Maliha said that there was a ritual one could perform on the dead, and then the dead would appear in the dream and name the person who killed him. But of course, her plan was flawed. First, all this magic mumbo jumbo was haram, as my qari sahab had told us, and second, what if tayya named the killer and the person changed the name for their own benefit – or worse, what if the person performing the ritual whose dream tayya appeared in, was the killer himself?
‘But that is the only way,’ Maliha said, pushing back her artificially iron straight hair to reveal her genetically huge ears, ‘And it works. Most ISI agents do that to solve murders. They perform the deed, not eat chicken for an entire day and only walk in even steps.’
‘And then what?’
‘And then they fall into a deep slumber where the dead takes the name of the murderer.’
‘Interesting,’ I replied. ‘Any more theories?’
Maliha frowned. Her ears moved upwards when she did so. ‘Chacha has said a jinn did it. Maybe we can all summon the jinn and ask him that.’
‘Shut up,’ I snapped. ‘Abu is not well. Do not bring him into your meaningless talks.’
Maliha’s cheeks turned a shade of red, and then back to their normal wheat-ish color, and she excused herself from the room. The other cousins sat there, consoling me, or pretending to do so. Their parents had already filled their ears about abu having lost his sanity, so they were sure that he would end up in jail.
It was not only what abu had said this time. This time, for him it was a jinn. Other times, it had been him, which had led to ama getting a khula.
The others had blamed her for being impatient, but I knew that aba was too occupied to be a husband and a father. He had loved her, maybe he still did, as he loved me. But the truth was that ama had begged him for years to let her know why he was the way he was; what kept him up at nights, where he would disappear to, and why he would not talk about it.
Abu would just shake his head in dismay and said that there were thoughts that could not be shared and that is how their relationship was; a bundle of secrets and unsaid things.
I was too young to be included in the adult talks and often during the days following the murder when I walked into the room, everyone went quiet and if someone didn’t, the others who saw me would cough to let the person know that now was not a good time to talk. Dado stopped minding if I filled my plate before the others did at iftar, in fact, she pointed her cane towards the fruit chaat and instructed me to have a serving of that too.
The others were feeling sorry for me – the girl whose abu was a prime suspect for the murder of his own bhai, who claimed that he saw a jinn kill him, and her ami was cities apart, waiting to see if she should come to get her daughter or not.
I had talked to ami, and it was not that she did not want to come to fetch me, she was stuck between work and traveling, and she for a fact knew that aba would get out of it. ‘He is an expert in creating messes and then getting out of them,’ she said. ‘And I know that you wouldn’t feel happy away from him, Farwa.’ I wanted to go back in time when both ama and abu had been inseparable and I slept between them- a short but lovely time it had been.
The next day, I sat next to abu who was counting something on his fingers.
After some time he started again, and shook his head in dismay as if he had messed the counting up. Some hours were still left till sehri, and everyone except a few cousins upstairs was fast asleep. The days were hectic and demanding and we all needed the little sleep we could get – especially aba, who well, hadn’t gotten enough of his fingertips.
I stared at him – how quickly he had aged, his hair had strands of white, and his eyes held in them a sort of heaviness that not even enough sleep could reverse. I wondered if I had ever seen him not curious, at peace, not in a rush – as if he had a train to catch.
‘Aba,’ I said. His fingers were now constantly circling his palm.
‘Aba,’ I repeated. He looked at me.
‘Why aren’t you asleep beti?’ he questioned going back to making circles. ‘You should be asleep.’
‘I could say the same to you,’ I replied.
‘I don’t have school tomorrow,’ he answered. ‘Go to sleep jaan. Unless you need something, then let me know.’
Not once had his gaze broken free from whatever worry he was in.
I placed my hand on his, and he instantly looked up. ‘Aba,’ I said. ‘You’re the only person I have in this world and I believe you. I have no reason to doubt you. I believed you when you could not tell ama what was wrong, I believed you when you said it was not a woman when you came at night smelling like one, I believed you when you could not come to my art exhibition because your bedroom’s door disappeared and you were trapped inside and I believed you when you said that a jinn killed tayya jaan. So now, I want to know what happened, and I promise that I will believe you.’
It wasn’t what I said that made abu ponder and stop insisting that I go to sleep. It was the very fact that I was a young, gullible child who no one took seriously and so, if he was as honest as he could be, or not honest at all, I would let him be and go to sleep, and if I ended up telling anyone, no one would believe me anyway.
‘I have upset the jinns and they are out to get me,’ abu replied.
Had it been someone else with his intellect and age, he would have whispered the word jinns almost out of shame for believing in ghosts but abu said it as he meant it – the jinnat were after him.
‘W-we can call for help,’ I said. ‘Someone who can talk to jinns and banish them away,’ I replied. ‘Like an exorcist.’
Abu chuckled. What I had said had clearly amused him. ‘All the talking has been done and I am at fault.’
‘Please go to sleep jaan. I will not go to jail. I might go someplace else but not jail.’
I locked my fingers into his so that he could no longer count. ‘Abu,’ I said with a salty tear dripping down my cheek, ‘I don’t want to know the entire thing. I know that I would not understand but please let me know a part of it. At least something – anything.’
The moment of silence between us was longer than anticipated. I did not know whether it was a signal for me to go to sleep or if abu would give in. My thoughts were disrupted by a frog croaking in the kitchen – someone had left the door open. ‘I promise I’ll go sleep then,’ I said, trying my luck. ‘No questions.’
‘No questions for now or no questions forever?’ abu asked.
‘Well then,’ he said, shifting his focus towards the wall in front of him. ‘Your dada was married to dado’s elder sister before she died of a clot in the brain. Your tayya Noraiz was her child and so am I. Then, baba jaan was wedded to your dado, who treated me nothing less than a son. Your actual dado, my biological mother could communicate with jinns.’
‘She had gotten the ability to do so Allah knows how. As far as I know, she was coming home from having helped delivered a nearby villager’s child later at night, and to reach back, she had to cross the rail station where she saw two men having a dispute. They stopped to ask her what should be done and though scared, she listened to both sides and made a fair decision. The men were impressed and vanished into thin air in front of her. Ama jaan ran home, as fast as her legs could carry her for she felt horrified.’
‘After that night, she often started running into people having disputes – sometimes even in her own house!’
Imagine going to the kitchen and finding weird-looking gnomes fighting on the shelf near the ghee container! These people came in all shapes and sizes and even for the purpose of safarish, cats appeared with presents but ama jaan though nice, was always fair in concluding the matters. Soon, she was given the law of their world to study, and she memorized it, and gave her calling according to it, and she gained great fame for being the honest woman she was.’
‘I sometimes woke up to the chants of her name at night and she would hush them all up, saying that her child was asleep. Of course, there were instances when she was attacked and woke up with bruises, but the good always prevailed. Your tayya when alive could also see jinns. In fact, it was a jinn who took his life. I thought that he would be imprisoned…’
‘Yes, in jail for jinns, it is in another dimension. He would have gone into a coma according to the time being served in jinn years, but then he would have come back. It wouldn’t have been too wrong. But alas! He was killed.’
The words flew out of abu’s mouth as if nothing was astonishing about what he was telling me. Not even the English men who wrote about pixies, fairies, and witches on broomsticks spoke so casually about them, as abu did.
He expected me to digest everything and I pretended to do just that. I nodded my head as much as I could. In fact, even when he had stopped, I kept nodding my head. He reminded me of Maliha, who made up tales so fondly and I wondered if he was doing it on purpose – making the people around him think that he had lost it, just like he had made ama believe that it was her fault for asking and snooping around trying to find out where her husband disappeared to at night, or why did he insist on sleeping in the closet.
I nodded once again – a mighty big nod, as if to say that whatever I had been told made complete sense, and then as I pecked him goodnight, Maliha’s words rang in my ears.
‘Farwa ki bachi, I have been nothing but kind to you, but you’re mean, and just so you know, my mama says that your baba is a murderer.’
‘To get out of it, he is spurring nonsense but if they do the tests on him and he doesn’t come out a mad man, he will go to jail. Your baba will be in jail tomorrow after the hearing. Just you wait and see.’
To be continued.
Cover image via @alishba_waheed/Instagram