"How many words did you contribute?"
"At least half. I am sure half of the words are mine."
"This is not how it works. I hope you know how poetry works. It's not about the quantity of words but rather the quality, the gravity of the dictions."
"Oh, stop with your pseudointellectual jargon." Manik was annoyed at this point.
"So, how do you suggest we settle this?" An anxiety laden annoyance lingered within the voice of Hasan's throat.
Two sets of footprints walking around. Puffs of smoke. Slurping sound of pouring hot tea into cups.
"I need some money", Manik suddenly sat down.
"What are you trying to say?"
"Give me 500 bucks and you can have the poem."
Hasan didn't hesitate a moment and exclaimed, "The deal is done then."
The wind changed its direction. A cigarette finished. "No, no, no. I am sorry I can't sell it for 500. Give me 2000 bucks and you can have the poem."
The silence returned. At this point, the silence became a nostalgic sound.
"2000 is too much for such a small poem". Hasan deliberately lowered his voice.
"What did you say?" Manik couldn't hold a grip on his rage, "Did you even understand the poem? This is easily one of the greatest poems anyone has ever written. It's too perfect. Look at the symmetry of the lines, the sound of the words, the assonances, the alliterations. It sounds like a song in the head even if you just skim through. This is something divine right here." Manik sighed, "You are lucky that I have a bit of a crisis going on. Otherwise, I wouldn't have let go of this beauty for merely 2000 bucks."
"1000 bucks please."
"Not a penny less than 2000 bucks. I want to buy an original Sartre. This is a sacrifice I am making."
The air became heavy. Their silence, their tension, and the abundance of smoke put more weight into the atmosphere. The sun almost sank while the sodium light kept burning the insomniac eyeballs of Manik and Hasan.
"I don't care anymore. I will send it over to the editor whether you like it or not". Manik stood up and attempted to walk away. But he couldn't go far. Hasan grabbed his wrist and just stared straight into Manik's eyes. Manik could feel Hasan screeching, "I will kill you if you do that."
Manik sat down. The seventh cigarette and thirteenth cup of tea of that dusk and an eternal presence of ephemeral silence.
"Ratan Da!" Manik suddenly shouted at someone.
A man waddled toward them. White hair, loose skin, and baggy eyes too heavy with age. Nose deformed with the weight of thick glasses. His fingers trembled as he tried to light up a cigarette while walking toward them.
"Long time no see! How are you Manik?" Ratan Da said as he waddled toward Manik and Hasan. "Is that you Hasan? Your hair got too long. I thought you have always wanted to look like Foucault but somehow became middle aged Ginsberg. By the way, did you know that Ginsberg…."
"Ratan Da, we are in the middle of a crisis. Can you please help?" Hasan unapologetically interrupted him. But Ratan Da didn't mind.
"Yes, sure. What's going on?"
"So, the thing is, Hasan and I wrote a poem together…" Manik had just started talking but Ratan Da interrupted him, "How do you write a poem together? It doesn't sound right."
"Well, he wrote a few lines, I wrote a few lines. He suggested some words and I suggested some words. We both put forward our opinion and kept what sounded best." Hasan explained before Manik could say anything.
"This sounds stupid. You can't write a poem like this. Poetry and art are supposed to be individualistic. It's supposed to come from a single heart and reach millions of others. Otherwise, it's just pollution. I am pretty sure the poem is garbage." Ratan Da lost interest and returned his focus on his cigarette.
Manik was a bit annoyed now. He handed over the piece of paper to Ratan Da. "Please read."
Ratan Da stretched out his thin hand and somewhat snatched the paper out of Manik's pinch. He then stared at the paper, adjusted his glasses, and suddenly sat upright. His cigarette evaporated into ashes while it lay between his fingers. His eyes widened, mouth silent. Cheeks contracted involuntary twitching. Gradually his breath vanished but his sight remained firm. His fingers shivered no longer.
It has been an hour since Ratan Da took the paper out of Manik's hand. Since then, nothing had changed except for the time. He sat still, staring at the seventeen-line poems divided into three stanzas.
The twenty-fifth cigarette and thirty-seventh cup of tea of that day and an incessant buzzing of a swarm of flies a bit far away.
"What have you done!" Ratan Da's voice struggled to push through his throat. Long hours of silence seemed to have instilled amnesia in his voice.
"This one is heavenly. Where did you send this poem to?" Ratan Da never sounded so delighted.
"What! Why? Are you dumb? This is a gem that the world should know about. Why hide it from the world? This is heavenly, nothing less than a heavenly composition. I have never read anything like this ever before. Don't deprive the world of this." Ratan Da seemed eccentric, pleasantly eccentric. "Look at the lines, the dictions. The concept itself is so organic yet unique. I don't know why no one ever thought like this before! I am sure no one did because if anyone did, it definitely would have been popular. These lines are beyond……" The sentence remained incomplete. A moment of silence. "I have to go, I have to go."
Ratan Da walked away, waddling the way he came from, whispering, "Don't let it go to waste, don't let it go to waste."
"So, what now?" Manik sounded more concerned than before.
"Why don't we publish it jointly, with both of our names on it?" Hasan did not sound convinced himself.
"You know very well that we cannot do that".
"Fine, I will give you 2000 bucks. Give me the poem." Hasan had to struggle just to say these words.
"No. I am not handing over the poem even if you offer a million bucks."
"What? Why? What changed your mind?"
"The poem itself…I think."
"So, what do we do then?"
The silence returned with its ancient odor of void. Another hour passed. The swarm of flies are tired now. Only the silence remained there like a constant. It remained, the parchment with the poem remained folded on a bench. In it, all the words remained unchanged. The ashes from the cigarettes, the warmth of Hasan and Manik's presence, everything remained except for themselves. They walked away with their poem lodged in their chest, leaving their heart crumbled behind.
Abdullah Rayhan is studying English Literature at Jahangirnagar University.