De Profundis

by Austin Pulle

Mansoor watched his cousin frown as he read the sheet of paper he had handed over and pull his shirt cuff back to check the time on his Breitling watch.  The air-conditioning in the apartment was turned up high.  Two pots of Vanda orchids with their luxuriant blossoms were place on the coffee table.  The Roche Bobois furniture matched the opulence of the apartment. With something like a growl, Mansoor’s cousin, his jowls quivering with anger, tore up the sheet of paper with his large left hand.   His cousin, dressed in a pair of khaki pants, wearing Gucci loafers, and a blue silk shirt, glanced at.  Mansoor, dressed simply in a white cotton shirt and navy jeans, both produced by the garment factory owned by the man in front of him.

Aliman Baari looked out of the window of the Dakota Apartment he recently bought with a single check for 25 million dollars.  Behind him was the expanse of Central Park with its flowering shrubs, dog walkers and joggers. Baari wished his parents were with him.  They had owned a small textile shop in Dhaka. In those days life had been hard and Mansoor’s mother, his father’s sister, would often help with some supplemental taka. He had bragged to Mansoor that he had been able to buy an apartment in a building when the Coop Board had rejected applicants like Madonna, Cher and Melanie Griffith, a boast that was met by a nonplussed look of Mansoor.  The thrill of success in owning an apartment in the iconic building in the most famous city in the world was his alone Imagine! Bari, his nut brown skin turned reddish, snarled, “These salary demands are ridiculous. The union leaders must be on crack cocaine.”

 17th June 2023 and summer had come to Central Park and the snow white buds on the trees looked like flowering shrubs. The owner of Delta Garments supplier of a wide range of clothing to Walmart, Target, and Costco was in hiding in the luxury apartment after the Baari Plaza collapsed killing over six hundred garment factory workers. Monitors appointed by Baari’s customers had found that the building was structurally unsound and could safely accommodate only 400 workers. Fleeing Bangladesh because officials paid by him could no longer protect him, he entered America and soon obtained green cards for his entire family.

Mansoor said, “They have threatened to strike.  We won’t be able to meet our Christmas production targets,” and gnawed on his index finger nail.  Between two glossy books on The Dakota on the coffee table in front of him, stood the Limoges china set with the coffee urn that the maid had brought in. The rich Persian rug had muffled her entry and exit. “Their demands are outrageous. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. Give into them and the demands for more will grow and grow,” Baari told his cousin, who now managed his business back in Bangladesh.

Mansoor supressed his anger. He resented his cousin’s success. He said, “The union leaders tell everyone that you are a billionaire because of their sweat and toil. They say you owe them.” Baari clenched his fists. Mansoor made a point of looking around the large living room. Ming Porcelain, two originals from Andy Warhol and some ceramics from Picasso adorned the space. The Koranic verse engraved in copper and placed in the focal point of the Baari living room in Dhaka had been replaced by a poster of Warhol’s painting of Marilyn Monroe. Baari ignored the tone of exasperation in his cousin’s remark. “If I didn’t give these ungrateful scum jobs, they would starve.”

Mansoor flinched. Baari sipping cardamom tea from his Limoges china teacup, said, “Brother, are you a communist now? Seriously! My money is my money.  Capisce? If I want to go to the moon or buy a fleet of Bentleys, that’s my business and my business alone. So don’t try to guilt trip me.”

“Maybe, if we give a 1% salary increase, it will calm the workers who say they can’t feed their children on the present wages.” Arif, Baari’s eldest son, dressed in navy blue jeans and a T-shirt with a large Rubik’s Cube printed on the front, entered the living room.  Kate, the family’s golden retriever followed him, her tail thumping against a sofa. Arif embraced his uncle and kissed his cheek but withdrew quickly repelled by his uncle’s bad breath. Mansoor looked at his nephew, tall and handsome unlike his father, who had received an acceptance letter from Harvard the day before and wondered whether his own son was fated to follow his miserable life in the garment trade.  Baari ignoring his son’s entry said, “That’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  You and I know that they will spend any salary increase on drugs and bootleg whiskey. Their children will go to bed hungry.”

Arif said, “Mom asked me to take her place. She prefers Bloomingdales to a cramped space.” He sat on a high backed chair. A Rubik’s Cube puzzle lay on the table beside him.

“Isn’t she joining us on the mother ship?” his father asked.

Arif said, “No. She wants me to spend quality time with you.”

Baari grin was wolfish. “Right!” he said.

Arif looked at his watch. “Has our ride arrived?” he asked his father.

Mansoor looked out of the window. A gentle rain had begun to fall and some on the sidewalk had unfurled their umbrellas. He envied his boss for being able to live in one of the greatest cities in the world.  Soon he would go to JFK to board the Biman Airlines flight on an economy class ticket to Dhaka in Bangladesh. His mission to get a wage increase had failed and the boss would be taking yet another adventure. Mansoor had pleaded with his cousin for a return flight on BA but had been refused because of the higher ticket price.

Arif’s phone rang.  He took the call.

“Dad, the limo’s here,” he said.

“Come down with us,” Baari told his cousin. “I will get an Uber for you to go to the JFK.”

As the three made for the door, Kate began to whimper and then began to howl in distress. Arif hugged the dog, patted her head and said, “Cheer up sweetie, we will be back. Wish we can take you with us, but we can’t.”

Mansoor collected his coat and bag. Baari noticed his hangdog expression.

“Cheer up my man. When you are up 40 thousand feet in the air, I will be 12,500 feet down in the Atlantic.

“A submarine?”

“No. A submersible, named the Titan. Arif and I will see the wreck of the Titanic at close quarters tomorrow.”

“Like in the movie?”

“Yes that fatal voyage. After seeing Leo in the film, Arif got obsessed about seeing the majestic wreck.” Baari could not resist telling his cousin how much he paid for the two tickets. It must be nice being rich enough to drop half a million to go see a shipwreck, Mansoor thought. He wished he could switch places with his cousin.

The limo driver, dressed smartly in a black suit and a peaked cap, opened the door to the stretch limo and invited Arif to climb in. Something fell from Arif’s hand and Baari looked at Mansoor expectantly. Mansoor collected the Rubik’s Cube that had fallen on the sidewalk and handed it back to his nephew.  Arif grinned when he collected the puzzle from his uncle. “I will make it to the Guinness Book of records for solving the Rubik’s Cube deep down in the ocean.”

‘Let’s not delay your uncle’s trip to JFK,” Baari told his son. “There could be delays on the road.”

He embraced his cousin. “Have a safe trip brother back to your home,” he told Mansoor. Mansoor got a whiff of the expensive aftershave on his cousin’s cheek.

“Insha Allah!” Mansoor replied.