Dust // Sadat Sayem

There was no cloud in sight. But dust was everywhere at the makeshift laguna-stand near the BTV building at Rampura in the capital. No gentle breeze was blowing to give some relief to the people returning to their homes after working through a sweltering summer day.

It was the last trip. Helper Chanu, an 11-year old boy, could put only one foot on the footboard of the human hauler when it started rolling on the main road of the Banasree housing project that ran along the canal called Balu Khal.

After balancing his position on the footboard, Chanu looked over the roof of the hauler and saw the moon hanging remorsefully over the canal. Chanu’s eyes were wet as Ustad (master driver of the vehicle) gave him a slap for his failure to collect the fare from a passenger on the previous up-trip.

“Haramzada! Khankir pola! There were only fourteen passengers. How could one manage to dodge the fare? Who will give me the money? Which one of your fathers?”

The humiliation in front of the passengers of this down-trip made him weep. The driver, a middle-aged man, never liked him as Chanu refused to massage his body. Unlike other hauler helpers, he didn’t take it as part of his job. Chanu also sensed he might be subjected to sexual abuse.

“Oi, helper, are you deaf or on cannabis? I told you I would get off at Block-C. The hauler has already crossed the school building. Haramzada!” a passenger screamed.

Chanu slapped hard on the body of the hauler as a signal to the driver to stop but the driver ignored the signal as he was busy with his manoeuvres for overtaking another hauler, whose driver was adamant that he would not let it happen. In the meantime, a discussion began on Chanu’s life among the other passengers taking lead from the angry passenger. One of them, a fat man in his 40s, quipped, in a comical tone: “His father had abandoned his mother, and his mother got married second time or third time. That’s their story.”

I expected an outburst of anger or something similar from Chanu. But, I found he rather slapped harder again on the body of the hauler. This time the driver braked hard. The angry passenger descended grouching and the fat fellow followed suit.

The hauler began rolling again. The discussion also went on but Chanu was no more the subject there. The remaining passengers left Chanu and turned their attention to — chaos in the public transport system in the city.

Another passenger got down at Block-E. The young man, a support staff of a private company, slowly got down from the vehicle. He, however, gave Chanu a consolatory pat on his back.

But, the comments made by the angry passenger and the fat fellow continued to dominate Chanu’s mind. The other passengers apparently forgot the episode altogether as they had so many other issues to attend to.

Chanu again looked at the moon. When he was six or seven years old, his mother, indicating the moon with her index finger, used to say, “Look, Chander Buri is spinning thread on her Charka.” He would think then Chander Buri was his own grandmother who had died before his birth. Now he knew, from Joynul Bhai, a university graduate who resided in a students’ mess at Trimohini, that there was no old woman sitting and weaving in a spinning wheel on the moon, rather the dark spots were craters.

The vehicle looked almost rickety; one would find it difficult to say whether its engine originally belonged to a jeep or a microbus. It reached the last stoppage at Block H, also known as Maradia. Chanu was finally free from the day’s work – all types of passenger-calling, slapping on the roof, clapping and making various signals to the driver to stop, speed up and speed down, and collecting fare.

“Ustad, I am going home.”

“Go, you lazybones, come tomorrow early in the morning. You have to wash the vehicle.”

Chanu started walking immediately. He approached the bamboo-made bridge over the Balu Khal that connected the Banasree housing project with another housing project at Maradia. He would have to cross the bridge and the other housing project to get to his house at Trimohini where a plumber, who was a distant relative of his, sublet part of a room to him. In the middle of the bridge, he looked below and saw the reflection of the moon bobbing gently up and down on the pitch-black scummy water of the canal under the influence of its weary current. The moon proper was showering down from the sky rays of mystic light on all mobile and immobile objects on the face of the earth. Even all the metropolis filth could not wipe out entirely the lunar beauty reflected in the canal water. Chanu stood there awhile and instead of going towards Trimohini, he went to Kamalapur Railway Station and boarded a Mymensingh-bound local train.

At the break of dawn next day, he descended the train and stepped onto the platform of a small upazila town in the Mymensingh district. He went straight to a tea stall on the platform to have a cup of tea and a parata to wither away his hunger and tiredness after the journey.

“Chanu, are you on leave?” a tea stall boy, who was from the same village as Chanu’s, asked when he was serving Chanu a cup of tea and a parata.

Chanu saw the boy struggling to keep his eyes open. Adequate sleep was never on the roster of a railway-station tea stall.

“No. I quit my job,’ Chanu said after gulping down a piece of parata with a sip of tea.

The piece of news startled the boy and he looked at Chanu.

“Full of bastards there!” Chanu said.

“No difference here in the village.” the tea-stall boy whispered.

A cloud of dust rose in the air as the train that carried Chanu home left the station.

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