First and The World

7 minute read   ·   19/ Tutorials for Breathing
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Watching Fassbender eyefuck strangers on the subway made Prothom realize how much easier it was to build new relationships than mend old ones. It’s like socks, you know? So much easier to buy new pairs—or not even wear any!—than to wash them and have them magically disappear.

He paused the film to continue carmelizing the onions. He’d recently learned how to make a mean sauce base for Korean army stew, and he’d been wanting to bring it to Dhaka. He’d gotten sick of mediocre outsider food in the country and had decided that it was his duty to collectively increase the quality of Bangladeshi palettes. In fact, he’d felt a lot of responsibility lately as he began to take his fate seriously.

As the first child in his family’s generation, his mother had named him Prothom—or First—and only recently had he taken the weight of it on his shoulders. Names don’t make us who we are, he thought, but a part of him couldn’t escape it.

When he realized he had forgotten to buy the ingredients for the bean paste, he wanted to call Prithivi so she could bring some over—only to realize that wasn’t possible. Instead, he took some garam masala reserved for curries and dashed it in. Maybe this’ll work? Who’s ever made Bangladeshi-style budae jjigae before?!

He once read that laziness is the father of invention, but it was becoming evident to him that he’d gotten quite nifty in order to avoid certain people, people who cared about him. People he cared about. And it had become apparent that this had become deliberate as he shortened his social circle to maybe a handful of friends. Maybe it’s because he thought, at his age, he had plenty of opportunity to meet new people in this burgeoning city. He had just gotten a job at a new technology company and was making fast friends. He met good girls at coffee shops and the bad ones at house parties (now that he was getting invited to them). He couldn’t make up his mind which he preferred more, opting instead to just never commit. But all of it came back to him wanting to keep the familiar at bay.

It had been eight months since she had ceased to exist in his life, after which he resolved to move out on his own—unnatural in his country’s culture—to find his own truth. Own truths came at a premium at home, and he knew it. But time wasn’t on his side. Suddenly, he had come face to face with the unpredictable nature of mortality that made him think twice about rejecting himself. The world had been structured so that his bodily puzzle fit into the ever-evolving human landscape. He couldn’t escape people, and he sure as hell couldn’t escape his fate.

She remained a phantom thread on his silken skin, an arm left feeling long after it had vanished—and that continued to trigger emotions in him of a yesteryear, or worse, of a tomorrow that would never come.

He let a cup of soy sauce simmer on top of some beef sausage that he wanted to mix in with the stew in lieu of Spam. He put the heat on low and took a seat on the sofa. Soon, he found himself in a daze where reality meshed into his personal half-truths. There is always one person in the world who wills your existence. And when that person goes away, what drives your tomorrow?

He makes an awkward gurgly sound and shakes his head, only to wake up and realize the pan is smoking hot. Fuck—he had dozed off. Shaking off the hesitation of the moment, Prothom makes sure to turn the heat down low and throw in the ramen noodles before the sauce gets too rich. Dinner, after all, must be served.

Three days later, there is news of a terrorist attack at his favorite coffee shop. On weekends, he’d go there for open mic night, a place where he and his friends would feel comfortable to be themselves. But today, fate had intervened. Four well-to-do kids from a respected university had decided to take hostages and the end the lives of everyone involved.

Suddenly, all he could do was think of Prithivi. What decides our fate? Because we either have someone to fight for, or we have scour the wasteland trying to find meaning.

These kids had nobody left, and he had started believing he had nobody left—but obviously that wasn’t true. That couldn’t be true because reality had not yet struck him awake. The silken thread hidden inside his bloodline was still waiting to be triggered.

I lie in bed hoping for a signal that allows me to sleep. Because the world exists for definition. It’ll come to me when the time is right, but it has to come from within and not without. Prothom had his priorities, and his days couldn’t start without direction. He had waited far too long to become one with himself without needing a hand, and tomorrow would be the day he let his crutches go.

“Hey.”

Time had passed, and he had found a way to close the circle.

“Are you talking to me?”

Six years later, finding himself in Saigon—a city bustling with a type of spirit he hadn’t felt back home—he started his awakening. The energy there yelled tomorrow! and people openly welcomed him into their arms. He found himself at a bar next to a stranger whose hair smelled of jasmine, whose eyes pierced into the future and who would introduce him to another world.

“Yeah—Track pants? You’re wearing track pants at a fancy bar!” Prothom didn’t fully know how to approach an attractive local girl who clearly gave no fuck, and as a visitor in the city, he didn’t know the customs of conversation.

“I like them.” She didn’t look sober but her beauty was unnatural yet obvious. Then without any seeming logic, she turned sideways and pointed—”That’s my sister, she’s everything!”

Track Pants pointed to a girl on the corner of the bar with big, beautiful eyes and a dress that accentuated her body. Wait, is she pimping her out? As he got older, though, he had become less cynical. He realized that Track Pants may have actually liked him and believed he was a proper prospect for her younger sister. She’s my everything, as was Prithivi for him. In essence, a random girl in a random country on a random night wanted to give her “everything” to him—or, at least, to buy her everything a drink.

“Do you remember how we met?”

They’d been together for four years since Track Pants had made the connection. He always wanted her to know how much she meant to her, the gap she filled in his being.

“Yeah, you came up to me with a drink I loved because you were somehow clever enough to know I was a regular—probably because of my sister!—and then ask the bartender for my favorite. And then you told me about your sister. About how her name meant ‘the world’ and that my sister talked about me the same way. And then you fucking asked me for my Instagram!”

Prothom knew she was joking about the last bit, but as they sat watching the sunset in their high-rise Bangkok penthouse, it was clearly fate that had somehow driven their existence to this point. Her name, as he later found out, translated to “flower”—and it made sense because she made him bloom along with her. For all of the world that had left him, she grew for him a new one of endless tomorrows and perpetual warmth.

Soon after, they went back to Dhaka and opened up a Vietnamese restaurant. Neither were cooks but both loved a good pho. And in a country of bastardized cuisine, their story started with a sense of genuine authenticity, because food for them was family—love, care and respect were the foundations of both.

One morning, as the prayers harkened loud outside their Banani apartment, she woke up and looked at Prothom and whispered into his ear: “On this side of paradise, I am your world. You’ll never be alone. On this side of paradise, when others worry about you, you know you’ve already made your mark. On this side of paradise, myself and those you love will fill the emptiness that’s been left behind by those you’ve lost.”