- Yesterday and Today
The immigration officer at the London airport was firing meaningless questions at him one after another, and though he was fuming inside, he kept responding with a patient demeanor. He knew that the Pakistani passport had become worthless. In the global alliance against terror, his government had handed over so many Pakistanis to the Americans that the world regarded all Pakistani travellers with suspicion.
When at last his passport got the entry stamp, he emerged from the maelstrom of restraint, and as he bent down to pick up his briefcase, the dusky young woman who had been standing behind him bounded up to the immigration desk. As he tried to squeeze by, his briefcase struck the desk and fell open, scattering papers and sending a bottle of water rolling out to one side.
He gathered together his papers. The woman, noticing the slow movements of age, came to his aid. Briskly she collected his papers, then picked up the bottle and tucked it inside the briefcase. He thanked her profusely, and as he turned towards the exit, the woman's eyes alighted on his back . . . and stayed there . . . until the immigration officer asked impatiently for her passport.
The plane from the U.S. to London had been packed with passengers. It took awhile for the luggage to start offloading. Perhaps it was the fatigue of the long journey, or the demands of his seventy-two years; in any case, he supported himself against a pillar as he waited. From time to time, he shut his eyes, and a wave of ease washed over him. It was during such a moment that a melodic voice drifted into his ears. Opening his eyes, he saw that it was the same woman standing in front of him and addressing him in fluent English.
"If you don't mind, could I ask you something?"
He collected himself with a start. The wrinkles of his face stretched into a smile, and greeting the woman, he bowed towards her.
"The name on the envelopes in your briefcase—is it yours or someone else's?"
Her entire face lit up as she was overcome by surprise and pleasure. "I never imagined that I would get to meet you!" she burst out.
Her laughter seemed to waver between worry, impatience, and delight.
"I am Rashida from Bangladesh." [End Page 110]
With dimmed eyesight, the old man looked at the flickering emotions on her face and tried to rummage among his memories but drew a blank. Nevertheless, he nodded at her pleasantly.
"You were in Dhaka in 1971, weren't you?" The woman asked as though trying to convince herself.
The passenger's curiosity increased. "Yes, yes, I was certainly there. But it's 2007 now; thirty-six years have passed. Perhaps you weren't even born then."
She started laughing again. Now in broken Urdu, she said, "You are very right but . . ." She couldn't go any further and lapsed into English again. "I have heard so much about you from my mother—she was full of praise for you."
"So she had met me?" The passenger tried to detect marks of identification.
"No, she hadn't met you either—she tried but couldn't."
Even more surprised, he looked at her questioningly.
"You—you were the head of the department, weren't you?" she reminded him affectionately.
The old man nodded.
"Then you did help my mother—rather, you helped all of us siblings. That's why today we are all so highly educated and doing well in America. I am a doctor in a big hospital."
In the excitement caused by this chance encounter, she was speaking fast, like someone hurtling willy-nilly down a steep slope.
"I don't remember anything, miss—perhaps I've become too old."
She laughed again. "No, sir, it's not that at all. I will help you remember. Can you recall a case where one of the Bengali officers of your department went missing?"
"There were . . ." He stopped, hesitated a bit, and looked around. Then, as if forcing himself, continued, "Many such incidents."