“If I were a hero …” Arif stopped suddenly.
The others looked at him, measuring his sanity and their tolerance. Arif, among their group of six, was anything but brave. Even a cockroach was enough to scare him.
It was a dull Friday afternoon. They were sitting in a café. Outside, it was crisp and hot. Inside it was cool and quiet. A while ago, a couple sat in a corner. They had left. Now only the six of them remained.
“Who is the hero of today's time?”Arif said looking around.
“Why this sudden obsession with heroes?”Zayma asked sipping in a latte.
“Your latest asking for one?”Dipu asked. Arif had quite a reputation with girls. They fell for his good looks and easy charms.
“Nope!” Arif waved his hand as if brushing a fly, and then said philosophically, “A coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero only one. But in a world of fools and cowards, where will I find a true hero?”
“Take me. I am a hero,” Roy said. “Yesterday I saved a dog.”
“His car almost crushed a dog because he was busy checking out a hot girl,” said Robi. Others burst out into laughter.
“I am a hero. I saved Daddy's money by not buying the Louis Vuitton bag in my last trip,” Zayma said.
“Shut up guys. Be serious,” Arif reproached them.
“But, why do you need a damn hero?” Roy asked.
“My editor wants to feature the heroes of our time in the upcoming issue,” Arif said with a sigh.“Why is life so freaking difficult?”
“It's our parents and this damn society that make our life miserable,” Zayma said, thinking of the last fight she had with her mother.
“Yes!” they chorused in support of the statement. They were young and carefree, keen to sever the ties that tied them to the pristine relations and age-old customs of the society for an awfully long time.
“Why don't you quit?” Roy said after a while.
“Dad won't let me,” Arif said, “Besides, I need the money.”
“You own the damn paper. Why don't you hire a reporter to do your work?” Roy suggested.
“He tried to do it last time, failed miserably,” Noyonika chuckled and said. “The reporter was fired. And Arif was promoted to the Assistant Editor with more responsibilities and less peace of mind.”
“See – you are the hero of modern times; your silly act of heroism backfired though,” Zayma gigled.
Others joined her.
“At least, you get a salary at the end of each month. You don't have to beg your parents,” Zayma said. “Every time I ask for some money, my mother looks at me as if I am asking for her kidney and …”
Noyonika cut her short, “But your mother is way better than mine.”
Arif interrupted them and asked,“Seriously is there anyone we can look up to? To inspire or to motivate us?”
“What about the cricket players?” Robi said, “They are doing a pretty good job.”
“Already featured them,” a dismayed Arif replied.
“Take our task force, those ninja looking guys,” Roy said.
“What about Ananto Jalil?” the girls asked, “Or, the Shahbagh boys?”
They gave options one by one. None suited Arif's criteria and he said, “That crazy guy wants something different- like common people doing uncommon things.”
“Perhaps he reads a lot of Alice Munro's stories,” Zayma said.
“Tell your editor that all the heroes have died.” Roy said. Others sighed but said nothing. They sat there in silence for a long time. Then Arif got up, saying he needed a smoke. Others followed him.
A little boy in a faded undershirt and grubby trouser was sweeping the ground outside. He smiled at them.
“How old are you?” Zayma asked.
“You work here?”
“There.” He pointed to the shop next to the café.
Noyonika asked him more and the boy rattled off, “I come here at dawn. Boss gives me meals two times. I don't know how much he pays. My mother collects it.” He smiled and went back to work.They stared at him for a while and then left the place searching for a heroic hero.
Marzia Rahman is a writer and translator who occasionally contributes for Star Literature and Review Pages.