SILENT NOISE – a true story

Jackie Kabir

There was no bus at the stoppage; it was five thirty in the afternoon and there should be one I thought to myself. May be it had been delayed because of the heavy pour. So I waited…. one bus came and brushed passed leaving me standing as a helpless bystander. It was full to its steps like the poodles on the roadside….overflowing.
Nothing else could be seen in the heavy rainfall, just some privately owned cars rushing to their respective destinations. It had been pouring heavily since morning and I was quite sure there would be no usual vehicle for me to ride home. Panic stricken, I started to walk to see if there was any other type of transport. In the mean time I got wet and was continuing to get wetter even though I had the umbrella. The raindrops fell diagonally I could barely save my head from getting drenched. I wonder what happens to all the vehicle during the downpour. It seems as though they all vanish in an unfathomable way.
‘Come on! Come on!’ I heard someone shouting giving me the feeling that if I missed this one I’d be doomed for eternity! With out any hesitation I ran along to be hauled up by the helper of the vehicle.
It was a Rider; a four-wheeler to carry ten to fifteen passengers most of whom are scanty- wage people like myself and it was the helper who was trying to attract attention of the passengers like myself. I thanked my lucky stars and hopped in. It was so jammed-packed that I almost felt sick when I got inside. The heat of the engine mixed with the body heat of so many people in a small cubicle made the inside of the vehicle almost unbearably hotter. I felt nauseous as I sat down squashed between two elderly people, as it continued to rain. The people inside the rider were talking amongst themselves:
‘Allah’s wrath is pouring on us. We were boiling for the last two weeks and look at it today, it’s raining as though the sky is going to fall on us.’
‘What can you expect with the things that are going on in the country!’
Some one else was saying something else which I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to as I was too caught up with my own thoughts. Had I shut the window this morning before I left? Can’t recall doing so. Oh my god! Some of my books are scattered on the bed with this kind of heavy pour it’s bound to get drenched. When the vehicle jerked to a stop I came back to my immediate plight, this is as far as the automobile goes. I could understand the reason as soon as I got out; the lane on which my house was located was flooded completely. The whole area looked like a river and the buildings sprouting from its bed. There was a strange unfamiliar smell that struck my nostrils as I tried to approach my house on foot. The water was above my ankle at the mouth of the road as I approached further the water level increased gradually. It was above my knee my trousers made my legs feel heavy and it became more difficult to walk and I suspected that I might fall into a hole or something. There was an empty rickshaw coming in the opposite direction giving out ripples all around me. As I asked him if he could take me to the end of the lane he said I’d have to pay him 15 taka. Fifteen taka! where 5 taka was more than enough on a usual day. Near to tears I agreed as I didn’t want to waste any more time to see what awaited me at home. By now I was completely drenched ‘kakbheja’ as they would say in Bangla. And parts of my body exposed to the road water started itching.
I lived in a house with a family of four and it was a three-storied building on the road. Ours was the ground floor. It was my third year with the family and I became a member of the family. My real family lives in Khulna and before I stayed with these people I stayed in the university hall devoid of all facilities of a regular family life so I was quite happy to get all that I missed in exchange of a portion of my salary. The best person in the house was the five-year-old Rumki who was simply adorable. Even her mother couldn’t take her away from my bed and so on most nights she fell asleep on my bed. Apart from Rumki’s parents there was Rumki’s grandma who was an elderly person and stayed in the adjacent room to mine it was also the families living room.
As my rickshaw approached my house I could feel that the daylong rain had left us waterlogged. I went inside quickly and unlocked my room.
It was already dark and I put the light on.
The whole bed was soaked on the window side. The red and black-stripped curtain was reduced to a black piece of cloth stuck to the windowpane. The water had tricked down the wall was spreading on the ground.
“Auntie see how hard it’s raining today?” Rumki ran to my room with her usual enthusiasm. She had a pretty face with a flat nose and a bob. She was so thin that she looked even younger than her age.
Hurriedly I removed my books rubbed them with even wetter scarf of mine.
“Oh Auntie you are all wet!! Can I get wet too?”
“No you can’t, you will get a cold my dear!” I tried to explain.
Quickly I took shower and got changed. In the mean time the rain continued. And as it was getting darker the water level also started rising. Slowly but surely. Our grandma run around with one of Rumki’s ruler with which she was measuring how quickly the water was rising. We were scared that the house might get flooded if the rain doesn’t stop sometime soon
didn’t stop.
We cursed each car that passed through the road as it left huge waves which came over the verandah almost got inside our main door. We took turns checking how far it was before we were flooded. And finally at around nine at night when we were getting ready for our dinner the water seeped inside, with the smooth fluidity of a snake through our main door. The waste water pipes gave out water in the opposite direction both in the kitchen and the bathrooms in a matter of 10 minutes the small house was over flown with pitch dark, filthy water.
Grandma shouted “Oh dear God! What are we going to do? The water with all the filth in the world is getting in my house! What sin have I committed to deserve this?”
Rumki’s mother and I frantically ran around to put away carpets electric wires of the television and radio. Everything had to be piled on the dining table, the Chest of drawers and even the television stand. I suddenly remembered to take clothes away from the bottom rack of the chest of drawers as the water might get inside soon.
“Bhabhi (addressing Rumki’s mother) remove all the clothes from the lower shelf otherwise they will get wet.”
Promptly we went to our respective rooms for clearing our bottom shelves. The water rose inch by inch and we just watched. It’s unimaginable feeling for someone who has never had the experience of being flooded. We were estranged. It was as though we were shipwrecked in an island without ever having any hope of getting rescued. I have heard or seen news clips on television of villages getting flooded in the rainy season but never had the experience. I lived in a place in Khulna where it never floods due to the Sundarbans . Even my grandfather couldn’t ever recall seeing that area flooded.
Everyone but Rumki looked as though they have lost the most valuable thing they owned. The drain water mixed with rain water along with all the dirt of the road seemed to have invaded our private sanctuary; it had violated our innermost dignity. Life seemed meaningless now. All our furniture were immersed in a feet water and I could almost see germs crawling along the body of all of them. “Don’t throw it!” I heard Rumki’s mother shouting.

Splash! Splash!
I came out to see what was happening. Rumki was throwing showpieces and whatever she could get hold of in the water. And as the water splashed she clapped her little hands, it was like a game to her.
Rumki’s mother was desperately trying to refrain her from throwing things but she screamed and kicked her legs in the air as her mother tried to take her in her arms.
I intervened and took her to my room and as I put her on my bed she sat there quietly for a split of a second as soon as I turn my eyes from her she threw my comb in the filthy water. I gave her a stern look.
As Rumki’s father returned home he was flabbergasted seeing the condition of the house. asked if Rumki should be sent away to her maternal grandma’s house for the night. He was a service holder in a private company so usually he always came home at different times but it was inevitably after dusk.
“ I don’t want go no.”
“No I don’t want to go” screamed Rumki
“But this place is like a river where will you sleep? Rumki?” Think your grandma will have chocolates for you. You can play with your Auntie no one will say anything to you.”
But the little person was very determined that she’d stay back.
I felt sad as I looked through the two-bedroom house, it looked a mess. All the wooden sofas were on top of one another. The kitchen utensils were all stacked on the dining table. We all forgot about dinner. I tried to look back and have I ever felt this kind of distress or discomfort in my entire life? My memory failed me. But Like the saying goes the show must go on I thought of our forgotten dinner and declared:
“ Let’s get ourselves to eat something. Surely we can’t starve!”
So it was decided that we will eat in turns Rumki was fed by her mother and Grandma and Rumki’s father took the plates on their hands and ate the already cooked rice and fish with dhal. They both had to go to different rooms so that they could sit on their beds.
As they finished eating Rumki’s mother and I took our turn. Although I felt inexplicably famish I couldn’t get myself to eat. I felt puckish and smelt the foul water in everything.
The colour of the water was absolutely black god knows how many types of germs are there I thought as I walked around the house barefoot.
Grandma decided she needed to use the toilet.
But there was no toilet. Everything was under one foot water. As I peeped inside the toilet I felt disgusted. The water had culminated with the latrine water as well.
“I am desperate!!” she whispered to me.
I called Rumki’s mother and asked for some advice, at that moment I felt so helpless that tears started rolling down my face. I just felt that everything was meaningless. The world became a very hostile place to live in. As I looked at Rumki’s mother I could sense the feeling of helplessness within her too.
It was as though we were the unwanted inhabitants of mother earth। I looked around myself all I could see was the water, water which had given me the feeling of disgust, irritation and loss of pride. I lifted my mattress where I saved the few plastic bags from buying little accessories from here and there. And got a plastic bag and asked Grandma if she could use it as her toilet. I suggested that she should sit at the edge of the bed and use the plastic bag. We shut the door behind us.

Jackie Kabir teaches English language. She can be contacted at jackie.kabir@gmail.com.

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