Lying on her bed, in the thick shade of an ancient banyaan tree, Fatima clung stubbornly on to life. Somewhere in the distance, beyond the red brown rugged hills in whose cusp the village sat, a rumbling in the heavens signalled the first signs of the overdue monsoons. In her mind, Fatima saw waves of dark rolling clouds, flashing with sporadic bursts of lightning. The leaves of the tree stirred, the branches shook and the long brown dangling roots trembled.
Fatima let out a heavy sigh as she felt cold wind wrap itself around her.
Twelve year old Yousif who had been rhythmically reciting the Quran, by Fatima’s bedside, stopped and shouted excitedly,”Bey Fatima is about to go!”
“Rahmiyaan, you bastard, you shouldn’t say these things,” someone scolded Yousif.
Yousif started to recite louder than before.
Fatima tried to smile, but her dry lips just opened slightly. Someone let out a mournful wail. A moment later everyone started crying loudly.
A few raindrops pattered on the leaves of the tree and some fell onto Fatima’s leathery face. The ground groaned and filled the air with its fresh earthy breath.
Haji Sultan, the grey bearded stone faced landowner, stood up from the only chair in the house. He walked quietly around a throng of women sitting by Fatima’s bed, and whispered in her ear, “May Allah grant you a place in heaven.”
Fatima trembled. She opened her eyes and stared accusingly at Haji Sultan. Pointing at Haji Sultan with her shaking finger, she said in a frail but crisp voice, “Take this son of Satan away from my deathbed…”
“She has lost her mind,” Haji Sultan snapped, stepping back.
“I have only just found it,” Fatima answered, still pointing at Haji Sultan. Her voice began to shed its frailty with the uttering of each word. “This monster, for whom I slaved, not only took my youth, but ravaged my honour as well…”
“Just before dying,” Haji Sultan interrupted angrily, “she has gone mad.”
“He planted three seeds in me,” Fatima cursed, “and then murdered them when they were just born. Go see in that cave by our shrine and there you will find three boulders. Look under them and you will see what remains of my children.”
“She is possessed by a Jinn,” Haji Sultan hissed freeing himself from Fatima’s gaze. He turned and avoiding eye contact with anyone, walked out of the house cursing obscenities under his breath.
Beckoning everyone closer to her she said, “I wish I had had the courage to kill him, but now I ask only two things of you. Sprinkle some jasmine flowers on my children. And when you bury me later today, bury me standing.”
“Why in Allah’s sweet name do you want this,?” Yousif cried.
As the dark clouds released the monsoon rains, Fatima took her last breath and said, “Because I lived my life on my knees.”
My new novel is out:
In a town seething with Islamophobia…