The Devil’s party

It was the year of 1985, I remember how the fields sparkled with golden wheat. Bustling with the hubbub of anticipation, the bazaar was the congregation point of delegates from neighbouring villages. Most of them had travelled by foot. In those days, only a few could afford to board the embellished busses that sauntered coyly across the winding mountain-roads.

She wore red; she looked…different. Clad in a white turban and garlands, he arrived on a camel. 

The air was fat with heat and the sound of drums.  A horse as white as the snow of Kashmir danced with more charm than all the village men combined; the children watched in amazement. Indoors – behind makeshift curtain-walls – the women sang folk songs of leaving the father’s home and of a foreign land called childhood, their tears spoke the words their mouths could not utter.

She never raised her gaze. She never lifted her veil. Knowing what her fate held for her, she had long since accepted it.

I knew questions burned within her but like two ends of a rope set aflame, our mouths were singed shut. Not a single syllable transgressed. Her palanquin rested in the yard for the next morning’s rukhsati. The wedding feast was one that would be remembered for years to come, they said it was as though the fruits of Paradise itself were served. Nothing has tasted so sweet since. 

When it was time for nikah, somehow my daughter was not sitting among the women. My soul flew to the seventh heaven in utter panic. I searched in secret: on the rooftop, among the men, in every room, even in the animal quarters. At last, I found myself outside their bedroom.

I pushed open the adorned doors; the odour of corpses pushed back against my nose. I found not her, but her voice: “Can you see? Can you see them Ammi? Their faces, I see... 

***

my body plunges forward leaving the summit of the cliff the wind rips my hair my cheeks burn and gravity claws at me

laughter instead of a voiceless scream – my mouth as useless as the prayers whispered from my mother’s bedside

for the third time flogged by water for a third time struggling against waves in my lungs

and again a force propels me upwards, gasping: we will not let you die…

 

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