“Snuff out the lantern, you know I can’t sleep like this,” said Anahlia.
The room was lit in only partial darkness. Anahlia could only invite sleep upon being devoured by whole of it these days.
With her face cradled on her palms, Anzala let her gaze glide down the mirror. It descended from the curve of her forehead to the soft contour of her chin. A familiar fascination started clouding her face. Staring into the old vanity table mirror in an amused daze, she felt as if mirror returned her stares; praising every inch of her, but with a sort of lasting. Or longing. It baffled her each time. The shy dance of light and shadows, perpetrated by the fluctuating light of the lantern, played with Anzala’s face; its stale yellow glow, bringing a mystic lustre in her piecing dark brown eyes. While she explored her gorgeous features, she saw again, what Harun saw in her. The corner of her lips twitched up, manifesting the confused satisfaction that her whole being felt.
Every visit to the mirror felt anew. Like it was the first time. And despite the luring beauty she spied in the mirror, she could never stare into it for too long. Even though nothing changed, a fear lived in her heart. Fear that something would change. As if, if she kept looking closely for too long, her cheeks that sloped down the silky heaps of her cheekbones would turn hollow, like sucked into pits. Or as if the hands of the clock, like a mad ballerina, would swivel at such a speed that age would taint her smooth olive skin with wrinkles like crevices. Her fascination always morphed into aghast at this. It did yet again, making Anzala avert her eyes and blink to reality.
She realized Anahlia had called out her name several times, after she broke out of the daze muttering “alright, alright!.” Standing up, Anzala avoided meeting her elder sister’s eyes on her. She walked to the hanging lantern and extinguished the flame, introducing complete darkness into the room.
Each night the sisters would shut out all the electrical lights, turning on the soft lantern’s. They did so to give the parents an impression that they are still sleeping, as the dull light wouldn’t betray the illusion of darkness. Feeling her way to the futon on the floor, she laid next to her sister, cloaking herself under the folds of blanket.
Couple of minutes passed. She just laid with her eyes open, lost in a spell of thoughts. Thoughts of escape, and fantasies of living far far away.
“I don’t feel good, Anzala.”
Anahlia’s voice tore through the silence. It made her sister sit up immediately. In the dark, she made her steps navigate to the lantern, lighting it up. The faint familiar glow ignited the room.
“Wha… What happened? What’s wrong?” inquired Anzala stuttering and falling beside her sister on the mattress. She was never good at nursing situations, and feared that one is about to show up. Anahlia turned to face her.
Compared to Anzala’s sharp features, Anahlia was more on the soft side. Her round face was as if lit by only a hushed radiance, but some radiance was definitely there. Skin of hers was polished with a wooden tan as opposed to her sister’s olive. The softest feature were her eyes. Innocent like a doe’s, they were of the same colour as her sister’s and shaped like perfect almonds. Always glistening. Her nose was fixed down between them; soft and terse, but complete, unlike her lips. It seemed as if her crafter did the job on them in haste, leaving one corner smudged. Because of that, they looked a bit non symmetrical, plain too. On the whole, all her features spoke home. As though her face was the only field on which they could belong. Anahlia was attractive, but not as stunning as to turn heads, like her sister.
“The marriage… with Zahran, I don’t have a good feeling about it.” She spoke in her thin, soft voice, tucking strands of her brown hair behind her ears.
Anzala let out a loud sigh, worriment escaped her. She spoke in her cutting voice, “Zahran is a good man, Ana… Hey, don’t fret! He looks like a… Very manly man.”
“One picture. One picture is all I have to determine everything about him, Anzala. I can’t do it!” exclaimed Anahlia, softly so as to not wake their parents up in the neighbouring room.
“You willing to tell that to Abbu?” Seeing Anahlia bury her face in her pillow then, Anzala replied with a scoff, “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
Her recent motions made Anahlia’s blanket lower, letting Anzala spot the rust-coloured diary.
“You know what really is your problem?” she snatched the diary that Anahlia had been hugging absent-mindedly, and swung it in front of her face. “This! This and that stupid sketchbook of yours. They are it. Let go of him, Ana.” Anahlia’s eyes bulged out in terror and she immediately regained possession of her notebook, hugging it again. Her eyes dampened.
“We exchanged poetries in this, Anzala. You know that. So many promises, so many poems… laced with love. We drew up a realm of towering glass palaces together. Calling them dreams.” Anzala saw her sister closing her eyes as she relived those moments. “It’s all going to shatter, I know, I feel it. I… have lost hope. Now this would be the only token of remembrance I’d have of him after…” She let out a shuddering sigh, thinking of the marriage after two months. “I can’t lose this.”
To Anzala’s surprise, her sister didn’t say this in between sobs like she had expected. She let it all sink in, but she barely had any assurances to comfort her sister with. She always had been the one to ‘stick ’em with the pointy end.’
“No matter the eloquence those poems contain, they are now your past. He is your past, while Zahran, your future. Believe it or not, that is the truth. The sooner you start accepting it, and the sooner you let go of him, dear sister, the sooner would you move on. I know I am hitting you with the harsh truth and it sucks, but I can assure you of one thing. Hope is never lost, dear Ana. Long as life remains, so does hope.”
Anahlia absorbed Anzala’s daggers with a swallow of the lump in her throat. She took a deep breath and wiped the little tear that had just leaked. “Hope…” Saying it out loud then, it really hit her. She raised her lowered face, her doe-like eyes bulging out. “Yes Anzala, hope!”
Anzala stared at her sister’s now gleeful face with a contained confusion. “Huh?”
Anahlia’s eyes closed. Cherishing the words behind it, she recited her lover’s poem:
“If the palace of dreams I build for you,
By miseries unseen – do erode, love.
Hope still is not lost, for I live in you,
Rise, do not fall – just hope, my love.”
Anzala still glared at her cluelessly.
“Oh silly!” Anahlia held both of Anzala’s arms and shook her. “You’re right! Zahran could be the one… Maybe, Zahran too will see me the way he did. Maybe he will grasp the light in me too. Maybe he would keep it burning too; brighter maybe? I just have to hope! That’s what this means.” Seeing Anzala’s unsettled response, she knew how crazy she sounded. She still went on, sadly smiling this time, “Sometimes glass does shatter beautifully, no? Piling up into shapeless yet sparkling monuments.”
Anzala stared at her as if she was deranged, but then forced her expression to change to that of relief. “Yeah… I’m just glad you got what I said, at least.”
Anahlia smiled, shaking her head. “What about you, though? Do your dreams include that Harun?”
She found her sister blink, and then snicker. Anzala didn’t expect this. “That donkey? No way. Far from it. He’s just there for my uh… financial support.” She poked her elbow into Anahlia and giggled, absent-mindedly fiddling with anklet on her feet that Harun had bought her. She squinted at her sister and then said, “I am more of a rebel, Ana. You should know, I can’t live the life like you; timidly. On the boundaries they set.” She pointed towards their parents’ room. “My dream is simply to escape.” She blew into her hand, mimicking an explosion gesture at that.
Anahlia waited for her to go on but then realized that this was all she was getting out of her sister. Hearing only this hollowed her chest, but she did not let on. Little did she know, Anzala didn’t even need to look at Anahlia’s face to know how what she said made Ana’s heart fall into the pit of her stomach. She knew her sister too well. Anahlia just whispered a prayer in her heart, that fate may never snatch her sister from her the way Anzala wants fate to snatch.
If only she knew that her prayer would be accepted…
“Sleepy?” Anzala inquired. “No, I think I’ll… Write,” she heard Ana respond. “A poem?” Asked Anzala. “Yes… Relapse of Hope.” Anzala was the biggest fan of her sister’s poems. It was no secret. She lighted up. “Will you read it to me?” she asked excitedly. Anahlia glanced at her fingers, then raising her eyes, responded with a smiling nod. Anzala was on the verge of spilling her merriment when Ana shushed her saying, “if only you agree to slow dance to it the way you always do.” Anzala shrugged her shoulders and slurred deliberately. “Aye, suuure.” She had a vivacious grin plastered across her face.