A Humongous Error
The bride had already changed into something more comfortable when I entered the room and was sitting on the couch with her legs casually propped up on the center table. Dark clouds of smoke were forming over her head. She was smoking hard. She was smoking fast.
She hastily sat upright as she saw me entering the room, though she did not make any effort to hide her displeasure.
“I need to smoke. I hope you understand. I have never been in a similar situation before,”
It wasn’t the reply or the scene I had anticipated a couple of minutes before I gently knocked at the door out of sheer politeness.
I had expected a bride. I hadn’t expected a confused bundle of nerves.
I gathered up whatever sense was left in me and cleared my throat.
“It is perfectly okay, I understand,” I told her. I didn’t understand, though.
“Ugh,” she mumbled with a preoccupied attitude.
I was not too fond of cigarette smoke. I hadn’t smoked for the last many months.
“Do you smoke a lot?” I asked, sitting next to her on the couch. The smoke was killing me.
“No, not much, but I need to be distracted today. I need to be distracted today of all days. What the f…!” My new bride stopped short before uttering an inappropriate word, “and it is the day of my marriage, that one day every girl dreams about,”
I wanted to say something, but I was equally confused. Had I just landed into someone else’s story? It could not have been my best day.
And how could it have been my best day anyway? We were Husband and wife, but we hardly knew each other. We had never met before!
I hadn’t even seen her picture.
I was thirty-five, and she was ten years younger than me. I would have never married her if Jenny hadn’t treated me the way she had. It was a match arranged by my parents. I wasn’t over Jenny yet. I would never be over her, for she had carved a place in every single place where I had once belonged. She would always be special, but I was a married man now. I looked at the bride, who appeared more anxious than anything else I had ever seen.
I took a glass and pulled out some soda from the refrigerator when I noticed the bottle of Cognac. I didn’t drink hard liquor.
She caught me looking stealthily at the bottle.
“I put it there, just in case I need it. I am so confused.”
I shut the fridge door with a thud.
“What else do you need besides a cigarette and brandy to set your nerves at ease?” I asked in a subdued tone, not wanting to show how annoyed I was, but she could get it.
She looked at me with tears in her big brown eyes.
“I don’t know. I hardly know you.”
I could have held her then and told her that everything was going to be just fine. I might have told her things that I had always wanted to hear, and yet I couldn’t. It felt so unlike me. It was someone else on the lookout for something that smelled like revenge. She wasn’t Jenny, and I wasn’t me anymore.
She wanted to be held, cuddled, and explained. I was ready for none of those.
I sat down at the edge of the couch, looking intently into her face.
She huddled into the corner of the chaise lounger.
“Do you want to ask me anything?” I finally asked her. She looked pretty shaken up.
“No, they told me that you were nursing a bitter relationship,” she said, not looking directly at me.
“Who told you that?”
“I don’t think you need to know that,” she replied.
“Is that the reason that you look so worried; me nursing a, er bitter relationship?” I asked her in a gentle tone this time. She already knew everything that there was to know.
“No, and I don’t give a f*** about your past life,” she answered. The smoke rolled higher and darker. “It isn’t about you. I am worried about myself.”
“What about you?” I asked in a simmered tone this time.
“What about me? Can’t you see how vexed I am? Why I never wanted to get married to you in the first place!”
“They asked for your consent, right?”
“Well, I can’t say they didn’t, but then they weren’t exactly waiting for my answer,” she replied?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, a bit flustered this time.
“I am pregnant,” she replied, looking into the smoke that had collected like mist around her head.
“You are, what…!”
“I said, I am pregnant,” she replied in a matter-of-fact tone without a hint of remorse. It was as if she was giving me the weather report. “Now tell me, what are you going to do about it?”
Now, this had gone a bit too far. I had married a woman who was pregnant with some other man’s baby! How could I ever think of a new beginning in such a situation?
“Pass me the cigarette,’ I told her, ‘and make us two pegs of brandy so that we can talk.”
“Wait, but should you be drinking in such a condition?”
“I think this is precisely the condition when I need it the most,” she replied, handing me the glass.
“Hold the glass for a while between your palms. It lets out the aroma.”
Brandy gets faster to your head when you are nervous. I wasn’t used to such hard liquor, but today was different.
“Why didn’t you tell me about it? Why didn’t you tell anyone?” I asked her in a slurred voice. “You cheated me into marrying you.”
Excerpt From A humongous error, Copyright. Henana Berjes.
That Girl from Syria
Rubaan danced in the rain, and then she never danced again. She had danced that night, despite warnings of a nearby bombing. Didn't she know that little girls in Syria had lost all rights to feel rain pouring through their golden hairs? The Spring rain wasn't theirs to treasure anymore, but Rubaan didn't take heed.
Stupid Rubaan, hurt Rubaan, dead Rubaan!
The coffin wasn't as heavy as her Papa Yehya’s heart that day. He walked with slow, shuffling, deliberate steps. He wished that the distance to the grave would increase. Somehow it made him feel she was still near him, but holding her in a coffin was different than carrying her in his arms, and when they lowered her into the tiny grave designed for a five-year-old, it rained heavily.
Rubaan loved the rain, and the rain had loved her in return.
“There's a God who lives somewhere in the skies, as the old scriptures say, the God of the skies! Couldn't he have stopped the bomb splinters from hitting her.? He was right there in the skies!”
No one could console him. Yehya’s grief was beyond repair, and then, how could anyone overcome such immense loss. She was the girl who grew up in his arms, on his shoulders, skipping and jumping in the very garden where he gathered pieces of her. There were so many of them that they had to stitch them up to form a recognizable human shape.
The orange hemmed blue frock had been torn to shreds. Her head, full of bouncing golden hair, was tossed along the sidewalk, and the pink cheeks that he kissed each day were bruised, all because of the rain that she so loved.
Rubaan had heard the noise and rushed out to see the sky filled up with hundreds of shining globes of light scattering in different directions lighting up the rain-filled night sky in burnished golden hues. An orange shimmer spread out from each ball of fire, one of which was destined to rip her into pieces.
She had looked up and smiled. It was so glorious, so exotic, and so breathtakingly beautiful in those few seconds. She had never visualized anything like this. She would tell papa about it, but now, she would dance in the multiple iridescent raindrops falling around her.
The Sukhoi Su-34 flew away as quickly as it had arrived. The twin seated pilots did a high five at a mission well accomplished.
They left Rubaan dead in her playground.
She shouldn’t have been a target of their mission! Could a five-year-old be so dangerous to a country that they’d have to send such high-tech warplanes to tear her apart to shreds?
Why she could have left with her family and lived.
They could have told her to leave.
She would have left.
Yehya didn’t blame the Russian jets or the cluster bombs. He blamed the rain. His hate was strangely misdirected, but then, hadn’t she been in love with the rain? It was a memory too painful to heal, but Yehya didn't cry after the day the rain paid homage on the little one's grave.
Tears reminded him of rain.
Excerpt from That Girl from Syria. Copyright Henana Berjes