Shariq was a good worker (he managed high rise construction sites), friend (nobody bought you more drinks than him) and husband (Raunak felt a certain warmth when she considered that he was hers). In all likelihood, he would have made a good father as well. But we shall never know.
Five days after the dinner to celebrate Raunak being with child, (‘Nothing short of Zeeshan’s biryani and Tunda’s kebabs will make the cut, my dear’, he had said, ‘so please don’t even think about cooking...’), a wind had swept him off the eighth floor of a construction site.
Raunak got a job teaching children English Literature in a school so her in-laws wouldn’t have to worry too much. She spent her days teaching children to love stories. And nights, loving them herself.
After a few months of telling other people’s stories, she tried telling one herself. And she realized that she enjoyed it. It felt so good. And the class, a bunch of troublesome eight year olds, seemed to enjoy it (the class hadn’t ever been so silent).
That moment on, she took to telling stories with a flourish. She spent her classes telling them, her gossip sessions concocting them and her excuses manufacturing them. So when her six year old, Zulfiqar, finally asked where his father was, she knew exactly what to say.
‘Your father made tall buildings, she said, ‘and one day, he was working on the eighth floor. This floor, my dear Zulfi, was quite unlike the floor we’re on. This one was still being made. Which is to say it had no floors, no walls and no roof. Only metallic bones that kept it standing. And the wind, you feel it blowing cold on your face now, don’t you Zulfi, gets harder the higher you go. And this is just the first floor. Imagine how hard the wind blows on the eighth floor.’
‘Very hard’, said Zulfiqar, the beginnings of fear simmering in his eyes.
‘Exactly’, said Raunak, ‘so that day, he was at the edge of the building, when a blast of wind hit him…’
‘And what happened then’, asked Zulfiqar, the fear spreading from his eyes to the rest of his face. Just yesterday, he had seen a ‘blast’ of wind blow an earthen pot to smithereens on the floor below.
‘He flew off the building’, said Raunak, her voice flowing like the powerful wind, ‘he saw the ground beneath him, the domes of the Imambara, the marketplace that seemed so small, the people that seemed smaller. He floated, for an instant, over it all…’
‘And then?’ asked Zulfiqar, eyes tearing up, voice quivering, upcoming sentence, a foregone conclusion.
‘And then…’, she said, ‘the wind hoisted him up and swept him away. All the way up, as a matter of fact, to the clouds.’
‘“What’s going on?” he asked.’
‘“Oh”, said the wind, “it gets a little lonely up here. So every once in a while, I pick up a man (not just any man, oh no, but a lovely man) to come stay with me up here.”’
‘Wow’, said Zulfiqar, his heart brimming up with the joy you feel as nightmares turn to dreams.
‘And he had many adventures up there. But those are stories for another day.’
And Raunak kept telling him stories about his father’s adventures up in the clouds. Even after Zulfiqar had grown old and knew that the stories were… well, stories. He never stopped enjoying hearing them. And she never stopped enjoying telling them.
Several years later, Zulfiqar’s wife was taking a cab back home, when a boulder accidentally fell on it, killing her and the driver instantly. He broke into a loud wail as they told him. His six month old daughter joined in, partaking in a grief she didn’t understand.
It wasn’t until several years later, when Zeenat was close to four, that she asked where her mother was. Children, as always, were getting older earlier.
‘She was taking a cab back home’, he said, ‘ and a boulder fell on the cab. She died.’
Zulfiqar told stories like his mother. But quite unlike the stories she told. His were darker. Harsher. Some said more true than they should’ve been..
‘But her life as a ghost, he sighed, ‘that’s a different story…’