The first time that I met Salman was at the Lovendon Road Community Centre. The last time I would speak to him would be at the airport saying goodbye. Despite all the things he would do to me, I would still find it in my heart to forgive him. Salman was everything I was not: tall, athletic and handsome and yet what I was he could never hoped to be because he would be too arrogant, self-possessed, narcissistic to see beyond his own existence, who would be ashamed to admit his friendship to me. He would become known as Salman the Betrayer, the Deceiver who would play on people affections just for his own amusement and laugh. He would do it because he had the power to do it. He would make a lot of people cry but that would before an eye-less girl with tanned skin and a sculpted face, would steal his heart and make him weep for the rest of his life.
But that day at the airport, I would see a changed man. The arrogance and self-possession would be gone and he would look at me with the eyes of a wise man, who had finally learnt to empathise with his fellow human beings, and who had finally learnt the meaning of pain and loss. When he asked for my forgiveness on that day I would give it to him. And tears would come to his eyes. For Salman, the Adonis of a man, clever, charming and popular, his tragedy would be to love a girl with a false eye, the girl he could never marry, the girl he could never have in his life, for his father will not agree, for his mother will not accept a women with a glass eye as a daughter-in-law.
When I look back, I feel little sad for Salman. What he saw in her we so crudely mocked, we so blatantly ridiculed. We called her eye-less, the snake-eye, and more painful still, Cyclopes – the one-eyed monster from Greek mythology. But she was no monster. Salman would be wounded and hurt by our mockery, but he would still go on loving his one-eyed girl. It would be later that I would find out what a lovely person she was - kind, considerate and self-less, a total opposite of Salman. She would tell me her name was Noorani Solanka and how she met Salman at the dentist where she worked as a receptionist. He did not know then she had a glass eye because she wore dark tinted spectacles. Salman would make up excuses to book an appointment at the dentist just see her even though he had no problem with his teeth. Soon she too would look forward to his call and the days he didn’t call she would strangely grow restless, and go home with a heavy heart. On other days, especially on quiet days at the dentist, Salman would just come in without an appointment just to speak to her. He would ask her about her family and the things she liked and without being asked he would tell her about himself.
After that the flowers started to appear at the reception, from Interflora delivery with her name written in gold ink signed with “An admirer” and a note.
“I am playing Football on Sunday, at Thornfield Park. If you are passing by that day on Thornberry Road, you will see me in Number Ten Shirt.”
She would tell me how being with Salman made her forget about her glass eye – a defect she has always been uncomfortable about since childhood. Salman would make her feel normal and fill heart with joy. She felt lucky and blessed to be loved by Salman and because of that she would cry at night after he dropped her home in the evening.
I remember their final embrace at the airport with tears rolling down their cheeks, they would hold each other so strongly, that they would not let go, despite the urgent announcements on the loudspeaker that the plane was about to leave.
In the car she would ask me,
“Do you know what the most painful thing about all this is”?
“I know it is hard to let go.” I said.
“It is not that I will not see him again. But that I was able to let him go.”
“That is what you do when you love someone. You need to let them go. It is the strangeness in our hearts that allows us to do this. It is the nature of our lives that we learn to live with pain and loss…”
And she would look at me and smile despite the pain in her heart.
“You always speak so wisely. Tell me how did you become so wise”?
“It is only a pretension” I said. “…and, and my mum forced me to eat my greens!”
And she would laugh and then start to cry again.
But I did not tell her that I was never was wise for I did even know what moves in my own heart. How I make mistake after mistake, stumble and fall over again and again on my face. How I say the wrong things at the wrong time to wrong people or don’t speak at all when I should; or speak so low that no one hears me or too loudly that everyone stops their ears with their hands. How I can’t pick the right moment to say the right things, and how that moment goes and I can say it again ever. How in my mind, I have the most beautiful things to say but when I say it, it sounds blunt and without any meaning. And how I keep knocking on doors that do not open or I can’t open or knock on the door that I should, despite all my knowledge and experience. And the things that I value so much turns so easily to dust, and the things that I hold so dear turns to ashes. How I can’t say the simplest of things, or understand the simple of things from the people who mean so much to me. But that day I did not say any of these things.
“Do you know Salman, always admired you?” she said, wiping her tears from her eyes.
“No. I thought he hated me from the day I met him”
“It’s not true. He admired your kindness, generosity and compassion and he valued you as true friend.”
But on that day I did not tell her how Salman destroyed the innocence of Zaina, and how he hurt Zoolfi with his lies and deceits and how he fed lies to Maya to make her cry, make her hate because I had already forgiven Salman on that day. To able to forgive is to kill part of your self; to erase the memory of the pain, to let go of the heart ache and be free from hate. For hate poisons something in our self, it tarnishes the very soul of our lives…
The only time I spoke nicely to Felina was at the Pinkerton Library. I hardly knew her then. She came up to me as I was waiting outside and said hello. She looked plain and simple, almost unnoticeable. If you were to pass her on the street you will sure to miss her even though she might be next to you. Felina, the plain and simple, who lived her life in other peoples shadows whose existence I would hardly notice and yet I would be her life’s joy as well as her life’s suffering. It will be years later when it was too late that I would realise that she was not plain and simple and that she was a remarkable human being. But on that day at the library, I only saw the plainness of her life.
“Hello” I said.
“Have we already met before?” I enquired.
“Yes” she said smiling.
“At the Lovendon Road Community Centre.”
“I am sorry. I don’t remember. I did not notice you there.”
“It is alright. Nobody does either I am so unnoticeable.”
“It’s not true.” I said looking at her eyes fully for the first time. "“You have such lovely green eyes. Is green eye-colour a family trait”?
“No. I am the only freak in the family. My brother calls the green-eyed monster!”
“And how old is he?” I asked.
“He just 8 and pain in the neck!...and how about yourself - Do you have any brothers and sisters?”.
“No. I am an only child.” I said.
“You must be lucky”
“How so? It is quite lonely.”
“I can imagine so.” She said.
“No matter how much I hate my brother, I love him to bits!”
Felina was such a easy person talk to that I did not even ask for her name. And when I did she would say it so easily “Felina”.
“That’s a unusual name.” I said.
“That’s because I am an unusual person. When I was born I managed to wriggle free from my wrappings and slide of the bed on to my fathers arms. My mothers name is Lina, so my father nick-named me “Fell-Lina. The girl who fell from Lina!”
“No! I just made that up just to make it amusing! Felina was my maternal grandmothers nickname, which I inherited. My real name is Benjimina Aruven Joy and as you can see is a mouthful.”
“It is a such a beautiful name.” I said.
“Did your father name you?”
“Oh no. My father is not good with words. I was fortunate enough to be named by my grandfather. But he died I was one years old.”
“He must have been a poet to give you such a beautiful name”?
“Poet he was not but he was very fond of books and music. He used to play the violin and I have been told he used play the violin near my crib until I fell a sleep. That is why I enjoy violin music so much.”
I can’t remember how long we chatted on that day this way. I remember it was a warm spring morning with a refreshing gentle breeze. We sat down on the steps of the library and looked out on to the road, I with my own thoughts of Maya, hoping that she might come by today. My friend Mojo told me she might be coming this way. So I waited. And Felina with her own private thoughts, thoughts which will reveal themselves later, thoughts which will betray and humiliate her and cause her so much pain.
After a while Felina said “Don’t you think “Serendipity” is such a beautiful word”?
I turned my head and looked at her. Her eyes - they were vibrant green, like emeralds, or like the greenness of the new grass in spring. And they were clear as the spring morning. On that day it was hard for me to admit to Felina that I did not know the meaning of the word.
“I am sorry. What does it mean?”
“It means finding something that you were not looking for.”
“Very nice” I said, without fully understanding what she was talking about. It would be years later that I would appreciate the meaning of the words “serendipity” and “serendipitous” and would find them as beautiful as Felina did. Serendipity! Finding something you were not looking for. Yes, it is a beautiful word. I did not realise then how clever she was, how well read she was, though the world ignored her so much, and did not take much notice of her, and though she hid in other people’s shadow, she was still in tune with the world and its ways. And I would also come to know her limitless capacity for kindness and compassion.
When I was in hospital with laryngitis, she would come and visit me every day and play her violin, the violin that her grandfather left in his Will, for my amusement and the nurses and other patients would gather round my bed to hear the music and clap their hands at the end. I wanted to tell her not to come. But I could not speak because of my illness so I tolerated it. But on that day in front of the library, I knew nothing of her kindness and compassion and would not do so until much later when it was too late.
When I got up to go that day she said
“Did you come here to meet someone?”
“Yes, but I don’t think she is coming”
“Would that person be Maya?”
“Yes, how do you know?”
“I saw you talking to her at Lovendon Road Community centre”
“Do you know of her?” I said.
“Yes, we went to school together. She is a lovely person. She has eyes like blue diamonds, and is beautiful as a eastern faire queen. She was very popular at school. All the teachers liked her.”
“Are you friends?”
“Yes, but not close friends. I never had the chance to be close to her. She had many friends you see. It is hard for someone like me to be close to someone so popular. But she is a nice person.”
“I see. Anyway I must go now” I said and left.
“Nice to meet you” she said, as I started to walking down the steps. Felina watched me cross the road to the bus stop. When I got on the bus, I still saw from the corner of my eye that she was still standing on the steps, looking back at me on the bus, smiling.
I did not know then that because of me she would suffer most terribly at the hands of her puritan father: The black eye, the bruised body, the broken finger – for writing a letter, for daring to love a man that her father never approved off; and that I would be so mean to her and yet despite all the humiliation and hurt, the pain and suffering, she would never be angry with me, never say a word to hurt me. For all my hate she only returned kindness, for all my arrogance she only returned love. Serendipity she said meant finding something you were not looking for. She was not looking for pain, the hurt, the humiliation and all these things she would find to be her lot in life.
Many years later I would meet Felina again with her two children. And she would be happy to see me and proudly introduce her son and daughter to me. And despite all the pain and suffering I caused her, she would still ask about my welfare. How are you...? How are things…? Nice to see you again…are you happy? I teach now at the local primary school…my son is going to the University this year. And my heart would be very happy for her. And my heart would fill with joy to see her happy, to see her doing well in life. And I would shed silent tears for her happiness…
The mosque on the Elmet Road was not anything special. It was just a converted end-terraced house but it was the first Mosque to be opened in the town. And because of that there was a lot of hope and excitement in the community. Mr. Abbas Uddin Goyass, simply known as the Imam, was the first of the many Imams to be employed at the mosque. He was a short stumpy man with a thick black beard that ran to his navel. His head was big and round, with large, bright and commanding eyes. He looked liked a proto human like the pictures of Neanderthals from the pages of human prehistory. We used to call him Dwarf Uddin Goyass but that would be much later when we discovered that he had a passion for ladies underwear and when the rumours spread of his love for a women he can’t have, a love which will destroy him so utterly that he would leave the mosque with tears in his eyes, never to return.
But the day that I met him at the mosque, we did not speak. But I would realize that day that he had one exceptional Gift – that is his voice. It was a voice of an angel from which heavenly sound would pour out like a calming and soothing breeze on a hot summers day. When the Imam read, the whole room would suddenly fall silent, and the music of his voice would slowly carry us to a safe haven, away from all the troubles of our life, to a place where we felt so much peace. He used his voice to unlock the secret of our soul and whisper something special about our self in our ears and on hearing of that special something in our self we would become joyful like a child whose wish for a special toy has been granted. And on becoming joyful we would learn something new about the mysterious nature of the God who created us.
The next time I would meet Abbas Uddin Goyass was at the Lovendon Road Community Centre. On that day he gave a “Sermon of Vengeance” speech and then went round to people to introduce himself. He was telling them that he was the new Imam at the mosque and he would like to meet us all at his house so that he will get to know us better.
“Please come. I am new here. I could do with some company. My door is always open. Let me get to know you all.”
With great reluctance I went with few others. It was a very formal occasion with him being a polite host. But from that day onwards though his door was always open, and there was always a gathering at his house in the evening which was only next door to the mosque. His heavenly voice would speak to us about the purpose of life, the meaning of death and how we to live our lives and how to live with others. He would speak to us of many things, things about this world and the next, of heaven and hell, of honour, duty, and sacrifice and he would talk to us about Love.
“Human Love” he would say “Is so limiting. Only love of God is truly limitless. Human Love is about possessing. When you say ‘she is mine’ and I am ‘hers’ you exclude other possibilities. When love is possessed you limit it, you stunt it’s growth, when you posses it and hold it, you confine it, you trap it in your heart, you suffocate it. This kind of Love can only create jealousy and hatred. Human Love is about Desire. It is the desire in us that causes so much suffering in the world. When we can’t have our desire, when others get in the way of the thing we desire, it creates anger and hate. True Love is neither possessed nor allows it to be possessed. It is free like the wind and transforming as the rays of sunlight. This is the love of God.”
I did not know then that Abbas Uddin Goyass, though an intelligent man and was well read, have never been in Love before, and though he was married and had a son, he never experienced the limitless nature of the human heart. And yet in the end it will be the limited nature of “Human Love”, that would be the cause of his downfall. And in his utter shame and disgrace he would come to terms with the strangeness of the human heart and finally see in the limited nature of human love and in the flawed human heart, the limitless nature of love itself.
A great poet once wrote that “In our beginning is our end” and in our end is our beginning.” For the Imam, the beginning would be an innocent invitation to a dinner, which would sow a seed that will grow so monstrous that it will devour him so completely. It became a custom in later years, though initially it was not, that on Fridays, the Imam of the mosque was invited to lunch at various households in the community. It was way of the Imam getting to know the members of his parish. And it was in one of these Friday invitations that Abbas Uddin Goyass, came to the attention of Mrs Surya Urmilla Khan, a married women with four children and a loving husband.
Mrs Urmilla Khan was previously a teacher, before she gave up teaching to look after her four children, a decision she regretted later because she enjoyed teaching so much and when her children grew up she felt she had nothing to do in life and it was too late to go back to teaching. So she invested herself in reading and listening to gazals on the Sunrise Radio, a passion she inherited from a very young age from her father Mojaram Ali Khan.
The memories of her father, always makes Surya weep. For her he was one of those fathers who would take her everywhere he went, and tell her most incredolous of stories. Who would always look at her with loving eyes and loving hands would embrace her with joy. And she would remember how father and daughter would sing ghazal duets in the morning while her mother made breakfast in the kitchen and remembering this she would weep once more…
On the first invitation at her house, after the meal was over, Surya persuaded the Imam to recite a gazal, which the Imam did after great reluctance and with much awkwardness. After that whenever Imam ate at her house Surya would persuade him to recite a gazal or two and the Imam would do it with much hesitation. After a while though when he was invited to eat at her house he would recite a gazal without being asked. And he would sing it so beautifully that Surya would listen to it so attentively with her eyes closed, mesmerized.
To her the voice spoke directly to her soul, it whispered secretly to her inmost self and entered her private rooms of her heart, which have not been entered for ages, and touched the hidden recesses of her most treasured dreams. Sometimes Mrs Surya would sink into herself so much with the music of the voice that she felt the world slowly melted away into the background like a summer mist in the morning and what remained was the voice of the Imam and all that mattered then was the voice, all that was important was the voice and when everything else was gone only the voice will remain in her mind.
When Surya returned to herself she would notice that Gazal has stopped and the Imam was looking at her smiling.
“Did you not like it, you looked you fallen asleep?”
“You have recited well, Imam Sahib. I did not fall a sleep. I have listened to the end and I have felt it” she would reply.
When she fell in a trance like this, the Imam would observe her like a doctor observing an unconscious patient for signs of life. And he would notice her hair, through edges of her veil. Blue-Black it appeared to him and the shape of her nose and face and her smile. She always smiled when she was in a trance like this, as if she was enjoying some private company with a good friend.
When the Imam returned to his house in the evening the thoughts of Mrs Surya would trouble him and on these days when we went to speak to him he would look gloomy and distant and would not speak very much. At night his pleasant dreams would turn into nightmares and he would wake up all sweaty with his heart pounding like mad. He would have many sleepless nights like this and the dreams always were the same. He would see himself standing naked in a field with his hands covering his genitals. And from the horizon he would see himself approaching all clothed and they would speak. And it was always the same conversation.
“Have you no shame!” his clothed self would say to his naked self.
“You are betraying your wife. It is wrong. Your are a Imam!”
And he would see his wife next to his clothed self with tears in her eyes. And the son, the son he only seen in photos sent by her from abroad, would always be beside her. And his Naked self would weep. Then a tree would appear in the distant and he would walk up to it and underneath the tree he would see Surya sleeping or was she in a trance he could not tell. And he would hear his own voice in the air
“Desire is the cause of all suffering.” His voice would echo.
“Human love is limited. Only love of God is limitless.”
And then he would hear another voice, voice that was not his own and yet it was. It was the voice of his unspoken self. The self that only observes but never speaks, and without speaking it moves, it feels, it touches and it senses. And it would say to him things he can’t bear to hear, things he finds unable to resist. And then scene would change and he would see Surya running through a dark forest or may be it was a field of tall Elephant grass, with her arms and face scratched and bleeding and then he would see himself surrounded by an angry mob with hate in their eyes and then he would see himself on a rock face, struggling to hold on for his life and then rock would give away and he would fall so fast headlong into an abyss and at that moment he would jump out of the bed with his heart full of fear and beating madly against his chest.
I suppose you had no illusions about love nor did you wish for a miracle from above. You did your duty for Tradition and Time; in your heart it may have been a crime. But you did the deed though it made you bleed; you did the act to fulfill the pact and he robbed you of your girlhood and he ended forever your childhood…
And you let him enter through the delta of your soul's myriad of openings so that he may explore your heights and you let him search the folds and crevices of your secretive inner places so that he may know you. But in his searching he never found you: The girl with the school bag on her shoulders; the girl who still yearns in dreams to be there to explore her limits; to find herself amongst the hopefuls; to realize her beginnings, her middle and her end; and to unchain herself from the Plato's "Myth of the cave", to come out from the shadows, from her heart's lonely hiding places, to wash herself clean of Eve's sins, to close shut her "Pandoras's Box" of uncertainty.
But he never found you:
The girl whose ambition was thwarted, whose hopes forever dashed, whose desire unsatisfied, whose love unrealized and who still remains at large, wandering in your adult psyche, in your adult mind; who still shows up in your frequent dreams and haunts your daily imaginings like the ghost of the past; like a shadow-self of your unrealized Potential.
But he never found you:
The girl whose words would have been valuable as gold and whose signature would have been worth millions. The girl who still comes in the moments of reflective thought to show you her innocent eyes in the reflection in the mirror, always questioning the nature of her life.
But he did not find that girl:
Because he was not looking for that girl even though the girl still stares through the adult eyes on to a face that can never understand her thoughts nor grasp the depth of her soul nor can he ever imagine the dreams of her longings or hear the screams of her yearnings because he does not look for that girl because he is not seeking that girl - the girl behind the mask, the girl who asks the unanswerable question: “Why am I here and why this path chosen”?
Because he does not look for that girl he does not see, and that’s why he is unable to answer he, he is unable to speak. Because our needs are different our deeds are uncertain and because we search not for the same things because we always want different things.
“For nature of being a Man” he tells you
“is, that he can only come into your life to rob you of your innocence; to steal your pride, to change you, to transform you into an adult, into a women of dignity, into a women of morality and finally put you on the pedestal of glorious motherhood.”
And you look at his smiling face; his teeth showing like piano keys and you smile back, a smile of sadness that he can’t recognize or grasp.
“But as a man” he tells you
“as man a he can only take. He can only cause pain. And as women you can only give, as women you can only receive, as women you can offer healing to the open wound so that we feel new again. This is the way things are. This is the nature of things. But in that giving there is also a taking and in the receiving there is also a giving. We are bound and entangled together like the roots of a banyan tree in a lifelong symbiosis“.
But you know already the prognosis: you still struggle to be free...