When I got out on the road the sky was already in the process of hiding behind the veil. The wind hadn’t started yet. A premature twilight was falling. I walked hard and tried not to fall in any open manhole or drain in the gloom. This alley I was in was one of the tributaries which always terminated in one of the wider roads, which in turn drained itself in the main road. I looked up. Clouds rolled like a herd of gravid bisons, tarry black in color.
All the windows went dark. A strong wind started blowing. It blew away with it dust and sounds; of shrieking children, dismayed adults, barking dogs. A hushed silence followed. I finally reached the main road, my eyes watering behind the glasses. I walked on, knocking people every now and then. Far behind me somewhere thunder roared. First drops of rain fell on my shoulder when I reached the three road junction. I stopped for a second to catch my breath.
Everything was illuminated only by the headlights of the passing cars. Store fronts with backup generators tried to scare away the darkness. Road side vendors hurried to get their stuff under tarpaulin and flimsy plastic sheets. Somewhere inside the bowels of the city a Muezzin of a mosque sounded the call for the evening prayers and as if waiting for this very sign the gates of heaven opened. Everything went white.
I ran through the traffic semi-blindly and couple of minutes later found myself in front of a building still under construction. I was in yet another alleyway. This was by the lake. No gate barred me so I took refuge there. I took off my glasses and tried to wipe the water from them but just managed to make them foggier. I looked around. A shape of a man sat at one corner in the dark.
“What a rain!” I said.
He didn’t say anything. I looked outside. A heavy downpour was washing over everything. The torrents sounded like thousands of people murmuring in the farther shore. The wind was shaking the tree tops, making big waves in the lake. A scent called petrichor was in the air. A smell of dry soil and dry leafs just soaked in cold water.
“It used to rain harder.” I looked back. The man-shape was talking, “I remember the rain before the last flood. People died of suffocation in that rain.”
“Err, you mean drowned in the flood?” I tried to see his face but my myopic eyes hadn’t adjusted in the dim light yet.
“No the torrents were so overwhelming it suffocated those who were outside.”
I looked outside. Suddenly stories of people getting mugged in various nooks and alleys of this city started to crowd my mind. My companion started talking again, “This city of yours, it is too young. I have seen cities older than this”.
“So you have been abroad, which country?”
“There had been older cities in this area, older than this.”
“Older than Dhaka? It’s 100 years old.”
“It was a port city by a river which died later. People came from deserts and snow-capped mountains of east. White faced travelers of west sea called it the golden city.”
“I never heard about any city like that. What happened to it?”
“The river changed course and swept it away. Rivers in this land tend to do that kind of thing. They are young and emotional. Not like the calm ancients of the upstream.”
“When was it?”
“Long ago. Back then there were nothing but trees here.”
Suddenly electricity returned and a yellow light bulb overhead blazed into being. An old man squatted beside me. The mysterious entity now robbed of all of its mysticism in the light looked like an ordinary building worker. He looked at me. A face without expression and lined like ancient papyrus.
“I am just passing by. Always walking is hard, especially now a days. No more soil under ones feet. Only asphalt and concrete and steel.”
He stood up and slowly walked outside in the rain, all the time muttering to himself.
The scent wasn’t there anymore, the scent called petrichor. As the rain subsided and neon lights all around returned the city to the modern times I started for my home again.