A Friend Forever
by Shahinur Islam
Shaju, an eight year old boy, was not sociable at all, rather tied to his mother’s apron-strings. He talked less, thought much, but thought all about himself. He had a strong tongue for taste but a weak tongue for speech.
He happened to find a boy of the same age as his playmate and schoolmate named Mamun, who, unlike other boys, behaved well and grew intimacy with Shaju as both of them were kindred spirits. But Shaju’s heart did not go out so much to Mamun as the latter’s did to the former’s.
Mamun shared whatever he bought, ate or did with Shaju while Shaju hardly did so. After coming back from school, every afternoon they played with sand on the bank of the Jamuna, which was a regular and favourite haunt to them. The river attracted them for its mysterious flow, for its sand with which they could build a house and destroy it at once, for the jumps they enjoyed from the top of the bank to water of the river, for the kans grass they picked, and with which touched each other with a quiver of excitement. But they did not know even then the river, which could attract, could also retract.
One cloudy noon when they were playing a traditional bou-bou game in the river, Shaju was losing again and again. It made him depressed, wicked, and revengeful.
After he had suffered internally from the pain of repeated defeat, he hit upon a plan to avenge on Mamun by dipping him into water until he was nearly stuffed. Seeing Mamun cry loudly with his stomach almost full of water, Shaju ran away out of fear, let alone help him. The incident made Shaju feel neither guilty nor scared of being scolded or thrashed by Mamun’s parents or his own parents.
A month went by like this without seeing or talking to each other. One afternoon, dressed with a flowery pattern, Mamun came alone to Shaju’s. Frightened and nervous this time, Shaju swung the door shut and hid himself under the bed. Mamun behaved as if all fault was his own.
He spoke to Shaju softly, “We haven`t been playin’ long. Let’s go to the bank.”
Seeing that Shaju was not opening the door, he said again in a portentous tone, “Won`t you take your favourite chocolates? I have lots of them.”
In the meantime, Shaju’s mother got out of the kitchen and found the door of the room closed, much to her surprise. She sensed some tricky smell of her son and tried to have the door opened, persuading him in many ways.
Unable to open the door, she asked Mamun to sit on a stool and served him with some puffed rice. Tired of waiting for Saju, Mamun made up his mind to leave the house and turn up some days later.
Meanwhile, the river came to be furious and boisterous with all its force, came to be swelled with water, and began to erode the land. People felt in their bones that they would have to leave their dear land and homestead for the unknown. After that, nobody would find his or her near and dear ones who were related to them by soul, around themselves even while dying.
There was no way out but leave the place for good as the river was voraciously engulfing the land like an extremely hungry tiger. So like other village people, Mamun’s parents had to leave their homestead. People were in great pain for separation of their known faces, felt sad for leaving the land where they had grown up in sorrow and happiness, and became sorrowful for the break of long-existing ties with the soil and people. Most of them felt nostalgic and could not go too far, thus rebuilding their house somewhere near. But some of them went too far mainly for poverty created afresh by the crazy river and partly for the fear of being a pauper repeatedly, and Mamun’s family was one of them.
Men and women came by the call of their soul to bid adieu to those poor souls that were going far away. With their eyes tearful, people met one another and bared their heart amid wailing cries.
Mamun still did not know that his friend was going to leave him alone, not coming to scare, disturb or play with him any more. Shaju, somehow, managed to hear of it but could not make much of the severance. Curious, he went out to see the grief- stricken family at a distance and found them floating away in a boat and people standing in rows to bid them last adieu. Shaju just could see the boat without any trace of Mamun.
Seven years already elapsed. By the time, Shaju was outgrowing his mother`s apron-strings, but still was rather retiring, withdrawn, and studying in a rarefied academic atmosphere.
He got lots of class-mates and local mates, and some of them grew friendship with him, though not an exact match of Mamun. Hurt by them one by one for something or other, he came to realize that perhaps he would not get back what he had lost; nothing could make up the rupture. Every moment invoked memories of his friendship with Mamun; every loneliness made him feel to get a friend like Mamun; every need made him in need of a real friend.
Ten years more went by, and Shaju crossed the precincts of school, college and even university without any hearing of Mamun. But his sore heart was in sore need of a friend like Mamun. He often said to himself, “I`ve pushed away the blessings of God, and the river has added fuel to it; now push has come to shove.”
One day, after seventeen years, Shaju got an offer from his elder brother to accompany him to Mamun’s as both of their elder brothers were bosom friends. Getting the offer, his mind flashed back to and sank in past sweet memories, and asked himself, “Is he still the same as he was? Will he recognize me? What does he look like now?”
At last, while he along with his brother set off to Mamun’s, many thoughts were haunting him. When they arrived at Mamun’s, Shaju could not see him but could know from others that Mamun was at Garments Factory. It would take him about four hours more to return home. Impatient and restless, Shaju loitered about the house, thus passing about all four hours without seeing any trace of his coming. Bored with waiting, Shaju lay down on bed facing the door and began to think how fate had taken him to Garments Factory.
It was evening, and an emaciated body flashed by the door as if a shooting star was falling from the sky. Shaju thought it was Mamun as he had still been bearing the mark on his chin that was pierced with a pencil by Shaju. But Shaju did not dare accost him. He felt like embracing his old yet present friend for all eternity, going on talking aimlessly, gazing at him without any blink.
But they themselves did not start talking until Mamun’s mother introduced them to each other as two of them were living in two poles apart. Shaju made Mamun easy and took him outside on a big pond where the moon was reflecting herself. At last, they bared their soul when Shaju was the first to tell,
-How are you? Do you remember all those shining days? Have you forgiven me? It`s exactly seventeen years since we met last.
Leaving all three questions unanswered, Mamun said,
-But I meet you everyday.
-And I miss you too every moment. In these seventeen years I’ve made lots of friends, but only you were a visitation from God.
Four hours flew while they were opening their heart out. But burdened with words of long days, they could not talk much. The moon was covered with clouds; darkness grew deep; silence fell on their face.
They had to get back home as Mamun had to work his fingers to the bone from 8 am to 7 pm at the Garments Factory. They had their dinner talking less but feeling more with their hearts heavy. Hardly did they sleep and talk at night. Next morning Mamun woke up earlier than Shaju as he must be on duty in time. He just waked up Shaju and said painfully,
– I must leave now to live. Please stay some days. Our words aren’t over.
The case was differently true of Shaju as he also had to go about the business of life. So he turned pale and wordless at once, and could not unload and unburden his ship, though he had waded ashore and moored the ship. Helpless, Shaju took a long look at Mamun’s departing way and, then turned his look at the lonely palm tree, which had been standing there for seventeen years.