The tea felt warm inside his mouth. He imagined that some of the soot that rose from the chimney in the house opposite had gotten into the tea. He also imagined a thousand bacteria, invisible to the eye ,rising off debris that was everywhere in the alley below.
The sub-visual beings then got into the cup of tea he held in his hand, mingled with the beverage which his daughter had so lovingly made for him before she left with her husband for work- they both worked for the same employer; the husband as an assistant in the man’s medical store while the wife was as a cook in the man’s bungalow. The bacteria acted fast, turning the tea substandard, downgrading its taste.
But Muhammed knew that it was just his imagination. If there’s one thing about Aaliya he knew. it was that she possessed culinary skills equal to that of her mother, god rest her soul. And you bet the skill extended to preparing a good cup of tea- from choosing the right tea dust (within the constraints of budget, pf course)to finding the right ratio of dust to water, and just the perfect amount of sugar-things that may sound simple but which as anyone who has attempted to perfect the art of tea making would know is harder than one may imagine.
God only knows that Muhammed, though living in the sixth decade of his life still makes mistakes at with making tea. But not his daughter.
Even so, when his eyes fell on the contents of the garbage truck which passed through the alley – some of the soiled paper, diapers, food waste and worse spilling out as the truck ambled through the plentifully potholed path, it was all Muhammed could do to keep from puking.
Khadeejabeevi was still young in his mind, not the over-50 years that she looked in the photograph he was looking at.
Muhammed did this every day- sitting in a red plastic chair, the front door open to his right, he would gaze longingly at his departed wife’s picture. She has been gone from the world a decade ago but the memories, instead of fading with time, only intensified.
Presently he ran a finger over the face in the image, spreading the touch towards the edges of the photo which were fading with age. “I am here. Where are you?” He never used to be someone who talks when he is alone-not even during the 10 years since his wife’s demise. It was only after he moved in with his daughter, since he got to Mumbai that he got into this habit-without even noticing it himself- much like how the archipelago of seven islands transformed into its present state of an over-populated financial hub: a transformation which was noticed by most in the rest of the country only after the transformation was finished.
Khadeejabeevi gazed back from her permanent posture in the picture, not speaking, a smile hung from her lips- a smile Muhammed longed to see again-not in a picture either.
“Where are you?” he repeated, the words issuing from his lips like a murmured prayer.
It’s been only four months since Muhammed Arshad has moved to Aliya’s house in Mumbai. Though she-and her husband had asked him to move in with them multiple times before he had always opposed the idea.
“Why do vaapa want to live there all alone when umma is no more!” was the oft-repeated refrain. The fact that the house he stayed in in the small city of Kollam in Kerala was not his own gave weight to Aaliya’s question. He never owned a place in his life- the burden of marrying off two daughters and educating them and also a son meant that such things as a house of his own had to wait. A wait which went on for far too long…
But Muhammed resisted. “It’s okay. I still work. And I have been here all my life. Why try to change me now?” The work he was referring to was that as a security guard at one of the cashew processing factories in Kollam. The city and its suburbs being historically known for the quality of cashew nuts that the earth brings forth, the factories provide employment to many.
Not that Muhammed had much to do there, neither could he do much in case of an emergency.
67 years is not the best age for defending an entire factory. The factory owner retained him largely because he has been with the company for over a decade. Also, there wasn’t much he had to do except do the rounds every night to check if stray dogs haven’t gotten into the premises-the dogs shit all over the factory floor.
Once the workers leave for the day, Muhammed-who worked the night shift would be stationed in the security cabin, mostly reading a newspaper. Before becoming a security guard he was a taxi driver. He never used to be much of a reader, but reading about all the horrendous things that happen in the world beats just sitting idle in the security’s cabin, staring at the lone naked bulb which lit the small 10 feet by 10 feet enclosure.
Now, thanks to years of regularly reading the papers, he thinks about things that he never used to think of before: like bacteria.
It was a slip in the bathroom that resulted in a few broken bones which forced him to finally accept Aaliya’s invitation.
“Let us take care of you,” she said. His son-in-law was also equally vociferous about the idea.
And now, here he was.
“Where are you?” he asked of his wife’s image again.
Nights are never really nights in this part of Mumbai, at least not like how Muhammed has always viewed the dark at a day’s end.
For one thing, you cannot hear the sound of the crickets. But forget about that-your ears are numbed with the incessant blares of horns which vehicles spew into the air like they do the soot from their exhaust. They say the city never sleeps.
And it doesn’t let anyone sleep either, was Muhammad’s thought on it.
Contrary to what the doctors had said, Muhammad’s leg healed reasonably fast. Instead of having to wait for six months before he could walk without assistance, he began to move around, sometimes holding his 8 year old granddaughter’s arm just three months after the cast came off. But it still hurts on cold nights, as it did tonight.
The pain which the night air induced wasn’t strong enough to wake him from his sleep- not at first. At first, it was like a prickling sensation just beneath the tendons but it soon escalated, enough to make him blink and come awake, cursing under his breath.
He has found that, curiously enough the only thing which helped take away the pain was for him to walk for a little while. The room where he slept was previously the storeroom of the house- if he stood up and stretched his arms, he could not just touch, but press his arms against the walls. Not the kind of place apt for walking. Not that Aaliya found him accommodation in this room because she was disregarding him. The living/bedroom where the family comprising the mother, father and their 8 year old daughter slept was barely bigger than this one.
Indeed, the congestion in the house-something Muhammed has noticed when he visited the house the only time he did-four years ago for the housewarming was one of the main reasons why he objected repeatedly to moving in with them. The fact that the house was in a mohalla where buildings were practically stacked against each other didn’t do anything to make him change his mind either.
From the very few walks which he took around the area on the three days he stayed in the house during that time, one observation got stuck in his mind: People here seem to be very efficient at building cul-de-sacs!
“And this room is also like a culd-de-sac!” Muhammed muttered.
Unable to take a walk, he willed himself to go back to sleep, wrapping the blanket even tighter around his body, particularly around his legs to keep the cold out.
But the cold did seep in and even though at some point Muhammed managed to slip back into sleep, the sleep was restless.
But the reason for the disturbance may not have been only the cold.
In the dark, his mind trembled- the repercussions of which reached the brain, causing imageries to be created. More than just imageries, actually-for Muhammad not just saw but felt the ‘wound’ opening in the wall from which spilled blood. All the walls of the room now converged, locking Muhammad in even smaller a space, and then the roof too lowered so that he could now touch it lying down.
Feeling suffocated, Muhammed opened his eyes.
He was relieved to see that the room has now changed in dimensions. However, the relief was only short lived. He saw that he was now standing and was not in the supine position. In fact, there was only just enough space for him to keep his feet on the ground, wedged as he was between two walls which closed in on it.
To his back and his front existed a darkness the kind of which is rarely seen-not even on the darkest night on earth.
The only thing which compelled him to move forward than backwards was the sound-a whimper which came forth from the oblivion in front of him. Whether it was just the simple human compulsion to help someone in distress which made him move in that direction, Muhammed wasn’t sure. All he knew was that with each step which he carefully took one after the other, the darkness followed him, like a sentience that sought to make sure that he kept moving.
And he did keep moving-towards the whimper which sounded like it was being made by a young woman, or a girl. As he moved closer to the source of the sound which lied buried in the pit of darkness, Muhammed felt wetness where his fingers touched the wall. Even before facing his palm upwards to his face, he knew what it was- blood. The life fluid was pouring out of the wounds in the wall.
What little light illuminated his path was suddenly no more, leaving Muhammed with no sight but the sounds of the whimper-so near now and also that of the blood trickling to the floor. These sounds combined with the absence of light and the extremely close-in environ in which he found himself almost had Muhammed losing his mind.
But in the heart of the darkness rose another light-this one hazier but for which Muhammed was thankful. The red glow trickled into the air like paint on paper, making an imperfect circle. In the middle of this circle-no-circle stood a little girl, the source of all the despair-filled whimpers. Sensing that Muhammed was close, the girl now looked up.
Two gaping holes looked out from where the eyes should have been. The sockets were filled with red puss which was slowly yet steadily sliding down the cheeks. But eyeless though the girl was, Muhammed got the distinct impression that she was looking directly at him.
Petrified with fear, Muhammed lost his voice. But the girl in the circle of light more than made up for it. For the scream that came from her mouth was so forceful that at one point Muhammed thought that his eardrums were surely going to burst(he remembered reading about taking care of the ears in the health section of the newspapers once).
With the girl’s scream, more number of wounds sprouted on the walls. With the increased number of openings also rose the amount of blood which came out of them. Soon, the small cul-de-sac where Muhammed stood began to get filled with blood, filling first up to his knees and soon rising above his chest. The girl, even though she stood not more than two feet away from him, oddly enough was untouched by the blood which was pooling on the floor.
She sustained the scream though, and the crimson blood kept rising all around Muhammed. Only when it threatened to rise above the level of his nose that Muhammed found his voice again.
Rising his face upwards, the tip of his nose mere inches away from the roof, he started to scream.
He woke up from sleep, his leg hurting from the cold.
The subsequent nights Muhammed expected the dream-so vivid and visceral to repeat. Indeed, dreading the same, he would lie awake on the mattress laid on the floor, for as long as he could. But the nightmare evaded him and even though he couldn’t quite forget it completely, he stopped dreading notions of its return and began going to sleep with a relative peace.
Little did he know what was in store for him.
Now that his leg was much improved- thanks in no small part to the way Aaliya took care of him, her policy being ‘Father moves only for leisure!”, it has become his habit to take his grandchild out in the evenings, once she was back from school and buy her sweets. Muhammed took quiet pride in the fact that he could buy her even clothes or toys-thanks to the money he has saved up from working in the factory-the small settlement which the company gave him as a parting gift was also in the bank.
“Do you think that this dress will look good with my blue shoes, abba!” the child was saying.
They were back from another shopping expedition in the neighborhood- Muhammed’s granddaughter was quite choosy when it came to clothes, much like her mother. The sky was a pale blue-still a way from the darker shades which would come with twilight but advanced far enough from the day when it’s all bright and shiny up there.
Though he still found the neighbourhood-with its cluttered setup lees than likeable, walking with the child he found himself in a cocoon of quiet happiness.
“What if it didn’t go well with the blue shoes!” he said, “Anything will look good on you, my sweet child, because you’re so beautiful!”
“You are just saying that!” said the child, who laughed, exposing the spaces with the missing teeth.
They had reached the building on the first floor of which was Aaliya’s apartment. Muhammed wanted nothing more than to delay going back in, perhaps go a little further on the walk, holding the little girl’s hand.
But “bring her back without delay, vaapa!” was something that Aaliya had specifically said. “She has a load of homework to do and she will do anything to get out of it! Don’t give her the chance.”
It was when they reached the landing on the first floor that Muhammed’s eye fell on the face of the girl-the eyeless one from the terrible nightmare. Only, here, she had both her eyes intact, looking a bit off the camera, a forced smile on her face-the kind of smile a child would give at the urge of a parent who might say. “Give the camera one of your beautiful smiles!”, the kind of thing which could make a child squirm rather than smile.
The photograph was in the plastic pouch of a wallet which a man just opened. The man- thick bearded and mustachioed was bleary eyed-not necessarily because of sleep deprivation. Muhammed had the impression that the bleariness was caused by accumulated sadness.
The man stood at the door to one of the apartments where an elderly man gave him money. Accepting the money, the man put it in the wallet and thanking the elderly man, closed it.
From the transaction and the ensuing conversation between them, Muhammed realized that the man was accepting the monthly rent from a tenant.
It was only when he looked up at Muhammed’s face that Muhammed realized he has been staring at him all this while. The tenant, by this time had closed the door and the bleary eyed man was ready to walk towards the stairs which would take him down and out of the building.
“Do I know you?” the man said, offering a smile which nonetheless didn’t mask the sadness which was ever present in his eyes.
Muhammed wasn’t sure if there was any subtle way of putting what was on his mind. It was another moment or two before he said anything, “I don’t think you know me. And neither do I know you. But I saw the girl in the picture in your wallet a few days ago.” In a dream, he was about to add but then refrained, judging that that would only result in losing the chance to have a conversation with him.
Upon hearing what Muhammed said the man’s pleasant expression changed. He looked to be in his early 40s but with the rearrangement of certain facial muscles, he suddenly looked at least a decade older.
“That cannot be,” said the man. “For it’s been years since she passed away.”
Now it was Muhammad’s turn to undergo a transformation of expression. From the amicable though somewhat lost look which he sported, the transition was to one of dumbfounded surprise. As for the other man, he looked down at the girl who held on to Muhammed’s hand.
Muhammed knew that the man was thinking the same thought as him: the girl in the picture was around the same age as his granddaughter.
“I thought I saw the girl somewhere recently,” said Muhammed, unsure what else to say. But unable to let it go at that, he added, “Would you care to tell me who she is?”
The hurt in the man’s eyes made him immediately regret his question. He was about to apologize for breaching his privacy when the man nodded, a barely perceptible gesture which made Muhammed happy. He was finally going to learn about the strange nightmare.
“You now run off to your mother, darling!” Muhammed urged his granddaughter.
“You come with me, abba!” the girl said. It took a bit of cajoling and a promise of an extra chocolate the next day but the girl eventually ran to her parents’ apartment. Seeing her disappearing into apartment at the end of the corridor, the man said to Muhammed, “You must be visiting Noushad.” Noushad was Muhammed’s son-in-law’s name.
“I was about to go have a coffee,” said the man. “Would you please join me?” After having just made the climb up the stairs, Muhammed wasn’t too keen on taking the same flight of stairs down-his leg was much better, but not that better. All the same, he accepted the man’s invitation- one has to know what one needs to know.
The knowledge that Muhammed gained at the coffee shop wasn’t the kind that brought him any solace. In fact, it made him even more unsettled.
The girl was the man’s daughter. They used to stay in the same cramped apartment which now Aaliya and her husband own. The man- a diligent individual who harbored the dream of upward mobility like millions of Indians during these times when more money is being generated by the common man than ever before, managed to buy a home of his own- an apartment in the same building. But on the day when the family were to move to their own home, they found the girl-the couple’s only daughter lying dead.
“She was alright when she went to sleep. But in the morning, we found her lying stone cold, her heart no more beating,” the man said to Muhammed. “Her skin felt so cold to the touch, as if it’s been days since she had died, only her body for some reason hasn’t begun to rot.” There was no discernible expression in the man’s voice. He was reciting something which he had told himself a million times, with each recitation coming closer to accepting the fact, at least as much as he could.
To this day, the cause of the child’s death remains unknown.
“She didn’t have any disease except for a common cold which left her a few days prior. The only thing unusual during those last few days was her frequent complaints that there was someone else in the room other than us- her mother and father. We didn’t know what to make of it. We still don’t.”
It was this bit of information more than anything else which had Muhammed worried. For on many occasions he too would come awake in the dead of the night with the distinct impression that there was someone in the room. Sometimes he could even hear the faint whimpers of the girl-sounding like they came from within an ice cave.
“After her death, it was just too painful for us to stay anywhere close to that apartment, especially for my wife. So we have rented out our home and we live in a rented apartment ourselves, quite far from here,” the man said with a wry humour twisting his lips into a smile. “I haven’t spoken about these things to anyone in years. But I reckon I needed this. I feel much relieved for having spoken about it.”
Muhammed wished he could say the same.
It felt odd to him to be doing such ordinary things as brushing his teeth, going out on walks with his grand-daughter and sitting in the red chair, gazing longingly at his dead wife’s face…all of these while a dark undercurrent of apprehension constantly coursed through his mind. For he for some reason felr absolutely sure that the girl would appear before him any day now. And he wasn’t sure if he was ready for another encounter.
The conviction wasn’t of an ordinary nature, keeping in tune with the nature of the impending encounter. It was almost as though someone-or something planted the thought in his mind.
Muhammed’s readiness, or the lack thereof for the encounter didn’t have anything to do with the event happening, as he found out one night.
This time, there was no preamble. No cold that speared through the bones of his leg, no whimpers in the dark. In fact, there was not even a slow transition from sleep to traversing the corridors of nightmares as he experienced the last time. Muhammed wasn’t sure when he started the walk through the bloody corridor, the walls on either side trickling blood.
The difference this time was that the path was broader-broad enough for two persons to walk side by side together. An even bigger difference was that he was being led by the hand, just as how his granddaughter would sometimes lead him in stretches of their walk. Only here, it wasn’t his granddaughter who was leading him-it was the girl, his back to him, the curl of her hair bouncing off her shoulders.
The darkness which existed like a block of solid mass persisted both in front and behind them. But the girl seemed confident of their destination-her steps never halting.
Muhammed found the absence of any sound rather disorienting. Their footsteps were making no echoes and the trickle of blood reached the ground shrouded in a silence that was deep and impenetrable.
But when a sound did arise, Muhammad wished for the silence.
It was a mixture of sounds-gnashing of teeth and a ‘whoosh’ which suggested a whip being slashed through the air. And there were screams. Though Muhammed couldn’t tell if they were screams of joy or terror, he was convinced that they were born of insanity.
Soon enough, he was brought to the source of all the commotion- an imperfect circle of red glow in the dark where stood what appeared to be a creature with a man’s torso and a tiger’s lower-half, the tail of which was whipping through the air, making the ‘whoosh’ which he had previously heard. The tail hit a human- a young man with a perennial grin on his face which suggested madness, and who screamed every time the long tail landed on his body with a resounding slap. The cuts and wounds thus inflicted were numerous. They bled but though he was obviously under severe pain, the grin never left his face.
There was a third person present- a woman whose ultra-smooth skin and pupil-less eyes made it hard to determine her age. Every time the whip-like tail of the tiger-man landed on the young man’s body, she would clap her hands and laugh-sounds which reverberated inside the chamber of the red glow. She was naked till her waist and below that just a mass of decay.
“These are all souls who passed away in that apartment. Now, they are trapped here-in this small chamber, somewhere in the left hemisphere of hell.” Muhammed was startled to hear the young girl’s voice. She spoke in a normal enough voice, albeit weighed down with sadness. What had him startled was the fact that she was speaking to him directly- a dead soul reaching out to someone on this side of the wall. “There are co-ordinates on earth which coincide with certain significant points of hell. Those who inhabit these co-ordinates stand a higher chance of getting trapped in the different chambers of hell-much like what happened with the souls that passed away in that apartment.”
Muhammed wasn’t sure which he found more incongruous- the idea of co-ordinates crossing over points of hell or the fact that this little girl spoke about hell in scientific terms.
“We are forced to inflict pain on each other here,” added the girl. “They gouged out my eyes,” she said with just a touch of sadness in her words- a tone which reminded Muhammed of the way her father had spoken about her death.
She now turned towards him, looked at him with eyeless eyes. “Will you help me?” There was nothing subtle about the sadness anymore. She was pleading.
Feelings of pathos and horror competed within Muhammad’s mental space.
The fact that he was looking at the mutilated face not for the first time didn’t do anything to curb the shock that came with it. It was all he could do to concentrate on what the girl was saying.
“It is with much difficulty that I have managed to contact you. Only if the person’s mind is weakened enough and he lives in the apartment for a long time-his mind getting attuned to the space’s vibration will it be possible for us to contact you.”
Without her elaborating Muhammed knew that his mind was weakened by the little accident in the bathroom which showed him how vulnerable he was in his old age. That, and the fact that the shift to Mumbai has transplanted him to an environ unfamiliar to him.
“So, please, you must help me for I know not when or if I will be able to make my case after you.”
The girl slowly let go of his hand and pressed her palms together in the gesture of pleading.
For one second, the girl’s face was replaced with that of his grand-daughter’s. The image flickered out like a glitch in a movie frame, but its effect stayed in his mind.
“How can I get you out?” Muhammed heard his own voice as if it issued from someone else’s mouth.
The edge of the girl’s mouth twinkled in a smile, surprising Muhammed. She looked as though she was delighted about the prospect of saying what she was about to say: “You have to take my place so that I can move on to a better place. You know that a little girl like me doesn’t deserve to be in this hell! Release me, please!”
Muhammed felt his mouth go rigid. As far as preposterousness goes, it couldn’t go any higher than this, he thought. And yet, and yet there was a conviction in the girl’s voice which made his blood run cold. She sounded as though she was sure that he was going to take her place.
“No, no!” he shouted, not leaving it to chance to make his decision clear to the girl.
But the girl continued to plead, “A slash on the wrist or a knot around your neck and you will both release me and get one step closer to your departed wife.”
The mention of his wife made Muhammed look at the girl closer. For one mad moment he felt in awe of the powers that the dead may possess- to come in touch with the living, to enter one’s dreams and finally to know the deepest feelings of one’s heart-like how much one misses the person who has shared her life with you for decades.
But the madness passed as the girl touched him once again. “Please,” the whisper was ever so weak but he heard it like the sound of a flight moving through the clouds so far above from the earth.
“I wasn’t even as old as your grand-daughter when I died.”
Yes, that may well be true, thought Muhammed, but I can’t save you. Because my life, old though I may be, in despair though I may be, is still mine. And I won’t let it go!
Muhammed felt surprised at the intensity of his own thought. But the surprise was soon replaced by a ready acceptance. So, this is what I am, he thought. The cramped spaces be damned, the pain that shoots through my leg when it’s cold be damned, and damned too be the fact that I miss Kollam-my birthplace. I am still alive and breathing and that’s all that matters.
“No, I can’t help you. Leave me alone!” he shouted.
But to his surprise, he found the girl smiling, even though she took his arm off him . “If you came by your own volition, I stand a chance to move to a better place. Otherwise, it might be another form of hell that I go to. But no matter, I think I will take my chances!,” the girl spoke in a higher timbre, as though it was an adult within her who spoke, as though she was at the verge of coming of age.
Almost simultaneously, the edge of two claws pushed out through the girl’s sockets, piercing through the red pus with ease. “The longer we stay here, the more we get transformed!” the girl shouted. “And I don’t want that! I don’t want that at all!”
The last words which the girl spoke were still reverberating within Muhammad’s ears when his eyes opened. Though it was daytime the room looked bleak. He wasn’t complaining though.
“Alive. Breathing,” he said, sitting up on the mattress, and heaved a sigh.
Alive. Breathing. The words were whispered into the early dawn. Muhammed didn’t want to go back to sleep again. Careful not to make any sound that may wakes anyone else- by any reckoning, a mammoth task in the small house, he made his way to the front door. Unbolting the door, he stepped out. A mangy dog-God knows whom it belonged to, was lying there, just beside the mat with the faded word ‘Welcome’ on it. The two illustrations of potted flowers on either side of the word looked dull in the morning light which was yet to gain in clarity.
Muhammed stepped out and pulled the door shut. Even though he was careful with the maneuver, the door nonetheless made a low creaking noise-he hoped the sound wouldn’t wake anyone up.
The dog was asleep but came awake at the merest suggestion of a footfall. Gazing up at Muhammed from it’s supine position, the canine practically jumped -as though the old man who stood before him held a stick with which he intended to beat him. The dog ran away. It was an old dog, the kind of dog one might come across on the streetside, abandoned by its owners since its expiry date was past-if not in nature’s eyes, in its owner’s.
Months or maybe years of reasonable starvation has weakened the dog’s body-this Muhammed could see even in the grey light of the early morn. But in the dog’s fast trot, there was nothing to suggest that it was functioning at less than optimal levels. The loud yelp that it gave as it ran was befitting a dog in the prime of its youth- the time when it would bare its teeth and attack any stranger who dared approach its owner.
Thinking the dog’s behavior strange, Muhammed walked towards the railing, leaned on it and looked down at the alleyway. He half-expected the young eyeless girl to be standing down there, looking up at him with her eyeless eyes- the red pus somehow enough of a replacement for a missing retina or the pupil.
He sighed a relief to see that the nightmare didn’t follow him to the waking world. For in the alleyway was just a few people going about their varied businesses- a grocery store owner opening shop this early because he sells milk packets, a down-on-his-luck young man sifting through the waste to see if he could find anything reusable before the garbage collectors came and did their job an old woman walking with a plastic kit in her hand to god knows where and a couple of people who looked like they were walking off the filament of sleep which still clung to their brain.
“All alive, breathing..,” Muhammed muttered under his breath.
He was suddenly overcome with the urge to sleep. He yawned so wide that it felt as though his jaw was going to come dislocated. And as the sun ascended in the sky, he felt the consciousness in his brain slowly dipping into the back of his neck, and with the descent spread an even cold which took possession of his body with the temerity of a cardiac arrest taking hold of a weak heart.
He walked back to his room in a haze. As he lied down on the mattress, he was unsure if he had closed the front door or not-he couldn’t remember. He didn’t get up to check though-he was too tired, his body felt as though it was made of heavy metal.
Not even when he saw the little girl stand in front of him, her pale legs glistening in the light which flooded into the room did he stir. The girl’s voice was soothing as she said, “Any place is better than that hell, and you will take my place there…Now, sleep, sleep and wake up to another form of reality.” Kneeling down, the girl planted a kiss on his cheek. “Sorry and thank you.” With these words, she was gone.
Some half an hour later, Aaliya found her father dead on the mattress, his arms squeezed under his chin like a child, his skin ice cold as though instead of a half hour, he has been dead for many weeks, if not months.
Aaliya imagined that she heard the faint sound of her father crying out from somewhere far, from some confined place she wouldn’t like to know about, let alone visit.