Hajar – Prologue

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I am here with a story which I don’t yet know will be a short story or a novel. Though the prologue has a religious touch to it, yet the story has nothing to do with religion.  It’s just a story of a girl who shares her name and perhaps fate to one of the matriarchs of history who is known for her courage in bleak times.

Prologue

Those were the ancient times when people kept slaves.  I was one of those brought from my land.  A woman presented me to his man so I could bear fruit for them which she couldn’t do herself.

She was my mistress, my son belonged to her. But then, it so happened; God bestowed her a son of her own.  My son was no longer needed.  I was thrown out along with my son, left alone in the desert.  I was a mother led by courage with faith in God.  It was Him who heard my son cry and blessed us with a well out of nowhere to survive.

Slowly, people came.  They requested to settle near water.  I consented for I could help them the way God had helped me once.  Once disowned by a clan, now I had a clan of my own.

I was Hajar, slave of Sarah, and mother of Ishmael. I was Hajar, destined to wander but I was also Hajar, the one dissociated from any evil.  With trust in God, and courage at heart, I was Hajar who gave life to the lineage of Arabs.

And, I am Hajar… of this time where people are no longer slaves of people, but of prejudices and presumptions or if nothing else, their own bias and fear.  I am Hajar, with no family of my own; trying to be brave, trying to fight my fears.  Hajar, who is not an outcast, not quite yet… but will the society accept me and not throw me out, once they know and once they decide to look down upon me for reasons pre-contrived.

So, when you know me and when you decide to loathe; remember! I am Hajar and I have no sin. It is my tale; of exploitation, betrayal and abandonment.  However, it is my faith that stays.  Amongst abuse and degradation, hope and inspiration, I seek Him, I blame Him, and then I make peace with Him.

The Fire of Hajar

Poem by Syrian-American Poet Mojha Kafh

For one short span, she was our Hajar,

my bright young bride, the helpmeet

of a lonely aging couple.

How she grew from round cheeked girl

capable, aproned, baby strapped to her high hip,

into a woman beyond our ken, strange giant

straddling rocks cape, midwifing a new earth!

Twice Sarah put Hajar’s hand in mine,

as God willed, first to marry, then to desert her.

But it was I who let her hand drop.

Our last night we spent alone in God’s wilderness,

our last time to circle, in the crook of my body, hers,

the baby nestled between her breast and belly

my arm around them both.

Then I dropped her supple, girlish hand and freely

I admit the tears that wet my dusty beard,

fell brackish into that dry ground

as I walked, willingly to the slaughter

of my own bared neck, my Hajar-love,

I walked away.

She called, “Ibrahim!” She knew

what I had to do, but still she called,

let me hear my name shaped by her lips

one last single time, “Ibrahim!”

At the pierce of that cry, I wanted

to bundle her up and carry her home again,

protect her from the howling barren land.

I turned around. But one look at her face

She was already fiercer, older, a woman

I do not know. She chose too.

“To whom do you leave us?

She said quietly.

For a minute I could not answer. Fire

like the fire of the trials of my youth, this fire!

God who made the fire cool and safe for me

will make this scorched desert for Hajar

a garden surely.

When I said “God is here,”

she took my words and threw them back

at me, “Then I’ll take God. I’ll take the God

of the wilderness over your home and your city.”

She turned away. I know that turn.

I as a young man I chose to accept from God

a hard vocation. But an old man knows

what it means to drop the supple hand.

I walked away bent, nearly double, picking my ragged path back home to Sarah

I took one last look.

Hajar was walking into her own

Soul-searching days, head on,

far from me now, her shadow thrown

by the lowered sun across a wild country

turning into something stark and strong.

Be cool and safe for Hajar, fire!

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The Day of Independence (Part 2/2)

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Independence Day

I was taken aback by the abruptness of the rickshaw driver when he demanded, “Do you need a ride baji?” (Baji means ‘elder sister’ commonly used by strangers to address women) and then added “You will not get any other vehicle.  There is police everywhere and whoever is seen on the road is considered a marcher.  I will take you where you want but I will charge double the usual fare.”

Many fears clouded my mind.  What if we get trapped?  What if this rickshaw driver is evil and does not take us home?  News of rape, murder, and abduction, the headlines, the police, accusations, and my daughter was with me too… What was better, boarding the rickshaw or staying on the street?  I looked at the passengers in the back.  The rickshaw was already overloaded.   I could see four women with three on the seats and one crouched on the floor.  Despite that, they were willing to make room for more.  “Hurry up baji.  It’s too risky to stay at one place for long.  And also, I will only drop you as near your house as possible.  I am not going to risk my vehicle. “

Though I was still apprehensive, I had to take the risk because of the limited options.  I shared the little space on the floor while my daughter got into the lap of one of the women.  They were chatting cheerfully and I gathered that they were also teachers and belonged to the same school.  One of them was a chatterbox.

“But we never met?” she asked me.

“I teach in the higher secondary section.” I replied.

“Oh… Okay.   The college block?” I nodded.  “We are all from the junior school.” I nodded again.

“You know if the principal wanted, she could cancel the ceremony and we could have been spared of this inconvenience” She rattled on. “But what can we do.  Despite the summer vacations, we have to come and celebrate.  I agree it’s fun but it could be exempted given the situation”.

“Principal lives in the school residency herself.  Why would she care about the situation?” Another, older looking woman said.

“You are right.  No students came.  We raised the flag and sung the anthem all by ourselves but she only cared for the pictures to show off her efficiency”.  I was stressed and jittery and wished she would shut up for once.

They kept rattling on till the last one was dropped off.  By then, I had lost all the sense of direction.  I and my daughter were alone again and the rickshaw was going full speed ahead, winding through lanes and streets unknown to me.

I was sweating profoundly, whether it was heat or fear, I do not know.  I was intently following the route and trying my best to figure out my whereabouts.  With shutters all down and the doors of rickshaw closed, I was unable to know where I was and that was making my stomach churn.  My pulse was high and I didn’t dare look at the driver in the mirror lest he get any wrong ideas.  My only resolve was to appear brave and confident.  I feared for myself but I feared most for my daughter.  She was too young and I could not even bring myself to think of her innocence getting scarred.  I was scared.  For the first time in my life, I was living through hell.  Confined in the small suffocating space behind the bars of my fear, I cursed the independence and the Independence Day.  For we were still slaves, slaves of all the imaginable (and even unimaginable) evils of the society bred by the corrupt system.  I wish I had not brought her with me.  I did not want to bother my father with her care in my absence.   I wish I had thought better.

Tired of all the goings-on, my daughter put her little head in my lap and fell asleep.  She was not afraid at all, or even concerned.  Ignorance is a blessing I’d say.  She didn’t know how grave the situation could turn.  She didn’t know this journey towards home could also lead us to hell, I shuddered.

Suddenly I spotted the main road, I knew my surroundings!  Across that main road was my home!  A new life, a new hope ran through me.  I confidently addressed the driver and told him to cross the road.  As soon as we reached the end of the street that led to main road, he slowed down and almost stopped the roaring engine.  My nerves throbbed once again but before I stepped on the rollercoaster of dreading possibilities, the rickshaw taxied to a halt at the end of the street.  I came to know why he did that and could not but appreciate his wisdom.

As feared, there was a heavy contingent of police along the main road.  “They have blocked the crossing baji.  My rickshaw will not go further” declared the driver.  “But how shall we reach home then?”  I almost cried out.  I was panicking.  Yes, I was panicking again.  “Our home is very near.  We can walk home in 10 minutes.  May be I could just ask them to let me through.”   I wished I was a bird and could fly home.  It was so close.

“If you want you can go and ask them baji, but if I were you I would never go near them.  They are always on the lookout for finding a prey and then they try to rob them off.  I would not expect sympathy from them.”

I fell silent.  He was right. Our police was not dependable.  Since childhood it was instilled in us to avoid them.

If only I could use my mobile and call my father, he would surely find a way or know someone.   My heart ached to think how worried he must be.  It was outrageous, the use of force by government to sabotage peoples’ right to protest peacefully on the very day of independence.  I was pissed off.   Didn’t we win our freedom sixty eight years ago?  Did our elders face tyranny and sacrificed their lives for this, this namesake freedom? They would be turning in their graves to know we just switched our masters.  Now there are no ‘angrez’ or ‘hindu’ to dictate us.  Now our tyrants are our own kinsfolk.  I was sickened of all that pointless oppression.

“Think, think!” I ordered all my common sense to service.  Hiding behind the bend of the road, I gradually overcame my panic.  The driver was no longer a threat as the police were there.  What a bitter sweet sentiment towards police, I reckoned.  The crossings were blocked by the police for vehicles but rest of the road as far as I could see was clear.  I asked the driver to take us a few streets away and sure enough there was no sign of any policemen.  I decided to continue on foot from then on.  Far away, I could see the policemen guarding the square, yet no one seemed to react.  I don’t know why the police didn’t stop us.  I am sure they must have spotted us.  Maybe a woman with a child far away along the road was of no interest to them.

We reached the lane that led to our home when my daughter spotted my father.  “Abba” she cried and ran into his arms.  My dear father was sitting on the stone outside Nazim’s office, his white hair flickered in sun, sweat dripped along the wrinkles of his pale worried face.  His eyes gleamed in relief to see us safe.  Drained and exhausted, we made our way to the safety of our home silently.