She said that she loved Lahore for its red brick structures and sly winter nights. ‘If cities have hearts, Lahore has a big one; it keeps safe so many secrets within its red veiled walls’, she would often tell her husband, wistfully. ‘Cities do not have hearts, my dear! Besides, a heart is not a safe place for keeping secrets. It always gives!’ he would sneer back at her. Such reasoning, Sabeen knew would no longer allow her love Yasir. She knew that love had nothing to do with reason. And reason had nothing to do with love. She could never reason with Yasir. She could no longer love him, either.
She had loved him though; however passionate, it was not the kind of love that enflamed her heart in her youthful days. That love had a preternatural quality to it. It was as absurd as life and as promising as afterlife. A frivolous vanity, indeed! Sometimes she remembered her first love like a historian tries to trace a lost civilization. She no longer remembered its language or frontiers but she knew that it had existed and its memory would linger on like the memory of Eden.
If love were something as physical as an island she could imagine it dissipating into the dark waters of time like a waning winter moon dying to the late hours of darkness; by-and-by! A Paradise lost. Sabeen hated such blunt ends. She would rather have liked her heart to explode into a million tiny fragments and pelt over her red bricked city like a monsoon rain.
She hated ruins and ghosts and their persistent memories and now her dreams consisted of nothing but such frailties. She knew that it was no good. For what good is an object of longing if it is merely reduced into the shadows of past; even if it did once exist in as sublime a form as love. Ten years ago she had loved another man. Strangely, she had not thought about him for many years until last Friday evening, when the sky had turned red; as red as bricks. Sabeen could read the omens. When she was a child, her grandmother had told her that the sky picks up the color of red brick floors when the Lord lets a dying man live on, in a non-human form. That is how the stars in the firmament keep increasing. The lord wouldn’t allow a soul enflamed with overwhelming passion to enter the eternal world until it loses its burden. Close to the great judgment day, there would be so many stars over the firmament that it would eventually crack open of their weight and the stars would start falling over the earth like a monsoon rain.
The following night she dreamt that the man she had loved ten years ago was delivering a sermon on a roof top; the floor of which was built of red bricks. She recognized the place well. It was the roof top of her parent’s house. Ten years ago they use to meet there, each night, for seven months. She recognized him instantly in spite of the fact that he had aged. He sat over the wall that separated his house with Sabeen’s parents’s house. He held a cigarette in his left hand that glowed like a firefly resting over a bush in complete reverence. As Sabeen approached him, she realized that he sat stark naked over the wall, which seemed more like an altar now. He seemed more illumined and beautiful than he had ever been. She stopped inches away from the wall and squatted down, close to the base. He leaned towards the base of the wall; craned his neck towards her and whispered: “Love is to haunt and to be haunted”. He was a ghost now and he had returned to haunt her.
It was an exceptionally humid Thursday evening and Yasir managed to return from his office earlier than Sabeen had expected him to. After opening the entrance door and exchanging the casual greetings with Yasir, Sabeen headed back to the kitchen which oozed with the smell of onions. Yasir knew that it would take Sabeen another twenty minutes to prepare the meal for dinner. He headed straight into the bedroom, with an intention to rest awhile. He was about to open up the bedroom door, when he heard a great thud over the main entrance door. The sudden sound of force against the steel gate made him shudder momentarily. He rushed towards the main entrance and unbolted the entrance gate. He partially opened up the gate and stuck his head out. There was no body there. He took a few steps outside the entrance gate, into the vacant galli. A gush of wind met his face and he knew that he had just become a victim of yet another practical joke that the Muhalla kids had devised to irk him. He stood there momentarily uttering loud curses: “Those little pranksters… fiends… bastards! …and so are their parents!”
Flabbergasted, he returned to the living room, where he began his frantic search for the newspaper. He had decided to delay his rest plan. Moments later he found the newspaper lying over the cupboard top. He picked it up and started rummaging through the papers. Half an hour later, there was another sudden thud over the entrance door accompanied by a great cacophony. The windowpanes of the living room started to convulse. Yasir realized that the first monsoon rain was not too far away. He put aside the newspaper and tiptoed towards the kitchen. He creaked open he kitchen door only to find it vacant.
Sabeen always loved the monsoon rains. She loved the crisp tang of the parched soil that the wind carries along, just before the starts of the rain. “It is the greatest smell in the world. It is God’s dinner bell for all the hungry poets and lovers”, she whispered while caressing Ahmed’s hair. They were both perched over the red brick wall that separated their houses. It provided a good hide-out since Ahmed’s house was the last one in the Muhalla and he lived alone. The spot provided a beautiful view of the abandoned path of the Jamya mosque which was no longer in use, and thus had become an abode for numerous Chambeli bushes that grew abundantly across the hedges; completely overlooking the old entrance of the Jamya mosque. They sat there quietly viewing the many fireflies that surrounded the Chambeli bushes. “Could this be forever, you and I at the threshold of eternity?” Sabeen broke the silence. Ahmad nodded with a gleeful smile. “But I’m afraid that there is no forever “, Sabeen replied. Ahmad knew that she was right so they remained silent, until the wind grew stronger and the clouds invaded the sky; providing it a magnificent tangerine cover. Moments later, it began to rain and Sabeen stretched her palms forward to feel the first drops of the rain. The rain splash created a million intersecting circles and from those circles emerged bubbles that swayed and danced across the red brick floor, to the whims of the wind. Moments later, Ahmad’s left hand found the small of Sabeen’s back and his tongue had found a way into her mouth, like a virulent serpent that had finally broken into Eden. The serpent of love was sharp enough to enter through the mouth of the smallest needle and pierce into two perfectly equal halves. She had known that well. She had known it the day she first found him stealing glances at her. And she had confessed to the inevitability of the original sin, a thousand times. “I love you! You are the most beautiful man I had ever known.” She whispered again. But as the clouds begin to lighten and rift apart and the rain began to abate; she felt as if it was all coming to a sudden end. By the time the moon had sailed out from the veils of clouds she knew that she no longer loved Ahmad and it had all been a semblance of love. A beautiful lie, but a lie nonetheless. She looked at Ahmad and he seemed to her feeble ghost under the pristine light of the moon. Passionless. One to be pitied rather than loved! His eyes reflected loneliness of an aloof wolf and she couldn't dare stare at them for long. She instantly jumped from the wall and ran off inside her house without saying a word. She knew that she would never see him again.
But after ten years, he had returned as a vengeful ghost and had completely taken over Sabeen’s senses. The day the first monsoon rain of the season poured in, Yasir couldn’t find Sabeen inside the kitchen. She stood lost in the veranda, holding a sharp kitchen knife waiting for Yasir as a predator waits patiently for its prey. Her eyes blazed in strange passion and bulged out from her whitened face. Yasir had spotted her and he had also spotted the sudden change in her countenance. As he went close to her, she hissed at him and tried to cut his throat off with the knife. She missed her mark but left Yasir absolutely startled and a little bruised at the neck. Yasir had to tie her with chains up that night. She would remain captivated for the following weeks. Yasir knew that his wife was either possessed by a Djinn or struck by the malice of jealous relatives.
Day after day, Sabeen’s condition worsened as she became more delusional. Her eyes became blank brown, sunken sockets and she wouldn’t blink them for hours. She would talk blasphemy and consistently demand an explanation as to why God allowed the serpent to enter the Garden of Eden, when He, claims to be an all-powerful, good God. At times she would incessantly utter words that made no sense and she would laugh for hours without any good reason. At times she convulsed so badly that Yasir would fear that death had taken to claim her for all the blasphemies she uttered. But there too were times when she was calmer, almost perfectly sane. Yasir knew that he, too was going insane with her. He had left no stone unturned. Doctors, Mullahs, Faqirs, all seemed to have a theory about what went wrong with Sabeen; but none had the cure. There was no cure like death has no cure. Or perhaps death, was the only cure, Yasir had started to believe. Almost a month passed.
Then, one night, when the cloying smell of Chambeeli flowers had filled the air and the wind had just started to blow a little harder, and Yasir and Sabeen’s bedroom had been invaded with pristine moonlight, and the clock had presently struck 1:00 a.m. Sabeen started calling Yasir up, repeatedly. She beckoned him to come close to her and in a queer moment of sanity she started shouting loudly: “It is not a Djinn or the ill influence of black magic that ails me, but love. Love… love… love”.