“I heard that someone is giving away free rice. I have no food at home today,” she blurts out and is gone across the street.
For the first time in many days you can drench yourself in absolute stillness and silence in Dhaka city.
As you talk, every word sounds loud and hollow, bouncing off the skyscrapers. Birds sing and you can hear them from long off – birds you never knew existed like the white-eye and sunbirds in this concrete jungle.
A sudden car roars down the road. And that's it. Locked down to fight coronavirus, Dhaka yesterday hunkered down quietly, more like a ghost town than the cacophonous chaos it is.
Yet, amid such emptiness, great tales of humanity and despair play out on the streets. Stories of unbound fear and walking-the-extra-mile.
At the TSC square, a lone white sedan is parked by the DUS canteen, the lid of its boot open like a yawning mouth. Three youngsters, a teen and two university students, with masks on their faces scan the empty streets with their eyes. A rickshaw-puller appears, aimlessly paddling his empty buggy, and parks under the shade of the huge trees in the arena.
One of the boys reach in the car boot and comes up with two plastic packets, one containing rice and the other potatoes. About two kgs in each bag.
They walk up to the tired rickshaw-wallah and hand him the bags. The man looks puzzled with the surprise gift, but then he flashes a weak smile, mumbling out something unintelligible.
Kowshik studies finance in Dhaka University and Tazbir is an economics student at North South University. They have come out of their houses with whatever food they could collect from friends and relatives to distribute to the poor whose lives ground to a sudden halt in the lockdown.
"I put out an appeal to North South students to contribute rice and whatever food they can. Because it is a testing time for us all, more so for the poor," Tazbir said.
His friend Kowshik said, "My father runs a garment factory that has closed down because of order drop. I have seen a worker break down in tears because he does not know where his next meal will come from. So we have decided to run this relief operation in our own way."
Just about a couple of kilometers from there at Nazimuddin Road, a group of around 10-12 young boys in their early teens were standing by the road with sprayers. They stop the rickshaws and spray sanitiser on the rickshaw-pullers' hands and rickshaw handles.
"We just felt that these poor people face the greatest risk of infection," said Ahad looking too small to be a seventh grader. "Yesterday, we sprayed over a thousand rickshaw-pullers and their passengers."
Another rickshaw comes along and he rushes off leaving us there. These kids have pooled their own money and started this health action on their own.
And at the Shahbag square, we find traffic constable Sohrabuddin. His everyday job was either to constantly wave on the thousands of cars to move on or to step out intrepidly in front of Dhaka's infamous traffic to offer himself as a human shield of sorts, the red signal to stop.
Today he finds a new task on the empty streets of Dhaka. He waves down any motorbike rider or for that matter anyone passing by him without masks and asks them to put on one.
"My tired hands are finally getting some rest," he must have smiled, but his masked face showed little of it.
A few metres away, Hanufa in a red saree is striding down the road in great speed, god knows where. She has a Robbialac paint box stuffed with flowers, sticks of roses and gerbera, all withered in the heat of the March noon.
"I could not sell one single stick of flower," she somehow breathes out. "Every day I sell Tk300 worth of flowers. Today nothing. Will you buy one, sir?"
In this time of coronavirus, even flowers look dangerous like hand grenades.
"If flowers don't sell, where are you hurrying to?"
"I heard that someone is giving away free rice. I have no food at home today," she blurts out and is gone across the street.
On a rickshaw, a family of three comes along. A beggar family. The wife cannot walk straight, she crawls on the ground like our other primate cousins. Her husband looks too scrawny to be able to do anything. And their child, indiscernible whether a boy or a girl, has a ballooned head.
"We are coming from the Dhaka medical hospital. My daughter got burned while cooking daal," said the woman. "See, I cannot walk."
She then shows us her disability, crawling on all four.
"Our income is gone. It takes a lot of money for my daughter's dressing (of wound)," she said and stretched out her hand.
In the midst of all this desperateness, Emdad is making hay.
In the corner of Nazimuddin Road, Emdad, dressed in grey Panjabi and lungi, is selling face masks.
"I was a tea and cigarettes vendor by the roadside even a couple of days ago. Now it is closed. I am selling masks and it is going good," he grinned. From morning until noon, he has sold 60 masks.
Not a bad day in a desperate time.