This short story was inspired by real events.
Co-created by: Fahad Faisal
“Get a clue! It’s called right to privacy!”, she gasped, shoving her phone between her and the edge of the seat.
“Okay, whatever, but this is the last time I share my new music with you”, Sam faked a pout and crossed his arms over his chest.
She eyed the new-found bulge of his muscles and turned away with a little smirk. “Your taste is abysmal anyway. Now leave me alone. You know I don’t like being interrupted while I’m travelling.”
Sera plugged in her earphones and stared out the window, letting her thoughts wash over her the music mingled with the wind.
She tried to forget about the semester report due in two days. She reprimanded herself for thinking about the situation at home. This was her last chance at peace and quiet before the vacation ended. She would be plunged into chaos the moment she stepped on campus; she had to make the most of her last moments of solitude. She imagined her inner anguish spiraling out of her being in slender agitated threads, the dark tendrils disappearing into the golden clouds as their bus whipped past the suburbs, and a wry smile crept into her lips. Sam noticed the tranquility that seldom surfaced in her fiery eyes, and quietly slipped his hands into hers, careful not to break her reverie.
Freya stole glances at her husband, silently murmuring prayers, her fingers dancing on her tasbih. He was fast asleep, breathing deeply and peacefully. He looked near comical, with his chin tucked into his chest and his face almost obscured by his beard. His drooping eyelids hid the warmth in his glance, the kindness of his eyes that had helped her persevere.
She caressed each cool bead with fondness, her most frequent companions for over a decade, and glanced out at the fast approaching dusk. Soon the light would be gone from the world, leaving in its stead a steadily deepening darkness. Darkness ripe with the power to crush souls.
Freya looked at her husband again, and felt her heart burst with gratitude. She felt blessed to have found him, this man who had held her hands and walked her through her living nightmares.
Freya watched the sun take leave, a rare smile blossoming across her lips, steadfast in her belief that no darkness could conquer her as long as he walked by her side.
Sera felt the crystal drops hit her face, snapping her back to reality with unwelcome haste. She flinched against the cold, and turned to Sam, pulling the hood of her sweatshirt up, “I hope it sticks to a drizzle. I don’t want to let go of the wind just yet.”
“Clouds tell me you might have to.”
The unruly banter from the seat directly behind them hit her ears and she cringed. “Kids these days.”
“Okay, grandma. We don’t want you catching a cold now,” Sam leaned across her and pulled the dirty window shutters down.
Sera sighed. She really hated travelling with the shutters closed. She felt like it closed off her imagination.
“Could you ask the lady in front to lower her shutter too? I’m still getting drenched.”
Freya closed her eyes and let the rain hit her cheeks, as orange streaked clouds raced the dark; a battle lost before it began.
“Please ma’am, could you please close you window? We’re getting drenched back here.”
Suddenly parched, she fumbled around in her bags for the water bottle Hashi always carried around. Freya took a measured sip, buying time.
“Ma’am? Can you hear me? We’re getting drenched back here.”
Freya took a deep breath and looked at her husband, the muted plea in her eyes quickly surrendering to panic. Hashi took her hand in his and addressed the kids behind them.
“Of course, son. Let me get that for you.”
In subdued tones, he spoke to his wife,”We’re almost there. It’s just a matter of another hour or so. And the rain will let up before you know it. Why don’t you focus on the details, like the doctor taught you to?”
Freya let out a shuddering breath and tried to follow his directions. Her finger flew over the polished beads and her prayers were a frantic fervour. Her frenzied eyes held his eyes and she could see the helplessness in them. She wished he wouldn’t feel that way on her account.
Focus on what’s in front of you. Focus on your reality. Examine it’s details.
She held on to his soothing tone, the honey in his voice, and tried hard not to slip into the abyss that was slowly opening up inside her.
She tried to focus on her beads. Her restless eyes shifted from the frayed edges of her purdah, the chipped hand rest in front of her, resting on the dirty blue brown of the shutters. The ugly jagged material confining her fears in the small space.
Sera felt her thoughts turn sour. The damp aura emanating from every corner of the bus put her in a foul mood. She wrinkled her nose in disdain at the grime on the window shutters. “I just want to get in a shower. A nice, long, warm one.”
“We’re almost there.”
“No, we’re not,” she rolled her eyes. “It’s another half an hour, at least.”
“How about a game?”
“Anything to get my mind off all this dirt,” she sighed. “Oh, no! Not again! Why did she open the window? It’s still pouring out!”
Freya focused on the shutter closing in on her. It might have been navy blue at some point, but the dirt accumulated over years of neglect gave it a murky brown colour. She focused on the patches of blue still putting up a fight. Navy blue.
Navy blue. Clean. Pressed to perfection.
Crisp white. Wrinkles smoothed out with love.
Stripped. Tied into the perfect knot every morning.
Black. Shiny. Polished to an enviable sheen.
He always counted on Hashi to get his bow tie perfect. Her little man.
Focus on your reality. Examine it’s details.
Murky brown. Had anyone cleaned the shutters on this bus since the day it got it’s brand new coat of paint? Murky brown like the specs of mud that found their way on to his shoes. That couldn’t be allowed. Her Ayaan was particular about his shiny shoes. Murky like the colour of the duster she ran inside to get. Murky like the little footsteps that followed her inside, tiptoeing in the shadows.
Please, God! The details!
Yellow specs. Souvenirs from a careless painter. He clearly was no perfectionist. Yellow like the school bus hurtling away from her as she ran outside, duster in hand. Yellow like his favourite sunflowers. Souvenirs for a careless mother.
And then the black, seeping into all the colors like poison. Leeching the life out of them. Black like his curly hair, inherited from Hashi. Black like his twinkling eyes always full of mischief. Black like the cupboard he locked himself in for her to find. Black like the blackness that must have engulfed him once he ran out of air. Black like the coffee she poured herself at work, blissfully unaware. Black like the flowing fabric she covered herself in from that day forth, a dark reminder of her everlasting mourning.
Black like her world as he tumbled into her arms in the evening, blue like the endless sorrow of the ocean.
She threw open the window with a gasp. He needed air. Her Ayaan needed to breathe.
Sera sighed in exasperation.
“I can’t believe some people! So inconsiderate,” she grumbled, taking off her soaking sweatshirt.
“It’s closed now. Maybe she needed some air. Let it be.”
“But it’s so rude! And I’m definitely catching a cold!”
“Hot soup on me,” Sam smiled. Sera could be a real child at times.
“Sweet corn chicken,” she graced him with a smile.
“But, of course.”
“She’s lifting it again,” she rolled her eyes. “At least it’s only halfway open now.”
Freya focused on the details. She had to. She needed to free the icy fear gripping her heart, crushing her lungs, making it painful to draw air.
She peeked out timidly from the half raised shutters at the street lamps rushing past. She memorized the cracked patterns of the paint peeling off the railing, exposing the dark metal beneath. She imagined how she would look to her husband now. If she were to look as she felt, her skin would be peeling off in crude flakes, exposing the darkness beneath. The darkness that lurks beneath every one, rearing its head only when desperation hits. When there’s nothing to live for, fight for, fend for. When existence becomes a burden too heavy to carry.
“We’re here,” Hashi tapped her gently, his eyes masked in his own sorrow, undecipherable in his pain.
He held her together when she couldn’t even try. He wept with her, their tears mingling in an ocean of unfathomable sadness. He was there when she broke. He was there when she wasn’t. He was there when she finally mustered up the strength to live again. He made it worthwhile.
She left the shutter fall and hurried out into the night, clinging to her hope.
The air finally seemed to hit every cell in her lungs, sending her reeling. Hashi maintained a steady grip on her arm. She knew he wouldn’t let her fall. Looking up at the blurry sky, she breathed in deeply and gratefully.