by Humming Bird
You're one of the sweetest gifts Allah sent my way
She slowly trudged forward with a heavy backpack loaded with books. Her short, hair reached only to her ears. Drops of sweat glistened on her forehead. A thick pair of spectacles kept coming down to her nose, and she had to push them up every few minutes to get a clear vision of the road ahead. The walk was getting a bit painful, but the cuckoos and magpies kept her entertained.
"Would you like a ride?" One of the many rickshaw drivers approached her. Cycle rickshaws were one of the most common vehicles of Bangladesh, usually hired for short-distance trips.
"No thanks, I don't need one now." She replied with a smile.
"Why sister, you can't walk. Hire me, that will help." Another rickshaw driver declared, coming closer to her.
She looked down at the cane held firmly in her left fist. "Go find passengers elsewhere!" Her cold glare scared him off.
About twenty minutes later, she crossed the large green gate of one of the oldest and famous educational institutions of Dhaka city.
Established in 1972, Maple Leaf International School was one of the pioneers of English Medium education in Dhaka city. In a small, yet highly populated country like Bangladesh, English Medium education was pretty expensive. Unlike many other institutions, Maple leaf offered better education at a much cheaper rate.
The institution had a few branches in the same area. Only the senior section (Grade IX-XII) allowed co-education. All the others were separate sections for girls and boys of different levels.
That was her first day in her new school. Well, not exactly new, as she had completed her elementary education from there, many years ago.
Twigs and branches cracked under her sandals. She wrinkled her nose as a strong odor of sweat mixed with perfume hit her nostrils.
"Ugh! Wish I could see a familiar face around here somewhere. Hate that odor!" She said to herself.
Luckily, the stairs had an even surface and it was not so difficult to climb up. The door was kept ajar. She settled herself on one of the front benches and stared blankly at some alien terms on the white board.
"Today, we'll study Single Entry Accounting. What do you know about the chapter?" The teacher asked, pointing at her.
"Hey wait a second, you're the new girl!" He exclaimed.
"Yes sir, I'm Zakia. I was a Science student during my O-levels. Shifted to Business for my Advanced Level though. I wanted to explore different fields."
"You'll feel a little lost at first, but don't worry, it's not so hard." A feeble, yet noticeable voice commented.
The tiled floor felt cold under her bare feet. She had her window open, and a quick breeze occasionally rushed in to cool her down. Zakia was struggling with an easy Economics question.
BRRING...! Her cellphone broke the serenity of the atmosphere. "Hey Zakia, how's life?" A known voice spoke from the other end.
Zakia heaved a sigh of relief. It was Naveed; boy who said Business would not be difficult on her first day of A-levels. He was the only guy she could befriend besides another girl who sits next to her.
" can you explain the Economics homework? I can't make head or tail of it."
"Let's fix a time to do some serious studies tomorrow then."
The next day,
Zakia and Naveed sat in the library surfing through various branches of business. Unlike Zakia, Naveed had all the business subjects previously. Prior experience made the grade XI curriculum easy for him.
"dost the producer surplus is the area between the..." Naveed explained in detail, and Zakia sat attentively learning every single detail.
"Hello Naveed!" the greeting came like a thunderbolt. Startled, Zakia turned her gaze to the direction of the voice.
He was quite tall, with a complexion between fair and dark. His eyes seemed to talk without words. A full beard occupied half of his face.
His hair was neatly combed back, and unlike many other boys, his attire reflected both smartness and decency.
A wide grin spread across Naveed's face. "Dost did he scare you? Meet Riffat, one of my childhood friends."
"I was so into studies that I..." Zakia smiled, as she shook an extended hand.
Despite being the cuddly baby of her family, Zakia had been an outcast amongst classmates all throughout her life, so she hardly ever made friends before. The way she dressed, or the way she pulled her hair back in a pony tail, everything seemed old fashioned to her peers, and they would never befriend a cripple.
Fortunately, her new school had a particular dress code, which supported her own. Months passed in the blink of an eye. Zakia had made some very good friends in the meantime. Sarina, Zeenat, Anya, Zarif and of course, Naveed and Riffat. Whenever they got a long break between classes, the happy-go-lucky group would set off to explore their neighborhood.
One day, they were sitting inside a fast food shop, munching on a large serving of French Fries. The tempting aroma of popular food items filled the atmosphere. The lingering sound of raindrops on the rooftop made them want to dance.
"Let's go somewhere far away. I don't want to sit here in this weather. What say?" Zarif suggested.
" I'm better this way, there's nothing like hot coffee in this weather." Sarina's soft, but unique voice could be heard.
The somber expression on Zakia's face was enough to prove something was wrong.
"I seldom go far on my own." She uttered in a very low voice.
"Hey, why's that? I mean, we're eighteen now we'll get permission." Anya pointed out.
"Ever since I lost my brother, I'm not allowed to go anywhere without a guardian. My parents fear they might lose me too." She managed to hide tears from her peers.
"Tell us all about it dost, you'll feel better." Naveed's voice reflected empathy. Zakia allowed herself a few minutes of silence before going seven years back:
"My brother was six years older than me. Just after completing HSChe received a merit scholarship to Boston University." Zakia stopped to wipe away the remnants of French Fries off her lips.
"Carry on." Sarina urged.
"He was about to bid farewell to Bangladesh for a long time, so it was decided that we'd visit our village before his trip to the USA."
Anya tapped her fingers rhythmically on the table. All three boys seemed 'all ears' to listen.
"You know, my brother didn't want to go. Mom forced him, so he couldn't say no. We were having the time of our lives. We ate mouthwatering dishes, chased butterflies, enjoyed picturesque views and traveled by boat. What more could one ask for?"
"That sounds fun." Riffat commented, taking the last bite of fries into his mouth.
"You seem to enjoy food a lot, but you're not overweight at all."Zakia smiled.
"Oh, I'm a foodie all right. I don't like sweets though." Riffat replied. Know what? I'm the eldest among my siblings, but I still enjoy being hand-fed by my mom!
What??? hahaha! Mommy's boy! Well, I'm more of a daddy's girl myself, you'll see. By the way, A lot of people can't carry that beard well, but you look nice with it."
"What happened next? "
"That day, early in the morning, someone came for a cup of tea, but we were already out of it. So my brother went out to get some. Our house was on the bank of a river, which had to be crossed using a bamboo bridge.""A bamboo bridge? I've never seen one." Zarif took the last sip of coffee.
"Oh those are hardly seen nowadays. We had some in our village too." Sarina said, fixing her scarf with her hair.
"When my brother came to the middle of the bridge, another man carrying a large box approached him from the opposite direction. They collided, and my brother fell directly into the river."
"God! That's not good!" Naveed exclaimed.
"We found him after a day, tangled inside fishing nets. He wanted to learn swimming, but never got a chance." Zakia covered her face with both hands.
"Did you see the body afterwards?" Zarif asked.
"People took me there to say a final goodbye, but I blacked out as soon as I laid my eyes on him. You'd never know the feeling before you see the corpse of a dear one in front of your eyes." Zakia paused to exhale a deep breath.
Zakia was having a hard time holding herself together in front of so many people. So she excused herself and returned to school to seek refuge in the library. After a few minutes, she noticed a short message in her cellphone.
'Maybe I'm not familiar with death the way you are, but all I know is, I don't have a sister. So may I ask for the place of a brother in your heart?'
Seconds later, the phone rang. It was Riffat at the other end.
"Young man , do you know what you're asking for? Do you understand what the word brother means to me?"
"Time will tell whether I understood or not. For now, I just want an elder sister."
There was something in his voice that she could not refuse. Even today, despite living miles away, Zakia and Riffat manage time to communicate regularly. He is always there to share every single smile, every single drop of tears. He has proved a lot of times that being a brother requires neither blood connection, nor physical presence. Similarity of thinking and genuine, true love can create a completely new meaning of the word BROTHER.
Riffat this one's for you , that's why I didn't change your name. As I always say, you're one of the sweetest gifts Allah sent my way.