The shoelace tying was taking too long. The man was standing silently. I thought he would now ask for some money, alms, in the name of a madrassa or something. Then I was shocked as he came with the most unlikely proposition.
The shoelace could not have come off at a more unlikely moment, just as I came out of my building.
I was tying it, one leg up against the low boundary wall. From the corner of my eyes, I saw this figure in a white robe approaching me. It had a thick black beard because the face looked dark. But it was all just a blurred reflection of light from a human figure.
I couldn't care less about it. I found this moment fit to fix the extra therapeutic sole as well that helps me avoid knee pain before I start my walk.
The white robe stopped beside me. Now I looked up and saw him clearly for the first time. A man in his 30s. His robe was extraordinarily clean and bright. His eyes gleaming black. Somehow, I dislike the smell of attor. I held my breath. But then I realised he did not use it.
The shoelace tying was taking too long. The man was standing silently. I thought he would now ask for some money, alms, in the name of a madrassa or something.
Then I was shocked as he came with the most unlikely proposition.
"Sir, can you find me two or three students please? Please."
I stood straight. He looked pleading. No, he looked desperate. He looked a little lost. He did not know what to do or where to go.
"Sir, I am a BSc engineer. I used to teach math to students. Now they are gone. The virus has taken my students from me. I am left with nothing."
I stood motionless. Looking at that sad figure this afternoon. What thinking had driven him to go out begging for students? What made him think parents would let an unknown guy into their house, probably carrying the killer virus?
"You won't find any students. Nobody touches books anymore."
He stood for a while. Then wandered away in the afternoon. Like a man possessed.
The girl's voice sounded shrill and sharp. You could make out the village accent clearly. Probably from Cumilla or Brahmanbaria.
"Find me a lonely rich man. Someone who wants the company of a girlfriend. Find me one," her recorded voice pleaded.
Her message was clear. She was actually proposing to sell her body. To someone she does not know, does not love, does not care a dime about. She only wants the money.
"You will never know how I have survived these past four months," she said.
Her gym had pulled the shutter from March 26 and she had to walk home empty-handed. The month had not been over yet and the paycheque was not ready.
She was not even vaguely worried about it. Such shutdowns may happen. Like during the election. This will soon blow over and everything will come back to life again.
She took it rather lightly as a time off from her rigorous 12-hour routine as a gym trainer. She can again sleep late and wake up late, listen to her favourite songs, Tahsan and all, and sleep again, and wake up to have lunch, and sleep and wake up.
But then the days turned into weeks. Weeks into months. The gym did not open. Nor did her paycheque arrive.
She was now desperate. Her mother, an Arabic teacher, was also sitting at home. Her younger brothers loitered around. Her boyfriend was as broke as she was. Out of work and looking for a straw to clutch.
So, she made up her mind. She has to survive. She has to get food. She has to find a rich man. Someone who wants a pretty girlfriend. No strings attached.
My travel agent called one afternoon.
"Have you opened your shop?"
"Just two days ago. Still cleaning up the dusts. mopping the floor."
"Well. How do you find business?" I knew the question made no sense. Yet it somehow escaped my lips.
"Well, nothing. I have three London tickets to sell tomorrow. After that, nothing. Where do you find business if flights don't resume, if planes don't arrive?"
"Then how do you cope with the situation?"
"I have no idea. I had to drop two employees. Both of them were good workers. But if I have no business what do I do with them? Then I had to slash the salary of the other three. A 50% cut."
But he also had to do other negotiations.
He went up to the shop owner, a lady in her late 60s, and announced he can't pay the rent. It's Tk110K a month. Month after month, year after year, he had paid his rent right on the dot. And now he can't any more.
So, he laid his offer flat on the table. He can at best pay Tk50K. Less than half the original rent. Take it or he has to pack his bags.
The old lady did not argue. She knew it is probably not the time to haggle over rent.
"Pray for me. Mine is a small agency. I can't last long if people don't fly," he said before hanging up.
Today, not a single part of the nation remains untouched by this new pandemic, the novel coronavirus. Not even the rarely found communities where it is not reported yet. For example, this outlying village on the way to Toke in Kapasia.
Dappled in the green shades filtering from the age-old jackfruit trees and palm trees, the village shows the constancy of what Bengal was in the medieval times. The swales are home to croaking frogs. And the hay rots in the monsoon humidity.
There a few people work the fields. Preparing for the Kharif crops.
I ask one of them if they have any coronavirus patients in the village. He says, "No". Nobody has reported sickness. Nobody has developed fever and cough and breathlessness. And yet everybody is affected in a different way.
He waves his broad palm across in front of him.
"They are my two sons. No schools for three months. I think they have even forgotten to add two plus two. And I don't get a price for my rice and vegetables. The wholesalers don't come to collect my produce."
It has changed our lives. Probably forever. The way we interact. The way we buy and sell. The way we think of the future. The way we think of age. Years. Months. Weeks.
This is the series we have launched to capture those changes.