“What a strange name? Mowgli’s mother,” Brenda Braidy said.
“Yes, very strange,” said her friend Frieda Jane.
“But do you know what?” Brenda asked.
“What’s even stranger, is that no one really knows, who she is. She’s a mystery.”
“Gosh! What do you even mean?”
“She was called by that name, Mowgli’s mother. But nobody knows why. Because she was childless. Everyone thought she couldn’t bear any children.”
“How extraordinary!” Frieda cried. “She told you that? How do you know?”
“Well, I asked where her son Mowgli was? And she said she is childless and she doesn’t know why she has always been known by that name.”
“Wow! That’s mad!
“Ye. That’s what’s most puzzling. This has also puzzled the police,” said Brenda.
Brenda Braidy runs a corner shop on Paddington Street. She is meeting her friend today, Frieda Jane in Cafe Boulevard just two blocks away up the street. She is telling her about a missing person by the name of Mowgli’s mother.
“Did it ever bother you? That kind of a name, when you hired her? Did it ever occur to you that it could be a false name?”
“Yes, it did. But then when I asked her, she smiled and kept quiet. Her qualifications were okay, so I thought I should give her the job. I didn’t want to discriminate on the basis of her name. Her passport and references checked out. It was just that name. But since none of her previous employers bothered, I didn’t think I should either.” Brenda explained.
“Hmm, this is kind of strange, though,” Frieda said.
“What is?” Brenda asked.
“That name,” Frieda answered. “How long did she stay?”
“Oh! Less than six months. Not even a year.”
“I find it a bit odd that this person has a track record of moving in and out of places in less than a year,” said Frieda thoughtfully.
“It is a bit odd, isn’t it? And this time she didn’t even ask for a reference for her next job. In the last ten years, she has had at least ten jobs.”
“How old is she?”
“According to her passport, she is thirty.”
“That’s pretty young.”
“Yes, police don’t even have a clue to her whereabouts. When they searched her place, everything appeared normal. She didn’t take any belongings with her. Not even her clothes. Her closet was full of clothes, but surprisingly her fridge was empty. There was nothing. Not even milk. Her larder was empty too. It almost seemed she lived on air.”
“That’s so strange that she was to disappear into thin air as well, huh?” Frieda added.
“Hmm, I guess, I don’t know, we just have to wait until the police find something.”
“I guess, hey?” Frieda said. “Anyway, I got to go, really! I am so late. Catch you soon.” Frieda said goodbye and left in a real hurry.
“See ye’ I’ll call.”
Brenda, sat thinking about the odds of finding this person, Mowgli’s mother. Her passport says, she is from an Asian background, who has seen a bit of the world, and lived in various places. In Athens she sold flowers. In Madrid, she worked as a kitchen hand, and waitress; nothing illegal, or abnormal. She seems to have received the right kind of visa and work permit too. But on her passport, her name appears as Mowgli’s mother and authorities don’t seem to think anything too strange about that name.
Brenda decides to carry out her own investigation. She doesn’t know the full picture, yet. She only knows what Mowgli’s mother has cared to show her. The passport, visas and the work permits and all that. Brenda wants to know more. More about this person who has simply just vanished without any rhyme or reason. She decides to visit the immigration office one day. The immigration officer, reluctant to carry out a conversation with her, let alone give out any details, finally agrees, when Brenda tells her that it is a dob in.
“Who do you want to dob in?”
“This woman who calls herself Mowgli’s mother.”
“Is that the name she goes by?”
“Yes, that is the name on her passport and in all her reference letters.”
“Hmm, odd. Very odd.”
“I think so too. There’s something going on here.”
“Let me check.”
The immigration officer punches in the name Mowgli’s mother on the key-board rapidly. Nothing comes up. She tries again. Still no results. And then suddenly, the computer crashes. She is forced to log out. She looks at Brenda suspiciously. And Brenda looks back at her. There is definitely something wrong somewhere. That morning is completely wasted for the officer as well as for her. Brenda takes her to leave and returns to her shop.
Weeks go by, days and months, still nothing. No news. Her friend Frieda Jane is worried too. By now, there should have been something on this missing person. She is well-traveled. A woman of the world, who has traveled the world with legitimate passports and visas. Brenda thinks, she needs to contact immigration again to check if anybody has left the country, by sea, land or air. Investigation reports have already stated that the missing person has not been found. Could it be that she has been murdered and dumped somewhere? Maybe, who knows?
Next morning. Brenda takes off early on the bus straight to the immigration office into the city. She waits for an officer in the waiting room. As she waits, she sees an ambulance come around and park up-front. Then there is a commotion and the receptionist walks up to her hurriedly. The officer she is to meet today, has had an unexpected seizure. She has to be taken to the hospital in that ambulance. This gets Brenda very worried. First, the computer crashes, now this; a healthy person becoming ill. There seems to be a series of mishaps and obstacles related to this case. What is this deterrent? She tries to understand. She calls her friend Frieda, but her mobile is switched off. By now, all this is really starting to frighten Brenda. Since this day is wasted too, she heads back to her shop.
As she gets off the bus, she sees smoke coming from the direction of her shop. She walks faster and arrives at her shop panting. But there is no shop. The shop burnt to a cinder. “Oh no,” she gasps and sits down on the side of the road. The fire-fighters try relentlessly to put out the fire. The ambulance, the police, everyone is here by now. They want to interview Brenda. The owner of the shop is on television. She is telling them about the curious case of Mowgli’s mother. She is telling the world, the freakish chain of events that led up to this. Her shop has now been burnt down. Something or someone is trying to sabotage her attempts to find this person, known as Mowgli’s mother. That is how it all feels at least. As though the disappearance isn’t enough, now this? Just then an SMS shows up on her screen. It is from an unknown number, “Frieda Jane in hospital, with a heart attack.”
“What?” Brenda screams and then faints.
After twenty-four hours, Brenda is lying in a hospital bed. She sees herself, waking up and walking through a white corridor wearing a white gown. Everything is so white that it hurts her eyes. Then she sees something flying towards her, a spirit and phantom. It comes closer, and she looks at her intently, “Mowgli’s mother? Is it really you?”
“Yes, it is. Stop looking for me?”
“Who are you? What are you, a phantom?
“Think whatever you wish, but know this that Mowgli’s mother never existed. “But, but?”
“No buts, the papers that you saw, the passports and the visas are a lie. You saw what I wanted you to see. There are neither any passports, nor visas, or any references of my existence anywhere in the world. You saw me, a person, a living person of blood and flesh, does not exist. Like I said before, I am the phantom. I am here. I am nowhere.”
The doctors at her bedside are trying to resuscitate her. She regains consciousness. She feels anxious, doctors running around the room, this hospital clinic. A nurse smiles at her and says “You will be okay. Not to worry, dear.” She wakes up in her hospital bed and receives an SMS from Frieda that she has been released from hospital. Soon there is another SMS from immigration.
“We checked. There are no records, nationally or internationally, matching with this person’s details. Case closed.”
A critically acclaimed writer, Mehreen Ahmed has published flash fiction, short stories, novels, historical travelogue, academic reviews/article and journalistic write-ups. She has published with Routledge: Journal of Computer Assisted Language Learning, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge journals Language Teaching, Language Learning and Technology, Straylight Literary Magazine: University of Wisconsin-Parkland, English Department, Storyland Literary Review, Wordcurd, Story Institute, Cosmic Teapot Publishing, The Sheaf: Campus newspaper for the University of Saskachewan and the Dawn blog. 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.