He walked towards his home. Another day of commands and rebukes was over. He hated his job like everyone else. He was to obey everything his master told; slightly disobeying could lead to anything from slang words to a pay cut. Also, as a daily wage labourer in a construction site, the concept of job security was non-existent.
On the way home, he wondered if life could be any better, if he could switch jobs, should he go back to his village and join his brothers and their wives in farming. No, not possible at all – his small piece of land has already been usurped by his brothers. He felt completely useless and unwanted. He felt like he was an unwanted flea. There was no way he could be free.
From a distance, he saw his dilapidated thatched house in the outskirts of the slum he lived in. His poverty had driven him out of the slum too. But then, a smile lit up his face. He remembered, no matter how the world treats him, he is the lion of his den. He is “the man” there.
At the doorway, a pale anaemic woman greeted him with a smile, probably the only genuine one he saw throughout the day. But he did not feel like returning the favour, it had become a routine affair. They had been married for seven months now, and there was nothing new about it. He threw his bag across the floor and demanded food immediately. A metal container rolled out of the bag, hit the wall and split open – dry as if new, the only stain it had within was the cleanly stroked stripes of olive pickle. Fatima was happy that Mujibur ate all the five chapatis she had packed for him. Her happiness was interrupted by a ferocious voice demanding food – “What are you looking at, stupid woman? Pick it up and get me some food NOW!”.
She trembled and hurriedly rushed to bring a plate and the bowls of rice and brinjal curry she had cooked for him. Meanwhile, an anguished Mujibur opened his shirt, washed his hands and sat on the floor. Fatima served him the food and then sat on a corner, awaiting further instructions and commands. His eyes never moved from the plate, as he devoured every morsel of food he could see. In ten minutes, all curry was over. Only a handful of rice remained. The curry bowl and the metal container looked the same now, just with finger strokes of different colours.
“Get me some more curry and a glass of water.”
“I will get you water, but there’s no more curry left” said Fatima softly, with fear.
“How can you cook so less?? And which woman doesn’t know how much her husband eats??” roared Mujibur as he stood up with an irritating frown.
“I know it’s less and so I just had rice with pickle and water for lunc…“ – THUD! – she was cut short by a slap. She touched her cheek and felt the stickiness of the rice and curry. That was the only amount of curry she’d touch today.
“Don’t dare to explain me your stupid excuses! What do I earn for?! To sleep half hungry??”
She kept mum, feeling her cheeks, weeping a little. Mujibur had washed his hands. She thought how there was no way she could explain something, argument meant lashes. Just when she was glad, it ended with just a slap today, he pulled her by the hair and banged her head against the wall. She shrieked in pain and slowly fell to the ground, weeping more now. “It’s for you that I have to sleep hungry tonight! Listen, I have to go out early tomorrow. You get my food ready and wake me up at 6 am!” he said, pointing out to his bag which contained a broken wrist watch – the only time-teller in their house – and went to sleep on the bed, a mattress laid on the floor in the adjacent room.
She was crying in pain now. The pain was getting worse, so were her cries. The neighbours could hear her cry. Hearing her cry at night was almost a regular thing. So, no other woman came to ask her if anything was wrong – something they often did when she was a newly-wed. Anyway, why would they come? They weren’t any better. Women getting beaten was a common thing in their neighbourhood. Any child there could say, it was a man’s job to work and earn; to cook and get beaten was woman’s.
While in bed, Mujibur remembered the taste of the curry as he smelt his hand. Fatima was a good cook. His labourer colleagues liked it whenever she cooked and sent curry or fish or meat. They would praise him for having her, in a bid to encourage him into bringing good meals more frequently. Those praises never found way into Fatima’s ears. Praise could fuel a woman’s ego, felt Mujibur and decided it was best to keep unaware of these if he wanted to keep her under control. He felt very cunning as his mind reminded him of his postulate. He had absolute power over her, and she was bound to obey him – her master. He was the man of the house, the lion of the den. Yes, he was “The Man” there. A wicked smile crawled into his face as he dozed off in sadistic pleasure.
She washed the utensils, cleaned the room and took out the wrist watch. Closing the door, she crept into their bed, keeping the watch beside her head. He was sleeping facing the other side and she was glad he could not see her face, swollen after prolonged crying. Who knows what might irk him out again? She blew off the candle and lied there, weeping within silently, thinking about herself. She had no idea how much to cook, for sometimes it would be more and sometimes less. In both the cases, she would get beaten, the other time for wasting food. How much he would eat depended on what he had eaten for lunch or if had eaten something with somebody before heading home. There was no way she could know how hungry he would be. She felt she should stop worrying and just embrace her fate. Beatings were a part of a woman’s life, she thought. Like every human and Mujibur, she too longed to hear a good word, a polite greeting and an iota of gratefulness. But, that was just a distant dream. As she tried to sleep, she kept thinking how she felt deprived and cheated for not being born a man in this cruel world. Teardrops dried up over her pillow.
He turned to his side and saw her sleeping. He looked at the room getting lit, and then saw a ray of light under the door. Was he dreaming, or what time was it? He quickly rose to check the watch lying beside Fatima. 7 am, it read.
Hell hath no fury as hath Mujibur when he realised he missed his work. And the reason for this? No, not his oversleeping. It was Fatima’s mistake that she did not wake him up at 6 am as instructed the night before. He wondered how could that careless woman forget to wake him up – do his beatings have no effect on her? He could not tolerate this defiance. He looked at his sleeping wife, and then at the watch again, to check if he had seen the time correctly. Yes, it was correct – the correct time for him to show her, he was the man of the house.