I

Four of them were running up and down the stairs, chasing each other. They were playing in the roof top garden of a strange building. It looked strange because one part of the building had been bricked and cemented, while the rest of the building was under construction, surrounded by bamboo poles, ropes, and construction ladders. People were walking by them or working around them as the four of them ran up and down. At one point she outran her playmates and went to the roof to hide behind the big water tank. She was panting because she was excited and out of breath for having outrun her friends and for having beaten them in their game of hide and seek. When someone stealthily stood behind her, she was sure it was one of her cousins. She turned around with the intention to push the person down, but her hands froze in the air as she saw a stranger standing behind her. Before she could push the stranger away, the man threw her down on the ground and pulled down her pants.

Three of her companions were running around, laughing and giggling and calling her aloud.

“Dolon, where are you? Ready or not, here we come!” 

‘Come, come here, help me, h-e-l-p!’ Dolon wanted to scream. But her voice was gone and so were her limbs. She saw her legs and her hands, detached from her body and hanging by the railing. She saw the silhouettes of her three cousins, laughing and dancing and hollering around her,

“Ready or not, here we come; ready or not, ready or not, ready ….”

It was a cold December night, but Dolon woke up soaking in sweat. She got up to get a glass of water and did not feel like coming back to bed. Instead, she pulled a chair and sat by the window, sipping ice cold water, waiting for the sun to wake up and erase the last remnants of her nightmare from her eyelids. Today was her birthday and Romel had promised her a very special gift. Dolon did not know what the special gift might be, but she was looking forward to receiving it. When the sun was finally up, Dolon made herself a breakfast of egg and toast and a big mug of coffee. She then took a quick shower and got ready for her big day. She wore a purple sari and adorned her hair with chatim blossom. She put on dozens of glass bangles, pearl earrings, and a gold pendant. She sprayed a jasmine fragrance all over her body and stepped outside. It was a beautiful morning and she was not going to let the horror of her past destroy a day’s future.

 

                                   

                                                            II

Dolon had been haunted by this dream for years. Every time she dreamt it, she always woke up in the middle of an impending action—anticipating a terror—or an imminent pause of a horrid remembrance. She remembered a checkered lungi and a pair of dirty hands that pressed themselves against her torso and pulled down her pants. But what did he do when she passed out? Did he stop? Did he run away? Did he leave a little girl in her own darkness of dread, molested and deflowered? Dolon wanted to remember. The whole thing. She wanted to re-member her dis-membered childhood. But how much truth can dreams beget? How much pain can hide in the creases of sleep? How much reality does one need to evade a vile memory that haunts one’s dreams? A summer trip to her aunt’s house had become the deepest, darkest fear that she might never outgrow. She spent that summer playing outside with her cousins. Some days they played hopscotch, and some days they ran around the neighborhood, playing various games. That afternoon, they were playing hide and seek in a new housing complex, part of which was still under construction. There were bamboo ladders and ropes all around the buildings. Construction workers were running back and forth from one part to the other, through the rooms or on the rooftop. Dolon was hiding behind the water tank on the roof when a man attacked her out of nowhere. He grabbed her with his utmost force and threw her on the rooftop. He pulled down her pants with one hand and lifted his lungi with the other. She saw a cruel human organ, erect, like a poisonous sword. It was the last thing she saw before she screamed for help and passed out. When her friends found her, the man was already gone. Someone carried her unconscious body home. When she recovered consciousness, Dolon found herself surrounded by her relatives—angry and arguing—blaming her for everything. Dolon and her mother left that house the next morning and never revisited her aunt. Dolon’s family moved from city to city because of her father’s job, but no matter how far they moved, they never came close to each other. Her older sister avoided her; her two older brothers hardly talked to her; her father never spoke unless it was necessary, and her mother never stopped blaming herself for failing to save her daughter. But Dolon blamed nobody. She buried the pain deep down somewhere inside that body of hers—a body that was the cause of abhorrence. She did not know the meaning of the word that was attributed to her, nor did she know how to carry its immeasurable burden without losing her balance.  She just knew that it was her shame to bear. She coiled herself in an invincible shell and instantly grew into an adult. She became a loner and an outsider. In the medical college where she was completing her degree, she was a total recluse living in her own world. She was least bothered when Romel started showing interest in her. Romel was two years her senior and a heartthrob in campus. Every girl wanted to date him and he wanted to have every girl.  But when Dolon dismantled that system by not falling for him, Romel made it his life’s goal to win her attention. Gradually, with his manly charm and friendly charisma, he was able to crack her shell. Then one day, while they were walking toward the bus stop and suddenly it started raining and Romel grabbed Dolon’s hand and started running for a shade, Dolon—out of breath and suddenly elated—blurted out her truth as if it did not matter anymore.

“I was raped.”     

“What!” Romel stopped in the middle of the road.

“Keep running, or we’ll get soaked. At age six, I was visiting my aunt’s house in Dhaka, where I was raped.” Dolon told the story without slowing down her speed. She said everything, without missing out on any details. How afraid she was to see a male genital for the first time in her life. How lost she felt when everyone blamed her for the incident. How that incident had been haunting her dreams. How she survived all these years, suffering alone and keeping her secret to herself, thinking that no one would understand her.

“O honey, I understand you.” Romel kissed her lightly on her cheek. “And don’t you ever worry. I’m here for you.”

They were standing under a big chatim tree. People were watching them, but Dolon did not care. For the first time in her life, she felt untainted.

 

                                                            III

Romel treated her at a good restaurant and then took her to a tea garden for a special stroll. The manager of the garden gave them a tour and let them become their tea-tester for the day. Dolon loved taking sips from a few dozen of small tea cups. The earth-green taste of freshly brewed tea made her feel like a sturdy tea shrub of the highlands. The undisturbed evergreen flow of the bowl-shaped canopies of the tea shrubs always amazed Dolon. She wished she could sleep amidst the shrubs for a night—a night of peaceful sleep—a peaceful sleep undisturbed by dreams. Romel smiled in response. He had already rented a bungalow where they would spend the night. The tea garden looked dark and somber under the evening sky. They had dinner in the backyard of the bungalow, under a pergola decorated with jasmine and tea blossoms. Romel had packed a bottle of imported wine with him. But Dolon refused to drink. Her heart was full to the brim with joy and she was already intoxicated with too much happiness. The aromatic tea, the long walks in the garden, the endless rows of green and the ceaseless flow of life around her was too much to absorb. She needed to sink her teeth in that joy and stay happy the way she already was. Romel finished his drink and listened to Dolon’s stories of joy and mirth, occasionally stroking her hair or caressing her face. The cold moon of the winter solstice night was bright and crisp and it fell right on Dolon’s face. Romel found her irresistible. He pulled Dolon toward him and kissed her. But Dolon pushed him away.

“I want to bathe in this crisp moon,” she said as she lay down on the grass.

“Then let me help you undress. You don’t want the beautiful purple of your sari to be stained by the moon.” He unwound her sari and untucked her bra. He kissed her throat and touched her breasts. He groaned in pleasure as he undressed himself. The moon was bright and so was Dolon’s face— drenched in desire. “I love your body. I’ve never seen such a flawless beauty like yours.” Romel whispered as he thrust himself into her.

Poisonous—serrated sword—cutting her through as it entered her—slashing her into pieces as it pinned her. Why did it hurt this much? Was this what that man did too? That man, with his poisonous sword—did he cut her too? But why did not she feel this pain then? Was this how sex felt? This much pain? Dolon screamed in agony. “Get off me!” she yelled.

“You said you’re not a virgin!” Romel pulled his sword out and stood there, disgruntled, like the man from her childhood.

“What’s wrong with you? What are you saying?”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were a virgin? Why did you lie?”

“Who said I lied? I told you everything. I told you I was raped.”

“Then how come I just did what I did? I just tore your hymen!”

“How would I know?”

“Aren’t you a medical student? You tell me, how can this be?”

“Everyone thought I was raped, and so did I! I was a mere child. How’d I know?”

“You tricked me into having sex with you, didn’t you? Fucking bitch!”

“What did you say?” Dolon could not believe her ears.

“I said, you played me. I don’t take virgins because they’re clingy. And I took interest in you because I thought you were not. Now you’ll play coy and force me to marry you. That ain’t gonna work, I’m telling you. I just wanted to do you a favor tonight because it was your birthday. So be thankful that I’ve given you your first and the best experience.”

“Don’t humor yourself too much.” Dolon cut him short. “If this is your best, then I must say that you suck at it. I would not want to experience this thing with you ever again—you  fucking piece of shit! Now move the fuck away. You’re blocking my path.”

By the time Dolon dressed up and left the bungalow, Romel was still looking for his shoes. Dolon hopped on a rickshaw and asked the man to paddle in the direction of the medical college hostel. The night was brave and the winter moon was still glistening its charm. Dolon looked up and smiled at the moon. She was feeling very happy.

 

About the Author

Fayeza Hasanat, a Bangladeshi-American writer, teaches at the English Department of the University of Central Florida. Fayeza Hasanat is also acclaimed for her translation works. She has translated the first known creative piece, titled Rupjalal, by a Bengali Muslim woman from colonial India. Her translation of a reportage on the raped women of the liberation war of Bangladesh, titled, A War Heroine, I Speak, is recently published from Bangladesh.   The Bird Catcher and Other Stories, her debut story collection was published in November 2018 (Jaded Ibis Press). Bengal Lights Publishers has published its Bangladesh edition in the same year. Her second story collection, A Serenade of Love is scheduled to be published from Bangladesh in 2020. She is currently at work on a novel.