The women with cartons of fresh milk pass by me each morning. They grow quieter as they draw closer, the wind without a scroll and the barrow’s wheels that skip on the rocks fill the space between us. I pray that today they will look at me. I do not seek their gifts or laughter, but only to be looked at, to know that I am still here. But like yesterday, and every day since I saw crimson, they have forsaken me.
I have been tied to this tree since the end of Ramadan. In my long days alone, I’ve pondered this timing. Had they waited till the final days hoping my cure would come in that blessed month? Or did they seek to prolong my torment for a day that was lesser than holy? Does such calculated timing ease the regret for treating another human this way? It must be so, for they have left me here between these two trees, only bringing my two meals and water, but never speaking to me. They tell me that the water is for ablution, but I always drink it instead.
I sometimes wonder where God is. On days that the sun has mercy, I try escaping from the rope around my ankles, but this rope has woven in it, curses that leave me defeated. When the children are released from lessons after the afternoon prayer, some walk by me on their way home. I stop struggling to escape when I see them, for I do not want to frighten them. It always burns, and blood sometimes trickles to my heels. I don’t resume fighting for freedom until the flesh has turned to scar. Sometimes the scars form quicker than usual, and on those occasions, I know God exists.
I try not to ponder, for my own introspection often brings me greater discomfort than this physical disposition. Questioning this circumstance won’t shift my fate. Whether it be day or night, I am void of dreams. I have little hope, despite the promise imprinted in the patterns of my shawl. Patience is my only possession.
Things were not always this way. Hooyo could not bear any more children after me, and unlike the ordinary men in our village, this did not upset Aabo. He did not demand from her body more than it was willing to give, and our surplus was scarce, so this was a rightful omen. We had little, but we never complained. We were different from the other families in the village. My Aabo would cook and clean with Hooyo, and Hooyo would herd animals with Aabo because she never wanted him to feel lonely in the fields, and while Aabo enjoyed his solitude, he enjoyed my mother’s company more. Between the three of us, we carried more than half of all the love in the village, and for this, we were envied.
Some of the villagers say it was the evil eye that destroyed my family, others say it was my father’s grand lie, but neither is the case. The people did this to us. They did this to me.
It all began three years ago after Aabo’s misfortune. He had gone to the fields alone as Hooyo and I went to the market. He did not come back that night, and Hooyo would not wait for morning to question his whereabouts. She would not rest without her beloved. Alone, Hooyo left in the bleakness of dark night to find him. To her, fear was but perfume to the hyenas, so she guarded her spear in one hand, and prayer beads in the other.
I finished my chores alone that next morning. The camels were milked and I had blisters to show for the washed garments. Later in the day, as I sat by the steps of the kitchen door, I saw three figures approaching. They were back. I squinted to see clearer and realized the smallest of the three was Aabo. He was bent over and carried by Hooyo and Adeero Bishar. Forgetting my sandals and shawl, I ran to them.
Aabo had fallen from one of the rocky hills, fracturing his skull. Hooyo said his head painted the rocks crimson. This made me cry. The elder women who visited our family later in the day inspected him and said that his injuries were not life-threatening, as he could still speak and eat. They said his pain would dissipate with time and that he would be normal. Normal. Aabo was never again normal. In the year following his accident, our family became well known among even the neighboring villages.
Aabo had begun to have visions. Some proved to be true, others did not. I knew it was all guesswork, but the villagers thought his unfulfilled prophecies only needed time to yield to fruition. How could they be so foolish! Could they not recognize that he was but a man with an injured mind? They deemed him a saint on the day he said it would rain although it hadn’t in 5 months and not a cloud was in sight. He spoke of rain just like all the other random things he’d mention in the same breath, “Rain, cows, lentils, pomegranates, goats.” Nothing but the words of a farmer, and yet they called him a saint! I wish it stopped there.
His fatal prophecy came. He envisioned that he was immortal. He told the villagers that certain saints were safe from the angel of death. He followed by saying that anyone who tried to kill or steal from a saint would damn themselves and their unborn lineage into the pits of hellfire. On one hand, my father was now insane, but on the other, he was smart enough to arrange protection. But he was more parts insane than he was smart.
As the days went by, the people conspired to test his sainthood and held a feast in his honor. There were lentils of all sorts and pomegranates of all sizes. Then one by one, the village council proceeded with questions for my Aabo. First, they asked if saints were always truthful, which to this he said yes. Then, they asked if he had extraordinary physical powers, and he confidently proclaimed that he did. Finally, they asked him to describe them. At that moment, everyone seized to breathe, the goats did not move a hoof, nor the birds a feather. Then with the smile of an insane man, my Aabo announced, I can fly.
My heart dropped.
In the night I begged Aabo to take back all that he had said, but he did not know between a dream and fib. He had never been the same since his accident, and no amount of rationality could help him reason beyond his mental destruction.
The next morning, the villagers sang songs and beat drums as they followed behind their new saint. Hooyo and I followed behind the crowd, in fear and confused about where Aabo was taking the villagers.
Hooyo grabbed my hand tightly and said that the rocks beneath her sandals felt familiar although she had never come this far.
After the sun had sunk into the midline of the sky, Aabo told the village to stop, and we stopped. He then said he would climb up the hill to make a speech. My mother shouted for him to do no such thing, but in a loud voice, he ordered her to be silent. Hooyo’s face became red with furry, Aabo would not dare utter anything but poetry and compliments to her, this man on the rocks was not really her beloved and not my Aabo.
He stood in silence on the rocks and put his hands on his hips whilst looking into the sky with his eyes closed. The villagers egged him on, chanting his name. We watched him with our mouths open and our hands cold. What was he going to say? What would he do?
Aabo then began his speech. I looked to Hooyo, there was no focus in her eyes, she became a prisoner in her own body, eager but unable. She then broke her stillness and grabbed my arm tight and dragged me to the side of the crowd. The people were still chanting and cheering—deluded by their conspired superstition of Aabo. Hooyo then stopped and immediately, her eyes began to swell. There it was. The crimson rocks. She screamed, and at that moment, he jumped to show the village he could fly. And on that same rock, his head was no longer as God made it. He died that way.
On that same day, Hooyo’s heart broke, and she too died.
I became the orphan.
The village never spoke of the day again, while they easily chose to let go, the events followed me without solicitation. I went on to have terrors about what I saw become of my sweet Aabo. I would not speak when I was spoken to, for I could not forgive anyone for making a pawn out of my father’s insanity. I would not eat so that I could remind myself of the pleasant hungry days before sainthood’s poisoned wealth. I would not shower, for I had no desire to be presentable. This went on for some time.
The village women would visit me, some because it was the social expectation, and others because their compassion was genuine. But eventually I had no visitors, even the compassionate have their priorities. Only the wandering goat would sometimes find its way through the opened kitchen door, and its visitation made me joyful, although I had forgotten how to smile. Maybe that’s why it too stopped visiting.
My isolation became sickening, my thoughts pulsed louder and I would scream in order to diffuse them. When the screams started, the villagers began to remember me, but this time, they decided to deal with me. First, they moved me into a widow’s home. She had three adult children. Two of them I still pray for, as when I became violent, they were patient. It was the elder son who visited on Friday’s that I resented. It was him that advised his mother to take me elsewhere, and as widowed mothers do when their eldest son speaks, she agreed.
I did not wish to always be violent, but it sustained me. My force was the only proof of my bodily autonomy, for despite that I could never control my rampant thoughts, my fist would land exactly where and on who I wanted it to, and that meant something.
This is why I ended up here. On an off-road land where I could scream without disturbing someone in prayer or slumber, where I could sit without harming, and where I could exist and be forgotten.
On days where death feels closer, I am happy that Aabo at least got to be free in the air, perhaps such is better than dying on a bed or grounded to the limits of some surface with no latitude for the possibility of sailing or soaring.
Months later, heat and hunger overtook the young girl tied to the trees. Below is a poem she wrote in the sand before her departure from this life.
Betwixt and between the tree I am tied to & the remains of the dead bird at my feet
I am not in eternal slumber but nor am I in flight
At the mercy of how my people see me, at the mercy of what they decide to do with me
This is how I will remain until the angel of death calls for my soul
and gathers the meddlers of my fate to their accountability on judgment day
Peace & Blessings,