Arshinagar by Jharna Rahman

Published in Galpa: Short Stories by Women from Bangladesh (Ed. Niaz Zaman and Firdous Azim, Pub. Saqi Books).




While Halima would remain busy with getting the children to sleep – Arafat had a lot to do as well. He was the owner cum manager of the Sonali Printing Press up in town. The accounts, orders, deliveries for the press, the different jobs for the different clients – most of the workers were prone to slacking. Arafat could barely handle it. A lot of times it was Arafat himself who had to check the proof of the copy to ensure timely delivery. Then alongside the toil for this life there was the toil necessary for the afterlife. Devoted, untiring Arafat. When he came to bed after finishing everything, Arafat’s weary body would yearn for conjugal bliss.

Most of the times Arafat would call Halima to his bed.

But that was more awkward. Perhaps the baby would start wailing just as he was about to climax. Halima would flinch and turn herself off. Of course, that did not make much difference to Arafat’s sexual enjoyment. But the sweetly pleasurable numbness of letting his sex-weary body rest on his wife’s – that he did not get. The moment he ejaculated, Halima would disengage herself from her husband. Embarrassed, awkward, apologetic, she would bunch her petticoat between her legs and shuffle off to the next room.  As she left she would present him with some excuse in a guilty tone, “Khuki’s got a bit of a temperature. She won’t go to sleep if she hasn’t got my nipple to suckle. I’ll come back at dawn.”

It was to avoid all these botherations that Arafat would come to the big bed. Even if the youngest one awoke while he was at it, Halima would cling to her husband riding her with one arm while patting the awakening child with the other with a peculiar expertise. Placing herself in this simultaneous role of wife and mother, Halima felt bewildered at times.

Why was this happening? Was sin entering Halima through these acts? A child. An innocent angel. This thing in front of them…But this also was a duty. Husband. Her shelter in both this life and the next. Whose place was right after Allah’s – it was her sacred duty to provide him with pleasure as well. Halima couldn’t think beyond that.

So when her child would suckle on one of her breasts, Halima would enable herself by considering the actions of Arafat’s hand or mouth on her other breast as one of God’s mysterious ways. Not the slightest neglect on either side.