I write this letter in haste, and I pray to Allah it reaches you on time.
Amir’s situation is dire, just as before. But what is worse, his wife has left him, taking my precious granddaughter with her.
The house seems empty now. Deserted. It is like Allah has smote my son with a mystery and misery that man cannot cure. When I am not crying, I feel like laughing out sometimes, at the irony of it. I look at my hands, that has cured so many in this remote village. But not my son. Sister, you must know the ways of God better. You have been loyal to him longer. Is this the way God tests? Then he is a cruel God, sister. My son is wasting away, day by day. I cannot tell you more, because I don’t understand anymore, and I despise it that I cannot. At least not with Science. All I can beg is that you must request Muneera come immediately. In my heart, I know she can solve this. Amir loves his cousin, and perhaps, if she could find it in her heart to love him, forgive him, she will come and save him.
Love, and prayers your sister, Aishabi
Diary Entry, Muneera, 10th of March 2018
I have entered the mountain ranges, and am approaching what seems like a dystopian end of the world. Especially since my version of dystopia is the absence of WI-Fi and cell coverage. It is a basic need, along with food, water, and air. With nobody to talk to, I hope you, my dear diary, will save me from going mad. In fact, if I am the one to solve the problem of Amir, I would tell my aunt, “Bring him to the city, Nothing like a good dose of WI-Fi, auntie. All that fresh air is driving your son insane.”
But honestly, I go for my auntie, and not for that twisted son of hers. She is a gentle one, who has done much to talk to mother about her silly Godly ways and let me work for a living, than just tie me up to the first bearded dude that comes her way, to a life of cooking and washing. And I couldn’t bear to see Auntie weep like this.
And Amir? I wonder what happened to him. My mother tells me nothing. Communication is not her forte. But really, I am the one who has to travel to the end of the world. A little more than, “Your cousin is in trouble. Go and help him.” Is not very helpful. What kind of trouble. Why me. Nothing. No answers. Yesterday, she told me that the Sana has gone now, taken the kid too. I mean, what has Amir done to scare that poor girl away? She was a sweet one, I remember the wedding, when Amir promised me he had sworn himself off all habits, no weed, no alcohol, nothing. He was in love, and what not. But he was also, just 23. I had pooh-poohed it away, but then I saw the girl, with her virginal innocence, the soft warmth in her eyes when she looked at him. I hadn’t seen her after that, what with Auntie playing Doctors without Borders. I remember freezing that vision of a girl, my sister now, her long brown hair dancing with the breeze, and wishing she had an easier life. A tall wish, I knew even then.
I decided to believe that Amir had just gone insane. That would be funny. I think it is the absence of good porn. Anyway, I am carrying my hard disk with me, and I guess that would be the best medicine for that lazy idiot.
Muneera has just arrived safely here today. Her cheerful exuberance fills me with joy. Though she does spend a lot of time searching for cell coverage and internet cafes. When I sat down to write this letter, she came peeking in curiously, “Auntie, you really write letters?” she exclaimed. But I am happy that she will stay, and I hope she stays until the problem is removed. The child seems stressed, I do not mean blame sister, but she is thin, and there are dark lines under her eyes. She is only 25. This generation burns themselves out so quickly, it is scary. Though I cannot say the same of my son. I feel a tingling of pride when I see your daughter, so outspoken, so accomplished already.
Love, and prayers your sister, Aishabi
When I reached Aunt’s house, it was already late. But the first thing I noticed was the strange smell in the air, like a kind of burning fungus. I thought it wasn’t polite to comment on it. Aunt was happy to see me, she gave me a big hug, and asked the driver to take my things upstairs to my room. Amir did not come down to meet me, and even though I thought it rude of him, I assumed it had something to do with his illness or whatever. Maybe it was something embarrassing, like a dick inflammation, from excessive jerking off. That thought was funny, but I knew he’d know I was here, so I decided to keep the asshole waiting, despite being curious about his inflamed dick situation.
The house was gigantic, alternating between breathtaking and super creepy. They actually used fire lights, torches on the wall, like it was 19th century or something. Electricity was not very reliable, so Aunt thought it a fine idea. Anyway, I’m guessing it was perfect for a haunted mansion. Maybe that was it. A ghost had gotten hold of Amir’s body, and he’d need me to beat the shit out of him. The problem with that theory was that a ghost would put Amir’s body to better use than he did.
Dinner was a grand spread, home-made pickles, fresh fish fry, curry, garden veggies. I savored the richness of a kind I had not experienced for a while. I noticed Aunt taking some of the food in a plate upstairs, and listened for any conversation. A knock and silence. It seemed like she’d left it at the doorstep.
I really need to check up on that lazy asshole.
I said my goodnight and slipped upstairs, clutching the torch Aunt had given me like it was a crucifix. I noticed the plate on the stool by the door. It was empty now like someone had licked it clean.
Amir’s room was besides mine, and I knocked at his door, once or twice, and then tried the door handle. I did not expect it to be unlocked, and I must say that I fell through quite ungracefully, shocked by the darkness that enveloped me. True the entire place was dark, but this seemed like someone had thrown a blanket over me, and additionally put me in a jammed elevator. I felt the slight quickening of my heart, as I fell to my knees, breathing deeply, and my hands grazed over something. A snake, I thought panicking, flinching away, when the firelight lit the room.
Amir stood above me, the fire flickering over the counters of his handsome yet gaunt face. But that wasn’t all. I felt the breath catch in my throat. Towering above me was neither man nor animal, his body covered in hair and something dark brown, like mud cakes. Around his navel was a flimsy garment.
“Amir” I croaked, “What the fuck is this?” I looked around for the snake that I thought he was keeping around as some fucked-up pet. But what I had mistaken for a snake, were thick vines covering the entire room, the walls, the floor, the windows, even the damn bed. It was like the forest was reclaiming a part of the house, severing it from the rest of civilization.
I looked again at Amir, as he stood breathing heavily above me.
“Amir?” I said, “Y..you…know me right, cousin?”
But he just moved towards the window of the room, taking away the light with him, and flooding me once again with claustrophobic panic. But even as dizziness weakened me, I noticed how he pottered around what seemed like a mini-kitchen, a gas stove, with a cauldron. He poured in some water, plucked a few leaves from his kitchen garden that was more garden than kitchen, and turned on the gas for a few minutes. He could have been Nigella fucking Lawson with that excuse of a garment around him, this guy who never hit a mile near an actual kitchen. Then he poured the liquid into two glasses, bringing back the light with him. I exhaled as he sat in front of me, cross-legged, and watched him place the second cup before me. I thought I’d had enough.
“Amir!” I said, “What kind of silliness is this? You want to be a chef now? Is this the way to live? You asshole, you think you can just make a child, marry a woman, and stop being around for them? You disgust me!”
As I flung out the last of my angry words, he leaned forward, his fingers rushing to my lips, silencing me. The response and the sudden closeness surprised me, as the fact that he did not move even after I had stopped ranting. I saw something in his eyes, a flicker, a switch in my head. And the darkness around me was moving, shifting. Magnified in volume, like it was the only sound around, I could hear my breath. It was short and quick, like a rabbit’s, rushing in speed as if in a race. And his, the tortoise, long and deep, like the rise and fall of the ocean.
Then we heard a third breath, short and anxious.
When he lifted the glass to my lips, I wondered why he hadn’t said a word to me. The Amir I knew would have lashed out at me with his own theories of why he was right, and how I should just stuff my arrogance elsewhere. Now, I saw in his eyes a desperation, a plea, as if he was flooding with words to tell me, but was silenced somehow. Like there something there that was stopping him from talking. And it was not just his sneaky mother.
We needed to go elsewhere. A different place. And for that…
I took the cup and dunked the contents down my throat. Then I blacked out.
When I came to, I was lying in my room in my own bed. My first surge of panicky confusion was how I had come here, and whether I had all my clothes on because somehow situations like this always had you ending up naked. On inspection, I realized I was not only fully clothed, sweating and shivering, but also that something was creeping inside my clothes. It felt like an insect, or a worm, something foreign, and as my chest tightened, I divested myself of all my clothes, and ran my hands all over, for signs of any ruptures or insects. It did not help that I found anything, because the minute I put on my clothes, I thought the insect was back in there, forcing me to strip again.
I noticed a luminescent light, streaming through the crack of my door. I was curious, even as my legs wobbled to the door, shivering with increasing consternation. It felt like I was being called to the door. I opened the door, and my eyes burned with a light so bright it blinded everything else. Like the light was meant as a distraction. My hand groped the bedroom door behind me, and with my back to the wall, I moved, slowly, towards Amir’s door. It had to be here somewhere. Even if I couldn’t see. I almost fell over the stool, and here, yes, the door…my hand reached to the handle, and the door fell open.
The scene was mighty different from the last time I had visited. The bed, the stove, everything had been removed. Somehow I was able to see again, despite the searing whiteness, like I was inside a burning star. But only the vines remained, greener, darker, and somehow viler. Slowly I saw them twirl around each other, moving, like a thousand copulating snakes. I stood transfixed at the sight. As I stared, I noticed a particularly different movement of one of the vines, like it had noticed me. It twirled faster, and a part of it began bulging towards me, and I felt my heart bulge inside me with the same intensity. There, right before my very eyes, the vines turned into what looked like the shape of a hand, approaching me, a face in the mass of green, even the vague outline of a body. Even as the hand came towards me, my eyes stayed locked with the green eyes as they formed, and I recognized the face, the expression angry, desperate, and…agonising….in its prison. Sana. Amir’s wife. A wail ripped the air, in the clear cry of Sana’s voice, a bird in pain, trapped in a cage.
The door flung open, and the hands, the eyes, the body retreated. Even the vines stopped moving. Amir stepped in. My eyes were wild and helpless, as they turned towards him. “Amir!!” I screamed, pointing to the vines. “Sana…We must save her.”
Amir shook his head, and when I looked back at the vines, they had stopped moving, standing dead and immobile as it was supposed to. I looked at Amir and saw him grinning. “Don’t worry about it, cousin.” And it was the grin on his face that alerted me. Behind him rose a giant vine, at the end a sharp thorn, like a giant mouth approaching. I stared at it in horror. It looked like it would pierce my mouth, down my chest, and out splitting me into two. But it was perhaps a flick from Amir’s hand, the vine went for my hands, flinging me first to the wall, binding me like a puny doll.
“Amir!” I said, a giant tremor rushing through me as I was spread on the vine wall. “What is happening!” I screamed. And he slapped me, a tight hard slap, that rang in my ears.
“Please…stop this..” I begged.
“Aww….Already down to begging?” He said, sending a second resounding clap over my face, “I had expected a bit of spunk from you…Being a heathen city girl and all…”
I was weeping, whimpering now, perhaps I had lost control of my bowels, “Amir…” I begged, “I came here to help you.”
This brought about another slap and the warmth of liquid and the taste of blood on my tongue. I found my vision blurring, as his voice streamed over me. “You assume I need your help? All because you have some fancy IT job? Success has gone to your head, cousin!” The words were spat at me. “You are a dog on a leash. You need help, cousin. Consider this love. I save you from your disgusting moral-free life. I save you from hell.”
I looked up at him, blood flowing down my face, “Sana doesn’t deserve this. I don’t deserve this.” I could hear my voice as rasps, as the vines pressed into my chest like a hungry cobra.
He spat, “Sana just got what she deserved. All that talk about leaving this place. And improving me. Then the threats to leave altogether. I think it was only luck that the Simi chose me on time. It is so easy to fall prey to the wiles of women.”
“Simi?” I said, my voice, weakening.
“Yes….” He said, pointing to the vines, “She is all around. All encompassing. She is a djinn sent to save us all. You, me, mankind. We must all return to our roots. Where the prophets have failed, perhaps the Djinns will succeed!” His eyes flared with a strange manic energy, looking into the distance as if the words were not his own. Then they returned from the distance, to look at me with the same vileness, “Especially nosy women like you” he said, and spat right into my bleeding eyes.
The vines were making a hissing noise like they were impatient. I knew it was time for me. To die or whatever. And I didn’t want my last words to be a whimper. I screamed with all my heart, “Loser, that’s what you are. You cannot face it. So you hide behind some nonsense, some djinn! You are sacrificing everything. Remember that. You lose your wife. Your mother. Your cousin! Even your son! All for this?”
I knew the words would be my last, I saw it in his eyes. The conversation was over. His hand flicked, the same flicker, and the vines they obeyed, pressing into my neck as he stepped back. I was to be tied down, I was to be frozen into eternity, it would not matter if I lived or died, if I was to be encased in the walls of this room, with Sana for company. I closed my eyes, and imagined exhilarating music, the taste of beer in hot summer, the sound of a cappuccino machine, the thrill of designer labels that revealed everything…and then…a loud thud.
The vines had stopped moving. I opened my eyes. Amir lay on the floor, sprawled in blood. My aunt stood above him, holding a kitchen stone in her hands.