The Meat Market

Mashiul Alam

Illustration by Emily S. Franklin


A week before Eid, my wife elbowed me awake at the crack of dawn and said, “Go quickly.”

For a man who never managed to leave his bed before nine o’clock, this was sheer torture. But I couldn’t protest. Like you, I too was afraid of my wife. No, I’m not afraid of being hit. Whatever else my wife did, she never hit me. I’m afraid of conflict. Protesting my wife’s actions always led to conflict. I, brother, do not want conflict. I’m a very easygoing man.

Her repeated jabbing ruined my indolence. But I had no idea what was happening, where I was supposed to be this early in the morning. I rubbed my eyes and asked, “Where am I going?”

“You’ve already forgotten? Didn’t I tell you last night? Go buy some meat. Eid’s almost here. Meat’s going to double in price any day now. Go on, get up!”

My bovine brother-in-law was fast asleep in the next room. She could have just sent him. But the loving sister couldn’t bear to send her brother, the virtuoso, outside on this bone-chilling winter morning. So I was the one who had to get up. As I slid my arms into my jacket sleeves, I asked, “How much?”

“Ten kilograms.”

Who was going to eat ten kilos of meat? No, my brother, I did not actually say this aloud. The question merely popped into my mind. Let it; how many men have the guts to spill all their questions to their wives?

As I counted my cash, my wife’s advice streamed out in a torrent: “Check the meat carefully before you buy it. Make sure they don’t tamper with it. That’s why you’re being sent out this early. If they slaughter a sheep or a she-goat and try to doctor the khashi meat with that, you’ll be right there to catch them in the act. Go on, hurry up.”



Even through the morning’s haze, I could read it clearly: East Rajabazar Popular Meat Emporium. Excellent quality, pure khashi meat available here. Three other customers waited in front of the shop. The black tar of the road was soaked dark red with blood. A khashi lay on the street with its throat slit open. Beside it, an employee of the store was skinning a sheep with skilled hands. Beside him, two other butchers were slaughtering a bony, bearded she-goat, its dried-up udder like a raisin.

The three customers watched impassively. Their expressions were blank; there was no sense of urgency in them. They waited like obedient gentlemen. It didn’t seem like the meat sellers were paying us any attention. They were absorbed in skinning the sheep and the she-goat. However, it was pertinent to wonder why the khashi splayed on the street hadn’t already been skinned, its meat readied into cuts for sale. My common sense gave me the answer. They were going to separate the heads of the sheep and the she-goat, skin them, and then take them out of sight. Then they would spike the khashi meat with sheep meat and she-goat meat and sell it.

It was to make sure we didn’t fall victim to such a swindle that my wife had sent me here this early in the morning. In my head, I praised my wife for being so smart. Now they wouldn’t be able to palm off their doctored meat on me.

The she-goat and the sheep were skinned in a flash. Then, just as quickly, they stripped the khashi of its skin. The other customers showed some signs of life. I shoved one of them aside and stepped ahead. I said, “Ten kilograms of khashi for me.”

As he detached the khashi’s front legs from its carcass, the shopkeeper said, “You’ll have to wait.”

The same technique was being applied to dismember the she-goat and the sheep. I waited. The other customers had arrived before me, so their orders were weighed first. Meat, bones, and layers of fat were cut from the carcasses of the khashi, the sheep, and the she-goat, mixed together, and piled onto the scales. The customers said nothing; they didn’t protest. Their eyes and faces were expressionless, as if this were the rule.

I asked one of the other customers, “What is this, brother? What’s happening here?”

The man looked at me and laughed in a way that made me feel as if I were a fool, as if I had no experience at all in buying meat. The two other customers also glanced at me and laughed in the same way. The employees of the butcher shop continued their work of slicing and weighing the meat in a grave, busy manner.

I said to one of the staff, “Give me ten kilos of khashi.”

“Getting it, sir, just wait a little.” He turned to his coworker and said, “Hey, Soleiman, ten kilos for sir.”

Tall, gangly, angular-jawed, with bloodshot eyes, a cigarette dangling from his lips, Soleiman reached for the sheep. I shook my head in protest. “Not sheep, not sheep. I wanted the khashi.”

“There’s no sheep meat sold here, sir,” replied the first man as he served another customer.

I pointed at the carcass of the sheep and said, “What’s this then?”

“Khashi, it’s all khashi.” Gangly Soleiman employed the knife on the limbs of the sheep as he spoke.

“I’m not taking this khashi of yours.” I pointed to the remnants of the actual khashi and said, “Give me whatever’s left from that one.”

“Not happening.”

When the other customers heard the shopkeeper’s dismissive response, they roared with laughter.

“Why? Why not?” I spoke quite harshly.

The shopkeeper repeated in a somber tone, “Not happening.”

“Why not?” I shouted again.

“Go on, don’t make any trouble here.”

“What do you mean, ‘trouble’? This is a rip-off! You’re selling sheep as khashi meat right in front of my eyes . . . ”

“Don’t shout. Just be quiet and go home.”

“Hey, mia, what do you mean, ‘go home’? What the hell is this, you just do whatever you want?”

“Yes, I do. Don’t give me that heat. Go home.”

“What heat, you damn fraud!”

“Just go home while things are still okay. Otherwise it’ll take a bad turn.”

“Is that a threat? Are you threatening me?”

“Yeah, I am. Shut your trap right now and go home. Or else . . . ”

I’m not a brave man. I should have been terrified by such grim threats delivered in such a cold manner by the butchers. But who knows why, I wasn’t the least bit frightened. Instead I flew into a rage. Belligerent, I said, “Or else what? What are you going to do to me?”

Gangly Soleiman raised his bloodshot eyes to mine as he honed one knife against another, and said, “Slaughter you.”

I was livid. How dare a shopkeeper speak to a gentleman like this? Who did they think I was? I shouted, “You sons of pigs, do you know who I am? Do you know what I can do to you? I’m going to destroy this scam of yours and, as for you . . . ”

Before I could finish, the first butcher stood up straight, reached out his right hand, and grabbed me by the throat. Newly arrived customers joined the earlier ones and stood in a circle around us, preparing to watch the scene. I moaned and flapped my fingers, blustering. As my breath was cut off, my eyeballs spun, ready to pop out.

The butcher dragged me by the throat and shoved me against the shop wall. Gangly Soleiman came forward with a long, shiny knife. The butcher’s other companions slammed me onto the ground, flat on my back, and held me down. I screamed as I flailed my legs. But the gentlemen waiting to buy meat merely watched like silent spectators. No one stepped forward to help me or restrain the butchers. They looked on with childlike curiosity, some with their hands resting on their hips, some with their weight resting on one leg, as if watching monkeys perform on the street.

One of the butchers received a kick from my desperately thrashing legs and was knocked aside. Immediately two others rushed forward. They gripped my legs hard and, pulling them straight, climbed onto my knees and just stood there. Another man yanked my arms above my head and pinned them down with his knees. It became impossible for me to move at all. Gangly Soleiman grasped my rough, unshaven chin tightly with his left hand and yanked my head back. I pulled my head down closer to my chest with all my strength to try to protect my throat with my chin. But Soleiman possessed demonic strength in his hands. He pushed my chin upward so hard that my neck bones cracked loudly. Goggle-eyed, I saw Soleiman’s bloodshot eyes turn into fireballs. Hot air spewed from his nostrils, scorching my eyes and face. He bit down on his lower lip and bent the arm holding the long, shiny knife.



Soleiman’s long, shiny knife settled on my taut throat, sawing forward, and then, after a moment’s pause, slid backward, moving deeper every time it moved forward, and my spirit was released completely from my body. Utterly unburdened, as if floating in the air, I watched as gangly Soleiman hunched over Aminul Islam (which was my name in your world), the shiny, sharp blade sliding in deeper as it moved forward and almost disappearing in the meat, fat, bones, and cartilage of the neck as it slid back. Blood poured out in gouts from his throat in a thick stream, while the blood coming out of the veins emerged in a spray with more force. After running the knife through a few more times in the same manner, Soleiman pulled back his hand and wiped the blood from his face with the flat of his palm. Aminul’s body thrashed and thumped on the black tar of the road until his flailing limbs gradually slackened.

Aminul’s slit throat gaped at the sky. His stilled eyes, wide, gazed to his right. The gentlemen who wished to buy meat surrounded him, looking on with their hands folded at their chests or their bellies as if standing at prayer. They were waiting. They were very amenable gentlemen. They preferred not to embroil themselves in any trouble. They never poked their noses into other people’s business. They bought meat. They knew that beef is spiked with water buffalo meat. That the meat of she-goats and sheep was mixed in with khashi meat and sold as pure khashi. They were quite used to these things. They never went to the shops or the marketplace intending to buy the meat of water buffalo or sheep. They knew that you can’t buy sheep, she-goat, or water buffalo meat in this city. Every night they saw herds of sheep, she-goats and water buffalo in the city streets. But they knew that the meat of sheep isn’t sold in this city, the meat of she-goat isn’t sold in this city, and the meat of water buffalo isn’t sold in this city. They had no qualms buying or eating the meat of sheep passed off as khashi.

And not just the meat trade; they weren’t troubled or dissatisfied or in turmoil over any issue related to society or the world. They were citizens of the happiest nation on earth. Foreigners uncovered this fact by conducting public opinion surveys.

A little while ago, when I was still Aminul Islam, at the moment I was being slaughtered, I wondered in astonishment, had this country fallen into anarchy? (Perhaps one is only faced with this question when one is personally in danger of being slaughtered.) I was thinking, this attempt to slaughter a human being was taking place in broad daylight, in a public place, right in front of so many people—how was this even possible? I couldn’t imagine that it was possible. Even in my last moments I thought, these butchers are certainly enraged, but even if they injure me or whatever, they’re not going to slit my throat. Slaughtering a human being just because you’re angry—does that really happen?

But the whole thing was over before I could even comprehend what was happening. After my release from the prison of Aminul Islam’s body, I saw that such things take place very easily in this country. In fact, things even more unthinkable occur. (Unthinkable for you. As you use words like unthinkable, unimaginable, impossible, unprecedented, gruesome, you can see for yourselves, day and night, night and day how many different incidents are taking place all around you. You yourselves are making them happen.)

Gangly Soleiman positioned a wooden chopping block under Aminul Islam’s neck and hacked at it with a fairly heavy cleaver. With a thwack, he separated Aminul’s head from his body. He transferred the cleaver from his right hand to his left and grabbed a handful of Aminul’s hair. He stood up straight with Aminul Islam’s head dangling from his hand. Aminul’s eyes stared toward the right like before.

Soleiman swung the head as he took it inside the shop. Two other men hoisted Aminul’s body and followed him. Inside, Soleiman placed Aminul’s head on the floor and thumped it with the handle of the cleaver. The cleaver hit with a phat sound, but Aminul’s brains didn’t spill out so easily. It takes some effort to get at the brains of goats or cows; a human’s skull is no softer. Soleiman had to work at it. After a couple more tries, he managed to crack the skull open on one side. It became easier. He pulled Aminul’s brain out with his fingers and, using his palms and fingers, positioned it nicely in an aluminum pot.

The other two butchers were a little bewildered due to their inexperience and pondered how to skin Aminul. Human skin isn’t so thick or furry that one could just pull it off like the hide of a cow, goat, or sheep. The man Aminul hadn’t been at all plump. But when the butchers tried the knife on him, they observed that under his very thin skin it was just fat. If they tried to insert their fingers between the skin and the fat and tried to press it apart, the skin simply ripped.

Which actually helped. Someone came up with the idea that boiling water would make the process of skinning Aminul’s body much easier. By then, Ruchita Hotel and Restaurant, located across from the meat shop, had opened up for business. A bucketful of boiling water was brought over from there and Aminul’s skin removed. Extremely skilled hands began the butchery process, separating the carcass into pieces. Within a short time, they extracted at least forty-five kilograms of sellable meat from Aminul Islam’s sixty-five-kilogram body.

Aminul’s fatty meat was mixed in with the cuts of khashi, sheep and she-goat and was put out for sale. The customers bought the meat in a peaceable, simple, and normal manner before heading homeward. They knew that there is no such thing as pure khashi meat in the market. It’s adulterated with sheep and she-goat meat. It didn’t make that much difference if it was now also spiked with some human meat. Therefore, the meat market continued as usual. There was no disruption anywhere.



It was already seven in the morning but there was no sign of Aminul Islam returning with the meat. His wife was seething and began to rant against her useless husband. When the clock hands crossed seven-thirty and were about to reach eight, Aminul Islam’s wife Rubina Sultana jerked her younger brother awake from his happy dreams.

“See what your Dulabhai’s done? He went to get the meat ages ago but there’s no sign of him anywhere. He’s just hanging out somewhere for sure. Just wait till he’s back, I’ll teach him to have fun. Get up, come on. Go and bring back ten kilograms of khashi meat. Ah, will there be any pure khashi left this late? We’ll have to eat meat doctored with sheep and goat, and that’s what we’ll have to feed our guests. What, why aren’t you getting up? Can’t you hear me?”

“If I bring ten kilograms, what if Dulabhai also brings back ten kilograms? Where are you going to store all this meat?”

“I’ll store it on your head. Does your Dulabhai even remember that I sent him out to get the meat? He’s completely forgotten about all of this and he’s just chatting away somewhere. He’s going to come back with that cash still in his pocket and then bite his tongue and say, oh, I forgot. I’ll teach him to forget. Now come on, get up!”

“Why are you assuming that Dulabhai is hanging out somewhere? There might have been an accident. Who knows if the muggers got him?”

“Don’t blather. It’s a three-minute walk from here; are muggers going to come right into our neighborhood? You think I don’t know him?”

If, within that three-minute walk, right in the neighborhood, muggers had caught Aminul Islam, taken his money, and stabbed him in the gut, it really wouldn’t have been surprising. Because in reality something worse had happened. But no such apprehension arose in Rubina Sultana’s mind. The people in this country no longer lived with anxiety. They saw the man next door being murdered in the middle of the street in the middle of the day; like foxes snatching a chicken, young men grabbed a young woman on her way home from her job at a garment factory and they gangraped her in the sliver of space between two houses right on the street; because the paan-seller paid ten takas less than the extortionists demanded, his shop, including the seller, was doused in petrol and burnt to ashes; but everyone thought these calamities would only descend on other people. I’m safe; nothing can happen to me.

Rubina Sultana was also in possession of a normal sense of safety. Until she received confirmation that her husband was in the clutches of muggers, she would think that such a disaster might befall someone else, but not her husband. Her husband had merely forgotten to buy the meat and was holed up somewhere, unworried, drinking tea, and talking up a storm.



My brother-in-law came home with ten kilos of khashi meat. It included meat from my thigh, my arm, and my ribs, some fat, and some tender bones from my chest area. Although the meat was meant for Eid, he asked his sister to cook a portion for lunch today. The sister was always very loving toward her brother. It had never happened that he asked for a particular dish and she hadn’t cooked it for him. So, with a lot of care and a lot of spices, she cooked the meat.

Brother and sister sat down to lunch together in the afternoon. She lovingly served pieces to her brother, and then placed a few pieces on her own plate.

I shouted, “Rubina, don’t eat! Rubel, don’t eat!”

But perhaps my shouting could no longer be heard. I had left the world of sound.

My wife bit down on one of my ribs with pleasure and praised her brother, “You’ve bought some wonderful meat, Rubel. From now on, you’re in charge of buying meat. Your Dulabhai is just useless.”

translated from the Bengali by Shabnam Nadiya