Mamun was all eyes as the mail opened. His email ID had won him an international lottery. The cash prize was nine hundred thousand pounds. It was written in clear terms that he had been selected by the Euro International Lottery as one of the 100 lucky winners from among millions of Yahoo mail users across the globe. They had congratulated him, and asked him to immediately contact for the prize money. This was the biggest news in Mamun's 30-year old life which had completely boggled his mind. What a big fortune! Outright heaven-sent! It could be called a real fluke. But was it true? Mamun hunched forward over the monitor, and fixed his eyes more closely on the figures. Yes, there was no mistaking. Distinct digits confirmed by words in round brackets. A number beginning with 9 followed by five successive zeroes before the decimal dot, and punctuated with a comma in the middle! Mamun could not get the real feel of its worth until he would see it converted into taka. He knew the strength of the British pound, but did not know its exact exchange rate with Bangladeshi taka. But the way BDT was sinking to lower levels against GBP, they must be at least 110 times greater and smaller than each other. Mamun tried to do a quick count on his cellular phone calculator.
"Results too large to display",—the small parasitical count machine declared its inability in red letters. Mamun looked to and fro with growing unease.
"What's on, bro? Is there something up?" Mamun's next-desk colleague Mokbul sneaked a look at his computer screen.
Mamun pretended not to hear. He felt that he should close the mail. He tore a sheet from his pad, and wrote down the number escaping Mokbul's prying eyes. Apart from anything else, he did not like this meddlesome man. He was a nosey parker and his nosiness was escalating by degrees after Mamun's marriage.
"Why are you looking so fidgety?" Mokbul was not one to leave it at that. He tried to force Mamun's attention on him.
Mamun made no reply. He knew a word more to him might lead to a long idle chatter. He had no time to lose. He felt he needed some privacy. He still did not know the real amount in taka. Besides, he would have to acknowledge receipt of the mail, and ask for immediate action. He should not miss the deadline by any means. A brief lapse might cost him the lottery itself. He felt he was in urgent need of correspondence with them. But how? Mokbul was still dogging his every move.
"Have you taken a vow of silence?" Mokbul glanced at him knowingly.
"I'm a bit out of sorts today." Mamun tried to justify the oddity of his behaviour.
"Why? What for? Were you up all night?" Mokbul shot him a glance quite slyly.
Mamun forced a smile. He felt reassured that Mokbul smelt nothing about the lottery matter. He remembered the cautionary note sounded at the end of their mail. It was for his eyes only. If it reached others' ears, they might make a claim on the lottery money forging his ID account. Mamun decided to deal with the whole thing in secret. He would stay behind in the office, and communicate with them. The concerned man to be written back was of a unique name. John Stainly Fox. Mr. Fox would tell him how to secure the cash. The key to the treasure chest! But how come? In his mind was lurking little doubt and uncertainty. It suddenly struck him that he should search the Web for Euro International Lottery. No sooner said than done. He started googling, and found heaps of information about it. After all it was a big-name company.
Mamun could not keep his mind on tutoring in the evening. This had never happened to him before. He had been teaching Arko since his university days. Even after he got the job, he did not pull himself out of it. It was subsidizing his post-marriage living fairly well.
"Hey Arko, would you fetch me your maths exercise book?" Quite unusually for him, Mamun asked.
"Maths! Do you want me to do sums?" Arko wore a surprised look on his face, but sort of thrilled to his teacher's proposal.
"Oh yeah, I want to see how clever you're at maths!" Mamun brought out the folded sheet from his trouser pocket.
"If a pound is equivalent to 110 taka, then what's worth 900,000 pounds?" Mamun articulated the words and figures very carefully.
Arko counted something in a faint murmur, and replied in one breath.
"It's six zeroes after 99, which means nine hundred ninety lakhs, which means nine crore and ninety lakhs, and no mistake. Europeans will call it ninety nine million."
"Nine crore and ninety lakhs taka! My Goodness! A staggering sum of money!" Mamun was nonplussed. But he was also mightily surprised at his student's mathematical brain. How did he do the sum in the mind? Was he then out in his reckoning?
"How've you done it without writing figures on paper?" Mamun gaped at Arko with great astonishment.
"Very simple, teacher! It's called mental arithmetic. I'm telling you the magic. I know my 11 times table. I've multiplied 11 of 110 taka and 9 of 900,000 and got 99 and to it added all the zeroes from both the numbers, and that's it." Arko explained quite precociously.
Mamun felt proud of his student. He was also a bright student. But he had no head for figures. If he had done pretty well in Mathematics in his school certificate examination, he could have stood first in the entire Board. Even in the civil service exam, he fell at the final hurdle, and that was maths. He would never forget the maths exam day. He was breaking out in a cold sweat when it took a full hour to get the answer to the first simplification sum wrong. His trepidation multiplied in geometrical progression when he saw his fellow-examinees were doing the sums pronto effortlessly using the calculator and geometry set.
"Now tell me one thing." Mamun came down to earth.
"If a man earns ten thousand taka per month, how long will it take to earn nine crore and ninety lakhs?" Mamun tried to weigh up the amount from different angles.
"Well, just cut out four zeroes from among six, you'll get the months, and divide them by 12, you'll get the years." Arko seemed faster than before.
Mamun dashed off the number. It is 9900 months. He divided it by 12, and got 825 years. Then the ultimate thing entered the equation. If our average life expectancy was 60 years, Mamun would have to live his life more than 13.75 times to earn that money. It was literally a matter of fourteen generations. This is for the first time after the receipt of this lottery mail that Mamun's head started swimming. An urgent whisper from within told him to hurry up with the reply to Mr. Fox. He should not let his cup slip out of his lip. Mamun decided to go to a cybercafé on way back home.
Mamun got home late that night. He gave a few gentle taps at the window so as not to wake others. The tin-door opened with a long squeak heralding his tardy arrival.
"Who's there? Who's there?" A female voice rasped.
"It's me, Bhabi." Mamun replied in low undertones.
"Why have you stayed out so late?" The voice came back.
"I'm so sorry." Mamun waxed apologetic.
The voice suddenly changed course, and aimed at another target.
"You've asked for it. I told you a hundred times not to sublet the house. You turned a deaf ear. This well becomes you. You can sleep through the storm. But I can't. I can't sleep with a noise like that." The acidulous tone of voice went on and on, but seemed to take no immediate effect.
Mamun did not mind anything, but thought in all seriousness to quit living in this sort of sublet lodgings. He was sure he was going to have the time of his life. This lucky raffle would be the beginning of the end of his days of hardship.
For last couple of years Mamun had been dogged by daily want. The spectre of Mathematics finally prevented him from entering the civil service. His graduation in English could not produce expected results. He started feeling a complete misfit in the career world, and decided to go back home to join his village college. But he could not do it for the love his life—Kalpana. It was she who wanted Mamun to hold out in the capital. She managed to get him a white-collour job somehow in a private company on a ten thousand taka salary. She herself worked for a kindergarten school. They set up house in a small sublet flat, and kept making do with the meager amount they jointly earned. They were in want, but they were living in hope.
Mamun had stumbled upon the chance to make his hopes come true. A piece of luck had turned up. Hopefully in a week his ship would come home. Only after seven days he was going to be a one million pound man. Right from rags to riches! But how could he keep the money safe? How would others take this overnight success? If it were a pitcher of treasure trove lying hidden underground, he could keep using the coins one after another, and would live happily ever after. But the lottery money was not a hidden treasure. It would be in the public eye before it came to the owner. The media would make a mountain out of a molehill. The man would shoot to stardom overnight as a mega fortune tycoon. But where's the harm in that? Mamun did not know why he was assuming the worst. Winning a lottery was not an offence. Besides he was ready to pay all taxes and duties, customs and excises on it. He should have no sense of foreboding.
Mamun thought the key to happiness was knocking at his door. His problems needed not be wished away any longer. The solutions would be bought at the expense of his luck. First he would rent a flat in the vicinity of his office. He was not however sure if Kalpana would still like him to go for a rental. The way the better off people of the metropolis were being wooed by the real estate companies, Kalpana would sure be infected with this condominium craze. It was her dream to do the interior decoration of her own apartment. Other than a flat of her own, she might long for another item of traditional happiness—a nice family car. Mamun himself had no such aspirations.
He would love to bring his parents to him from their village home. His father, a long-time diabetic, would have his morning walk in the Ramana Park, and take medications directly from BARDEM. His mother, fated never to cross the threshold of the kitchen, would be sitting on the deluxe balcony with betel-leaf box at her feet, and see the skies above Dhaka. His younger brother Mohsin, who was eating his heart out for going to Malaysia for overseas job, would count down to the date of flight. The old office peon, Keramot Chacha, who was going blind for the lack of cataract surgery, would be admitted to best eye hospital in the capital. His poet friend Rafiq, who was waiting in vain for long to make his debut, would see light at the end of the tunnel. Now it was time for fulfillment of wishes. They were, now, the real horses, beggars might ride. The magic lamp was at Mamun's hand. He would bring smile on everybody's face.
The next mail came from Mr. Fox in less than twelve hours. Mamun was amazed to see their promptness and sincerity. 'The west is really west!' Mr. Fox had congratulated him, and asked to contact Mr. Douglas Jekyll, an official in charge of disbursement of the lottery fund. Mamun's heart started going pit-a-pit. He was nearing the great fortune. He wrote him back immediately with reference to Mr. Fox's mail. Mr. Jekyll was quicker than Mr. Fox. In less than an hour he sent a long online application form, and asked him to fill it in very carefully. It was like a multiple choice. Mamun confused the box regarding the money receipt options. He got undecided whether he would like to get the bank draft to be sent by speed post or like the money to be sent directly to his account. Mamun completely lost his bearings. He ticked neither box. He had to mull it over. He felt dizzy and nauseous. His office was not the right place to fill in such a delicate form. He should have some days off. He wrote an application for seven days' casual leave.
Mamun opted for the bank draft. In its wake Mr. Jekyll dispatched him to Henry Wolf, an international courier service official in the UK. Mamun realized that the procurement of the lottery prize was not as easy as pie. He was being pushed from pillar to post. But it did not dishearten him. It rather heightened his sense of proximity to the money. He wrote to Mr. Wolf with reference to the mail of Messrs Fox and Jekyll. Mamun was flushed with excitement after having Mr. Wolf's reply. The minute description of the eagerly awaited post imparted a strong tactile sense to his mind. This was for the first time that Mamun felt the breath of the money. But his mind little wavered to see that it was a prepaid mail service, and he would have to pay a lump sum of 900 GBP as service charge. Mr. Wolf informed that it was a parcel weighing 150 gram, which contained the bank draft, and other necessary authentication papers. Given the importance of the papers and the guarantee of safe delivery, the charge was fixed as special. Nine hundred pounds! A cool one lakh taka! And it had to be paid in next two days at the latest into a given account. Mamun found the situation a little troublesome. He could not ask anybody for a loan without telling the real reason. Was then the whole thing going to be put in jeopardy? Mamun did not know how to traverse this sticky patch. But he felt one thing clearly that he must go through with the bid for the lottery money.
Kalpana came up with an easy answer to the problem.
"Look, an opportunity comes once a life. Clever people grasp it, and the fools let it slip through their fingers. Fortune has smiled on us. It's the chance of a life-time. We shouldn't turn it down." She tried to prevail upon her husband to complete the lottery deal.
"I'm afraid if we are screwed." Mamun cast a shadow of doubt on the seemingly unreasonable postal charge.
"There's no room for doubt. Do you think you'd be a millionaire for free?" Kalpana scolded him softly, and egged him on to pay the fees at once.
"But how could I find the money?" Mamun gave a cry of despair.
"What am I here for?" Kalpana reciprocated with a mysterious smile.
"You must be joking." Mamun could not make head or tail of what she meant.
"I'll sell my gold ornaments." Kalpana turned serious.
"But, if …" Mamun could not finish his word. Kalpana jumped down his throat.
"There's no time for ifs and buts. Are you still holding back? That's why your things don't come off. You can get jewelry for the asking, but you can't win an international lottery like that." Kalpana tried to remain calm, but there was a distinct edge to her voice.
Mamun's heart sank when he received no acknowledgement of the mail charge payment. He remained online almost round the clock with his eyes glued to his Inbox. He grew more anxious with every passing moment. He gave several reminders asking their response. But the other side fell mysteriously silent. Mamun tried to phone their numbers.
"The number you're calling cannot be reached". Every time he called them, a rich melodious voice announced this bitter disappointment for him. Mamun had a deafening effect on the ears. He rushed to the bank where he sent the money from, and told on the three men-- Fox, Jekyll, and Wolf. The officer checked something on his laptop, and shook his head.
"Sorry, Mr. Mamun, I can't help it. It seems to be a lottery scam. You must have been robbed blind by the scammers. They've had you fooled. You should have been cautious about this sort of cyber fraud."
He spoke in a patronizing tone of voice.
Mamun left the bank without a word. He was fool enough to believe those online swindlers!
Mamun was going back home on foot down the Shahbag road. He was feeling a lot more relaxed. The load of nine hundred thousand pound was taken off his mind, though it had taken its toll. But it was just some money down the drain. It might at best be followed by some months of austerity. He could beat it by tightening the purse-strings. He had already started saving the rickshaw fare. He was walking. Life seemed to be free and easy again. A craft fair was being held on the Fine-arts Institute premises. The place was buzzing with the teenagers, the young, and the old. There was an air of festivity. Mamun popped in to have a quick glance around it. Makeshift shops were arranged along both sides of the approaches for the sale of wide variety of handicrafts. He caught sight of some beautiful jewelry—necklaces, rings, bangles made of clay and wood. He bought a full set of ornaments. Kalpana was sure going to love them. Mamun started hurrying along the pavement. He would have to reach home early.
Author’s Bio: Born on in Rangpur, Bangladesh Dr. Rashid Askari a PhD in Indian English literature (University of Poona, India), is a professor of English at Kushtia Islamic University, Dhaka, Bnagladesh.
Dr. Askari began writing from the mid-nineties of the last century, and is now a well know writer in English in Bangladesh. He has authored half a dozen books and a large number of research articles, essays, and newspaper columns in Bengali and English. Currently he is working on his first English novel.