The girl was dead.
Mysha was dead. We had to break down the door to her room. She was in her pajamas, with an open inhaler near her head and the air-conditioner on. The doctor declared death from asphyxiation through asthma. Her parents came to take the body, both of them weeping.
She was a student at the residential Khagrachari School of Freedom. We were located on forty acres of hilly, forested land in Khagrachari, an island in the middle of teak trees. There were three buildings: the school, the residential quarters, and the gym and conference hall.
It was a muggy, spring day, with somewhere a strident cuckoo. Yet my heart was heavy at the recollection of the girl. Mysha was seventeen. She was blossoming into womanhood and trying to be very modern, with her pink leggings or skinny jeans and shirt. She was not very bright and, as I lectured on the present perfect tense, she would be quite mentally absent, sitting in a corner of the classroom.
Later that day, I received an irate phone call from her father. He alleged that the word 'slave' had been inscribed on her left buttock. This made me even more disconsolate: what had the students been up to?
As for myself, I had been a philosophy teacher at the university under the dictator General Harun ur-Rashid. I had been his advisor. When he was deposed by the western donors, I lost my job. The subsequent misrule by the civilians made the General, and myself, respected again. I got a job as a principal at the residential school and also taught English. I loved my boys and girls very much.
So it was with heartbreak that I surveyed Mysha's empty chair whenever I taught the class. I would listen to the doves and the small green bee-eater perching on the branches and wires. I would almost be in tears.
My vice-principal was Sajna Khan. She was half-English, half-Bangladeshi, a combination that had resulted in a Turkish beauty. She had a long, fair face, pink lips, a sharp chin and nose and dark, chest-length hair in a circle.
A pall of gloom settled on the school, and we observed two minutes of silence during assembly.
After this, Sajna began to change; rather, she began to change her attire. First to go was her dupatta, the piece of garment that covers the chest over the kameez. She was well-endowed there, and it was a sight worth visiting on the world. Next, she donned high heels - which elevated her to a sexier level. Then came the black leggings, which exquisitely outlined her legs - with short kameez. Finally, she exchanged her shalwar-kameez for a saree - with her midriff bare!
It dawned on me at last that all this was to draw my attention - which it did. When she crossed her leggings in front of me, I took notice. When she let the saree slide across her bare midriff, I took notice. She was such an attractive woman!
However, I perceived that the senior boys and girls always looked down in her presence, as if unsure what to do. I paid no attention to it at the time.
Now, it just so happened that our apartments adjoined each other and were in the administrative wing, top floor. We were hence secluded from the school after hours.
"How would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow?" she asked in her mellow voice. "I'll be making kachchi biriani, which I know you like."
"That's right; I love kachchi biriani and I'll be happy to come!"
I duly turned up with a bunch of red roses - "O, you shouldn't have! They're lovely!" - and sauntered in.
Her apartment was designed the same as mine, with a living room and dining room leading into the bedroom. In the dining space was a glass-topped, wrought-iron table laid with a pair of plates. Sofas made up the living room. I made myself comfortable.
She wore a white lace saree, with bare midriff and a matching blouse.
She sat across from me and crossed her legs. "Would you like something to drink? Apple juice, perhaps?"
I thanked her and glass in hand went over to the table. She brought in a steaming bowl of biriani, followed by salad and a pitcher of borhani, a delicious beverage. We got to eating and made small talk about the school and referred only once to Mysha's death.
After dinner, she excused herself and went into the bedroom. I was sitting in a sofa when she came out - guarded only by her lace saree held in front of her, and totally in puris naturalibus.
"Shall I come out or will you come in?"
I went in.
Thus began our cohabitation. She didn't exactly move in with me - that would have caused a scandal - but she would come into my apartment after dark and stay till dawn.
Thus, as the Tokay lizard uttered its mating call, we would be making love. And it would have lasted forever.
One night, as she left my apartment in her red robe, for some reason - I had grown attracted to her, I suppose - I followed her out. Instead of entering her apartment, she strode past and down the stairs. My curiosity was piqued, but I couldn't follow her, having no clothes on.
However, the next night I decided to follow her and wore my dressing-gown as soon as she left my bedroom. We wandered down the stairs and across the lawn to the gym. She had the keys and opened the door, but quickly shut it again. The windows were painted white, so I could see nothing. The next day, when the school was in siesta, I scratched out a significant portion of the paint where I could observe without being observed.
The forest seemed to close in tighter at night and the air was stifling. A Tokay lizard was calling when I reached the gym.
And I was appalled.
Sajna was outfitted in a leather open cup and crotchless teddy in shiny, leather boots with a paddle in her hand. She was magnificent! She used the paddle to spank the boys and girls kneeling on the floor, supervised by similarly attired girls and boys. I noticed that some of them had 'slave' imprinted on their left buttock. Sajna had on a pair of heart-shaped pasties and her kneeling wards wore chastity belts. The supervisors had paddles and crops with which they intermittently chastised the kneeling figures. There was apparently a great deal of shouting but I could hear nothing from where I was. I had seen enough and I left the scene.
The very first thing next morning, I summoned Sajna to my office.
"How did Mysha die?"
"Asthma!" she asserted baldly, her eyes showing a wary surprise.
"It didn't have anything to do with the orgies in the gym?"
"You found out!" She sat down in her saree. "Mysha couldn't take the excitement. She had an attack. Before we could strip her and change her into her pajamas, she passed out. Soon, she was dead."
"So, if you had called the house doctor straight away, it would have revealed your secret orgies."
"They are not orgies!" Her eyes flashed. "They are lessons in freedom. Where do you think the idea of freedom came from? From slavery. These children must learn the meaning of master and slave. Your tin-pot democracy is a joke. You vote every five years and think that's freedom. Freedom is much more than that!" The blood rose to her cheeks as she spoke.
Now, the very absence of slavery in Asia made me realize that democracy would never work. But I hadn't expected a school for slavery.
"I'll go to the committee."
She smiled. "You think the committee doesn't know?"
"I'll go to the authorities."
She looked down at the table, smiling. "We are too powerful, Zafar!"
We were surrounded by several religions. Five times a day the muezzin called to prayer. In the evening, the Hindu temple tolled its bell. And a few blocks down the road were several Buddhist temples.
Only, the devil was inside.
Iftekhar Sayeed teaches English. He was born and lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He has contributed to The Danforth Review, Axis of Logic, Enter Text, Postcolonial Text, Southern Cross Review, Opednews.com, Left Curve, Mobius, Erbacce, Down In The Dirt and other publications. He is also a freelance journalist. He and his wife love to tour Bangladesh. You may find him at http://www.iftekharsayeed.weebly.com/