I met Zainab after almost fifteen years. We hadn’t seen each other since school. We had been good friends growing up. Then my family and I moved to Canada and we somehow lost touch. I saw her that day when I went to pick my daughter up from Mrs. Abad’s Academy. Her son, Zain is in the same school. We recognised each other instantly. It was a warm reunion. There was none of the awkwardness of long absences and radio silences. We easily picked up from where we had left off a decade and a half ago. She was glowing.
I saw Marrya like an apparition. I was feeling a familiar tingle in the tips of my fingers and in the space behind my eyes – something was about to happen. She had smiled so widely and come up to me. We had hugged. I held on to her, trying to steady myself, to focus on something, to let the feeling pass quickly, unobtrusively. She had tears in her eyes. Why was she crying? I didn’t know why she was crying. I knew I should be concerned, I should ask her why. But I had to stop my mind from picking me up and whisking me away. Not there, not at that time. So I hugged her again. Outside, I kept focusing on the hug and on Marrya. Inside, I held on with both hands to the railing so that I wouldn’t be swept up in the current that was coursing through me. I don’t know how long I held her like that, but the episode passed. I could feel thermal waves undulating on my face and my chest, enfolding me in their warmth. I was back in control.
Marrya had been my best friend in school.
We met up a few times after that first encounter at our children’s school. She was the same … and also different. There was a serenity about her but there was also a wildness in her eyes sometimes. She would get agitated and then very still. Almost like there was something going on on the inside. Like a battle … maybe a conversation with herself. I wasn’t sure. Until Zainab talked to me. We were sitting in her home catching up on old times with a couple of hours to spare before picking up the children from school. I noticed her odd look then. One moment she was laughing and then … she held onto my arms, with that feral look in her eyes. She said she was having an episode. I looked at her not entirely understanding but somehow knowing that I needed to reassure her. So I nodded, encouraging her to talk. To tell me what was happening. She was dazed and confused for almost an hour. And incoherent. I tried to have her sip some water but she said she’d drown. I wanted to take her to the hospital, a clinic, but she shook her head. No! No! I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you. Wait, I’ll tell you. It took forty five minutes before she was herself again. I held her in my arms and she remained there quietly.
She then looked at me through calm, bright eyes. I could tell she was lucid, peaceful again. She then told me about her Glimmer.
I finally told Marrya about the Glimmer. I needed to tell someone and she was there with me again when I was … swept up. She seemed to understand … but in the way that normal people empathise with the handicapped: her face was sheathed in lines of concern and her kindness was effusive. I’m not being sarcastic. I was grateful to her for listening to me. For letting me talk. It was my first time talking of my inner self … my inner world, and the words were not coming easily. I was fumbling but she was listening. And I was grateful for that.
Like a dirty disease, the Glimmer … my Glimmer had stayed hidden, vilified and excluded for so long that it had begun to fester, spilling a dreary pall over my lucid days … hours. Someone else now knew and in some strange way I had this sense that it was essential – for Zain – that Marrya knew. I also felt a lightness of being; a headiness almost that my Glimmer had, through my words, found its way out. I was swept up again but in the real life throes of relief and joy. I laughed.
I hope Marrya doesn’t think I’m crazy. I’m really hoping she doesn’t. I didn’t tell her about Zoya and Gula. Time enough for that. She asked me why I wasn’t taking the medication and whether I believed in the mystic healing of Sufi saints. I think she was satisfied with my responses. I’ve refound a friend.
I was torn. Between my promise of secrecy to Zainab and the insticintive obligation I felt to let someone else know. I wanted to tell Asif, Zainab’s husband but I’d only ever met him once and he was out of town a lot. I wondered if he was aware of Zainab’s episodes; if he’d witnessed them … I wasn’t sure. Then I thought of talking to Zainab’s mother, Arifa aunty. She had always been a fragile, bird-like creature and from what Zainab had said, her delicate constitution had not fared well with time. She had moved to the UK to live with her sister when the latter had got widowed. That was a year ago. I had to think … I had to think about who to let in on Zainab’s state of well being …. her state of mind.
Was Zainab going crazy? Was she losing her mind? Did insanity run in her family? What about Zain? These thoughts now regularly ran headlong into me in my waking hours.
It was so quick. The van had come careening into our car. There was an explosion in my head. I felt a tidal wave carrying me away from the scene in front of me; away from the collision. I tried to concentrate on the steering wheel to regain control but everything was slipping away. Then I’d seen Zain lying there unblinking … dead? I had screamed then. Again and again. To hold onto him; to hold onto myself.
Then the accident happened. Zainab and Zain were in the car. Zain had broken his arm but he was alright. Zainab had hit her head and had been brought to the hospital, disoriented and confused.
I hugged Zain and told him everything would be alright. He was sitting with his father on the sofa outside Zainab’s room.
Zainab had sustained a severe concussion Arif had said. She was dazed but awake.
A concussion. Something in the pit of my stomach turned. I was afraid.
I walked in.
I was in a garden. It was shimmering in the late afternoon sunlight. I was sitting in a rocking chair.
How did I get into a rocking chair?
Something was not right …
Where was Zain? How was Zain? I felt for the cold, hard surface of the railing; I couldn’t see it but I felt it. I needed to get back.
I saw Marrya. She was faded, shadowy, her outline coming in and out of my sight. I grabbed her arm; I had to know before she disappeared. Before I disappeared.
Where is Zain?
He’s fine she said.
He’s fine I said. He’s fine … he is fine …. he is alright …
I breathed. I relaxed.
I lost my hold on the railing.
Zainab was looking straight up at the ceiling when I walked into the room. I called to her but she didn’t move. I went up to her and looked into her eyes. There was that wild look again. I felt my own heart beating wildly. I felt nauseous.
Where is Zain, she asked. I told her he was alright, that he was sitting outside with his father. After that she became calm. Stuporous.
I held her hand.
She finally closed her eyes and slept.
Zoya- You’re ok Mama. You’re ok.
Gula- You’re fine. Breathe
I was sitting in a garden. It was shimmering in the late afternoon sunlight. My favourite time of the day. The light was falling in beautiful undulating patterns on the grass: golden whorls and paisleys, fluttering tendrils and fronds played hide and seek with one another. All Gula’s exquisite handiwork. There was the sound of birds as they rallied themselves for one last forage before getting into their safe little spaces for the night. I was sitting in a rocking chair. I breathed. I smiled.
Gula – And here’s a steaming mug of tea – Tea Tang, Hillcrest, your favourite. And a book of short stories, with a little bit of the real, and a bit of the ethereal. Just like you like them.
Zoya, eyes shining- read one out loud!
I grinned. It was perfect.
Something had happened…. but it was alright now … I couldn’t remember anymore … but it was alright …
I was tired but I was so happy. I smiled at little Zoya and put her in my lap.
Tomorrow we’ll read. I kissed her little head as she leaned back on my chest. I put my own head back.
I finally closed my eyes and slept.
Read Part One here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/07/13/the-glimmer/