In a lockdown afternoon, we met Abdur Rob, a little boy, sitting on a tiny little tool on the edge of road 22 in Tilpapara of Khilgaon. He was sitting with a small plastic tray containing a pink-white flask, four packets of cigarettes, and a lighter.
At first impression, Abdur Rob and his plastic tray would perhaps remind you of your childhood memories of playing 'Jolapati' – a game where children pretend to be grownups. The game involves buying and selling fake groceries, making imaginary families and getting involved in occasional feuds. While urban kids are barely familiar with this, kids in villages still play Jolapati.
Abdur Rob however was not playing. As we walked near to him, his father Abu Sufian, a CNG driver, emerged from behind. Father and son, both were wearing masks.
The CNGs do not have permission to run in the city during the lockdown except for the ones carrying media personnel. Abu Sufian was forced to stay at home since the first day of lockdown and his breadwinning activities have been put on a halt.
"So far, I have sold five cigarettes, and you are the first customer who took tea. I sold nearly Tk60/70 of my Tk700 investment."
But life doesn't. So, Abu Sufian looked for alternatives to survive.
A regular tea-seller would grab your attention by offering you to have a cup of tea or a cigarette.
But Sufian and his son kept staring at us. From the look, you could easily guess they were not sure what to do next.
Curious, we began the conversation by asking the kid's name, instead of asking for tea. Abdur Rob was shy and was reluctant to answer the query.
So, Father Sufian chimed in. He seized the little tool Abdur Rob was sitting on, and our conversation began.
"How long can I stay idle? I have five mouths to feed," Sufian's frustration was palpable.
Most CNG drivers in the city live in low-priced hostels. Their families usually live in villages because it is hard to maintain a family in Dhaka with the money they usually earn.
Sufian, however, lives in Dhaka with his entire family. His older kid, Abdur Rob, goes to school. His younger kind, Arafat, stays home with his mother and grandmother. Sufian's wife, Taslima, is a housewife.
Hailing from Shariatpur, Sufian was born and raised in Dhaka.
"My father died early. I used to work in a garage, ride rickshaws, and now drive CNG for the last five years," Sufian said.
How is life as a CNG driver?
"I drive CNG half a day. I have to pay the CNG owner Tk600 per day as daily rent. I cannot save much after paying that."
Life has always been tough for Sufian, but he somehow managed to go on – providing food for his family and paying the tuition for his kid's school.
But ever since the stricter lockdown was implemented, his world turned upside down. With the meagre income he earned, he doesn't have much in savings.
Sufian simply cannot afford to stay at home. He had no idea how to sell tea. But still, with dilemma and hope, he had to try.
"I spent around Tk700 to buy four packets of cigarettes, sugar for tea, and plastic cups with a hope to earn a little to feed my family," Sufian said.
We asked him for a cup of tea. And from the very first sip of his cinnamon-flavoured tea, you will realise this is no regular 'tong' tea of your road-side tea stalls.
"My wife makes good tea," Sufian smiled.
Although he was selling tea for the first time, Sufian said he patrolled the entire area in the morning to find the best place to sit.
"The edge of road 22 in Tilpapara is good because there is no other tea stall nearby, and there is a mosque two roads apart. The worshippers walk by this road to go to the mosque," Sufian said.
However, as we went on talking, worshippers were returning from the mosque. Some of them stood for a moment curiously, but didn't buy anything from Sufian.
"So far, I have sold five cigarettes, and you are the first customer who took tea. I sold nearly Tk60/70 of my Tk700 investment," Sufian sounded hopeless.
As more people were returning from the mosque, a police car, patrolling on the streets, approached us.
At the first glance at the police car, little Abdur Rob became restless. He is scared of cops.
Receiving a green signal from his father, Abdur Rob grasped the plastic tray and ran away within a blink of an eye.
Abu Sufian followed his son.
Maybe, he will come again the next day with a renewed hope to sell some cigarettes and a few cups of tea. After all, it's just the beginning of a new month. It is not only the food they need to worry about, he has to pay the house rent as well.