The senior citizen two tables from me doesn’t recognise me, but I recognise him.
His eyes are barely visible behind thick bifocals. He is almost completely bald except for the three strands of white hair awkwardly sticking out of the middle of his head. He wears an ill-fitting faded yellow shirt.
His hands shake – is it Parkinson’s? – he holds the menu, taking his sweet time to decide.
He is alone, and that’s a good thing.
Because I need to settle a score. I need to make him pay for what he did to me.
No, this deceptively innocent looking grandfatherly man is not a pedophile—he didn’t molest me if that’s what you’re thinking.
But I hate Shamsher Haider with every fibre in my body. I hate him more than I have ever hated anyone in my life of 25 years.
I hate him more than I hate my parents who never had my back.
I hate him more than I hate Jamil and Sultan—those two were just kids, they didn’t know what they were doing.
I hate him more than I hate Naveed Ekram, a man of sub-human intelligence, a man I can forgive in the same way you forgive a dog for biting you.
Well Shamsher sir, it is sheer serendipity that we are in the same restaurant on a day I have nothing else to do.
This is your lucky day, motherfucker, I turn to his direction and say. But he is too busy reading the menu.
Let’s back up a little bit.
I am in class six. Dhanmondi Grammar School has never been particularly nice to me, but it has the attractive quality of closing early on most days.
That’s because most of the teachers are too lazy to stick around until closing time. They show up in the morning for assembly, beat up a few children, dole out a few random punishments, then go home to do whatever it is they do.
It is a hot day in June, and the smell of sweat fills the classroom, which has packed in some 45 students in a room meant for 20.
One day, it is half an hour until the final bell, but as usual, all the teachers have left. It is supposed to be science with Shamsher sir but there is no sign of him.
Ten or so people sneak out of class; the day is over for them. I decide to stick around for a little longer.
With five minutes to go, my bladder is complaining and so I decide to grab my bag, relieve myself in the disgusting DG toilets, and go home.
Another reason for taking the bag with me first is that the last time I left it unsupervised, somebody stole my flask.
I fling my bag over my shoulder and proceed to walk out the door when I find myself face to face with Shamsher sir.
He grabs my right ear and drags me back into the class. The bell rings. He dismisses the rest of the class and tells me to go back to my seat.
“You are always sneaking out, filthy monkey,” he yells at me.
“Sir …” I try to explain.
“Chup,” he growls and lands a slap on my face. It hurts like hell and I am stunned.
Ditching the last period has been standard practice in DG since time immemorial. My brother, nearly a decade older than me went to this very school and did the same thing.
Then why am I being punished?
Shamsher sir then goes on a tirade about everything that is wrong with me. My hair is too long, my shirt is too dirty.
He complains that I am the worst student in the class, and yet I don’t bother attending evening coaching at his house. Somewhere in there he makes a comment about the shade of my skin (it’s dark, if you must know).
He composes a note, seals it in an envelope and tells me to give it to my parents. Before he dismisses me, he grabs my ear again (the same one) and gives it another twist, making me howl in pain.
I won’t bore you with the details of my interaction with my parents, but in short, they pull me out of DG and ship me off to boarding school in Chittagong.
How I cry. How I plead. I’ll change, I say. I’ll never skip out of class.
But my parents tell me I need discipline. I am a rotten seed and only boarding school will change me.
Four months later I am in boarding school.
A couple of years into my time at Chittagong Ideal and I am still lost in this place.
I am 14 but get consistently get mistaken for 12. Trust me, that’s not a good thing.
Most of the kids around me are from Chittagong and I can hardly understand what they say.
I make friends with the only two other kids I can find who are originally from Dhaka.
The first is Jamil. He is tall and fair-skinned, with sharp features. The teachers seem to like him, and I am flattered when he decides to hang out with me at all.
Then there’s Sultan. A stocky fellow with a mischievous gleam in his eyes, he also takes to me for reasons I do not fully understand.
Except for my time with Jamil and Sultan, my days are utterly miserable. The school itself isn’t that much worse than DG, but it never ends.
The campus, which we are not allowed to leave without special permission, comprises of two colonial era buildings which have not been renovated in decades. The walls are decaying, and the water supply is sketchy.
The punishments, the beatings, the bullying—it all keeps coming 24-7. At least DG was only hell for a short amount of time each day.
Jamil, Sultan, and I get along just fine until a certain senior by the name of Helal decides to make use of those two but not me.
Helal is about a foot taller than me, and looks about two decades older, certainly entirely too old to still be in high school. He back-brushes his hair regularly with a comb he keeps in his pocket, and spits whenever the teachers aren’t looking.
We are all afraid of him, as he is a bully of the highest order. I don’t quite know at what point I lose Jamil and Sultan as friends, or if they were never my friends to begin with but the day before Shab-e-Barat, things become clear.
We are at the cafeteria. As always, I grab my tray and walk towards my usual table. When I join Jamil and Sultan, they tell me I can’t sit there without Helal Bhai’s permission.
I try to figure out if they are joking. Before I do figure it out, Helal shows up. He pushes my tray out of my hand, and in an instant, I am full of rage. I go at him with all my strength, like a bull.
I am no match for him, but I am not really thinking. I do throw him off balance, but he recovers his stance quickly and yells out to the supervisor.
I am punished for starting a fight. After a week of my detention, Helal, Jamil, and Sultan ambush me in my room, when none of my roommates are present.
Helal tells Jamil to hold me in place while Sultan lands a blow in my gut. A week of detention isn’t punishment enough, Helal tells me.
My body is in extreme pain but my heart is broken.
I skip classes the next day. I just can’t get out of bed.
Then it’s the weekend. But on Sunday I still haven’t recovered.
I go to class anyway, but I am burning up and barely register anything Naveed sir says.
Naveed Ekram is young, hot-tempered, and the most notorious for hitting students. He is not exactly tall but walks with a swagger holding his head up high. The top button of his shirt is always undone, revealing a tuft of chest hair.
I could have endured Naveed sir’s slap had it been any other day.
I have no idea why he hits me—it comes out of nowhere. Maybe he asked me a question and I blanked out. Maybe I didn’t have my notebooks with me. I really don’t remember, but I do remember my vision going blurry when the slap lands on the back of my head.
It is only when I end up in the hospital and someone has to pay the bill that my parents are called.
That’s enough reminiscing. I don’t know how much longer Shamsher Haider will be sitting here looking at the menu, but I need to walk over to him.
I need to say: Do you remember me? Do you know what you did to me when you made up stories about me, and complained about me to my parents?
Do you know what you did when you had them send me off to boarding school?
I want to tell him: “I don’t care that you’re a pathetic, old-looking man now. Am I supposed to respect you, be gentle with you, give you a free pass?”
I want to punch him in his geriatric face.
I want him to know that now I am older. I am bigger. Now I can hit back.
I want to take back something he took from me.
I walk up to his table and tap on his shoulder.
“Sir, do you recognise me?” I say.
He scans my face. His eyes lock on mine, and I see him for what he really is.
A miserable, pathetic, failure of a human being.
How did he once terrify us as much as he did? He will fall on his ass if I so much as flick his head with my fingers.
And I do just that. He is stunned.
“You are pathetic,” I tell him. “A sad, pathetic failure.”
He opens his mouth and shuts it again. He doesn’t say a word.
I pay my bill, step out of the restaurant, and hail a rickshaw.