Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Short Story 2015, Longlist Ummul Fazal Fatima Khan

The Curse Bore The Boon…

It's a story of one insignificant year of my life spread overseven hundred years. That little part of my long life is too important to me, it has changed my outlook towards a particular species.
 An old banyan tree has been providing the comfort of home to my family since ages. Its thick and long roots held us together; whenever one of us is born, a new root grow out and with his death it dissolve into nothingness. I was the 72nd member in my family; we aren't born as frequently as human, I joined this world after hundred years of the last birth. The celebration of my arrival were carried out for the whole week and the banyan tree roots were decorated with dead branches, twigs and crushed leaves. When my mother wrapped me in her hands, she gasped with excitement as I had the rarest set of eyes, diamond eyes. When I grew up a little, she would often tell me about it and would say, 'You are different for our kind my child. Your ways and thoughts are not that prevail in our species'. I never understood what she had meant untill the fall of that insignificant year.

I had to spent five years of my life on the tree; hanging on the roots, circling the trunk and playing alone as all of my siblings were already adult. The family would leave the tree at noon and would return as soon as the first ray of sun would touch the ground. Whenever I would ask my mother to take me with her, she would tell me to wait till the right age come. I have heard several stories of outer world from my brothers, they would constantly talk about 'human', whom my mother says we are essential.

When I turned five, my father announced my 'come of age celebration', I didn't know what it was but a feat was organised for me and it was called 'Zolo's first step ceremony' named after me. My father hung from the thickest root and presented a speech; welcoming me to the 'new world', informing about the rules of our kind.

'You are all set to explore the world of humans, my dear son!', I heard the soft whisper in the coarse voice of my mother. She was the only one whom I have ever seen talking a little softly in our whole family.

As the rituals concluded, I hopped down the tree and walked ahead. The unknown world was affecting me in a strange way. My family slipped from the tree to wish me luck on my first step towards the life destined for me. I took cautious steps and crossed our land in a jiffy, nervously I turned backwards to gain moral support from my family but no one was there, the ground under the tree was almost bare. A lump stuck in my throat and with it, a loud cackle filled the atmosphere. With a loud pop, my cousin Zeoni appeared.

'You are nervous brother', he exclaimed.
'No, I am not', I tried gulping the lump away.
'Yes, you are and I saw it in your diamond eyes' He seemed bemused. 'But brother fear is not for us, we pour it in human eyes. So flush it out of your system.'

I didn't have a slightest idea who fear was but somehow I admired the idea that this parallel species called human have quite a liberty.
'I have to go and you stop following me' I glowed my eyes with extra efforts and glared at him.
'Ok, even I am not interested. But we should remain invisible bro, remember we are shape shifters' saying the last sentence with a wink he swooshed away.

He was right to some extent, something was stopping me from going. I took one of his many advice seriously and shifted to my another shape; a four dimensional, which according to my father couldn't be seen through human eye.
On my first day I saw several things that amazed me; colourful blocks moving onto the land and there were lights on it too, twinkling in different colours, tall blocks like home in which human were residing etc.

I was walking through a grassy ground, inspecting each and everything, when I happened to see a human up close. He had hands, eyes, mouth, nose, feet and all other parts like us. But they were slightly different; eyes were much smaller and dull than ours, hands and feet were smaller too. They had a pointed shape for a nose instead of our round one, two lids covered the slit of their mouth. And they had a variety of hair instead of our uniform purple ponytail. The whole torso seemed small in comparison to ours. I went near him and looked into his eyes; there was something there, a very strange dullness that engulfed the brown shade of his pupil. I didn't know what it was but he stood there confused and suddenly started looking behind as if to make out someone, he took some careful steps. I was watching him closely when he brought out a block shaped instrument and beat his fingers on it and put it to his ears.

The next thing I remember was his voice, the type that I have never heard, with different pitches, low and high, 'Hello Amar. I don't know what happened but I actually forgot my way to burger's shop. Can you please help?'
I could sense shock and confusion both rising in his voice. I wanted to accompany him and to find out more about humans but then a shrill sound diverted my attention. I headed in it's direction, it was that moving block from the morning which had a blowing light on its head. I lost that man in my quest of that beep.

All went well that day and later I found out the names i.e the moving blocks were called vehicles and calling instrument was mobile and many more. Human all have distinct names like we do but they could be seen in different shapes and sizes unlike us. The most amazing thing as my cousin had mentioned, was their fear. They get afraid at the sight of cat, dog, big teeths and sometimes they get scared of invisible things. Amazing creature they are!

I started enjoying my visits to the city post that particular day and spent my days roaming around the place, learning new names and about new things.
On my 16th day I was walking aimlessly when I heard a familiar voice, 'Yes, amar go grab your lunch, I am not coming'
He was the same guy whom I had seen on my first day. I went closer, I couldn't fathom the reason but I liked him and wished to observe him and a sudden desire to talk to a human arose in me. But before I could proceed, his expression changed, 'Amar I think I forgot what I was going to do', He spoke in his mobile.

I laughed loudly, what a forgetful person he was. He was turning out to be an interesting person and I wanted to converse with him. To fulfil the desire, I went behind the tree and shifted to the human form.
'Hey', I spread my hand infront of him the way I have seen humans greeting each other.
'Hello', he grabbed my hand smilingly but soon her face lost colours and he murmured, 'why I am here?'
I suppressed my smile and asked his name, Arnav he was.
He was a college student, the name of which he had forgotten. Amar was his roomate. He had no friends maybe due to his habit of forgeting or maybe he has but he didn't remember any of them. I enjoyed  his company and so I decided to befriend him. And then we would spend hours at the college lawns and would talk around.

Hanging out with him I gathered so many things about him; his reserved nature, negligible amount of friends and that his memory issue was lot bigger than I had expected. I felt pity for him, so I started accompanying him everywhere and would keep record of his important things and later I would pitch in and help him organize his activities properly.

Apart from the attributes of reserved nature he had a certain hesitancy which would cause hurdles for him in effectively mingling with people. As the days witnessed our friendship reaching heights, he shared some dark and hidden stories of his life. The retalition would be broken and badly precised but I found answers to many of my queries related to him.

His past was still tormenting him, the dark and disgusting past. His father had always tortured his mother for giving him a girl child after marriage. After her daughter, it took her several years to be a mother again. When Arnav was on his way to enter this world, a wise old lady of their family prophesied, 'Rukmani will again bear the girl child' and her announcement snatched away every ounce of happiness left in Rukmani and her daughter's life. Arnav's father's wrath befell onto their lives. His father divorced his mother before even his arrival and then heaven laughed over the wisdom of human, dropping Arnav in his mother's lap. He didnt saw his mother thrown out of her husband's house, he didn't witnessed Rukmani's brothers turning their back on their only sister and his two infant children. However since the day he started percieving his surroundings, he only saw his mother working effortlessly and his sister loosing her childhood under the burden of responsibilities. He had heard the accounts of the brutality his mother had faced from her own family and unknowingly he accused himself for her state, considering himself as the reason of his mother's suffering. Though Birth of a boy had given hope to her mother and she built a castle of dreams; a brighter future for herself and her two kids laying its foundation on Arnav's shoulders. The burden of repaying his family's hardships would leave him breathless. I liked him more, when I found out his history; humans posess a lot deeper layers than us.
Arnav's friendship was teaching me new lessons everyday and I learned caring for someone which even my family couldn't teach me.

One pleasant day I was forced to tread the path leading me towards my truth and it took away the most precious thing from me. Arnav took me off guard when he told me about his habit of forgeting. He claimed that he never was like that but  one day he forgot his way to burger's shop and then after a break he started forgeting on regular basis. He also added, 'Since the day I have net you, I am losing more and more. Initially I would forget but later it would get recalled and everything would come back but now it seems I am losing my memories permanently. Yesterday Amar asked me why I was not attending the english class, to which I had no answer because I couldn't recall having an english class ever.'

He had shared all his worries in a go, but had provided me food to worry. The day he accused to be the first day when he forgot was the day when I first set my eyes on him. My mother used to say that we are useful to human then why I am harming him? It couldn't be possible that I have affected him in such a bad way.
Later that day I confronted my mother and shared my worries. And to my surprise she said that  we actually are the memory sucker demons. I was deeply shattered to hear the truth, 'how can a memory sucker be useful mother?'

"Because we help human loose their bad memories. We dim their memories of their loved ones whom they have lost, we help them forget what they have experienced in their mother's womb and infancy, we diminish all their memories so that the emotions attached to them couldn't be felt fresh all the time as every memory holds some kind of emotions and if they are kept fresh, human would feel several emotions at once. If we aren't here to help them, they wouldn't forget the sorrow of their lost loved ones and the pain of bad times, they wouldn't come out of the joy of happy moments and thus wouldn't be able to respond to their present situation accordingly.

We reduce their burden by removing the old and unimportant memories to make space for the new ones', She looked at me, a stern stare emitting from her ruby eyes.
'It's still hurting me mother that Arnav loses his memories when I am around.' I couldn't digest the harm I had caused him.
'Son! a demon and human can never be friends. If a demon stays too close to a human, it could cause permanent damage to his memories which in human's language is called memory loss or alzheimer etc.' She plainly stated in her coarse voice.
'He is my friend and I enjoy spending time with him.' I tried my every bit to defend my relation with Arnav, a human.

'Like I said a human and demon can't be friends. He has to learn to be with his kind and you should stick with your family', I could sense finality in her tone.
I was totally broken with the news and spent my days afterwards hanging from the banyan tree. Although I couldn't keep myself away from Arnav, so I kept an eye on him from a distance. He seemed happy maybe due to his memories back but I would occasionally find his eyes searching for me.
How could I go near him? And how could I tell him that I am the reason behind his memory loss, how could I disclose my truth?
Finally I decided to meet him one last time. He was sitting on the same bench where we chatted for the first time. I popped into human form and walked beside him.
'Hey pal! Where have you been?' I heard his voice coated with happiness.
'Hello', I replied cautiously this time remaining at a mile's distance as I didn't want to take away his memories anymore.

We met like two good old friends meeting after decades. He was happy to see me, why wouldn't he? I was the only friend he had. His experience with life, his tormenting past and the responsibility he had to carry out, had taken away his courage to meet new people and have relations with them. My gaze followed his every move and expression, he was the kind of person I couldn't tolerate hurting, instead I would give anything to help him, to diminish his burdens.
And then It was the Eureka moment for me, an idea had struck me. I took a proper final leave from him and biding him adieu, came back to the tree.


In the life history of the banyan tree, it was very unusual for a demon to be friends with a human, I knew sooner or later, my father would find out about it and then I would have to face his anger and my sibling's teasing. I wanted to end this episode on a good note.
Hanging from the banyan roots I tried focusing my abilities of sucking memories and would run my experiment on the humans who would occasionally walk beside the tree. It took tiring practice of months when I considered myself strong enough to carry out my plan. I had mastered quite a mental focus.

It was time to meet Arnav, I ran towards the college lawns, our usual hang out place. I had to wait for his class to end and when he sat on the bench I stood beside him, invisible yet could be felt. I saw him scrutinising his eyes, it was time for me to act.
I focused on my inbuilt abilities and molded their direction. I took away his memories but not the happy ones. The memories which stopped him from proceeding towards new relations, the rememberance which resisted him from experimenting, the reminiscence which had instilled a kind of fear in him, the recollections which took away his ability to fly and breath freely. I freed him of all the memories which had kept him buried under the ice sheet of fear, hesitation, frustration and nervousness.

Lastly I erased my existence from every scene of his last one year; and trust me that was the hardest part. Leaving a dear friend behind, knowing that I will never forget him and simultaneously being aware that he will never remember me.
I threw a last glance at his face; the dullness of his eyes was replaced with a sparkling gleam, the somber expression was now hopeful, the downward curve of his lips has turned upwards, and his body felt active, emitting the radiance of recently found courage and freedom. I can't cry, otherwise I would have shed some tears that day. He looked a new version of Arnav and I craved to interact with him but went against the wish and ran back to the banyan tree before any second thought could hit me.

Back at the tree, I shared my decision with my mother.
'That's the most generous thing you have done, a demon can never even dream of it.Today I again repeat with a lot more confidence, 'you are different for our kind Zolo' She patted my back and with it I extracted that she was proud of me. Otherwise her same plain stern look and coarse voice couldn't even steal a single hint of pride.
God!! I am going to miss those thousand kinds of expressions and tones humans conjure. Huh!!!

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