I just landed in the most densely populated city on Earth after a 14 and a quarter hour flight; banged, tired and faded.
Location: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Population: 8.906 million
Time: 13:15 (GMT +6) [01.01.2019 ]
“Happy new year, sir! Would you like me to escort you to your cab?” A bald yet heavily bearded Indian man came up to me and whispered with a reassuring smile on his face. He said he was my travel agent and I agreed without a second thought in mind. A clean cut, polished shoes and a company shirt always does the trick! We loaded all my luggage to a black Mercedes van and set off to the hotel. Oh! How susceptible I was, falling prey to a stranger who I never suspected his intentions. The car suddenly came to a halt and a single gaze outside prompted me to start panicking. Not only were we not in a hotel, but also engulfed by shady-looking shacks that could scare your soul out of its existence.
The slum was dark even though the very daylight shone with all its might. The shadows looked sinister as if itching to spill an evil secret. Cries of hungry children and a smell of smoke combined with a damp pungent scent engulfed the air. There were drawings all over the walls; graffiti, propaganda, blood. I had but to fear!
“Welcome to Casa de Royale,” my travel agent chuckled by the side. A man I assumed to be my travel agent was in fact a fraud. I’m sure you are asking yourself what gave me the certainty that this man was legitimate and to my defense: There are no Airbnb in Kenya or Bangladesh meaning your fragile scared mind would cling to the first face that smile friendly towards you.
The men were obviously smart. They liaised with each other to instill the very fear I came to remove in Dhaka. It seems so that this was not to be. At the heart of Begunbari slum, the ‘travel agent’ stepped out of the car and took a minute to talk to some men in a corner. I was clearly shaking. Sweat tricked down my spine and before I knew it, I was ruthlessly thrown out and the car sped off without a trace.
I had a surge of delirium, a temporary confusion mixed with amnesia. I looked around turning helplessly in shock of a place I knew not of. Tears pleaded to drop off my eyes but everyone was now staring at me – the hysterical man.
“Where am I? Who do you work for?”
I asked strangers questions that should have been asked a few minutes ago. Looking back that was a pretty silly move to make. The people around did not understand a word I said, primarily because they didn’t speak English but also because in midst of my speaking I found myself speaking gibberish out of confusion. I was the source of laughter until a small boy came up to me and gave me a note that was folded multiple times (I bet if I counted, it would have been a hundred times).
“DOUBLE OR NOTHING: A GAME OF THE STRONG-HEARTED.”
Alongside was a phone number. I sensed the man knew what was going on so I dialed the number. The person at the other end told me to meet him beside a lake by sunset. Armed with 8000 Bangladeshi Taka (their form of currency), a handkerchief and my phone, I set out to the location to redeem my act of cowardice for bravery. I boarded a cab to Gulshan Lake Park to play a game I was forced to participate in.
Location: Gulshan Lake
Time: 18:24 (GMT +6)
On the shores of Lake Gulshan stood a short but steady man in a Fedora staring at the setting sun while smoking down a packet of cigarette. I stood beside him.
“Mark, Mark, Mark” To which I never replied.
“Double or nothing is a very enticing game to play. But I should warn you, it is not for the faint-hearted. Tell you what: I’ll drive you a hard bargain which you cannot afford to pass! First, give me your phone.”
I handed him my phone and boarded a small yacht which I presumed to be his. We sailed to a point where water was all you could see.
“Jump off this boat into the lake and I will give you your luggage back AND a hundred thousand dollars on top. Fail to comply and I will still push you in to die! Don’t worry. If you survive being a homeless man will not be so bad. I hear the Shahjadpur is nice this time of the year. He let off an obnoxious laugh watching me handle a dilemma that amused his ego…