The last ray of the proud, magnificent sun has evaporated in thin air. The lone, late bird, anxiously flapping its wings has nestled itself on the straw bed called home. The fluttering eyelids of the little bunny have finally settled after a whooshing wind had shuffled the dry leaves and scared the baby out of its wits. The last burning candle wick has been doused out as a solitary cottage in the woods goes under the blanket.
You know it is dark. You know it is not a good time to venture out into the deep woods. Yet, you hold her slippery hand and march crushing the dry foliage under your robust shoes. She is your responsibility. You don’t know much about her but you found her drenched, shivering, and weeping four days ago when you were on a random adventure escapade to the Amazons. How can you abandon an already abandoned soul? Aha! What you say, word to word, line to line, must be remembered by you? Why? The answers to your dilemmas lie in your previous, subconsciously worded statements. As the puzzles are weaved into your life, so are the solutions wired into your subconscious. You just need to unearth them.
“Fern,” that is what her quivering blue lips tell you as her name. Her name is all she knows about herself. How is a five-year to know more? Being a bachelor, all forty years of your life, never having considered serious relationships apart from a few fleeting ones, having enjoyed a hippie’s life, how are you to know the nuances of a five-year old! You believe what she says for like you she too has lost her way in the woods. Ok, not exactly like you, because you have lost your way through the maze of life. It’s a haze and you think escaping the blur of city life and delving in this rainforest will offer you solutions. Hope is the harbinger of happiness.
Initially, while you navigate through the lesser-known path, you doubt whether you will be able to trudge along with a baffled toddler. But then, Fern clings to you as if you were destined to be together.
“Ba, get me water. I’m very thirsty, Ba.”
Those carelessly spoken words hit you like a thunderbolt. “Fuck!!Why the hell, she calls me Ba!”
You want to scream it loud only to hear your own words lashing back at you. Her emerald blue eyes, the soft tinge of blue that is now diffusing in the pink and the few curls that dance at the end of her otherwise stiff hair, stifle the cuss words in your throat. They hang on to your gullet and swing merrily but dare not spill out. Habit. The polished habit of using cuss words at the drop of a hat is all that you can truly call as yours.
You are once again reminded of your task. You look for the largest frond of deep green paint. You strain hard to listen to sounds of gurgling water. All you hear, is the howling of the wind and rustling of the leaves. It has not rained for two days. Very rare. Yet, you don’t have the time to ponder over this absurdity of the Amazons where it rains throughout. When it rains, you just cup your palms and allow the pearly droplets to collect in them. You bring the cupped palms very delicately to Fern’s thirsty lips and ask her to drink her heart’s content. She licks the drops clung to the hollow of your scoped hands. It tickles your rubbery palms.Aha! Mere imagination! No real water yet.
You don’t remember much of your past. You don’t even try to dig it out from the dark abysses of your memories. You are fearful a painful memory will bring out its monster head and harass you for the rest of your life.
In order to avoid this, you escape from the hospital bed where the nurses and doctors are waiting to tell you things which you don’t want to hear. Your instinct tells you it is something you must strongly avoid. Never collide. Stay afloat without looking back. One night you move out of the hospital with your scarce belongings. The highway is nearby and you board a truck that is going to a nearby city. You don’t know the city it is rushing to. You only know you want to start fresh. The wounds on your back are still fresh. You have not seen them but the gnawing, stabbing pain when the truck jerks tells you some bruises need to heal. You don’t give them time to stitch their ragged edges well. Again, an old habit stemming from your past.
It is funny how your memory plays tricks with you. You remember elements tattooed on to your DNA, carried in your each birth but forget what you were yesterday. The Bastard Memory! Oops, you only hope Fern has not heard it.
She walks alongside patiently. You laugh at the previous addressal made to you.
You can never be a father to such a God-sent angel. Yet, you wish to reunite her with her estranged parents. They must be worried and terrified of losing her. In your company, she walks in peace. Her heart must be echoing fear, turmoil, and hopelessness. On the surface, she appears calm. There is no noise of her spongy lungs filling and emptying the forest air. There is an eerie silence that fills in the absence of the rain.
“Ba, water,” is the only plea you hear from here. You have seen a cottage in the distance but the flame that illuminated it has been blown away. Darkness stands challenging you. Fern is patient. She occasionally looks at you, deep into your blue eyes. You know you have blue eyes from the muddled reflection it adds to her serene blueness. Her gaze comforts you. The brightness of her pupils emits light that outdoes the lunar halo. She doesn’t say a word more then, Ba, water.
There is a tight knot forming in your chest. What an arsehole, you are who cannot find water for a parched soul. The knot sits firmly on the apex of your stoic heart. It beats only because it survives to do so. The knot crawls upwards and you hear a different beat being emitted by your heart. You think you have heard this before. Felt this before. Being at this conjuncture before.
Rubbish! Utter crap!You slap hard the thought that is playing chase with you. You are like this. Submerge anything that tries to rule you. You can never be a caged bird to receive a measured amount of feed, water and love. You are the eagle of the sky and not the meek parakeet at the display. You know yourself well. It’s just that you don’t recall the circumstances you were in.
Fern, tugs your dirty jacket that is stained with murk and mud. Her tugging unfastens a tightly bound memory. Déjà vu. I have experienced this pull before, you tell yourself. Her stubby fingers hold firmly to your coat and she stops walking. She seems to be tired. Her haggard countenance begs for rest.
The two of you fall into a dreamless sleep.
You wish to listen to a story. Don’t you.It is in a story you feel safe, comfortable,and passive. Watching the anguish, turmoil, and pain of other people. It is another thing to feel for someone over feeling the prick yourself.
Just seconds ago, a man as distant as Mars or Venus to you told you a story. A man called Charles who was lost in the Amazons. You felt for him or if not him, the girl accompanying him, Fern. You hoped that they find light at the end of the jungle. If not light, at least Charles could quench Fern’s thirst. You prayed fervently for Charles so that he could find Fern’s devastated parents. Ok. Let’s assume you never felt any of it. But let’s not deny the fact that deep down you relaxed at the fact that it was Charles and Fern, in that scary situation and not you or your loved one. Come to accept this?
Then, now you will hear one more story. That of Fatima. To hear this story, you must become Fatima. You are Fatima.
You have long, brown hair. You veil them with a scarf, partly as you are a believer of hijab and partly, because you believe in shielding your beauty. You dress in long ankle-length dresses and carry the Quran in your backpack, always. You carry your faith,love, and sanity all locked in one book. You pray five times a day even though you are in a foreign country and alien land. You know you are not going to be here forever. But you also never know that forever is a metaphysical entity.
You study psychology at the University of Toronto, Canada. The scholarship for young Syrian women has helped you reach here. Spirituality is your main interest. Yet, the realms of human mind amuse you and you realize what lies beyond the realms of the human mind is a vast space of spirits. That reasoning connects you to the field of spirituality.
Everyday morning, you wake up with the prayer beating in your heart. The nuns of the convent where you stay are gracious enough to allow you to practice your faith. You then walk to the nearest cafe and order scrambled eggs and coffee. Everyday for 365 days into two years. You then pace up to the water fountain on the crossroads to feed the pigeons. You love to watch the birds flock around you as they pick each grain meticulously but nonchalantly.
As you finish the fistful of grains, you realize it is time for the psychology class. You don’t like to be late. You hate it when schedules are changed. And today a surprise awaits!
The mediocre woman with a cardboard face, who is supposed to start neo-freudian principles is replaced by an exceptionally attractive gentleman. He wears a loose diaphanous shirt and cotton knee-length pants against a suit or formals to suit his designation.
Students call him professor. His name isn’t important for he is more than his name and identity. You fall for his puerile mannerisms and gurgling laughter that follows the crispy anecdotes he narrates from his life as a wanderer. You are amazed at how he links these experiences with that Freud’s principles and beyond.
The attraction is fatal. He notices your blushed cheeks and the twinkle in your eye as you lean forward on the desk to listen to his lectures. Actually, you know the truth. You want to gain a clear view of the dimples on his cheeks and his aquiline nose. The subtle wink of his watchful eye as his revolving gaze plops on you…Ouch! It is a sweet stab in your wiggling heart.
“Coffee?” He casually asks you one day and though, you can’t tolerate any change in your schedule, you are helpless at the hands of your heart. A yes is all you can maffle.
You shrug off the fact that he is an American!
When coffee dates transform into date nights, you are awestruck at the way you are waffling. You have been a believer of Islam. To sleep with a man other than your husband is adultery for you. You ask the professor of your heart to say ‘kabul hai’. He promises he will. Soon. Very soon. You believe your first love. He takes you on adventures to countries and places you have never dreamt of. You fly. You soar. You rise. But not fall in love.
Scuba diving, mountain climbing, volcanoes, and hot water geysers, you see it all and experience the ecstasy of being alive. You are no more the Fatima who prayed five times a day or hoped to return to Syria to help her people. For one love, you have broken a thousand promises made to your brood. The hijab flies in the air strung to a car mirror as you let loose your mane in the billowing wind. Religion feels insulted as love is worshipped. The long ankle-length dresses make way for strapless blouses and denim Bermudas.
One day as you are relishing the scent of his skin and he running his octopus-like hands, warm and rubbery, seemingly everywhere at once, you probe into his deep blue eyes and ask.
“Love, can you quantify your love for me?”
“Yup, deeper than the Pacific and denser than the Amazons. That reminds me, when will we be exploring the rainforests?”
Your gaze averts from him.
“Not very soon, at least. When will you marry me?”
Your skin loses the warmth of his touch.
“What fatuous question is that? I told you we will. Soon. Life is more than mere commitments. It is a communion of souls. We have so much to do than just getting married to each other. There is a probability you may find a better soul than me. You need to discover.”
“I have discovered that I’m pregnant with your child. Isn’t that enough to seal our relationship?”
He leaves your bedside. None of you speaks. Therevelationis heavy on the essence of your companionship.
“You fucked it upall!”
He walks out to grab a smoke.
To never return.
You return to your pavilion, defeated and relinquished. The study of psychology you wished to pursue for your people and their upliftment is not completed. Yet, Syria welcomes you amidst its bombing. The rubble of your dead expectations finds space with the debris of a city that once stood tall and proud. The Americans are mowing down people like weeds of unwanted land.
Syria weeps. It has been stymied, like you have been deceived by an American. Your vengeance is cheap and futile. The cycle of kismet has paid you a fleeting visit. The religion, the God whom you had overthrown, have punished you for your reckless behaviour. Kismet is kind enough to leave a sweet side to its bitterness.
The dishevelled city has no time to criticise or condemn you as a fatherless child is birthed into this unwelcoming world.
To the wilderness of her father and the tenderness of her mother, she receives the name Fern.
“Mi, where is my father?” Her soft tongue can’t yet say Ammi. There are words she speaks incomplete. You love the blabber but the question haunts you. She has seen men loving their daughters, protecting them and nurturing their values and education. Fern only has her Mi to cuddle, love,and pamper.
As Fern grows, the Syrian war worsens. Cluster bombs tear the region and civilians pay the price of war with their limbs and lives. The air is full of sarin, mustard agent, and chlorine gas. The cries of bereft women and children create havoc in your conscience. Not with psychology but with social service troops, you try to help your people. In them you see your abandoned self. If they don’t have a future, you too don’t care about one.
Fern keeps searching for fatherly love in the random concern shown by dying men or soldiers. She receives no permanent relief. Why is the girl so thirsty for father’s love, you wonder? Isn’t her Mi enough? Why is she floundering about in shallow offshore waters of unrequited love?Her kismet. The answer makes itself evident.
From a social worker helping find masses bread and water, you become an activist. You delve deeper into the war than merely standing on its fringes. Fern is saddled to your back and the two of you traverse devastated land to carry information you are denied with.
Run. Sweat. Blood.
Cries. Grief. Silence.
The cacophony of running men and women is silenced by the loud noise of a bomb. A slap on the cheek of a helter-skelter running child. A shock to permanently shut down the ensnared people. Death to the dying. Full stop to suffering.
Smoke, dust and relief make a beeline to pervade your senses. You swallow for the one last time and the salty taste of blood obliges you.
“Mi, water. Mi, water.”
When Fern’s cries go unheard while still tethered to Mi’s chest, for one last time she calls out, “Ba, water!”
Ba, her Abba, will he answer her?
Charles and Fern, both have been hemmed in between life and death. You, Fatima, watch them entangle the mesh of their karamat.Stabbed in the back by freak robbers, Charles has died on a random hospital bed. What he doesn’t realize is that he is beyond earthly existence yet not on his way to heaven. Quenching Fern’s thirst will liberate him. What he is searching for outside, he has to find within.
Waters of redemption.
The story that you began hearing will never end. It is my story. It is your story. It is our story. The story of karamat.
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