“What scares you, friend?”
Neglecting now the slicing cold, I ran.
I sighed and suddenly felt my chest and throat on fire, as if replaced with the breast of a dragon. My lungs too were inflamed. I bent, rested my palms on my knees and tried to catch my breath, still looking at the nimbus of light above the opened-up skull of the sports stadium. Ignis fatuus, I thought, and chuckled with a shudder.
Night maunders thick,
Blotched with dim-lit stars that yet bother to strain.
Barking, howling dogs; crickets chirping in distance,
Dreary streets lit only by sullen lights
Of not the moonless sky.
Heaths lay bleared;
Some anchor is this night – its very air awry.
A grim reminder of a once successful transaction,
Now beyond expiration
(26th’s marked on the calendar; oh now I see, now I see).
With vile breath,
I taint the air murmuring your name.
A name so divine – chunk of lead on my tongue –
Gulped by the leering air around –
Left behind are trails of scathed susurrus now.
Glistening tears simmer,
Underneath sheaths of these wretched eyes
That once worked like that of a basilisk,
Snuffed out vapid are now, like that of a man blind;
Lonely I’d lie again tonight.
Skies fall not, bearing weight of all stars,
They hold this combat between light and dark.
The deeper the night creeps…
The brighter is the stellar yield,
Some peace instills this celestial war.
You would always find her eyes uncovered; rarely blinking. Those otherworldly orbs, on display for the world to see. Sheer blackness in them, in contrast to all the colors that actually formed her. You should be, and maybe you unknowingly would be grateful that her gaze flutters everywhere but to your eyes. No blitz of thunder at your heart to strike.
Sometimes you would find her on the streets, walking hand in hand one day in one’s company, another day in another’s. A realm of angelic grace she would be. Calmly, easily, vigilantly would she take her steps, as if time itself sought refuge under her unseen kingdom – and who knew, maybe it did… You would also find bewitched strangers, hustling and making way for her to pass on as if she were royalty. A feathery thank you would roll out on her tongue and she would walk on, hand in hand, turning a blind eye to everyone… Unaware as to how baffled had she left those faces behind.
Some miracle was she. This girl, Safa – innocent, demure. Extracting joy in even the most mundane of tasks. Like all of a sudden she would stand on her feet, would raise both her arms up, hoping to accidentally touch the ceiling, without even realizing that she had become an immediate cynosure in the room. Then would giggle shyly lowering her vision as her cheeks heated up – when would be informed that everybody was watching her. Some descended fairy Safa was.
You would find her to be the breaker of worldly trends. Not only everyone but everything loved Safa. The sky especially. On some days, in her mind, skies would turn lilac with yellow stars; the shy sun would first hesitate, then refuse to come out altogether, hence the mornings would be dominated by the crispy moon. She would picture the sky bursting in mulberry gradients at other times – though unaware what the shade mulberry actually looked like – and festooned with juicy clouds that hovered heavily. Despite Safa’s absurd imaginations, the sky would never, could never curse her, nor release showers over her. She would somehow always get a predilection for rain. Always.
The way she smiled, ah! That was real – those curves and stretches of her lips that resembled smiles of a migrated traveller returning home decades later. And Safa’s would make the winds gallop, tripping over themselves for a fleeting sight of her. The whole world and everything in it pampered her…
And yet at times, unbelievably, she would turn into a human too…
… So naturally that you wouldn’t believe your eyes. One second she would be sitting over there – waiting – staring with glazed eyes at a wall, then gradually would fall under the spell of sleep; her celestial disguise slipping, like the evanescence of a dream. Her head would be leaning against the rest, her dark mane a messy nest, her mouth ajar; a string of drool leaking from its corner. How mundane, how ordinary would Safa seem.
There would similarly be days when Safa would be found ransacking her knapsack, feeling her hands around for something she cannot find. Frustated then, she would cuss indecently under her breath. If you would be lucky enough to hear that, you would find her so earthly in that moment; so mortal. An angel fallen from grace.
… You would also realize that only she could make those words sound cute. But that acknowledgement would come second – for obvious reasons.
Lights illumined with dignity, would ballet in Safa’s vicinity. If you really possessed eyes, you could watch the lights in the room desperately writhe and burn, performing arabesques and whatnot. All of that, just to grasp her attention, and yet they would fail. She had not, eyes for the ordinary. What Safa saw, others did not; could not…
And nor could she see the things others did see. Yet she would seem so accustomed to the revolving world, navigating with such ease that you would never learn at first glance, of her destitution of sight… Her blindness Safa carried not as a burden, not as a source of pity, but as a debt of this universe to her. Its wondrous compensations she accepted heartily; blissfully.
… But that never meant she wouldn’t give anything within a blink of an eye to watch the sky just one more time.
Continued from part one…
The next three weeks saw Anzala’s fantasies of her escapes frequent all the more. This had fuelled her rebelliousness. She no longer felt fascinated by the cheap thrills around. Untaken roads, undiscovered strangers, unsolved puzzles; these aroused thrill.
No one could have predicted but this passage of time was what had been the roots for future ailments to come…
When Anzala’s interest for the mundane chores too evaporated, all the workload fell onto Anahlia’s shoulders.
“You’re getting married in no time, better get used to it.” Anahlia’s parents told her, and yet she complied, swallowing down complains. She convinced herself of the belief that no matter the strains of those days, Zahran would treat her like a queen. She deserved it, did she not? After all the poems and verses of love she had etched down in her diary and after all the sketches in her sketchbook for him, she did deserve it. Any cognitive man would have fallen for her after all those dedications.
What kind of a man Zahran was, she knew not.
Oblivious to the creeping dawn outside, Harun had been sprawled out on his bed. Eyes half awake and tinged with red. The pounding of his heart rung in his ears, accentuated by the photograph in his hands. It was of Anzala.
His heavy kohl-rimmed eyes couldn’t help but repeatedly travel the length of her unmoving yet pulsing beauty. She had him mesmerized since first sight. With intoxication seeping into his features, Harun admired her. Worshipped her rather – each night as the world around lay unconscious. Anzala and her pictures were the perpetrators of Harun’s sleepless nights and he used to complain not one bit. But her recent disinterest in Harun made him restless. He felt ominous.
“You still are all mine,” Harun thought and laughed shyly, deliriously. His laugh resembled a donkey’s bray he realized, and recalling Anzala call him donkey made him laugh even more.
Harun tossed and turned, explicitly being tickled by amalgamated thoughts for Anzala; of both growing panic and insatiable desires. He extended his arms, her photo still in his hands, “your devil eyes, your angel face. Mine Anzala… Mine.”
Ogling at her picture desperately then, terrific thoughts reached his mind. His eyes glazed over. He stared into nothingness, and blinkingly then, got his focus returned.
“If you won’t be mine, you would be no one’s, Anzala.” Harun whispered in a deranged manner.
He dropped her photograph on the floor then. Like a hovering leaf in the wind it swayed as it fell, finally resting over the sea of other photographs of Anzala. Hundreds of them.
The rising sun burning in his face made Harun draw the drapes and lay to sleep.
That afternoon, the sun blazed. Amidst the thin crowd of people stood Harun, wearing his skull backpack, nervously waiting outside the girl’s college for Anzala. Her sight, that would quench his spiritual thirst. Bodily one was barely any concern at that moment.
Half an hour swept and yet there was no sign of Anzala. Harun deduced that she probably took a day off, and wiping the sweat off his brows, he sighed and walked back to his car.
Taking the long way back, like Anzala always did was distressing for him, but regardless of that he did. Trying once again to understand her perspective of this world, he attempted looking at things through her eyes. The trees only seemed like trees, not freaks that shakingly laugh like old men as they stealthily monitor human activity. Decaying buildings were no ruins of future, but a mess to look at. Wild alley cats were dirty beings instead of savvy supernatural savages, and the wailing beggars were a disdainful sight rather than heavenly.
Just then, he stopped abruptly in his tracks, his backpack lightly slamming against his back. Earlier look of scorn wiped off his face when he found an ancient-looking beggar leaning against an alley wall, accompanied by the mesmeric form of… Anzala.
He stood there shocked, watching her from a distance. She sat in her uniform, both unwary and uncaring of all the eyes that were on her. She was feeding the ragged, heavily-bearded man from her lunchbox, and making him drink from her water bottle. As he swigged the drink, the decrepit man’s eyes, like pools of whiskey, rippled; and tears flowed in the shape of gratitude for Anzala. But Anzala, oh she just smilingly stared at the man – at his wrinkles as if they were paths on a treasure map.
This made Harun cringe. He reached up and called out to Anzala, making the old man squirm. Anzala looked up at him without a waver on her smiling lips. Just the softness of her eyes turned piercing, forcing Harun to avert his gaze. “Get up, and come over here,” said he.
As she prepared to rise, the beggar gripped her hand tightly, staring hysterically at Harun and then looking back at Anzala, furiously nodding sideways. “It’s okay, baba. He’s with me, I’ll be fine.”
Her reassurances were of no use as the mute beggar whimpered for her to not go with him, and Anzala had to be forced up by Harun’s grip on her hand. Away from everyone’s eyes, they went deeper into the alley. Anzala freed herself of his grip and exclaimed with a contained fury under her cutting voice, “do not touch me again, donkey.”
Harun’s eyes hovered over her angry face and yet he found her ravishing. He found himself spellbound first, and then soften. No photograph of hers in this state did he possess.
“I waited outside your college… You weren’t there.” With his shyness returning, he spoke softly.
“I bunked college to stroll the streets.” She shrugged swiftly.
“Bunked college?” Harun cried out in surprise. At her intimidating gaze then, he shook his face. “What has happened to you, my dear Anzala? You used to… be interested in me,” whispered he.
Her mocking glare pierced through his eyes and he blinked sharply. Realization sunk within him. “But… I love you so much, Anzala.”
Anzala sighed heavily, throwing her hands in the air.
“Look Harun, you do not love me. You love this pretty face of mine. This face, that is not even me! My dumb ignorant friend, how do I tell you? I am not these contours, these edges. I am not this skin and smudges. I… I look at myself in the mirror and can’t stand to watch the same features that used to amaze me back then. This face, this body, doesn’t feel like it’s me, Harun. These unmerited burdens came to me; I didn’t traverse any mountain to earn them. No, this is an illusion, for I am something deep. These few weeks, I feel as if I have changed and developed. I grew up. In this tiny stay, I feel like I can last a forever. Something unseen, something soulful has always been calling me, and I have a chance to grasp it. These whispers of the breeze, rustling of the trees, floating of the clouds, they are calling me, and I… I am lured towards their arcane voices. I know you don’t get this, but maybe, maybe you someday will… That I have a pulsating soul within that needs its food, friend.
“You search for God at the end of a prayer mat and that is absolutely right. I am not faithless, I believe in all that, trust me. But you, all of you seem so oblivious of the fact that He is elsewhere too! I have… I saw a reflection of God in the face of that beggar, Harun. It’s crazy, but I see it in nature too. These mysteries, even I don’t get fully, but they overwhelm me. I want this side of world to swallow me – I want to lose myself. Trade my face for anyone’s, I don’t care. You’ll have to fall for another pretty face, Harun – you can’t have me. As long as the flare within me burns, as long as my dreams do not shatter, I don’t think anyone can.”
Harun stood in awe, staring agape at her as if a jinn had possessed her. Anzala seemed to be too much engrossed in her own speech to notice him. She was transcended into fantasies with the daggers of her eyes, blunt for once; unfocused.
“I… Did think that you might not accept me, but I didn’t imagine you would become this… ungrateful sinner. You are so beautiful on the outside, by God, but something vile and ugly has gotten inside you.”
Anzala smiled sadly, expectantly, at Harun’s flabbergasted comments, but she did not mind. She just pursed her plain yet striking lips. For the first time had she voiced her fantasies like this and she felt ecstatic. Her words were no longer going along with her spirit – they were becoming her spirit.
Harun clenched his jaw, and he, for the first time stared at whole of her Venus fair face unyieldingly; unrelentingly. For a near minute, his sight on her face lingered in absorption, as if he was memorizing her features.
… And he was, for since that day, along with the lustre in those burnt honey eyes, the flare of her soul too had been snuffed out, like a melted candle that would never light again.
“I have a parting gift for you,” Harun whispered softly.
… Procured the acid bottle from his bag then swiftly…
Before Anzala could even blink to reality…
He emptied it on her face, achingly.
While the acid ate away her skin, Anzala felt fiery pain. And yet it was not as much as that of the evanescence of her dreams.
To be continued…
“Snuff out the lantern, you know I can’t sleep like this,” said Anahlia.
You are flawed, so what? So were all the saints and saviours that passed before you. Maybe you would turn out to be one too. Oh no, not for the whole world, not even for a cluster of people, but for just one even – for whom you’d make this world not only look, but seem like a world.
Why don’t you see? There is beauty in you that makes the stars blast out so far away in the darkness of the night, makes volcanoes burst out in flames and erupt, makes thunders lose their calm inside their clouds; all that because they cannot ever be you.
How envious are they all. That’s the kind of beauty you possess, and you make all of these wonders of nature fall for you. I swear you do. They don’t have a mouth but they speak. I have heard the promises of love in the agonizing roarings of the sea. And you do see the flickers of fire in its stares upon you, do you not? That’s envy; that’s its lust for your inside-out beauty. Don’t you see how badly it wants to consume you? Give it a chance and it will incinerate you. What? You think that it’s the winds that purge those flickers in fire? Well then darling, who is it that drives those winds crazy…?
Yes, you. Look at the madness that you instill in nature. How does it feel to be the reason behind all of that? Spectacular, no?
You don’t need to be clad with emerald necklaces and diamond rings, love. You always were beyond all of that. You are a realm of undiscovered supernovas that just can’t be spotted by all of our vile mortal eyes.
Just… Fall in love with yourself. Trust me, you are the only one who sincerely can. You do that, and maybe the world would shut its Pandora’s box for you, and maybe you will find someone celestial with nebulas in their eyes, and a universe under their vessel; someone who can embody your galaxies within them. Someone who will share your dreams and live inside them, alongside you.