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"After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in this world."
'When was the last time this sky looked so beautiful?’ Fareeda wondered, Counting the same set of stars for the forty fifth time.
The night seemed to be quiet just like the voices in her head, but the cold breeze was piercing through her feeble old hands.
“Just a few more hours and then my Allah will embrace me in his mighty arms, isn’t it?”
“Alhamdulillah” the two voices in her head sang.
“Heaven will be just as you had read in Quran, you will sit at the right hand of Allah” The voices began to come back to life.
Fareeda blushed looked up to the sky and praised God. Thanked Allah for the two voices she could hear, even after she was completely deaf. They were blessings from the mighty one. Angels sent to take care of her.
She sat there examining the pointed pieces of boulders broken into smaller chunks which lay all over that place.
“The path that leads to the supreme one is not easy” she said to herself.
The two parallel steel rods on her either side reflected back the milky moonlight.
“This is the path from where your Allah will take you to your eternal abode” one of the voices whispered in her ear.
She decided to lie down; resting her head on one of the cemented slabs which lay one after the other at an arm’s length all over that path.
“My frail aging back needs rest, give me a signal when my Allah is about to come” She said to the voices.
“Don’t forget us, once Allah takes you with him” the voices teased Fareeda, she closed her eyes and smiled.
It was during one such winter night she heard these voices for the first time. It was the day of her husband’s first death anniversary. None of her children who were settled far away in the city came to meet her. She cried all day.
Fareeda had no friends; the neighbours considered it a tedious task to communicate with this deaf old woman. “One has to scream the hell out to talk to her” the neighbours would often say.
That day Fareeda missed her husband, he was eighty five when he died. She longed to meet her kids, two daughters and one son. The realisation of being all alone sank deep into her wrinkled skin just like the insulin injections she took for diabetes. She longed to hear a voice; it was more than a decade that she had turned deaf. Not a shoulder to cry upon and not a soul to console her, she cried lying on that bed. She stayed indoors for two days. With the doors and windows closed, the neighbours suspected that the old lady is dead.
It was only on the third day that the neighbours finally saw her. She was up and about doing the chores, sweeping the veranda and washing her clothes. But today she was not the usual silent Fareeda. She at times giggled to herself. Sometimes she would nod looking at thin air and at other times would reply back in a ‘yes’ or ‘No’.
Fareeda, who was usually ignored by everybody, became the talk of the town. “Whom is she talking to?” The village elders would discuss, sitting at the village junction tree.
“The old lady has gone cranky” the kids would run shouting around the village’s serpentine roads. The news of Fareeda talking alone spread like a wild fire.
Oblivious to all this Fareeda continued with her conversations, the friendship with the unknown voices grew after each passing day.
Housewives would finish their household chores early and by afternoon would line up at Fareeda’s bedroom window, to catch a glimpse of the old lady talking to thin air.
Sometimes she would be seen scolding the voices and sometimes she would be simply sitting teary eyed and only nodding with an occasional sound of “Hmm. Hmm”.
One day the village head called her son from the city and he came and took her with him. From that day onwards she lost her freedom. Freedom to talk.
That day in the evening her son cried sitting next to her feet while Fareeda was busy smiling to the voices.
Early the next dawn he took her to a psychiatrist.
“You are stupid! What is wrong with me?” Fareeda argued. “Those are not just voices son, they are angels of Allah.”
But the doctor contradicted her findings and gave a long unpronounceable name to the condition.
“You city people have lost all fear of God. Who will term it as a medical condition? You all should better repent, than burn in the fire of hell” she would warn her son and daughter-in-law.
She was forbidden to respond back to the voices she heard. Her daughter –in- law would keep a check, whenever her son was in the office. “Ignore maa”she would say, “Talk to us, not to them.”
But for Fareeda the voices were now her family. She missed her small house back in the village and the freedom to talk to her angels of God.
“If you ignore us, Allah will be furious” the voices would warn her.
The nights were Fareeda’s. She would whisper continuously throughout the night.
“I pray Allah’s curse may not fall on my son’s family” she would communicate her fears to them.
Sometimes she would sleep mid way while talking, the heavy dose of medicines made her lethargic and drowsy.
“Its time you meet Allah, you want to, don’t you?” The voices asked one night.
Fareeda could not control her joy. She was exhilarated. She bit the pillow with her rattling teeth. Tears welled up in her eyes and she sat down crossed legged on bed.
‘Finally the day has come’ she thought. Wiping her tears she thanked both, God and the voices.
Tomorrow at this time, when everyone would sleep, we will sneak out from the back door. Past the old road, beyond the field, there is a path. The path which leads to Allah” the voices discussed the master plan with Fareeda.
The next morning she woke up early and read the Quran for a couple of more hours than usual.
“Do they not see the birds controlled in the air? No one holds them up except the Allah. Indeed in them are signs for people who believe” She read aloud.
In the afternoon she slept hugging her grandchildren and in the evening after dinner she kissed her son and daughter-in-law good night.
Past midnight when the whole town slept, Fareeda sneaked out through the back door. She looked back at the house for one last time.
“We will meet in heaven my son” She said softly.
“Hurry up Allah will not wait for you” the voices said.
She waded her way through the night to reach the path as guided by the voices.
“This is the route to heaven” they finally said, Fareeda had reached a place filled with pieces of rocks and she sat there admiring the beauty of the night and praising God.
It had almost been an hour since Fareeda reached that spot. The cold was now surging her limits and the boulder pieces pierced her back.
Just then the earth beneath her began to shake in a slow rhythm, just like the beating of a heart.
“Hail be to Allah” the voices shouted.
Startled, Fareeda sat down and she began to shiver. Eighty years on this hell on earth, this was the time to meet her creator. The two iron rods on both her sides began to vibrate by then. She closed her eyes and felt the vibrations.
Tears began to gush out of her eyes, “my Allah’s footsteps” she cried.
“Sing hail be to Allah” the voices chorused.
Far away at the bend, a faint light began to appear.
“The mighty one is the lamp of this universe” Fareeda screamed aloud.
The light which a few moments ago was far away at the bend approached her at a faster speed than she had imagined. The pieces of rocks trembled with fear and the earth shook as if it would split in half.
“My Allah” Fareeda cried.
“Praise be to God” the voices sang.
The light was just a few meters away from Fareeda and it blinded her. She opened her arms to receive her creator.
The midnight express train ran over Fareeda, crushing her bones like rice powder. Blood splashed all over the tracks and on the nearby fields like water from a fountain.
The train went howling past the sleepy town and Fareeda’s shouts of praise drowned in its whistle.
Long after the train passed, the tracks still vibrated. The voices vanished in thin air and Fareeda finally met her Allah.
What a beautiful night it was.
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