It was dark. And it was silent.
The two most horrible words to ever describe a night. The window was open, yet no breeze blew. The fan was switched off and yet she shivered. There was no moon in the sky and no light in the house and yet she wouldn’t climb out from under her blanket. The tears had stopped and yet she cried. The house was full of people and yet…
She felt all alone.
There was a sharp knock on her bedroom door but she didn’t so much as flinch. The knocking went on for some time, breaking the silence of the night but even the throbbing of her head, in phase with the knocking at the door, did not compel her to open the door and see what it was they wanted.
After a few more minutes, the knocking stopped and she heard retreating footsteps down the hallway. She breathed a prayer of thanks and turned over to hug her soft toy –Jacob, she called him –tightly.
Its funny, she thought, how in all this the only person she hadn’t felt angry, upset or irritated by, was Jacob.
And Allah, of course.
In situations like these people tend to start hating God. They blame him for their condition and curse Him.
They stop believing.
But she didn’t. She couldn’t.
As much as she tried, whenever she sat down to pray, only words of praise would escape her lips. She would find herself asking Him for forgiveness and the strength to face all these tests and also how she loved Him, trusted Him, believed in Him and had faith in Him.
In Him and only Him.
No matter how much she tried to blame Him for all her misery, she couldn’t. She just couldn’t.
She heaved a big sigh. Which was difficult considering how she hadn’t stopped crying. She tried to pull Jacob closer –as if such a thing were possible –and burying her face in the warmth of his artificial fur, said –I should sleep.
And then she lay there, wide awake.
Contrary to what she wanted, she eventually did fall asleep. She woke up to the sound of a shutter opening and found that it was still dark outside.
She groped around in the dark, for her phone and switched it on.
The light from her phone nearly pierced her eyes, but she kept them wide open anyway. Ignoring all the missed calls and messages from those social enough to be courteous, she looked at the time.
Last time, she had checked, it was 12:24.
So time was passing by, no matter what she thought.
She was about to switch off her phone again and keep it aside when a sound distracted her.
She looked to her left and saw a silhouette bent over the window of the Hunt Manor. The light from that room entered hers as well.
At nearly two in the morning, she knew only one resident of the Hunt Manor who would be throwing up out of the window.
And not to mention, that it was his room.
If this were any other day, she would have called out to him or thrown something at his head. But this wasn’t just any other day.
And she wasn’t who she used to be anymore.
Its weird how that had happened. All these years, she had been trying to be indifferent, trying so hard to not be bothered. But it had never worked.
She might have come off as nonchalant to some people for a very small amount of time (because frankly, she never had the guts to prolong it) but inside she was still bubbling with emotion. Bubbling with the need to please everyone and make things right. Bubbling with unease.
She had tried so hard but was never successful and now…without any prior trial, she was who she always wanted to be.
She could feel the change. Feel the difference in her feelings. In her perception.
No longer did she feel the need to make everyone around her happy. Didn’t feel the need to set things right. Didn’t even feel the need to be the bigger person and give in.
All she felt, all she wanted now, was to make herself happy.
She’d become who she always wanted to be –
And yet she felt far from happy.
A soft buzzing noise pulled her out of her reverie. She looked down to see her phone vibrating due to an incoming call. As soon as she read the name, which was flashing on her phone screen, she looked to her left again.
This time the silhouette was not bent over the window, but was standing, with one hand to his ear.
When he saw her looking at him, he waved his other hand vigorously and motioned for her to come closer.
Debating whether to get out of bed or to pick up the call, she finally decided to do neither and switched off her phone.
She then pulled up her blanket, completely over her head and turned away from the window.
A moment later, a small piece of rock, came flying in through the window and hit her squarely on her shoulder. She sat up, rubbing her right shoulder and threw an angry glare at the window.
He was laughing. Or so it seemed from the way his shoulders were shaking.
As she sat there, staring at his apparent amusement at the piercing pain she felt in her shoulders, she felt anger rising within her.
For the first time in the entire day, she felt angry.
Hell, for the first time in the entire day she felt something!
Other than grief.
Untangling herself from her blanket, she walked over to the window and demanded –“What?” in the rudest, meanest and bad tempered voice she could muster.
“Whoa.” He came closer too. “What bit you today?”
“Do you need something?”
“Yeah.” He gave her a weird look. “Do you have Rantac? I went a little too heavy on the drinks tonight.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Are you okay?”
She spun around, a look of incredulity on her face.
“You’re acting kind of weird.”
She opened her mouth to say something, but not knowing the reply to such a comment, shut it again.
She stared hard at him, trying to decipher his tone.
Did he really not know? Or was this some kind of pathetic joke?
Or was he just too drunk to remember anything?
No, he couldn’t be too drunk. He was standing straight and was not even leaning against the window.
Was this a joke then? Was he about to start guffawing at any moment now calling her silly and incapable of finding humor in such situations? Was he really that thick that he would joke about such a thing?
She certainly hoped not.
He called out her name.
“Whats the matter?”
“You don’t know?”
“And you’re mother never told you?”
“My mother?” He seemed baffled now. “My mother? Wha –?” There was a short pause and then –“OH! Oh, oh, oh! Oh God! Oh.”
“Yeah.” She gave him a dry smile.
“Oh God! I’m such an idiot! My mother called me up when I was out but she wasn’t coherent and –”
“Its okay.” She cut him off.
“When is the funeral?”
“How are you keeping?”
“How do you think?”
“I’m sorry. I know I’m asking all these silly questions. Its just,” he sighed, “gets so awkward talking to someone about their parents’ death. I mean, you know that no matter what you say, words won’t be able to comfort them. But you have to say SOMETHING, otherwise you’re being rude. And all in all, its very awkward.”
She didn’t know what she was expected to say to that so she remained silent.
The conversation about her parents’ death might be awkward for him but for her, it was downright painful.
“How did it happen?” He asked after an instant’s hesitation.
“Hit and run at the Marquis Street. Found by bystanders. Hospital declared Brought Dead.” She used short sentences to avoid the tears that threatened to escape.
“I know this will seem futile now but eventually it will become easier. You will learn to let go and be happy.”
“But I don’t want to let go. I don’t want to move on. I don’t want to be happy.” She rested her head against the wall.”My parents are dead. DEAD. They’re never coming back. I’m all on my own now.”
“Don’t think that way!”
“I’m all alone now. I have no one. I don’t have any friends. I have no boyfriend. My relatives are parasites. All my cousins either belittle me or are jealous of me. I have no siblings. They were all I had. And it crushes me to say ‘had’.”
He was silent and then –
“You have me.”
But they both knew he was just being kind.
“You have Allah.” He said again, after a moment.
She looked up in surprise and in the light from his room, saw his face filled with concern.
And somehow, she was touched.
He and she weren’t friends.
They had nothing in common other than the Block Number on their address.
They belonged to different cultures, different religions and different cliques.
He and she weren’t friends.
They were simply neighbours who helped each other from time to time and spoke about the latest movie in the various House Parties. They were close enough to know each other’s surnames but not close enough to know each other’s maiden names.
So, his uncharacteristic show of concern for her, touched her and in that moment, ironically, she did not feel lonely.
Oh, she was alone, alright. But not lonely.
At least not anymore.
“You’re right. I do have Allah.”
“So that’s what it all boils down to, right? He is the only one that matters. If you have His support, don’t you have it all? That what you believe, right?”
She stared at him open-mouthed. “Aren’t you an atheist?”
He chuckled at her brazenness. “Yeah, I am. But you aren’t. I don’t believe in a Greater Power. But you do. Aren’t you the one who always keeps saying that it all happens for a reason and we’re just too human to understand?”
She stood there silent and just when she was about to say something, a sharp knock on the door, made her jump.
“Open it.” He said, when she did nothing.
She stared blankly at him, at the door, then at him.
Absent-mindedly, she walked over and unlocked the door.
Her grandfather seemed surprised that she had answered.
“Uh…who were you talking to?” He asked.
“No one, really.” She lied
“Because if you were talking to someone, its perfectly okay. Its healthy to vent –”
“Nana, did you want something?” She asked, softly.
“I just came to see if you were okay.”
“Its three in the morning.”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
She sighed. “Neither could I.”
“Are you okay?”
“No. But ask me again tomorrow.”
He smiled and wishing her a goodnight, left.
“I should sleep.”
“Yeah, you should.” He was standing in the same position that she had left him in.
“Uh could you..? Uh…never mind.”
“No, what? Tell me.”
“Its silly, really. But could you leave the light of your room, on all night? It would help knowing that someone else was awake too.”
There was a moment of silence and then he gave her, the brightest smile that had ever adorned any face.
“Of course. You don’t even have to ask. Go sleep. I’m here for you.”
And as she climbed into bed and cuddled Jacob, she knew she wasn’t going to sleep for the better part of the night. But knowing that someone was there for her –be it in the room next door or the sky above –helped her get through the night.
And the next. And the next.
And the next.