I never really finished writing this. And I left after only 2-3 days in Paris. But here is what I had written along with the pictures.
He stood in the Gare du Nord station in Paris with bags full of vegetables, chewing on supari. The kama-sutra advises men to chew on supari to keep a pleasant mouth and red lips. He’s from Bangladesh. He doesn’t read or write English, but speaks Arabic fluently, a little bit of Greek and just enough French to get by.
I asked him about buying a SIM card. He led me upstairs, looking over his shoulders outside the station. There should be a Bangladeshi man here, he said. Three men speaking Bangla passed us, but I couldn’t make out what they said. My guide said, wait here, and then disappeared into the crowd.
There were brown people walking by me, some who looked like family members, but some of them saw right through me and knew I wasn’t one of them. Their gazes made me feel American. There were two white Parisian policemen walking around the corner.
My guide was taking longer than I thought and I began questioning my trust in him. He spent two weeks in Italy before taking a train to Paris on Christmas day two years ago, so he didn’t get the chance to pick up any Italian. Perhaps, he was too weak from the ride in the bottom layer of the small ship where he went a week without eating.
“I didn’t have any strength to even go to the deck to smoke a cigarette,” he says.
In Dubai, he worked as a painter and did other odd jobs in the households of wealthy Emiratis. The lady he worked for liked him a lot. But he wasn’t allowed to fall in love. Love in Dubai for migrant workers is forbidden.
He returned within a few minutes with another Bangladeshi man who reminded me of a pot dealer from New York City. The policemen were now standing in the corner looking in our direction.
“Not 5 taka, how about 4.50?”
“Come on, I buy them for 75 poisha.”
“Ok. 5 then.”
“Not here, follow me downstairs.”
I handed 5 Euros to him and he passed it to the SIM dealer.
“You can talk for 100 minutes with this.”
We walked towards the RER. He nodded and made small talk with other Bangladeshis selling DVDs out of bedsheets on the sidewalk. The short brown men looked dishevelled and out on the watch for “Civil Mamus.”
He made me buy a ticket for zone 3, but when the ticket didn’t let me out at our station in zone 4, he asked if I could jump over the turnstile. Other people were doing it too. So I jumped.
He had two cards for transportation, one with his passport sized photo to show if anyone asked, and another ticket in between the cards in his wallet which actually got him around. It belonged to a Bangladeshi child, who didn’t need it as she lived walking distance to her school.
When they would beat me at home for skipping school, I would go to my nanabari (maternal grandparent’s house), which was only four houses away.You could see my nanabari from my house. And when they beat me at nanabari, I would come back home.
One time my uncle grabbed me by the back of my shirt to take me to the pond by the mosque to make me perform ablutions, and as we were walking, I started slowly unbuttoning my shirt. As soon as we reached the pond, I was in the pond and he was just holding on to my shirt.
Do you smoke? Mama and Mami don’t know I smoke. They think I’m such a good kid. But sometimes I steal a cigarette before I leave.
One time Mama and I went to the park at night. There’s only a few kids there who mind their own business and smoke weed, otherwise it’s pretty empty. In the summertime, there’s families and children that come play and walk around.
I told them to bring me back a fishing net from bangladesh. We tied one end to a water bottle filled with water and threw it across the pond.
Only for an hour or so.
Want to see the pictures?
Look, the whole bathtub was full of fish. All kinds of fish.
He spent his life until his early twenties in a small village in Sylhet, Bangladesh. It wasn’t even in the main part of Sylhet filled with crowded streets and new markets and beggars who knew little english phrases like “May I have one pound please?” They stalk and trail bideshis and can tell right away from the gelled hair and nice clothes who’s deshi and who’s bideshi.
He grew up an hour or so away surrounded by water and green fields. He didn’t make his way into town much but went through it to go to the outskirts on the other end where he had a distant cousin his age whom he got along well with.
But his absolute best friend lived in his village. When his grandmother would come visit from America, she would slip him a $100 note, which he would then exchange from a neighbor who stood by the bank with bundles of money to exchange from dollars, pounds, saudi riyals and dubai dirhams.
“She would say take this and spend it. I would take all my friends to the cinemas. They would all call me ‘boss’. I would even take them to eat afterwards. Everything was on me. One time we got into a fight in the theater. It was us three against two others. We beat them bad and never went back to that place again.
Instead, I would rent cassette tapes and wouldn’t let anyone fast forward the song and dance sequences. I paid for it. We watch it my way.”
He would make a hut out on the rice fields and cook snacks on a clay stove. They would steal electricity from the live wire for a lighbulb and tape player.
I’ve never been in love. Why bother? I’d rather wait and get married. She doesn’t have to be pretty. She can even have children from previous marriages, as long as she and I have an understanding.
My best friend back home liked a girl. She lived a few houses down. It all started out as a joke. We would all gather up to play, but he would make sure that we were hanging around somewhere near where she was. And slowly it turned to something else.
And then he had to go to Qatar to work. She ended up marrying someone else.
I saw what happened with them and I didn’t want something like that.
I remember he didn’t want to go. He said if he left, he would’ve lost her and that what he had with her was worth more than anything else. He said just being near her made the whole world heavenly.
I tried to make him understand. I told him that he should go and then come back in two years and marry her and if he didn’t like it he could come back.
So then he decided it was okay to go. But on the day he was supposed to go, everyone was looking for him. He wanted to run away.
They spent their last night together. She told him that she would leave a little string hanging outside her window. Her parents were sleeping in the next room. And the girl’s little sister stayed with her.
So we went at night. People go to sleep early in the villages; like around 9 or 10. So we went in the dark. And we were feeling around under the windows for the string and then I found it. And then we slowly pulled on it.
She quietly opened the window and I jumped and hid. He told me to go home and that he would see me tomorrow.
They stayed up all night, and he sneaked out early morning before anyone woke up.
In the morning, everyone was looking for him. I asked him what had happened, and he was in a rush because the car and everything was waiting to take him to the airport. So he told me that he would tell me after he showered and got ready, on the way to the airport.
They laid the blanket on the floor and stayed really quiet to not wake the sister. He wanted to run away. He was like let’s get in the car and go somewhere else and hide for a while.
I told him no girl will be with a man with no money. Love isn’t enough to keep a girl. I told him to go and I would look after her until he came back.
He even sent her letters. There was a little kid who would go deliver the letters to her for 20 takas. She never responded. She got caught by her mother the first time she sat down to write. He would send her money and gifts and everything.
She got married to someone else but I didn’t want them to get married. I didn’t want my best friend marrying some girl next door.