"Yes, I know from where I came!
Ever hungry like a flame,
I consume myself and glow,
Light grows all that I conceive,
Ashes everything, I leave:
Flame I am assuredly."
Only the room in which he lodged was heated. His window looked to the south, towards the rolling ground from beneath which the sun rose on rare fine summer mornings. On better days, the vast desert expanse on which the mountains crashed could be seen from this window. The sky was not so dark now, for it had stopped raining during the night. The morning had opened with a greyish dirty light which had scarcely become brighter as the ceiling of clouds lifted. At two in the afternoon it seemed as if the day were merely beginning. But it was a better day compared to those on which the rain thrashes his wrinkled palms as he fights against the gusts of wind breaking through the plank of wood with a knob that serves as his door.
Poverty was cruel to live in, even without other men it made matters worse. In contrast to such poverty, he who lived like a monk in this remote torn away village, nonetheless satisfied with the little he had and with the rough life, felt no less than a lord with his whitewashed walls, his narrow couch, his unpainted shelves, and his weekly provision of water and food.
He stepped out, onto the terrace. Today, in this vast landscape he had loved so much he felt alone. May be it was his age, maybe it was the wrinkles on his forehead, his greying hair, maybe it was the dying flame of youth or the absence of the warmth of a woman's skin that made him feel this way.
He didn't learn that the love of a woman, like something good, something great, wants to be beheld only from a distance, and by all means only from below, not from above; otherwise it makes no impression and loses its charm. So, he was frequently blamed for being incapable of true love, for being a bastard who just jumped right out of one bed and into another. He loved from too near, skin to skin, soul to soul, only till the charm lasted. Then he left and later forgot why he was there in that bed of horrors. He loved like a flame and made the women glow and grow in his light. When he left, they were ashes. Nonetheless, he always looked at himself only from a distance in order to find himself even tolerable, or attractive and invigorating.
Now he lives like a monk and spends his night in vigil, celebrating the death of his youthful fervour. But such days sting him. On such days when he can't contemplate anything beyond his loneliness. He walks to
the nearest village and sips quietly from his glass of anisette till its warmth thwarts the necessary evil within him to the surface. He picks the fuller, the younger women, who though used to serving strong men's poison, appear virginal. He pays well. And they, most enthusiastically, accompany him to his monastery. He calls them guests.
Only very recently, since he runs short of fire wood and the rains doesn't stop, he cuts them open after loving them. He eats the liver, raw, and the rest of the flesh he churns in the fire of their skin and their bones. When cooked the meat is mostly tender, almost buttery. He keeps them within his bowels; that's about as close as he can keep them. After dinner he lets the fire burn itself out and in the morning it's just ashes.
How beautiful she is! Poor mirror, it must be tormenting that you can capture her but cannot hold her. I can draw her close, so very close that I can only see her by distancing myself from her because when lips are clinging to lips it is the soul that can see while eyes remain blind to such piety, to such profanity. How beautiful she is! Poor mirror, it must be tormenting – it is good that you do not know jealousy.
Her dark hair, through which this loutish breeze drifts like the drunk, shrouds her forehead softly and gently. Her skin with its honey dipped hue is like velvet to the touch – that I can feel with my eyes. Her eyes – yes, I have not even seen them; they are hidden beneath the curtain of eye lashes that are bent like barbs, dangerous to anyone who wishes to meet her glance.
She speaks. Her lips part and glint in the light with a pink tint. Her hands rise, thin and lean like a choirmaster's wand, and orchestrates the words she speaks. Her palms white and soft, I feel it with my eyes, land like snow on her cheeks. She expresses surprise at the article the shopkeeper placed on the counter. Her fingers touch it delicately, seductively, soothingly and I see her fourth finger doesn't bear a ring. Ah! That's something. I want to tell her she is selected. I want to tell her she will be overtaken. But in calmness I remain and I abstain.
She walks out of one shop and walks in to the next. Her steps rhythmic, periodic, cadenced like my poor heart's jiffy beat. I see her from the opposite counter. Does she see me? Oh! Dear mirror, have you revealed me to her? I turn and stare. No. Ah! Dear Mirror, it is only in you that we are together though opposite to each other.
She rises and takes to the door. I follow her. She walks slow but I want to tell her that it is already evening and she shouldn't be on the street alone. I pace up and walk right behind her and then beside her. I can feel her warmth in my blood. The winter is cold but I can feel her summer.
She stops with a jolt and waves to call somebody. Oh! It's the taxi. I take a good look at the driver and the car's number. She gets up and closes the door. The taxi waits for the signal to turn green. She rolls the window down and I see her. I meet her glance. She stares with unease but I feel it's a tease.
The signals' amber. The engine roars. The signals' green. The taxi drives away and my hearts' left in a sway.
Poor Mirror, you must still be capturing her. Poor Mirror, you are still with her.
I try to sleep. I try so hard that I realise soon enough that rather than relaxing I am actually working at falling asleep, and will never really fall asleep because then it's not sleep anymore, it's work. After hours of struggle in that absurdity, I realise that I need a break from work.
I rise up and open the slide door to let the traffic in. The problem with every big city is that the buildings are too high and too many and nothing can rise up to such heights except the screeching noise of car horns. There's no chirping of birds, nor any mosquitoes. I miss the mosquitos at this height. I cannot sleep so there is no point in staying naked. I always found the notion of wearing clothes while sleeping quite absurd. It is my strong conviction, that any garment swathing the body also encases the dreams. And what is freedom without boundless dreams? I put my blue jeans and my black T shirt on and stand in the veranda.
The air is stale. There is no movement in it even at this height. Not a whiff nor a breeze just standing air. Sometimes I doubt whether it is air and then I breathe a long one. I think the composition is chemically sound but aesthetically corrupted. In these big cities where human copulate and populate, even the air in corrupted.
I lit one from the pack of Dunhill. This particular cigarette butt has a little hole in it. They call it the flow filter. It's supposed to enhance the taste, the experience; supposed to let the smoke flow smoothly. I laugh at the notion and the analogy that I could draw and take to the toilet, to let it flow smoothly. Such are my sleepless nights; I philosophise even on a cigarette butt.
I couldn't find peace. I think I need a drink. I need the whisky to dance in my mouth, my throat, with my tongue and mingle in my blood and copulate with my blood to populate my thoughts or to rid me of any. I need sleep. I don't need thoughts.
I walk down the streets rather than taking the lift. But the down climb did not precipitate any exhaustion. There's a bar around the corner of the second block. Bar on the surface and brothel underground. The beasts are fed above to later ravage the beauties below. I walk in to it; sleepless. A few shots of tequila couldn't do much and I sat with my usual anisette. The fuming green liquid is my poison.
A girl in a skirt, shorter than usual, sat at the other counter. She wore a green skirt. She seemed to be fuming like this drink in my hand. Or maybe she was smoking a cigarette. I didn't care but I kept staring at her. Can she give me a little sleep?
I walked up to her and cupped her and kissed her gently. She didn't mind. I asked her if she's sleepy. She didn't answer. I asked her if she could help me to sleep. She nodded, yes. I asked her if she's a virgin. She said, I didn't have any option but to believe she is. This struck me. There was no way to scale her fidelity. Wasn't it the same for me? I didn't mind if she wasn't. But I didn't want her either.
I wanted sleep. She kept me awake. I asked her why she was keeping me awake. She said she was just doing her job. I didn't complain. I sat there sleepless.
By Zulfiker Hyder
The writer is a teacher at Sunnydale School