Manik knew what it was like to be young and hopeful. After his parents had died there was nothing left to tie him to the village he had grown up in and it hadn’t taken him long to decide that Dhaka was where he wanted to be. He could still remember the incessant crowing of a cockerel the day he had finally left his home. The rain had washed away the early morning dust and the air around him had been heavy with the smell of wet soil. He had walked a couple of miles from his village to the bus station and found a seat on the overcrowded bus heading to the capital, wedged between a man smelling of onions and a fat man who kept falling asleep on his shoulder. None of that had bothered him and he had revelled in the excitement of embarking on the journey of his life, ready to make a new start, a new life in a new place. To him Dhaka had seemed as far away and exciting as America was to these young men and women. He wasn’t sure Asad Bhai would understand.
The man in the white shirt dropped one of his papers and an elderly gentleman behind him picked it up and gave it back to him. He wondered whether the man in the white shirt or the man in the grey t-shirt would get the chance to fulfil whatever their dreams might be or whether they would be crushed within the red walls of the embassy.
“I hope the boys will be feeling generous today”, said Manik. “But usually the women are a little more willing to give me something”, he said looking at the girl in the blue sari. She was talking on her mobile phone. He could see the bangles on her wrists glinting in the sunlight.
“Ah that’s because of your pretty face Manik Miah”, snorted Asad Bhai.
Manik smiled back at him. In the days before life had screwed him over, before his stump, he had had his fair share of attention. The girls in the village would look shyly through their lashes at him and giggle when no one else was around. It was a great feeling. He had been born with fairer skin than both his mother and father and was taller than the boys his age in his village. Now he was only half a man, no woman would even look at him unless it was with pity in her eyes.
The man with the moustache looked at Manik. He had obviously been listening to their conversation. “Bhai, if you can spare a prayer, you should pray for my shaheb and madam”, he said looking almost tearful.
“You see that lady in the grey sari and the man standing next to her?” he pointed to a couple standing across the road. “They are such good people and don’t deserve to suffer like this. They’re trying to go to America to bring back the body of their son. Can you imagine how terrible it must be for them, waiting over there, praying that the embassy people let them go to their country to bring him home?”
“Ahha, that’s so sad, what happened?” asked Asad Bhai.
“They got a phone call yesterday morning from America. Choto Shaheb was driving and there was an accident. He didn’t even make it to the hospital.” A fat teardrop rolled down his face and disappeared into his moustache. “I saw Choto Shaheb grow up in front of my eyes…”
Manik shook his head in sympathy. He looked at the old couple standing in the sun waiting for the doors to open. They looked a little lost and bewildered. The man was leaning on a walking stick. Even if they didn’t give him any money he would pray for the couple. He thought of their son, who had breathed his last in a foreign country without his family around him.
When Manik had regained consciousness in the hospital after his accident, he had been alone. He couldn’t remember how he had even got to the hospital. He woke up to the sound of other people screaming out in agony and his own excruciating pain. The nurse told him he had been lucky the accident had occurred near the hospital and two passers-by had brought him in. He didn’t feel lucky.
Initially the pain had been so acute, he hadn’t even realised there was nothing left beyond his knee. The impact of the rickshaw and the truck had crushed his lower leg and the doctors had not been able to save his limb. At first he wished that the truck had crushed his body and not just his leg. He had lost track of the number of times he had cursed his so called saviours for bringing him to the hospital. Why couldn’t they have just left him on the road to die? His body had betrayed him and he had survived and recovered. The next few years had been spent watching everything he had worked for disappear. He had lost his job at the petrol station and had been unable to pay the rent for his room. The streets of Dhaka had become his home and the sky his roof. He was brought back from his reverie by a car honking at an old man trying to cross the road.
A few more cars had stopped outside the embassy and some of the passengers stepped out to join the already existing group of people. By this stage the line had grown to almost a dozen people. The security guard yawned with his arms outstretched and got up from his seat. They all looked at him expectantly. Even the security guard had power over these people.
Manik had seen hundreds, possibly even thousands of people standing in the same queue day in and day out over the last few years. Every day there would be a new group of people; men and women, old and young standing in the heat or the rain, waiting, hoping to get their ‘visa’ to go to a country he would never know or see. Whenever he looked at them he didn’t feel like the only one who was begging.
“I really have to go otherwise they’ll go inside and I’ll miss my morning income.” He straightened his lungi as he got up. He wondered whether the girl in the blue sari would give him any money or whether she would look at him with pity. Maybe she would just look away with disgust.
Manik looked at his friend, “Asad Bhai, do you think anyone eats those green coconuts inside the embassy?”
Asad Bhai shrugged his shoulders.
Nadia Kabir Barb is a long standing columnist for Star Magazine (The Daily Star Newspaper, Bangladesh). A British Bangladeshi mother of three, she draws inspiration for her column ‘Straight Talk’ from her multicultural background. Her articles range from social and political issues to humorous and often irreverent observations of life in general. Her short story ‘Let Me Go’ was published as story of the week by The Missing Slate Magazine.