Excerpted from THE TRUE AMERICAN: Murder and Mercy in Texas by Anand Giridharadas. Copyright © 1014 by Anand Giridharadas. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Every so often, a customer walked into the mini-mart at South Buckner and Elam Road and offered Raisuddin some reassurance. Perhaps they noticed his olive T-shirt and bright sneakers, and interpreted them as he had hoped: as the dress of a rising man, not a typical gas station worker. Or perhaps they heard in one of his newly crafted conversation starters some unexpected flair. In these moments, they might speak to Raisuddin or simply smile in a way that pleased him. They knew he was not of this place.
It was 2001. He had arrived in Texas at the start of the summer. He came from Dhaka, in Bangladesh, by way of two years in New York City. Here on the fringes of the Dallas metroplex, he began his days at 5 a.m., dressing quickly at his boss's house, where he was living, and rushing to get behind the counter before dawn. He sold Country Time lemonade and Tahitian Treat punch, Coors Light and ten-cent candies, Gillette razors and Copenhagen tobacco products until midnight or 1 a.m., mining the Dallas Morning News for sports scores and other flint for counter chatter, trying out on customers the pleasantries he was still learning, squeezing in as many of the five prayers as he could manage. Then he returned home to shower, eat, and catch his winks before the cycle resumed.
Selling Americans three tamales for a dollar was a strange landing for a twenty-seven-year-old who had trained to command fighter jets and qualified as a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. But so it is with the many who leave their native soil and find that to rise, they must first sink into the fresh earth below. Raisuddin was no longer a Bangladesh Air Force man. He was a Buckner Food Mart man.
The mini-mart watched over a barren corner of a luck-starved neighborhood. It lingered in the badlands between the central Dallas whose gentry regard the city as a second Los Angeles and the more rustic neighborhoods to the east. Drive one way out of the store, and it was easier to find vegan and Ashtanga than barbecue and two-step. Drive the other way, and within minutes the setting could be more redolent of Mississippi: the RVs turned home extensions, the Confederate-flag license-plate holders, the fenced-in horses, the slouching wooden cottages, the outdoor exhibition of those possessions that failed to fit inside.
To an immigrant like Raisuddin, the economy around the mart might have appeared rather desolate. It wasn't the economy of the legendary firms where third-world boys like him fantasized about working, of Boeing, IBM, Procter & Gamble--names whose appearance on a business card one day might be enough to soothe the pain of leaving home. The commerce in these parts was of consumption more than production: a repeating chain of gas pumps like his, tire shops, cheap eats, and financial agencies offering to move money across gradients of space and time--turning $100 cash here into $83 in Oaxaca or the $350 paycheck you were due on Friday into $300 right now.
Like much of the world, Raisuddin grew up with America on his television screen, so that he felt he knew it before he set foot there. As a young man, he thought of the place in exalted terms: "It's like one of the happiest, the richest, countries in the world, without any problems--that was the image. It's the land of opportunity. Whoever goes there, you can be whatever you want to. The tools are there; you use the tools. It's up to you. Not like Bangladesh, where there is limited opportunity, and there are millions of people fighting for a small opportunity."
His first two years in the U.S., in New York, had grayed this black-and-white schema. There was misfortune in America; there was misfortune in Bangladesh. But to be poor together, as people were back home, seemed to Raisuddin to be different from being poor alone, as people often were here on the edge of Dallas.
He came from an often brutal country, no doubt: the electricity that sizzled off whenever it wished, the rain that withheld itself until it arrived with lethal gusto, the factories that imploded and buses that soared off mountainsides and swollen barges that drowned. But in these things, as in life generally, you were rarely alone--even when you wanted to be. People lived thickly in one another's business, their presence at once invasive and soothing. The constant din of parents and siblings and in-laws staved off self-pity. The customary ways of eating and marrying and caring for elders held communities together and kept hurting people on the path. People threw weddings that took a lifetime to pay off, because they knew they would need a tribe even more than the money.
Of course, this connectedness hadn't been enough to keep Rais--the shortened name by which he introduced himself to Americans--in Bangladesh. Still, he was struck by how people in Dallas seemed to lack for each other far more than for bread or bus passes or a roof overhead. "So much lonely, so much alone, even detached from their own family," he said of the lives around him. They drove up to the food mart in their boat-cars, alone. They ate in their quickie restaurants, alone. They pinned what hopes they had of tranquil aging on scratch-off lottery tickets, not ardent children.
A fearsome wildness could thrive amid this isolation. The people around Rais seemed to him to live largely unobliged to their parents, their teachers, even in many cases their God. They had no one to answer to. Every man for himself, they sometimes called it. Four months at the Buckner Food Mart was plenty of time to discover what a terrifying idea that was. He was coming to see how the poverty of a place that is breaking can differ from the poverty of a place still being made.
Just since May, on more than one occasion, Rais had been behind the counter, waiting, when the front door would open and a customer appear. He would hand Rais a credit card for gas, then go outside to fill up. As the man pumped, Rais would be inside swiping the card over and over, wondering what he was doing wrong--until he realized that it was a dead card, that the man had no intention of paying and had already fled with $40 worth of liquid loot. This in the richest country in the world. Or there were the boys, still young enough to sit on their mothers' laps, who sauntered into the Buckner Food Mart and stole candy and gum. Or the recurring--and, on one occasion, strangely fastidious--condom thieves.
One night, after the time of the Isha prayer, around nine or ten, Rais saw two young men huddled in the corner. He came out from behind the counter to check on them, which made them scamper for the exit. He ran to where they had been hiding and there saw a three-pack of condoms ripped open, with two of the rubbers missing. At least they had the grace to steal only what they needed that night. Rais followed them out of the store and insisted that they pay for what they'd taken. They told him to "back off." He promised to do so once they paid. After all, things cost money, and Rais was answerable to his boss--didn't they see? Then one of the boys flashed what looked like a gun and reiterated his advice to back off. Rais reconsidered his stance: "After that--whoa, I don't wanna lose my life for a pack of condoms--I said, 'OK, you don't have to pay.' "
One afternoon near summer's peak, a man walked into the mart, fetched a soda from the cooler, and gave Rais a dollar bill. When the register opened, the man pulled out a gun. Rais, who took pride in the evenness of his keel, knew there was nothing to be alarmed about: "Many a times in the gas station, people used to come and sell their personal belongings--computer monitor, TV, this kind of thing--all the poor people in the neighborhood. So I thought this guy wants to sell that gun as well. Because he's a customer; it's two
o' clock. In my mind, robbery happens in the dark. Robbery happens at night--in a less crowded place, but not in a gas station at two o' clock in the afternoon. And, plus, he bought a drink, so he's a customer."
Rais began the negotiation: "You wanna sell? How much?"
"No, amigo, give me the money," came the puzzled reply.
"Yes, I will give," Rais said. "How much you asking for?"
"No, no, amigo, give me the money," the man repeated, growing agitated.
Rais tried again: "Yes, I will give, but how much you want for the gun?"
The man cocked the pistol and pressed it into Rais's forehead, which roused the dormant soldier within him: "From my military experience, I knew he's about to shoot, because he cocked the gun. And I said, 'OK, OK, don't shoot me. Here's the money.' " Rais removed some modest green stacks from the register and handed them over. The incident left him irritated with himself, because Bangladeshi military training specifically covered one-on-one gunfights.
From time to time, Rais's mind darted back to the life he had left. What was he, man of burning promise, doing in a miserable gas station in Texas? But he never dwelled there long. "I know this is not my life," he told himself. "It's just temporary right now--for the time being, just to survive. I'm working on a bigger goal." It was not his first gas station, and he believed that in all work was dignity. If anything had stuck from those Thursdays in childhood, sitting on bedsheets stretched over the drawing room carpets, beneath the godly verses adorning the walls, swaying to his grandfather's recitations of the Prophet's sayings, it was that Muhammad was a shepherd whose day job obscured his destiny. Rais's days at the mart were steps in a carefully laid plan. Before year's end, inshallah, he would fly home and, with the gas station money, make good on a long-ago promise to Abida. After the wedding--to be held, if he could arrange it, in the Air Force mess in Dhaka--he would bring her to Dallas in proper style. He would enroll in a computer course at the University of Texas at Dallas or Richland Community College (he was still calculating the cost of each in dollars per credit). If things went according to plan, as surely they would, he would be a bona fide systems engineer at a prestigious company downtown.
Rais could suffer the Buckner Food Mart because he knew he'd be leaving it. His short life had already been full of leavings. Islam was his constant; other things he could renounce with an ease that eluded most beings. It was part of what made him a natural aspirant to America.
Not to mention his doggedness, his power to ignore voices not his own, and his focus on what he believed to be his God-given luck. What a casual visitor to the mini-mart could not see was that his presence there was the product of a great run of victories. Rais Bhuiyan's arrival in Dallas was, by the grace of God, the most merciful and compassionate, the seventh triumph in that run.
The fortune reached back half a generation, to the middle 1980s, in the years before the great cyclone. It fell on a young man from a household well prepared for it: an educated and devout upper-middle-class family that pursued its this-world and next-world ends with comparable devotion.
Rais's father was an engineer for Bangladesh Telephone and Telegraph. He rose steadily through its bureaucracy, where he performed various duties, including helping less capable countries build their communications infrastructure. The work gave his family a comfortable, gated life. His forebears came from Sylhet, to the northeast, and Assam, in what was now India. In Dhaka, he had been one of the early settlers of an area called Dania--a tranquil suburb of the teeming, honking, sweaty capital, just south of the Chittagong highway. The father had arrived in the neighborhood well before the '71 war of independence, back when the area remained full of paddy. He was ever engaged in the community, and this commitment became important to Rais's conception of his father: a man who was so much more than his day job, who was always asking what else could be done--whether working to set up a primary school in Dania, or aiding candidates for Parliament, or running the neighborhood welfare trust, which kept the streets clean and the drains swallowing.
Rais's parents had married in the traditional, arranged way. At least compared to the father, Rais's mother was of a more religious bent. Rais described her in the generic, uncontroversial way that women in her milieu were so often cast. She was soft-spoken, modest, deferential to others. If she had a flash of pride, it was about being unlike those housewives who went over to neighbors' sofas at the merest impulse to gossip and judge. But her network stretched far into the city, where her family had been settled for generations. Her ever sweeping radar maintained hourly awareness of such facts as whose daughter was marrying and whose father had fallen and whose roof had caved in and brought unpayable bills. Rais idolized her, and perhaps the highest praise he could offer was that no one could detect that three of her eight children weren't really hers: they belonged to her husband's first wife, who had left prematurely for heaven.
Though the Bhuiyan family's self-conception was of simplicity and piety, they lived in relative privilege, in a walled house on a quiet street. Rais remembered only three-wheel rickshaws plying it, not the belching trucks and buses that polluted the capital's less rarified streets. In the springtime, Dania offered that thrilling rarity in Dhaka: bird chirps you could actually hear. Mindful of their advantages, fearful of God, devoted to His way, the Bhuiyans sought to please Him and ward off envy through ceaseless charity to the world beyond the walls.
This charity was not of the United Way variety. Sometimes it took the shape of distant relatives--or "relatives"--showing up, sitting in the drawing room and, over snacks and juice, telling stories that inevitably landed in an explanation of, say, why they couldn't afford the wedding that was nonetheless happening next week. A wad of cash might then be given, or a spare sari, or a table no longer in use. In the style of their part of the world, they said it was their honor. It was, of course, also a way of ensuring that, if God ever changed His mind about you, you too would have drawing rooms to sit in and people to tell your story to. When the family didn't know the seekers, they would wait at the front gate. Rais or one of the other children would stand inside and listen to the visitors' tale, vetting it, bringing it to the parents, and ferrying back any offerings.
Rais grew up on a Gregorian calendar heavily punctuated by special days from the lunar Islamic one. The dates of exams to study for and school applications to fill out mingled with the dates of rites and sacrifices and family get-togethers. Rais liked to emphasize that many of these days involved charity, and especially the giving of food. On the tenth day of Muharram, for instance, the family would cook a vat of khichdi in the front yard, enough for many dozens. Rais remembered the smell attracting a queue of the hungry, who, when it was ready, were admitted through the gate--and allowed, when they asked, to take some for their families as well. On Thursdays, Rais's grandfather Hassan Ali led the household through a ritual of self-purification and prayer. It was important to do it on that day, Rais believed, because Thursdays were when the angels whom God sent to check on us beamed their reports skyward. The family performed ablutions, then sat in a circle listening to the grandfather speak from the hadith. They would rinse their hearts, as Rais liked to think of it, through whispered repetition of the dictum that there were no gods but theirs.
Little Rais was known to his family as Ripon. He was born in September 1973 and was the seventh of eight children, easily lost in the family bazaar. But he often behaved, even as a boy, as though in possession of a secret understanding that he was special, somehow marked--much as he came across in a story he told about his brother and the cadet college.
As Rais recounted it, one of his elder brothers had dreamed of studying at a prestigious military boarding school. But the Cadet College of Sylhet saw thousands of applications each year, and just a tiny fraction passed through the filters of the written, oral, and medical tests. Rais's dada applied and failed. Rais remembered watching his mother dim with despair. The brother was a very good student, and if he couldn't make it, the prospects of her whole flock became questionable.
"I don't see who can do it," she snapped one day.
Rais was too ambitious and too dutiful not to recognize an opportunity. "Mom, don't give up," he said. "I think I can do it." He vowed to calm her by avenging his brother's rejection. And this vow, as he narrated it, spoke of Rais's emerging character: on one level, the sacrifice and self-denial, the willingness to shelve any plan and scale any mountain for the family; and, on another, his early intuition that the strings tying down others need not bind him. He was in the fourth grade.
Two years later, it was time to act on that old promise. Rais studied for the exams for as many as sixteen hours a day in searing heat, with two of the family's fans deployed to cooling him. He attended a coaching class in the winter and stuffed himself full of the lessons found in textbooks custom-made for aspiring cadets. He took the exam early in the new year. When at last the verdict came, it offered admission. Rais hoped the news would restore the family's confidence.
"I remember the day I was selected, I told my mom, 'Never give up. That my brother couldn't do, that doesn't mean that no one can do. You should not give up. You should try. I tried, and God helped me.' " These were Rais's lessons from the incident: to try and try; and, no less, never to confuse the fate of others with his special own.
When he got into Sylhet, the first victory in his streak, his mother could have filled a teacup with her tears. They were of joy, but also of anxiety about her Ripon's moving a full day's train journey away. "You are happy; I am happy, too," she said. "But I'm going to lose you."
Among the complications of Rais's approach to life was this: chasing a thing with such fervor could distract you from considering what the thing, once captured, would be like. On joining day at the Cadet College of Sylhet, in the spring of 1986, little twelve-year-old Rais sobbed. A seventh-grader and brand-new cadet was beginning to realize what he had committed to in trying to please his mother. Like a stack of old family letters, precious but without use, he would be lock-and-keyed away in this cupboard for six whole years. Rais's dada, the rejected one, must have had his own complicated feelings about having to accompany Rais on the Surma Mail train to Sylhet, 150 miles to the northeast.
The cadet college was a universe unto itself, insulated from the larger country, with its own cinema, mosque, hospital, and dormitories--not to mention courts and fields for basketball, soccer, hockey, tennis, and volleyball. Its rituals were designed to harden boys and, equally, to apprise them of their mutual dependence. They awoke before six every morning, starting out with calisthenics and a run on some days and mock military parades on others. After the younger boys went to class, their dorm rooms underwent inspection by the seniors, who made sure that bedsheets were tucked tightly-tightly under mattresses and shoes lined up heel to heel to heel. Failure on this score or various others brought swift and bracing punishment: perhaps frog jumps while holding your ankles, or push-ups in the hallway, or rolling yourself across an open soccer field. For the crime of speaking out of turn in the classroom, the penalty might be a tugged ear or thwacked buttock.
"Military school taught me lot of things: discipline, team-building, leadership, patience," Rais said. He remembered everything being very precise. After classes and athletics, the boys had two hours, and only two, for homework. Then came dinnertime, to which they had to walk in formation, as Rais recalled it: "Not just walk on the street, holding hands or gossiping, chatting loudly--not like that. You go in a nice formation on the side of the street, where you walk in a line, and the leader"--typically, one of the seniors--"he makes sure the discipline is maintained and nobody makes any kind of chaos."
In general, the cadets left the campus only on Thursday mornings, for a race of about three miles up Airport Road, past the small airfield, into some tame hills and back. Guards stood along the route to protect the future soldiers of a newly independent republic and to ensure that they weren't making too much mischief.
Rais sought to be guarded in his self-admiration, but he made an exception for his prowess as a runner at Sylhet. "From grade seven, I used to always come at the beginning of the race," he said. He still remembered the seniors taking wary note of a boy many years their junior finishing within a few feet of them: "It was amazing thing. They said, 'Wow, this kid is something.' " Rais grew slightly embarrassed by his retelling: "I should not be talking more on this, but I got attention by that. From seventh grade to twelfth grade, I was always on the first row."
He recalled with special fondness the day when he was in seventh grade and an eighth-grader injured himself and had to pull out of the 600-meter run. Somebody suggested Rais as a substitute, despite his relative youth. The cadets belonged to rival "houses," which competed to accumulate points through the school year. Rais's Shahjalal House needed him to come in fourth, fifth, or sixth to secure enough points to win the day. Rais convinced an eighth-grader in the race to take a junior under his wing and help him achieve that goal. The eighth-grader agreed, and so Rais followed him around the track for most of the race. On the homestretch, with the finish line drawing within sight, Rais decided to sprint, even as his eighth-grade buddy languished, "completely out of his stamina."
"I came first," Rais said. "That was a disaster and that was a happiness as well, because it was a shock to the entire school that a seventh--grader who was sitting on the sidelines--he came first." He still chuckled thinking of the eighth-graders who confronted him back in the dorms: "Who told you to come first?" He said, "It was a shame for the eighth grade; it was a joy for the seventh grade. People are holding me above and laughing and dancing, saying that, 'You broke the history today. No seventh-grader did this in history.' ''
When Rais told a story like this, sometimes he would catch himself and tell another, contrary one. Thus the tale of his 600-meter upset led to one about the limits of talent.
Rais said he learned, while ascending into seniority, that running his fastest kept his house from winning. He would finish early and secure applause and sometimes a medal, but the late finishers on his team prevented personal triumph from becoming collective victory for Shahjalal House. He found that if he ran more slowly, he could stick with them and galvanize them as they ran, goading them toward the finish line. Very often it worked. "If I give up my medal, if I bring these kids in front, it made my house go up," he said.
This was one of Rais's major lessons from that time--and it related to another lesson once imparted to him by a harsh teacher. The teacher pulled his ears and spanked him because of a noise in class that was in fact bleated by Rais's neighbor. When Rais later went to the teacher to protest the injustice, his teacher responded that, as with a contagious house fire in a congested quarter of Dhaka, in life sometimes you get burned for no sin of your own, simply because of where you're standing.
After six years at the college, Rais graduated. He came out feeling pulled this way and that by rival goals. He had dreamed of being an airplane pilot at least since he accompanied his father to Dhaka airport as a boy and watched the sky swallow him up and take him away to the Arab Emirates. In time the dream had grown more vivid: he wished to attend the Bangladesh Air Force Academy. But this vision now had to compete with another, inspired more recently by returning alumni of Sylhet, who visited the school to give pep talks about the world beyond it. The most impressive of them had gone off to America for higher studies. This appealed to Rais, too. The best approach, he felt, was to pursue both ambitions at once and defer to God's preferred timetable. "If I don't get to this dream, maybe that's the next one," he said. If not piloting here, then studying in America.
Rais cast his entry into the Air Force Academy as another story of improbable triumph. He reckoned himself to be among the shrimpiest of his classmates, short and slender, which he imagined would make it difficult to pass the academy's extensive scrutiny and testing: "It's very hard to go to Air Force, because it's very limited openings. You have to have a very good health, very good vision, and also have to be highly talented. Your IQ has to be more than 175." Setting aside that possibly inflated figure, the Air Force did have a reputation for difficulty, which led Rais to this observation about his peers: "Those who want to escape the military, they choose the Air Force, because they will be kicked out."
But Rais made it through the exams, and then three months of grueling joint-force training in southern Chittagong, where he lost so much weight--his cheeks looked sunken, his eyes darkly recessed--that his visiting mother wept at the sight of her little skeleton. Rais fractured his wrist two months into the three-month program, but he told no one. He was stubborn, and he feared falling behind in the daily points tally or being removed; the important thing was to keep moving. He pushed himself ever harder in the mile tests and, as at Sylhet, found success: "I was coming first every single day." Once again, it seemed to Rais proof of some special destiny.
When at last he saw a doctor for his wrist, two weeks before the training's end, he received a scolding and some damning news: "Your hand will never be OK. You took such a long time to come back and the fracture has spread so much, it's very unlikely that you'll be able to get it back the way it was before."
But this was, as ever, just the prelude to the story. The wrist did heal, and after three months in a plaster cast and a suspension of his training, Rais formally enrolled in the Air Force Academy.
The next victory involved the undoing of the last. Rais put in two and a half years at the academy in Jessore, studying aerodynamics and navigation and meteorology, collecting dozens of flight hours learning to pitch, roll, and yaw in Chinese-made PT-6A prop planes. He received his commission as a pilot officer. Then, a few months in, while undergoing further training in radar and air defenses, he simply changed his mind. If not this dream, then the other one, he had once said. The other dream--studying in America--had again begun to nibble on and whisper in his ear.
Rais described the change as a natural evolution of his ambitions. Still, it was an abrupt and uncommon shift: men trained up by the military system seldom left it so quickly. Rais couldn't fully explain what had come over him, even years later. It just became clear that this life wasn't for him, he said. Maybe it was the two plane crashes--one killing a teacher Rais knew, the other a fellow student. Or maybe the sense he suddenly had of whiling away his life cut off from the world--first in Sylhet, then in Jessore, now on base after base. "I was out of my house at age of eleven," he said. "I missed all the good times from my family--missed all the programs. Now I'm in the military last two and a half years: missed my sister's wedding, my brother's wedding, this and that. So now when I am going to have my personal time, some free time--what I wanted to do?" A military future would bring what he called a "tight life." He asked himself: "Do I really want to lead a life like this?"
As it happened, getting out of the Air Force was harder than getting in. His comrades tried to deter him. One senior officer warned that his likely career alternative was the venal life of a businessman: "If you do business, you have to be dishonest." Rais would fall from the height of prestige--from the pride of defending Bangladesh, from those government cars and colonial club memberships and foreign educational courses, from that look people give an officer--to its depths. Nothing seemed to convince Rais. Shortly, as per procedure, the air secretary of the country contacted Rais to inquire about his request for a discharge. He asked the young man to come to headquarters and bring his father along.
At the meeting, the official looked to the father: "Can you ask your son what we can do for him to stay?"
Rais was impressed by his father that day. "You raised my son," Rais remembered his father telling the air secretary. "You made my son an officer the last two and a half years through vigorous training. You made him a gentleman. And I think you also made him enough responsible to take his own decision. As a father, I think I did my part. And now you're the guardian, and I think you trained him enough. So I leave it unto you and him."
The official looked to Rais for his final answer. He wanted to go. Within six months, he had his release papers. Rushing to fill the void, a new striving took over: "Next goal: come to U.S.A."
Before that bit of fortune could arrive, however, another would complicate it. Rais, now twenty-two, had known Abida for years, but only as an acquaintance from the neighborhood. Their relationship had consisted of passing in the galis and saying hello-hello-hi-hi at most. On auspicious occasions, his family might call on hers, or vice versa. But Rais had been out of sight at boarding school for years. When he returned home, in the middle of 1996, thinking of higher studies, he bought a computer and became taken with programming. He was into dBase and FoxPro in particular and figured they might help him get to America. One day, in one of their passing encounters, he learned that his neighbor Abida was a computer junkie in her own right and had been dBasing and FoxProing for much longer than he. They exchanged programming books, which led to Abida troubleshooting for Rais over the phone, which led to her coming over from time to time to help him in person.
"That computer brought us together," Rais said. One day Abida, unprompted, told Rais that she used to have a crush on him back in childhood, but he was always gone, and she never had her chance. It would be an unusually forward move for a woman in that setting, but Rais insisted that this was how it happened. He asked her: "Do you still have the feeling, or is it already gone?" And he remembers that dazzling look on her face that made a man like him rush to seek his mother's approval.
Abida soon began telling her own mother that she had classes on days when she really didn't. She and Rais would linger at an ice cream parlor or a snack bar, or at a waterfront place called the Harbour Inn, which was owned by a retired Air Force man and where Rais was thus confident of getting service that would impress Abida. Their courtship went on for more than a year in this manner.
He found Abida "beautiful, friendly, romantic, talented, and religious-minded." As with his mother, he struggled to describe her with richer specificity; in his corner of the world, women were often characterized in this way, judged by their skills at blending and smoothing, not by how they stood out. He did say that she was ever "in a jolly mood" and that she could "make any situation easy." Even without talking, each knew what was running through the other's head. "We had that kind of mental adjustment," Rais said. The courtship was of the hybrid traditional-modern kind now gaining acceptance in Dhaka--a few droplets of allowable romance, fast merged into the rapids of arranged matrimony. It was unlike what Rais would later observe in America: "There was no checking out whether the chemistry works or not. The chemistry already worked. We are in love. It's not that, OK, check out ten girls and find one girl. It's not like that. We were already in love, and love is respect."
Rais did what he believed an upstanding man in his place must do: solicit his mother's view. "My mother is on one side of the scale and the entire world is other side of the scale, but still my mother's side is heavier," Rais liked to tell people. His mother was fond of Abida from what she'd seen of her growing up and from her more recent tech-support visits. Early in 1999, Rais arranged a small get-together at a restaurant for him and Abida, his brother, and his mother. The couple wanted Rais's mother's blessing for their relationship, and at the restaurant she formally gave it. While Abida's mother was known to feel differently about the match, thinking Rais unworthy of her godly daughter for reasons unsaid, the young couple decided to proceed. They promised their lives and hands to each other. They would coax, outwit, and bypass dissenting elders as needed.
The fifth victory concerned a visa. Even as his relationship with Abida blossomed, Rais had been consumed by that recurring need of his: to leave. It wouldn't be enough to fly fighter jets all his life, and wouldn't be enough to be some plump, routinized salaryman. He wanted more--to study in America, learn computers, get in on this IT boom that had the world vibrating in the late 1990s. Or at least he could study commercial aviation over there and return home to be a pilot for Biman Airlines. He had heard, from schoolmates who emigrated and came home to tell about it, tales of abundance and greatness in places with names like St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Morning after morning, sometimes at 4 a.m., Rais joined the visa line outside the American embassy compound. Sometimes, three or four hours in, with the line finally slithering forward, he would learn that he was too far back. On other occasions, he got into the building, only to have his interviewer scoff at the notion that any young, unmarried Bangladeshi would actually study and come back to his country. To work for Biman? Yeah, sure. Visa rejected. Then again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again.
In the meanwhile, Rais took advantage of his early adoption of technology, writing a pleading e-mail to a U.S. State Department official whose name he found on the Internet--one Cynthia Haley. His bureaucrat uncle helped him draft the message in the government-sounding language that such people use, and it elicited an encouraging but noncommittal reply: something circular and elusive along the lines of "We encourage you to go again if you feel you still have enough reason to go and apply for a visa." Still, the fact of a reply did impress him. And when he returned to the embassy for his eighth visa interview, he found that the man of seven rejections was gone, replaced by a new officer who seemed impressed by Rais's military background and his score on the TOEFL, or Test of English as a Foreign Language. He asked about the young man's dream. To study aviation, Rais said. All the wiser for his previous visits, he downplayed the IT idea and added, "So I can return to fly for Biman."
"Well, good luck with your dream, Mr. Bhuiyan," the officer said. Visa approved.
Rais came out of the embassy into the syrupy Dhaka air and went to the home of relatives who lived close by. He asked for their prayer rug, dropped to the floor, and gave God his thanks. At home later that day, he realized that he would have to give his mother two pieces of news. The first was that he had continued pursuing a visa even after he ceased to tell her about it, since the rejections had pained her. The second was that he had gotten it. He bent and touched her feet. His father seemed skeptical at first, then incredulous at his son's way of operating.
Wonderful news--for everyone but Abida. Now she would join the trail of people, places, and things floating in Rais's wake. The first thing she said was "You did it!" But her feelings were "sweet and sour" at best, Rais admitted. "You're leaving me," she said, after behaving with due pride. She was afraid that her mother would exploit her loneliness and turn her away from Rais. He remembers her warning: "I'm not saying that I'm negative, but I'm just feeling that maybe I won't be able to see you anymore. I'm having this feeling in the back of my mind that something's going to happen and then we'll never be able to be together."
To a man of Rais's disposition, this fear could seem like just another hurdle to jump. The anxiety seemed normal to him, even necessary. "That's a good concern," he told her. "Because you love me so much, you don't want to lose me. So that's why it's coming in your mind. But you know me: I'm not going to go there and just forget about you. I'm coming back." He would return, inshallah, within half a year to visit, he pledged. When he finished studying, he would fly home, persuade her mother just as he had the air secretary, and marry Abida grandly for the community to witness, maybe at the Air Force mess, perhaps on New Year's Eve, and in the particular way they'd discussed, with lots of food given to the poor and no gifts accepted. And there in Dhaka they would weave their nest.
Then again the plan changed.
The change began in a cramped apartment in New York, on the immigrant landing strip of Woodside, Queens. The area was thick with newcomers and with the longing for other places, the stores hawking phone cards and flags and nostalgic home-style sauces. Rais lived with a group of other men from Bangladesh, on one floor of a house near the corner of 59th Street and 37th Avenue. It was under the flight path into LaGuardia's Runway 4-22, and Rais often found himself unable to sleep after 5 a.m. or thereabouts, thanks to the roaring, house-quaking engines above. He and his three flatmates, whom he'd met through Bengali circles in New York and two of whom he happened to know of back home, first rented the basement for about $1,000 a month for all of them. Then they upgraded to the top floor for $1,500 or so.
The guys teased Rais for his phone calls to Abida, seeking what Rais jokingly called "cook support." When it was his turn to feed the house, he would sometimes dial her from in front of the stove, asking for help. Abida taught him how to curb the pungency of buffalo fish or tilapia using turmeric, lime, and water. She instructed him to hold his knife above the stove flame before cutting onions, in order not to cry.
He had finally arrived in New York in 1999, twenty-five years old, with a vague interest in IT but firm plans to study commercial aviation, which was more in keeping with his background. At first, he worked a series of part-time jobs to make ends meet. His flat-mate who worked at a gas station told Rais about an opportunity doing the graveyard shift there: Rais could take daytime classes and study behind bulletproof glass at night. So Rais did that for a few months, changing buses twice to get to work, sleeping just two or three hours a night. When that job drained him, he found another short-lived one at a copy store in Manhattan. He also tried being a busboy at a thriving French restaurant in Midtown but burned out after a single twelve-hour shift spent entirely on his feet.
Even before Rais could enroll in an aviation class, a friend of his, also ex-Air Force and now in New York, tried to convince him to switch to IT. He knew Rais loved computers and coding. He argued to Rais that technology was turning so many professions, including in aviation, obsolete. Why train to be a pilot when computers will soon fly planes? Much better to learn how to operate those computers.
When Rais had a goal clenched in his jaw, no one could tear it from him. But for someone so gritty, he was also easily persuaded by advice not to release an ambition so much as upgrade to a juicier one. So it was with his friend's suggestion: "I thought that would be nice, if I could go start a different career, different track." Rais was one of those fleet-footed men who look in the mirror and see only future incarnations of themselves. He decided to enroll in a full-time course in computer studies at Pace University, housed in a giant concrete compound near City Hall in Lower Manhattan.
But the visa that Rais had--the M-1, for vocational training--was different from the F-1 he needed to enroll as a full-time student. He had to leave the country and reapply. When he did so, after crossing over to Vancouver late in 1999, the embassy rejected him. He returned to New York for a few months, stranded in his plans.
Some friends of his had applied for something called the Diversity Visa. It was part of a program to admit immigrants from places that sent relatively few people to America. The program employed a lottery, choosing about fifty thousand winners out of several million applicants. The chance of making it was, on average, less than 1 percent. For those who did, the visa paved the way to a green card and permanent residency. Rais decided to apply.
Application submitted, he returned home to Bangladesh in February 2000. He had hoped it might be possible to marry Abida at this time. However, Abida's sister had died during childbirth just before he arrived. "That's not the time for going to wedding approach," Rais concluded.
Rais sensed that Abida's feelings for him remained strong, but her mother continued to lobby her otherwise. It was strange: Rais went over to their house on this trip, and the mother fed him and was unfailingly kind to his face. Behind the scenes, for reasons he never could understand (or perhaps didn't want to), she was pulling Abida in another direction. Abida, though, seemed resilient in her devotion. The young couple pined for each other, and on this visit a day without meeting gave them a sinking feeling. Rais's bedroom window looked into the kitchen window at Abida's, and Rais often checked to see if he could find Abida cooking and say hello through the layers of glass. On this visit, as before he left, Rais hung a few magnets on a nail on his door, where Abida could see them, as his signal to her that he was out of the house. He would remove the magnets when he returned, so that she knew he was safe. Abida, too, placed magnets--on the iron bars girding the kitchen window--and removed them upon returning home.
Their love renewed but a wedding date still elusive, Rais returned to New York. Out of nowhere, he soon learned that he had won a Diversity Visa. "A new chapter opened that day for me," he said. It was more than just a visa. In the hands of a man so ready for reinvention, it was an invitation to a wholesale change of life plan. Student visas, by definition, only allowed one to study in the country. Rais would have had to return home after finishing, or get an employer--sponsored visa in order to work and remain in the States; and, since they were unmarried, it would have been hard to get a visa for Abida. The Diversity Visa created a path both for his spouse to join him in America and for him to work indefinitely. And because Rais so easily reimagined himself, he resolved now that he would make a life in America. He would forget about Biman, fly home to marry Abida late in 2001, whisk her to New York, and make an American existence with her.
Without Abida's having much say in the matter, her life trajectory was swerving. And now it swerved again.
Back in New York, Rais decided to go on a trip. Before leaving for Dhaka, he had received a phone call from a man it took him a moment to place. The man called himself Salim and said he'd been a few years ahead of Rais at Sylhet. Rais remembered now: he'd been a friendly guy. Salim had heard of Rais's living in America from a common friend. On the phone Salim was instantly familiar in the American way, and he suggested that Rais pay him a visit in Dallas, Texas. Rais didn't know it yet, but in Salim's line of work, one was ever seeking fresh, hardworking immigrants whom you could trust.
The thing about Dallas, Rais found when he visited Salim, was that the bathrooms there were as big as his bedroom in New York. The city somehow enchanted him. New York was, if you thought about it, not unlike Dhaka--full of life, yes, but basically an overgrown bazaar, suffocating and dense. It was great for a single man who wanted only to work. But Dallas offered what Rais had begun to dream of as he drew closer to becoming a family man: space, freedom, twelve-lane roads. Rents were cheap and taxes low. Computer classes were abundant. It might not have appealed to him had he not won that Diversity Visa, but his calculations were now for building a family and for the long haul. America was no longer a training ground; it was home. In Texas, he could afford to study and pay his rent while working on the side; he could build a life for two and, with luck, more.
Not long after his visit, he called Salim from New York. "If I move to Texas, what I have there?" he asked. "How you can help me?" Salim, as it turned out, had much to offer. He and his brother were businessmen in Dallas, and they were opening a new gas station there. If Rais moved down, he could work as one of Salim's partners; if he did well, he might own a gas station of his own before long. It was not glamorous, perhaps, but it would earn Rais money for the wedding and his studies. "Like a team, we'll help each other," Salim told Rais. There was enough trust between them that they didn't talk about money. Rais planned to live in Salim's house upon arriving.
The Dallas opportunity was Rais's seventh victory in a row. What a streak it had been: Sylhet, then the Air Force, then the escape from the Air Force, then Abida, then a first visa and an improbable second, and now Dallas, Texas. All this helped Rais not to mind the long, smelly month of purging trash and scrubbing floors at the Buckner Food Mart, which had tumbled into disrepair before Salim bought it. Rais didn't mind the petty thieves and the deadbeat refuelers; he even got used to the guns. His eyes were, as ever, on the horizon. He would save up for the flight back to Dhaka in October, and finally the wedding would happen. He told Abida, "You do some groundwork with your parents, so that they should not be blocking and blocking. Once I come, it should be, 'OK, then let's get the business done.' "
Even amid this excitement, Abida wanted Rais to know of her very real concerns. "First thing she was telling that, 'That's too far from New York. Do you really want to go to Texas?' Back home, Texas was always wild, wild, with lot of gunshot, cowboys, this and that--from all the Western movies." She urged him to rethink it: "Do you have to go? Can't you stay in New York?"
But she also knew how little she knew, and Rais was adamant that this was the right move for them. He would have preferred New York were he thinking just for himself, he explained to her. The whole point of moving south was to build a life suitable for a family--their family. Rais had convinced himself, if not yet Abida, that he was going to Texas for her.
Rais was handsome in a way that didn't impose on a room, with a commanding nose, a full head of jet-black hair, a prominent forehead, and pecans for eyes, which stared intensely even when they smiled. His shoulders plunged humbly instead of spreading out, as though wary of hogging space. He was solidly built, but slender in the way that makes mothers want to cook things.
On the second Tuesday of September, four months into his Texan life, he was at home on a rare day off. He learned that jetliners of the kind he once dreamed of commanding had pierced into that pair of towers he knew so well. Rais was a movie buff who had the ability to see the cinematic analog to almost anything, and the sight of the first tower aflame made him marvel at what those Hollywood types can do. When the second was hit, it chilled him. He thought of how often he had tried to ascend those buildings but been thwarted by the lines.
For the next many days, Rais watched the television throb with rage. He overheard customers venting their anger at people from places whose names they had never pronounced. He remembered them saying things like "Foreigners are taking over our country" and "Kill all the Muslims in the Middle East." Some of them, seeing a brown-skinned man behind the counter, pressed Rais for his opinion of recent events. He sought to affirm their outrage and partake of it, without getting into too much discussion. What he thought, above all, was that the men who did this were not Muslims, but--and to him the distinction mattered--"people who practice Islam." They claimed to be Muslim and chanted "Allah" when they prayed and had maybe even gone to Mecca. But in Rais's vision of faith, they were automatic heathens, disqualified by their deed.
Some long, hot days passed. On the morning of September 17, scanning the Dallas Morning News, Rais saw a story that tensed his chest, under the headline "Fatal Shooting Draws FBI." A man grilling burgers over at Mom's Grocery, two and a half miles down on Elam, had been shot and killed under a we appreciate your business sign. He was the owner of the store, this man, and apparently he was a Muslim--a Pakistani named Waqar Hasan. The bullet had entered his right cheek, pierced through his skull, and stopped in the neck muscles behind his left ear. That much the police knew, but they had little else. "No motive, no robbery, no suspects, no witnesses," the police report said. Or, as Rais put it, "No one knew who did, and how, and why did."
In the nights after the murder, Rais's mind churned with violent dreams. The setting was always the Buckner Food Mart. He went to Salim with some constructive suggestions. Why not install a real security camera in the store, instead of the fake one they used as a deterrent? Why not maintain two employees in the store at all times?
"It's just a dream," Salim said. He sought to calm Rais down. He and his brother knew what they were doing, and they weren't millionaires. Who would pay for these refinements? It was natural that some angry customers would visit the store. They'd been attacked, after all. They didn't mean any harm. The best thing was to keep your head down. Salim gave Rais some easy-to-follow advice: "Try to stay away from any kind of conversation with people." The boss made his friend a deal: no more nights, OK? From now on, Rais would only work mornings. That sounded doable. In Rais's hierarchy of sentiments, loyalty trumped fear.
September 21 dawned dreary. The monsoon from back home seemed to have followed Rais to Dallas. The big Texas sky crouched low and gray over the station. Unpleasant as it was to people, the half inch of rain brought the soil tremendous relief after a summer that had baked it mercilessly.
Rais had opened the store that morning and would ordinarily have worked until noon. Then a colleague would take over, and Rais could go off to Friday prayers. That colleague had quit a few days earlier, though, so Rais was stuck there all day. So much for the mornings-only deal. Salim was in and out of the store. On a typical day, he might help Rais during the busy morning shift, then drive over to his brother's construction site, returning to the store in the evening. On this particular day, he came in for less than an hour, then left to pick up some inventory.
Around half past noon, at last, a customer appeared. It was the barber from the Strictly Cuts next door. A tall guy--six foot six or thereabouts. He did his usual American-style lunch of chips and a soda; on occasion, he threw in cookies or candy for a treat. He said something to Rais about all the tension in the city: a lot of people were coming into the barbershop and saying bad things about other people and groups. "Stay safe, man," the barber said.
The barber appeared to bring luck. Within a minute of his parting, the door opened again--yet another customer defying the rain. The man in the entrance immediately seized Rais's attention because of the red bandana around his mouth. He wore a wife-beater, shorts, a black baseball cap, and wraparound sunglasses that concealed the very parts of his face Rais might otherwise have probed for context. His arms were like massive hams, painted 360 degrees around with inscriptions. He was holding something black and shiny, which he seemed to wish to conceal from the people outside but reveal to the man inside--to Rais. Rais's institutional memory was improving: "I knew that this time he was not going to sell it to me, because nobody sells guns in the store. They come to rob you."
Now the man was walking into the store, toward the counter; now he was just feet from Rais on the other side. Proximity revealed that, yes, that shiny black thing was a gun--a double-barreled pistol, it seemed. The man pointed it at Rais's head.
"Oh, no. Again robbing today?" Rais thought. Oh, Texas--it was becoming a major irritation. "I know the drill," Rais said, "that I have to open the cash register, open the cash, give him the money, and just stay safe." Click-whoosh: the register opened. Rais removed $150 or so and placed it on the counter. He made the perfunctory noise about please-take-the-money-but-don't-hurt-me. He knew his lines by heart now; he was getting good.
But in this play the other player seemed not to know his part. The money did not faze him. All he said was "Where are you from?"
It was obvious to Rais that this question had very little to do with robbing. Maybe he hadn't heard the man right through his bandana. "Excuse me?" Rais asked faintly. Even as he said this, he felt his spine become an icicle. "Oh my gosh, he's not here for money," Rais said to himself. He took a step or two backward and turned his face away from the man.
Then millions of bees came out of nowhere and, as though their last earthly hive had just been destroyed, began what felt like a synchronized mass stinging of Rais's face. He heard the explosion afterward. The melody of his "Excuse me?" had been revealing enough. At first, he couldn't bring himself to believe it was a gunshot. "I wanted to give myself benefit of doubt that I was not shot," he said. Rais tried to reassure himself: "Maybe he shot some drink or something. Not me; I was not shot." He briefly wondered if he might be hallucinating.
It took the sight of blood, pouring from his head as if from a faucet, to know what had happened. He screamed "Mom" to no one. He had the wherewithal to cup his hands around his head: "I thought that my brain was going to come out any moment--first blood, now the brain." But the soldier within him couldn't stop telling himself that this didn't make any sense. Blood was spilling out of his head, which meant he'd been shot, but a bullet fired into a man's head from an arm's length or two away will end him at once. Not only was Rais alive; he was somehow also standing. Why in God's name was he standing? He considered the notion that he had already died and this was the transition to the Afterward.
Rais now saw that the tattooed man was still in the store, just standing there, gazing at his prey. What had somehow failed to occur the first time would surely occur the second. "If I don't pretend I'm dying, maybe he might shoot me again, to make sure that I'm dead," Rais reasoned. He had to play dead. He plunged to the floor, into a small pool of his own blood.
His mind was spinning through a reel of images: his beloved mother and father, his seven brothers and sisters, his lovely Abida. He had promised her he wouldn't be gone long. Each picture lingered for a few seconds, as though in one of those laptop slideshows. The faces were somber and drooping, looking at him but unable to help, darkly resigned. They seemed to be on the other side of an invisible wall, watching him die. That he recognized this flickering of images from the movies--much as his icicle spine had accurately forecast danger a short while earlier--left Rais especially worried: this was the Hollywood sign for looming death. He was vanishing. He could tell. He saw the pointed tombstones of a Muslim graveyard. He saw his own grave. The horizon drew closer. How many seconds were left? What a life it had been. Where-all it had taken him.
He was thinking of his God. A part of him wanted to believe that this, like everything else, was just a trial. He wondered which of His verses God most longed to hear right now. He decided to hedge his bets: "I wasn't sure which one is more effective at this moment. Just keep on reciting one by one all the verses." He whispered to God, from a floor wet with his own juices, lines from surahs known since childhood:
He is Lord of the two Easts and Lord of the two Wests:
Then which of the favors of your Lord will ye deny?
He has let free the two bodies of flowing water, meeting together:
Between them is a barrier which they do not transgress:
Then which of the favors of your Lord will ye deny?
Out of them come Pearls and Coral:
Then which of the favors of your Lord will ye deny?
And His are the Ships sailing smoothly through the seas, lofty as mountains:
Then which of the favors of your Lord will ye deny?
All that is on earth will perish:
But will abide forever the face of thy Lord--full of Majesty, Bounty, and Honor.
Could this God be bargained with? Was this God like the shops in America or the ones back home? Rais wanted to cut a deal. He was a sinner, he confessed into the sky, but in the name of his Prophet and for the sake of his mother, he begged for mercy. "At least don't make my mom sad," he asked God. His draining mind offered a quid pro quo: "If you give me my life back today, I will definitely dedicate my life for others, especially for the poor, the deprived, and the needy--I will, I promise. But give me a chance. There are a lot of people that love me. It will be too hard for them to get this message, to see that I'm gone today. Even for the sake of them--for the sake of my mother--please give me a chance."
The door made its closing sound. The tattooed man was gone. Somehow Rais found the vigor to stand, although he was fading: "I was thinking that I don't know how many seconds I have before I pass away." He thought about calling 911, but once again his knowledge of Hollywood returned to him. Weren't there so many films where some guy is dying and calls 911 and, before he can give full details, collapses? "If I call, staying in the store, and if I pass out, then many a times I saw in the movies that they took the phone but then never could call. Someone saying, 'Hello, hello. This is 911.' So I was thinking that I should not stay." He needed someone nearby to help him. He seized a cordless phone and staggered out of the door, on which his hand left a red imprint. A blood trail followed him to the adjoining Strictly Cuts. When he entered, the sight of him caused customers to panic, some of them running for the back door. Rais managed to grab a barber and begged him to call for an ambulance.
While the barber called, Rais caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He saw now that he had been destroyed. His face was perforated in what felt like a hundred places and oozing from every hole. His right eye was shut, caked with blood: "I looked at the mirror and I saw, it's like all those horror characters in the horror films, with blood pouring, bleeding all over my face. This olive-colored T-shirt was blackish with the blood." Because vanity is among the more resilient organs, Rais was astonished by his appearance: "I said, 'Wow--the way I look right now.' I was a beautiful young guy." He kept telling himself Death was mistaken. It was too early to bow.
He feared that sitting down and waiting for the ambulance could be fatal. "Now what?" he thought to himself. "I don't know how many minutes--how long they will take for an ambulance to come. In the meantime, should I just sit down on the floor? Should I just lie down? If I lie down, sit down, it means that's it--I'm giving it up, and maybe I will pass away. So instead of sitting tight, I should keep myself positive, energetic, and keep on doing something besides reciting Koran--also do some physical thing that will keep me energized. So I was running in the parking lot, back and forth--as if the ambulance is coming from this way, if the ambulance is coming from that way. Which way is the ambulance coming? I was in a craze--that ambulance, where is ambulance? Because I know I have to get treated. I have the phone in my hand--the cordless phone from the store--thinking that they might even call."
When the ambulance arrived minutes later and its back doors opened, Rais was standing just outside them waiting to board. Then he was on a stretcher inside under the medics' faces, twirling through the city's pretzel highways. He remembers worrying that the medics weren't doing enough quickly enough. "Please, start treating me faster," he begged. He was fighting the urge to sleep. Sleep, he knew, was the shortcut to death. The pictures of his family kept cycling through his brain, but sometimes now he saw just gray. He could feel that his eyes were dimming, swollen shut by the scalding pellets; his mind was dulling. He was losing the power to think. He couldn't see. He forced himself to stay conscious for as long as he could. He was aware of being in a hospital. Voices above him spoke urgently about him. Then the world faded to black.
A telephone rang in Dhaka. Rais's father was bound for the bathroom when he fetched the cordless handset. Your son has been shot, a voice said. The voice sounded far away, but it spoke Bengali. Your boy was shot in the face. He is in hospital. Please continuously pray. Dial tone.
The father, an aging diabetic whose control of his body was starting to desert him, took a moment to process what he'd just heard. His bladder was telling him that he needed, no matter what, to proceed with his bathroom visit. Then he would come out and inform the family about the call. In the bathroom, he collapsed. It was a stroke, triggered by shock, and it took more than an hour for the family to notice his absence. When they found him, the panic about his condition was interrupted by some dark and cryptic news he wanted to share.
It sounded--coming as it did from a frail, unwell man--like some kind of mix-up. Then the reality of it sank in. Then tears and screaming. In the ensuing days, Texas sent them no more news, and the family realized that they stupidly had no phone numbers there besides Rais's, which wasn't working. They could only assume the worst: the boy had been shot in the head, after all. The news rippled out through the neighborhood. Friends and relatives began to arrive at the house, seeking updates, offering words of consolation to go with the beef curries and rice they brought to spare the family from cooking in sorrow. Slowly the Bhuiyans pivoted from waiting to grieving. Little Ripon was lost, torn from his sweet bride before she could know him. Why did we let him go? they kept asking themselves, until the question spent itself.