Neverland -MSF Sadib
Under the scorching heat, those book covers looked like an anonymous dry blank page. In the heart of Purana Paltan, there are some baggy old bookshops. With their ragged old pages stood the shop owners. Curious eyes with busy, long strides rolled down their lashes as they walked past the stores.
Mashuk hopelessly turned over his eyes. With his fifty-five-year-old tired eyes, he too seems too much of an exhausting figure in the old streets of Purana Paltan. Despite the irrational heat of this afternoon, like any other clever fellow making a living on the streets, he too understands the true value of a midafternoon profit. Mashuk’s father had always advised him to pay attention to the streets in the late afternoon hours.
“The customers,” his father would say with an enormous yawn hanging on his face after a full appetite meal, “their minds get lost sometimes in raging hot days. They do things they shouldn’t have done in the first place. As a businessman, you have to pay mind to these little details. This is a tough field. You just blink once and find yourself on the street.”
“Are people really that crazy!” Mashuk has asked that question on several occasions. As he organized the books on the sidewalks, he often wandered off to raucous thoughts of his own.
These are busy streets with never-ending walks of obnoxious thoughts. Mashuk would just sit there while he watched the rush.
“All these people you see on the road, they act as if they know everything, but one can never know much, but we pretend; why? Because we think it makes us important.”
Mashuk believes in whatever his father had to say. After all, he was a wise man to support his family of several mouths. You can’t just ignore somebody’s words with such astonishing survival skill, can you, though?
“How much for this?” asked a man in the uttermost monotonous tone as he held a book in his hand. “Plenty of time for me” written all over the man’s face. A possible troublemaker. The ones you can never ignore.
Mashuk took the book from the stranger’s hand and looked at the book.
Once selling old books may seem like an easy job to pull off, but to sustain this sort of business, you’ve to be well apprised of the customer than the product itself. Judgment comes not from the product but from the illusive satisfaction the customer gets from an imaginary win.
Mashuk flipped through the pages and checked the covers from front to back like he was holding a gem that was meant to be carefully examined to apprehend its true value.
“That would be…” he paused for a moment, steadied himself before he actually blurted out the words.
“That would be a hundred taka”
The customer scowled at him.
“Make it 70” came the words with cold sheath. It’s a proper field for a bargain battle. Not too shabby for Mashuk at all. From time to time, he started to enjoy these little arguments about the appropriate evaluation of a book.
“What is actually the value of a book?”
Mashuk has wondered about the enigmatic questions. Above all the things in this world, why his father had set their enclosure with books?
“Do you like selling books?” Mashuk had asked his father.
“Does a liquor seller have to be fond of liquors?” replied his father as he smiled at Mashuk’s face.
“Life is as big as it gets. Not everything that goes on has to be something that goes after your liking. Often things have greater values; values that only our existence shall vouch for.”
People from all walks of life and their endless search for values. Where does it end?
“Excuse me? 70 takas, can’t go further than that” the customer snapped, pouring in the nectar of reality in Mashuk’s imagination.
“Mama, make it 80 then. I’ll just put it in the bag.”
Rushing in and out and breathing heavily, the midday turned up the extremity of a languid pain. Days are long, and quivering love breathes through the city.
Mashuk scratched beneath his chin as the unpleasant, pungent taste settled in his mouth again. It’s been bothering him for the past couple of months. As he rolled his tongue, swirling, twisting, and roaming around the nook and cranny of the mouth. A Shallow bitterness filled within an instant. He really didn’t care much and would rather keep his “scratching chin business” in constant motion.
Mashuk called out Ramjan, the humble hawker who sells insipid teas that Mashuk hates. But at this very moment, all he needs is to revive the aftertaste. Mashuk gulped down his dry throat. Weakness can never be a choice in the face of untrue reality.
Tea seemed to have no effect on him. On the contrary, it left a threefold crude taste in his mouth. Mashuk shook his head—no time to concentrate on trivial matters like this. Under the scorching heat, infinite sound waves, spoken voices with timbres, rang with judicious hollow space. Mashuk looked at the clock on the mosque on the other side of the road.
The taste!! Ooh, the taste!! It pricked like a bitter metallic tone in the ear. Time was still moving in an even manner. He recalls his father saying,
“People possess certain aura—every each of them. And we’re all drowned in it. Such deep that is, deep like a sombrero.”
Fathoming such words has still been out of reach of Mashuk. As philosophies could wait, what couldn’t wait was the shattered round eyes of his father.
One can’t just easily forget the pale blue lips of his familiar ones now, could they?
Ramjan was standing just nearby as Mashuk gulped down the tea. He had an awfully enormous birthmark on his forehead. With his squinting eyes and the laid-down birthmark, Ramjan’s appearance made him like a hideous figure.
He was holding down his floral-patterned flask with a vigorous anticipation that radiated from Mashuk’s face.
“Added some new spices this time,” said Ramjan in the wake of Mashuk’s disapproval face. Ramjan’s myriad attempts to nail an “ever-wanting Mashuk’s satisfied face” with his gloriously brewed tea has been nothing short of a fruitless expedition.
“How do you explain the urge for a cup of hot tea on a dog day like this?”
Ramjan took the empty cup from Mashuk’s hand. “Funny that you mention such worthless things even on such dog day,” replied Ramjan as he washed the cup inside out.
“Biscuits?” inquired Ramjan for Mashuk’s approval in a frail tone.
“Not in the mood,” Mashuk replied back as he wiped his mouth. The intense thirst for a cigarette kicked right in. The pungent taste had faded away with the dripping tea sips.
Ramjan had already disappeared in the meantime by the time Mashuk looked for him. It was past mid-afternoon, after all. Sure, Ramjan had to run his late-hour errand in the Ramna parks. It really was a place to lunge grey memories. Along with his father, Mashuk used to stroll around in that park.
A universal truth that has laid its roots around a solid foundation is that “Opportunity has its own ways of showing things.”
“One could be on the cusp of landing his cherished opportunities without ever recognizing it or realizing it,” his father had said. “The best way to grab an opportunity is not clearly to be aware of it but to visualize it around you,” his father would say as they had their lunch at Alamgir’s restaurant, which had already been demolished just a couple of weeks ago, leaving fragments of etched memory now.
And so, days have become long now, and the thrill that was once present has been a bygone. The teachings and dreams of living in a neverland. In a land where teachings of great value shall put purpose in people. Evening leaps through. The ever-waning lights roar back to life. It just gets busier and busier. Weary eyes that never cease to shut.
“The story is within us,” his father would say. “People buy these books, the taste of stories pours in, they’re relieved by what actually! Aren’t those writing themselves a bunch of fable imagination of treacherous minds?” dull wind blows, tousled hair looks upon the sleepy functions of longing hearts.
“Where does happiness end? Where does even sorrow end up!” his father had exhaled with sonorous notes clamped in his voice as he held Mashuk’s hand.
“Oh! Dear old father,” a soft sigh exasperated as Mashuk addressed, peering towards the sky and beyond to reach him.
“All these sorrowful arrows of our memoir somehow get stranded in a strange Neverland.”