Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Tree

A short story

Murad Ali lay huddled on his charpoy, cursing the cold weather. The winter chill was at its peak in the small village bordering the forest. Murad’s small hut barely held itself together, and the icy winds twirled their way carelessly through it. Despairingly, he looked at the children.

They’d probably freeze to death, by the time I manage to fetch some firewood.” He sighed.

Zainab and Rahim clung to their mother, desperate for some warmth. Miriam’s life revolved around looking after the two, who had arrived unceremoniously in the first two years of her married life. Housework occupied the remaining hours, and Murad…well…he lived in a world of his own.

It stopped snowing as quietly as it had started.

Murad sat up, and found himself looking into Miriam’s questioning eyes.

How pale she looks’. He sighed, feeling sorry for her…for himself. He missed Resham…the beautiful, bewitching Resham…

‘No, no, I mustn’t think about her now…’ he shook his head.

‘Baba, I’m cold!” wailed two-year-old Rahim.

Murad took off his kumbal. “Here, take this…I’ll get some firewood.”

He laboured to the nearest tree in the forest, raised his axe…and froze.

Isn’t this the tree where I saw Resham for the first time?’ he muttered to himself.

How beautiful she had looked, her long silken hair falling over her delicate frame. He had stood in a trance. Then, as if aware of his presence, she had turned…those captivating eyes grown huge with fear. In a flurry of movement, she had disappeared; leaving him feeling oddly enriched.

He remembered how for weeks afterwards he had left behind a neat pile of firewood for her every time he went to collect his own. He had found out that since her brother’s death in the cruel Afghan war, she’d had to work with her ailing father to make ends meet. Murad had decided to send Ammah as soon as he got the job with the furniture factory. Ammah wanted him to marry his cousin, Miriam…but he’d bring her around to it. After all, it was his life.

But luck was not on his side. Resham caught the eye of the rich building contractor before Murad had a chance to send Ammah.

Was she happy with him?’ he wondered, coming back to the present. ‘I couldn’t have provided her what she deserved, anyway…and her rosy cheeks would’ve paled within no time…like Miriam’s."

“Miriam…oh my God!” He blinked, as Mariam’s frail mage flashed in front of his eyes.

Suddenly, the tree appeared to diminish in value. He brought down the axe with a force that surprised him, gathered the firewood in frenzy, and staggered back home…

As he got near, he saw Miriam standing in the doorway, little Zainab in her arms.

Had he taken too long…and Zainab had succumbed to his daydreaming? ’ He stared in horror.

“Oh my God…I killed my baby!” he sobbed, falling to his knees.

Miriam’s eyes registered surprise.

“No, Murad…she’s fine!” She ran up to him. “Abba brought some firewood while you were gone. What took you so long? I was getting worried. Come inside…quick!”

Murad stared, uncomprehendingly. Then he understood. How often he had blamed her for his misfortunes…secretly comparing her with Resham too, but she had never complained.She just stood by his side through thick and thin.

Suddenly, everything fell into place…Resham’s alluring beauty started to fade and merge into Miriam’s reassuring smile. He stood up and smiled.

Slowly, the divide between dream and reality widened…and the sun began filtering its way through the clouds…

Published in You magazine, The News.
Dec, 05

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