Abu’s Jinns returns to narrate the tale of Mamoo Irfan, who had a radio show where he narrated scary stories told by villagers. One story, however, changed everything.
Mamoo refused to join nana’s business. He wanted nothing to do with packaging milk. He thought that it was a tedious job – that the cow did the creative part – and that he was destined to do something that excited him. ‘It’s exciting,’ nana said. ‘You get to sell to different markets and design the boxes.’
Mamoo believed otherwise. So, when he graduated from college with a degree in Literature and a great hint of disappointment from his father, he took the family’s blessings and shifted to another part of the city. He had no job, and little savings, but he was determined and persistent – something his father had been years ago when he had started milking the neighbor’s buffalos.
That part of the city was less crowded and touched a village. The people were simple and kind, and they shopped at one grocery store situated in the very middle. There was one popular nashta place that served anda paratha, and one old school that had been renovated a couple of times. Mamoo loved it. There wasn’t much to decipher and the air was light on the chest.
The village fascinated him the most. The ground on which it was built was a hundred years old, and Mahmood Naqvi Shah sahab, a ruler that the people had chosen from amongst them to make all the decisions, fondly spoke about the place’s history with mamoo. The men, the women, the children, and even the excessively fertile soil that mamoo walked on, invited him with open arms.
It was tough at first to understand what he wanted to do for a living, but mamoo figured it out. The people there were curious and gullible beings, and liked to sit after the sunset on blue colored charpaian, placed outside their houses, to discuss stories of the things that they had heard.
Mamoo loved knitting stories, so he decided to make the most of what he had, and joined the radio station office five miles away. The two shows that the villagers heard, were one of a woman telling the weather forecast and the news, and in the evening, a man putting on classic songs and allowing people to sing for their loved ones.
Mamoo created a third one; a midnight podcast of horror folktales – a collection of tales told by the men and women of the village with some spice of his own.
The amount wasn’t much, and mamoo couldn’t afford to purchase the packaged milk his father dispatched to the grocery store, but he was happy. He would sit on the one-chaired, windowless office all day, compiling stories that other people had told him and would then, under the moonlight, narrate them on the radio.
The men and women would tuck their children in bed and listen with oohs and aahs – anticipation in their eyes, and a lot of amusement. If someone’s radio wouldn’t work, he’d trade work hours and borrow the radio from Shah sahab, who was too old to stay up after the sun went down.
‘I have seen too much in my life to be amazed by these tales,’ he’d say. ‘But you go on, you’re doing what you love and that’s all there is to a good life. That and rosewater.’
There was a story about a widowed woman of the village who had thrown her blood infused cloth under the coconut tree, and had insulted a roaming jinn, who had then attached itself to her, like a plug to a cord – and the woman had forgotten to read the Quran. No matter what she did, she couldn’t utter the words. She had then gone crazy, and jumped in the village’s well.
There was the tale of the toys. The villager’s children weren’t allowed to have anything that had eyes, and other prominent facial features.
They believed that evil could live in it. A man who very much adored his wheelchair-bound son, was saddened to see that the child could not play with the other boys. He had then gone to the city and gotten a stuffed dog doll – flappy ears and whiskers – which the boy had learned to love overnight. The boy had been instructed to not take the doll inside and after Maghrib, the doll was taken from him and hidden in a chest.
After a few weeks, when the boy fell ill, the father brought him another such dog doll – this time dressed in pink. The boy was delighted. However, the child’s health did not improve. One night, the father got up in the middle of the night for some reason.
To his astonishment, he saw that the stuffed pup dolls were sucking on his child’s toes.
They were moving before his eyes – and the moment they saw him, one groaned in agony – like a sharp shriek of a child – and the other dropped lifeless on the floor. The child did not wake up after that night.
The newspaperman, Maqbool Ali, with his spectacles taped together from the middle – told mamoo why the villagers never built houses in corners.
‘A long time ago, there used to be a hospital for the sinners and the evil-doers here. This dates back to British times. Experiments were conducted on Muslim and Hindu criminals before any medication came out in the market. In the corners of the building, the people who refused to participate were hung with metal chains.’
‘Their teeth were taken out, sharpened, and then sewed to their fingers so that whenever they touched themselves, they bled. Whenever a house was built in the cornering areas, the residents died horrible deaths. Their teeth fell out and they forgot how to chew. You must have seen Yahya – the boy who sweeps the mithae shop. He was born in such a house. He never grew teeth.’
Different people told different stories, and even though mamoo had little to no belief in what he was being told, he listened attentively, as if the teller’s belief was brushing off on him.
There was a particular story that he was told by multiple people – the story of Laila – the dayan.
‘Our land is full of disturbing memories. The trees have knelt over the years, for they no longer wish to see what happens to the people near it. We live in a cursed place which has housed much evil,’ Shah sahab told mamoo.
‘I knew that one day you’d come by asking for her story,’ he continued. ‘If Laila were alive, she would have been my daughter’s age. She was a beautiful creature – hazel eyes, a sharp nose, and laughter that echoed with the wind. She often brought mangoes to my house, dipped in frozen water, and in return, I would give her coloring books and chalks.’
‘She was my daughter – she was the village’s daughter. In the darkness of the night, her father who had left for the city, came back to take her. He intended to sell her, and when her mother found out, she called upon me. We all gathered and didn’t let the man escape. He apologized and went his way. A week later, a sandstorm came and during that chaos, the father came and killed his daughter, Laila.’
‘Now, they say that wounded Laila, who depended on the villagers for her safety, returns every chand raat, since the chand raat she was ruthlessly killed, to prey on the innocent.’
Mamoo looked at Shah sahab. The man had tears in his eyes, which made mamoo believe that there must have been some truth to the story.
‘If you don’t mind,’ mamoo asked. ‘Can I ask you something?’
Shah sahab nodded. ‘You can ask me. I don’t know if I can answer. This conversation has made me tired.’
‘Well,’ mamoo said, ‘the villagers know the Quran and its teachings. They know that the dead go into the dirt – and the soul goes above. So how can they believe that Laila’s spirit still lingers?’
‘That is true. However, we’re all born with a Qareen – a sheytaani jinn, and sometimes when people expire and their loved ones spot them, it’s either their Qareen or hamzaad, or a shape-shifting jinn playing with the living. In all honesty, I have never seen Laila on chaand raat so I do not know.’
Shah sahab had never seen Laila on chand raat because the moment the Eid moon was sighted, the entire village shut down – men closed their doors and women their windows, and children were locked inside and the entire place appeared to be a ghost town.
Mamoo, who had gotten a kick out of the whole situation, set off to the radio office in the middle of the night to cover Laila’s story.
He cycled to the location because the bus service had been put to a halt. Other than his room, the office had been closed and the guard had left after iftar. Mamoo carried the equipment outside and sat under the stars – only a few could be seen that day. He folded his sleeves and ran his fingers through his corkscrew curls before tuning in.
‘Salam meray dostoun. Main houn apka manpasand…’
Mamoo had only begun reading off his notes when he heard something break inside the office. Distracted, he stopped speaking and turned on the torch of his phone. The only open room was empty.
‘Must have been a rat,’ he said to himself. ‘Stupid rat.’
‘Jaisa kay main keh raha tha, bohut suhani raat hai…kya hi baat hai…’
A soft wind started to blow and the leaves started to dance with it, the trees that hung so low, got up to clap. Enjoying the breeze whistling near his ears, mamoo smiled.
‘Today will be a wonderful episode,’ he gasped. ‘The villagers will have something to talk about before Eid!’
Before mamoo could resume, a clear shattering sound made him jump. It was louder than the one he had heard before and it had distinctly come from the room.
‘Do you hear it?’ he asked the stars. ‘Or am I losing it?’
He then hurried inside. In the small wooden space, stood a feminine figure with her back towards mamoo.
‘So you’re the rat,’ he mumbled to himself.
‘Who is this?’ mamoo asked, moving towards the petite figure – thinking if tapping on the shoulder would be un-gentleman-like.
The figure turned around. It was a young girl – perhaps in her early twenties with twinkling eyes and the complexion of nana’s premium packaged milk.
‘Adaab,’ she said, holding her hand to her forehead.
‘A-adab,’ mamoo replied. ‘How did you enter?’
‘The guard let me in, before you came,’ she replied. ‘I was just outside, waiting for you.’
‘Waiting for me?’
The girl smiled, and mamoo’s heart skipped a beat – the kind that happened when his favorite Jubilee bar melted on the tip of his tongue.
‘I am very fond of your stories,’ she replied. ‘I wanted to share mine. If you do not mind.’
‘Of course, of course, I do not,’ came an answer. ‘Please come outside and sit down.’
The lady followed, and mamoo felt that he had fallen in love. He had seen many beautiful women – but none had made him feel weak like a sheera-less two-day-old jalebi. He felt as if it had suddenly become impossible to walk.
‘There’s only one chair,’ he said. ‘I can stand.’
‘It looks like you need it,’ the girl giggled. ‘Sit. I like to stand.’
‘I will not take much of your time,’ the girl said, her melodious tone making love to the newly-swept-away mamoo’s ears. ‘The story is a little old and you must have heard of it but I will tell you things you do not know.’
‘Is it Laila’s story?’ mamoo inquired, wondering if his constant stare was making her uncomfortable.
‘You speak too soon, but yes. You see, it is a story told so much and the reality in it has vanished. Laila was a wonderful girl and she loved giving mangoes to the neighbors until one night when the ruler of the village invited her in.’
‘He felt her, not like a daughter, and Laila, was hushed by colorful paints. He looked at her, like she was the mango herself. Yes, Laila’s father had abandoned his family, but he came back when he learned -’
‘I am sorry to interrupt but I personally know Shah sahab – he is a great man and would never do something as horrid as what you’re implying-’
‘Do you not know that the storyteller’s story must not be interrupted?’ the girl cut in, her innocent button-like eyes maturing from the sides, turning into those of an angry man.
‘My apologies,’ mamoo stammered. ‘Please go on.’
‘Where was I? Oh yes, Laila’s father had gone to live in the city, but he hurried back, to fetch Laila when he learned about Shah’s ill-doings. However, the naïve villagers drove him out. He had managed to make Laila understand that Shah sahab was not a good man and that no mangoes should be given to him. And when Laila didn’t visit him, Shah sahab visited himself and did to her what happens between bad men and pure women, and then when she stopped breathing, threw her into the village well.’
Mamoo examined the lady from head to toe. She seemed genuine, and he liked her, but he could not let the newly arisen lust blind him for trusting a man who had helped him since the day he had come. However, the moments that followed made him believe in two things; the paranormal and the truth.
‘Do you want me to share your side of the story?’ he asked. ‘Is that what you want?’
‘Not if you don’t believe it,’ she replied.
‘It doesn’t matter if I believe it or not,’ mamoo said. ‘Tell me your name.’
‘No, not her name, your name. Your real name.’
‘I know that you’re not from the village..’
‘My name is Laila,’ the girl replied. ‘And here are some mangoes.’
Mamoo looked at the mud-made steps near him. The lady now sat there, offering a bowl of rotten mangoes, dipped in icy water.
The wind started to blow again, this time with a sad tune, and mamoo’s heart skipped a beat – the kind that happens when a thief gets caught or more specifically, when a man sees a ghost.
Mamoo got up, faced the road and started to run as fast as his legs could carry him. He knew better than to look back, but he did, and he saw the lady running behind him, her feet not touching the ground – as if she was being carried by the same air that mamoo had thought to be his friend. Mamoo ran and ran, till he dropped on the ground and lost consciousness.
Mamoo Irfan was found in the city hospital, and nana was called there. We had been told that his cycle had collided with a blue Toyota and that he had been rushed to the emergency center immediately. No injuries were found and he was expected to return to normal.
Nana told us that he would insist mamoo to return home, but he didn’t have to, because when mamoo woke up, none of what he said made any sense. He told us that story that I wrote – in many attempts and different variations. But the truth is that no village linked to the outer city and no Shah sahab or any villagers had ever existed.
Cover image via Shutterstock