I smelled the rain while standing close to the opened window. A picture slipped from my eyes with a tear and flew away in the wind. Far from my vision, there was a forest. Thunder bolted for a while and a shadow (of my femininity) emerged from nowhere. She came closer to me and placed hands on my shoulder.
“What were her last words?”, She asked.
“There was only a silence – an endless silence”, I replied. “But her eyes begged to stop me from leaving.”
“Then?”, Shadow arose her eye brows.
“I left, as I had to”, My voice regretted.
Rain droplets fell over my face and her gloomy face swung in front of me.
Shadow stared outside the window, pointed her index finger towards the picture and observed, “Look. She is alone, sad and crying”.
I lifted my head and placed my hands on the glass pane of window.
“She is still waiting for you, having her head placed on her tired shoulders.”
I struggled to look across the foggy air and got goosebumps. There was a young woman, sitting alone on the dark stairs under the raining sky.
“Is she sobbing?”, I turned towards the shadow with blank mind.
“Oh. I can’t forgive myself”, I trembled on my feet.
“What if she starts smiling at once?”, Shadow asked with something hidden in her tone.
“I would be the happiest”, I replied. “But how is it possible now? There is a gulf of many forsaken years between me and her.”
“Hold my hands and promise to follow whatever I ask you”, Shadow asked me.
“I do”, I said and stretched my hands towards her.
“We should meet her”, Shadow whispered. “She would forget her tears after finding you close to her and it would bring back her smile.”
I opened my lips to say something, but couldn’t collect my thoughts.
“Her smile would be everlasting. She would keep that smile with her forever, but….”, Shadow stopped at once.
“But?”, I asked in confusion.
“Nothing”, Shadow replied. “We should not waste our time. She’s not there forever. She is to walk away soon. We must try to reach her before that moment”, Shadow spoke in haste and pushed me towards the window.
“What are you doing?”, I screamed while trying to maintain my balance. But it was too late. Shadow jumped hysterically outside the window and my heartbeat stopped with fear. I closed my eyes and tried to hold the wall. Shadow grasped my shoulders firmly and shouted, “Don’t be scared. Follow me”. I opened my eyes and found myself hanging in air like a weightless particle. Frightened, I held her arms firmly as a reflex action. Shadow asked me not to fear and open my arms with confidence. I acted upon it with a doubtful mind. The moment I did, she loosened her grip on my shoulders. I fell down for a while but the next moment was an enchanting one. I found my arms flying like a pair of wings. I flew up back to the Shadow.
“Time is short. She deserves to smile – at least once”, said the Shadow. I looked across the fog. She was still there, sobbing and waiting for me. “Hurry up”, said I, and started flying for the strangest journey of my lifetime.
I got tired and my arms and shoulders started aching after a minute. Realizing that I am unable to accompany her effectively, Shadow turned the flight down and soon our feet were touching the wet grass of the forest. Running fast, we reached to the middle of the pathless wood. At once I stumbled after being messed up by the roots of some wild tree, which were spread outside the ground. It was too dark, and the thundering clouds were adding the music of fear all around. The distant howls were enough to alarm how difficult this journey could be, if we had to face any beast.
Shadow broke a strong branch of an oak tree and lit it. I got up to join her again. While we were walking among the wild trees, Shadow smiled, “Everyone needs a companion”, and pointed her face towards my back. I looked behind and found my shadow hugging her. I blushed.
“She too needs a companion but only if this is you. Before someone else steals her from you, we must be there”, said the Shadow and I fluttered my arms to have a fresh flight. Shadow threw the branch up in the air. At the brightened end grew a star and parted from the branch. “It would guide us”, She said and we started flying again led by the star this time. Facing the stone like droplets of the rain over us, we ascended up, above and high.
“It’s shivering cold”, shouted I and made a dive in the misty air.
Star sloped upwards and disappeared for a while. Shadow followed the route and I inclined above as well. Soon we reached the thick frosty layers of the dark clouds. Showered by the waterfall of the rain, we tunneled through the clouds and reached above them. Tired again, I stopped flying and started running. Coursing with slippery feet over the carpet of the clouds, my eyes searched again for her. Vision was yet unclear but the young woman was still sitting under the rain far away. It was much dark around her. I doomed the merciless rain.
The moment I cursed the rain, thunder bolted furiously. All of a sudden, a severe ache grew up in my left shoulder and I lost my balance. Struggling with the fire like sensation, I screamed and lost in drowsy unconsciousness. I found the Shadow leaning over me in hurry before there turned a total darkness in my mind.
The next picture
A lullaby struck my ear drums; soft, delicate and mild. I was all resonating and feeling myself as light as some weightless feather; my heart was filled by contentment and serenity. Soft fingers lingered through my hairs and then warm and delicate palms caressed my cheeks and chest. I tried to open my eyes but only darkness welcomed me. Then I heard wedding chimes echoing in my ears. With every ring of bell, a white dot started emerging on the fabric of that blank and black curtain of unconscious awakening. Then while a feminine fragrance spell-bounded me, I felt someone getting shelter in my arms. That was all like a trance. I rubbed my eyes and held my head in my hand to collect my senses. All what I felt earlier happened to be a hoax. At once it appeared like someone stroke the paint of white smoky color over these dots and I got able to look around me again. I tried to get up but Shadow stopped me to do so by placing her hands over my back.
“You are lucky”, said the Shadow. “The thunder bolt hit your left arm but you are still alive. That’s surely a miracle. Isn’t it?”, Shadow tried to smile but I found it as an artificial gesture. Her looks were nervous and worried.
“Where is she?”, I asked and looked across the clouds to the distant bridge.
“She’s still there but she would walk away soon. She can’t wait for you for long.” Shadow replied in a thwarted tone. My eyes finally discovered a dim sketch sitting on the other corner of the bridge. She moved and then leaned down, stretching her arm to take some red bottleful potion.
“What’s she doing?”, I thought.
Shadow turned towards her and shouted, “Oh! has she given up her wait? No, she must not.” Shadow started rubbing her palms in desperation. “Can you stand up and try to walk now?” Shadow looked towards me. “If you won’t, maybe she would take poison and….”
Shadow didn’t say any more word. I jumped up to rescue her. Star swung back and stood still right above me. Now I was able to look myself in its light. My left arm was bandaged by my shirt, and there were blood spots all over my chest. I moved my arm up and down but the ache was irresistible.
“If we fail to reach in time, she would either take poison or…”, said the Shadow in sad voice.
“Or?”, I asked in confusion.
“Or she would leave the bridge and walk away in the next picture”, shadow appeared sounding from a deep well. I looked at her in wonder. “At least she would be alive there and secure too.” Shadow continued. “We should struggle to save her last dream even if we know we can’t erase the judgment written by the invisible fingers of the fate”, Shadow stopped and looked towards me.
“What’s that judgment?”, I asked with frightened heart and looked towards the bridge. My eyes stretched with fear. Bridge was slowly disappearing. I couldn’t listen what shadow was replying and shouted, “Look, it’s vanishing. Oh God! what can we do now?”
“No. Alone your eyes are blurred, the bridge is still there”, shadow replied in polite tone. “It’s destined for someone else to walk upon it and take her with him to the next picture.”
“Who and what’s the next picture?” I yelled in frustration.
Shadow remained silent like she had no answer.
“Look, look”, I pointed again. “My eyes are not blurred. Bridge is getting vanished. Please do something. Please, I beg”, I said hysterically and fluttered my arms. With my left arm struggling with the aching sensations, I failed to fly and after a big leap, miserably fell down. I cried with pain and looked towards the Shadow with blank eyes and closed them. A few tears dropped down and absorbed in the clouds.
These lines do not lie
She looked at her hands and tried to search something among the baffled lines of her palms. She found the allegory of her childhood at the bottom of her left palm; a narrow corridor of her home, where she used to play with her toys. She found herself running alone with her doll and getting out of the door. Then she found herself surrounded by the dark. Scared enough, she ran to seek refuge in her home but the door was no more there. There was just a wall; dark, ugly and tall. Then she felt like someone had placed hands on her shoulders and tried to dig his sharp nails deep inside her skin. She screamed for help and fainted.
Trembled with such a scary intuition, she refrained from thinking of her childhood days. Hypnotized by the glowing lines of palms, she still was unable to put her eyes away from them. This time, she found herself playing hide and seek with her beloved. She closed her eyes and smiled silently.
“I would wait for one more minute”, he shouted.
Listening, she hurriedly ran upstairs to look for a proper place to hide herself on the roof. After a few minutes, she heard his footsteps somewhere close to her. She made herself still like a frozen moment as even the slightest sensation of her breaths could give him an idea of where she was hiding.
“Finally, I got where you are”, he laughed.
“Where?”, she asked impulsively without understanding his trick.
Now knowing the exact location, he headed towards where she was hiding and lifted her in his arms.
“On the moon”, he echoed.
“Oh, but how can I hold you? You are as quick as the light is. All I can do is to feel you brightening my world”, he kissed her forehead and whispered.
To feel the warmth of his arms around her, she hugged herself and her sobs turned into a smile.
Rain was still falling on her. Thunder bolted and she opened her eyes with fear. She tried to stand up but her feet got trembled with weakness. She looked at her back and found a foggy smoke all around. She stared at some outline on that wall of the fog at a few steps ahead. Soon it happened to be a gate like frame. She stood up in wonder and headed towards it. With shivering hands, she stretched her arms to open it. Without making any noise, she was able to peep on the other side of that misty wall. The next moment, her heartbeat was faint. She thought she had to give up her wait and accept whatever fate had written for her. She pushed the gate back in its initial position with full force to close it. Looking at her hennaed hands, she screamed aloud and decided to sacrifice her life, instead of making the biggest compromise of her life.
Far across her vision, she found two birds flying side by side. She thought how lucky they are being accompanied together. Right in front of her, a small bottle of red poisonous potion was placed. She sat down on the stairs and laid her head on her knees.
From miles to yards
I ran as fast as I could. I knew there was no time remained with us to think about the pain anymore. Somehow, my injured arm was now much numb as well. All in my mind was to reach her before she takes any wrong step. Shadow was now silent and so was I.
It was uneasy to travel through the smoky fog. The dim light of the guiding star was the only pathfinder for us. Once in a while we could see the sight of the young lady sitting on the distant end of the bridge but it was all vague and blurred unless the thunder bolts to make it clear. The moment it bolted again, I found her sitting on the stair of the bridge looking towards us. Then she placed her head on her shoulders and stretched her right arm to pick something beneath her feet.
“Stop her from doing it”, shadow instructed.
Realizing that she is going to pick the poisonous potion, I breathed in all my stamina to gather enough energy and yelled as loud as I can.
“Don’t do it. Please don’t. I am coming”, I shouted out.
Lucky enough, the wind was blowing in her direction and my voice reverberated loudly. I mustered up my courage and jumped to try flying. This time I made it successfully. I fluttered my arms forcibly and had a long leap.
“Well done, boy”, Shadow cheered and joined me in the air. “It’s time to fly like hell”, She kept backing up me.
The star projected itself downwards to throw its light upon the bridge. Those moments were like centuries, passing slower than ever. The light years turned into miles and miles into yards. Finally crossing the barrier of the fog we landed on the other end of the bridge. I looked towards her and kept running.
Hearing the footsteps, she hurriedly started opening the cap of the beverage.
“No. Stop it. It’s me. Look, I am here”, I said holding my broken breaths.
She lifted her head and looked towards me in wonder. The potion slipped from her hand and broke into pieces.
“It must be a dream”, she whispered to herself.
“It’s not only a dream. It’s… it’s love”, I tried to smile.
Her glittered face was reflecting the light of the star and eyes were shining like a pearl. Her dress was soaked with the rain and droplets were falling from her long hairs. Shivering with cold, she displayed a warm smile on her lips. While having an eye to eye contact, the moments seemed to freeze. She was gazing at me, like a mesmerized one. Her eyes moved from my face to my bandaged shoulder and her cheeks turned pale. Approaching close to her, I kneeled and stretched my right arm towards her.
She reciprocated and intended to place her hand in my hand. I closed my eyes to feel her gentle touch. Just before it, she stared at her hennaed palms and with blank eyes she kept herself back. My hands remained empty.
Having my expectations unfulfilled, I opened my eyes in wonder. Standing on the stairs, she was looking behind her. I was unaware of what was happening on the other side of the bridge. I stood up from my knees and walked ahead.
The view on the other side was breathtaking. There was a wall of smoke all around with a crimson colored gate right in front of me.
“What’s that?”, I thought in amusement.
I moved my eyes to her but she was silent like a stone.
I walked and placed my hands on her shoulders.
“I love you but you are too late”, her voice echoed in my ears.
“We have to part”, she continued.
Having no clue of what’s going to happen I searched around for the shadow.
She pointed her index finger towards the wall of smoke. I turned back and found the gate sliding away.
A gong rang and a narrow and sharp beam of darkness started emerging from the other side. I moved forward quickly to glance beyond the wall.
Retina of my eyes stretched with fear. There was a tall man riding on an ancient horse with a sword in his hand. Along with him there was a huge army marching towards the bridge; men, women, and kids. Lucky enough they still were at much distance from the gate. They were making strange noises like celebrating something.
My sixth sense alarmed me about the coming moments. I realized they were coming to take her away with them.
“If they arrive before we leave the place, nothing could stop them from taking her into the next picture”, Shadow sighed.
“We have little time with us. Let’s go back. Hurry up”, Shadow commanded.
I turned back from the gate. She was itching her palms to erase the henna. I headed towards her. She lifted her head and I found her eyes wet. Her wrists were scratched and the broken bangles were scattered at her feet. It seemed she was going through some inner battle. She placed her head on my shoulders. I wrapped my arms around her.
“Do you trust me?”, I whispered in her ears.
She nodded her head in yes.
“Hold me firmly and we’ll fly back to some safe place”, I said.
“For me every place is safe if as you are with me”, she replied.
She squeezed her arms around my chest and I ran to take off from the bridge to fly back. I jumped up but lost my balance and fell down. She screamed. I attempted again but couldn’t make it. My injured arm started aching badly and it seemed impossible for me to lift her. Helplessly I lied down on the bridge.
And the bridge cracked
She sat close to me and started lingering her fingers through my hairs.
“I told you we have to part”, She hardly said. “No one can change what already has occurred.” Saying this she supported me and I stood up again.
“Let’s run away from here, before they see us”, Shadow called out.
I listened to her and looked back at the gate. It was almost fully opened now and the noises along with the drumbeats were getting louder and clearer.
We held each others’ hands and started running. The bridge was too big and its other end was invisible to our eyes. Gradually it was getting dim and all lost in fog but nevertheless reaching far across the distant horizon.
Putting all our stamina and energy, we fled as fast as we could. Soon, I realized it was not as easy for her to keep joining us with that much speed. As a result, she slipped badly and almost wounded her toes and knees.
The noises from the other side of the gate were hitting our eardrums much loudly. Each second was important for our survival. I leaned and lifted her in my arms and started running. Her heart was beating faster. She swung her arms around my neck and closed her eyes. Pain in my injured shoulder was getting intolerable. After covering some distance, I put her on my other shoulder and carried on running. Shadow remained silent throughout like she was unable to think of any other way out.
For a moment, I stopped to hold on my tired breath and looked back towards the gate. Dark light had surrounded the area and the smoky wall was ascended much higher than earlier. It seemed extending to the sky leaving no way to escape from it.
I turned to restart our darkling journey, but something even more horrible was awaiting us. The bridge was jolted suddenly and we fell down losing our balance. Before we had stood up again, the bridge bumped with even more force.
In the beginning, I felt like it was an earthquake. After a while, the bridge started swaying like a tiny boat over a heavy tide. Helplessly we started sliding here and there on the wet surface. Clueless of what to do, the only thing that we could strive for was not to part each other. So hardly I was able to approach to her and held her firmly. She was screaming abruptly. Fear had occupied all of us. Strong wind was blowing unmercifully and we were struggling like a leaf against it.
I held the railing of the bridge to resist and she was already sheltered in my arms. That was much toilsome but what else can be done?
“Look…… Look…. What’s….. happening”, she hardly squalled and I looked in the direction of her eyes.
What I saw sent chills down my spine with fear. There was a line travelling right in the mid of the bridge and spreading its branches in other directions. The cracks in the structure of bridge were prominent.
I knew I had lied
I gazed at the other end of the bridge. It was yet miles and miles away from us. There was no way to reach there in such a hostile situation.
Heavy rain started again and thunder bolts started appearing all around on the sky. I decided not to give up and stood up again, and tried to walk ahead.
That brought another disaster. With every step, cracks were getting deeper and deeper.
“It couldn’t afford that much load”, Shadow spoke in defeated tone.
I listened to her with anguish.
“Take her with you”, I turned to the Shadow.
“And what about you?”, Shadow exclaimed.
“Don’t worry about me. I will stay here”, I replied.
“But…”, Shadow appeared indecisive.
“Simply take her and fly away. You are not injured like me“, I said in panic.
“That’s not workable”, Shadow said with a hidden pain in her voice. “I couldn’t exist without you. I am your integral part.”
I remained silent as I had no answer to argue.
“Look, the bridge couldn’t afford much weight. She is thin and delicate and unlike her I have much weight. At least join her for the journey to the safer end of the bridge. I will stay here and I don’t care what happens to me”, I said.
“Try to understand. I am your shadow; I am bound to exist with you”, Shadow replied back.
Panicked and frustrated enough, I turned to the young lady.
“Please listen and act. Cross these cracks and run away. You are much lighter and I know you could.”
“No, I will not leave you. Never”, she said and held my wrists firmly.
“I will be fine soon and I could fly. I’ll join you later, once my shoulders are able to flutter”, I argued and her grip on my hands appeared getting loose. I thanked God on convincing her but deep in my heart I knew I had lied. My injured arm was aching too much and flying was out of question.
She looked in to my eyes to read the truth. To escape her sharp gaze, I dropped my arms around her and placed my lips on her forehead.
“May angels protect you”, I whispered in her ears and cuddled her.
She kissed me back on my neck and started walking alone with heavy steps. I kept looking at her until she was lost in the fog. She turned her head towards me for the last time and disappeared.
(To be continued)
(First draft, Written by Nayyar Afaq)