Kazi Falguni Eshita
Beams of light began to crack the curtain of darkness. The sun was about to break over the horizon. Roosters thronged around a little pile of grains. Ducks quacked on their way to the pond.
Mofiz Mia stood outside the closed door of his bedroom. Wrinkles of worry were forming on his dark forehead. His wife Hafiza was experiencing the final moments of labor inside the room. Mofiz had hired an experienced midwife some hours ago. The elders of the family were saying morning prayers. Clay pots filled with juicy sweets were kept in one corner of the house. They were eagerly awaiting the arrival of Hafiza’s child.
About fifteen minutes later, the midwife came out of the room: “Congratulations, miyan, it’s a girl,” she announced.
A wide smile spread across the farmer’s worried face.
“How are they?” He asked. Can I go in and see them?”
“They’re fine. Go in.” The midwife moved away from the entrance.
The whole room was filled with the sickening odor of antiseptic. Mofiz could never stand the smell, but he did not bother that day. He was there to see his firstborn, not to make a fuss about the smell.
“Are you happy, Mofiz?” Hafiza asked very softly, as he lovingly put his hand in her thick hair.
He picked up the tiny bundle of flesh from Hafiza’s arms. “Happy? I love my little cotton-doll,” he said, kissing his daughter’s hand.
“What will we call her?” Mofiz’s sister, Aziza, who had stayed at Hafiza’s bedside all day long, asked her brother.
“She’s beautiful, so why don’t we call her something similar to beauty? You decide, sis.”
“Lovely,” Aziza replied, smiling at her newborn niece.
Maybe on that day, Allah smiled upon Lovely, saying, “Fasten your seat belts, little girl, life’s going to be a bumpy roller coaster ride”.
Day by day, Lovely grew up to be an intelligent little girl. She spread joy wherever she went. Besides being an excellent scholar, she could also prepare mouth-watering dishes. Her dark, kohl-lined eyes reflected love and determination. She won the best student award for three consecutive years in school.
Five years later, Hafiza gave birth to their second child, Hasan. At that time, only girls were taught cooking and other household chores. But Mofiz and Hafiza gave their son cooking lessons from a very early age. Hasan spent most of his leisure time looking after the cattle. He played a bamboo-flute while his cows munched on fresh grass. Many other farmers mixed water with milk to increase the quantity. Hasan’s cows were very well bred, and he never mixed water. As a result, he sold at least ten litres of milk each day, which was a great financial help to his family.
Mofiz invited his cousin Manik to dinner one fine day. Manik had loathed Mofiz since childhood, because the two cousins were like similar poles of a magnet. Mofiz not only farmed, but also had a small cloth shop. On the other hand, Manik was lazy and a failure at work. He preferred to earn his living by stealing others’ crops and selling them in the village market. He was known to all as the “Veggie Thief”. None of his children went beyond primary school; he could not afford to educate them.
“Girls should only learn cooking and household work, I think. What’s the use of sending them to school? It’s a waste of money,” Manik commented, taking a huge bite out of a piece of chicken.
“Brother-in-law, both our children are equal before us. There is almost nothing a girl can’t do these days. If Hasan can go to school, why should Lovely stay at home?” Hafiza replied indignantly, flashing an affectionate look at Lovely, who stood behind the kitchen door.
“We are not in the dark ages, Manik. My Lovely can be a doctor, engineer or whatever she wishes to be,” Mofiz snapped at his cousin.
“I came here with a marriage proposal for Lovely with my son, but it seems you’ll not get her married now.” Manik threw his last opinion before bidding adieu.
Lovely was an expert at climbing trees. She could reach the highest branch to get the best mangoes. On weekends, she took orders for sewing quilts. Lovely could sew about fifteen quilts per weekend, and she charged a very reasonable price for each. Like Hasan, Lovely contributed a good amount to her family.
Lovely’s beauty bloomed as she grew up. Her waist-long hair and melodious voice would make any boy flip for her.
Mofiz’s business prospered as the years passed. He cultivated new crops on his farm. Within a few years, he had refurbished his house with new furniture.
One day, Mofiz came back from work earlier than usual. His pale face and bloodshot eyes were enough to show that something was wrong. His body was burning with very high fever, and Hafiza’s hand burnt when she touched him. .
Aziza, Hafiza and Lovely tried their level best to bring the temperature down. But despite all the efforts, Mofiz started vomiting blood, and he breathed his last at midnight.
Hafiza’s health broke soon thereafter. She was affected by pulmonary tuberculosis. Lovely and Hasan could not bear the family expenses any more. They had to sell their cattle for Hafiza’s treatment. Hasan even mortgaged their house to raise money.
After a long course of treatment, Hafiza won her battle with death, but by that time, they had no assets left. Hasan and Lovely could not pay the enormous mortgage amount, so all of their property was auctioned. Unable to find any way to regain their lost property, Hafiza got aboard a bus to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. They took shelter at Hafiza’s cousin’s place.
Hafiza’s cousin, Sharmin, was a very kind-hearted lady. She tried her utmost to make her cousin’s children comfortable. Her own children were not as intelligent as Lovely and her brother. They never shared their possessions with Hafiza’s kids. Sharmin felt really embarrassed. She tried to make her children behave well with their cousins.
At one point, Sharmin’s selfish children got into a huge fight with Lovely and Hasan over a trivial matter. Hasan was seriously injured.
“I don’t think I can stay here any longer,” Hafiza said between sobs, before storming out of her cousin’s house.
Hafiza got a job in a garments factory. She had to send her children to work as domestic helpers against her will. Quilts and milk were both abundant in Dhaka. Moreover, Hafiza had heard that domestic helpers got good salaries.
The siblings got employed by Dr. Arup Chowdhury,a wealthy and well-known dentist. His wife took good care of her employees. Lovely and Hasan helped Arup and his family. The family was very kind. The teenagers got time to study, and had a personal television for recreation.
After six months, Lovely took some washed clothes to the terrace to hang them out to dry. Dr. Arup lived on the top floor of a five-storied building. The terrace walls were quite low. As Lovely began arranging the clothes on the clothesline, her foot slipped.
“Help!” Lovely shouted at the top of her voice. Seconds later, she blacked out.
Luckily, Arup’s wife had heard the shout, because the terrace was just above the dining room, and she was having a little snack there at that moment. She immediately took Lovely to the nearest hospital.
After examining Lovely, who lay unconscious, the doctor advised to shift her to CRP (Center for Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed). It was located in Savar, one of the most important areas of Bangladesh. Savar is the location of Dhaka Export Processing Zone (DEPZ) and CRP was near the DEPZ.
CRP is a hospital established mainly for the under-privileged people. Vellorie Taylor, an English physiotherapist, had established it about twelve years previously.
Tied on a special stretcher, Lovely was taken to CRP. After a long examination, the doctor gave the life-shattering news: “This girl will never be able to move normally again. Shoulder downwards, her body is paralyzed. She’ll be able to use a wheelchair after some months. She will be able to move only her head and neck, and she’ll talk.”
Unfortunately, Lovely had overheard the doctor. She could not believe that running was a closed chapter in her life. For days, she could not sleep or eat properly.
The staff of CRP, especially Miss Taylor, decided to take her out of the mental shock. There were many activities for the patients such as wheel-chair dance, singing, crafts and many more. The CRP patients contribute a lot to the economy. Their handmade things are sold at various well known stores across the country. A portion of the goods are exported too.
One day, some friends took Lovely to watch the annual cultural show. She really enjoyed the beautiful wheel-chair dance.
“Can’t I do something like that?” Lovely wondered.
“Nothing is impossible if you try.” Miss Taylor always told her patients. All of a sudden, an idea struck Lovely’s mind. “Please take me to the fine arts room,” she requested a friend.
From eating food to doing her hair, Lovely needed help with everything. She always had a nurse beside her. But this time, she was determined to do something alone.
Rajib, the fine arts teacher, was busy with his students. When Lovely told him to teach her painting, he looked up at her enthusiastic face, smiling.
“I’d hate to say no to this girl,” he thought.
“Lovely, you can’t move your hands, but still you can learn to paint.” Rajib said aloud, displaying a tiny metal piece.
“See this; it’s a mouth brush-holder. You have to put a brush in it, and clench it between your teeth. You will learn to paint gradually. It’s not an easy job, but once you learn it, you’ll enjoy it,” Rajiv informed in an encouraging tone.
Lovely picked up the brush in the method shown by her teacher. The brush dropped down…once…twice… but Lovely could clench the brush properly after some time.
She mixed a bit of red and white paint in the color plate, and gave a short stroke on the paper. Lovely intended to paint a rose, but the thing on the easel looked like a pink pattern.
“Try girl, try. You can do it,” Rajib kept encouraging
Lovely took just a few weeks to learn painting properly. Rajib called her his prodigy. She spent hours in front of her easel. Even at mealtimes, when the nurse came to feed her, she kept her brush beside her. Her paintings, in bright, vibrant colors, dazzled everyone. Her works were sent to publishers. Soon, the paintings turned into calendars, greeting cards, posters and book covers. A good portion of CRP’s earnings came from her paintings. She participated in exhibitions with famous artists.
Hasan and her mother also came to live with her. Lovely helped her brother to build a dairy farm and a fish hatchery in Savar. A little away from the main city, Savar had both an urban and a rural touch in it. Hafiza spent her time nursing the CRP patients.
Today, her paintings decorate CRP’s cabins. Vellorie has a self portrait done by Lovely in her office. Life is a bumpy roller-coaster ride, and Lovely is still riding on that roller-coaster.