Celebration On a night like this, she would not have been out. But tonight, it was different. Afzal’s friends had called up from a phone booth at midnight and said he was missing. Ameen said that he had been very drunk when they last saw him. Ammi was already in the next room, kneeling near the west window, breathing heavily, head covered, muttering again and again: ‘bismillah hir rahmaanir raheem, bismillah hir rahmaanir raheem, bismillah hir rahmaanir raheem’. Zeenat had stood in front of the mirror for a few minutes, wondering, looking at her own image as she toyed with the burkha in her hands. Abbu’s photograph hung limp on the wall behind her, frame askew, slightly discoloured, his black-and- white spectacles shiny against the grimy bricks. She closed her eyes; it was ten years since Abbu died on that bed, ten years since that last janaza prayer that still rang in her ears. She wrapped the burkha around herself and left. It was the last day of the celebrations and the streets were bursting with fireworks, Hindi film music and the deafening noise of drums. The procession to immerse the goddess would start from the Park Circus maidan in a few hours; the crossing was already full of people wishing catch a last glimpse of the goddess before she disappeared into the waters for a year. Ameen had said they had last seen Afzal near the pandal, tottering and screaming at the guards, hurling abuses at the goddess. Then, he had apparently disappeared into the crowds, as the guards came after him. Ameen had said they were afraid he would be arrested. Afzal was eighteen, he had dropped out of school at fourteen; Zeenat was twenty six, a receptionist at a private hospital and very tired of her life. It was a good half hour past midnight when Zeenat entered the park and began to walk towards the pandal, looking everywhere in the crowd of faces for a sign of Afzal. All around, in chairs that girdled the immense pandal, people were sitting – mostly young men - in dhotis, pyajamas, embroidered kurtas. Some were evidently very drunk. They spoke loudly. They stared at her as she passed. One raised a finger, significantly. Someone sang: ‘pardeh main rahne do, pardah na uthao, pardah uthh gaya toh…’ , and whistled. He had a strong Bengali accent. His friends laughed loudly. Zeenat quickened her pace; the world looked very dark from behind the veil. It was as if there was a thin black film of dust on everything, and the lights shone grey on her face. There was no sign of Afzal.

Copyright: Trina Nileena Banerjee. which caved in with her weight. Zeenat stared back as the boys leered: “Mera naam hai Shabnam. they caught up with her behind the pandal. where the lights were brighter. She wrapped it up in a bundle. It was dark there. The boys did not turn around. The air smelt of expensive alcohol. People were no longer staring. pyar se log mujhe Shabbo kahte hain.banerjee@gmail.” Some girls in bright sarees and skirts passed them by. Time to look for Afzal. they focussed on her. inching closer with every word. looking at her curiously and whispering. “Celebration” Trina Nileena Banerjee trina. She felt safer. There was a loud burst of light on the night sky. Zeenat ran.2 The boy in the kurta had followed her with one of his friends. 2008. peeling off her burkha. not too many people. she stood panting. She walked a little way into the crowds. as people stared. Zeenat walked backwards till she was pressed against the shiny cloth of the pandal. The boys looked up. On the other side of the pandal. a cracker had gone off. shoved it into her bag and sighed. distracted.com Short Fiction Submission .

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