She smacked the table and left the thud restless. This is the beat of her life too — restless.
She grabs her red sling bag with golden-shackle-shaped long strap and leaves to meet the daily rumours about the uncertain death of Faiz. Faiz, her Faiz. Faiz with a poetic grin and effulgent smile. Faiz with gestures of a lover and face of a scholar. He had always alluded her with his poetic skills. The narration, the tone of his voice, those long drags of smoke, and the random frolicking with his hair. Everything was poetic about Faiz.
Faiz is a poet indeed. He is a poem in himself, she smiles.
“Don’t wait for me for dinner, I might get late tonight,” Aiman yells to her mother from the corridor. Since the day when Faiz went missing this has been her routine; never had lunch with her family and dinner, an uncertain probability. Her mother is now accustomed to this haphazard life of her daughter. She does not mind. She is a mother. She knows the restless beat of her daughter’s heart.
“Don’t forget your lunch, you have grown so miserable,” her mother calls out with an undertone of utter despair.
“Don’t worry Amma, I won’t. Goodbye.” she bids her daily adieu and leaves for nowhere!
It is the commencement of autumn in Kashmir and leaves have already started to rustle. The summer music has begun to fade. Mornings have become hazy and dry. The women of the vale are ready with brooms and small tarpaulins to gather up the dry leaves for winters. Winters are harsh here in Kashmir. They are the souvenirs of a bleak past.
Snow highlights the blood blots.
Aiman and Faiz, they had met in one of the coffee shops along the banks of the Dal. It was a strange meet though, both were sipping their coffees with the same book resting on their tables ‘The country without a post office’ by Agha Shahid Ali.’ It is a book about a place where even the postcards were curfewed. This book later became the relic of their love story. They never knew this beautiful coincidence would hold a macabrely to it.
Aiman passes at Lal Chowk and starts for the Jehlum Bund where her unfinished love is doing rounds and oozing out the smell of Faiz’s skin. She loves it here. The Jehlum, the houseboats down in the river, the little rose garden, the pigeon coop with a single pair of pigeons, the dried up Chinars, the smell of the nearby tea stall, the rowing Shikara and an underprocess bridge. Everything whispers to her about Faiz.
“Give me a place like this in your heart and I will never die.” Faiz had once stated while holding her pale hands.
“I know you are alive somewhere, my heart knows but where should I look for you?” she mumbles to herself while thrusting back her tears. She has become so weak. But love makes you believe the unbelievable. It has been two years since the day of Faiz’s disappearance. But she still dreams of his return. A miraculous return, but a return nevertheless.
When the sun drops its arms, casts a horizontal crimson streak along the canvas of the day-long azure, when the whiffs of cold breeze soothes the soreness of her eyes, when the warble of the revenant birds announce the end of the day and the beginning of the night; she sits on the window ledge of her room and dreams about a boy sitting on the Ghat No. 13 of the Dal Lake with a grim look on his face. A boy with dreamy eyes with black cloak exaggeratingly stretched to his knees, hair untidily drooping over his frowned forehead. The guy noticing every shallow ripple in the stagnant waters of the lake. This is Faiz, her Faiz. She dreams about him in the utter phantasm. She prays for the return of her love.
As the dusk falls in the mountains, the bell rings and prisoners begin to return to their respective cells. Faiz is there too. Yes, Aiman’s Faiz. In the mid-summer of 2006 the busy city- centre Lal Chowk was bustling with the rush of locals and tourists. In Kashmir, summers are the peak season for tourists. The people of plains and the foreigners as well love to spend their holidays in the pleasant lap of the Kashmir vale. It was Friday, the blessed and sacred day of the week for Muslims. The day when the faithful make special arrangements for the mid-day prayers. Faiz had also made a plan to visit the shrine of Makhdoom Sahab.The shrine is located along the tangential boundary of the Hariparbat hillock.
Faiz departed from Lal Chowk and started looking for the incense sticks amongst the street vendors. He had done this in his childhood to when he used to visit the mausoleum with his father. He would get some incense sticks and kindle them at the embroidered door of the shrine. At Amira Kadal, his eyes fixated at a stall heaped with the multicoloured boxes of perfumes and fragrances.
“How much for that yellow one?” he asked the vendor. In between the pros and cons, a sudden roaring sound shook the bridge under his feet. People started to run for cover. Some even fell into the water running under the bridge. The air was heavy, filled with dust, gunpowder, blood and the fragrances Faiz had been looking for. But Faiz did not run, he couldn’t. His legs were all numb and giddy. His eyes were hazy in a state of fear and awe. At a closer distance, some army men were shouting abuses, roaring in the sundry emotions of fear and hate. They were running frantically towards this frozen, statue-like young man.
“Freeze, you motherfucker. Freeze,…freeze” they were yelling at him till they grabbed his collar and thrust him into the back of their mine proof vehicle. He became the mistaken suspect.
That day the sun left him forever.
That was a long time ago, or so felt Faiz. Now he doesn’t know where he is. No inmate has known the location of this place yet. No court trials or anything related to the lawful imprisonment. All they know about this place is a heaven for the rodents. They generously feed on the rotten bodies of the starved prisoners. Faiz is crumbling too. The hope that one day he would get away from this inferno is fading away too. He is a dead meat now. He’s been deprived of everything that he once adored; the stench of urine and puss has devoured the warm fragrance of her Aiman’s skin, the regular torture and labour has damaged the memories that he once shared with her along the Bunds of Jehlum. But the Aiman’s radiance is always there, cosy in the dark corners of his cell.
He remembers everything or so he believes. His mind has become the tapestry of unwoven threads. He misses his room; the window sill where he had once sat with Aiman and had discussed the dead in the graveyard down along their adjacent main street.
“I want to be buried there. Right at the left corner adjacent to that little Chinar,” she’d said.
He remembers the diary and the pen Aiman had gifted him on their first rendezvous.
“Write me,” she had said.
Faiz remembers everything about Aiman. She has been a firefly in the numb nights of the prison. Nightmares, regular torture, unhygienic food, abuses and humiliation. Nothing could deform the existence of her face. Aiman, his Aiman. Whilst everything else was fading away, her molecules remained intact with the walls of-of his memory. She is a strong fragrance.
What for am I alive now? he mumbles in a stifled sob.
In one of the corners of his dark cell, there are heaps of scraped papers scribbled with the frantic words that his mind sometimes allows him to quote. There are poems, elegies, snippets and even a single word stories.
“AIMAN,” one of his scrap paper reads.
“ANXIETY ENDS. ANXIETY ENDS. THIS IS WHAT A GRAVE SINGS TO ME.” reads one of his snippets.
At nights when the deep silence stifles the sobs and cries of the prisoners, he howls to the moon and beseeches her for wings. He shows her the scars that his life has inflicted on him.
“Dear moon, you are beautiful but curse you! You can’t heal my scars like Aiman did. You can’t be my beloved. I’m here in this dark chamber writhing in pain, even my cries have dried up now and you are up there shining as if nothing has happened. You can’t be my Aiman. Have you seen her? How is she? Is she still asking the wayfarers about me?”
And this was their last conversation.
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