I stare at the surrounding through the window, the sunlight makes rainbow diamonds that dance upon the canvas while the wind pushes the car with no avail. In the silence I could hear the wind sweeping around and the breeze moving back and forth making my long, curly and brown hair fall into my face. The car moves over the highway, light on full beam since Abba couldn’t see well and was stubborn to put on his driving glasses. I watch over the yellow but bright light on the sky, the road is a black velvet ribbon draped over twilight hills, I believe these roads were built in the days of wealth and grandeur since they were wide enough for several lanes of cars in every direction.
From where I sit, the road is an endless river of tarmac being baked under the relentless sun, the surrounding is indeed peaceful, the trees sway left and right in a dancing motion, buildings and buildings pass through in a blur, the sky is bright and the sun shining even brighter. I let my eyes run over each hue, seeing all the imperfections I hadn’t noticed all these years I passed through this road, it feels as though every detail was created by an artistic hand making it even more fascinating.
The atmosphere in the car isn’t the same; the silence is heavy and thick making me feel out of place just like a pepperoni that had mistakenly made its way onto a Margherita pizza. The only sound that can be heard is of the roaring engine, the Indian music playing in the background as if in a sad Bollywood movie and the sound of my siblings and Ammi; clicking away on their electronic devices eyes not even glancing above, apart from Abba who had his eyes fixated on the road. My entire family decided to tag along as I was attending a university seminar this weekend, one of Abba’s close friends put in a good word for this seminar rambling on about the course advisors and doctors who would give advice and recommendations regarding studying in the medicine field. I had no interest whatsoever in medicine or in touching people’s lungs and livers. Nasty. However, Abba and Ammi had a certain dedication towards it and felt as though my entire life should be spent in a hospital looking after patients.
Despite being so close we were far away, it was always the same. I debate on whether or not to make small conversation.
“Abba, how long till we get there?”
A short response.
We continue to move in uncomfortable silence, the trees passing by swiftly. All of a sudden, we feel the car slowing down hearing the sound of the engine coughing as though trying to clear the awkwardness in the air.
“Did you check the engine? The petrol? The road? The maintenance?” Ammi asks a gazillion stressful questions indirectly blaming Abba who seems equally stressed and frustrated.
“Yes I did, I do know how to take care of MY CAR!”
“Oh no! Here we go again! Abba and Ammi please, I already feel quite confused.”
Zainab, my older sister pipes in asking them to calm down, I wasn’t used to this kind of support, I stare at her as though a miracle was performed. We hop out of the car one at a time, trying to figure out what we were going to do or at least what is happening. Everything seemed normal with the looks of it, but doesn’t everything look good from the outside?
We look all over, unaware of what to do. I take out my phone and it seems as though we are in some Bollywood cliché; there is no network and my phone is at 20% meaning this is going to be a very long weekend!
Ammi and Abba take a glimpse, straining their faces. Hopefully they get along and reduce their childish but cute arguments. I gaze at my siblings thinking perhaps they would know what to do.
“Hey Zainab, ummm… what are we going to do next? Maybe distract Zahra and let her stay in the car so she doesn’t get afraid?” I know we will have to converse one way or another since we are going to be spending time together.
“Fatimah, I know we don’t talk much and since we are finally alone I was thinking… are you sure about what you’re going to do? Do you honestly want to pursue Medicine and go for this seminar? Maybe this is some sort of message from fate, aren't you an NGO or social service person.”
How does she know what my likes and dislikes are? I personally have no clue on what I want to pursue in life.
“How do…” before I can go on with the conversation I notice Ammi and Abba approaching from a distance.
“We found a cottage at a small distance with a little network, an old lady rented us her cottage. We called the car mechanics, they’ll take at least 8 hours to arrive and by the time they fix the car; we probably have to spend Saturday over. Ooof!”
“Wait what? But I need to be in the seminar in like less than an hour, what even ugh?”
“We can’t do anything Beta,” did Ammi just call me beta? She rarely called me that, the last time was during summer break when I wanted an ice cream cone but she was scared of the cavities.
I nod my head unfamiliar on how to respond, since everyone had decided to drop me off we had carried an extra pair of clothing and personal items. We therefore decide to take out our belongings, Abba carrying Zahra on his back so she doesn’t get up, and get moving towards the cottage.
I admire cottages, they had such a homely feel and being located in the middle of nowhere made it much better.
Would spending time with my family in a cottage be homely?
We walk a short distance of approximately 100 meters as Zainab described, she always has a thing with distance and time. Wait isn’t that related to physics? I have no idea. When we approach the cottage, everyone holds their breath as if finding inner peace, we stand there and cherish the breathtaking view taking a mental picture of it.
It appeared straight out of a fairy tale book with a happy ending. It looks old, dusty and rusty but that is what made it look welcoming. The entire house is made of dark red bricks, the floor made up of wood and the roof looked like it was made of marble stone, so old making me wonder how it hasn’t caved in. We step inside, it has a tiny stove, small wooden chairs around a circular medium sized table, on the other corner of the room are 2 mattresses and a room to relieve yourself, that was about it. It is surrounded beautifully by Vines, hedges and honeysuckles, the door is the color of chocolate, the paint had dried, bits of it falling off. Then came a narrow path with small pebbles, tiny pods, little ducks and maybe even a frog. Due to the scorching sun, the grass made a marvelous greenish yellow color, two huge trees are on each corner of the cottage and a family of squirrels had found home in them. The cottage seems so alive and welcoming with a warm ribbon of smoke trailing from the old crusty chimney, it is small and elegant.
Abba places Zahra on one of the mattresses precisely the way he always did when she fell asleep in the car.
“Ammi, Abba and Zainab …” I feel some sort of confidence tickle my body, I had always kept mum perhaps this is the right time to bring it up. Right after I say those words I am interrupted by a childish cry that sounded like Zahra.
We turn back simultaneously, noticing Zahra on the ground. Blood tricking down her knee in little drops one at a time. It looks scary, the sight of blood always makes me nauseous, I think to myself how I’d pursue medicine if even the slightest sight of blood made me petrified.
“Fatimah! Grab the first aid kit, we need to help her before it forms a wound.”
“Abba, how am I supposed to do this, the site of blood makes me feel some way.”
No one utters a word, I spot Zainab's face filled with sympathy as she completely understands my situation. I pass a sad smile her way and she returns it back.
Ammi hurries with the first aid kit as Abba takes out a band aid to put on Zahra’s wound.
We settle on the wooden chairs trying to normalize the situation making Zahra forget about her wound. Just then, an old lady walks in with a tiny replica of herself as if looking at a time travel mirror, she is beautiful but looks tired, old and poor. The child looks scrawny with an oddly grown up look on her face, though scrupulously clean she dresses in a weird assortment of miss matched clothes, her scruffy sandals look so out of place and for such a mild afternoon her toes hung out more over their ends. The old lady looks like an older version of her daughter, her thin sweater is loose and baggy at the elbows, it has an appearance of clothing that is overdue for a wash and the weathered lines on her face seem to mirror the creases on her shabby green pants.
“Who are these people Abba?”
“They are the kind women who rented us this cottage.”
How could they look like this when they had such a magnificent
and home-like cottage?
“We hope you’re having a good time. Here are a few fresh vegetables, fruits and water for tonight, we shall search for more food and get it by morning, it has been quite some time since we had visitors and therefore aren’t prepared.”
“We are thankful for the help you have provided us with at such short notice.”
They offer us identical grins and walk away. How it is possible in this universe for someone who could look so happy from the outside to feel so sad from the inside? We had billions of people around the world, many of whom are rich and can afford to help such unfortunate families. Why is it that the people with no fault seem to be the ones who are punished while, the rich who have committed countless crimes sit at home in their mansions and continue to commit the same crimes over and over again?
I feel a sudden urge to help them, make them feel better, give them everything I possess so that they could be happy, not only from the outside but from the inside as well.
What could I do?
“Abba and Ammi, why is it…?”
“It’s too late right now, we can discuss this tomorrow.”
The entire night goes by thinking about the question over and over. How can I help them?
There is a tenseness in my muscles that makes me more of a mannequin on the soft, fluffy mattress than an actual human with flesh and bones. I desire to melt onto the soft foam, wrapped in eider-down and drift into the world of dreams. Yet, my brain is a violent whirl of stupidity trying to organize all the thoughts forming chaos in my mind. The world outside teases me with its silence; everyone and everything sleeps peacefully, except the owls and I. The stress spreads through my mind like ink on paper. I take in a deep, ragged breath before shutting my eyes and trying to drift into dreamland.
I wake up to the sunlight shining under the door like a halo of golden rays, this morning isn’t gray but a soothing lavender and amber. The first ray of sun shines through the dense green trees turning the strangeness of the night into a peaceful morning, a fleck of sunlight glitters through the window pane and reflects light onto the small cottage. A welcoming aroma hits my nose just like the fried eggs and hot milk we had every Sunday morning, I force myself to wake up and notice everyone sitting on the table having breakfast accompanied by the two women from yesterday.
“What time is it?”
“It is 11 a.m. You were sleeping peacefully, we didn’t want to wake you.”
I smile in return and join everyone on the table realizing they were having a serious conversation regarding something, the car men had visited earlier when i was asleep, inspected it and said it would be ready by tomorrow morning meaning we would be leaving on Sunday instead. I was surprised by the happiness that overtook me when I realized we were extending our stay. The two women sat down mirroring each other’s moves, both faking their smiles.
“Excuse me, how long have you had these cottages?”
“We built them 10 years ago. Since it is at a proximity to the highway, when in need people take shelter paying a small amount, which helps us provide for ourselves.”
“Has the thought of renovating the cottage and advertising it flow to your mind?”
“It has never occurred to us, maybe we could talk about it while we show you around after breakfast?”
“There’s no need…”
Pristine and pure, the stream runs over the rich, brown and untouched soil that leads deeper into the tree, the sound of trickling water sends soft chills down my spine as I stare at the beauty ahead, the light paints my skin so warmly and the trees are dancing women, each in dresses more fancier than any famous designer could craft. They move, choreographed by the wind in perfect harmony, they are the life and soul of the afternoon. Grass covers the land slick like hair, each strand dripping heavily with the water flowing down the waterfall. Rainbow colored flowers are dazzling in the breezy air while the lush green leaves are dancing higher in the light blue clear sky. To make it perfect, the sun sent an army of light emphasizing on the beauty of the environment.
I wonder how I have never been here.
We sit down on the pebbles admiring the waterfall.
“I feel as though anyone who would visit this place would be mesmerized, with good advertising and renovation you could be able to build many cottages and perhaps create a good home for those tourists who wish to enjoy nature and find peace.”
“Isn’t it all too much work child? Who would be willing to help us, I want to give my daughter a good life but I am unable to find the right opportunities.”
“There are various organizations that would love to work with you, they pay for the expenses and all you got to do is provide them with a small part of your profit. If you desire you may even take up a loan and pay it back in installments when you’re ready. I would love to do some research and help.”
“Could you lend me your number and I could contact you once I make a decision?”
“Let me show you around the forest.”
The forest hums with life, I twirl gazing at the canopy, searching for the birds that sing sweetly. The sun breaks through the cracks; lighting up the dirt path ahead of me, decorated with roots, wildflowers and fallen leaves that leave a crunch when I move forward. How time passes when you’re surrounded by nature, it was already evening. The scent of pine mingles with the breeze, little frogs croaked from a distance as all the animals on every corner of the forest wait for the dark to communicate with one another.
I feel at home.
The next day arrives and none of us seem to have the heart to leave. We thank the owners giving them a hug as I remind the old lady to give me a call.
We take a last glance at the marvelous, peaceful surrounding and enter the car, as i open the door Abba looks at me “Fatimah, what if we forget the seminar and maybe look up universities related to social services and humanity?”
I was shook, I look at Ammi and Zainab who wink at the same time while Zahra gives me a childish grin.
Being quarantined with my family was the opposite of what I expected it to be.
I am home.