Ball of Fire
Jannat was slouching on the floor and earnestly drawing on a chart paper which she scavenged from a nearby dustbin. Amena was beholding in awe for long holding herself at bay. She bought her these crayons after she passed the PSC exam last year. Amena cast a silent gaze on the paper from behind.
Jannat was engrossed in making a rising sun, she coloured it with deep red and made it a ball of fire. Suddenly Jannat looked back and by watching her mother standing in proximity giggled. "Ma, won't you go for work today?"
Amena startled and chuckled back. "Yes, I am going now. Don't go to school today. Stay with your grandma."
Jannat perceived the real reason. The security guard of an adjacent apartment had been stalking her for the last couple of months. Now she is not feeling safe on the way to school. Ma assured her she might go to the owner of the apartment to lodge a complaint about it. Until then she had to stay in the house. Ma always wants her to be highly educated like the girls of the houses where she works as a 'bua'.
She wants her to go to office like the madams of those houses. But now it is a big problem. She yelled, "Ma, bring the water colour and paper so that I can pass my time at home."
Amena always appreciates her daughter's passion for colour. When Jannat was a toddler, even at that time she used to rough out on the floor or on the mud with a broken piece of brick. Amena too has the similar fascination for colourful objects. She first saw the coloured television in the house where her mother left her as a domestic help when she was only eight or nine. Her eyes dazzled on that day. The multi-coloured men, women in the most vibrant background made her dumbfounded. Sometimes she used to steal from the make-upkitof the girls of the house and decorate her face stealthily inside the wash room.
She wants Jannat's life to be exceedingly animated one. She will not leave any stone unturned to fulfil her wish. She will never let her daughter's life be shadowed by her own misery. She realizes she has to toil a lot for that. Just last night Jannat's father came up with a proposal, "I have decided to marry Jannat off. That old haggard security guard may ruin my daughter's life."
"I will never ever let it happen as long as I am alive." Amena roared.
"You pig headed; the groom is an imam of a mosque. He will send Jannat to Saudi Arabia to earn a lot. Don't you need money?"
"No, I don't want money. I want Jannat to be educated." Amena screamed at the top of her lungs and left the scene sobbing.
Jannat's father Ramjan squanders most of his money and time gambling. He pulls rickshaw for a few days when he loses and requires money for another bout. Amena works in four houses dawn to dusk to make both ends meet. She somehow manages Jannat's education and saves a little for her future. Amena is quite resolute not to give up.
The lady of the house number 34 assured Amena that she would give her daughter's water colour for Jannat after her final exam is over. Amena was excited since Jannat could make the best use of it very soon. Her life should be like the coloured television, never be the black and white one.
That day she visited the owner of the apartment 'Shantir Nir' and apprised him of everything about the security guard's sinister approach towards Jannat. The gentle man showed empathy for her and promised to look into the matter. Amena got relieved and prayed for him.
Jannat resumed attending her school. In a late afternoon when she returned the house, Ramjan beamed with smile seeing her and whispered, "I will send you to Saudi Arabia. You will lead the life of a queen."
Jannat got scared and retorted, "No baba, don't say that. I will finish my study. Ma told I can do a big job afterwards, like the pretty madams of the apartments."
Ramjan hissed, "Your ma doesn't know anything. She is stupid. The imam of the mosque wants to marry you. He is so pious; he is kind enough to send you to a holy place. You are so fortunate."
Jannat began to shed tears. She is only fourteen. Why is baba telling this rubbish to her? She whined, "Baba, I am yet a child, have mercy on me."
Ramjan laughed aloud unusually, Jannat really did not understand why. He went out to pull the rickshaw in need of money since he lost in the last gamble.
Jannat kept on attending the school at her mother's behest and assurance. As the time passed by, Ramjan's behaviour sounded quite fishy to Amena. She found him talk in low voice with some strangers whom she did never see before around the slum. Amena intended not to care. She kept on working hard as usual. The ladies of the houses liked her for her punctuality and regularity. One madam already promised to bear Jannat's educational expenses. Amena always did some extra work and gave additional time for her.
One day while mopping the floor in that house, her heart began to beat faster by news in the television. The coffin of a dead girl arrived in the airport from Saudi Arabia who went there as a maid. Suddenly the coloured box went utterly black and white in her blank eyes.
Ramjan looked mysteriously on cloud nine for the last few days. He did not go out to pull rickshaw nor passed his time in gambling as before. Out of the blue he brought new dresses for Amena, Jannat and himself. Every day he was bringing sweets and other expensive food items. Where did he get the money from? Amena was pondering totally confused.
The heavy work load took a toll on Amena's health. She began to feel unwell and weak. She had a horrible nightmare. In the dream Jannat was painting a coffin with the water colour which she was supposed to receive next morning from house number 34. She woke up panting only to discover that Ramjan was closely studying her face. Jannat was deep asleep in another bed. Ramjan declared under his breath, "I have fixed Jannat's marriage tomorrow after jummah prayer."
Amena tried to get up from bed quickly, but Ramjan took out a long and sharp knife and placed on her throat, "If you speak up anything, I will slaughter you like the goat of a qurbani."
Next morning Ramjan locked Jannat in a separate room. Amena had a high fever and she was lying almost unconscious. The neighbours were slowly gathering around their house, she could somehow sense it.
After how long she was unaware, she pulled up her strength and sneaked out of the house towards the police station. The sub inspector and another cop arrived in a jeep along with her. Ramjan warmly welcomed them as if it was not unexpected for him. He claimed that Jannat was nineteen years old. He handed in her birth certificate with a heavy envelope underneath.
The inspector scrutinized the certificate and got annoyed with Amena. He rebuked her for wasting their valuable time and left the scene immediately. Ramjan set a murderous look at Amena before hurried everybody to conclude the necessary arrangement as the groom party would appear shortly.
Amena suddenly got a glimpse of Jannat through the window of the locked room. Her deep red sari seemed a ball of fire to her which Jannat was creating the other day on a tattered chart paper. Her eyes again blazed exactly like the day when she first saw the coloured television.
But Amena knows she cannot afford to give up. Will the gentleman of 'Shantir Nir' do anything for her? Or the lady of the house of house number 34? She is supposed to receive the water colour for Jannat from her today. Amena in her delirium staggers on the busy street to bring colour to her daughter's life.
The writer is a English Teacher, DPS STS Dhaka