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Thus Spake the Vagabond

The First Tale*: Mother Mary and the Angel

by Dr. Haneef Shareef (Translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch)

Dr Haneef Shareef

Almost after eleven long years he dreamed again. He saw his last dream when he was thirty-five and now, he was almost an old man at forty-six. Stretched on his bed in the nephrology department, as he shut his eyes, he saw the dream.

Mother Mary and the angel appeared like the fond memories of his bygone days. Dust and haze were gone and the days of thirst and scorching heat were over. Under the cloud covered sky, the two old familiar shadows emerged after a long wait. He recognised them. Even if he wished, he could not forget them. What he gained from his dreams in the last thirty-five years were the two kind faces; Mother Mary and the angel, whom he had since childhood been desperate to meet in every dream. And today, after eleven tedious years, they returned home.

As usual Mother Mary was standing a step ahead of the angel. She was silent. Moonlight had drenched her hair and a long journey towards her destination lingered in her eyes. He had etched her eyes in his heart and mind. Light was pouring forth from Mother Mary’s white robe. She seemed to have been encircled by cotton flowers and wax-moths. The entire ward was enveloped in the scent of camphor. Mother Marry looked at the dialysis machine which was making a gurgling sound. Blood coursing in a tube attached to his arm was passing through the machine and after being purified returning to his body through another tube. The machine was an alternative to his kidneys, enabling him to push his book cart forward.

He wished to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca and there, he would see a dream. The overcast sky; gentle breeze; clad in an Arabic robe, he would lead Mother Mary’s camel along the high mountains and before the end of the dream, ahead of dusk they would cross the desert. And then by the fountains, under the shades of the blessings he would marvel at flowing streams of milk and trees laden with figs and mulberries. Yet he knew, at present, the pilgrimage was beyond his reach as both of his kidneys had given in. He could only drag his life on with the support of the dialysis machine. He knew that once a week, he had to endure the pain and solitude of the dialysis room. He had never thought that he would have the dream during his dialysis session.

He was quite astonished that the angel was still thirty-five. Exactly thirty-five. He looked the same as he appeared thirty-five years ago. As far as he could remember, they both grew up in the same period. Whenever in dreams they ran into another, they mulled over the same plans and played the same games.

They had travelled for thirty-five years and half at the same pace in the course of their life. They shared the same age. Hence, he always used to think that the angel was his twin brother who lived with the Virgin Mary. Sometimes in scorching afternoons he would come out and look for him. He didn’t look like the angel, but he believed that he was blessed with a heavenly age and sent on the Earth. He traced his lineage to angels, created from fire, far superior to these earthly folks. But the fact was otherwise. He spent his whole life in selling books at his book cart.

Kamal always tried to convince him that he was a liar.  He told him that he was destined to sell books at his book cart and to look eagerly at people was his need. In fact, while selling books he had sold himself as well. But he refused to believe.  He had a world of fake dreams around him.

He always argued with Kamal. He never wanted to see him. He never visited his house or walked past his clinic. If someone from his family fell ill, he would take him to the civil hospital and would stand there in the middle of the crowd in the scorching heat but would never seek Kamal’s help. He began to avoid him.

His dreams never left him alone. He never sought Kamal’s help nor yearned for another’s confidence. After losing faith in his own cousin Kamal, he never shared his dreams with anybody anymore. He took refuge in his dreams.

As heaven is not kind forever. At thirty five, while pushing his book cart down home, one evening he felt stabbing pain around his waist. He felt glowing ambers running down his sides. Thus, began the never-ending visits to hospitals. He couldn’t help but finally sought Kamal’s favour. If the nephrologist were not Kamal’s friend, they would have not offered him free dialysis for eleven years.

Death lurked nearer him with every step he took.  He thought that actually he was not one person. Rather his body housed two people. Both got up early in the morning, had their breakfasts and set out for their daily rounds. Gradually he felt heaviness on his shoulders. He told Kamal he felt as if he was carrying a dead body and his shoulders were weighing down by its burden. He also lamented that people around him would never share his burden. Kamal always invited him home and treated him to tea and saw him off at his clinic. People always noticed that he walked with uneasiness. As if he was dragging a funeral pyre on his shoulder. His family witnessed another change in his sleeping posture. He crouched on his bed in such a way that it seemed as if a baby slept beside him and he was afraid that he would roll over him in his sleep. He spent his nights in great agony.

And then came the sleepless nights. Sleep had forgotten the address of his eyes. In those days his relatives too had gradually begun to forget him. Mother Mary and the angel had forgotten him as well. Neither did the Virgin Mary send him a message nor was there any trace of the angel. Afternoons were as hot as fire and nights as cold as ice.

He waited for many months. At times, he deliberately attempted to catch a dream and planned to write a few letters. But there was not any trace of the dream. Again he desired to go for Haj. He bought an earthen piggy bank to start saving money. But he never shared his plan with his family. Eleven years went down the line, the dialysis machine had become an integral part of his life. Whenever Kamal and the nephrologist met, they always brooded over the reason that had kept him alive and determined.

Usually after two years of dialysis, patients caved into death. Rather they sought emancipation in death. But he dragged on to labour the years. The desire for Haj had kept him alive and healthy. He knew that he could not go out of this city. He could not leave Kamal. He knew that on each sacred day his family prayed for someone’s calm death. He felt as if they had been mourning someone for last two years. He didn’t know who was about to breathe his last at home. After all he was to go for Haj. He feared that someone might die like his dream while he would be performing Haj.

He narrated to Mother Mary what he felt during the last eleven years. He was about to address the angel when someone placed his hand on his cold forehead. He opened his eyes and saw the doctor was on the round. He was accompanied by the two-house jobbers, nurses and the registrar. The doctor asked him something, but he couldn’t hear anything. He looked at the doctor who appeared like a seventy-headed monster. A dream that had returned after eleven years was aborted by the doctor and his team. He closed his eyes to recapture the dream. But there was no sign of the dream. It vanished like a road lost in the fog.

Half-heartedly he opened his eyes again. Doctor was still standing by his bed. The ward boy was noting his blood pressure while the nurse was scrawling something on the history sheet. He found Kamal was sitting on the edge of his bed. He wanted to tell him that he had told a lie that he was alone in the world. That he had built a fake world for him. That Mother Mary had left him. That the angel was not his twin brother. That he had forgotten him.

At my home you called me a lunatic. You called me a dream digger. I didn’t say anything. My dreams had abandoned me. I had no witness to my dreams. But today again I received the tidings that I am blessed with an angelic age. I am the only living being from the land of angels. I have mistakenly landed on the earth. I carry fire in my eyes. I can reduce the whole world into ashes. You never believed me. You thought I was out of my senses. But today I announce in front of you that I am far superior to these earthly folks. I am a descendent of angels. You all are dependent on me. I am the architect of this universe. Without me nothing would exist in this world. Neither you, nor the doctor and
nor the dialysis machine. These colours and clouds all owe to me.

Kamal saw he was pointing at the dialysis machine and trying to say something. He assumed that Hussain was lamenting over his delayed visit. Kamal addressed him by his name and told him that he was busy and belatedly learnt that the doctor had called him on the telephone. He tried to convince Hussain through excuses. To him Kamal’s voice was wafting from afar. As if he was speaking beyond a wall amid a tumultuous and bustling crowd. His voice evaporated before reaching his ears. He hardly managed to tell him that he was unable to hear his words. Kamal spoke louder but half-conscious Husain had already drifted off to sleep.

After eleven years, he had seen Mother Mary and the angel back in a dream again. Mother Mary looked as usual, but the angel seemed to have aged. Though he was about forty-six, he had grown old like Hussain. He looked for Kamal in the alleyways of his mind. But to no avail. All doors were locked off and darkness had descended upon the lanes of his mind. Before he could slip into contemplation, the angel moved forward. He was carrying some freshly blossomed jasmine flowers. He placed them on the side table. The fragrance of the fresh jasmine filled the suffocating room and Hussain’s heart with freshness. The angel sat beside him, caressed his hair and wiped the froth off his mouth. He held his hand against his bosom. Hussain opened his eyes and saw Mother Mary was standing at the foot of his bed. She was in tears.

The angel was looking down with downcast eyes. His long tufts hung loose across his neck and wings were at rest. Wax-moths were melting down and cotton flowers had caught fire. But the fragrance of camphor was in full bloom. Dust and haze was thickening. It was the first dream in the last forty six years wherein he craved for the companionship of a man. He called the name of a kind acquaintance but in the shower of jasmine flowers his voice diminished. He found it hard to breathe. But flowers kept showering and his breath stuck in his nostrils.

The dialysis machine was running, and the tick tock of wall clock had gain momentum. The fan was running fast. Amid tumult and clamour nurses and ward boys were in hurry. He saw the doctor’s sombre face for the last time. A thick fog appeared before his eyes. A fog that was no less than a deadly monster. He was abruptly put under the oxygen by the doctor. But his heart had ceased to beat. His eyes had stopped blinking. He was no more.

The doctor looked around with great gloom. Everybody was in a state of grief. The doctor placed his hand on Kamal’s shoulder. He was in tears. His enemy had departed. But he left him in tears. He closed Husain’s eyes and blew out the candles that had been lit for forty-six years. He covered his face with a piece of cloth. This scene made the elderly woman who was the attendant of the boy lying on the bed beside, wail in great grief. The boy too began weeping with her. Kamal, the doctor and the entire staff, everybody was startled. How come the old lady knew Hussain?

She remembered that today before going towards the dialysis machine, Hussain strolled to the old woman and enquired her about the boy’s health. The doctor and Kamal tried to solace her but she was inconsolable.

It was a long time since Kamal had left the room. Neither did he return nor did anyone else come to the hospital. The dead body was lying there and the old woman was sobbing unrelentingly. The dialysis machine was silent. All tubes and pipes had been removed from his body. The wall clock was ticking down. And the fan had scattered the jasmine flowers in the room.

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* The author plans to write a series of stories in the future under ‘Thus Spake the Vagabond’.

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Dr. Haneef Shareef, a trained medical professional, is one of the most cherished contemporary Balochi fiction writers and film directors. So far, he has published two collections of short stories and one novel. His peculiar mode of narration has rendered him a distinguished place among the Balochi fiction writers. He has also directed four Balochi movies.

Fazal Baloch is a Balochi writer and translator. He has translated several Balochi poems and short stories into English. His translations have been featured in Pakistani Literature published by Pakistan Academy of Letters in 2017 and Silence Between the Notes — the first ever anthology of Partition Poetry published by Dhauli Books India in 2018. His upcoming works of translation include Why Does the Moon Look So Beautiful? (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Naguman) and God and the Blind Man (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Minir Ahmed Badini).

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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