When you dance with the Devil, the Devil does not change, you do!
Afroze stood at the gurgling tap performing her ablutions when she heard a feint whimper. It took a discerning ear to pick the strains of agony that seeped above the hive of pilgrims that thronged the valley.
The valley of Muna lay asleep apart from the occasional crunch of a slipper on the pebbled sand. The bleached tents had a sullen glow as they hemmed the valley in rows of scalloped lace. She turned in the direction of the whimper, dipping her head a little to the right and then the left in trying to find the muffled sound.
A calm sobriety enveloped Muna. All the pilgrims lay supine in their tents, exhausted from the first day of stoning Satan. The five-day ritual of Hajj was the most elevating experience she had ever had. A simple, humble woman, it was her cherished dream to perform the Hajj. She had dreamed on many occasions of walking the plains of Mount Arafat or circumambulating the Kaaba. Now she has realized her dream. Afroze was most elevated in spirit knowing that the ritual of the stoning was for two more days, and then she could leave for home. She missed her children immensely wanting to feel their soft arms around her….
The soft whimper interrupted her thoughts again. Stepping stealthily in the direction of the sound, she was sure someone was injured. Straining her ears, the sound had receded. Shrugging the thoughts of exasperation, she stepped along the pathway to her tent when she heard the whimpering grow louder. Each measured step drew her closer to the sound.
Afroze, together with her husband and other pilgrims, were sheltered in bleached tents. The tents were close to the foot of the stairs leading to the bridge where the pelting of the jamiraats or the symbolism for Satan was performed. The jamiraats stood as representations of the Prophet Abraham’s temptation by Satan and the firm refusal to be tempted. Gazing at the bridge where the protrusions punctuated the smooth skyline, there were a few pilgrims that wandered in their starched white ehraams (two pieces of white cloth to cover the loin and the torso).
‘Please… Help me.’
She stepped a little closer. Not seeing anybody, she turned to walk away, when the words reverberated.
‘Please, help me?’
‘Who are you?’ She asked in a hoarse whisper, afraid to awaken anyone else. ‘I can’t see you.’
‘Over here,’ called the voice. ‘I can see you. Please, help me.’
Straining her neck and delicately arching her body, she searched everywhere until she saw a little movement beneath the stair. It was dark with only a pale shadow of illumination streaming from a distant lamp, but the unmistakable gleam of his skin and the white orbs of his eyes penetrated the darkness. The voice was unmistakably male.
‘You are a man. I cannot speak with you alone. I shall call for help,’ with which she quickly turned away.
‘Don’t!’ the command was delicately menacing. She stopped in mid-stride. With a little sob he said, ‘Dear kind and gentle lady, I seek only your help. If anyone else were to see my face, I would be a doomed man. Please, say that you will help me?’
‘You know I cannot talk to you nor be alone in your company. It is unacceptable! I will call someone.’
‘No!’ He winced. A bitter shiver dribbled down her spine as she heard the hollow voice.
‘You must help me. Nobody else will. Come a little closer and you shall see my wounds. Come! I am dying.’
Hesitantly she stepped closer to the figure sprawled in the shadows of darkness. Gasping, she clasped a hand over her mouth as she saw the dark stain of blood oozing from the wounds. Tears spilled in confusion and fear. Why did this person have to choose her? What could she do, a foreigner in an unfamiliar land?
‘I cannot do anything. I will call the authorities. They will rush you to the nearest hospital.’
Turning to leave, he clinched her hand in an icy grip. She looked at the hand, her eyes growing wider, not just with fear, but also with alarm.
‘Who are you?’ she swallowed, looking at the gnarled nails, feeling the strength of the grip scorching her soul, an icy hand clasp her heart and enclose it.
‘You know. … Deep in your heart you know who I am’.
Turning away, ‘I…I do not know you. I never saw you before. You’re …’
He exalted in her confusion. He touched her fear.
‘Have you not pelted me with your stones, throwing your accursed lamentations on me while I writhed in agony?’
‘You can’t be!’
‘I am! I am Satan. Your accursed, the condemned’s blessed.’ He coughed in agony, a weak, cowardly cough that shook his hapless body as he writhed in agony.
Crying, she wrestled with his grip, trying to free her hand, his nails ripping through her pale skin,
‘Stay away from me. You are Evil!’ She turned to walk away then stopped in midstride.
‘You were thrown out of Heaven. An outcast, which is you! This is trickery…’ Her words deliberate, she smiled knowingly as she glared at him, and then burst into hysterical laughter at her epiphany, ‘Ah! This is a test from God, isn’t it?’ She turned away speaking to herself, ‘How stupid of me, I should have known. I have weathered many difficulties. This is it, my final submission to God!’
He squeezed harder on her arm until she yelped in pain. ‘Don’t ever mention His name in my presence. I despise Him! No father would abandon his child. But He . . . He did!’ his hiss was spiked with venom and self-pity.
‘God?’ She started a frenzy of dementia, ‘God is the Greatest! God is Great!’
‘Please, do you think it was your God that gave you pleasure and solace when your husband beat you? Was it your God that gave you comfort to sleep peacefully each night knowing that you were filled with anger and revulsion?’
She stopped and choked on her tears.
‘Yes! Let all those tears flow in pity. I knew of your tears and wiped them away with resentment, your pain I turned into resolve and your breaking heart I strengthened with hatred. You became a woman rather than a spineless victim.’
‘No!’ She yanked at her hand, swelling in his frozen grip.
‘Yes! Why did you turn in my direction when I called? You have headed that call before.’ He reached her fear and his smug triumph snaked in every word he sputtered.
‘No!’ she shook her head feverishly.
‘You were one of my most challenging wards. Strong willed, just a hint of defiance and unwavering once you made your decision. Many times, battles waged within your conscience but I had my fair share. Did you not come here for forgiveness?’ He watched the rampant emotions skip across her face, ‘If you were not a sinner, why would you seek redemption?’
Shaking her head and choking on her sobs, ‘I cannot believe that I am having this conversation with you. I must be hallucinating,’ she rolled her eyes heavenwards. He thrust her hand away in distaste. Turning her back she hastened away, her heart pounding, heaving as she sipped in the cold night air, cheeks flushed she could feel the blood hurtling through her bloodstream.
‘You have two more days here’. His voice followed her in a calm that riled her. ‘How can you stone me when I am already dead? Can you live with yourself knowing that you have deceived so many people?’
She raised her weary head, sobbing with self loathing she looked at the plains that spread before her. The canopies of canvas harmonized on the palette of people meandering among the periphery of her blurred revelation. This could not be happening. Often, had she wrestled with her superego, and then her ego? She sighed, a deep intake of breath that rose from the recesses of her chest. There was always a test on her endurance, her patience, her tolerance, her tenacity! She had reached the level of self-actualization after many years of self –sacrifice moreover, pain.
Yes! She had turned away in despondency on many occasions. She had wished and prayed that all her problems would dissipate in her unselfish and all consuming devotion to the Almighty. She had lamented and prayed, bowed in prayer and raised her hands in veneration. She cried on the mercy and blessings, on the intercessions of the Prophet and all of Almighty’s saints and angels to ease her burden. There were times when she gave up in frustration and impatience wondering why he did not listen to her supplications. It was then that she turned away in anger. She felt that there was no God. She felt abandoned in her hour of need even if God listening to her. How often did her friends from all religions comfort her? Their words of solace were, ‘Pray!’
It was at one such weak moment of abandonment that a very opportune moment inspired her with quiet words of comfort. She knew then that the Almighty would never leave her side.
Afroze was a child of the universe! Her mind consumed the words of all religions and philosophies that inspired her to be vociferous and eloquent. Many sipped her words as she inspired, encouraged and consoled. Sometimes she wished she followed her very advice as she hid behind the veil of pain and deceit.
Witnessing the marriage of a friend in a church, she was impressed when the words ‘Footprints’ were emblazoned on an ornate door. Her curiosity tickled her feet to step towards the words encrypted against a backdrop of the rising sun and footprints imprinted on the sand of the shore. The words screamed in her mind now. Her faith and everlasting companion will always be beside her.
In your darkest and weakest moments, God is carrying you.
She raised her head heavenwards, ‘Was the All Forgiving and Merciful carrying her now?’
She looked at the decrepit figure among the shadows of darkness and new, the Almighty was where her Footprints would always belong. She new, that her faith was unwavering. This awakening strengthened her belief and resolve; that all she had patiently awaited was finally upon her.
This was her choice! This moment… she turned towards the gleaming orbs … this moment was hers to do with as she wished. The world was in her hands. The glimmer in his eyes was unmistakable. He was sure he had finally won by working on her feelings of guilt and repressed disillusionment. Her smile was deliberate and played around her lips!
copyright: Fiona Khan