An Exotic Encounter
The dark wintry night was descending. The unusual tranquillity was reigning everywhere. The night was cold and intense. It seemed as if the night itself had been chilled to the bone. The dense fog had already covered the area. It was like the soft white clouds were descending on the earth. This place, situated on the outskirts of the city, was neither a town nor a village. At first glance, it gave the impression of a terrible secret hiding somewhere nearby. It was not that I came to this alien-looking place intentionally. Rather, I was forced to come here. I was told that there was no one more suitable than me to do this job. That's how I ended up here in the afternoon.
I was so intensely engaged in my job that I forgot about the passing of time. It was nearly 10 when I was wrapped up and done. So, when I arrived at the small bus stop, all the shops were closed except one small tea stall and even the owner was getting ready to close up for the day. The place was buzzing with people when I got down in the afternoon but now it appeared to be deserted. People don't like to come outside on a cold night like this and perhaps they have taken to their beds already. Apart from a few rickshaws, I saw no other vehicles, or so I thought. There it was. Perhaps the last one for the day. A city-bound local bus waiting to pick me up at the bus stop.
The emaciated helper with dishevelled hair didn't have to shout for the passengers as I was the only one standing there. I got on without a second thought and found a few passengers inside sitting haphazardly. I grabbed a seat next to the window.
The bus started to move smoothly and at a steady speed. The door and windows were shut because of the cold wind. I nearly fell asleep out of exhaustion when suddenly the bus halted somewhere. Although I couldn't quite peer through the fog, I tried looking out through the panes of the window. I could only discern the large trees beside the road and the old graveyard behind the trees. It had a small broken iron gate and a signpost over it. It didn't seem like a place where people would still bury their loved ones.
My attention broke when a lone passenger got on the bus and sat beside me. He was ordinary in appearance but there was something odd about him. I just couldn't put my finger on it. Although it was difficult to distinguish anything clearly inside the dimly lit bus, I assumed he was somewhere in his fifties. He was wearing a white panjabi, a grey shawl on it and a muffler tied around the head and chin.
It was he who first started the conversation. Maybe he caught a whiff of how alien I felt here and understood that I was not a local guy. He asked me where I was headed and why I came here. The old man kept the conversation going.
He talked about himself and told me that he would get down nearby. He was a local postmaster by profession and lived not far from the place where the bus had stopped. He grew up here. Knew the roads like the back of his hand but even then he felt disconnected. Without really explaining why, he forbade me to venture out into the roads all alone.
Almost half an hour later, the bus came to an intersection. The man shouted at the driver to stop the bus.
"I have to get down here," he said.
I tried to catch a glimpse outside through the closed windows. The place was deserted at that hour. It looked like an outlandish place uninhabited by any living being. I was astonished and I asked him, "Why are you getting down here?"
His face darkened.
"I died here on this day five years ago in an accident. I can't help but visit the place on this particular day."
He departed in the blink of an eye. I kept looking at the open door but the darkness outside seemed to be mocking me.
The writer is an Assistant Professor of English at Dhaka City College, Dhaka.