Wings of Gabriel
Translated by Rama Islam
A road goes straight towards Pilkhana Road through Azimpur; on its left side, there’s a small cottage deep within a forest. The upper part of the clay wall has fallen, so sunlight, rain and wind pass through the room freely. The blue sky is seen through the opening of old rusty tin.
Mother and son have slept on the mat.
In the evening, Halima beat Nabi mercilessly. Nabi has just been nine. He can’t live well without learning to work. His father died when Nabi was a baby. Alone, what could Halima do for him? To live hand to mouth, she has to move door to door, begging; if she does not get work, she has to beg, and in the evening she has to sit in front of graveyard. Many people come to the grave and give money to the poor as charity work; if luck favours, Halima gets some money from them. Nabi, however, works in a bidi shop without salary; the shopkeeper offers food only once in the day time. He does not become an expert of binding bidi yet. He will get five taka monthly after learning the work completely from the shopkeeper.
But now-a-days Nabi has started to escape; no one can say where h goes, getting out of the shop, under a certain pretext. He isn’t found until evening. The owner of the shop has complained to his mother three days regarding this – today he warned his mother that he would discharge Nabi. He does not need such a naughty boy like Nabi.
Halima has been very angry throughout the whole evening – she thinks that if her son does not learn any work, is there any future for him in the present world? But the boy is so callous that his mind does not set on this. Why should he concentrate? His mother always remains busy begging, working in others’ houses. No soonei did Nabi return home in the evening, than Halima beat him. Where does Nabi pass throughout the day? – Halima forced to know, but it is difficult to get any answer from Nabi who just cried. He slept crying and without eating anything.
Halima is eating, but she cannot eat today after taking two or three fistfuls. Halima requests a lot, but she cannot convince the proud baby; he only looks at Halima once or twice. Then he seriously surrenders himself to the lap of sleep.
Halima looks at the sky through the damaged wall, and then keeps her one hand on Nabi. She has never felt such pain even after beating with sticks, but today in this moment keeping her hand on her sleeping son, she’s feeling very sad. This boy, what does a boy like him know or understand? His father is no more, so has got rid of troubles, but Halima has to play the roles of both father and mother. It is injustice to beat him now and then. But if he does not learn anything, how will he survive in this world? Halima won’t live in this world forever, so Nabi should learn how to live his life.
Halima’s eyes are filled with tears, she kisses on Nabi’s forehead, looking back from the sky!
Nabi slowly opens his eyes and suddenly pointing at the door once he says, “Ma, who is that man?”
Surprised, Halima asks, “Where?”
Raising the right hand Nabi shows the way of the unknown man and says, “There he goes.”
Halima assures, “None.”
Feeling piqued, Nabi says, “Do you want to conceal? Hasn’t a handsome man gone by? The very handsome man wearing beautiful clothes.”
Halima’s curiosity increases more, “Handsome man?”
Nabi’s eyes are wide open, “Hmm, he came with sweetmeats. Didn’t he leave the sweetmeats with you?”
With a sad smile, Halima almost weeps and says, “Hmm, he has given. Nabi, sleep now. You will eat sweetmeats in the morning.”
Nabi asks, “Where did the man come from? Have you seen that there are two wings in his back?”
“Wings?” Halima is now flabbergasted. Amidst half-light and half-dark, she looks at Nabi, without understanding anything.
Nabi again says, “Hmm, wings. As beautiful as peacock’s wings.”
Halima takes Nabi close to her, putting hands on his back and says, “An Angel came, angel. Isn’t it Sab-e-Barat today! He takes information of all people, going from door to door! Today is vacation for angels.”
“Angel came!” Nabi’s is excited. In excitement, he gets up from bed. How wonderful the night is! The whole world is getting washed reading the holy Quran. It is dark night – still the sweet sound of the Quran reading is coming from the Sahabari mosque. The graveyard has become crowded with people! No one sleeps today, the souls of dead people will meet angels, they will share their happiness and pain, hope and desire to Allah through angels. Only Nabi and Halima are wasting time sleeping in this moment. The angel crossed their house, but the angel couldn’t know their expectations, hopes and yearnings of life. They couldn’t tell him anything.
Kindling the light, Halima observes the movement of her son. Then she asks, “Hey, are you feeling very hungry? Will you eat rice now?” Nabi doesn’t respond, he has absolutely forgotten the feeling of hunger. His mind is absorbed in a sweet and mysterious thought. Angels go to Allah with information about people. Have the angels carried the news of the mother and son? Won’t the angel say that even in Sab-e-Barat, he saw that Nabi and Halima were sleeping?
“Did you say anything to the Angel?” Nabi asks his mother. Unable to understand anything, Halima remains silent.
“My foolish son,” Halima could not control her pain, “why will angels listen to us? They came to take all message of the rich people! They’ve gone to rich people’s houses crossing ours.”
Nabi remains silent for a long time, and suddenly asks, “Why don’t you say prayer, Ma?” His question sounds as if he were a guardian.
“What will happen with prayers?” Halima’s tone exposes disgust.
“What? What will happen?” Nabi becomes angry with disgust. “Angels came to the house of the people who pray every day. Allah only listens to their prayers.”
Halima almost screams in the moment and says, “No, no. Allah is sleeping covering with quilt. If someone prays with gold and silver, Allah looks at them. The simple prayer cannot soften his mind.”
Nabi feels embarrassed hearing this great attribute of Allah. No hope for the poor and the paupers! They won’t get so much gold and silver, so their inner cries will never reach the Almighty. And that’s why, the poor people who pray don’t get rich; how can they drive away their sorrow? Does the Almighty, then, awake with the sound of gold and silver? Only for that reason the rich people become richer, getting seventy times more in return.
But the Almighty created everyone. Why does He shower blessings only on the rich people? Don’t His eyes ever get watery even in His sleep for the sufferings of His creation? Can’t the poor people really break His sleep?
Nabi keeps disappointed. The Angel, looking like the colour of fire, passed their house; he has two wings like those of a peacock, and what a fragrance in his body! A white horse is carrying the angel, swaying its body. If Nabi were awakened, he would sleep in front of the way of the angel, and earnestly tell the sad story of his life. If the angel didn’t listen to him, he would swing to his wings – he would fly with the angel to reach Allah. Then opening eyes, he would cry out loud and break Allah’s silence
But it didn’t happen.
The Almighty has the key for everything under His control. If one cannot break His sleep, no one will be able to bring luck into life?
Nabi goes to bed. All tension seizes him. Halima also goes to bed and lies beside Nabi, putting off the light. Her son looks outside, but Halima can’t see this; she only feels the uneasiness in her son. Tapping on his back, Halima says, “It’s already late, so sleep now.”
Nabi silently looks at the sky, and becomes tired of imagining to find out a path. The sky and the whole world enwrapped with moonlight. But it’s so dark for Nabi; along with the eyes, his mind is also lost in the darkness.
Suddenly he feels lightning in his eyes; it seems he has got a sign of hope amidst deep crisis. He becomes excited with happiness and emotion. Nothing to be worried about! Binding with rope he will pull the Arash. The rope is in his hand. The callous mood of the Almgihty will vanish soon.
Next day, he goes to the shop to work after eating watery rice of previous day – he wasn’t interested to go to the shop, but Halima sent him, scolding. Halima says that he has to build his own fortune; he can’t achieve anything only by praying to Allah.
With some other boys, Nabi is arranging bidi, but his mind is in the lonely place covered with funky on the other side of Pilkhana. Every day he flies a kite behind the scenes, fleeing away from the shop. No one in the world except him knows this. The child raises his small hands up the sky. But how up can his hands reach? That’s why Nabi has to fly a kite – through flying kites, he has unknowingly sent his desire over and over to Arash.
At the pretext of stomach pain, he leaves the shop. He cannot stay cool for a single moment today. Calm and quiet, he reaches home. His mother is not home. Nabi’s happiness knows no bounds! He finds two anas of paisa after searching three clay pots. Oh, it’s not two anas of paisa, it seems to him the properties of seven kings! Nabi rushes towards Nawabganj with the paisa in his fist. He again runs after buying thread. His heart beats faster for a new adventure. Taking out the kite from dark tomb of an abandoned broken mosque inside the jungle, he flies it in the sky. As the kite begins to rise, Nabi feels more excited and a smile flashes on his face again and again. Binding the Arash, Nabi will strongly pull the thread today.
The kite gradually turns small. When there’s no more thread in his hands, Nabi feels extremely sad. The tread finished, but the kite is still visible. Is the Almighty so near? It is not, He has slept far away in Arash out of the sight of people. If the place is so near, people could see Him with open eyes. He needs more threads to lead the kite above clouds, very close to Arash. But again money is necessary for this. How will Nabi get paisa for buying thread? Their sorrows will never end, then. Looking at the sky, Nabi cries out for his failure. As long as flying kite was a hobby, devotion, it was only fun to fly the kite. But as this kite has got a deep meaning to him, the possibility of so much pain has also widened.
Flying kite, Nabi returns home after a while. This thread is not enough, he needs more. It is impossible to catch the feet of heaven with the arm of a dwarf. He carefully hides the kite in the darkness of broken mosque.
It’s almost evening, but he doesn’t have money at home. If he asks for money, Halima will beat him with a stick. He can’t imagine what might happen for the paisa he has stolen today. Yet Nabi cannot control the greed. He has to go through costs and losses to change fate. Nabi searches the flip side of all the clutches of the house and tattered clothes in absence of his mother. There is no paisa anywhere. How will he get the money? His mother earns very little by begging and working in others’ houses; they somehow live hand to mouth, most of the time remaining unfed. How can they deposit money?
Suddenly Nabi recalls if he will go to station; he may get some money there. Many days he observed that boys of his age work in the station. Nabi cannot think anymore; though hungry, he rushes towards the station. He has to wait for a long time! Then when the train stops, Nabi becomes surprised seeing different kinds of people wearing dresses of varied colours. Boxes, petals, etc. are stacked near the line.
“Give alms!” the screams pervade the station.
Everyone else’s luck is good, but Nabi is very unfortunate – he can’t properly scream for alms; he raises hands for want of a client and rushes from one compartment to another, with his eyes filled with tears. Considering him as a beggar, some people tell him about the dignity of labour, and some ultra-modern people push him down. Nabi gets nothing from anyone.
The train leave. Sitting in the station, Nabi feels so dejected. The sorrows become bigger in this moment to Nabi. Mother and son cannot eat once with full stomach any day. Sometimes they have to remain unfed. They wish to buy dresses once in a year! His father left the torn clothes that they sew and wear – they sew it several times and then wear the same again. The clay wall has been melted; if it rains, water falls into the room and overflows. Their sorrows know no bounds. If they could reach their wishes to Allah, their misfortune would resolve. But Halima doesn’t say prayers; Nabi doesn’t get any opportunity to learn Arabic sura. Why will Allah listen to them?
When another train comes after almost one hour, Nabi becomes very happy. He starts screaming and uttering “Give alms.” When the train stops, Nabi stands in front of a first-class compartment in response to a call by a man wearing a wristwatch. The gentleman shows him the attaché and a hold-all and says, “Can you take these to the waiting room?”
“Why can’t I?” Nabi responds promptly. “Put it on my neck.”
“How much will you take?” a soft smile erupts over the gentleman’s lips.
“I need a lot of money” Nabi says making his eyes large. “How much will you be able to give?”
The gentleman sharpens his eyes and looks at Nabi’s face “Strange boy!”
“What will you do with so much money?”
“Oh, money can do lots of things!” Nabi expresses with surprise. “I will buy threads, a lot of treads.”
The gentleman can’t but laugh and giving hold-all on Nabi’s head he gets down from the train with the attaché in his hand. Reaching the waiting room, he gives him twenty-five paisa instead of four, “Take, you will be able to buy a lot of threads.”
Nabi throws the twenty-five paisa on the floor of the waiting room, “No, I won’t take it. What shall I do with twenty-five paisa? I need a lot of threads. My kite should touch the sky.”
Everybody becomes surprised, seeing Nabi’s sentiment. Giving twenty-five paisa the gentleman says, “What will happen to you if the kite touches the sky?”
“I will pull the Arash,” Nabi says as if he became someone great with a dream in his eyes. He further says, “Allah will only listen to you, but not us, why?”
Everyone is looking at the faces of each other in this moment. The surrounding becomes gloomy. People have no words, as if rebellious words were uttered by small boy in front of the devotees to the king. The gentleman takes out fifty paisa from his pocket and says, “Take it. Is it enough now?”
As he takes fifty-paisa in his hand, Nabi’s eyes becomes teary with thankfulness. He sincerely says, “When we become rich, come to our house; we’ll fill up your pocket that day.”
Everybody laughs hearing Nabi. The gentleman who has given fifty-paisa laughs as well. Nabi will never forget today’s help of the gentleman. When he will become rich, he will pay the debt. Laughingly he says, “Yes, yes, I’ll certainly come, we all come that day.”
Nabi does not wait after hearing this. He goes straight to the squire. It is evening when he returns home after buying threads. He hides the thread with his kite in the mosque.
Halima is cooking rice, which is now boiling with vapour, bought from begging. She brought wet wood to catch fire. Seeing Nabi, she says, rubbing her eys, “Where have you been so long?”
Nabi becomes very happy with his mother’s affectionate voice. Her sentiment is cool today. Maybe she doesn’t know anything that Nabi took paisa from the pot. Nabi heartily calls Allah showing gratefulness, “I roamed around, leaving the shop, Ma”. He says this easily looking at his mother.
Pushing wood into the stove, Halima becomes broken and says with an affectionate voice, “Don’t fly away from the shop! When you will learn the work, you will be able to bring a lot of money. If you don’t learn the work, is there any way to get food and clothes? Do we have any other way to survive?”
Looking at her son, Halima asks, “Nabi, don’t you feel hungry?”
Mother’s love helps to forget his hunger. Today is special for Nabi as he has bought threads and is getting mother’s love and affection. He says smilingly, “No, Ma, I am not feeling hungry. We get food in the launch time in the shop”.
“It’s good,” Halima agrees. “It’s better not to have food earned by begging. This food is not enough for the children.”
Both Nabi and Halima feel comfortable after eating the food earned by begging.
Nabi leaves house to get to the shop next day in the morning. Today’s weather is very favourable to him and Nabi has a bundle of thread. Standing on the earth, Nabi would be able to touch the sky.
Nabi firstly presses the kite in his chest – his heart beats. The kite flies to the sky, and after sometime, it rises above and far swaying and dancing, as if the thread didn’t not finish. The kite is gradually becoming smaller and smaller. It seems the kite will lose above, in infinite emptiness!
Nabi’s eyes are becoming larger with emotion and excitement. The breathing is getting longer, a strange smile is seen in his whole face. With the dancing of the kite, his glittering eyes are becoming larger with a wonderful movement.
Within a short time, Nabi realizes that the latai is not rotating; there’s no more thread left. His whole eyes become teary looking at the silence. The kite is still visible.
Nabi brings the kite down. He needs more threads, and a lot more. Why has the Almighty built His Arash so far away? Nabi doen’t understand this. But, after building Arash far, He is sleeping safe over there? Isn’t there enough rope in this world to touch the Arash, can’t it move with holding Arash? Nabi’s desire is rising strongly.
Hiding latai and the kite, Nabi goes towards the station today. He needs paisa, for buying the rope; using the rope he wants to bring down the Almighty from the Arash in the midst of man!
He can’t earn more than two anas at the end. How much thread can be bought with the paisa?
Nabi is earning some money every day in this way, and he buys threads with that money and connects with the old thread to fly the kite in the sky.
Halima can never agree with the words of Nabi. But in this moment she cannot but agree, as if she could see their bright future in Nabi’s glittering eyes.
They can survive two days easily with the money and rice of Zaminder house. They again start eating half-stomach and fasting. Nabi’s heart breaks – his whole existence burns with anger. It is deception – it is a game with the life of humans? Their demands do not reach the Almighty.
Every day Nabi flies kite and thinks – if I could buy such a thread to reach the Arash of Allah, why are there so many angels? Only they can reach the want of the people to Him. Only they can bring the message for human beings from Allah. Why are these angels lifeless now-a-days? Why don’t they carry Nabi’s kite to Allah?
It is Monday. Nabi leaves silently with kite and latai without eating anything. The same solitary place. Sitting above, Nabi connects the new threads with the old thread twice. The sky is likely cloudy. Clouds become white under sunlight and in the gaps it is a bright blue sky. Nabi flies the kite to the sky on time – latai is moving in his hands with the sound of saturation above. Nabi steadily looks towards the sky, and in his whole body he feels jinxing with the pulling of the rope. Nabi’s mind becomes excited with joy without any reason! He doesn’t understand anything. His mind beats and he trembles in excitement. Now he opens his wings like a dreamy golden-eagle in the sky!
The kite gradually becomes smaller! Once, Nabi surprisingly sees that a large bird is flying and moving around the small kite. The kite is running after the bird which looks like a small spot. Sometimes the bird is lost to the cloud, it appears again. It is strange that the bird is moving spreading the big wings keeping the kite in a centre; once the thread of kite stacks the body of the bird, Nabi’s hands are tensed and his whole body shacks in an unknown fear; taking the kite, the bird is moving more quickly. The thread seems to patch in the body of the bird. Suddenly Nabi feels the thread is loosened and is running behind the bird and coming down. The pride of so many days of Nabi mixes with soil! It becomes impossible to move the Arash!
Nabi begins to sob in the field lonely. With the teary eyes, Nabi once looks at the kite. The kite is moving behind a bird like a black spot, and the bird is only moving and easing toward the sky. Suddenly Nabi thinks – it is not a bird, it is an angel, Gabriel has come with the face of a bird for carrying his kite to Allah! Tears of gratefulness are falling dawn over Nabi’s cheek; there is a heavenly smile on his face – it glitters with sorrows and happiness.
Nabi feels shy for his own foolishness. The angel has come after a long time to carry the desire of his mind! And he is crying for taking away the kite! Rubbing his eyes he looks at the sky – he sees that the bird has disappeared; the kite has disappeared, only the white cloud, and in the gap there is the thick blue sky! Nabi has been looking at the sky for a long time. And the tears of gratefulness are falling down from his eyes. He is successful today – he is a winner today! He does not have any tension, Gabriel has taken his kite – he will open a new part of his life.
Then looking at the sky he returns home with a glimpse of smile. His whole mind and body become excited with happiness. On the yard Halima is preparing vegetables. “Ma, can you hear me?” Nabi jumps on Halima’s lap.
Halima suddenly gets serious, then bites her lips with anger, and says loudly, “Where did you come from, scoundrel? Today I’ll give you a good lesson!”
Nabi doesn’t understand the reason of his mother’s anger, but she can’t stop him from telling the news, “Ma, today I’ve seen Gabriel – our life-story…”
Nabi can’t finish his words – with her strong hands Halima slaps him hard and says, “They will give and we will eat without doing work? Throw away the thoughts of Gabriel!”
“Ma, don’t scold,” Nabi cries and says. “It will be a sin, Allah will be angry.”
Halima’s anger rises – the fountain of anger does not stop. Helpless Nabi bites his mother’s hand.
His mother flares up in anger. The owner of the shop comes and says, “Nabi doesn’t go to the shop nowadays, so he has been discharged from work today. Halima heard from the shopkeeper, “Nabi flies the kite all day, and he sometimes roams around the market and in the station.” Hearing the news Halima becomes very angry. What is the use of this disobedient, devilish boy? Halima then starts beating him cruelly on his back, hands and head. “Scoundrel, my headache is for your good sake, and you are cheating me! When I will die, Gabriel will come with a lot of rice for you?”
Nabi’s backside becomes injured for the beating. He cries loudly and sleeps on the floor at the corner of the room without saying anything. His stomach is empty. As he lies down, he bites his swollen lip. Now he looks at Halima.
Then, he sleeps.
He dreams, Gabriel is running towards the sky in the gaps of clouds with his kite. Then the blue sky creates a gap to make a way for Gabriel. He again starts his journey in the gaps of clouds and when he reaches the sixth sky, his wings begin to catch fire. Gabriel still proceeds with Nabi’s kite! Then once the door of the seventh sky opens and an intense light comes through the clouds’ gaps, Nabi’s eyes flash. He cannot look at that anymore, keeping his hands on his two eyes, Nabi screams in sleep, “Ma, my two eyes are burnt!”
He gets up and sits, rubbing his eyes as the intense sunlight falls on his face through holes of the decaying wall.
Shahed Ali :
Poet, Fiction Writer
Dr Rama Islam teaches English literature at Metropolitan University, Sylhet
Illustration : Satabdi Zahid