In Search of the Ruins
Samia Hossain (+Video)
In the grandeur of this universe, our planet is a pale blue dot. We are even tinier organisms on the surface of this dot. And yet, all of us live such extraordinary, eventful lives. All of us carry so many stories inside us. We are born, get entangled into beautiful relationships, fall in love, give birth to new lives, die and then get forgotten. This story reminds us of one person’s extraordinarily ordinary life.
His name was Belal. I met him in Barobazar, a city in southwestern Bangladesh. His eyes were bigger than usual, with long eyelashes. Otherwise, there was no way you could distinguish Belal in a sea of people.
We went there on a school project, to study the architectural ruins of Barobazar. It was an ancient city of mosques. We got off the bus and found the nearest tea stall. We were drinking tea and having a chat when Belal jumped right into our conversation, “Are you guys new here? Who are you visiting?”
He couldn’t make sense of why someone would want to see some earthen mounds that had been lying there forever. But he didn’t judge us. Instead, he willingly became our guide. “I am unemployed right now, which is why I am drinking tea here at this time of the day.” He chuckled at his own jokes. “Besides, you don’t know anything here.” Who would turn down such a generous offer?
For the next seven days, we woke up at 6:00 and took a rickshaw to Barobazar. In his oversized black trousers and worn-out black sandals, Belal would wait for us by the tea stall. He accompanied us to every site we went to. And boy, he loved to talk! By the end of this trip, I knew how many siblings he had, the school he went to, and how to cook a duck.
On our sixth day, we went to Pathagar Mosque. During the Sultanate period, this mosque used to be a library. Belal showed us the remnants of the interior walls, where naked bricks stared at us with nostalgia. The lime-terraced floor was almost gone. Locals had built their houses around this ancient structure. It seemed like time tried to heal itself by creating layers around its forgotten wound.
There was a large calm pond in front of the mosque, covered with water hyacinths. The contrast between a 700-year-old mosque clad with red brick and the bright yellow-green pond was somehow surreal. Belal was awfully quiet this morning. I guess, the fact that this beauty that needed years of labour to be built—but now standing all alone, forgotten and lost—left all of us melancholic.
I asked, “Haven’t you ever been here before?” He got all choked up. Turned out, this cheerful guy, who has been talking non-stop about something and everything, has been hiding a wound inside his heart.
And then I heard about Luna, the love of his life. They grew up together, went to the same school, ate rice from the same plate. Their parents did not accept them as a couple. Luna was married off to someone far away. “I can’t forget her. She was so smart! We used to come here on our dates. We sat beside this pond and made plans for our future. I didn’t have any money back then. She bought me these.” He pointed to the rugged, faded sandals that he has been wearing ever since we knew him. “I know I have to get a new pair. I just never had the guts to do it.”
I don’t remember what I said to him, but we came out of that old mosque as friends. His story was extraordinarily ordinary. It was beautiful because it was true, came from his heart, and was told by his big, beautiful eyes. I was privileged to know his story.
At the end of our trip, we wanted to get him something special, something to remember us by. On our last day, we took him to a shoe store.
“Belal, it’s time to move on. Which one do you like the most?”
His eyes teared up. He chose the most generic, least expensive pair of shoes. I learned that even the most ordinary shoes have an amazing story inside, no matter how worn out they are.
Samia Hossain loves to wander around and see the stories happening around her. She’s the one without cellphone on the buses of Toronto and looking curiously at her fellow passengers. If she could have any super power, she’d chose to be invisible so she can peek into the extraordinary lives of her 7.8 billion neighbours. She loves being a mother, a writer, and a traveller. She was born in the colourful city of Dhaka, Bangladesh. She lives with her wonderful daughter and works as a product solutions designer.