Written by Sayad Hashmi
Translation by Fazal Baloch
It was a summer day. The sun was high in the sky. Early in the morning he had left for the beach and now he was sitting on the shore. There was still a touch of last night’s chill in the sand. He cast a look at the foamy waves churned up during the night by the north wind.
The water was very shallow and the seabed was muddy in places. In this soft mud were many sea insects. Some had burrowed into the mud in such a way that if someone unmindfully stepped on the mud flat, he would sink knee-deep in it. Some fifty, sixty yards from the sea a few trees stood, some date palms and a big neem tree. In the morning sun, the neem would cast its shadow as far as to the sea-brink. But as the sun kept rising, the friendship between the shadow and the sea would begin to fade.
He was sitting in this shadow. But now the shadow had left him. He looked back. Beyond the neem tree there was a heap of sand. Its top looked like a circular dike or the rim of a volcano, higher all around and with a depression in the middle.
The rim enclosed some date palms. What once had been a beautiful garden now lay in utter ruin. Not a trace of the fence was left, not even a piece of net or a single pole or dry thorny branch. Anyone who wanted to escape some great trouble could hide out there.
To the left was a road. Actually it was not a road, but a trail or path that had come into being because people constantly walked to and fro on the sand, and some of the sand had become hard and some had blown away and gathered on the sides of the trail as it was trampled. The wind had also done its job, and now the trail appeared like the part line of a woman’s golden hair. To the left of that trail there were wells where people would come to fill their empty pitchers and pots.
All of a sudden a faint sound caught his attention. He raised his eyes and caught sight of a blind man approaching on the right-hand side of the dune. The blind man was led by a girl who held one end of his walking stick. He shifted his concentration from the surroundings to the blind man, or actually to the girl. The girl led the blind man to the sea and more than an hour later she again took hold of the stick and they returned to the village together.
He too got up and made his way home behind them. On the way he exchanged greetings with two acquaintances. By the time he got out of the sand he was tired, because the trail was as narrow as a hair part, and it was covered with sand. So the trail was all sand.
When he passed a well, his heart skipped a beat. It was the second old, stone-walled well located at the farthest end or, if one comes from the other direction, at the beginning of the dune. He recalled something and rapidly shook his head to cast that old memory out of his mind, but it refused to leave him. He pondered, but in vain, because along with this fruitless thought his feelings had been awakened. From nowhere a burning sensation arose in his head, and his eyes were burning too. He touched his body to determine if he had a fever, but it was not like a fever. He quickened his pace to reach his destination as soon as possible. Then suddenly he whispered to himself: “Good for you that you’re going home, but there’s nobody there either. You’ll be all alone there as well.”
He was right. No one lived in his house apart from himself. He had a good friend, but the friend spent the whole day trying to make ends meet. At night his friend would come for a while and they would talk together, but his friend couldn’t keep him company for too long either because he had to look after his family.
Again he said to himself: “Loneliness is fine but only when you need it. Likewise, it’s nice to have someone’s company when you grow sick of loneliness. Today even I feel as if I’ve grown sick of loneliness. I think I only should feel such weariness and disturbing emotions after sunset, but today it has happened at the wrong time. My mind has been stormed in the morning.”
He kept walking inattentively, slowly and deep in thoughts. Halfway back, a friend ran into him and greeted him, but now he couldn’t recall who it was. He moved quickly, as if someone was watching him or had been waiting for him for quite some time, and any sort of delay would lead to a huge loss.
He slowed his pace and even halted for a while, but soon he unconsciously started walking again with fast steps. He was some hundred steps away from home when his eyes caught sight of someone standing at the corner of the wall that enclosed his house. When he saw the person, he slowed his pace, lowered his head and continued, but his pace gradually became even slower. As he drew near, he raised his head and saw that this person was looking for something by the wall. He recognized her. Every day she passed by there on the way to fetch water. He thought she might have lost her ring or nose pin. He asked her: “What have you lost?”
“No, a coin.”
He also began to look for it here and there, but when he raised his head, he saw that instead of searching for her lost coin she was standing and looking at him. He slipped his hand into his pocket but couldn’t find any coin there. He turned to her: “I’ve no coin on me. Wait, I’ll get you one from my house.”
He opened the door and she followed him in. He went to his coat to find a rupee to give her. She asked: “Is there any water in your house?”
“What kind of water?”
“Yes, there is.”
He picked up the glass to fetch her some water, but she took it from his hand and said: “I’ll get it myself.”
She filled the glass, came back, stood right before him and said: “Please drink.”
“I haven’t eaten any fatty food in the morning to drink water.”
“It’s summer. It’s good to drink! By the way what did you have for breakfast?”
“A cup of tea.”
“Alright. I’ll bring you some eggs.
He took the glass and was about to drink when she grabbed his hand and said: “Don’t stand and drink. Sit down.”
He sat down on the bed and said: “But you are standing yourself.”
“I’ll sit down.”
After a while he broke the silence. “May I ask your name?”
“Actually my name is Mahatun, but out of affection my mother used to call me Mahal. Are you married?”
“Are you married?”
“I have three children, but my husband has not been here for five years. He has gone on a journey.”
“Is he angry with you?”
“No, he’s not. But he left long ago, and it doesn’t seem like he’ll come back. Occasionally he sends us money, but…”
“You didn’t ask me my name.”
“I know your name! I’ve known you since the day you came to live in our neighborhood. I’ve also noticed that this friend of yours visits you every day, and that you sit talking to each other until late in the evening. After midnight you come out and keep walking and talking. I wonder where you go at those late hours?And I don’t know when you return home.”
“What business is it of yours?”
“One night I kept waiting for you and saw you come back at dawn.”
“So, you’ve been spying on me!”
“Do you enjoy being alone?”
“Why do you ask?”
“No special reason.”
“What do you think?”
After a moment’s silence she suddenly said: “You’re not alone anymore.”
“At least not at this very moment.”
An hour and a half later she got up to leave.
He asked: “Did you have a drink at all?”
“You drank and my thirst was quenched.”
She was about to walk out the door when he asked: “Won’t you take your coin?”
“The one I said I’d give you to replace the one you lost.
“Oh! That lost coin?”
“I found it.”
She said this and started walking fast. At the door she turned around and said: “I’ll bring the eggs at sunset.”
After she left he was perplexed. He sat talking to himself: “Did she find the coin? When? Where? In this house?”
A moment later he was struck by a thought. He smiled and said in
loud voice: “Oh! The lost coin!”
Originally published in: Sayemahi Dard, 2001
Courtesy: Unheard Voices