The Hour Before Fajr
It was mid-winter, clouds of dense fog rolled over the small village where Hritu spent her days as a young mother, raising her eighteen-month-old child in her in-law's home while her husband was abroad for work
The routine care of her son had been the joy of life, except one day when something strange happened. At 3:00 am when the household had retired to slumber, the child woke from sleep with outcries of wailing. Hritu promptly got up to lull the child back to sleep, but he wasn't responsive to her efforts and wailed incessantly without end. In the beginning it was not so obvious that something was wrong. Maybe he had an unpleasant dream and besides it is often that children cried without apparent reason. After sometime however it seemed that something was indeed odd. He continued wailing and kept the entire house awake until the start of the Fajr adhan when his crying finally receded and he went back to sleep. All seemed fine and fair until the next day when the child began to wail again exactly at 3:00 am like before. This time the event was odder than usual, the child expressed a vague semblance of reason for his tantrum.
Wide awake with a moan, after moving about in his uneasy sleep, he suddenly pointed at the wall, and called out hysterically "There! there! there! there! there! there!" and then broke into a loud cry. Hritu looked at the wall he was pointing at, there was nothing there, it was only a bare wall and yet perhaps a specter was there that only he could see? Like last time he kept on wailing loudly without stop; unappeasable he got down from bed and demanded "I want to go outside! I want to go outside! open the door! open the door!" No matter how much Hritu or the boy's grandmother tried to tell him otherwise, he couldn't be placated. He didn't listen to what he was told and shook off their grasp and caresses. Finding his mother and grandmother unhelpful he called out to his grandfather.
At one point the boy seemed to have gone out of hand. "Grandpa, I want to go outside! Open the door I want to go outside," he cried out, banging on the door he was incapable of opening. Hritu and everyone in the house stood by the child, but not one daring to open the door. Hritu herself would never go outside on such a foggy winter night much less allow her son on such a venture. The door he wanted open would only lead him to the courtyard, but a child is vulnerable and there remained besides an unsubstantiated and incomprehensible fear of the unforeseeable, of the impenetrable fog, and the fathomless darkness as deep as the peril it suggested. Finally, like last time, after what seemed like an entire night, the tantrums subsided with the dawn of Fajr and he drifted to sleep.
The menace repeated itself again the following night starting 3:00 am, the pointing of the same accursed wall, the uncontrollable wailing, the banging on the door, and the demand to go outside.
"What's wrong with the child? Why is he behaving so unnaturally?" She thought in frustrated despair. No matter how much he acted this way letting him outside was out of question.
The boy's grandmother, however, seemed to have an inkling into the matter.
The next morning, she visited the Fakir and returned in the afternoon with a rectangular silver amulet the size of a thumb nail attached to a chain. She explained to Hritu that the child was to wear it around his neck at all times if the child or the situation was to improve.
It worked like magic. That night, with the amulet on his neck Hritu's son slept fitfully without a stir. Night turned to morning and the boy woke up from sleep like every other normal day. It seemed as if a burden had been lifted off her shoulders. She watched her son warily for the next two nights, half expecting him to repeat the alarming events. On each passing night she thanked Allah that the unfathomable nightmare was finally behind her and remained ever vigilant of her son.
A few weeks later, however, the past repeated itself. At the ill-portended hour, the child returned with his unfathomable behavior once more - the pointing of the accursed wall followed the uncontrollable crying, demands to go outside, and finally the banging on the door while everyone in the house stood by watching him. Hritu would never let him outside no matter what. After what had seemed like forever, the distressed Hritu put the child to bed, anticipating the event on the coming night, hoping somehow that he would turn back to normal somehow. It was as she had expected, her son had begun again with the same tantrums and the same unappeasable attitude again at 3:00am.
It seemed that the problem would persist for some time except on the following night the problem seemed to present itself. A while after the child had finished his episodic tantrum and gone to sleep, a male voice seemed to whisper in his grandmother's ears "the boy doesn't have the amulet on his neck." She had been half asleep on her reclining chair when she detected the whispers and assumed it to be a dream, but once wide awake the male voice whispered again, "the boy doesn't have the amulet on his neck."
In the morning when Hritu had prepared her son for his routine bath, Fatema asked her to check for the amulet. She touched her son's chest, then did a double take in alarm, it was not there. The missing amulet was of course replaced with another one as soon as possible and peace it seemed, finally returned to the household once more.
The family would figure out later on that the amulet was taken by one of the helping hands, a woman who took care of Hritu's son. The amulet being made of silver was both expensive and an easy target. The poor soul had been afflicted by an illness for which she had was in need of money for medicine. The medicine she took failed her and she died a few years later.
Marjuque Ul-Haque is interested in writing about the strange and bizarre. He is an occasional writer for the Star Literature page.