Mushtaque B Barq
The window from the west end of living room brought a colossal branch of a Chinar tree at forefront which otherwise remained bolted to beat the chill. Fareeda, a divorcee with her seventeen year old daughter Muskan, were left to live in that old house on the bank of the river Jhelum. The house like their decrepit hopes had lost much of its strength due to heavy snowstorm, nearly bringing the beams of the roof to the floor of the attic, breaking the very backbone of their survival. The house was cushioned on one side by a Chinar tree and into the backyard music of the river Jhelum, turning the house into a mysterious hut guarded by majestic shade and mighty flow.
The limb of that Chinar was in unusual attire, unknown to the inhabitants of that old house. The buds fought the last battle of their endurance, pushing hard to crack the rough bark before putting on a velvety look all over the bark. The resistance was enormous, more onerous than Fareeda and her daughter who were left alone by Aslam, some ten years back.
He was a hot tempered man like the blazing beams of summer sun, depriving every tissue of the tree before finally blistering it beyond repairs. Aslam divorced Fareeda when Muskan was seven years old, left them in his old house which was surrounded by a Chinar tree. The branches of which had a kind of relation to the family.
Providing shelter during the summer and timber throughout harsh winter, a bond which Fareeda was fond of. She often used to narrate her woes to that silent but gigantic tree like an ignorant child who hides his belongings in the empty trunk of a tree in the woods not to get picked up by wanton boys and shepherds.
As Muskan opened that bolted window a bit more, Fareeda abandoned the offer of nature, but soon something on that massive Chinar branch pulled her to the window.
‘A crow, Yes, it is a crow, black and bright’ she admitted.
A strange glue of glee Muskan observed on her mother’s face that had perhaps forgotten how to pull those feeble muscles that bedecks a smile on those sunken and skinny hills of face. The current of this freshly developed sensation turned Fareeda into a living creature who had been captivated for ten long years. The black crow fascinated her; she gazed at the bird like an owl to hoot at nocturnal predator.
‘Look at that crow’ Fareeda pointed at her daughter.
‘It was ten years back the nest of the crow was captured by a kite and ruled the branches for ten years’ Fareeda sighed .
Muskan was staring at her mother’s face, which turned pale and exhausted; she was struggling to stand as if the earth under her feet had opened an endless chasm to drag her into its depths that wasted the landscape of her face like a fresh landslide bruising the edges of hope spaced between two sunken sockets and tattered temple brutally. The falling thin line of her eyebrows almost plugged her eyes as her eyelids reached to the far end, disallowing the lively pupils to administrate externally framed scene. She closed her eyes; much burdened with grief. She cupped her face, turning it to a graceless lotus with her long thin fingers almost neighboring the entire globe of her survival. Those slender but agile fingers had controlled every movement and every expression. She was looking dull and dead like a laborer in the mine, working hard to make a fortune, unknown to the people who live under the ‘Blue Canopy’.
A murmur, so feeble finally broke the glass of her face. She raised her neck and again stared at the Chinar, but this time her looks were dull and into her eyes a strange inquisitiveness made Muskan to inquire.
‘ Some ten years back the crow made a nest and ruined my life, now the crow has returned, God knows what is going to happen’ Fareeda murmured.
‘Mother what happened, what is there with that crow’ Muskan asked
‘Nothing’ she responded.
After a pause, Fareeda pulled her daughter close to her and in a motherly loving voice asked:
‘Muskan, I am worried about you’
‘About me’ Muskan demanded.
Fareeda sighed, ‘Want to marry you soon’
Muskan laughed, behind that scornful look, was a shocking story, Muskan could only laugh not to show disregard but to reveal the margins of her wish. They had nothing to expend. The old house, prolonged isolation, grievances and poverty, she figured out, nothing other than that.
‘What have we gained out of isolation’ she asked.
Fareeda could only listen; the script of her affliction was sealed over those fractured pages of tedious lips, for she had never expected Muskan to ask for the reward of isolation.
‘You could have managed to live with my father’ Muskan raised her voice like a tyrant soldier ready to torture him in the cell of his own to know the plot of mastermind.
‘What have we gained all these years’, ‘Nothing’, ‘Worries’, ‘Woes’, and ‘Tears’ Muskan exploded.
‘I have taken every care, I make available whatever I could, I worked for you, I washed the clothes in the neighborhood, I spin, I sew, I sweep what else I could have done’ Fareeda shouted. ‘And what have you done, nothing’ She asked.
‘What could I do, I cannot go into the houses to fetch work, I cannot go to public places to beg, I cannot work like you, I need security, what can an orphan daughter do, you have deprived me of my support and security, you have snatched my father, my sustenance’ Muskan demanded.
‘You should have supported me instead you gave up your job’ Fareeda asked
‘Job, what job, do you think I was not loyal to my work? Yes, I was, but….’ she didn’t speak.
‘Now why have you sealed your lips, tell me why you gave up that job’ Fareeda demanded.
An extreme ugliness engulfed Muskan, her face turned black, her limbs quiver, she looked like an isolated and wretched monster. Her heart was hammering hard against her ribs; something was wedged between her lips and lines. She was weighed down under her own load, hard to recount like a crow on the branch that after so many years had visited its captured glory, its lost fort, drooped and down with its head caged behind its own black feathers hiding the sheen of love for the place.
‘I did that to save my honour’ Muskan whispered.
‘What do you mean’ Fareeda demanded
‘That bloody old man, your uncle had other intentions’ Muskan remarked.
‘He tried to molest me; he pulled me down in the shop and demanded…… she could not speak’
‘I faced such humiliation because of you, you have deprived me of my father’ she set aside murmuring.
‘No, I have not deprived you of anything, it was he, that blockheaded man who divorced me for no fault of mine’ shouted Fareeda and followed her.
‘No fault, how can you say so mother’ Muskan shouted back
‘You don’t know anything, he wanted a son and I had already been deprived of obeying his demand’ informed Fareeda.
‘Muskan’! My uterus was removed right at the time of your birth’ Fareeda sighed.
‘Just for a son, you cannot blame him, who does not want a son, you should have allowed him to remarry’ asked Muskan
‘I could never see anyone taking my place, sharing my husband’ Fareeda admitted.
‘That is so cunning of you; you have deprived me badly, you should have supported him, but instead you made his life hell, you should have been a bit flexible’ Muskan narrated
‘Hell, what do you mean Muskan’ Fareeda demanded.
‘Mother every month he sends money, he shows concern’ Muskan shouted
‘But he has no love for you, I accepted his divorce because of you.’ Fareeda stated.
‘Come on mother, he loves me, he often comes to Rafiq Sahab and calls me there, he talks to me, he hugs me, he kisses me endlessly’ Muskan reported.
‘Oh! You shameless girl, you ogre, you the worst of all, have you been in touch with him in my absence, go and be with him, I don’t need you, you the mucky daughter of a shoddy father, go away from here right now and be with him, I don’t need you, I don’t need his money, I don’t need both of you’ Fareeda declared.
‘That is, your fault mother; you always prefer to live alone, you don’t care for relations’ Muskan responded.
‘Who the hell are you to find faults in me, go and count his faults, he is full of filth’ Fareeda shouted.
‘I am your daughter, I am his daughter, I am no one’s daughter, I am the daughter of misfortune, daughter of conflict, and yes, I am my own daughter, my own father, my own mother, I don’t belong to any one, you deprived me of my father and he my aspirations, I am the daughter of suffering, the darling of worries’ unbolted Muskan.
For a moment, no one spoke. Silence swallowed the bitterness that had filled the room.
The wind tossed the window against its frame, ruined the silence of the room. The wind gradually turned ruthless, the pitch was sharp like amateur flute player, frustrating the audience. The Chinar outside was brutally tortured, window panes and roofs queued like debris in the junk yard, meaningless and battered.
Fareeda peeped, the branches were wailing, calling for mercy, but the wind was not reading the sign boards, but ruining them, eradicating them, leaving them unaddressed like Fareeda amidst storm and scorn. The Crow had already left the branch which like Fareeda had already lost its strength. It was chiseled and almost pulled down. So many roofs had already been lowered, the trees bowed once for all, poles eradicated and windows wrecked.
Muskan looked composed; contrary to the situation, she did not react because her own storm was more furious than the one pulling the Chinar down.
She asked, ‘Mother would like to have a cup of tea’
‘You are senseless’ Fareeda replied, ‘You always need something to eat; now go and don’t eat my head’.
‘I will go, I will definitely go, I will leave this house, and soon mother soon I will relieve you’ Muskan prophesied.
‘I wish to see you leaving this house’ Fareeda replied.
Muskan smiled and left never to return.
The mighty blow tossed the entire branch of the Chinar against the kitchen, crushing both, feeble walls of the kitchen and the fragile limbs of Muskan.
The house broke into pieces, Fareeda managed to escape,but Muskan failed.
The wind took its foot off, killing the speed of the storm, but seized the breath of an innocent. Muskan was sealed under the debris of broken house.
No one came forward to help Fareeda, but after three days, an ambulance stopped right on the broken house and dumped the lady as debris to be carried to asylum, unknown to her. She hardly looked at her ruins as she was dumped behind the unending darkness.
Mushtaq B.Barq is a Columnist, Poet and Fiction Writer. He is the author of “Feeble prisoner, “ Wings of Love” and many translation works are credited to the author like “ Verses Of Wahab Khar” and “ Songs Of Sochkral”