A few months have passed since I breathed the air of freedom. The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on me.
From waking up every morning at 9, to four hours of class and repeat, life was filled to the brim with monotony. Every day seemed like a repeat telecast and I was eager to watch a new episode.
It was as if my prayers had been answered that after my midterms, my mother suggested a girls' trip with two of my two aunts and cousins to Cox's Bazar. Saying that I was excited would be an understatement.
The day had come pretty fast and we began our journey. I did not realise how four hours had passed by and we arrived at the small cabin exuding a typical village house vibe.
As we looked around the place, my mother and I conversed with the owner who welcomed us with warmth. They mentioned that another family would be staying with us as their child was getting married here.
Time flew by like an anxious sparrow as we returned from our endeavour to the beach and were welcomed by a family of four.
We introduced ourselves to one another. The father, a frail man, was a Bangla teacher. The mother looked tired with bags under her eyes and they had two children - Mehnaz, an 18-year-old bald girl with a pale, lifeless face and Abrar, a 15-year-old perplexed looking boy.
Everyone looked really exhausted.
Fortunately, we made great conversations and it was enjoyable. Three days later, as I was on my way to the beach, I heard the boy, Abrar, crying in his room. His sister, Mehnaz, stroked him gently and desolated herself.
I had developed quite a friendship with them in these three days. So ignoring the beach, I slowly knocked on their already open door and they looked up at me frightfully.
They asked me to leave, but being stubborn, I walked in and asked them what was wrong.
Abrar was now bawling. I was relentless and Mehnaz finally caved in.
She told me that they were brought here for Abrar's wedding. At first, I thought it was some sort of sick joke but the look of devastation on the siblings' faces said otherwise.
I inquired furiously why Abrar was getting married at such a young age. Mehnaz explained through the sobs of the poor boy that after the Covid-19 lockdown was imposed, her father had lost his job and there were many days they would go without food.
She told me about how their bills were not being paid and Abrar had to drop out of school because they could not pay the tuition fees. Mehnaz also informed me that her father was in debt from her medical expenses.
It broke my heart to hear how after a few months, their tenants threw them out of their beautiful home. Mehnaz and her family are now roaming around from one relative's home to another, living off of their pity.
This wounded the prestige of Md Bashir, Mehnaz and Abrar's father. So, he made the tough decision of marrying off his son to a rich faraway relative's autistic daughter who lives here.
It was very saddening to hear the frustration and anger in Mehnaz's voice. I could feel the seething rage and sorrow she felt but there was nothing to do.
I myself was shocked to the core hearing about all of this. So, the next day, I privately talked to my mother to convince Md Bashir to call off the wedding because it not only robbed Abrar's future, but also because it was illegal for a minor to be getting married.
I advocated for going to the police but my mother explained how Abrar's father is in dire need of the money to pay for his daughter's treatment and how marrying off Abrar in the rich family would help him continue with his education.
Md Bashir had no other choice but to accept his fate. I then proposed if we could aid them but my mother helplessly defended that this pandemic restrained everyone's will to assist.
She then said that this was not only the story of Abrar and Mehnaz, but the story of every family struggling at this time. Now, it was my turn to be filled with anger towards my mother, Md Bashir and this cursed society.
I realised how at ease I was because I did not have to face such a calamity every middle-class family faces
My anger was directed towards this day and age when mental health was being normalised and human rights were being hailed. I was angry at the "woke" people who chose to not bat an eye at the roots of the problem.
But my anger went in vain as I witnessed myself in the disheartened eyes of Abrar as he forcefully said, "Qubool".
I was ashamed I could not do anything, I was ashamed I could not suggest a plan B where I could have tried harder to educate the parents of the illegality of their actions. I could have suggested micro-financing where they took small loans and paid them back duly. I could have gone to the police regardless of their situation because this needs to stop.
All this "could have" did not turn to "I am doing" because deep down, I knew they would not have listened. No one listens, that is the problem.
If only we listened to each other's problems, if only we had patience. I long for the day when our government and our people would grow a set of ears and a functioning heart to put an end to this.
Till then more children will be put through the same ordeal as Abrar and every day a child will lose their will to live and the will to grow.
It is ironic how I came to Cox's Bazar wanting freedom from monotony and I witnessed a free spirit being tied to shackles. Ironic indeed.
The author is currently studying in the 12th grade.
Bangladesh Forum for Legal and Humanitarian Affairs (BFLHA) in partnership with The Business Standard arranged an op-ed writing competition this year. This article is one of the winning entries of that competition