Here's an old one to get the ball rolling...
It rained the day Sara fell in love. She woke up to a clear morning, cool, crisp and sunny, and she knew. Just as sure as night is dark and the sea wet, she knew she was going to fall in love that day. It was all around her. She could smell it in the mint of her toothpaste; she could taste it in her morning tea, feel it in the gentle breeze, see it in the bright yellow of the day old sunflowers on her dresser and even hear it in the sharp ticking of the clock. The time was coming near when she would have found her love. The second half of her soul, which long ago had been ripped into two, would finally complete her.
At first she did not know what it was that she knew, or was feeling. She just opened her eyes that Thursday morning and felt a gentle glow creep up. It started from her feet in a tickle and then a golden hue encompassed her till she was smiling. And though she did not know why it was that she was smiling, she kept on smiling her big joyous smile, from ear to ear, showing all of her twenty-nine even teeth.
As she was finishing one of the heartiest meals she had had in a while (she usually was not a morning person and hardly got up in time for breakfast) the phone rang with a shrill, sharp ring that would have startled, and annoyed, anyone else in that quiet peaceful morning. Sara, however, though startled and spilling some of her tea, just gave a happy giggle, made a mental note of wiping the tea off the table and jumped off to say a chirpy hello to whomever it maybe.
It was her mother. And as much as the phone suddenly ringing had not irritated Sara, her daughter’s bubbly, sing-song “hello” unsettled her mother. She repeated, at least four times, who it was that was speaking, incase Sara thought it was a friend; fixed the imagined loosening of her telephone receiver’s cord and spoke at least three times as loud as she needed to; sure that her daughter could not hear her correctly. Until finally, Mrs. Saeed heard Sara speak. Not too loudly but clearly.
“Hello mama, how are you this morning?”
That is when it hit her. Her only daughter, a piece of her heart, her darling baby she had barely survived a separation of a two hour drive with (when she moved away to her university) was on drugs. The ground moved from beneath her feet, she almost heard her heart break, or at least she knew the exact moment she felt the pain; she was sad beyond expression. But bless the poor soul, she tried. And if some poor chap had been listening into the conversation, he would have reported of a code language never heard of before. For one, it was spoken so hurriedly and at such an amplitude and frequency that only those used to it, or dogs, could have made any sense of it. The expression of her disappointment, heartbreak, grief and, not to mention, anger continued for a full four minutes and thirty-six seconds, like frazzled bees out of a fallen beehive, before Sara could get a word in.
“Mama. Mama! I’m perfectly ok, I’m not on drugs; I’m just…”
and Mrs. Saeed, who was, by now, in tears (that had really been the only reason her capacity for long and dramatic speech had been impaired long enough for Sara to be able to get a word in) had taken a deep breath and was able to speak like herself again.
“Just what my child? Tell mama, what is it?”
And that is when Sara first thought about why it was that she was so sunny that morning. Why the air smelled nicer, chores seemed worth doing and her small one bedroom apartment cozy and warm.
“I don’t know; I’m just in a good mood today. I have to run to class now, just relax, I’m fine.”
More in control of herself now, but as convinced and determined as ever of Sara being up to something and finding out what it was respectively, Mrs. Saeed hung-up after a last warning of never eating anything someone else gave her.
With this final advice from her mother, which if followed would certainly have led to her early demise, given her cooking skills, Sara started out on her fifteen minute walk to her university. And she looked around her. All that she at first glance on this wonderful, WONDERFUL, morning had seemed so perfect was no such thing, not even the morning. The weather was hot and sticky, like it usually is in
Lahore in the summers,
though some clouds could be seen to the far east of the horizon; the air
smelled of automobile smoke, there was litter on the sides of the road, and she
was glad for the walk because of the uncharacteristic breakfast she had had. So
the logical conclusion could only be that it was not everything, it was her.
She felt different. She felt elated; like if she started to run instead of her respectable walk, she would eventually take-off like a plane and sore high into the sky like a bird. Like a colorful, bright, mildly-attractive-young-girl shaped smiling kite. And once she opened the can of worms, started thinking about what was going on and what she was feeling and why, it did not take more than a heartbeat for her to realize it. She was going to fall in love. Nay, she was in love. She just did not know with whom yet, and today she would meet him. She would meet the love of her life, and feel complete. If this morning was any indication of what it would be like, how she would feel, she could not wait.
She thought about the suddenness of it as she walked the rest of the way. But then again, these things always happened suddenly did not they? There really could not be another way. There had to be a moment, one single moment, whether recognized or let slip into oblivion, when a person in love realizes that he or she is, in fact, in love. Love itself might creep up to you, but the realization of it must always comes as a shock. Deciding there was nothing abnormal with her realization of love, and not finding, what would be her first love, lacking in any other regard, besides the absence, as yet, of a beloved, she happily trod on. After all, the birds were singing, the flowers dancing, the gentle wind, which she might just have imagined, carrying her on her wings; it all fit in perfectly with what love was supposed to be like.
By the time she reached her university and seated herself in her first class, she had begun to try and imagine what he would be like. The name, yes, first of all the name. The name had to be special. Only a person, who was unique and special, thus having a unique name, could be part of a love that was this strong even before the lovers had met. No matter how many stories she had read or how many sagas she had heard, none had had this element of premonition. No, this was hers and hers alone. No Ali or Ahmed or Bilal could be the subject of such love. Not even a Danial, Haider, Shahid or Zain. No. It had to be a name that was music in itself. A name that embodied the gentle yet masculine characteristics of the perfect lover. It might not even be a name she had ever heard. Taken from some beautiful, soulful foreign language. A name it would take her a while to pronounce correctly. A name it would be a treat to speak, eventually. A name her mouth would fall in love with saying.
In the end, not being able to think of a suitable name, very understandably since the foreign, exotic, soulful, languages she had little or no knowledge about were numerous, she settled for a temporary one she had created herself: Zarib. She decided it meant pure.
She had only just finalized the name, having covered page after page of her notebook, first with all the names of boys she could think of and cutting them off one by one, and then in her attempts at creating one; when the lecture came to an end. With a polite hello here and a distracted nod there, she threaded her way through her herd like class fellows and reached the hallway outside to habitually wait for her two close friends. The question now was whether she should include them in her little secret. The decision was taken out, more or less, off her irresolute hands when comments on her being dressed differently, having a fresh glow about her unusually smiling cheerful, yet distracted person were hurled at her. To their credit, they did not laugh. They expressed disbelief and doubt; but ridicule, they did not. Taking this as encouragement, Sara, whose initial declaration had been nervous and self-conscious, gained confidence and explained, in minute detail all that had been going through her mind.
Once in possession of all the facts, from the sunny mood to the decision of the name, they were forced to agree. There was no other explanation. They congratulated her, screamed and fawned, declared their envy; they were all any friends could be hoped to be. Having conferred amongst themselves, the two friends decided that some time to herself, with her thoughts and so that they would not be unwanted obstacles in the path of love when the prince did, as he was sure to soon, arrive, would be best for Sara given her delicate, happy and oh so desirable situation. As they flittered away in smiles and giggles, Sara found a cozy corner in the library. She opened her books, settled in and picked up where she had left off.
The name. Yes, Zarib was perfect. Next must surely be his physical description. She knew he would not just be some random, ordinary, off-the-shelf good looking man, but a good looking, handsome young man perfectly suited for her. She was a practical rational young woman; she knew not to expect a Greek god. She would settle for less. Lets see now, she was not tall, actually being one of the girls often described as petite, hardly five feet two inches in height. In order to have any semblance of decency he must be at least four inches taller than her and no more than eight; that was easy enough she thought: he was five feet nine inches tall. He would have intelligent, expressive brown eyes; she did not like colored eyes in men of a wheatish complexion, which of course, he had to be. Not too dark or too fair, she had never liked either extreme in men. His hair had to be cut short but curly, she did not know why, but for some reason she just imagined him that way. Sara knew she was not beautiful, no, no one, even on her best day, had ever called her that, so she very justly and rationally did not expect her man to be the most handsome of men either. She was pretty, sweet, attractive; so in a manner of speaking, since she was trying to be as just, rational and fair, it was her right to expect a man who was at least her match, maybe rugged and mysterious instead of pretty and sweet, but defiantly attractive, even if without being handsome. And since she was on the skinny side, he was, obviously, also going to be slender; it would not look just right otherwise, and if fate was going through all this trouble, what was a couple of pounds of flesh here and there?
She only realized she had been staring straight ahead, seemingly at anyone who walked by, when one of them, whom she was slightly acquainted with, jokingly snapped his fingers in front of her face. Embarrassed, she finally turned her attention to her book and started reading the chapter she should have finished by now; only to drift back into her day dream, before one could say Zarib thrice.
By the time she walked out of the library it was already , time for lunch. Instead of the scorching sun and humidity she had expected, the weather seemed rather nice. There was a gentle cool breeze. The grey mass of clouds, far off that morning, was now blocking the sun’s blazing glare, casting a heavenly shadow over everyone and everything. Finally, the rest of the world was catching up with her.
Sara herself was like a ray of sunshine in a cold winter day. Something seemed to have lit-up inside of her. She was smiling, chattering, laughing at everything, laughing at nothing. Singing with joy at the prospect of the impending rain that would deliver them of their, so far, hot and humid summer. And so natural, charming and pretty did she look that had she but paid attention to any of the boys she already knew, she could have won any but the stoniest of hearts with the flutter of an eyelid. After all, what better sight than a young woman satisfied with her life and work so far (she had already decided on Zarib‘s main personality traits and a rough family background), one who was so eager to live life that she could hardly wait for the next second, and one, more over, in the first blush of love.
They would meet soon now. Strangers who would bump into each other, or wait, maybe their eyes would meet across a crowded room. Maybe this very cafeteria, maybe the parking lot, or a class room. She must keep an eye out for any new people around her. She wondered what it would feel like. The noise around them would be drowned out by the sheer, blinding, silver intensity of that first look. They would transcend, over and above this material, unreal world, and into a reality of their own. There would be silence, a serene beautiful silence. No words would be required. They would both understand and know each other without the inadequate, often hampering tool of language. They would not need to communicate in any other way but with their minds, in their thoughts. They would have a spiritual connection stronger than anyone had ever experienced. This would be no ordinary meeting. It would be a meeting the stars and the skies had long waited for. The seven skies would be lit with stars shining with all their might, as never before, near bursting with joy. The universe would be like a vast navy spread with a billion torches burning white. Fairies would dance; angels would sing and play golden harps. It was fate. It was destiny.
Just the thought of it made her cheek flame-up. Her pulse was pounding like mad ravenous dogs chasing their prey in a lush English hunting field. It was like a rush of blood to the head. She felt faint and energized at the same time. Would he know, as she, surely, would know in the second her eyes rested upon him? Was he, maybe, some where going through the same wonderful experience she was? He must be.
Not for a minute did she even consider the possibility of it being someone she already knew, or had met. It was going to be a stranger. An addition to her previously mundane and ordinary life. She was on the look out for anyone new. A student, a teacher or a visitor; anyone. For the first couple of minutes of every lecture she attended that day she, sitting right at the back of the class, she looked around for him. Going from left to right in each row, starting from the front of the class and working her way through to the last one she was occupying; once, twice, thrice. Making sure she did not miss anyone. For the rest of the lecture, other than looking up and checking every time the door was opened, she receded into her own little world and planned her soon to be perfect life.
She waits for him at tea. She looks for him in every room she enters, or ducks into and checks while passing by. She spends an hour she has free in roaming around campus. Doubling back and checking each place a number of times, afraid he might have entered a minute too late and she left a moment too soon. Obviously fate was not very apt or experienced at this kind of a thing or they would have met hours ago; but she guessed that was the price of having a love no one else had ever had. After all, fate had had no practice.
As draws near, time for her to head back home, Sara is at her wits end. Fidgety, nervous, afraid, with her heart in her mouth she sits outside, in the open grounds waiting, praying for him to appear. The weather is beautiful by now. A lovely cool wind was blowing the early autumn leaves around, the clouds above her head seem ready to burst any second, and it was dark as night though sunset is not for another hour and a half. But she is oblivious to all. Every shadow is him. Every tiny movement in the corner of her eye is him approaching. Every distant voice carried by the wind is his. Where could he be? What could have kept him? He was not the sort to keep a lady waiting. He was not careless, or ill-mannered or inconsiderate enough to ever do such a thing. Something must have happened. She hoped he as okay. She hoped no ill, no accident had befallen him. She could wait, she would wait, after all what was time in the test of love, as long as he would, eventually come.
came and went, and still there was no sign of Zarib. Between her praying, fidgeting and doubting she had had no time to think. Suddenly, like the forgotten peace of a jigsaw puzzle she realized maybe she was not to meet him here at all. She should have, as usual, left for home a while ago. Maybe he would be standing in a street some where, waiting for her. Or some how end up at her apartment, possibly in mistake of another. She jumped to her feet, collected what she could of her things in four seconds, left the rest behind and started off home.
Yes, that was it. She had been waiting in the wrong place far too long. How incredibly dim witted of her. But as the seconds passed, gloom seemed to descend upon her. Had he wearied of her? Had he stopped loving? Maybe she had done something wrong, something to offend him. She wondered what could have offended him. What if it had been her telling her friends about them? Yes, that could be it, she had even then thought of not doing so, but stupid, stupid Sara had refused to listen to her intellect and gone ahead and told them of a secret that was not entirely hers to tell. All men were like that, uncomfortable, almost shy about their personal lives. She had ruined it. Nipping the bud before it had even shown its head. He had probably needed his privacy, his space, and she had refused him both. Thinking about him all day, keeping him busy in her thoughts. How could she have not seen it coming? She would never forgive herself. Never. Maybe there was a way to fix it, she must think. She needed to think.
It was no use. He was smart, intelligent, funny, and attractive, and she had driven him away before he had even had a chance of falling properly in love with her. He probably had not even loved her as much as she did him. How could she have been that stupid? As much as she still wanted, hoped, prayed and wished all her dreams would come true, how could she have thought a person like him could fall in love with her? He probably had not loved her at all.
All men were like that. Scum. They pretended to love you. They gave you hope, they led you on, even after they said they no longer loved you, they claimed to have before. How was that possible anyway? To fall in and out of love that easily? No woman could do it, Sara was sure. Women loved with their hearts, their souls; totally and completely. Men were animals. They had no soul, no heart. After all she had done for him, all the sacrifices, compromises, love, comfort, support; it took him as long as a rain drop takes to fall from the sky and onto the earth below to forget her.
She had thought about the rain drop, because she had seen one. She stopped. She was soaked to the skin. It had been raining for she did not know how long. She did not know where she was; she had obviously overshot her apartment building. Lost, confused and heartbroken she sat down. Her mind could just not comprehend it. No, it was not possible. She understood the words, she heard herself say them out loud. He does not exist; he is not coming. But they did not mean anything. Like a sonic boom to a deaf person would be nothing to register. You can talk; slowly or loudly, pause between each overly pronounced word, or even syllable, but a person who does not understand your language is only going to hear you, but not listen.
No, NO; she screamed at herself in her head. You can not start believing he is not coming. You can not doubt him. It will be a betrayal of him, of their love. Wrapping her arms around and clutching her knees she rocked to and fro like a child in a tantrum. He would come. He was on his way, he had just been held up. He would come. She chanted these few, sometimes incomplete, phrases in an inaudible voice. As much as she wanted to forget this thought had ever occurred to her, a deep calm voice, some where from the back of the grey, misty room head was, kept asking her to wake up. Wakeup Sara. It is a dream. A dream you have knit for yourself, a dream you must break out of. Wakeup to reality. And she rocked, swinging her body on her hip, faster and faster, the sound of her own voice chanting getting louder and louder inside her head, till she could no longer hear herself think or chant, or even hear the blood now pounding in her head. It was all a blur, rhythmic, fast, torturous blur that seemed to be stretching each and every nerve in her head. She felt her head ready to explode into a million tiny pieces like a melon with a firecracker in it. She almost wished it would, if it would give her peace, when one final, clear, crisp and loud voice finally made through. Wakeup.
And then there was nothing. Not a sound, no room, no mist, no color; nothing. Her mind was blank. She stopped moving. She could not feel anything, outside or inside her body. For a second she thought she was dead. And then a single tear rolled down her already wet left cheek. One tear became a string and like a snow ball, soon there was no stopping it. She cried her heart out. She cried with deep soul-wrenching sobs that shock her tiny structure like a straw hut in a hale storm. She cared not where she was, or who saw her. Her life had ended. It was a blank sheet of grey paper with nothing to show for anything. Segregated from the rest of the world, who had taken refuge from the heavy rain indoors, and her tears camouflaged by the rain for the few who did venture outside, she was in her own world.
Having indulged in the fit of hysterics, the importance and calming power of which no man would ever understand; she finally took a deep breath and started thinking about her life. Her hands on her joint knees and her chin resting on top, she stared into the rain, looking like a drowned mouse; dark hair stick to the sides of her face, eyes swollen and seemingly ready to pop out; the picture of despair. The shock and hurt of there being no truth or future to the hopes she had cherished for so long. She thought clearly for what seemed like the first time that day. How could she have believed such a story, how could she have come up with it in the first place? She was no naive teenage greenhorn. She had actually believed something like this could happen outside of a fairy tale. She had believed it when some high-on-sugar part of her brain had concocted the idea of a preordained love.
How vulnerable we all are. You ask a person today and rational, liberal, intelligent citizen soft the world will say of course there is no such thing as fate, or destiny or luck, or love at first sight, or alien abductions. But one win at a slot machine after you pit in you hands and rub them, one stranger who passes by and you exchange an intimate, almost familiar look with, one very well played Halloween prank and for a second, whether we admit it or not, we believe. Sara had always thought of herself as a very level headed, practical young woman of the modern world. No giddy romantic like many of the girls she had grown up with. She had a firm belief in rational thought and confidence in her intellect. All the worse for me to swallow this insult I have leveled at myself, she thought.
She was so embarrassed, so upset. How would she face her friends the next day? She could not believe not only had she convinced herself, she had included others in it. What kind of a sadistic, cosmic joke was this? To deprive a normal, sedate, sensible human being of the capability of rational thought. To get some poor innocent girl, like herself, and make her believe in magic, fate, destiny and pure happiness. Make her fall in love, deeply, with an image she was then made to create herself. And then get her to experience all the pain, the anguish and self doubt of a love lost. She would never forgive herself, for being that weak. She would never forgive whatever cosmic force that had amused itself at her expense.
And just as she was thinking all these hateful, unforgiving, vengeful thoughts, she caught sight of a puddle of water. Under the shade of the over hanging roof of the house she was sitting at the steps of, the surface was smooth and undisturbed. There was something about it, about the natural deep, deep blue color of the water, or the hint of a shimmer, now here and now gone. Almost like a little peace of the ocean in a calm, peaceful night, with the moonlight playing tricks on the observer. She could not help herself. She moved to get a better look at it. After all, no matter what it was sheltered by, with it raining like a couple of children on the roof with an infinite number of ice cold buckets of water, it just did not seem right for the water to be that still.
She got up and started walking the ten feet or so between her and the puddle, and as she drew nearer, it seemed to expand. She walked like in a trance, with her eyes fixed on the centre of the round body of water. It seemed to take her an eternity to get there, and by the time she did, the tiny body of water had seemed to slowly expand into a real ocean. There was water as far left, and as far right and as far off as she could see. Her feet still seemed to be on solid ground but she could turn her head to look. Her gaze was transfixed. Her body was no longer hers to command. And finally, she could concentrate enough to make out a shape in the water.
Lit by a moon that she knew was no where around, hid behind the curtain of clouds still somewhere soaking
She looked at the face and it seemed eerily familiar, yet something the likes
of which she had never seen before. She looked straight and hard at the face.
The face stared right back. It was a woman. Young. Short straight dark hair.
Small, thin nose, small thin lips, permanently arched eye brows. Nice looking,
but not a beauty by far; in her features at least. No, it was not her features,
it was the expression. In her eyes, on her face. It was calm; rested, content,
satisfied. She seemed at peace, with herself, with everything. In need of
nothing and no one.
Forgetting everything else, her life, her person, her day, her current, very unnatural situation; Sara could not help but be fascinated. She stared; blatantly and unashamedly. She longed to know her secret. She longed to have that confidence, that calm; that peace of mind. And as she silently asked the woman in the water for answers, the woman only smiled, as if waiting for Sara to do something more. She stood there for a million days; not knowing the answer or the right questions. She looked at the woman’s face. And as she stared, she forgot what the woman’s face looked like as a whole. She looked at the eyes, the beautiful curve of the lid, the vibrant, warm brown of the pupils, the shadow of the lashes. She looked at the mouth, so sensitive, so sweet and so gentle. The strong character, the will dictated by the line of her cheek bone and jaw. The wit and intelligence of the expression. The stubbornness in the line of her nose. And finally she knew. This was her love. This was her completion. This was her destiny. And finally, the familiarity of the woman dawned upon her. The same hair, the nose, the lips, the cheeks, the eyes. How she could not have recognized herself she did not know, but given her day, she no longer tried to rationalize.
In a moment she was back. Back in some unknown street of
she had been in for moments or days she did not know; bent over a puddle of
water rain was still splashing into. She straightened herself, looked around to
see if someone was around, and made her way back to her step. She felt weird.
Like something inside her had changed. She could not put her finger on it, but
she could think, clearly. Her mind was no longer a crazed, unsure mess. Her
feeling and emotions no longer in turmoil. Her world, no matter what happened,
dependent on her and not on the arrival of a figment of her imagination. Her
head seemed like the space underneath her bed after spring cleaning; clean,
clear and organized. She sat there and enjoyed what seemed like the first
moment of peace in her entire life. She started walking in what she deemed the
direction of her home and as she reached her street she smiled. The street was
not beautiful or clean, but it was home. The weather was wet and cold, but
cleansing. The sound of rain crashing on a near by parked car was no music; it
was harsh and loud yet exhilarating.
She stepped into her building and for the first time since leaving her university that evening checked her watch. It had been two hours. She would have been surprised, but somehow she knew hardly anything could surprise her anymore. With a bounce in her firm step, a confident satisfied smile on her face, and eyes jumping with life, she climbed the stairs to her second floor apartment. Taking off her wet shoes outside to protect her carpet, she stepped inside and locked the door behind her. Throwing her wet things on the floor she went for a shower, changed into dry clothes and came back into the living room/kitchen.
While warning some food from the fridge in her microwave, she walked up to the telephone to check her messages. Just her mother, thrice. Once calling very innocently to ask how she was doing, once to check if she could come home that weekend or if she would mind if she came over to check on her and finally to just repeat her hysterics from that morning. Going to have to deal with and assure mama, she thought, as the last of the message ended just as she was removing her food from the microwave. With an exasperated sigh at her mother’s antics and a muted curse at the heads of all over protective parents, she turned on the TV and settled in to enjoy her meal.
Someone knocked on the door. She opened the door to a young man with the most striking blue eyes.
“Yes, may I help you?
“I’m sorry to disturb, but my mother’s a friend of your mother’s, I live in this part of town and she called to ask if someone could come check on you, she seemed upset.”
Rolling her eyes Sara said,
“Oh its ok, I’m fine, she just gets that way, please come in.”
And as she was following him in the door she added,
“Sorry I didn’t catch you name…”
She stopped midway in the locking of the door.
“That’s… an unusual name.”
“Yeah, my mother named me. Said someday a woman would fall in love with me for it.”
“She did now did she?”
She turned her back to him. Locked the door, smiled to herself and decided her mother was due a thank you visit.