It was early, early in the morning. Few people were around the platform as I got into my train. I found an empty compartment and put away my suitcase. The section consisted of two rows of vinyl seats fixed to the wall, sliding window on one comer and a door on the other. I took a book and was about to open it to a page when a face peeped through the door. It disappeared in a few seconds leaving me staring.
A few minutes later the face reappeared. It was that of a man in his early sixties. He was wearing an overcoat although the temperature was probably not less than 15°C. His features were like that of an aging man; the loose skin was forming at the cheeks making his whiskers look funny. His head was almost bald except for a few white hairs at the back. The eyebrows were arched, their shape almost perfect. The eyes were a deep brown, set with an old-fashioned monocle in one of them. Clearly looked out of sort of man my mother would absolutely forbid me to talk to.
As I returned to my book I was interrupted by his asking, “Excuse me madam but is this a first class compartment?” Looking up I saw him still standing with his suitcase. I nodded a ‘yes’ not wanting to converse with such a person.
“Never judge a person by his appearance.” These words seemed to scream book at me. It was probably just a coincidence that the idiot had to be there in my book trying to improve English. Maybe I was being pessimistic about the situation…!
Before I could come to a decision I was interrupted again…
“Going to Chittagong for the first time, Miss?” he asked trying to make conversation.
“No, I’ve been there before,” I replied, deciding to answer all questions politely.
“Traveling alone before?” he asked again in the same congenial tone.
” Yes, a couple of times, “I replied.
“How are you? “he wanted to know
“Twenty,” I replied trying to sound tired by his questions.
“May I know your name?” he asked.
“Farzeen Saleh,”I replied shortly
“Hasim Chowdhury,” he said, holding out his hand
“Pleased to meet you,” I said shaking his hand.
The shake was warm and friendly. I was being too harsh, I realized.
“Are you going to Chittagong on a visit?” I asked in my friendliest voice.
“No, no visits for me, I’m going to … find a new publisher,” he replied thoughtfully.
“A Publisher?” I asked confused.
“Ever heard of H. Chowdhury, the writer?” he asked matter-of-factly.
“Oh, I’m so sorry …” I had made a terrible mistake. H. Chowdhury was a famous writer Dhaka Recently he had won a prestigious award for one of his works. The problem was that did not know his first name.
“It’s okay, Farzeen. May I call Farzeen? he asked
“Sure,” I replied smiling.
“Would you like to hear a story about a little boy who became very rich? It’s a very short one,” he assured me.
“Please,” I said, putting away my book.
“Well, the story goes that more than half a year ago a boy was born to a poor village family. A few days after his birth the child’s father died, leaving his mother alone with five other children. He grew up in the care of his elder sisters. When he was six years old, he was sent to the local school and learned to read and write. From there the boy learned to love books. He would listen with great interest to stories and ask for more till his teacher would send him home. On his 8th birthday, his poor family got together and got him a book for children. He was the happiest boy in the world with it. Every day after his daily chores he would take it out and carefully read it.”
At this point of the story, he stopped and said, “I still have the book with me. I could have shown it to you but it’s at home.”
“That’s okay,” I replied smiling.
Suddenly I realized that Mr. Chowdhury had started referring to the “ he” as “I”, I could not help smiling.
Understanding this he smiled too and continued with the story. “In my 10th year I started writing poems and they were a great success family. Later on, my mother saved up and sent me to a real school in the city to study the language. In this institution, I studied for more than a decade.
When I had finished in Bengali, I decided to go back to my village and look for my family with whom I had lost touch some years ago. I found only my mother’s grave to welcome me back. A local told me that the rest of my family had moved away to different places. I was forgotten.”
I went back to the city heavy hearted. Never in life had I found such loneliness and despair. Eventually, I got back to myself and found a job in a newspaper office. My work was to write a daily column of interesting news. Soon my column was a great success. People encouraged me to write and I did, I wrote about my family, my mother, my village, my country etc. Whatever I wrote was a great success. A publisher made a book out of my poems and it was a great success. I dedicated it to my mother without whom I could have never have been what I am now. My publisher advised me to write stories and I did and they were sold out. I do not want to praise myself but it was amazing how the magic of my pen brought me so much fame and fortune.”
“Thus I carried on writing and selling and winning prizes. Life would be perfect except… I have no children … no family either!” he said slowly.
“I’m sorry,” I said wondering how God gives his gifts to people. “So your publisher is in Chittagong? “I asked, changing the subject.
“Oh, his daughter is getting married and I’m invited, “he said with a smile
“Of course .. ahm … Could I have your, autograph, “I asked handing him the book on my lap.
“Sure,” he replied. “What is ambition?”
“To be someone like you,” I replied promptly.
He laughed and wrote a few lines on the cove, closed the book and handed it back me and said,” Read it later.”
The door of our compartment opened again. I was half-expecting another stranger to come and say he was Keanu Reeves, my favorite actor. But it was the ticket collector. He told us we would be Chittagong in half-an-hour, as we handed over our tickets. When he left realized I probably would not meet my stranger friend again. As if reading my thoughts, he suggested we exchange addresses.
Time flew by and soon the train began to slow down. We had reached Chittagong station. We went out together and he helped me call a taxi. We were such good friends that heaven offered to take me to his publisher’s daughter’s wedding. I waved to him from my taxi till my arms ached. I just could not believe I would like someone other than the family member, of the older generation. He was a stranger and at first, I judged him wrongly…!
After about two weeks when I did not get a letter or a call I decided to write. A letter with black border arrived a few days later. Mr. Hasim Chowdhury had died of a heart attack. They hadn’t publicized the news because it was one of the last wishes. Most surprising of all he had left his fortune to me! I could not believe it. I did not care about being rich, but death was absolutely … something unexpected!
I hurried on to his grave. It was beside his beloved mother. As I placed a wreath at the head of the comes, memories and his words ran through my mind. I remembered when he waved to me from the station… the last time I saw him These thoughts brought tears to my eyes which rolled down my cheeks and onto a little leaf in the wreath …”Tears Shed Over Graves Are For Words Unsaid And Deeds Undone ….!