As the bicycle of Golam Rabbani lurches on the way to his delivery address, there is only one question in his head: How is his family going to make it in this pandemic?
Every day is full of new uncertainties in this time.
"When my father, a guard at an apparel factory, was laid off in April, amid the shutdown, we felt the ground give way under our feet," Rabbani recalls.
"I had to step in to save my five-member family from sinking.
"There is not much going on for a tenth-grader so I enrolled as a delivery person with a home delivery company and my family narrowly survived.
"But now that a second wave of the virus is spreading fast with the death count surging, and my father having been laid down with back pain, everything has become even more precarious," he says.
Driven by the stark financial needs during the pandemic, thousands of young people like Rabbani have registered with different home delivery services in the capital and the suburbs.
There are more than 30 such companies but only five have more than 45,000 delivery persons in the capital, some of them having networks outside Dhaka.
In response to the growing trend of ordering products online, companies such as Foodpanda, Evaly, Daraz, Shohoz, Pathao and many others have geared up to take the business offering people, mostly youths, an income stream where the bar to start is low. Their incomes range from Tk10,000 to Tk20,000 per month.
As Golam Rabbani deftly weaves in the chaotic city traffic, he keeps doing the math of his 'job'.
The home delivery company pays him Tk25 for each delivery, Tk2 for every kilometre he rides and a bonus that can vary depending on the shift he works.
And the shift is the most fluid of all things in the job. If a rider, as they are called, fails to deliver two orders, one after another, he slips down the performance ladder.
A delay in delivery also means low rating. Among the six shifts, the rider, who does not have any record of failing to attend an order, and delivers in time, will be put in the first shift with a bonus of Tk9 for each delivery.
For those in the second shift, the bonus is Tk6 and for those in the third, Tk3. The rest three go without bonus.
So, one has to be consistent and persistent, and, above all, one must not become tired if one is to climb to the top of the ladder.
"My whole body aches when I return home after a day of cycling," Rabbani grimaces.
However, when a customer tips, anywhere between Tk5 up to Tk50, it makes his day. This gives him a feeling of freedom and an opening, which reduces the pain of the job a bit.
"These tips also vary from one place to another. Those working in the posh areas like Gulshan, Dhanmondi and Baridhara get good tips while those of us working in other areas such as Mirpur most often do not get any," he says.
This simple but heavy math occupies him, numbs him, so much so that while riding alongside the fast cars, buses and minivans, he almost forgets about them.
He keeps pedaling at his own pace, piggybacking the large insulated bag with food, to deliver the next load on time.
But is it always that easy to get to the right address, finding the way through the maze of alleys and dark alleys in this mega city?
One has to be really familiar with every twist and turn of a road, which forks into innumerable alleyways.
Many times, he got the address wrong and turned up in the wrong place. He had to phone his customer several times to get the exact delivery location.
And road accidents are not uncommon.
"The rickshaw just in front of me stopped hard and I rear ended it. I had a nasty tumble," he said showing his bruised hand.
An emerging job market
Despite all these hardships, Rabbani knows deep inside that this is the only job that is keeping his family afloat during this tough time.
When all other private jobs, small or big, have laid off employees, the home delivery job has been growing and hiring people.
The service was launched in this country long before the pandemic began, it is during this crisis that it has flourished most to meet the growing demand for delivery service.
The pool of labour that was let go by the readymade garment industry during the shutdown has mostly been absorbed by the key players in this emerging job market.
Among them, the riders of Foodpanda outnumber those of others. The company's pink bags and vests are one of the most noticeable things on the road.
"Foodpanda has around 15,000 active riders in Dhaka," Ambareen Reza, chief executive officer of Foodpanda Bangladesh, told The Business Standard.
"We cover all areas of Dhaka metropolis, except the cantonment and other restricted areas such as the surrounding areas of the PMO and the PM's residence," he informed.
Other companies such as Evaly, Pathao Food, Foodpeon, Daraz, Chaldal, HungryNaki, MeenaClick and a number of smaller companies have their own shares in a huge number of riders.
Evaly has more than 16,000 registered riders, of whom 3,681 are full timers, according to official sources.
Shohoz has more than 10,000 riders while MeenaClick has got 135 and Chaldal 650 full time delivery persons. Daraz has 4,200 riders to deliver its orders, according to company insiders.
Despite being contacted several times, Pathao did not respond to questions regarding their delivery persons.
A good number of intercity delivery or courier firms have also employed hundreds of riders, who were thrown out of jobs during the pandemic.
Many students from the lower income group families have taken up the job. As educational institutions have been closed since the shutdown, they have taken it upon themselves to help their struggling families.
This is why there are so many of them in the streets and inside the alleys. If anybody stands beside a road anywhere in the capital, he is sure to come across, every few minutes, one or two of them, rushing past him, carrying a big bag on their back and, in most cases, wearing the vest provided by their company.
Still a male-only job opportunity
The absence of women riders in the home delivery job is glaring. While the readymade garment sector mostly employs women, the home delivery service seems to be an exclusively male domain.
The companies only look for males in their job opening announcements. They mention safety issues for their choice.
But the fact is, a huge segment of the labour pool thus lies without the option to earn for themselves.