THE ABORTED ISLAND
Translated by: The Author
Published by: Bangla Academy, Dhaka
First Edition: November 1985
As the news was published in the dailies and broadcast through the radio and TV, a new animation was noticeable throughout the metropolitan city. Twenty-eight miles off the north-east port-city, an island had risen out of the sea and become habitable. The area of the island was about 700 square miles. Already flora had begun to grow on the island and fauna was getting visible. Some of the foremost scientists and geologists of the country had conducted a three-month long detailed survey of the island and declared that it was not only fit for human habitation but that there was also a distinct possibility of a variety of mineral resources being found there.
The government had accordingly decided to settle, in the first phase, one thousand inhabitants on the newly emerged island. All expenses of settling the first batch of inhabitants would be borne by government. The selected candidates would only be required to collect at the new central railway station at their own expense. Thenceforth, all arrangements necessary to carry the settlers to their destination would be made by government. Every selected adult would be given a one-time grant of 500 taka and allotted half-a-bigha of land on the new settlement. The selected person, of course, would be required to carry all suitable implements for the profession chosen by him. At the time of applying for selection, each candidate must collect a copy of the questionnaire from the particular ministry, fill it up together with his or her attested signature or thumb-impression and then send it on to the relevant authority. October 30 of the current year was the last date for submitting the application.
When the announcement was broadcast by T.V. in the seven o’clock news, it produced more or less the same reaction in different circles of the city. Curiosity and excitement. The quality of curiosity did not vary, but the excitement was most noticeable among the deprived and disadvantaged. Those who had nothing further to lose or nothing to gain in the existing system. Those who did not even toy with the idea of going to the island felt, too, a thrill of excitement at the announcement, at least momentarily. Perveen, for instance. Her attractively filled-out body suited her name rather well. Her long flowing hair, extending up to her thigh, was a bit matted through lack of adequate care. Her nose was very elegant. A nose-gay of white pearl-a wedding-gift from her mother-enhanced the brightness of her ivory skin. Her buttock and waist were, for the male beholder, clearly inflammatory sights. Among these beholders, one was lucky with her. Her left eye had a somewhat stony stare, though, apparently discouraging all erotic thoughts. Decidedly, an attractive woman.
She lived alone with her husband, in a one-room house, in a reasonably decent neighbourhood. She had to carry water from a well-stocked underground tank about two hundred yards from her house. When, with the empty earthen vessel expertly placed at the left corner of her waist, she proceeded towards the tank, clad in a blue or green or red-black saree, to fetch water for her household needs, the movement started a rhythm in her buttock that would be worthy of the poet’s pen or the painter’s brush, despite the discouraging stony stare. She looked well-preserved, partly because she still had not gone through the tribulations of a child-birth. But her once-erect bosom now exhibited the signs of decline suffered owing to excessive handling of it on her husband’s part and had ceased to be competitive with the other parts of her anatomy. Nevertheless, a cheap brassier was able to conceal the actual loss sustained by that particular protuberance from the gaze of many an inquisitive male.
Her husband had often to be away from home for business reasons. Sometimes a deal in pulse, occasionally a whole boat-load of earthen-vessels, once or twice a modest hosiery transaction. Mostly, he was able to make a satisfactory profit, enough in fact to defray all household expenses in these days of economic depression. It was because of her husband’s long stays outside and the fact that they were still without an issue that she had not entirely discouraged the attentions paid to her by a neighbouring middle-aged male, still looking rather handsome. He was very courteous and soft-spoken. Especially ingratiating was his smile. The longing expressed in the slightly twisted way he looked at her somehow made her intimate parts moist with expectation. One midnight, this led to an unexpected encounter with him, the fervid recollection of which would take away all uncertainties which her stony stare symbolized.
When she found the humid heat of a May mid-night dissolved into hot drops of sweat all over her body, including the region below her petticoat, she had come out of the furnace-like interior of her one-room house and at that very moment, Maqbul had emerged-returning home from a mid-night appointment.
Finding Pervin standing by the door-step of her house at that odd hour of the night, Maqbul’s eyes suddenly looked suitably lubricated and his lips convoluted a bit owing to a sharp escalation of desire. These changes, of course, were noticed by Pervin, as Maqbul himself was not discriminating enough to be aware of the changes wrought in the body by a mind charged with lust. He was only dimly aware of the fact that he smiled while looking at Pervin in that particular posture and that she had made a shy response to that tentative invitation, lowering her face under the mauve head-gear made by the upper part of her saree.
No one was awake at that time in the vicinity of Pervin’s house. The cat which was habituated to some brisk walking punctuated by mewing when it approached mid-night was nowhere to be seen – twenty yards away in the corrugated-iron structure, where lived the mini-merchant Salamat, an electric bulb was giving forth some eerie light which made weird patterns on the blackish-green long leaves of a nearby coconut tree. That created an atmosphere which seemed to be related to some other world.
Pervin heard Maqbul saying: Can I come in?
The question was a torrid expression of desire.
Grasping the significance of the question, pervin gave a decisive reply: No.
– Would only talk for a while, noting else.
– What are you saying? If the neighbours hear, there would be a scandal.
– No one is awake, let’s get inside. Maqbul knew Pervin’s husband was out of town on a business tour.
– What trouble are you creating at mid-night, why don’t you go home?
– Who is there to whom I can go? Maqbul’s reply was no surprise to Pervin, as she already knew Maqbul was a widower and both his sons were living abroad. She also knew, Maqbul was now passing quiet days in anew and gleaming three-room flat, looked after by an old aunt of his.
She had also heard that, now and again, Maqbul also managed to coax some teen-aged girls into some kind of physical relationship with him. Despite all this, Pervin had once accepted a gift from Maqbul – a pleasantly perfumed toilet soap, after a long dialogue with him through eyes.
The encounter seemed to have been planned by an invisible authority. Pervin’s husband was out of town, Pervin had suddenly come out of the unbearably heated interior of her unventilated house precisely at the moment when Maqbul was returning from his mid-night errand, not a cat mewing in the neighbourhood, the house at the other end of the lane looked so innocuous, and the coconut tree, too, with an enviable feel of the moment, was making invitingly murmurous noises. And there was, at this particular moment, something in the look of Maqbul which effectively melted all her physical and mental resistance.
Once inside the room and as the door was being shut, the whole body of Pervin began shaking in explosive expectation and the drops of sweat accumulating on her passion-reddened face fell on her shoulders and hands.
Pervin was not quite prepared for what Maqbul did after putting off the light but she found herself in a state of passivity. In the complete darkness of the room, Maqbul started sucking the drops of sweat off her face and shoulders and tried to reach at the folds of her saree when he met with sudden resistance. But he was past all restraint and with a forceful jerk pulled Pervin to his broad muscular chest and then began kissing her with an intensity indicative of a desperate search in a bottomless pit.
As she was finding breathing difficult, Pervin somehow succeeded in partly loosening Maqbul’s animal grab and said in a plaintive tone: It hurts.
Ion response, Maqbul pushed her body a bit and then drew her closer to his chest with the full might of his strong body and began lunatically squeezing her breasts. This time Pervin found her body growing deliciously limp and her whole being trembling in piercing ecstasy, so she surrendered to Maqbul’s second effort at disrobing her, and in the process felt a wordless affection for him.
– Slowly. A bit startled as the word slipped out of her mouth, Pervin in some surprise heard herself adding: Where does all this strength come from?
When the cardinal moment came, after frantic exploration of Pervin’s anatomy, Maqbul said effusively : Enjoying it?
After a few moment’s silence, Pervin’s reply was so welcome to Maqbul : Why all this madness? If you stay so long, which woman would say that she did not like the experience?
With the spluttering moment deliriously coming to an end, both real-realized that all their taut nerves had become agreeably relaxed and there was no feeling of guilt at all in their minds. The actual felling was of strong mutual need, both physically and mentally.
– Please go away now, if anyone gets to know what has happened there would be no end of trouble. Pervin said in a tone that suggested that she was a bit reluctant to take the initiative in terminating this highly pleasurable experience of her life.
– Who would know? The next house is at the other end and all people there must be fast asleep. Can I tell you something, Pervin?
– Did you hear on the radio about the new island? Government have decided to allot land there to the intending settlers. Every selected adult would get half a bigah of land there. I intend to apply.
– You will apply! Whatever for? You have everything here. Even in the darkness Maqbul could guess that Pervin’s left eye-brow had been raised as an exclamation mark, familiar as he was with this trait of hers. Maqbul avoided a direct reply and made a counter query: If I’m selected, will you come with me to the island? The query carried a longing and dream long nurtured by Maqbul.
At first Pervin grew speechless at the suddenness of the question, then she trembled like a timid bird and said in a voice of surprise that seemed to emanate from her very heart: Why should I ever go with you, don’t I have a household of my own?
– Of course you’ve, but I got you, too.
Pervin became silent again.
– You know Pervin, how I got so emboldened?
Pervin still said nothing.
– I’ve been watching you for many days now. I could never muster up courage to speak to you, although I had felt encouraged by the smile you sometimes gave me while by-passing me when our ways met together. That smile bore some enchantment, so I got emboldened to day. I felt you wouldn’t say ‘no’ to me.
The formality of his speech conveyed Maqbul’s inner agitation.
Pervin heard everything in silence. Maqbul’s voice once again assumed a throbbing note in the intense agitation which he felt: When I see you I’m reminded of the star-spangled blue sky. Everything there looks so lovely and clean. Many a day I had fantasied about cloping with you there. Let my dried-up heart and lonely life once again know what it is to be happy. Eventually Pervin flared up : Never speak such words again. What a dangerous man you are, no compunction about breaking up another man’s household.
– I’m thinking of my own right to happiness, and not anything else.
Pervin’s reaction this time was unexpectedly sharp: Why do you’ve to tell all these things to me? Please go away now. If I raise my voice, the whole neighbourhood would wake up.
Maqbul did not relish such a possibility and was ready to leave, after Pervin cautiously opened the door to let him go. But as he silently went out of the room, he gave Pervin a quiet kiss driven by a tenderness that had swelled up within him. And Pervin felt a cardinal change sweeping through her inmost being. On his way back home, Maqbul met a man, in the middle of the lane, proceeding towards the main street. But this conveyed no significance to him, as his mind was still under enchantment of the time he had spent with Pervin….