Razia’s thoughts were like clouds in the sky, floating on aimlessly. Her emotions made momentary pauses with unanswered questions. She missed her children, and the home felt empty at times, but there was a satisfaction in watching them grow wings and fly to the homes of their own. The typical notions of the empty nest being filled with loneliness didn’t ring true with her, she had bitter-sweet thoughts about it all.
Life was about changes and adjusting oneself with them. The circumstances that changed her course of life did not come as she would have chosen, but Razia was glad that she did move on with life. The holy month of Ramadan was nearing its end, and she was pleased that she had fasted without getting sick. The days were quite long, and not eating and drinking for almost seventeen hours was not easy, but there was a good feeling at the end of the day, like the whole body had been transformed.The summer days were deliciously warm, and Razia sat in her tiny balcony on the fourth floor of her apartment in Boston. From her window, she could see the beautiful park beside the reservoir. The streets below her apartment were empty with the student population gone on their summer break, and it was Sunday. That particular morning, the emptiness of her home and the quietness of the street took her off to reflections of the years gone by. Both of Razia’s daughters had moved out. Meena, the eldest had married and lived in New York with her husband. Veena, the younger one was studying in Raleigh, North Carolina. Children moving on in life was good, but love wanted to hold them back. The fading sunlight caressed Razia’s face, attractive with its sharp features. However, recently, her fifty-plus years had added few craw-feet around the eyes, and there was a hint of a double chin. Age will have its toll, but Razia’s liked to take care of herself, to know that she looked her best self.
“Perhaps I need a stronger moisturiser.” She reminded herself and planned on a time to visit the mall the next day. Then she settled further back in her chair and continued to observe the streets. Her thoughts ran helter-skelter, memories raced from shore to shore, back to the days when she had come to the USA.
She had come to Boston, with her husband, Munim 25 years back. Both of them were from the district of Rangpur in Bangladesh. He came to obtain his Ph.D. at Harvard University. Like many students, they had rented a small apartment in Brighton, and life was peaceful. Razia fell in love with the uniqueness of the big city and spent her time with some volunteering at the local daycares and animal shelters. She was thrilled when Munim got a job upon competition of his degree, and it was a mutual decision to stay on, in the USA, and to begin a family.
Life sailed smoothly with the years after the two daughters were born, Razia became a busy mother and a homemaker. Totally absorbed with the family, Razia failed to note the distance growing between her and Munim until, like a trick of fate, one day he announced that he was in love with Suzie, his hot, Latino secretary. “I never knew what love was until I met Suzie. You and I had an arranged marriage, and there was no love there.” Munim has told her as if trying to justify his unfairness to the children. And more, he planned to marry her. Lastly, he stated his final decision, “A Muslim man can have four wives, so I don’t want to a divorce, you can stay in your home with the girls. Suzie is okay with that.”
The humiliation and pain hit hard, and Razia had replied, “I am not okay with that system Munim. Marriage becomes more than the paperwork or the vows when children enter the scene. I am committed to my daughters, and if you don’t, then I shall file a divorce. I can take from my children.”She could hardly believe that Munim did not fight for the daughters, he was having the time of his with the new woman in his life. Overnight he stopped being a caring father that he had been till his disclosure. But perhaps it was for the best that the girls did not need to shuttle back and forth between weekends to be with their parents. Razia took custody of her daughters. And from there on, until the girls were adults and on there-there was this daily uphill battle, the game of survival for the mother and the children. With the help of a friend, luckily Razia found a job with a retail store and with occasional help from the father, raised Meena and Veena.
“You will see Munim will come out of his stupor and come home soon. Those secretary relationships last while they are like hot cakes, a few more days of lust, and it will be over,” Razia’s friends told her.
“But life will not wait for my daughters, and I don’t want to share the roof or the bed with Munim anymore,” Razia told them.
The Sunday was getting on, and few people were venturing into the streets. As thoughts licked on bones from the past, Razia occasionally checked the time on her mobile phone. Iftar time was nearing, and she was thinking of the coming Eid-ul-Fitr at Ramadan’s end. Eid is tomorrow, but I wish Veena and Meena were here. Razia wistfully thought, putting aside cooking on Eid for herself. She would have planned on ‘semai and polao’ for the day if any of her children were there.
A gust of wind carried in the smell of grilled meat from some nearby apartment. Razia could see many portable grills giving out blue smoke as people sat around them laughing and talking. On such Sundays, Razia missed her family.
A pigeon flew in and settled on the balcony rail. Its purplish eyes stared at Razia, cooed loudly and then flew away. Razia smiled at the quick visit of the bird. She remembered a saying that the sight of pigeons is a sign to announce guests. She smiled, who would be coming to see her anyway? Superstitions were silly at times. Just then, the doorbell rang. Pushing back her chair, Razia went to answer. The door held wide, Razia stared, gaping at the people at the door. Her hands reached up and cleared her eyes, ‘Was she seeing things right?’
It was Meena and her American husband, Rick. He was born and brought up in Boston. Rick’s parents had migrated from Europe.
“Ma !!!” Meena cried, throwing herself on her mother. “It was Rick’s idea to surprise you. Last year, during Thanksgiving, I joined his family, and so he wanted to join you for Eid.” Razia opened her arms wide, embracing her American son-in-law, and kissed him on the forehead. She held him tight, feeling how love made boundaries vanish, the good man sharing her daughter’s life was no foreigner at all, but God’s gift to her family. Rick’s blue eyes twinkled as he smiled and said, “Eid Mubarak, I’m here to eat your delicious ‘polai and semao’.” It was too beautiful a moment for correction food names, and Razia said, “Oh yes, I will make lots of ‘polai and semao’ for you.”
And she recalled some cooing pigeons in the earlier part of the beautiful day, could have known and called out for the guests?
“Rick and Meena, wash up and take rest, I am getting busy in the kitchen. Today my American meye-jamai is here, there is so much to do!”
Tulip Chowdhury writes from