came and we all split up and I just had my dinner and left.
The next day she texted, “Hi didn't see u after dinner. Where did u go”. Her text stirred up my bad feelings from last night and I did not text her back. She also left me a voice mail message and I ignored that too. I tried to bury myself in the papers that I had to finish. I ignored two more text messages from Nora the next day. One said, “Why are you ignoring me?” I could not tell her that I was too hurt to reply, or call back.

A month passed by and I was waiting for my final graduation. I had a job offer but was not sure whether to take that offer or look for more jobs. I also had filled out the forms for the Civil Service exams, and started getting mentally ready for it. But, I was missing Nora, and wanted to just hear her sing one last time.
It was a Sunday night and I had come back home from a concert by Saadi Muhammed. I had met Saadi Bhai when he had come to visit the University during our Cultural Week at the invitation of Shama Madam. During that visit, he offered two classes and we learned a few Tagore songs from him. During the concert, I requested him to sing “Amar praner porey” and soon as he started, I felt very lovesick. After the concert, we just stayed and chatted a little. It was past midnight. I came home and was just checking my emails when I saw some news about the University, and the beginning of a new semester. Nora was probably going back to school, I said to myself. I decided to pick up my mobile and texted,
“Hi Nora, r u going to U tmrw”
Within seconds came the reply, “At 10. r u coming”
“love 2”
“luv u”, was her reply in text.

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