Shazia Omar is a social psychologist. She is a member of Writers Block Bangladesh. Her debut novel, Like a Diamond in the Sky, was released by Zubaan/Penguin in August. This is an excerpt from the novel.
Deen and AJ arrived at the mourning house a little before noon. There were forty cars parked along the street. Deen rang the doorbell.
“Salam’alaikum,” said a sad eyed lady. “You must be Chinku’s friends. I’m his mother.”
“Salam’alaikum, aunty,” they said in turn.
“I watched my baby kill himself, right before my eyes.” She clutched the end of her sari. “Come.”
The house smelt of death. There were sheets laid out on the marble floors and baskets of rosary beads scattered around. Leaning against the walls were silver haired ladies in white saris and aunties with children, counting prayers on the beads, sharing memories in between sobs. So many deaths one must face in a lifetime. In the living room, bathed already, wrapped in white cloth, was Chinx. Chinx’s father, brothers, uncles, cousins, grandfathers, in white kurtas, stood around, stoic, mostly silent. Their grief stabbed into the emptiness in Deen’s gut.
“Here,” said Chinx’s mother. “Chinku’s friends are in here.” Deen stepped into a room full of ratty-faced junkies. Khors, most of them sober, in white kurtas, downcast eyes. Rahul. Shagor. Monwar, the quiet smackie who knew a lot about religion. Asha, who was once a classical dancer but now looked like a skeleton. Farhan, the con artist. Deen knew them all from school, they were one year junior to him. English-medium school rich kid junkies. They partied together once in a while.
Chinx’s room had red walls, a Darth Vader poster, a bamboo lamp on the floor. On the other side of his bed were his neighbourhood friends. Bangla-medium school kids. Deen knew most of them too, all junkies. Raihan and Rubel, brothers from St. Josephs, played football back in the day. Fazle, aggressive, macho yabba khor. Naved, the prick. Deen and AJ sat on cushions propped up against Chinx’s closet
“It’s crazy. I can’t believe this happened.” Rahul pulled up a cushion next to Deen. “I hung out with him last week.”
“I feel hollow,” replied Deen.
“He wasn’t fine,” continued Rahul. “But he was doing better. He was in rehab you know. They had him on largatrine.”
“No one prescribes that shit anymore,” said AJ.
“It’s not a cure,” continued Rahul. “Blocks neural pathways to ease withdrawals, but what about the habit? Chutiya doctor. What was Chinx going to do with his urges? The minute he got drunk he went and chased. Couldn’t stop himself, he was a khor. With blockers in his system, his body couldn’t handle the smack. Fucking doctor doesn’t understand addictions!”
Deen had known Chinx since primary school. He aced his classes, teachers loved him. He dated a girl named Nadia whom he adored. He always offered rides and went out of his way to accommodate his friends. He had become a recluse over the past few years, caught up in the chase. Now he was Dead. For maggots under the earth. For heaven, maybe, for hell, maybe. For an eternity of NOTHING ELSE, maybe. Bones in the graveyard. The end.
No more addas with friends, no more mornings, no more dinners, no more music, no more long drives, no more hot showers, no more tea, no more rain, no more love, no more kisses, no more sex, no more late afternoon naps, no more movies, no more parties, no more football, no more highs, no more lows, no more chasing, no more withdrawals, no more vomiting, no more stealing, no more lies. . .
Shagor interrupted, “Hey man, I’m turquing,” he whispered. “Let’s go to Tongi?”
Deen felt disgusted. “No man. The guy just died. I don’t feel like chasing.”
Deen stepped out of the room and into the veranda to catch his breath. Chinx’s younger sister was sitting against thewall. She had grown up since Deen had last seen her, she had become a woman. She looked beautiful, even in her mourningkamiz and sad eyes. Deen sat down next to her. “I wish I could have helped him,” he said.
“You? Ya. You and all his other friends.” She smiled bitterly. “How could you help? You can’t even help yourselves.”
Chinx’s mother hurried into the veranda. Deen could hear howling sobs from the living room. “They’re taking his body,” she said. “Come.”
Deen stepped into the living room. Chinx’s cousins were carrying his body in a wooden khatia, from the living room, through the corridor, out the door, into the car, off to the graveyard and into the ground. Forever. Chinx’s Last Journey.
“Are you going to the graveyard?” Chinx’s mom asked Deen at the doorway.
“Ya, aunty, of course,” replied Deen.
“Ok, but promise to come back here again. Anytime. Come as if Chinku were still here. Come spend some time with me. We can talk about Chinku. He was a sensitive boy. Before the drugs. I tried to help him. I’ve been begging him to go for treatment for over six years, ever since I found out about his addiction. I sent him to America, I thought that might make him happy. He came back with more problems. I found a doctor in Bombay who runs a rehab known as Land. He heals addicts through love, none of those chemical blockers, no drugs to stop drugs, just positive energy. It was the answer to our prayers, but Chinku refused to go. He was in denial. Then I sent him to the rehab here. It was my fault that he went. I sent him.”
The male relatives stood queued at the doorway, waiting to get past Chinx’s mom, out to their cars. Not ready to let Chinx go, she stalled, dragging out the conversation with Deen for as long as she could. Finally, Chinx’s father took her in his arms and led her back into the house.
Deen got on the bike behind AJ and they followed the procession.
It reminded Deen of his father, he was buried in the same graveyard. Deen was at a party when his old man was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night. By the time Deen had sobered up enough to join him, his father had already lapsed into a coma. Deen wondered what he might have said, had he arrived in time to catch his last words. Deen thought about the Bombay rehab, Land. Neverland. Never do drugs again Land. Need to google it, he thought. Maybe I can quit. Move to America with Maria.
“Dosto,” interrupted AJ, “I can’t find the gun.”
“I can’t find the Beretta!”
“What do you mean?” asked Deen.
“Raj Gopal is going to kill me, I mean really, kill me. You’ll have to come to my janaza next.”
“Calm down, dost. Try to remember, where did you put it?”
“I left it in the glove compartment of Shagor’s car, but I went to get it yesterday and it wasn’t there. He doesn’t know where it is. We searched the entire car.”
“You think he sold it?” asked Deen.
“No. He says he didn’t.”
“Maybe it’s at your apartment.”
“I looked. I’m so screwed. Ronnie won’t pay me. I owe Quader bhai money. And now Raj is going to kill me,” grumbled AJ.
Raj Gopal was Bangladesh’s most feared, revered mafia Don and AJ had lost his gun. Deen wondered how far AJ was from the deep end of the black sea.
They buried Chinx in the Banani graveyard around 3pm. Chinx’s friends and family took turns with the shovel. Bury your beloved, thought Deen as he dropped dirt over his friend’s bones. He wondered who would do this for him when he died.