Bijoy met Radha on a very dark night.
It was not a night of horror, though, not a night when bad things happened. I never understood why people stigmatise darkness, why they always associated negative things with it. Personally I think deep impenetrable darkness is as remarkable as bright shining light is.
But then again, I am a silly old man, and this story is not about me. It is about Bijoy and Radha, both of whom hated darkness.
They lived in the oldest part of Dhaka city, the densest suburb in a city where over twenty thousand people lived in just one square kilometre.
The power went out every evening – load shedding was in operation. It came back in the middle of the night on the good days, didn’t come back till morning on the bad ones. It was a regular thing, an inescapable part of the lives of the people who lived there in buildings covered in yellowing posters of waving politicians with incongruously bright white teeth.
Bijoy was new to this part of the town. Economic distress had forced his family to sink lower and lower day by day, forcing them into a cheap two-room apartment in an area he found repugnant.
On his first evening in the building, while the power was still out and the darkness seemed denser than ever, Bijoy went to the balcony.
He heard a girl singing from the opposite balcony. Her sweet mystic voice consumed him for a few minutes. He lit a cigarette and the song came to a sudden halt.
“Why did you stop?” Bijoy called out, putting away the cigarette. “Please, continue.”
To be honest, I don’t think Bijoy really wanted her to continue. I think Bijoy wanted her to talk, to tell him her name, to tell him her interests, to tell him everything about her. Bijoy wanted to know, just the way every man wants to know another woman, just the way every man wants to fall in love. Bijoy wanted her to talk.
Then again, I am just a silly old man, so what do I know.
Bijoy request for the continuation of her song was ignored. “I am Radha,” the girl called back instead. “You’re new here?”
“Yes.” Bijoy tried to relight his cigarette. “I am Bijoy.”
They talked, and kept talking. That evening, the next evening, the evening after that. At times Radha would sing and Bijoy would listen, at times Radha would speak and Bijoy would listen, and at times Radha would remain silent and Bijoy would listen. Radha had an uncanny ability to know when the power was about to come back, and each time would find an excuse to leave before it did. Bijoy began to yearn for darkness.
As months went by and their relation developed further, Bijoy never saw Radha in the light. He didn’t have her phone number, email or Facebook ID. He never talked to her outside those few hours each night. When he tried to bring it up with her Radha skipped and danced away from the question, brought up another topic or shut him down entirely. She was clever with words.
Then, one evening, the power didn’t go out. The suburb remained lit up the following evening, and the next. The populace wondered how long their good luck would last.
Radha only appeared in darkness. Bijoy begun to hate the light.
He prayed for load shedding to resume as the sun went down every day as he waited on his balcony, only to stare at the balcony that remained empty on the other side.
As days passed by, Bijoy grew impatient. He finally decided to go and knock on Radha’s door. It was not hard to work out which apartment the balcony opposite his belonged to.
Bijoy knocked and the door opened. A tall dark girl stood in front of him. He peered at her.
“Are you Radha?”
“No.” She cocked her head at him. “There is no one with that name in this building.”
Bijoy walked away. Wondering whether the dark girl was lying, or if the girl on the balcony who told him she was Radha was lying, or if he’d ever see that girl, whoever she was, again.
I am just a silly old man, but unlike Bijoy, I do not need to wonder.
Radha really does hate darkness, but not the kind darkness that comes with the evenings when the power goes out.
After Bijoy walks away from her door, Radha shuts it and walks inside to her room. She takes off her clothes, piece by piece, in front of her mirror. “Radha,” she whispers to herself. “You’ve perished once.” Scenes play out in her head. The increased demand of dowry her father went through. The words about her personality, her cooking, her dark skin that her in-laws threw at her. The fists her husband threw at her. Her parents not taking her in after filing for divorce. Her pain. Her anger. Her loneliness. All contained and carefully stored in the in this pale two-room decayed apartment.
The lights finally, finally go out as she stares at herself in the mirror. She feels the balcony calling her but doesn’t move. “Radha,” she says again. “You’ve perished once.”