Friday, October 27, 2006

Haunted Part II

She doesn’t believe me. I’ll show her. I’m not dreaming. She’s real. With these thoughts, Munir drifted off to sleep again. He turned the words of the Quls over in his mind, verses from the Quraan for protection. He needed protection from the dreams. I seek protection in the Lord of daybreak – I seek protection in the Lord of man…As much as he loved Warda, he didn’t want to see her that way again. Tomorrow, he’d see her, Nahla too. And then she’d believe him. He was not losing his mind.

**************************************

Munir rushed home after the Maghrib prayer. Night was settling in the streets, the shadows of twilight melting in the dark. Nahla was to have given the children something to keep them occupied. Asma would help keep Waheed away from the back door. Nahla would hide by the kitchen window. He felt a little breathless as he let himself into the house. Asma sat on the couch reading a story to Imraan and Waheed.

“Assalaamu alaikum,” the chorus greeted him as he entered the door.
“Wa alaikum salaam,” he responded. He hastened to the kitchen without another glance at the trio. Nahla stood waiting for him there.
“Ready?” she smiled. The doubt lingered in her eyes.
“Ready,” he echoed.
Munir went out and stood expectantly on the stoep. He watched the tree intently. Nothing, no tingling, prickling feeling. Minutes dragged by painfully. He began to feel a growing tightness in his chest. His breath became shallow. Am I losing my mind? Nahla must be laughing. The grey light disappeared, was smothered by the night that pressed against him, around him, heavy, impenetrable.

He trudged wearily back into the kitchen. Nahla emerged from behind the door, her eyes swimming with tears. She wordlessly placed her arms around him and drew him into a tight hug. Painful sobs broke free from his chest. His tears of anguish and regret mingled with her tears of helplessness.

Waheed tugging at Nahla’s dress caused them to pull apart.
“Love oo, mummy,” he gurgled in his baby language. Nahla scooped him into her arms and held him close as though she wanted to fade into him. Munir was stabbed with guilt and regret, regret for the woman he couldn’t fully love even though she would tear out her soul for him.

*****************************

Days passed. That day in the kitchen was never mentioned again. Nor did Munir go out after the evening prayer looking for her again. Sometimes he’d drift out of sleep at night, to find Nahla leaning over him, as though studying the landscape of his face. He could tell it bothered her. It bothered him too.

Then, one evening, as he returned from the evening prayer he saw her, in her wedding gown again, standing at the front gate, his front gate, their front gate. She smiled. He stood, rooted to the spot. He longed to call her, but he didn’t want her to vanish. She mustn’t vanish. He would not lose her again.
“Munir?” The laughter as always dancing, in her black eyes.
He felt weak at the knees, his body like a wind blown autumn leaf, his mind a turbulent mess. Can it be? She really has come back.

He walked towards her, as though in a dream, one hand outstretched. Her smile grew wider and wider still.
“Stop, Munir! She’s not real. Look, her feet!” Indeed, they were turned backwards. But still Munir, blinded by hope, refused to accept the meaning behind these strange feet.
“Come, my love, come,” she crooned. It was Warda’s smile, really it was.
Nahla began reciting the Verse of the Throne, another verse renowned for it protection from all forms of evil, loudly. Warda’s smile became a leer. Nahla walked towards her reciting the Quls now.
“Say, I seek protection in the Lord of daybreak, from the evil that He has created…”
Warda let out a shriek. And then she vanished in a cloud of smoke.
A jinn, the feet had said it all.

© Saaleha Bhamjee - 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Haunted Part I

Not to commemorate Halloween or anything, for I celebrate it not. But I just felt like sharing this one today. Stay tuned for part two - tomorrow.

She would come – he knew she would. Already he felt the prickling at the base of his skull that always preceded her appearance. The tingling intensified. He looked at the ancient lemon tree with the branches that swept the ground. There she was. Warda – his Warda. He groaned. She was still as beautiful as ever. Her long hair fell in a shimmering curtain of auburn, well past her waist. Her face, the colour of whipped cream; her kohl smeared, near-black eyes, piercing. She was dressed in her wedding gown.

“What am I doing?’ he suddenly asked of himself. She’s dead. Four years already. You have Nahla now – Nahla, the sturdy palm, mother of little Waheed. Warda- your rose, is gone, faded. Or was she?

She stood beside the tree smiling – a real smile, a real woman. Could there have been a mistake? No I laid her in her grave, remember? With my own hands. I stroked her chilled brow; laid a kiss on her cheek; consoled her children when they cried; raised the baby that she left behind, even though I wished every day that he would die in order to bring her back again. I buried her…

But there she stood. He called her.
“Warda…”
She smiled - a slow, enigmatic smile. Laughter danced in her eyes. He was overcome by the urge to touch her, feel her skin that always smelt of lavender. He stepped off the stoep and approached her slowly. She was still there! She hadn’t vanished. Today, he’d hold her. Today he would!

It wouldn’t be like the other days, the days when she had vanished as soon as he had spoken her name. He approached cautiously.
‘Munir.” Nahla’s voice from somewhere inside the house. He looked fleetingly back at the house. When he turned his gaze back to the lemon tree, Warda was gone. He picked up the figs, always figs, where she had stood. He returned to the house.

********************************

Munir tossed feverishly in his bed. His dreams were crowded with images of Warda. Their wedding day, she the shy bride with the laughing eyes – a paradox. That she certainly was – a glorious paradox that became the centre of his universe. They had shared eight idyllic years together. He saw her in his dreams, heavily pregnant with Imraan, the same Imraan who had wrenched her away from him. The birth had been too much. He saw the blood that stained the white sheet in the delivery room, while the baby cried in the background. He saw the midwife’s anxious face. He heard himself make a vow – ten fasts for her life. Then he saw her clothed in calico, her lips blue, the squiggly pattern of the blue carpet in the lounge contrasting sharply with her ashen form.

He felt the agony of bereavement. He cried tearless sobs.
“Munir, wake up. What’s wrong?”
His eyes fluttered open. Nahla’s pinched, wan face scoured his. Her eyes held the shadow of terror. Her trembling hand rested on his shoulder. He wiped his forehead. It was cold and clammy.
“What’s wrong,” she repeated, shaking him a little when he remained silent.
“What? No, nothing. Just a nightmare.” He sat up in bed and reached for the glass of water that Nahla always placed at his bedside. He sipped, leaned back and closed his eyes. He could feel Nahla’s eyes on him but he remained that way. He couldn’t face the questions he saw in them.

She was a good woman. She would never be Warda, this she had told him in the first week of their marriage - not because she lacked love, but because he lacked the capacity to leave the memories of Warda in the past, just as he refused to truly accept Imraan. But she would understand, she had told him. And she was true to her word. She gave unconditionally, allowed him space to mourn when he felt the need. And she lavished her attention on Imraan even more than she did on the spawn of her own womb, Waheed.

She was a remarkable woman. Lately, he had just begun to see that. And now this! Warda, every day shortly after Maghrib, in the backyard, by the lemon tree. He rushed home every day after the prayers in order to catch a glimpse of her. She didn’t appear every day, but she appeared often enough to haunt his dreams.

She left him with a feeling of agitation. Nahla had been questioning him with her eyes for a while now. He just couldn’t bring himself to say anything to her. She’d probably think him crazy, delusional. She’d call moulanas and they’d give him ta’weezes, amulets to drive away evil spirits. He didn’t want that. He didn’t need it. Warda was real. She had to be. A sob escaped his lips.

“Munir, I don’t know how to say this. You know what I promised you when we got married, but I feel I have to. Something about you has changed. Even the children have noticed it. Asma asked me yesterday whether you were sick. Do you want to talk about what it is that’s troubling you?” Her face was earnest. Pain battled confusion and helplessness in her eyes.

The truth…he owed her that much.
“It’s Warda,” he murmured. “She’s back.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” Her face contorted in agony.
“I see her, outside, in the yard, by the lemon tree. The figs, she leaves them.”
“She’d gone, Munir. I know that you still love her, but this...it’s a cruel joke. It’s sick!” Her voice had raised an octave. Silent tears slid down her cheeks, down her neck and were absorbed by her sleep shirt.
Munir sat up straight. He took her hands in his and pressed them to his lips.
“I’m not saying this to hurt you, Nahla. I love you. I don’t want to hurt you. I would never hurt you. What you’ve done…” his words trailed. “But it’s true. I see her. She’s there.”
“But how? Aren’t you dreaming?”
“No, I’m not. I’ll prove it.” His tone had a finality to it that brooked no argument.

© Saaleha Bhamjee - 2006



Wednesday, October 25, 2006

African City

Since I have had a completely barren month on the writing front, here's a little poem. My only work for the last thirty days.


A melee of humanity
Pulsating, vibrant
A mighty river
Broad and strong
Cutting through the
African city
Of ramshackle buildings
Slowly decaying
Straddling glassy towers
That pierce the heavens
The flaking paint graffitoed
Murals bright, an African
Sunset, a woman, baby to
Her breast
Inhale the scent of the
African soil
Rich and warm
Fertile
Birthing time and again

Birthing?

Yes,
Poverty, desperation, disease,
Hope, courage, strength
And ultimately
Victory




Back again

Dearest friends and guests

A month has passed in a blur. Our month of fasting has ended and we celebrated Eid yesterday. It was a day of family, giving, and togetherness. And now, I'm back, for blogging 'togetherness'. But alas, it is to be short lived, for in a moment of euphoria induced madness, I signed up to do Nanowrimo so I shall have to bid blogosphere a fond farewell - again.

I'll be doing my usual rounds today.

Warmest wishes
Saaleha