Of Fireflies and Slime | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 26, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:35 AM, September 26, 2020


Of Fireflies and Slime

I stood before the door of the house where my grandmother once lived. Age and infirmity had jaded what might have once been a proper door. What had once been a smooth leafy green entrance was now faded and flaking with white speckles and horizontal shafts of indents that the wood lice had eaten into.

I remember my grandmother while she was alive. At her deathbed, she had apparently told my parents that she wanted all of us siblings at her janaza. I had not been able to attend. I remember that two microbuses were hired to take her dead body to the gravesite. I was supposed to go; only I opted out when my father offered to squeeze me into the microbus, it was overloaded and having me inside would make the ride even more uncomfortable for everyone. I came to know later that in the hubbub of the moment my father had forgotten about her request; otherwise he would have squeezed me inside in spite of everyone's discomfort. 

The night was lighted by the moon and noisy with the chirping of crickets and the croaking of frogs at the pond. I took the keys out and opened the door. It was pitch dark and dust laden inside as an abandoned house would be. I shivered a little directing the torch inside and took out candles from the bag, carefully avoiding looking at the dark corners in case I imagined the outline of something ominous hovering by. After a quick look inside the house I unbarred the doors opening into the yard. It was a lovely scene, the weed and tall grass gleamed in the moonlight among the stray leaves. A few fireflies twinkled about here and there in the darkness behind the kitchen that stood across the yard. I took the bench to repose by the scene away from the strain of the cloistered indoors. These were the scenery that made the countryside truly beautiful. How long had it been since I had come to my grandmother's village? Absent minded, I watched one the fireflies sauntering in through the door.

I recalled a story my grandmother had told us when she had been alive. In those days, she would sit on the easy chair by the living room door that led to the yard while counting her prayer beads. The electricity at the villages played hide and seek more frequently than you could expect and the whole area would be plunged into darkness. We would often sit quietly by her as she told us stories about Djinns and the like. On such a dark night, we were discussing fireflies as a few of them happened to have entered the living room. The electricity had been gone for a while and it was about time we had dinner before going to bed. Grandma had asked Jahangir to get a broom to get rid of the insects as the doors would be closed soon. We were all fascinated and happy with their presence in the house and had inquired if we may not have them stay. Our grandmother had smiled and asked Jahangir to explain; only he blinked and looked dumbfoundedly at her. It was then that she began the tale of what a firefly in the house meant.

In her younger years, when there had been no electricity in the villages, a particular kind of Djinn which took the form of fireflies had come to haunt the villages. One night when a woman had been sleeping alone in her home she was awakened by a distinct feeling of being touched all over her body by something disgustingly slimy. Initially, she had been so stunned that she couldn't raise her voice for help. At length, she had shouted for help but had not been heard and inquired after only much later. Unsurprisingly, she had been traumatized to near madness as she recounted being molested by something non-human and the acrid smell that had come to pass. The door was barred and therefore, it was impossible for anyone to enter. The windows, however, were open to let the air in and although no human being could possibly enter through it, a firefly had come in and was present in the room.

Stories as such spread quickly through the village; within a day or two the surrounding villages had learned of the incident. Nobody really understood what was going on; but not long after, another girl was attacked again by the slime. Like the previous case, the girl had been alone in her room and a single firefly was had been present. It did not take long for the villagers to put two plus two together. In desperation they held a council and decided to take measures.

At the imminence of dusk everyone came in and checked to get rid of any fireflies from their homes before shutting down doors and windows and made sure to close the door quickly and watchfully whenever they went out. But these measures were not nearly enough and villagers came up with a plan. From dusk to dawn, a group would be beating pots and pans in places where people lived to disturb the quiet of the night that was taken advantage of by the slime. These were of course joint initiatives, and groups of two and three took turns to continue the noise by inhabited areas. The metallic clang that reverberated through the village from sundown to sunset could be heard from as far away from neighboring villages about a mile away. In the beginning, it was difficult to sleep in the noise, in fact many were unable to sleep, but they soon learned to adapt.

News of such happenings eventually reached the Imam living a few villages away. He was ingenious; in a span of less than two weeks he had imprisoned these supernatural slime beings in jars, filled them in a sack and threw them into the river. For some time, peace returned to the villages. It would have been great if it were to stay as such indefinitely except that the sack full of jars had surfaced again one day and a bunch of children playing by the river had happened upon them. In their curiosity, they unsealed the jars and were delighted to find coloured smoke bursting out each time they opened one. A man who was passing by was shocked to learn about the jars. His explanation of "djinns" frightened everyone by the river. The children stood for a moment before fleeing the spot in fear.

The man himself was terrified but he knew that the djinns would not normally attack humans during daylight. He summoned up courage and collected the empty jars into the sack. He knew that the Imam must be called again for help. A few men were soon dispatched to get the Imam. Thankfully, nobody had been affected by the slimes when the Imam had arrived a few days later. He immediately set about recapturing the wicked slimes. It was lucky that the last slime when he had found him had not gone too far into hiding.

He understood that mere imprisonment would lead to release again one day and hence he gathered them all together by the river and threatened this time to imprison them permanently unless they promised to travel past the distant river that came after this one and never return to this side. The slimes fearful of punishment promised and went past the next river and has not appeared since.


Marjuque Ul Haque is a student of the Department of English & Humanities at ULAB. He loves to explore the intangible and the imaginative.

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