Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Deathly Desire - Part I

This is a story that will form part of my inter connected collection. It's unlike previous ones I've posted, in that it is a fairly long tale. I will post it in two installments. Many of my stories were inspired by poems. This one is no different. At long last, some fiction...

the making of a monster

the drain drank every last drop
water that started clear
and ended red
blood that trickled
down my legs
a deadly dye
and then there were clots
and the walls danced
and the darkness crept in
a thief after my senses

at the door my son called
mommy, and then he wailed
I knelt, a crouching beast
and crawled to the towel
the walls stopped laughing
at my pain
I dressed sitting,
leaving a bloody trail
the life was gone,
the third one already

I did not cry,
could not, would not
I dared the walls to laugh again
as I stood
and let myself out
his four year old eyes
caught mine
then followed me
as I crawled down the stairs

I called for help
then slithered to the couch
lay there, listening
to the laughing, swimming walls
traitors, I thought
and then she knocked

I could not stand
give her the key
I whispered,
pressing it into his
four year old hands
sobbing, he did so
help was on its way

the car arrived
they helped me out the door
but then the thief grabbed
and I collapsed to the ground
I awoke to his hysterical screams
and two voices
and four hands shaking me
my pants warm
and wet
clots on the paving
I hid my embarrassment
from the young man
at the wheel

I lay on the back seat
staining his upholstery
senses stolen
and returned again
drunkenly speaking
empty words of comfort to
his four year old ears

the hospital arrived
I was wheeled away
silently bleeding
while inside a monster
began to form
feeding off my anger,
resentment at why he was
not there

Deathly Desire

Fairuz, once an Amod, now a Lateef, lay on the narrow hospital bed. She felt empty, yet she could not bring herself to cry. She deserved it, didn’t she? Had she not killed a child before Allah killed three of hers? It had happened on a day when the sun had been warm and the wind like a breath against her skin. The clinic staff had been professional. They had counselled her. She wanted the abortion. It was done. Her parents never found out. Yes, she deserved this pain, perhaps it, the baby had felt worse pain and fear too...

Her in-laws, after instructing her to request a discharge as soon as possible after the womb scrape, had taken her son home. He had been inconsolable. His scream had been the first sound to greet her ears when she came to, finding herself on her knees in the driveway, when she saw the red stain on the ground and felt the warmth of the blood on her pants. She closed her eyes and saw blood, her blood, her child being washed down the drain.

He still hadn’t come. Naeem, her husband of six years, her first love. Love? She wondered about that now. What did that really mean? Was it a tugging at your heart, a tugging towards the person to whom you give the keys to your soul? Keys which become daggers. Because then Naeem was perfect.

In the last four years, Fairuz had had three miscarriages. But this time was undoubtedly the worst. She closed her eyes once more. Shame, grief, loss – these emotions possessed her totally. She gave in to them.

“Excuse me Mrs Lateef.”
She opened her eyes. Doctor Parvin.
“Yes,” Fairuz’s voice was uncertain.
“You have been discharged. Your mother in law has brought clothes for you.” She handed her the Edgars bag. “I must tell you that I have issued this discharge at her insistence. If I could have influenced her, I would have kept you here overnight. We needed to have you under observation. You have lost a lot of blood. I needed to run tests to determine whether you needed a blood transfusion as well. In fact, you probably do, but since she has declared herself responsible for the bill, I have to respect her wishes. ” She handed Fairuz a packet of pills. “These are iron tablets. Please ensure that you drink them every day. Eat leafy green vegetables and liver if you can. You will need it.”

“It’s okay, Doctor. Thank you for everything.” A sheen of moisture covered her eyes as she said the words. “I’ll, I’ll get dressed now. Could you please draw the curtain?”
Doctor Parvin disappeared behind the curtain that she drew around the bed. Fairuz heard the clicking if her heels fade as she walked out of the ward.

She sat up gingerly. Her abdomen felt tender – and empty. She pressed her hand, the one with the wad of cotton wool held down by a plaster, to her belly where the life had blossomed hours before. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood up. The walls swam. She clutched the side of the bed, dropped her head and closed her eyes. When she opened them again the world had stopped moving. She slipped the hospital gown from her shoulders. On her chest, fluff clung to sticky round patches where the heart monitor had been attached during the procedure. She heard the beep, feeble. She saw the lights that bore into her as she lay on the cold table in the theatre. She saw the masked faces, she felt her nakedness, she felt shame. Her mouth felt funny from the plate that had been inserted. Weakness gathered her in its arms, smothering her.

Dried blood traced paths on her legs, dark tracks against her sallow skin – places that the nurse had missed perhaps. Her cuticles and under her nails bore the signs too. Black, very nearly - the dried blood that had once fed her child. The pad that had been stuffed between her legs by the nurse an hour before, most like, when she was still in the anaesthetic induced stupor, fell to the ground. A thin weal of blood stained it. Red. She stooped to pick it up. The world danced again as she straightened. She clutched the bed.

Laboriously, she removed her garments from the shopping bag. She took her panties with unsteady hands, stuck a pad in place and slipped them on, leaning heavily against the bed. Her bra followed and then dress that her mother in law had brought. She slipped her feet into her slippers and noticed blood on her toes too.

She felt winded. She dropped onto the bed.

“Fairuz?” Naeem’s baritone. His face appeared between the curtains.
“Assalaamu alaikum. Are you ready? Mummy phoned to say that I should pick you up.”
“I’m ready.”
Fairuz followed him out of the room. No, ‘How are you.’ No, ‘Do you need a hand.’ Her legs moved mechanically, felt as though they were not her own. She felt as though she was drifting inches above the glossy tiled floor.

People passed her in the hallways, looks of concern on their faces, questions in their eyes. I must look like a ghost, she thought. As they passed out of the sliding glass doors, her reflection stared back at her. Her face was pallid, near yellow, her lips white. Her hair was dishevelled. No hairbrush. Her dress hung more loosely than before. All, in all, not a pretty sight.

She settled back against the seat, tears stinging her eyelids. She closed them. A stubborn tear squeezed out at the side and trickled down her cheek.
“We’re going to Mummy’s.”
He eyes flew open. “Please Naeem, I just want to go home. Can we fetch Azhar and then just go home? I’m tired.”
His face became stony. “Whatever,” he said through pursed lips.

She did not get out of the car at her in laws’ house. Naeem carried a sleeping Azhar to the car. Her in-laws did not come out either. God knows what Naeem must have told them. She wasn’t up to worrying about that just now. She rested her head, which felt like a piece of lead glued to her shoulders, on the headrest and dozed.

When she opened her eyes, the car was parked in their driveway. Naeem gathered Azhar into his arms. Fairuz opened the door and climbed out unsteadily. She saw Naeem stop at the stain, the one she remembered from earlier that day. She saw him kick something. When she passed the spot, she saw the clot. A blood clot. A piece of her, of her child. It had landed in a flower bed. The stray cats would eat it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Book Review - Confessions of a Gambler

I recently lost myself in the pages of Confessions of a Gambler by South African author Rayda Jacobs. As a reader, I am always partial to books by local authors. If I won’t support local writers, how do I expect others to support me the day I finally have a title to my name?

Let me say from the outset. It is compulsive reading. Take it up only when you have the time to finish it. Once you start you'll be itching to get to the last page.

It was a multi faceted read, simply written, yet complex and varied in the themes that it tackled. Among these, the most difficult was homosexuality in the life of a Muslim.

Abeda, or Beeda as she is called by family, is a single mother who has triumphed over desertion by her husband during her pregnancy with her third child. She has fought hard to conquer her feelings for a love that she is not meant to have. She has struggled with the knowledge that her son is gay.

She has closed her eyes to so much regarding this young man. But when he calls her to tell her that he has AIDS her carefully constructed world comes crashing down around her ears.

She finds a twisted solace in a demon that will eventually bring her to the brink of destruction – gambling.

The book was fascinating for me, because I could identify with the protagonist. She, like me, is a Muslim woman struggling to find her place within an Islamic framework. She too is struggling with the mixed messages that come from a community that has too long placed more emphasis on what others think as opposed to what God thinks.

She prays, fasts, wears the hijaab. But she has her secrets, her sins as she calls them. Confessions of a Gambler shows how a person can be fallible, yet deeply spiritual, which for me was refreshing.

The book oscillates effortlessly between her memories and the present. It brings to life the Cape Malay community. It shows the ills and the wells.

It is tinged with tragedy, which for just a moment I felt was somewhat excessive.

But this does not stop me from recommending it as a brilliant read for anyone wanting a glimpse of a world that is different to their own.

I seem to recall reading that Confessions of a Gambler is to be made into a movie. If the movie turns out anything like the book, it’s a movie that I would not want to miss.
And if you’re wondering how it is that I had books with me on this mountain climb, well, truth is, my knapsack contained more books than it did clothing.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Religious Fanatics

I’ve taken to commenting on a column written by someone I know. Pamela K Taylor writes as one of the religion panellists for the Washington Post. She tackles topics that often elicit responses that leave you feeling bewildered. Bewildered to realise that there are people on earth whose hearts are so filled with hate that they make it a life mission to vilify/discredit/insult anything to do with Islam.

Go here and click on the comments button to have a better idea of what I am referring to. Look at the Mawlid and Double Strandards posts in particular.

I think you'll agree. It’s scary.

But it also reminded me of and incident from the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him).

To escape the persecution from the Qureysh in Makkah, a group of Muslims took the bold step of migrating to Abyssinia under advice frm the Prophet Muhammed. The King at the time, Negus, was reputed to be a man of justice.

When the Quraysh learnt of the departure of the small group of Muslims and the peaceful life they enjoyed under the protection of the Negus, they made plans to secure their extradition and their return to the great prison that was Makkah. They sent two of their most formidable men, Amr ibn al-Aas and Abdullah ibn Abi Rabiah, to accomplish this task and sent handsome gifts for Negus and the members if his court hoping to win their favour.

Amr and Abdullah went to the Negus himself and presented him with gifts which he greatly admired. They said to him: "O King, there is a group of evil persons from among our youth who have escaped to your kingdom. They practice a religion which neither we nor you know. They have forsaken our religion and have not entered into your religion. The respected leaders of their people - from among their own parents and uncles and from their own clans - have sent us to you to request you to return them. They know best what trouble they have caused."

The Negus looked towards his advisors who said: "They speak the truth, O King. Their own people know them better and are better acquainted with what they have done. Send them back so that they themselves might judge them."

The Negus was quite angry with this suggestion and said: "No. By God, I won't surrender them to anyone until I myself call them and question them about what they have been accused. If what these two men have said is true, then I will hand them over to you. If however it is not so, then I shall protect them so long as they desire to remain under my protection."

The migrants were summoned and the Negus turned to them and asked:
"What is this religion which you have introduced for yourself and which has served to cut you off from the religion of your people? You also did not enter my religion nor the religion of any other community."

Jafar ibn Abi Talib replied, "O King, we were a people in a state of ignorance and immorality, worshipping idols and eating the flesh of dead animals, committing all sorts of abomination and shameful deeds, breaking the ties of kinship, treating guests badly and the strong among us exploited the weak. We remained in this state until Allah sent us a Prophet, one of our own people whose lineage, truthfulness, trustworthiness and integrity were well-known to us. He called us to worship Allah alone and to renounce the stones and the idols which we and our ancestors used to worship besides Allah.
"He commanded us to speak the truth, to honor our promises, to be kind to our relations, to be helpful to our neighbors, to cease all forbidden acts, to abstain from bloodshed, to avoid obscenities and false witness, not to appropriate an orphan's property nor slander chaste women.
"He ordered us to worship Allah alone and not to associate anything with him, to uphold Salat (prayers), to give Zakat(charity) and fast in the month of Ramadan.
"We believed in him and what he brought to us from Allah and we follow him in what he has asked us to do and we keep away from what he forbade us from doing.
"Thereupon, O King, our people attacked us, visited the severest punishment on us to make us renounce our religion and take us back to the old immorality and the worship of idols.
"They oppressed us, made life intolerable for us and obstructed us from observing our religion. So we left for your country, choosing you before anyone else, desiring your protection and hoping to live in Justice and in peace in your midst."

The Negus asked Jafar: "Do you have with you something of what your Prophet brought concerning God?"

"Yes," replied Jafar.

"Then read it to me," requested the Negus. Jafar recited for him the first portion of Surah Maryam which deals with the story of Jesus and his mother Mary.

On hearing the words of the Quran, the Negus was moved to tears. To the Muslims, he said: "The message of your Prophet and that of Jesus came from the same source..."

To Amr and his companion, he said, "Go. For, by God, I will never surrender them to you."

The literal translation of what was said to the Quraysh is, “These are rays of the same light” which is the translation I prefer.

Somehow, I am saddened by what these ‘Christians’ seek to do when they present fabricated prophetic traditions and quote verses from the Quraan out of context as proof for their fallacious claims. For is the purpose of religion not to improve us spiritually?

It’s not really about what I think about the next man’s faith, but all about what my faith brings to my life. About how it has helped me to reach deeper and bring out something better and more beautiful. I don’t need people telling me that they want to free me from the deception of my beloved Prophet. I am more than happy to respect the right of the next to worship as they see fit. And all I ask in return is that the favour be returned.

Truly being on the spiritual path is not about who is right. It is about always trying to do what feels right for you, no matter how hard that may be at times. It is about following the truth that is in your heart, the path that calls out the loudest and brings us closest to the Divine.

Sorry for the rant. But the trip to the top of the mountain is difficult and having all this weighing me down makes the journey that much harder. Feel free to express your views, but please don’t tell me that you want to save me by proving that your way is the only right one. .

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Kichen of My Life

like crystal vases
hand painted platters
displayed in showcases
old fashioned ones

mounted on walls
dreams like broken plates
that litter the floor
of the Kitchen of my Life

meetings too spicy
some too bland,
chance encounters with morsels
bring new dimensions
to my technicolour kitchen

burnt hopes stick

to the bottom
of warped pans
pockmarked pots
eaten away

by pain
and anguish
and sorrow
and loss

so many meals
in the rush for newer ones
better ones

they leave
and I stand
amid my broken plates
and crystal vases
ruined pots

and I turn once more
to the stove that gives life
hoping to recreate
I cannot

This happens to be one of those museless ramblings. I might as well put it to some use, right?