written by: Mehreen Ahmed
In the darkest hours of a summer’s afternoon, the clouds had gathered in an elegant mass of deep grey. Mugginess hung thick in the atmosphere. Pushpa Pervez, sat curled up on a reclining chair, in the far end corner of her balcony, inhaling an air of a cocktail mix of pungent rain and perfumed gardenias. Looking at a retinue of ants climbing up the balcony wall, and snapping at a minuscule black fly hovering over her upturned nose, she reflected, ‘Well now, finally some rain, long overdue.’
Swamped by these horrid black flies, she realized that she had been stung in a number of awkward places under her upper arms, and her lower legs. She was beside herself with itchiness. No sooner had she started to scratch them, the itchy spots burst into ugly little blisters of red mounds. They erupted immediately on the smooth surface of her elbow and the calf, like tiny mole hills of all sizes and shapes. Visibly vexed, Pushpa looked at the red swellings and began to count them nervously with the index finger. ‘Gosh 13!’ She swore inwardly under bated breath and rubbed gently over in rapid successions, trying to avoid an onslaught of after itch black blotches.
Storm-clouds as menacing as they seemed, looked spectacular; they loomed at large in the distant horizon. She tried to decide whether or not, it would be prudent for her to go to the spice bazar after all. She was almost out of spice. For dinner tonight, it was going to be fried, hot curried fish. Nothing less would spice up this stormy evening tonight.
The spice bazaar was just around the corner of the next street in the West End. She lived on a busy street. Most of the time, it was impossible to get across on Montague Road near her apartment building. Some days were a bit better than the others, but people stood on the foot-path for hours before they could get across. Pushpa joined the crowd and crossed the road cautiously through the rush hour traffic.
When she finally made it to the spice bazaar, she walked its dirt-road looking at the many shop-fronts decked with spices of extraordinary colours. A great variety of saffron, turmeric, coriander, cumin and red chili power were placed in separate hessian sacks. Each packed with the potent goodness of Ayurvedic medicines; yellow turmeric facilitated in the reduction of inflammation from colon cancer. Brown coriander and cumin served as antioxidants. The orange saffron was an aphrodisiac; and the red-hot chili, the detoxifier. She stopped in front of a store and took a deep breath of the varied flavour exuded from them. She asked the salesman sitting behind the products to pack a few grams of each. He scooped out a measured amount from different sacks and wrapped them up neatly in separate brown paper bags. The rumblings of the clouds indicated that the storm that was underway would sweep through anytime now. Before the pelting began, she tried to hurriedly get back home. Just then she saw a mother struggling to get through with her twins in a double perambulator. Pushpa wondered what could have driven her to come out on an evening like this. She stopped short to help her. The mother looked at Pushpa and lashed out, “thank you, but no thanks. Don’t bother.”
“Excuse me?” Pushpa asked taken completely aback.
“I said, don't bother. Mind your own business.”
For the first time now, Pushpa actually stood back and looked at her. She could have been in her late forties, who had a distinctive beard and a moustache. Over-weight as she was, she was wearing a frumpy old frock. She also saw several beer bottles necking out at the bottom of the perambulator.
“You clearly need help!” Pushpa tried.
“You think you can help me?”
“I sure would like to think so.”
“No. I’m beyond it. No one can. No one can help me.”
Pushpa looked up and down at the children seated in the pram looking in utter puzzlement. They seemed well fed.
“What do you mean?” she asked aghast.” Are you their mother or not?”
“And you ‘re a complete stranger. Who’re you and why should I tell you?”
The storm had started to roll in by now with drizzle lashing haphazardly in the strong winds. Pushpa insisted that this person needed help.
“Look, I can help you, I think. It is raining. Shouldn’t we run for shelter?”
“I don’t need shelter. I’m already sheltered. You go on now.”
The woman paused and then pushed on straggling down the wet path. She slowly disappeared among the motley crowd. It was strange that Pushpa should’ve met this person. She had half a mind to follow her. But she didn’t. Then she also didn’t know what to do. Stranded they're looking a bit dazed, she thought what her next course of action must be. The storm had gained momentum in the meantime. The visibility was really quite poor. But she had made up her mind to look for her. Pushpa set out and kept up her vigilance, as her search efforts ensued; her spices began run down in coloured rivulet through the soaked paper bag. ‘I don’t have to do this,’ she cried out in the heavy winds. ‘No you don’t,’ said someone behind her.’ She looked back and saw a young man talking to her.
“Who’re you?” Pushpa yelled.
“Time,” the young man replied.
“Yes. That’s my name.”
“What do you want?” Pushpa asked.
They were still running in the same direction abreast to each other. Pushpa looked at him.
“The same that you want from her?”
“I don’t understand,” Pushpa said.
“And, what do I want from her?”
“I don’t know. You’re the one who crossed her path.”
“Are you saying, I need to do something for her? And that I want her to let me?” she asked.
“Yes. Regardless of what she said, you did promise to help her,” Time said.
“Now, wait a minute. I didn’t promise her anything.”
“Did you not say, you wanted to help her?”
“Yes. And she didn’t let you, right?” Time asked.
“And how would you know? Have you been following me? Are you a stalker?”
“No. Like I said, I’m Time.”
“Should I have not offered her help, then?”
“Yes. But that was all in the plan.”
“Plan? What plan? She needed a lot of help. Surely, you saw that too.”
“I saw everything coming. Down to its minute detail.”
“Why did you not stop her then?”
“Because I can’t!” said Time.
“Her perambulator was stuck in a rut, and I was just trying to get it out for her.”
“That’s the whole point of it. The perambulator was but a part of a chain of events. All’s in the plan.”
“How was I to know that?”
“You don’t! No one does. These are life’s irreversible events that no one has any control over. Do you not see where I’m heading with all this?”
Pushpa kept running. And running blindingly in the rain, she couldn’t see the woman anywhere now. Neither could she see the young man. She stopped, chagrined. She looked around and took a deep breath. The man was gone awhile now. Where did he go? She looked for him again, but couldn’t find him anywhere. There was a tree nearby. She sat down under it. It was a shady tree, its huge leaves filtered the rain water to drip intermittently.
It burst into a beautiful sunny day. The larks were out and about, the doves chirped in the depths of an ancient olive grove. She sat down by a pond. There he was again, the young man who had called himself Time. He hadn’t aged a bit. They both sat chatting with one another.
“Well, I see you again. You haven't aged a day.”
“No. I’m ageless. You on the other hand are not, although you're onboard. This infinity ride with me,” Time said.
“Where are we?”
“Where do you think?” asked Time.
“Olive groves, doves. Are we in some kind of an oriental paradise?”
“Maybe we are. God’s in heaven waiting for humans to seek Him from His depths to meet Him here.”
“Really? Have you seen Him?”
“Well, where is He?”
“Everywhere and nowhere. Down under, up above. Don’t really know.”
“Why should we worship Him then?”
“Don’t, if you don’t want to. He wouldn’t care.”
“But we’re stuck in His plans, aren’t we? The cosmic chain of events that He has devised for us.”
“Yes, that we are and they’re irreversible,” said Time.
“Yes. I’m the past, present and the future. I can go backwards and forwards, pull all the events of the universe backwards. One day, I’ll disappear too, like all things in heaven and earth.”
Saying so, Time vanished as it had appeared. She tried to figure out what Time was saying. To test its theory, she thought of every single moment in reversed order. From this point backwards in her mind, she started from talking with Time; searching for the lady in the rain; stopping by to help her and getting insulted in the process; crossing Montague Road; feeling itchy; getting bitten by black flies; watching ants and the storm here in the balcony; sitting curled up in her chair. She kept taking the clock backwards, as far back as she could. She was a baby again. Growing up traveling through time, as each precious moment lost in the past. Here and now, her mind was like waves. It was free to roam through space-time. The clock ticked tirelessly onwards. With each ticking, world’s events reversed. All great wars, ancient history, the Pharaohs, once in the future, but slipped quietly back into the present and then the past. The trees, the birds, the forests; the milky-ways, the constellation, the galaxies, all rushing back together through celestial space-time. Back to the moment when time was born, and an age of enlightenment had begun with a Big Bang some billions of years ago. She saw it all. She saw time revert into singularity to the blissful 7th sky of complete void. She also saw, how time itself now came to a halt to Big Crunch. How the clocks stopped; death of time had occurred.
However, a deep paradox lay within. In the beginning, there was darkness. Inception of time set the universe in dynamic motion; life was born on earth. There was movement. Yet, it was in this very passage of time that life also ended; deaths took place. Time traveled in infinite circle through past, present and the future. The future became the present, and the present the past one day. Each event lost backwards in snitches of time. That no predictions, nor any human intervention could change this rigid paradigm; neither the flow, nor actions; an irreversibility of a marked reversed cosmic order, left only an illusion that humans thought they had the power to change. Hence, Time was right when he said, he wanted the same from her that she wanted from the woman in the rain. Pushpa wanted the woman to allow her to help. And Time wanted Pushpa to allow him to unveil a mystery. He wanted to talk her out of this mindset, that she believed that she could help the woman when she couldn’t, because it was simply never rostered in the cosmic plan. She couldn't change that order. These perfectly planned chain of events never to be disjointed. It seemed as though it was the choice of the woman to discredit Pushpa, by not accepting her offer to help. But Time’s immutable plans were never discernible. No regrets; although it did behoove her to do exactly that, as Time had reiterated with his pinpoint precision. She had to promise to offer her help. All included in the minutes.
‘What the heck?’ Feeling itchy, she woke up startled, locked her arms about her and felt a chill go right through the spine. The storm-clouds darkened the world like never before. She found a towel lying on the floor where she had fallen asleep in her chair. Like the rain, her sleep was also long overdue. She hadn’t slept in ages now. The gusty winds had blown the towel away straight out of its peg on the clothes line. She stood up groggy and went inside to put the kettle to the boil.
While the water boiled, she picked up a cup and a saucer to make a cup o’ tea. She put two sugars, and a dash of milk over a tea bag in the cup and poured in hot water. Then, she carried the hot cup out on the balcony. The storm was nasty. Branches of the trees had come undone as they flew in a havoc. Peoples’ clothes flew all over the place. She walked back to the kitchen and picked up her six months old knitting. Looking out, she continued to knit. She couldn’t procrastinate much longer. She must finish this sweater before winter. Just as well, only few days left before the season’s change began. An awakening of fall’s ’mellow fruitfulness and mists,’ followed by summer’s passage into the depths. All in the past that one surrealistic cocktail-dream.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
This is a work of fiction based on the Big Crunch theory, which posits a reversible order of everything our universe is made up of. Even time will end one day and our ever-expanding universe would shrink back into time-space singularity, and then into nothingness, as the final curtain drops. However, these are strict parameters that no one change, just as the course of human history cannot be changed.
The Midwest Book Review, has reviewed one of her books, The Pacifist. Two of her short stories, The Anomalous Duo has been translated in German, Familie (er)zählt: Selection of stories completed; Sammlung abgeschlossen, (In press) and The Black Coat, in Greek: ΤΟ ΜΑΥΡΟ ΠΑΛΤΟ, published in Nyctophilia.gr.
She has an MA in English Literature, Dhaka University and an MA in Applied Linguistics from the University of Queensland, Brisbane Australia.
She was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, but lives in Australia.