13 - 19 June, 2015

A single beam from his mobile guided his way into the darkness; suddenly a scream broke the dead of the winter night, Gibran froze with fear, his heart banging in his chest and his breath cold as stone, drops of sweat trickled down his neck and froze upon his chest. He regretted coming there more than ever with every step forward.
Perhaps this would be his last night to live. People are brought here after death, he thought, but I brought myself here to die, he said looking down at the graveyard.
The screaming stopped after a few minutes and started more strongly again, blood gushed into his mind suspending all thoughts. Gibran closed his eyes and wished it was all a bad dream and woke up, but it wasn’t, it was real.
He heard more closely and realised it was an owl crying.
He recalled Daadi saying “beta the cry of an owl is a very bad omen, they say death is followed by every owl that cries in the middle of the night.”
I’m doomed, he thought to himself, but just then his foot slipped and he tumbled down the roof banging his head along, when did I climb I roof?
Gibran woke up with a start and saw that in front of his room a dark shadow passed by. His breath got caught in his throat.
It was a dream…

* * *
“It was a very dark night, the sky was without a single star and the owls were crying as an alarm. I was sitting in the garden with my hair all open. My mother called and asked to come inside.
“Bibi the devils will enter you but you know…” said Daadi in a matter of fact way over the breakfast table, “in youth, who listens to elders. I had just come out from the bath and my skin is smelling sweet as roses. I think my beauty must have attracted the jinn towards me.”
“Then what happened Daadi,” interjected Huma sounding interested.
“Then I saw a man dark as coal come towards me and...”
“Wait a minute Daadi jan,” interrupted Huma again.
“Look here Daadi my right eye has been twitching since morning, does that mean I’ll have good luck today,” asked Huma eagerly.
“Well, beta…” started Daadi but was interrupted by Hamid running past the tale pulling his shirt on. “Nope my twin sis that means that you need to go to the eye specialist,” said Hamid humorously and thumped Huma’s head with a whap.
“Ouch! Hamid you’re ruining my hair.”
“All the better my sweet sister you still look the same… like a baby troll. Thank goodness we aren’t identical,” said Hamid sticking his tongue out and crossing his eyes.
“Arey beta don’t cross your eyes like that they’ll get fixed forever if the wind runs hard into your face while doing so,” said Daadi in a serious tone.
“My lovely Daadi jan you don’t worry much,” he said leaving for the porch, “Huma I’ll ring the bell when the van comes and please don’t keep me waiting. Daadi was the jinn handsome? You should have married him, my poor Daada jan would have been saved,” said Hamid naughtily.
“Handsome jinn God forbid, if he ever sees one like I did, he would know how ugly and horrible they are,” said Daadi furiously.
“Daadi, so sorry got to rush I’ll listen to the rest of the story later… got to go,” said Huma dashing out leaving Daadi flustered.
“Hamid, Huma have you two collected your stuff or else you’ll both be rushing when the college vans arrives,” called out Aliya from the kitchen.
“Yes mama,” said Huma and Hamid together.

“Hey my little boy why are you so quiet? Did you see the bogeyman again last night, guess what, he’s standing right behind you,” said Hamid to his little brother Gibran who was quietly listening to the conversation. Huma meanwhile had positioned herself right behind him wearing a scary ghoul mask they had just brought. Gibran sat up with a bolt and carefully turned around. Huma was standing right behind him and scared the air out of him. He jolted up with fear and spilled the cereal bowl over the table. Huma and Hamid broke into fits of laughter and ran outside before their mother could catch them.
Mother turned around from the kitchen on hearing the clatter of dishes and saw a petrified Gibran almost in tears.
“Did they do it again?” she asked affectionately peering from the kitchen door.
Gibran nodded innocently and started crying.
“Huma, Hamid you two get home I’ll spank you hard today,” she yelled out of the kitchen window.
“Don’t you dare touch my babies,” called out Daadi trotting towards the living room sofa, “Arey what sort of boy are you Gibran?
They were just playing with you. What is the point of crying like that, you are 12 years old, not a baby anymore! Stop whimpering.”
“Aliya what sort of upbringing is this, in my days little boys were brave lions and crying it was out of the…” Daadi kept ranting as Aliya ushered Gibran towards her, but he didn’t move and continued to sob harder.
Aliya came to the dining table and saw that out of fear he had soiled his pant.
“Oh Gibran!” she said apologetically, “I’m sorry why do you get so scared, come on I’ll get you a fresh uniform your van will be here any minute.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll scold them today, let them come back,” she said pulling out a fresh pair of pants from the laundry.
“Mama,” he said meekly after a moment. Aliya was pressing his pants in a hurry.
“Yes my child, did you have your breakfast?”
“No, mama I saw something last night.”
“Where Gibran?”
“In the window mama.”
“What did you see?”she asked casually, trying not to sound alarmed and frighten him more.
“Mama I saw the
black hooded man pacing in front of the window again.”
“Then? Did he
hurt you?”
“No mama, I pulled the covers over my head and recited Ayat ul Kursi.”
“Good boy, there is nothing. It was just your imagination my dear, when we are afraid our brain starts making figures out of nothing. And I gave you that secret bell. If something bad happens you can press the bell and call me, I’ll come over. Okay?”
“But mama it was real.”
“Gibran, stop thinking about these things too much,” said his mother looking into his eyes sternly, “the more you over think the more your imagination will create monsters for you.”
“Here take your pants and go change you are a big boy now okay? Be brave,” she said with a smile.

* * *
All day long the dark hooded figure flooded his thoughts but his mother’s words made him feel a bit better. His father once taught him a trick that helped him escape the monsters of his mind. He used to sit him down in his lap and ask Gibran what the monsters looked like and then started dressing him in funny ways. He would draw a sketch on paper and fill it with rainbow colours, funny looking hats and red button noses. Gibran missed his father and ever since he had been transferred to the other city for his job the family saw less of him. His father was his saviour and mother thought that it was due to his protectiveness that Gibran had turned into a shy and lily-livered child.
Gibran started drawing a sketch in his notebook of the figure he saw last night in hopes of turning it into something funny. It has been the tenth time he has seen this figure pacing in front of his window. He had a gift of drawing very well, with every line he etched on paper the horror struck him more, he filled it will a black marker and felt that the beady eyes were looking right at him. Did he see his eyes?
Gibran shuddered and just as he was trying to compose himself, the teacher called out “Gibran!”
He jumped in fright and the whole class broke into crackles at his reaction.
“Yes yes... mama,” he stuttered bewildered and the class started laughing harder, that he had called his teacher mama.
“Are you paying attention?”
“Sorry ma’am.”
“Gibran this is the last time I’m warning you… Enough of your day dreaming, stand up come here and read out the chapter.”
Gibran quickly closed his notebook and walked towards the front of the class with his book.
The boy next to Gibran’s desk swiftly dragged Gibran’s notebook towards him and saw the black hooded figure neatly sketched.
He nudged his friend beside him and the notebook was quietly passed around the class without the teacher noticing. Ali then placed the notebook back, they had a plan to freak out Gibran and the figure just made it easier.
“I want your assignments complete by tomorrow,” the teacher announced as the recess bell rang, “and those of you who don’t submit it on the due date will be given zero marks.”
Gibran came back to his seat and hung his head low, he felt tired.
Ali came around and asked politely, “Hey Gibran are you feeling well?”
This is strange, thought Gibran, Ali was usually very mean to him and this was out of the normal.
“Yeah I’m fine,” he replied back carefully.
“Why don’t you join us for lunch today, it will make you feel better.”
Gibran knew something was cooking against him.
“No I’m fine; I have to do some work. I’ll have my lunch in the class.”
“Thank you for the offer,” he tried turning him down politely.
Fatima strolled in and called out Ali, “Ali come on we’re getting late.”
“Fatima I asked Gibran to accompany but he isn’t coming,” said Ali trying to sound innocent and motioning Fatima for help.
Fatima recognised the situation and started playing along.
“Gibran come along, I need some help with the science diagram. I was wondering if you could help me please come,” she said batting her lashes slyly, “plus we aren’t allowed to stay indoors at recess if madam comes to know you’ll be punished.”
Gibran couldn’t resist more and knew that if he wouldn’t go with them they would tell on him.
“Okay I’m coming.”
And he followed them to the cafeteria.
They had lunch and talked about the Fifa championship that was going on, in between the conversation Ali coughed motioning everyone to change the topic but in a way that Gibran wouldn’t notice. It was purposeful as this was part of their plan.
“You know what there is this octopus that predicts which team will win,” started Fahad.
“Wow really?” said Fatima, “I never heard about it.”
“Yeah there is. It picks from two boxes, which ever box he puts his tentacle into is supposed to win, his predictions are getting true so far.”
“My uncle told me that jinn are also used to predict the future and fate,” said Ali.
“Really?” said Ahmed sounding surprised.
“Yeah really, it’s very easy. You know what my uncle also told me a trick to call spirits and talk to them.”

“How do you do that?” said Fatima interestingly.
“Through an Ouija board.”
“What is an Ouija board?” asked Fatima.
“It is a special board used to call the dead spirits or jinns.”
Gibran felt uneasy and focused more on the diagram trying to shut out himself from the entire discussion.
“Hey Gibran, do you believe in ghosts?” asked Fahad inquisitively.
“No!” Replied Gibran flatly so as to avoid the conversation.
Fatima added in, “you know what my nani told me that a jinn can’t be seen by everyone, they are only seen by the one who they choose to haunt or posses and they leave foul smells in the room they visit.”
“What do they look like?” asked Ahmed just to play along. He never felt very comfortable when they picked on Gibran but to be a member of their gang he had to comply. Ali’s group was the most popular in class and everyone wanted to be associated with him, though Ali wasn’t good at studies but he belonged to a rich family and had the latest gadgets and toys and whoever befriended him had the golden opportunity of being invited to his house on weekends.
“Well, nani says they are black hooded figures that lurk around in the darkness and prance upon you in the middle of the night when you are fast asleep.”
Gibran’s face went white as chalk and his heart pounded fiercely.
Ali winked at Fatima and she continued, “Nani says that they live in washrooms and graveyards and if you find a creaking door it is sure that the room is haunted by their presence.”

* * *
“Amma…” said Aliya coughing over a pungent smell that filled the house.
“Amma what are you doing? There is smoke filling the whole house.”
“Arey beta today is Thursday. It is good to give smoke of garlic. It wards of the evil spirits.”
“Amma it would ward of the humans too, please give it to me here,” said Aliya taking the smoking pot from her hand.
Hamid and Huma came down from the stair with their bag packs loaded on their backs.
Hamid cringed his nose in disgust, “Mama did something die in here?”
“No beta your daadi is apparently killing jinns,” she whispered into his ear.
“Oh…” he said turning back, “we’re leaving.”
“Wait a second,” she called out, “let me throw out this.”
“Arey don’t throw it! Gibran’s room is left,” Amma said.
Aliya came back to the living room. “It is because of your superstitions he has become so scared. Now don’t tell him that you left his room.”
Huma hung her arms around Aliya and planted a kiss on her cheek.
“I’ll miss you mama.”
“I’ll miss you too, stay safe and don’t stroll around on your own without your brother. Keep calling me she said looking sternly at Hamid. No mischief. Come here,” she asked Hamid and kissed his forehead.
Amma trotted back from her room with tiny pouches.
“Here,” she said handing them both each.
“What is this?”said Hamid turning them over.
“It’s sea salt. It keeps the demons away during travelling.”
“Handy,” said Hamid, “I will sprinkle it on my fries if needed,” he joked in an undertone.
And then she took his head between her wrinkled palms and blew prayers all over his face and did the same to Huma.
“Okay Feeamanillah! Say your prayers before sleeping and recite duas on your way,” advised Aliya as she bid farewell to her twins to a camping trip.
“These kids take my words as a joke. I have experience of many years. You will suffer if you don’t follow these rituals,” said Daadi grumpily.
“Okay Amma relax don’t be angry, they are kids and careless too. I have told them to follow your instructions.”
“Should I bring you elaichi tea?” asked Aliya. She knew this would make her
mood better.
“Yes bring it to my room. I feel tired today.”
“Ok Amma.”
The phone rang and Aliya went to receive.
“Hello Aliya, how are you doing?”
“Thanks I’m fine how are you?” said Aliya. She recognised it to be Ali’s mother, she didn’t call often but her boastful manner was very characteristic of her.
“I’m well, how are you doing and how did you call?” she asked sweetly.
“I’m good… you know busy with all the social work, but you know kids. We have to give them so much attention and time after all we can’t leave them entirely on the servants.”
“Yes yes,” mumbled Aliya.
“Actually I called to invite Gibran to Ali’s birthday party, actually Ali told me that Gibran wasn’t interested and told that you had some family gathering that day. What does a child enjoy in family functions. He would be happy with kids of his own age so I thought I insist that you let Gibran come.”
Aliya felt a little taken back. They didn’t have any family gathering in the coming weeks and it was not a surprise that Gibran had made up an excuse.
“Ok I’ll ask him and let you know.”
“Thank you for the invitation sister. It is very kind of you.”
As she put down the receiver Aliya thought that Gibran had isolated himself too much but at the same time Ali was a spoiled brat and she was glad Gibran kept away from his company. Aliya sat down in the living room and waited for Gibran to come back from tuitions.

to be continued...

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