What was that!?
“I swear I heard it before,” she whispered.
“No Meena, it’s just your imagination”, the mother replied.
“But maa, I did, why don’t you believe me”, Meena insisted.
The mother seemed like she was tired. “Meena!” Her voice just a notch higher. “For God’s sake! There is no one. Your baba is out and it’s just me and you. Please, try to recollect yourself and get some rest. You worry me.”
Meena was silent. She graciously accepted the blanket her mother was so bent upon wrapping around her.
May be she did need rest. May be it was all ‘nerves’ like the doctor had said. She needed rest, he said. Meena had always found it difficult to ‘not’ do something. She was the most fidgety child her parents had had. Her energy often tired them out when she was younger.
“Dr. Ikram said you need to sleep properly Menu Jaan”, her mother’s voice was soft and low again. “Especially when you take your medicines.”
Mother sat beside her bed and brushed her loving fingers through Meena’s hair.
“My darling daughter, you are such a fighter. But please understand these medicines are good for you. You don’t need to fight them”, she looked to Meena the most loving way only a mother could look.
“You’re right maa… I’m just… I just need some… sleep…” Meena’s voice trailed off as sleep took over. “Stay with me… will you, maa?”
“I’m right here.” The mother reassured her.
Just then, there was a loud clamping and cluttering of doors unlocking, opening and then closing.
“Meena!” A man’s voice called out.
“Meena Jaan! I’m home!”
The man marched in the room where Meena tried to sleep, tucked in as if the winter cold was the most painful memory of this winter.
“Meena Beti, I’m home. Get up now love. I’m hungry. You can’t sleep all day. You must eat something or you will fall sick.”
“Baba!” Meena woke up angrily. “I do not understand what you or maa want from me! One wants me to sleep, the other wants me to get up! Why can’t you just settle this once and for all! I’m so tired…” tears welled up, “I’m just so tired because you two can’t make up your minds! It’s driving me insane!”
The man who Meena called Baba looked back at her. Blank. Sad. Speechless.
He left the room quietly and Meena just “umph-ed”, turned the other way round haughtily and tried again to sleep.
He came to the corridor where the telephone was installed. With resignation, he picked up the phone, dialed a number and spoke.
“Dr. Ikram, it’s me, Saadiq Riaz. I think…” his voice breaking. “I think I can’t take it anymore…” Pause. “Yes.. yes… you were right about Meena. Her hallucinations are getting worse. She sleeps all day and says her mother asks her to sleep and rest.”
Pause, as someone spoke on the other end.
“… but it seems like she has forgotten that her mother passed away just two months ago…” Pause.
“… My daughter is not crazy Dr. Ikram!” Saadiq raged. “She’s the only one I have now…” again softening.
“Okay, I will bring her to the clinic tomorrow. Jee… Jee… “ as doctor continued a couple of instructions. “Okay doctor. We will see you tomorrow. Rab Rakha.” Click. Saadiq placed the old telephone’s ear piece back on to the phone cradle.
And so, the world went on deeper into the night, as Saadiq sat alone in an unknown room of a house quite unidentifiable among so many houses in that small town.
Meena slept on and on, bringing her mother back to life, if only in her dreams.
The candles in their room burned well into the night, as Saadiq also fell asleep. A brief refuge from his worries.