My Friend Rashed – Kazi Falguni Eshita
“Okay, so perimeter is the border around anything, right, Abba?” Dana asked, still concentrated on the geometric figures spread in front of her.
“Yes, princess. Can you tell me what area is?”
“Umm…it’s like, the amount of space inside a shape.”
Alam Haque ran a hand through his daughter’s thick hair. “You’re right, sweetie. You’ve got to remember a few formulas for area, though. There’s something called volume, too.”
“Abba, can we be done with math for the day? I want to finish that book I was reading.”
“Remember to clean after yourself. Amma’s quite busy today.”
Dana looked around the room. There were tiny pieces of colored paper, scissors and pencils scattered on the floor. Bits of glitter stuck to the mosaic.
“Hey, Abba, thanks for explaining my math homework. Finally, I got the perimeter-area-volume thingy our teacher kept rambling about.” Dana mumbled, placing all the scattered pieces into plastic boxes.
“Your Abba’s a math teacher too!”
“Yeah, my superhero father teaches 18-year-olds at a college, not the tiny third grade kids like me.” Dana laughed, gradually wiping up the glitter with a piece of wet cloth.
The tempting aroma of fried chicken wafted through the air. Dana’s pet kitten Tommy sat at her feet licking one of his paws. Dana was glued to her chair, literally immersed in a large collection of Hans Christian Anderson’s stories. According to her mother Afsana Haque, Dana would never outgrow fairy tales, even if she reached adulthood. So, Dana read both Bangla and English fairy tales whenever possible.
Weekend lunches were always special for the Haque family, because weekends meant getting a little extra time unlike the busy weekday schedules. That Friday, all the dishes on the lunch table looked extra special. Spicy fried chicken, Tamarind pickles, Borhani, Polao, Kheer and Fruit Salad.
“Amma, why all the yum-yum today?” Dana asked, taking a second helping of Kheer.
“Ask the birthday boy, love.” Afsana replied, taking a small sip of her Borhani.
“Birthday boy? Huh? Who?” Dana asked, emptying the rest of her Kheer in Tommy’s dish.
A small smile played on Afsana’s lips as she pointed a finger at her husband. Dana’s eyes went wide. “Abba? How come I never knew before?”
“I hardly had a free birthday for the last few years. I either had classes or tutoring sessions.” He mixed a bit of pickles with his Polao.
“Humph! The favorite math teacher! I could never cook him a special lunch, so finally I did it today.” Afsana said, petting Tommy as he jumped up on her lap.
“Happy Birthday Alam Sir! On behalf of your family and all your students.” Mother and daughter said in unison.
It was another busy Monday morning. Cars and rickshaws jostled through the heavy traffic. Buses ran in moderate speed, leaving a cloud of smoke behind them. Dana sat in her school bus, distributing Cadbury Eclairs among her friends. Her father sent chocolates for all as a birthday treat.
“Girl, really, I wish my father was as cool as your Abba” Zarif commented, making a boat out of chocolate wrapper.
“Your parents even pay you for doing chores around the house! My mother never does that!” Nashmia pointed out.
“They pay me 100 taka every two weeks. Amma says that way I will be able to respect my own income. And chores? I do enjoy helping Amma. Abba says it’s important to take responsibility for family.”
“100 taka only? That’s cheap. By the way who even needs to help family if there are helper employees around?” A boy sitting all by himself on a corner seat suddenly pointed out.
“Who is that? Does anyone know him?” Dana whispered to her friends.
“That’s Rashed, he’s new, and he…well, you’ll see.” Nashmia replied, her expression unreadable.
“Hmm, Rashed, will he be “Amar Bondhu Rashed?” Dana asked Zarif.
“Believe me Dana, he’s anything but!” Zarif answered, as they got off the bus.
Around fifteen minutes later, just when Dana had settled herself at her usual spot in the classroom, their science teacher, Mr. Amit began returning the previous homework papers. Mumbles of excitement could be heard across the classroom. Some students were celebrating a good grade, while others sulked in their seats. Dana’s paper showed a big, fat C, which meant only 70 points out of a 100.
“I’ve heard you’re an excellent student when it comes to Math and Literature. Why not Science, sweetheart?” Mr. Amit whispered, out of the audible range of the rest of the class.
“I don’t like Science, sir.” Dana replied in an even lower tone.
“Or maybe, girls are just not clever enough for science?” A mischievious voice commented from the back row.
“RASHED!” Mr. Amit’s deep voice boomed across the room. “Stop being rude, right now!”
“I’m not being rude, sir. Girls are just silly! Good enough for playing with dolls only. My Dad says so.”
Mr. Amit cleared his throat. At a glance he scanned through the entire class:
“Listen up little ladies. There’s nothing you can’t do if you set your heart to it. You can be mountaineers, scientists, CEOs or enteprenuers. Your Prime Minister is a woman. So don’t let anyone put you down no matter how hard they try. All the young men in here, remember girls can be very good friends, sisters or cousins. Even your mother was a girl once. Always think twice before being mean.
“Mother? But I don’t even have a mother!”
All eyes automatically turned to Rashed. Wait, what now? “Yes, my Ammi passed away just moments after I was born…
Just then, the recess bell rang. Rashed pinched at Dana’s wrist on his way out. “Hey you, watch it!” Dana snapped with an icy glare at him.
That night, Dana ate just a morsel for dinner. Before going to bed, she pulled her red and black ribbon out of a small jewelry box. The very moment she tied that ribbon on her waist, wings fluttered outside her window.
“Pinky!” Dana extended her arm to let her little friend sit. Pinky the magic butterfly met Dana about two years back. Pinky was supposed to be a normal citrus butterfly. When she was a cocoon, a fairy accidentally sprinkled pixie dust on her, giving her an unusual bright pink color. Her pink wings had black designs in them. Unlike any other normal butterfly, Pinky fed on flower petals. She could talk to humans, too.
This time Pinky was not alone. She had two caterpillars hanging on her wings. The somber expression on Dana’s face did not escape Pinky’s tiny eyes.
“Hey, darling human, is something the matter?”
“Nope, it’s just this spoilt rich brat in class. He’s almost always pulling our legs for no reason…one thing though, this guy doesn’t have a mom.”
“Now, don’t let silly bullies pull you down. Have you heard from Oona lately?”
Oona was Dana’s pen pal. She got introduced to Dana just the previous year when they had to write letters to each other as part of a school project. Dana’s friend Zarif wrote to her too. Their bond only grew stronger over time. Oona resided far away, in the USA.
“Oona’s doing fine. Her mom changed job. She got a new pet puppy. I told her about your kitten Tommy.”
Dana looked at the caterpillars in awe. Pinky could tell her human liked her babies. “Pinky, these two are your children? They look nothing like you!” Dana exclaimed.
“Haha…no, they don’t yet. You see, they have to go through a lot of steps before becoming an adult butterfly like me. They are still little babies now.”
“Um…but only two?”
Tears glistened in Pinky’s eyes. She did lay a lot of eggs, but birds ate almost all of them. Only two survived. “I gotta go, Dana darling, these two need to be fed.”
Dana took the ribbon off her waist, and Pinky flew out the window.
The next afternoon, Dana was alone at a cafeteria table during lunch, feeling a little out of sorts. Zarif asked her to join him at a game of Scramble, but when she turned that down, he gave her one of his sketches to color, knowing she enjoyed coloring. Dana sat coloring happily, humming a tune to herself.
Nashmia’s voice broke the surrounding silence out of the blue: “Ah! My shirt! That was part of my dancing costume, you brat!”
“Too bad! My pen leaked! It will be fun watching you go home like that, miss blue fox! Muhahahaha….”
Dana picked up a bit of gravy from her lunch box, aiming right at Rashed’s trousers: “You say sorry this instant, or else…”
“Or else what? Teacher’s pet? You wanna fight? Come on…”
“You know what? Never mind… I don’t have enough time to waste on you.”
The fire in Dana’s eyes might have scared Rashed somehow. He just went away without a word. Dana took Nashmia’s shirt, giving her a school T-shirt to wear for now.
That, night, Dana again summoned Pinky with her waist ribbon. Surprisingly, the pink butterfly didn’t even look at the delicacies Dana had prepared.
“Nah, not hungry. Got way too many problems in the insect kingdom. The ladybug, the ant, even the tiniest mite wants magic from me. I didn’t tell that fairy to sprinkle pixie dust on me… I didn’t want magic.” Pinky mumbled in a shaky voice.
“My friend, that magic is your blessing. The others are just jealous because they don’t have it. Don’t be so down.”
“Say, what’s new at school? Anything exciting?”
“New? Nah! Just a pesky brat pulling all our legs, that’s all!”
“That brat can be a new friend too, I always had problems with Mrs. Monarch Butterfly before, but now we’re good friends. Give him a chance, you never know!”
“Okay, Pinky I’ll remember that. How are your babies?”
“In their cocoons. Will be adults soon.”
“See what that brat did today?” Dana displayed Nashmia’s stained shirt as she spoke.
Pinky was already swirling around the shirt in a specific pattern. When she was done, the splotch had not only disappeared, but the shirt had a very sweet, new color and the fabric looked a lot more comfortable than before.
“See? Your magic helps so many people. Nashmia would love this one”.
Pinky planted a soft kiss on Dana’s nose before flying off.
The next day, during recess at school, all games were interrupted by a loud thud and a rolling sound down the stairs. “Help…someone…!” Rashed wailed, screeching at the top of his voice.
“What was that? Why is he crying that way?” Dana wondered out loud.
“I think we should go check…Zarif suggested.”
“I say, let that brat learn his lesson. If it wasn’t for Dana, I wouldn’t get to wear my favorite dance costume anymore.” Nashmia pointed out.
Just then, the girls noticed Amit Bhattacharjee literally racing down the stairs, a devastated Rashed in his arms. Tears streamed down Rashed’s face. Dana looked up at them, quizzically. Amit Bhattacharjee mouthed: “Girls, get the school nurse here.” Dana ran to the nurse’s station, holding Zarif’s hand. Nashmia followed, reluctantly.
After initial treatment, Rashed was sent to the nearest hospital, because a minor fracture was suspected. Surprisingly, Rashed’s father did not accompany him, he was away on an overseas business tour. Mr. Bhattacharjee continued visiting Rashed during his hospital stay. Rashed also grew very close to all the girls he had bullied previously.
What caused this transformation? Why didn’t Rashed’s dad visit him? Why did he bully people? Wanna know? Check out part 4 for all the answers.