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A flowering cactus and pre-nuptial peevishness

  • Published at 08:35 am August 17th, 2020
A flowering cactus and pre-nuptial peevishness
Illustration: Jahid Jamil

Fiction

Spine

Was Keya happy when she received the plant as her first birthday present from Turjo?

No, she was not.

“How could you give me such an ugly cactus on my birthday, Turjo? What does it mean?” she asked.

It was the day before their wedding. They were sitting between the Jahaj Bari and the Dhanmondi Lake. The Jahaj Bari, pulled down since, was a monumental building shaped as a Jahaj or ship. Day after day they’d sit at that spot musing on who lived there and what they did. The structure seemed forbidding to Keya, though it had always been Turjo’s favourite lakeside spot.

Keya’s face was flushed in the gleaming twilight. Green trees were glowing under the day’s remaining sunrays. Clouds were gathering around the other part of the sky. There would be rain. Turjo would have loved a wedding in the rain. 

Wasn’t he happy that they were finally getting married? Sometimes it was hard to tell what went on in his mind.

He had been busy on his phone for fifteen minutes, intently reading something. Keya repeated the question. He replied, “Hmm”. They were sitting on soft green grass, and probably an insect bit her hard on her feet, for she screamed, “I am leaving!! Thako with your phone!”

“Kee shuru korla, people are watching!” Turjo, irritated and surprised, still bent over his phone, replied after a while.  Keya looked around. She found a street urchin ogling at them.

“I don’t want to get married to you. You are callous and insensitive. You don’t love me at all,” Keya wailed.

The urchin laughed; Turjo finally looked at Keya and just then her phone rang. 

“Why are you still outside? Where are you?” Her mother was angry. “It’s not good for the new bride to roam around with her future husband, right before the wedding. Come back! I said, come back! It’s getting dark and there are all kinds of evil spirits that harm the bride. Where is Nurun Nabi?”

“He is with me. I told you I was taking the car. I’ll be back in half an hour”, Keya replied.

“We can go home now. It’s going to rain. Drop me on the way home,” Turjo said after a long pause, in full sentences.

Keya was consumed by anger. She could not speak anymore. She thought they came to the lake to reflect on their shared memories: sitting on the grass, watching the green water and looking at the Jahaj Bari, holding hands, munching peanuts and sipping tea.

In the car, Turjo rested his head on Keya's shoulder. He closed his eyes—perhaps in indignation, perhaps in bliss. It is hard to read his mind, and at times, he becomes remote and distant. 

This very thought enraged Keya. She pushed him hard against the window.

“What’s wrong with you?” He was startled.

“Everything is wrong with me. I don’t want to get married”, she screamed but then found Nurun Nabi watching them in the rear view mirror, and remembered that he’d reported to her aunts, her fuppis and chachis, everything he saw her and Turjo doing, with a sprinkling of salt and lemon added.

“What did I do?” Turjo showed her all his teeth. “Okay, drop me here in front of Mahfujur’s house”.

 All kinds of weird things go on in Mahfujur’s house. Why was he going there now?

“Get down. I don’t even want to see your face again.” He got down from the car, banged the door and cried out, “Are you serious? Do you never really want to see my face again?”

Keya was preparing her answer, but he walked across the road before she could reply.

 “Api, the car will soon be running out of gas”, Nurun Nabi broke into her thoughts. 

 

Blossom

All four khalas, sisters of Keya’s mother, along with their children and Grandmother arrived in the afternoon. Where would all these people sleep at night? Why were they making so much noise?

Her father returned from the office and asked for a cup of tea. He looked dejected but everyone else was giggling as her mother was narrating a dream she had had before she got married to her father, “I was driving the car. I let my hair fly. I was wearing a pair of shoes. I looked down at my shoes. And I saw Keya’s father’s name written on the shoes.”

There were three marriage proposals for her, but after that dream she chose her father amongst the three.

Does Keya’s father really liked Turjo? What if she told him that she didn’t want to get married? Turjo perhaps led another life behind her back. He seemed to be involved in things she was totally unaware of. 

She went to her room, locked the door and broke down into tears. Why should this issue be raised now? She was finally getting married to the person she loved, after six years of dating. What was wrong with her?

She looked at the cactus on her table. Last year, it bloomed with three yellow flowers. It looked pretty with all its ugliness.

The plant was placed in a red clay pot. She could still remember the day Turjo had given it to her.

It was her 21st birthday, two months after they had first met. He wore a creased pink shirt. If anything was ugly, it was him. He held the clay pot with the plant and delivered a brief lecture on how to take care of it:

“Water it every other day, just a bit. Since it is an indoor plant, it does not need much sun. Place it in a cool, dry place. You can put small, colourful stones on the pot. This cactus does not have any thorns, you see. It is a special breed of cactus called prickly-pear. It will blossom with yellow flowers and give pear-like fruits. You have to share the flowers and fruit with me, Okay?”

She listened with all her heart: infatuated, enraptured and mesmerised. She was taken with the way he formulated his sentences.

She placed the plant on her table when she got back home. Her father was immensely curious about it. He used to water it and spent hours and hours looking after it until the day he came to know that it was a gift from Turjo. 

Then he stopped taking caring of it altogether. He would not even pick up a newspaper he wanted to read if it was on her table. Even when he entered her room, he would avoid looking at the plant. He turned green whenever Turjo’s name was uttered in his presence. 

He started planting all kinds of weird plants on the front balcony: little jack fruit plants, lemon and guava plants, dates—having popped up from the seeds of the fruits that he ate. His garden of potted plants was set against Turjo’s cactus.

The new shoots were light bottle green at first; then with time, they grew darker. Instead of spines, the cactus had very small green leaves. They fell off as the shoot got older. Over the years, it gave Keya flowers but no fruits. Did the flowers smell nice? She forgot but she remembered that she carried the flowers to show Turjo. She put them in his hands and he dropped them somewhere. She went mad with rage and he simply could not understand what was there to be so mad about.

Whenever Keya and Turjo fought, she used to leave the cactus with her father’s plants on the balcony. When they made up, she brought it back to her room. 

It was 10 o’clock and she called Turjo thrice; he did not pick up the phone. She took the cactus and placed it on a wooden slab on the railing of the balcony. 

Grandmother was calling her: she would put the turmeric paste on her; it was the day of the pre-nuptial ritual bath. Everyone in the house gathered in the living room.

Her father left immediately after dabbing her forehead with the paste. A storm was about to break. He had to close the doors and windows.

Stem

Keya’s khalas were preparing to send her to a well-known beauty salon; it was the first wedding on her mother’s side of the family, and they were overjoyed.  However, relatives on her father’s side were unhappy. She was getting married before boro fuppi's daughter who was a year elder than her. She was engaged but her wedding had been called off for some unknown reason. Fuppi asked her father to wait but he got trampled under her daughter's persuasion. He was half unwilling, half confused and inundated with the fact that his daughter was leaving him. Yet, he agreed. His daughter needed another man in her life to be happy after all.

Mamujaan arrived and Keya's mother started sobbing, holding him tight.  He said something in her ears and she gulped down her tears. “No one will cry”, he made an announcement.

Dolly khala brought Keya a mug of milk tea, “Drink it and have your shower. We have to start now. Do you want biscuits?”

Keya refused and viewed the screen of her phone. Turjo called thrice in the morning. He also had sent her an sms, “Came home late last night and went straight to sleep. What was it? Can’t believe we are getting married today! I love you so much.”

Why didn’t he receive her phone call? Why did he come home late? She called him to inquire and Turjo’s chachi answered. She informed her that Turjo had gone for a haircut at a nearby barber shop.

Keya had her shower and ate a small breakfast. She was all set to go to the beauty parlour. Her father gave her a kiss on her cheek, “How can you manage to smell so nice always?” 

Keya put on her shoes. Dolly khala carried her things; Keya went down the stairs ahead of her. She shouted, “Hurry up!” Keya stepped out of the house and as soon as she started going down, she heard her father shrieking, “Your cactus pot is broken!”

There was a storm last night. It might have fallen off the wooden slab. She rushed upstairs but her mother blocked the door, “Where do you think you are going? Why did you come back? Go downstairs. Go, now! This is such a bad omen.”

As Keya was climbing down the stairs again, she heard her father trying to say something, but her mother snapped, “Tumi je ki koro na! Why did you have to call her back? She will go to the beauty parlour and from there to the party centre, then straight to her husband’s house. Do you even know what will happen if she steps back into our house, now?”

Keya burst into tears. Wasn’t that house her home? Was she crying because of the cactus?

She didn’t know.

 


Sanjeeda Hossain is a fiction writer. 

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