It was a land where,
people wore masks around their
eyes, how they were fooled.
It was a land where,
It was a land where,
people wore masks around their
eyes, how they were fooled.
“Your father is dead” the boy of six said to the girl of four in front of him. His hair unruly, his eyes angry. He hated baby siting her. The back yard was empty now. The desolation had the feel of a circus that just moved on. The women in mourning. The occasional sob. They had just carried away his body. She watched as it happened.
Later she sat under the table. It was where his father wrote. They couldn’t move her. His mother forced him to sit with her. “Poor child. An orphan.” She didn’t think the children knew that much. “Your father died,” he said louder this time. He thought she couldn’t hear. She proved him wrong. She told him a story. Her father went away. He would come back. She just has to believe. “It didn’t happen,” she said.
Her hair grew as he grew taller. She still hid under the table. He still was the son of the town’s run away. His father was a thief. Some said he was a spy. He believed no one. “I will look for him,” he said. Together they played heroes. Together they ran around and played detectives. Together they found adventures in her newfound poverty. The writing table of her father found its way in the storage room.
Time flew. She should get married now. Her mother worried. Her mother’s hair had strands of silver in it now. The smell of her father still enveloped her. The table now eaten away by termites. She dreamt new dreams. Another image entered her vision. It was of the boy whose father was a run away. The boy had worn uniform now. He was away, he was needed at the border. The mothers planned the color of her dress.
It was the death anniversary of her father. She pretended to participate. How these fool knew nothing. Their mothers sat in the dying sun’s rays. The charpai inverted in mourning was now standing upright. Relatives came and ate. She felt time had ran backwards and her height became that of a four year. Her lips said the same thing. “It didn’t happen.”
As I sit in a well lit crowded store, waiting to be picked up. I look around one more time to say goodbye to those closer to me. Placed in shelves, new, and in perfect order are others like myself. They have different shapes such as round, rectangular and square. Before getting wrapped up in a piece of cloth and placed in a case like the soulless creature they think I am. My vision takes in this scene one last time.
Where I live is usually very crowded place as people come every day. At night, when it’s all empty, my friends keep me company. They, just like me are waiting to be chosen and taken away. As there are those that are said goodbye to, every day, others are welcomed back. They are the battered ones due to the negligence of humans.
Look, in the front of the store, the lady comes in and is asking for repair. Asked to wait, she sits down and is now showing the lady next to her, the damage. My friend there is broken in half with one lens taken out while the other, I notice to my utmost horror have a crack. I find those abhorrent who can’t take care of the one thing that is going to help them see. Oh my poor friend, well I hope to be well taken care of.
The door opens again and this time she comes in, one who is supposed to take me away. The humans exchange pleasantries as I gather courage and then off we go. The man on the counter examines me one last time, wraps me off in the case and as it closes, my alert senses listen. Of humans talking, cars passing by, the sound of loud foot steps.
The case opens and I feel excited as my anticipation heightens for what others reaction might be. I do consider myself to be pretty handsome. The shine of my lens fitted inside a black frame gets me quite some looks from people. I am made to make others see the world in a more clearer and better way.
The case opens and a hand lifts, unwraps and wears me. In front of a mirror, I meet for the first time the eyes that will be guided by me. My square body fits the face of the human perfectly, I look fantastic. Wait, what? before I can even admire myself in the mirror she runs outside.
She enters a medium sized square room with a dark brown bookshelf and two beige colored sofas adjacent to one wall. I come face to face with the family as they all sit down to eat. As her head turns I take in all the eyes and the frames covering them. Ofcourse! even after moving out, I have to share space with others like me.
It’s the middle of the night and the world sleeps. The dark and dreary atmosphere and this quietness is scary. I hang upside down suspended by my leg. So disrespectful! I am not used to this treatment. One mistake and …wait… The floor feels so cold.
Mr Banks worked at a Bank. A stingy man who trusted only what he saw. He believed neither in ghosts nor spirits. His eyes could not decipher any being other than what surrounded him. When they all talked about feelings. He said you body only needed organs. The parentless, familyless, friendsless, Mr Banks.
One day he went out to buy snacks, as was his daily routine. On his way to the snack shop, he stopped. “Where is this noise coming from?” he muttered to himself. He looked ahead and caught the sources for the commotion. Two young boys fighting.
Both pale with bloody mouth and one had a bruised eye. For a summer afternoon their clothes were a maddening affair in themselves. One might look at them and wonder, if they were actors. Who pretended to be soldiers fighting in WWI.
“Oh great!a midday brawl! What’s with the youth of today.” You see Mr Banks was of the quiet sorts. He was a banker and his time was money. He minded his own business and enjoyed his own company. He scoffed at the youths and shook his head and kept walking. However, as he passed them by, a voice stopped him. “You can see us right?.”
He looked back and saw one of the boys staring at him. The boy hurried towards him. His hair matted to his forehead. “What do you want?” said the old man. “I have no time for this.” He flailed his hands as if in a play. “See you? Of course I can. I can.” His hands waved from one direction to the other. “They can. Everyone can.” Mr Banks says pointing towards the people passing.
Only he forgot to see that in mid afternoon, the street was empty and the sky full of clouds. There was no one except for an elderly walking his dog. A car parked at the end of the street. The place was almost empty.
The boy who ran towards him had a desperation in his eyes. Looking at him one was reminded of a calm waters. Mr Banks thought of his brother. A boy who died. Suddenly his vision blurred. He blinked three times. It became clearer.
“So you can see me right? Thank God!.” The boy standing near him turned towards his companion. A tall boy with whom he fought. Whose face had a cut and shirt drenched with sweat. On whose eye were glasses thick. A young version of Mr Banks, one would presume. “I told you we will be able to find someone.” The other fellow who had watched without flinching, scoffed. “I am leaving,” then turned and walked away, disappearing halfway into thin air.
Mr Banks grew impatient. He wanted nothing more but to go back. His appetite ruined and so was his mood. The first boy who asked Mr Banks first, now ran after the other boy. He momentarily held Mr Banks’ jacket. “please sir! Can you wait here please.” Sprinting after the other boy, his body too disappeared in thin air. Mr Banks started to walk towards his bank. “What a day,” said Mr Banks. Overhead clouds darkened and it started raining.
From the mountains of war torn village, the night had crept into the room. Two bodies stood against a wall. Her long hair caressed the surface of his face. Their lips touched. His hands traced her back. She felt the hair raising on her neck. It was a new feeling, being touched gently. The goosebumps on her arms made her shiver. She closed her eyes. The roughness of his calloused hands. The feel of his lips against her skin. She opened her eyes.
“Stop,” she said. He stopped. “I can’t,” her voice was barely audible. In that moment of halted intimacy she felt glad that she couldn’t see his face. The nights’ darkness and the absence of a lamp made him almost invisible. He took a step back. She wanted to reel him in. “You’ll leave and I won’t be able to get out of it.” He looked at her as if in a daze.
The sudden silence was broken by a lone gun shot. They both looked instinctively at the door. Any minute now. The army of the enemy liked every door to be opened. Then his eyes locked on her. Her rejection made him feel used. “Do you not like me any more?” He asked. She shook her head. It was not that.
Her eyes looked away. She wanted to run to hide, but couldn’t bring her self up to it. A lone tear garnished her cheek as she looked at him. “I can’t be with you because I like you too much.” she rested her palm on her chest, where her heart was beating, “I won’t be able to piece it back together after you go.”
“Where will I go?” his voice dejected. Shaking his head he walked back to the bed and sat down. His military jacket hung in the back. The smoke from his cigarette blurred her figure standing in the corner. You take after your father, he shook his head. An old memory had popped up. His arms still bore marks of the love of his father
She took at step at him but with her fists clenched moved back. The suitcase in the others room, the deafening silence. His house reeked with the possibility of inevitable separation. She woke up with the white sheets clenched in her hands. The suitcase was gone.
Mrs Park’s scream rang across the living room to the study where her husband was reading the news paper. He looked at his wife and smiled. Oh how he’d fallen in love with her all over again. There she was, all four inches of fur and a pink nose. Her ears stood erect as she held the frying pan in her hands. Her tail swept behind her feet.
“Want happened love?” he asked his wife of four months. “I… I… it’s them. The humans!” She shrieked again. They both braced them selves as the roof over their head rumbled and the sound…oh the sound. It felt like a chorus of skeletons rattling at a funeral. Something was happening and she didn’t like it.
Worried for his wife’s health–she was expecting– Mr Park held he close as the next time it happened. “What is this god forsaken thing?” she exclaimed. What they didn’t know was that it was a form of entertainment. Music it was called by those who lived above… sorry with them.
The humans and the rats have shared space in the big bad city of New York for so long that Mr Park– a native– never bothered. It was his wife whom he’d met one day at the subway station near the Brooklyn bridge, who still couldn’t understand it. He still remembered that day. How her eyes gleamed as she took in the new city. She was from a small farm in Alabama. Far from the fast life style of the Big Apple.
How did they meet? Well it was the trick of this music that she now so readily despises that brought them together. As they locked eyes from a distance– him in the tracks and she on the platform– someone rudely pushed her. How insensitive! She still fumes at it despite being told that it’s normal. “But how can they do this?” she’d often exclaim indignantly. And you don’t want to know what her reaction was when told humans thought rats to be filthy.
“Filthy! us have you looked at them. Half of them can’t see.” She didn’t know that what she thought of as an impairment was just excessively looking at mobile screens while walking, resulting in running into each other.
It grew silent now, both of them heaved a sigh of relief. Mr Park went to his news paper while his wife sat by him knitting. Her mind wandered to the cozy, quietness of back home. While her husband straightened his glasses, sat down and continued reading. Outside of their home, through the window a ship could be seen coming through the ocean. Bringing with it new humans as well as a new crop of rats with their hearts in the right place.
Sun was journeying towards the west. Evening shadows were deepening. Some were walking on the side walk. Kids played ball. Some ran and the others sat on the stairs of the apartment building. Sun’s dying rays reflected on the glass door of the building.
She stood behind it. One of her hands held the leash. They other closed the mail box. No letter. No cards. The film of tears in the eyes. Eyebrow frowned. Jaw clenched. She looked at her feet. A brown colored animal with big eyes looked at her. It’s eyes had forever held the look of bewilderment. “Let’s go,” she said.
“Who hit him,” her voice rang as loud as it once did in a class room. The white in her hairs contrasted the red of her face. Everyone stopped. Some shook their heads. Some walked on. Others watched brazenly from the window. It was not the first time. She picked up the small creature and gently touched it’s black nose. “I’ll complain to your parents.”
Clock struck eight. Silence enveloped the surrounding. Only the clutter of utensils sounding. “She came again,” it was the mother. “No wonder no one talks to her, she blamed my son for hitting her dog.” The man nodded. T.v in the background. Mother asked kids to turn the volume down.
The clock struck ten. She looked out the window. Room was enveloped in the sound of silence. On the back wall their was an old movie poster. She lit up a cigarette. A tune slipped her lips. An old memory resurfaced. You can’t sing. Pick up a respectable job.
The clock struck two. Her eyes closed slightly. A black nose rested on her arm. She breathed slowly. Her lips held on to the tune. Her eyes formed the same dream. A mike. People clap. Curtain falls.
She distinctly remembered the first time she’d first felt it, like a small animal that first stirred but later gaining strength forced to claw itself out of her. The day of her midterm exam, as soon as the Professor shut the door she knew there was no escape. It wasn’t new yet this time was different, her senses heightened and heart palpitated as fast as if she’d ran a marathon all the while sitting in her seat. It wasn’t just the exam she’d run off from that day, it was her fear. So what brought you here today? Her therapist asked as she sat with her father. “I don’t know” she said while trying to hide her inner self. It was an ordinary day when she decided to seek help.
“It feels foreign, being an immigrant in a new country. I had to learn it all again,” she said one day after weeks of talking about things that didn’t matter. The silence in the room began to weigh in on her. Say something! She reminded her self. What? What do I say? She responded to her own inner voice. It has became a habit of sorts, one that she became so accustomed to that even siting in a crowd never felt lonely.
“The last time I left the house on my own was…” She paused mid sentence. Looking down at the paper all she could see were the imperfections. The writing that looked like it’d been written by a toddler holding a pen with their feet. So how’s everything at home? “It’s fine, she said. I can’t sleep, I feel trapped and scared. She looked up and looked around, her thoughts scared her.
As the sound of rain disturbed the absolute silence, she sat in her bed thinking about tomorrow. It was a habit of hers, being a night owl that she was, to talk to herself as everyone slept. As she looked around in the room she shared with her family, the silhouette of three sleeping bodies became apparent. The curtain dividing the bed room from the living room was slightly moved from its place, hence allowing the light from the kitchen to softly peek into the room. She loved this time of the night when it was just her alone with her thoughts. Lately as the different sounds outside made it harder for her to focus, she found peace in knowing that soon night will fall.
“Tomorrow I have to go outside.” She reminded her self again with firm resolute. But it was the pleading sound in her head that deterred her resolve Please not now it’s too soon. How about two days later? But this time she was sure. “It has to happen tomorrow.” As the night passed her eyes became weary from tiredness. Determined not to fall asleep, she started staring at the ceiling. The glow in the dark stickers shaped in the form of stars weakly smiled at her. They were the reminder of those that had lived in this room before her. She remembered stepping her foot for the first time in this room that became her refuge in dark times. The owner before renting the apartment didn’t renovate it hence her family inherited all that came with it. The unhinged door, paint chipping off of the walls and these stickers. “Once I have my own place…” the thought immediately was counter rejected by a second thought, “may be not now a few years later.”
Walking out to the door, she recalled the number of times when she’d walked the same path. It was the same path through which she came in upon arriving in this country. It was also the same path that had seen her father’s drooping shoulders and her mother worried eyes. It had witnessed the hospital trips as well as impromptu visits to the mall. She thought to herself while approaching the door “Why does it feel so new now?” It never felt so foreign now as all of her senses heightened. She felt the cold breeze coming from the slightly open door of her apartment building. Her foot felt slightly uncomfortable in her shoes. “Is this the right fit?” The fear inside her was taking over, she tried to brush it off. “May be now is not the right time.” Her grip on the door handle loosened.
It was a dark night in December. Mother had just called in for dinner. She had made pulao. It was made with vegetables cut squarely. The room was lit, all lights were on and mother spoke with father on the telephone. He was in America. The three children, one of whom went to open the door, waited for her to finish. The door was beaten furiously by their neighbor. “What did he say?” Asked father, he sounded worried. Even when so far way, his voice was worried. “Nothing,” replied mother. She was standing near the computer table.
It was just the time when computers were a new invention. The smell wafting from the kitchen, mother crying silently as she picked her clothes. The children stood silent, their uncle passed away. The rain had left the streets shiny, which magnified their blackness. The mother had left, house was empty. No, the three children, were they forgotten? The older one was a girl, she was afraid, the middle one was calm, the younger one she was more energetic. Mother didn’t leave she children, father didn’t abandon them, they were both gone for a while. The older one was hungry before, she couldn’t eat now. The rice were cold.
Door bell rang, they are not alone. It’s the cousins, one boy, one girl, who came to get them. They will all go to the house where her mother has gone. There is a funeral. The older child is still afraid, she looks into the eyes of her male cousin. It’s filled with tears. His eyes mimicked the road. They are walking now. The wind is howling, trees loom over them like giants whose feet are embedded in the ground. Long branches look like their hands protruded out. They are walking. The streets are abandoned, and dark. It’s night time, everyone is sleeping. As they approach the street where his uncle lived, where mother is, it’s lit with street light. The sound of wailing hung in the air. The older one clutches on to the arm of her cousin. She feels her heart beating very fast. The crying scared her, the howling wind scared her, the trees scared her. Fear has seeped into her pores from the falling rain and shook her bones. She didn’t want to walk. They entered the street, they entered the house. The lights were on. People. So many people. The wailing started again. Someone was sitting on the floor. It was the house of the deceased.
It was late in the night and dark in the room. Everyone was sleeping but for those who spoke outside. They said the dead body was coming. The uncle died because of tumor. I prayed so much, she thought. The older child was facing the wall while she tried to speak. Why the wall was so dark, she felt ants running on her body. Her fear crawled over her skin and engulfed her whole. She cried. Night creeped slowly but soon on the darkened wall rays of light battled for space. The outside was filled with people. An empty casket was placed in the back yard. Soon people would pitch a tent to bathe the dead. It was the preparation for his farewell. There was a branch near the casket. They said it helped the dead. Women had Quran in hands. Some read and cried. Some sat and gossiped. She walked around the mourners. The day light made the scene less scary.
“Come beta, read this.” Someone had thrusted the holy book in her hand. She started reading. The words to help the dead. She felt the urge to run. There were too many people. “The ambulance is here.” The morning sun saw her peeking through the window of the room she slept in. The dead, the people, the crying, the pain, all was separated from her. There was another girl with her. She was their neighbor. “Don’t worry,” she smiled, “I don’t like it either.” The mourners mourned, the casket carried out. The sons of his uncle stood out on the door way. Their tall, thin frames and faces like that of their father bore an expression of both fatigue and pain. The eyes were never dry, even when they stood alone, or when shook hands with those who came.
It’s evening. The birds are flying home in group. A month has passed. “I saw him again last night.” She sat with her mother, talking. “Uncle flew to the sky and came back. He gave me ice cream,” she smiled. They were peeling peas in the garden, preparing for night’s meal.The call of prayer sounded nearby. Her mother and she walked inside.