It was the first night of Chilaikalan, she ventured out all by herself. In the stillness, a calm descended on her and she realized that this was her moment. It was at this unearthly hour, she could be her best. Treading across the alley, she could hear her footfall make soft marks on the snow only to be erased by a fresh spell till dawn. At the end of the dirt track, when the breath escaped her lips in visible puffs, she saw its silhouette glistening faintly. How reassuring was its presence, she thought. She sat there in her usual spot, under the century old Chinar. She was prepared to ramble all night. She had a new story for her confidant.
The days were difficult. She hated to be seen, she hated to be addressed. Every time someone called out to her, she would first pretend that she didn’t hear and if the confrontation became unavoidable she had to muster a lot of courage to put a few words together in response. As much as she tried to avoid human contact, their eyes followed her everywhere. Some were sympathetic by virtue of their ‘human nature’ while others were just curious. Why would an old hag draw such attention to herself?
Even when she was all by herself in her shack fumbling around, she could hear them snicker. They always talked about her in whispers loud enough to be heard, not even acknowledging her presence. She tried very hard to ignore, sometimes by averting her gaze and sometimes by pressing her fists against her ears till her knuckles were drained of blood. Sometimes she screamed and tried to drown the overbearing voices in her own noise.
As much as she tried she couldn’t make peace with her ‘new guests’. Other than this her life was simple; she ate when she felt hungry, washed when she felt dirty. Maybe to the world she seemed listless, but what did they know about her battles? All they had to offer were their sighs which reeked of pity, a hot meal every once a while which she knew was poisoned; and sometimes a pheran or a couple of winter clothes to choke her.
Her life had become like an old video tape which kept repeating the same horrific clip again and again. As the day melted into dusk with the maghrib prayers echoing from the mosque loudspeakers, the same vision petrified her. How many green uniforms did she see? She didn’t remember exactly but they were many. She was being dragged out, her back was burning against the gravel. She could feel his fist over her mouth, smothering her. And then three gun shots. They shot him. The rest that followed was hazy.
All that she knew was that the fauj killed her husband and within two years of marriage and four weeks of motherhood, Hameeda, yes that’s what they called her; was all alone in this world. How many days had passed since then? Or was it a month? Or some years? A lot of time must have passed, she couldn’t recognize the girl who sat in the frame beside her husband. Was it her? Or maybe it was just three days since her husband was killed and some Jinn was messing up with her mind.
That’s what everyone said when she started screaming at the walls and made a trip to the village Chinar every night. They got the Imam to pray and blow over her to get her rid of the Jinn, but all that was of no avail. She still had enemies but the Chinar was her only Confidant. Every night she walked to the Chinar and spoke of her grief. It stood there patiently listening to her, just like her husband would. Sometimes it even rustled its leaves in affirmation, she felt so safe in its presence.
To some, she was Hameeda who was possessed by an evil Jinn. To others she was Hameeda who had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And to her, Chinar she was a Storyteller.
This piece is a work of fiction.