I think the biggest mistake we make as humans is building life up to be some sort of grand adventure in our heads. I don't know if its Hollywood and the influence it has on us as kids. But we like to look at a bad day and think of it as just a dip in our long, flowing road towards a greater destiny while in truth it was probably just a chance ocurrence in the sin-curve of time.
Take my case for example. Throughout university, I had dreaded the day when I would have to say goodbye to all of my classmates and my life as a student. I thought I would be in tears, unable to come to terms with the new life that awaited me. I had thought the fact that one phase of my life was giving away to a new, alien one would be a momentous event. But as I sat there on my friend Ehsans roof, in what was the final time all of us met as university students, I was strangely apathetic. I think the problem is that we think too much. Things are never as exciting or as heartbreaking as we would like them to be. It's always a moderate middle-groundthat plays out on its own course.
The idea for one last visit to Ehsans roof was something his girlfriend Moneesha had come up with. She was a bubbly person, always up for all kinds of ideas. They had dated through university and I think they were planning on getting married soon, even though back in first semester, when they had started, we had all put our money on them crashing and burning before long. I really liked seeing them happy. It's nice when happy things happen to people. The warmth is contagious.
Moneesha was running around the roof in her bright red sweater, calling friends that were yet to arrive and reminding of the things they were supposed to bring. Her long, silky hair didn't compensate for her childlike face. She made a lot of effort to look womanly but she always ended up looking like a little girl.
"Rummmaaaan?" Moneesha wandered towards one of the railings as she spoke on the phone. The sun had turned into a mellow shell by then even though it was just 5:30. Winter afternoons ran up so quickly.
"Rumman, remember to bring the filter, okay?" Moneesha spoke on the phone while the late November wind played with her hair.
I saw Mukit looking at her from the distance. His untidy beard had gotten even more messy of late. Made his dark complexion look even darker. He was standing quite far away from Moneesha, all the way on the other side and smoking with Abir and Hridoy. Abir towered over the other two at 5'11. I was always jealous of his height.
I looked up at the golden after-noon sky and the tin-shed to the side of the roof, where we were planning on camping for the night, and wondered if there was any chance of rain. That would be a dealbreaker. I was sitting one of the plastic chairs we had dragged to the roof, waiting for my best friend Shadman to show up. He wasn't really a part of the group but he would get invited to these hangouts by virtue of me.
Khalid showed up with his guitar and his signature monkey-cap. He wore that in all weathers even though he wasn't bald. I guess the head-wear was there to distract you from his rather eyecatching belly, which would get further accentuated by the fact that he wasn't very tall. If you're obese, being tall is probably your only get-out-of-jail card in the looks department.
Khalid sat down on the empty chair next to me and nodded at me. I nodded back. We didn't really get along that well. We had a few bust ups back in junior year. But we got along for the sake of the group. I didn't want to burden the group with my vendettas and I think most of the others would take his side so I didn't push the issue. It pays to feel included.
Seki, that's Saklain for you, was vigorously typing at away at his phone while strolling around the roof. His messy hair fell across the front of his forehead and almost covered up his eyes. I never knew much about this kid even though he had always been around me and us back in university. He was very insular, keeping most of his words to himself. He occasionally spoke, like the time he called me out for complaining about my mother's health problems. I think that was the first time I had seen him care about anything. He had left me red-faced in front of everyone and I had half a mind to strike back when I realized that the group would probably side with him on that one. Didn't want to come across as the bad guy.
Wasi and Mohona arrived together, both of them carrying pizza boxes. They had only recently started dating and I suppose they were still in the honeymoon phase. I wasn't sure who was settling in the context of their relationship. They were both painfully average. Wasi had spent his university years chasing after a girl named Tasnuva, literally being her errand boy at one stage. I don't know if Mohona had forgotten all of that or just conveniently chosen to forget it.
Our host, Ehsan, was late as usual. I really liked Ehsan, even though he was terrible with keeping time. Although he came from a fairly conservative family, he had told them about Moneesha and the fact that her last name was 'Das'. I really had to pat him on the back. This wasn't something I could have done.
I heard a female voice calling my name. I turned to see Farah walking towards me. She had gotten even prettier somehow, I am not sure how. Farah and I went to the same high-school together before going to the same university together. I've known her for what, ten years?
"Hey" I waved at her and then looked for a chair to offer her. Khalid had taken the last vacant one so I got up from my chair and offered it to her.
"It's fine" she protested with a raised hand. My gesture had clearly embarrassed her and she gave me a nervous smile. It was the most beautiful thing in the world.
Ehsan came running into the roof with two 2 litre bottles of Coca Cola.
"I'm sorry!" Ehsan had a sheepish smile on his face as he put the bottles down.
"You're late again" Moneesha playfully slapped his shoulder.
"Traffic was bad, man" he said casually.
"Between here and the department store?" I cut in.
The group started laughing, I joined in laughing with them. The realization that it was the last time that we would laugh like that together had already dawned on me but I was surprisingly okay with it. I think humans adapt to everything in the end.
We all huddled around on a mattress Moneesha had arranged, me carefully sitting next to Farah, and started eating the pizza. Some were still on the way but everyone was too tired to wait. I looked around the circle as I dug into my pizza and the faces around me felt surprisingly friendly, even though there were some people I knew I didn't like. My phone buzzed with a text.
"All new recruits expected at HQ on Sunday morning for the Orientation. HR"
I put the phone away and went back to concentrating on my pizza.
"You're joining Green Telco, right?" Farah asked me. "Sorry I noticed your text" she said when I looked at her.
"Yeah, I'll see how it goes" I didn't want to come across as arrogant cause I honestly knew that I had bagged one of the more coveted positions.
"Good luck" she gave me a big smile, which I think was heartfelt.
I awkwardly smiled back cause I honestly never know what to do when people are being nice to me. What are you supposed to do, anyway?
I found myself hold my half-eaten piece of pizza towards her in the way one would hold a wine glass forward when offering a toast.
She took a second to process this. Her face, decorated with very limited make up, looked bewildered at my strange gesture. But soon after, she did the same, giving me a wave with her own slice of pizza.
By the time Shadman arrived, the sun had set and the fairy lights Moneesha had set-up around the tin shed had become the only source of illumination. I had made sure to save him a piece of pizza, which he gladly accepted.
While I was handing Shadman the pizza, Khalid and the others had started singing. It was a song we all knew from back when we were teenagers. Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls.
Just as Khalid had started singing, Anikah joined us on the mattress. Anikah had dated Khalid for 3 years before breaking up at the start of our final year. She didn't make any eye-contact with Khalid, instead choosing to sit in the far-end of the mattress, reasonably far away from Khalid but not far enough to make it obvious.
As the group started joining in on the singing, I looked around the crowd at the huddled mass of people around me and wondered if life was going to be this simple ever again. I knew the answer to that. But I had come to accept it. That is what you did when you fell into an unpleasant situation. You accepted it.
There were a lot of stories on offer on that roof. I knew some of them. You learn things about people when you spend 4 years with them. The stories slip into the most casual of conversations. After all, a person isn't anything more than a rough and disorganized compilation of stories. But then there were more stories that I didn't know about these people. May be as the night progressed, I would get to know more of them.
I looked at Shadman eating his sole piece of pizza to my left and Farah, to the right, casually joining in on the singing for a few lines here and there.
Was this night special? Perhaps. What if everyone on this roof started sharing their stories one by one? That would be special, right? I think that is something that can let you escape the general mediocrity of life. Stories.
"Would you like one?" Farah was holding a roll of chewing gum in my direction.
"Thanks" I took one and she smiled at me again while chewing gum in her mouth in the most adorable way.
Yes, there were going to be stories on this roof. And a lot of music and laughter.
Ehsan felt a face snuggling up to his shoulder. He could guess who this was. He turned to see Moneesha wrapping her hands around his right arm. The temperature had started to drop since sunset. Her warmth felt nice. Having her around always felt nice.
The singing had gone on for almost an hour but at one point Khalid had asked for a break and everyone agreed that singing the old pop hits had gotten a little boring. As was the case in such gatherings, the larger group disintegrated into smaller circles that spread out across the roof.
Ehsan remained on the mattress under the tin-shed along side Seki, who had made himself comfortable and seemed to have fallen asleep.
"Do you like the lights?" Moneesha asked, rubbing her head against his shoulder. She always liked rubbing her head against him like that. She said it kept her warm but Ehsan felt like it was something she did because she thought he found it cute. One of those little things you do in relationships that don't make sense on the surface but still make you happy.
"Yes. You didn't have to work so hard" Ehsan said, looking at the Fairy Lights that covered the Tin-Shed and parts of the roof. It wasn't the best looking roof in the world but yellow lights could make almost any place look like an upscale restaurant and the same had happened to his own roof. Even amidst the ragged old ropes that ran zigzagged across the roof to carry people's laundry, there was a sort of artistic vibe.
"Last time we're having a party while we're still in University. Don't want it to be dull" Moneesha said. She had stopped her rubbing, choosing to just rest her head on his shoulder now. Calm, quiet.
Ehsan kissed her forehead. There were a few pimples there, ones that she worked very hard to cover up. '
They've gotten bigger' Ehsan rubbed one with his left hand. Moneesha moved his hand away. She always got worked up whenever he talked about her pimples. Ehsan chuckled.
'You're adorable' he whispered to her.
'Thanks, you too' Moneesha replied.
They sat there for a while, watching Seki sleep and their other friends stroll around the roof, doing different things. A gust of early Winter wind slammed into them. Ehsan pulled her closer into him.
Ehsan noticed Ishti walking around the roof with Farah. That was a strange pairing. For most of her time in university, Farah had dated a senior from another department. Ishti had been deep in love with another girl in that time frame. To see them walking around the roof like that was a little unusual.
"They're really hitting it off, aren't they?" Moneesha asked. She must have noticed him looking at them too.
"Yeah. Kind of surprising" Ehsan said.
"If we can make it, anyone can" Moneesha added.
Ehsan watched Moneesha close her eyes again. Maybe she would fall asleep. She did seem pretty tired. The look of contentment on her face made Ehsan feel very warm. Something about seeing her happy always made him feel very good. It had never changed. Even when they had fights, seeing her upset made him lose track of what he was saying, no matter how passionately he believed that he was on the right side of things.
Ehsan noticed a ruffling on the mat and turned to see Seki slowly get up. Seki was just about to yawn loudly when Ehsan held his index finger across his lips, motioning towards him to be quite. Unfortunately, Seki hadn't noticed this and proceeded to yawn unusually loudly. Moneesha had probably been asleep for a minute or two when she got woken up by Seki's yawn.
"Sorry, I tried to keep him quiet" Ehsan apologized. He honestly felt bad to see her having to get up. She had looked so peaceful.
"It's fine" Moneesha said, struggling to keep her eyes open.
"Do you want to go home? I'll drop you" Ehsan offered. She looked like she could use some proper, uninterrupted sleep.
"Alright" she begrudgingly accepted. She didn't seem like she wanted to go home but she couldn't help it either, by the looks of it.
Moneesha fell asleep on the rickshaw too. Ehsan wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into his chest. The night was chilly and it bothered him to think that the cold wind was getting access to her ears. She had terrible sinus problems and even the slightest exposure to bad weather could do a lot of damage to her. He covered her ears with his palm and hoped that the rest of her would be alright.
Her house wasn't all that far from his own. He could rejoin the party once he had dropped her off. It didn't look fitting for the host to be missing even though the party hadn't really been his idea.
Moneesha seemed to feel the care she was receiving and she snuggled deeper into his chest in her sleep. Even though Ehsan was cramped for space on the rickshaw, he didn't mind. Something about rickshaw rides with her reminded him a lot about First Year. Near the startof the Sophomore Year, Ehsan bought a motorbike, which became their primary mode of transport over the following three years. With the bike in the repair shop, this was their first rickshaw ride in years.
Back when they had started, everyone had expected religion to be an issue. Bangladeshi parents had started to accept a lot of things but getting married to someone from a different religion was still off limits. Ehsan still remembered everyone's reaction when he first broke the news of his conversations with his parents about Moneesha and marrying a hindu girl. His friends were all shocked. But the face he remembered best was Moneesha's, who seemed so proud when he had told her about how he had defended his choice in front of his parents. For her part, Moneesha's parents were surprisingly okay with it from the start.
"Right here" Ehsan told the Rickshaw-Wala to stop as they came to Moneesha's building.
"Thanks for the drop, baby" Moneesha hugged him again as she got off the rickshaw.
Ehsan watched her walk inside before instructing the rickshaw-wala to turn back.
Ehsan returned to his rooftop to see Rumman had arrived with the alcohol. Even in a group of close friends, Rumman was the one Ehsan was closest to, and just as Rumman was trusted to provide the alcohol, he was trusted with Ehsan's secrets.
"Did you tell her yet?" Rumman said, as Ehsan walked up to him.
"Tell her what?" Ehsan replied, picking up a bottle of Carew in his hand.
"That you lied about telling your parents"
Ehsan looked at Rumman and decided he didn't want to have that conversation.
It was almost pm before the alcohol started to flow.
Mohona sat awkwardly on one of the plastic chairs, watching Wasi pour himself a glass. His receding hair line was a little off-putting but she had learnt to look past that a long time ago. There were things about him there were kind of cute. His glasses for example. Circular frames. Very cute.
Wasi walked over to her and offered her a sip. A few years earlier, her first instinct would have been to vehemently refuse it. She didn't really like the smell of alcohol. It was far too strong for her. But she took the glass and took a few sips. The taste was bitter. In an ideal world she would have spat it out. Instead she nodded knowingly at Wasi. "This is good", she said. Wasi nodded back.
She wasn't sure if the few sips she had taken would actually get her buzzed. She hoped not.
Mohona took out her phone and fixed her hair. It had been a while that she had stopped wearing the hijab. She missed the sort of protection it gave her. It covered up most of her face. Protection from people getting to see most of her features.
The night was getting colder with every passing minute. She hadn't expected that. Her choice of half-sleeved Salwar Kamiz was turning out to be a bad decision. She pulled her hands together to keep herself warm. Wasi seemed to have noticed this. He took off the full-sleeved shirt he was wearing and handed it over to him, leaving him in just t-shirt. Mohona wanted to refuse the gesture but she was so cold that she found it hard to. She also liked how cute the whole thing would have looked to everyone around them. She didn't want to let that opportunity go to waste.
Wasi's shirt was very warm, even if it did smell a little. She had told him quite a few times to try a deodorant. Heck she even bought him a Rexona for Men. Every time he would shrug and say he forgot, until eventually she got tired of badgering him about it.
Wasi had moved onto his second glass. Mohona watched him chat with Ehsan and Rumman. It was a strange trio. It was clear Ehsan and Rumman weren't really enjoying Wasi's company. They had been talking among themselves before Wasi had invited himself to their circle. Mohona couldn't entirely hear what the topic of discussion was. As far as she knew, Rumman was very selective about conversation. She could see him nodding inattentively at whatever Wasi was saying. Sometimes Wasi just didn't know when to shut up.
Mohona's phone rang. It was her mother.
"Don't worry, I'm at Trisha's" Mohona lied through her teeth.
Trisha was one of the female friends that her mother knew about. Since she had started dating Wasi, she had started to use Trisha's house as her go-to excuse whenever she spent nights outside. Her mother did not ask too many questions because they knew Trisha well and Trisha, for her part, was always instructed to answer correctly if she was contacted. It was a simple enough arrangement but it worked well.
Lying to her parents wasn't something she would ever get used to. Even as University was on the verge of ending and she was close to starting her life as a full blown adult, there were parts of her that were terrified of her parents. She shuddered to think what would happen if her father found that she was staying over at a boy's house or that there was alcohol there or that she had actually consumed some of the said alcohol. The first time she had a taste was when Wasi and the others had slid a bottle into campus during a concert. He insisted that she have a taste and after a few initial protests she had given it. She had felt awfully dirty afterwards.
Mohona got up from the chair and decided to walk around. She saw Farah and Ishti reclining against the railing on the north-most side of the roof. She saw Seki asleep on the mattress in the tin-shed. Many others were scattered across the roof. Most of them had already had a few glasses. That, along with the fatigue of the long day, had started to take its toll on everyone. The singing and chattering had given away to more tired movements. The party was past its prime.
She walked over to Wasi , hoping he would notice her and walk over to her. Unfortunately, he didn't. He kept talking to Ehsan and Rumman. They were both drunk too but they seem to handle it much better than Wasi, who was wobbling a little at that point. She propped up next to him, at which he finally noticed her and put her arms around her.
Ehsan made eye contact with her, his signal meaning 'he isn't well, take him away'. His attitude towards Wasi upset her but she told herself that the signal just meant for her to sit Wasi down and take care of Wasi. Nothing bad in that.
Mohona tried that, gently tugging at him to move towards the mattress but Wasi wouldn't have any of it.
"Let's" he began to spoke. "Stay here". Took him some effort to finish the sentence.
Rumman took this chance to slide away and move towards a different crowd. Ehsan, for his part, at least made an effort to try and help her with Wasi, which she politely declined.
It took a bit more tugging before Wasi finally agreed to move towards the mattress.
"You're beautiful, y'know?" Wasi muttered under his breathe.
Mohona didn't hear him properly. The stench in his breathe made her instinctively cover her nose.
"You're beautiful" Wasi repeated. She heard him clearly that time.
She sat him down on the mattress and sat down next to him. Almost immediately, he fell backwards. He hadn't passed out but he was close to doing so.
Mohona had been wearing his shirt for a while at that point. She took it off and put it on top of him like a blanket.
He looked like an overgrown baby but she thought he looked like an adorable overgrown baby.
5: Trust Me
Anikah had started to lose track of how many glasses she had helped herself to. She was still somewhat in control. Enough to be aware of the fact that she was leading herself towards disaster. She didn't really care.
She watched Mohona help Wasi to the mattress. There was something agonizingly wholesome about the whole thing. There was a time when she would have seen this and smiled. But her feelings towards other people in love had changed drastically since Khalid had walked out on her.
Anikah looked the pair of Mohona and Wasi and then she looked across the rooftop to see Khalid. And the only thing that she could realistically do after that was to keep on drinking a little more. And then a little more.
"Told you it would be a good idea"
Khalid and Anikah were sitting by their favourite pond. Shahidullah Hall was a quaint place, hidden behind the much grander Curzon Hall. But the place had a saving grace. Its gorgeous pond. Even though nobody was allowed to swim in it, just getting to sit by it was a joy when the 4 pm sun cast a kind shade over it.
"I can't believe so many people liked it" Anikah held her phone next to her face, holding it an unusually close distance, examining the contents on the screen with a heightened degree of skepticism. She was having a hard time believing the number of 'likes' and positive comments that had accumulated under the cover of Kings of Leon's 'Use Somebody' that she had posted the previous night. Some of the comments were from actual musicians too, people who actually knew and understood music.
"You're a good singer, Ani. Just trust me" Khalid spoke as he tossed jhalmuri into his mouth. His monkey-cap was a little slanted that day, revealing bits of his hair. That was a rare sight.
Anikah still kept her eyes glued to her phone. "You know, I thought about deleting it as soon as the upload had finished"
"Just because you're nervous doesn't mean the facts will change and you'll stop being a great singer" Khalid said, while gesturing towards her to take some of the Jhalmuri.
Anikah put her phone down and took some."Calling me 'great' is a bit of an exaggeration"
"Hey, I know a thing or two about singing. I think I can judge for myself" Khalid replied.
"This is so strange" Anikah went back to looking at her phone "There's even a comment from Hasan Bhai"
Khalid had a look of disbelief on his face.
"Trust me, Khalid" Anikah held the phone up in his direction so he could see the comment.
'This is rly rly good. Plz keep singing. U have a great future ahead'
Hasanul Kaiser, 'Hasan Bhai', was the frontman for a very successful underground band named 'The Blades'. He was generally revered for being an authority on music.
"What should I reply?" Anikah had already run over a few replies in her head but none of them seemed good enough.
"Just say something casual, don't sweat it" Khalid chuckled.
"Man, you were right. I should have uploaded my covers a long time ago. I feel a lot more confident" Anikah spoke while typing replies to all the comments that had piled up. It would be a while before she was done replying to all of them but she had already decided that she would write personalized replies to each of them.
"I'll be right back. Gotta pee" Khalid got up and walked towards the main building.
"Alright. Be back in a minute please" Anikah said without looking up from her phone.
"I will. Trust me"
A few seconds after Khalid left, Anikah heard a beep. Her phone was in her hand so it wasn't her phone. She looked to the left to see Khalid had left his phone there.
She didn't mean to eavesdrop but the message on the screen was something that had caught her eye.
"It's really cute how you're getting everyone to comment on her cover. Fine, i'll join in.