An Unfinished Tryst

By Anezka Saraogi

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On a quiet Sunday afternoon, he got off the bus and walked down a tree-lined pathway that led to a small old cottage with a neglected garden.  As he stood wondering, a voice broke into his thoughts, “Are you lost? May I help you?”

It broke Anosh from the thoughts of that morning which was very unpleasant. 

“It is painful. It is hurting. What’s going on…

Amidst a plethora of bodies laid mine. They are all my friends. Ammi! Abu Jaan? Where are you Abu Jaan?

There is a nurse beside me. Only 3 doctors for so many…”

Those voices in his mind again. Anosh was tired; there were no triggers to it. The mind works in strange ways. It gets impossible to control it. These voices are followed by visuals of blood and ruins. Though a frequent episode, that day he blamed it on the Sunday that didn’t feel like one. After working hard in the restaurant the whole week and serving food to people with various temperaments, patience levels and eating habits, Anosh has only Sunday for himself. Life was very monotonous for him; it was mostly him, his room, sleepless nights, trips to and from the restaurant and back home. He barely had friends. 

Today he woke up in a haste. It was 9 a.m. He wanted to relax through the day and spend a usual quiet Sunday. The family dynamics were strange. His mother, Rehnuma, was mostly praying and doing house chores. His father’s health was always fragile so her days revolve around these. As more and more rings get exchanged in the Fattahi street, where their humble abode rests, Rehnuma’s concern about her son’s  raised. 

“Anosh, the electricity bill has our surname wrong. It’s Ahmed, whereas they have written ‘Ahamad.’”

“Oh Ammi! The address is correct right? So it has to be ours.”

He was the only son and thus, the only hope for the family’s survival. 

As a school child, Anosh was very silent in classes. Though bright, he barely had friends. One would mostly find him wandering, looking up at the sky. He frequently spent nights without sleeping, fearing the nightmares that haunted him. Unable to share this with anyone, it would affect his behaviour. He became very shy.

Rehnuma has been looking for a begum for Anosh since quite some time now. And like every Sunday, the only day he is at home all day, this debate continued. 

Baba was mostly indifferent to everything. His job, at the post office, didn’t pay well so finances had always been a tough situation. Lately he started getting sick so now he was at home all day. His mother had seen the toughest of times when Anosh was a child as there were days when the next day’s meal became uncertain. 

All through these 25 years, Anosh felt alien from him. He could never open up to him. But gradually he gave in to adulthood and what it demands- accepting things as they are. 

“Gracious Allah has given you such a beautiful face- these hazel eyes, jet black hair and the enviable fair skin- a string of rishtas are in hand right now. Pick a begum, dear son. Nikkah is a part of every man’s life cycle. You are born, you grow up, you get married, you have kids and only then tread your path towards your next life after death…”

“Ammi enough! We have had this conversation earlier too. Do you not understand? I don’t want to get married! I am earning and paying all our bills. What more do you want?”

It was just after this that he slammed the main gate and left home. His route was usual to the restaurant and back home on weekdays. Limited money didn’t permit much exploration around the city. Bus number 2B reached the stand. It was the only bus that goes to the farthest end of Tehran. Anosh had never been there.

The afternoon was sunny and bright. He didn’t know where the bus was heading but the beautiful city kept him gazing out of the window. There went the Azadi Tower to his left, this massive structure of 45 feet. The larger than life nature of it, and the name Azadi, set him on a trail of thoughts about his own freedom from those demons in his mind. They cloud his mind anytime- sometimes as dreams; other times as constant questions and gruesome visuals. 

Behind him in the bus was a family of three sitting. A young girl of four with her parents. They seemed to be out celebrating a Sunday in the suburbs. 

She said, “Oh look Abba! The Tughrul Tower. I have seen it in my school book.”

Her father replied, “Yes my child. It’s a beautiful monument. We will come here some other day.”

The bus jerked. Tughrul Tower. He had never been to this side of the city, let alone the monuments. Yet he had blurred memories of the staircase that led to it, buying 3 tickets for it… 

However a left turn changed the course of his journey, quite literally. He shook his head to dismiss those thoughts. As unknown as the suburbs of this city are to him, something was different this time. These questions seemed to be guiding him through a certain path; a certain known path- as if he knew the events that would follow in the next episode.  He had never been here. But the proximity to the Azadi Tower told him that he was in the West of the city. Tehran does have many unexplored ruins as a war-torn city. Strangely, it felt familiar to him. 

The street was deserted, with no one around let alone passing cars. The tree-lined path led to an alley. From between the leaves of the trees the cottage was visible. There was something about it. Anosh was attracted to it, almost magically. He knew the path just like someone who lives there. He made his way through the rough, pebbled paths to the interiors of the alley. He took a turn around for a moment and far away on the horizon, the dark clouds had now overshadowed the sun, but it seemed that it would soon go away, to reveal the bright sun and perhaps along with it, other things.

Upon reaching the cottage, Anosh felt a small jerk. His glistening hazel eyes teared up; 

“You know this place,  Anosh… You have seen it somewhere.

Now let me pump your heart,

Do you recall seeing your mother, Anosh?”

He felt dizzy, but wanted to go on still. For most it would be strange; like a madman’s day dream. But the swiftness with which he reached the cottage’s interiors would prove them wrong. 

The entrance to the plot was very bushy. There were small trees with yellow-ish leaves and a very rustic, old gate that opened after a couple of pushes. A cottage emerged in the middle of that deserted plot. From the condition of the house, fallen leaves and dust, one would make out that no one lived there. 

“There should be a little pond somewhere”, Anosh wondered. He gave a quick glance through the garden. And there it was, at the corner, covered in green algae. It was a wooden house, with a sloping roof. The walls were crowded by creepers which seemed to be growing out of nowhere. There was a tiny little floor above- something like a terrace- and both walls had one window on either side. 

Almost as if under intoxication, Anosh got carried away towards the interior of the place. At once, this silence could be eerie. But not for someone who almost felt as if he was back to their old, old home.

“The smell of Laleh… I have.. I have been here..”

One thing did manage to stop him. An old man, of about average height, in white overalls and whiter beard. The look on his face was dismal and hopeful alike – like a man with small height but a big grief. His eyes were up in the sky, as if waiting for God to send him something. He was sitting on the steps that led to the cottage. 

“Is he the security guard? Which means someone probably lives here…” Anosh thought to himself. But the place was too isolated for anyone to live.

He walked up near him. The man looked up and remained silent, staring directly into Anosh’s eyes. “Are you lost? May I help you?”

“Who lives here?”

“I do,” said the man.

“Is this your house?”

“Yes, me and my family’s. Who are you?  What brings you here?” 

“I am Anosh. I don’t know why I came here. I can’t describe it. But the path just led me here.”

The man teared up. “This name brings in a lot of memories. I feel that I have known you.”

“I feel I have known this place.”

“Well, then it must be Allah’s will for us to meet.”

The man, who introduced himself as Rashed, had seen many seasons of life. He lived here with his family, whom he lost 25 years ago. 

“It’s a long story, dear.”

“I am all ears.”

“It was a usual Monday. My little one kissed me on my forehead before leaving for school. It was a special day, as begum jaan Naazneen was making his favourite biryani that evening. As I left for work, little did I know that it’d be the last time we three were together. Nazneen was 18 when we got married. She gave me the biggest blessing of my life- my son. But this happiness was short-lived.

Militants had captured the school in broad daylight. As soon as she heard the news, she left the phone hanging there and my fearless lady went without a second thought. That evening, after I returned home, I kept waiting for both of them. My wait hasn’t ended. They had said…”

“The militants bombed the school?” asked Anosh.

Rashed paused. 

“Yes, but how do you know?”

Anosh didn’t say anything.

“Anyway, I refuse to believe it. I know Allah will reunite us; it’s just a matter of time. Even in those four years, he gave me a lifetime of memories to live by and hold on to. 

Medical facilities have never been great in Tehran, as you must know, child. But as fate would have it, all I ever got of him was a still body in my bare hands. Nazneen was never found.”

Tears rolled down Anosh’s cheek. He himself didn’t know why.

“There, there.”

“Do you have anything left of theirs?”

“Their photographs and memories.”

“I want to see it.”

“Come on in.”

The wooden door would creak on opening and closing. Spider webs and an eerie silence greeted them. They sifted through the old carton boxes that were lying around. There was dust, old utensils, a steel case and some more dust in what looked like the only room in the cottage. In one corner, there was a pitcher and a chulha. Just beside it was a mattress. On it, facing west, was the holy Quran. A small man with a big faith.

Pushing a couple of cartons here and there, Rashed took out an old, stained metal suitcase. He blew the dust from top and opened it. 

Full of toys and small clothes, one could make out that the boy was around four or five years old when the tragedy struck. There were also beautiful, intricate detailed burqas.   Somewhere in the middle of those belongings was a small photograph. 

A young boy, with fair skin, hazel eyes and jet black hair.

“He used to call me Abu Jaan!” added Rashed.

Are you in pain? Is it still hurting?”

There is blood gushing out of my stomach. People are pumping my chest. 

“We have lost him. Move the body aside.”

Anosh couldn’t take it any longer. His head was hurting. Just when he got up to leave, Rashed said, “There is something else too that I have of them.”

Beside the cottage was a huge plot of land. At first, he was scared. But with the sun coming out from the shadows of the clouds, Anosh felt that it might be his time to seek redemption as well. Treading in between the deceased, cautiously, they reached the farthest corner. 

Rashed pushed aside the bunch of white flowers.

The tombstone read:

Anosh Ahmed – 1970-1974.

With a cracked voice, almost like a broken record player, he said, “Abu jaan! Allah has his ways. It was only a matter of time.”

“Grief dismantles you. A part of your whole might always remain missing but faith keeps you going. Humans haven’t conquered everything- especially the workings of the mind, that works in centuries, and the cosmos. There is peace in knowing that there are things beyond your control and that higher forces of nature guide us; and especially the lost ones. By captivating some in their mysterious ways of working, they set them free. 

Anosh, whether you are my little one or from a new birth, you have set me free.” Rashed fell on the ground with closed eyes that never opened again. The day was bright and sunny again.

By Anezka Saraogi

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