An Interview With My Protagonist, Alok

A Your Echoes In Space Presentation: An Interview With My Protagonist, Alok

Words and Pictures by © Mazzy Khatun 2017 

 

His eyes were dark and reassuring, two pits of ancient coal. I could taste the light and fire sealed inside them. I cleared my throat, ready to write.

‘Where do your stories come from, Alok?

A koel perched on the window ledge. He glanced over, gave a soft smile. ‘You know that place, you know it well.’

‘Are you talking to me or the bird?’ I grinned, chewed my lips.

He turned and looked at me, tenderly, meaningfully. ‘Far off places that are close by. That’s where my stories first yawn. Oceans, forests, caves; places near to the heat and heart of the earth, so near that if you ask they will tell you everything, they will remember for you as far back as the beginning of things.’

‘What you mean to say is that stories come from deep within us.’ I shifted in my rattan chair.

‘Where else?’ He chuckled.

‘Any stories you would like to tell me that have inspired your own writing?’

He searched my face, my eyes. ‘All the ones mingled with my mother’s voice.’

‘Your mother was a storyteller?’

‘She was. She is.’

I tapped my pen on my knee. ‘What stories of hers do you remember?’

He leaned back, sighed. ‘Myths, legends, fairy tales, folk tales, tales of long ago when people wore bearskin and conch shells and gathered round roaring fires.’

My eyes widened, glimmered. ‘That is an impressive list.’

When he smiled a dimple appeared on his left cheek. It felt familiar. ‘I’ve hardly begun. And then there was – there was One Thousand And One Nights.’

When he smiled a dimple appeared on his left cheek. It felt familiar. ‘I’ve hardly begun. And then there was One Thousand And One Nights.’

When he smiled a dimple appeared on his left cheek. It felt familiar. ‘I’ve hardly begun. And then there was – there was One Thousand And One Nights.’

 

One Thousand And One Nights?’

‘You know it, you know it very well.’

I nodded. ‘I know I do.’

He raised his hand, and with his index finger traced a spiral in the air. ‘A story within a story within a story…’

I imagined the teller of those tales. ‘Scheherazade.’

‘Yes. Scheherazade.’

I clicked my tongue. ‘She told stories as if she were a daughter of infinity.’

He smiled. ‘Yes.’

I looked up at the fan, whirring. A car honked outside followed by the curses of a street vendor. Good old Kolkata. ‘You know, Alok, I remember them: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Aladdin, and The Fisherman and the Jinn, and The Cat and the Crow.’

I looked up at the fan, whirring. A car honked outside followed by the curses of a street vendor. Good old Kolkata. ‘You know, Alok, I remember Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Aladdin, and The Fisherman and the Jinn, and The Cat and the Crow.’

I looked up at the fan, whirring. A car honked outside followed by the curses of a street vendor. Good old Kolkata. ‘You know, Alok, I remember them: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Aladdin, and The Fisherman and the Jinn, and The Cat and the Crow.’

 

He came closer. ‘Yes, but which one was your favourite?’

I met his gaze. ‘Why do you ask, Alok?’

‘Because you are making me, right now, right this moment. I am so real that I want to know more about my storyteller. Her story. Your story.’

I reached up to my left cheek, felt the coal pit in the dimple of my smile, so fertile with light, ready to shine out to the world.

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Snow, A Christmas Tale

christmazzy-2016

 

Christmas morning whispered into my ear.

I wriggled and turned on my back, and though my eyes were still kissed down tight with delicious sleep, I let myself rise. Sat on my bed, I stretched and grinned, a grin made of home and comfort and Amma’s old hands. I must have been smiling like that for a long time, because soon I felt the edges of my room wanting to come apart, releasing me and everything in it into the air.

My eyes flickered open.

Something had changed.

I glanced around the room. Even in the grey dimness I saw that an immense stillness had entered the heart of objects. My copy of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the brass figurine of Horus, the bells from Nepal, each and all, now gazed at me in perfect pause. When I picked up the bedside clock and pressed it against my ear its ticks came out muffled, as though it had lived its previous life somewhere on a deep seabed.

With a sharp turn I eyed the chink between the curtains.

And there I saw what my heart had desired all year long. I knew of that rareness that glittered between the drapes.

Overnight, the world had grown a skin forged of starlight.

Leaping up from my bed I rushed to the curtains and opened them wide.

Snow! It was snow!

As far as the eye can see.

It was so thick and fresh and crisp, that I was certain that the whole world was covered in it.

I must have jumped a few times in excitement, then darted out of my bedroom door, and ran down the stairs, missing three steps at a time, before dunking my feet into my Wellington boots and pulling on my duffel coat.

‘Moni, where do you think you are going?’ Amma had one hand on her chubby hip whilst in the other she held an open box of cornflakes.

‘Amma, please –‘

‘You can’t go like that!’ She waddled over to the wooden chair and from under her shawl she grabbed her red woolly scarf and flung it at me. ‘We don’t want you catching a cold now.’

I caught the scarf and swiftly wrapped it round my neck. ‘Thank you, Amma!’ I beamed a smile at her.

She shook her head, chuckled and swung back to prepare breakfast.

Sliding the latch off, which seemed to take forever, I finally pulled the door open.

The air was clarity itself, laced in ice and quiet, as if history had not found it yet. Chimney tops and the tips of the highest branch, and even the sky itself, all sparkled pristine white.

I drew a long breath in and stepped foot onto the garden path, the sharp crunch under my boot the loudest sound for miles. I took another step and this time I dug my boots down further. I was curious to know if my other world still existed, whether it remained in slumber underneath the white.

As I was about to walk on I discovered that I was not alone. A robin redbreast dipped and dived overhead. It finally perched its tubby little body on the snow-cloaked needle of the spruce tree at the bottom of the garden. He looked in my direction and started to chirp, and with each note a few flakes, like chippings of stars, scattered down below.

I giggled and hopped over to the tree, my woolly red scarf bouncing along, and only once did I glance over my shoulder, just so to admire my trail of deep-set footprints.

The robin sang its sweet song.

And the scarf and I twirled underneath him.

Two red voices in a new world.

 

Words & Image by Masufa (‘Mazzy’) Khatun | Winchester | UK 2016

Write Away: Lata Ji’s Eid Greeting Arrived Today!

Believe me, Good Magic does want to happen. It only needs the right sort of heart, a pure heart, for a match to be struck, a cosmic spark to ignite, and in exceptional cases a warm and enduring friendship vivaciously simmers and prances out of that mixture as if it were the beginning of everything. Not hardship, nor burden, the storybook of our lives is revised accordingly as it becomes an ounce weightier, basking in the glory of a new chapter, personified as so in the face of the friend whose world is waiting to be known by us.

Last year, I went to board a train from Birmingham to Winchester, a particularly long slog made all the more dreary because it turned up on the platform nearly an hour late in which time I was being mercilessly whipped about by icy rain and howling winds, my cheeks and ears transmogrifying their colour a shade closer to a recently-picked radish!

It was a fated journey. I met a stranger on a train, however it was destined not to end there, the story resisted being anything but a fleeting and forgetful wisp. Lata ji was an elderly lady of Asian descent who was sat all by herself by the rain-drenched window, her frail hands nervously crossed and clamped down on her handbag, and her tied-up bun flashing streaks of grey and silver that reminded me of my own Amma. Before I had even opened my mouth to ask her permission to take the seat next to her I already knew deep in my gut that by the time I stepped back onto the familiar Winchester platform neither of us would remain quite the same as when we had first boarded the train.

In this complicated age where the masses are daily letting themselves be hypnotised by the flickering and flicking of images on screens that fit neatly in the palm of their hands, channelling all attention to voraciously scooping up as much information as possible on the lives of other people and their movements, all I wanted to do was to sit and read. It was not to be so. Every force imaginable held me back from finding what I wanted. I struggled to reach for my novel in my bag that was unashamedly squashed by plastic containers of food and presents given to me by my affectionate relatives, and after wriggling and poking my fingers as far deep as I could possibly go, I gave up. I was making an enormous racket, fidgeting in my seat, and carelessly letting my elbow trespass over my seat so that it brushed against the lady next to me. How embarrassing was that?!

And that was when the match was struck! One knock of my elbow tapping on the elbow of the lady next to me, and there it was, a reason sprung in my heart to speak, to reach out to her, I had to, and in hindsight, I am tempted to say that perhaps I did not want to find my book after all. She was too much like my own Amma and I could not let her sit on a tediously dull and long train journey without some company.

She had no smarty pants phone. Neither did I. Already we were on the same platform! While the entire carriage of people were busily glued to their devices, only once breaking off from its spell to return to the outside world when the ticket master floated by, Lataji and I began our banter with that classic and universal British icebreaker, the subject of weather! A miserable grey, wet day, that gave the impression that train windows could weep buckets of tears too, the both of us fiercely condemned its gloomy antics and agreed that warmer and sunnier climes could not come any sooner! We told each other of our families, and since I had my camera I swelled up with excitement at the prospect of bringing my descriptions and anecdotes alive with the pictures I had taken. I frantically dug out my camera to show her all my relatives from Birmingham. I do not think she saw, or was conscious of, how I discreetly watched her eyes light up with the fire of new knowledge as I rolled through the digital reel of my camera. I do believe it was the first time that I had the pleasure of observing directly what wonderment my visual narrative world had on a reader. It was infinitely more rewarding than a million Facebook ‘Likes’. Exuberantly terrific and uplifting, I was inside a magical circumstance that ought to have been honoured, but I did not know how, so I walked deeper into the present, living and loving every moment of the conversation that I shared with this adorable old lady.

Our voices weaved through many subjects that ranged from our hobbies, jobs, famous books and their authors, the maritime history of the south of England, ancient tapestries and the romantic moors of Yorkshire. You see, she came from the north, I from the south, and yet our harmonious conversation was as if we had resumed it from where we left off many years ago. Beautiful evidence that geographic distance was a powerful illusion, we were talking away as if we came from a mapless world altogether.

I like remembering how we laughed together on that journey, we did not have to think about how to do that, they came naturally and freely, at times our chuckles made a big show of just how authentic they were as I became helpless and shed a tear or two of joy, disintegrating my eyeliner with triumph! We had been friends for a long time, in spirit, and it took this one journey on a train to finally satisfy the conventional sensory diet of our everyday eyes.

As I was nearing to Winchester we both knew well what we would ask of each other. I looked at her tiny phone, she looked at mine, and we decidedly grabbed for a pen and paper and exchanged addresses and numbers. I promised that I would write her letters and explained to her that I had a great many pen-pals around the world. At first she was surprised that someone of my more youthful generation still dabbled in epistolary modes of communication. I replied that I was born in the wrong time, and she laughed and patted me on the arm, although I suspect very much that she always knew that. She had decided, somewhere along in the journey, that I was too much of a lovable eccentric, the girl who defiantly chose to walk apart from the crowd, and that is why it was not that difficult for her to see why I still stocked letter-writing stationary on my desk and kept a diligent eye out for the post.

After a farewell tied in warm hugs and good wishes, as authentic as Amma’s, I jumped off the train and onto Winchester platform, waving fondly at Lata ji as her train pulled out of the station and made its way to Southampton. She was visiting a friend. A few days later I gave myself the chance to show Lataji that I was a woman of her word. I kept my promise and wrote her a letter, and at Christmas time she sent one back to me. You can read that story and sample her heartfelt letter in my WordPress blog ‘On The Matter Of A Red Letter Day Because Two Strangers On A Train Became Friends!

Though I am busy these days engaged in preparatory research work for my postgraduate degree for September, as well as, making the most of the summer holidays by trotting off on mini adventures with my mates, I returned home today and before I dumped my bags on the dining room chair I momentarily forgot how to breathe. I had spotted the tell-tale, bright red envelope glowing like a supergiant star from the far end of the table. I tussled with myself about what to do first. Should I freshen up or read the letter? I opted for a compromise. I drank a cup of water and then I sat down and carefully peeled open the rectangular piece of papery ruby.

I shed tear after tear after tear of joy. My dearest Lata ji had sent me an Eid card. Its cover, in delicate and economical strokes, depicted an orange sun peering from between the fronds of sloping palm trees, below two shores flanked still waters while a girl braved a bridge, a yoke across her shoulder, and on each a wide basket of goods hung down. It magnificently summarised the essence of Arundhati’s spirit and the burden of the unknown that she must face on this journey. The beautiful letter that accompanied the card did little to deviate from the theme. Lata ji asks me of the varied challenges of my own life and she makes it clear that she is of the faith that I have the power to overcome them. To this day Lata ji has no access to my WordPress world and therefore she has no clue of what I have been up to of late. In light of that fact, I am awestruck, I am a miniature thunder of applause, I am breathlessly ecstatic and I am more things to which I cannot frame the words to because the computer will go positively bonkers if I keep doing that, but, I am truly satiated to the roof with invincible proof that the truest of friendships are a population of skilled mind readers.

I have yet to write to Lata ji to let her know that I had applied and have been accepted to study a postgraduate degree in Writing for Children, and that when September rolls in the storybook of my life is about to get happily weightier. Should I tell her or should I let her read my mind?

I think I will buy more First Class stamps tomorrow… ♥♥♥

Write Away: Lata Ji’s Eid Greeting Arrived Today!

“… I returned home today and before I dumped my bags on the dining room chair I momentarily forgot how to breathe. I had spotted the tell-tale, bright red envelope glowing like a supergiant star from the far end of the table…”

Write Away: Lata Ji’s Eid Greeting Arrived Today!

“… It magnificently summarised the essence of Arundhati’s spirit and the burden of the unknown that she must face on this journey…”

Write Away: Lata Ji’s Eid Greeting Arrived Today!

“… I am truly satiated to the roof with invincible proof that the truest of friendships are a population of skilled mind readers…

Write Away: Lata Ji’s Eid Greeting Arrived Today!

“… I shed tear after tear after tear of joy...”

Photography & Words: © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | My Home | Winchester | UK 2016

The Dreaming Chapter 13: I, River

Mr Penton sat back in his leatherback black chair. His calm, scrutinising eyes were trained on his team of agents who were all busily punching away at their complicated keyboards, their faces lit up by the twitching graffiti of ghostly lights emanating from their screens in front. Mr Penton was present, and yet was not present in the room, for his mind, a vast cave-like realm as secret as the museum itself, toiled and twisted in thoughts that he had not spoken of to anyone. So lost was he in a wisp of memories that it took him away from the room, to somewhere else, a place peacefully absent from the raging kaleidoscope of blinking lights and clattering twirls of recording reels of tape.

A part of him must have somehow latched back onto the present, and he realised again where he was. Closing his eyes shut so that he may open them again and renew his focus on the task that lay before him, Mr Penton slowly, but deeply, rubbed his neck down with his hand, a discreet effort to keep haunting worries buried beneath him where no one would find them. Then he opened his eyes again with a sigh that sounded as if it were a breeze that had escaped from the centre of the earth. He tried to conceal his surprise at finding that he was not alone in his space. The assistant was stood facing him, expressionless, his hands behind his back. Mr Penton sat himself up straighter.

I am deeply sorry to disturb you, Sir.

Mr Penton found it highly amusing that his assistant should say that. “And what do you think you had disturbed?

The assistant did not bargain on having such an awkward question thrown at him and he stammered for an answer. “Erm, well, I th-thought, erm, you were, you….. 

Mr Penton shook his head in feigned exhaustion and smiled. “At ease, for goodness sake, man!” To that the assistant jolted his back straight and he became as straight as a ruler. “At ease does not mean tensing yourself up more than you were before.” Mr Penton gave up and leaned back on his chair again. The assistant loosened up, but only slightly. “So, what of the mission so far?

Agent King Kong –

Ah, yes, always was a fan of his work!” Suddenly Mr Penton remembered the time he trained the little monkey how to securely operate headset technology whilst swinging through trees of extraordinary height.

Yes, well, erm, Agent King Kong has been successful in diverting The Froggies away from the girl, however, based on the latest satellite imagery it appears that the enemy quartet has not only encountered a violent fall down a vertical terrain of significant gradient, but that they are now closer to two branches of the Krishna Gandaki River. This does not look good, Sir.

Mr Penton did not seem to be irritated or unnerved by the news. Instead, a slight curl rose at the end of his lips, an embryonic smile tinged with joy that was as elusive and untouchable as the floating mesh of fresh dawn fog. “At least the girl is safe”.

But, Sir – and I do beg your pardon if I seem to be talking out of turns here – but our priority is The Shaligram Ammonite!” Although the assistant had plenty more to add to his bubbling protest, he was stopped short by Mr Penton’s immediate change of expression, the old man’s eyes now chiselled into a piercing and questioning stare. The assistant frowned and briskly backed off. He was not sure what he had said and something told him that he would not be receiving a straightforward answer either. “I am, erm, I am sor-sorry, Sir.

Remembering where he was again, Mr Penton relaxed his eyes and face, and flexing his hands and fingers before interlocking them, the two index fingers like pillars pointing into his chin, he spoke with a measured authority that was spectacularly effective. “Let me be the one to worry about our priorities. You may return to your workstation, and keep me informed.

The assistant could not tell whether the old man was cross with him, or was he being reassuring. Either way, no words would come to him and he simply nodded before turning around and quietly gliding back to his seat.

For the next few minutes Mr Penton watched his crew attentively. He had to get up from his seat and wished not to distract anyone or arouse unhelpful interest in his movements. Relieved that all eyes were glued to the screens, Mr Penton carefully slid away from his seat and stood up. Once again he scanned around. No one was onto him. He crept towards the back of the room where the towering columns of mainframe computers whirred away, the huge rotating wheels gaped at him as if they were the eyes of mechanical spies, and a faint quiver shuddered across his shoulders. Undeterred, he remained to walk over to the back corner of the room. A mundane intersection of two walls, the heat of the machines had accumulated here to form an eerie micro-climate, an ignored and muggy and shadowy spot haired by thick, snaky wires trailing around, keen to trip anyone over. Peering out from behind the mainframe tower, taking care not to topple the ominous structure, he checked to see if everyone was working. All was well. He turned away and stepped backwards until his back was against the wall. He sighed, and then put his hand into his pocket and pulled out a small, white envelope. He turned it in his fingers, over and over again. He debated with himself whether he should open it here or not. At last his indecisiveness came to a stop, not out of will, but out of the tiredness from overthinking. The envelope hung expectantly in the charged air, its sides firmly clipped between the fingers of each hand, and in his head he read the typed words on the front, his silent voice as crisp as when walking on thick snow. It read “The Shaligram Ammonite”. Mr Penton flipped the envelope over, opened the unsealed flap and gently pulled out a glossy, monochrome photograph. The cool surface reminded him of hopeful mornings. He could not tell how many times he had looked at her, and of how many times she had smiled back at him.

Under the photograph was a caption strung in tiny, neat typewritten letters.

Her name in full read, ‘Arundhati Mehta Penton’.

As if she were hidden in between the letters, Mr Penton smiled down tenderly. A grandfather’s smile.

*

Leaving the dense, forested worlds of the hills behind her, Arundhati trudged down the slope towards the village. The roar of the great rivers growing louder with her every step it was, however, when she was about half-way down the slope that she realised that the sound of the waters churning and lapping and breaking against the banks rang out not from the world outside. Power beyond power, more earthly than earth itself, the watery drum was beating against her own flesh, it came from inside her, from deep within the spiral canals of her ears. ♥♥♥  

The Dreaming Chapter 13

“… Mr Penton flipped the envelope over, opened the unsealed flap and gently pulled out a glossy, monochrome photograph. The cool surface reminded him of hopeful mornings. He could not tell how many times he had looked at her, and of how many times she had smiled back at him…”

Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Hampshire | UK 2016

 

Jen’s Graduation Day – In Pictures & Words! Yeeehaaaaaa!

This is the only life we know, what comes before and after is obviously a debatable topic, but whilst keeping to the present and what I have known of this life thus far, I am happy to let myself be flogged by conservative ridicule while stating with utter joyous boldness, that there are potentially two births to our name. As we depart from the maternal tunnel into this waterless and breathing world of air, no recollection of the journey is allowed to be engraved, our memories simply refuse to reach back that far, and so it is that our most momentous time is also one that is cocooned in rebellious mystery, a giant gravity of vagueness and void, it the one root adventure we cannot remember, as hard as we may try.

The second birth is a rare one and not all will be fortunate enough to have the means or desire to navigate through its convoluted procession of trials and triumphs. A path that demands solid guts of steel, a fearless disposition that rises against and thrusts through the tide of social conformity, to follow one’s dreams is a battle that teases us to the point of agony and tests us to the death. If pursued with integrity, the reward is always great, for every pace achieved and that takes us forward cries out a new growth of aliveness, a vibrant shout of ascension pushing through the old fabric of living. It is this rebirthing that we have the means, the honour, to remember.

It gives me tremendous pleasure to share tonight the second birthing of my little sister, Jen, as she, today, against many thwarting odds and hefty sacrifices, became a shining and proud graduate of Southampton Solent University. I should have taken more tissues with me, her joy forced us all to let open the waterworks of our eyes, our faces reduced to leaky taps with no intention to close!

Of course, I did not just arrive there with a dress and dotty shoes! Beaming and bouncing around Southampton Guildhall with my trusty camera, a task slightly complicated by my dreadfully disobedient shawl which I then stuffed into my bag to my astounding relief, I caught up with Jen and her fabulous troop of mates, together with the rest of the hobbits of my own family, to create a photographic chronicle of an unforgettable day that swelled and swayed in lively celebrations, a roaring dawn chorus blessed with soaring tasselled hats and loud cheers of rebirthing, and hearty smooches on cheeks that have made me seriously wonder whether Jen and I will ever need a blusher brush again! Ah, yes, I suppose they can be rather handy for dusting off loose, unruly crumbs of bread from inside the toaster! Giggle, twiggle!

Your 158cm Dreamer of all hours,
Mazzy ♥♥♥

Jen's Graduation

My sister’s shoes are manufactured out of a clever mixture of Dark Matter and Lord Vader’s helmet! I know, seriously cool, right?!

Jen's Graduation

Ever wondered what a disco for ravens would look like? Check out this conspiracy of flighty hats!

Jen's Graduation

Jen stood on the shoulders of giants to reach her goal. There was no stepladder in the art department and she could not get to the paint tub on top of the wardrobe. In stepped human resources!

Jen's Graduation

Emotions ran high and tears welled out of eyes and ears and nose with an intensity yet unmatched in the natural world. Here, Ab, seeks cover from a pair of trendy shades!

Jen's Graduation

There are some exceptional people in this world, like my Jen, who can make sinister capes and cloaks that seem to belong to a certain Professor Snape appear as though they are the latest hip trend in street fashion! Girl, what gives?

Jen's Graduation

I cannot tell whether my brother, Sam, is restrainig himself from crying or holding down a burp! Any advances?

Jen's Graduation

Mumsy is everyone’s Mumsy. That is an unquestionable fact! ♥

Jen's Graduation

Once again Sam throws conundrums our way: Is his tummy rumbling for food because he has gone without it for so long, or, is he the first man ever to be expecting with child? Oh boy, that is a toughie!

Photography & Words: © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Southampton Solent University |Southampton | UK 2016

The Dreaming Chapter 12: When A Picture Spoke & Smelled Louder Than Words!

Arundhati spun her head round to face the monkey. She had figured she had no other way out, and therefore rested all her hopes of a swift and safe escape on the little creature, hoping that he would help her out in some way unknown to her. Her raised spirits were, unfortunately, quickly dashed as she saw before her was an empty spot, a dreary nothingness that made her gulp hard, and she suddenly became aware that she was horribly alone, a solitary seeker of a profound treasure limply canvassed against the whispering and watchful green leaves of the sal tree. Meanwhile, a sinister gathering assembled directly beneath her now unsteady feet. Arundhati bent down a little to hear better of their feverish banter.

I am so, so sure that I saw that weakling walk this way, she has to be here, somewhere! I’ll be damned if she gets her wormy fingers on what is rightfully ours!” grunted Tall Froggy.

I second to that!” cheered maliciously the youngest of the devilish clan, Baby Froggy.

She can’t outsmart us, four against one, c’,mon!” Papa Froggy spoke and yet he was far more concerned about the structural stability of his newly oiled quiff, smoothing it upwards as if he were negotiating with the terms of gravity itself.

Mama Froggy let out a disciplinary cough to hush everyone up and then stepped in front and locked eyes with her accomplices with a stern and steely stare before pacing up and down, her hands authoritatively locked behind her, which signalled that all ears were to come up on deck. She made it perfectly known that if anyone were to so as much fidget she would gladly release a whack to the nape of the neck of the culprit. A strict regime of silence descended and everyone, Arundhati included, waited with bated breath. She was sure the birds in the sky had frozen up there, too, wings half way between opening and closing.

Mama Froggy had hardly opened her mouth to speak when, by one of the bushes, a monkey jumped out in front at awesome ninja speed! It wore a headset around his head.

WHAT THE – ?!” cried out Mama Froggy and she stumbled and staggered backwards, falling hard on her massive, padded bottom. Dust flew out from all sides of the crash, causing the remaining Froggies to choke and their eyes immediately began to sting.

Aaarghhhh!!! My eyes, I can’t see a bloody thing!” screamed Baby Froggy.

My hair, my hair, how will I live now?!” Papa Froggy was frantically running on the spot, scrubbing his hair up repeatedly to save it from a premature collapse, although it would have been wise to sort his eyes out first, they were completely enveloped in sandy dust.

Arundhati’s heart leapt to her mouth and she smiled and giggled and even brought her hands out to clap, but thought the better of it, she did not wish to give away her location.

Tall Froggy was tall enough to have been spared the dust attack. She was the first one to notice that things were about to get worse for them. “Hey guys, it’s doing something and I don’t like it…

Though it was painful to see anything with their faces and eyes smothered to the rafters in grime of irritating dust, it was obvious to even the dullest of minds that what the monkey had up his sleeves next would be a formidable challenge to any nose of standard biology. The monkey bent his knees and assumed the position of one who was about to sit on the toilet. There was no doubt about it, his face was gleaming in the most marvellous mischievous grin ever observed in the animal kingdom. Very quickly, without The Froggies ever noticing it, the monkey shot a conspiratorial wink at Arundhati to which she flinched, and then it dawned on her of what he had deviously concocted in his tiny little genius brain. She carefully raised her right hand and pinched her nose and confirmed her understanding with a gentle nod.

Stand back…”, said Mama Froggy, her hands shaking. The others obeyed and took a step back.

It was nothing less than a monumental explosion of pure smelliness! The universe was introduced to the second Big Bang, and it came in the form of an ejective bubble of gas comprising of 1% Sulphur, straight out from a monkey’s hairless bottom! A superior module of farting glory! The monkey let out a yawn followed by a smirk of satisfaction, relieved that he had at last disengaged from his system this most annoying baggage of deadweight.

AAAARGGGGHHHHHH!!!!” screamed all four Froggies and they all fell to making the most contorted and screwed-up faces they had ever been forced to express as the odious odour unleashed its terror deep inside the delicate olfactory centres of their brain. Arundhati, on the other hand, was nearly knocked off from her perch, saved only by her fast reflexes.

The Dreaming Chapter 12

“… Arundhati, on the other hand, was nearly knocked off from her perch, saved only by her fast reflexes...”

The monkey knew this was the golden mean of moments, it had to be archived for posterity, so from his side pouch he whipped out his 19th Century foldout camera and, like a gunslinger from the Wild West, he pointed it with precision at the four wobbling figures before him. Pressing down the shutter button was second nature to him, he did it before anyone had realised what had just happened. Arundhati could not resist, she drew her hands together, and quietly clapped from above the branches of the tree. She did get a quick whiff of the smell in that brief moment and knew instantly that she would never be able to articulate to anyone the magnitude of its toxic scent. She speedily clasped onto her nose again.

The Dreaming Chapter 12

“… he whipped out his 19th Century foldout camera and, like a gunslinger from the Wild West, he pointed it with precision at the four wobbling figures before him. Pressing down the shutter button was second nature to him...”

Frogmarched out of the way by the worst sort of bad luck ever befallen on them, The Froggies ran down the hill, or so they tried, for the sting in their eyes had only just settled that their faces now itched terribly, and huge sore lumps began to bulge out like burnt cheese on pizza. Papa Froggy began to sob when he discovered that he had lost a patch of hair from the back of his head. In all this pain they could no longer see where they were going and they tumbled against each other before all four violently rolled down the hill, collecting dust and grass along the way, so that by the time they reached the base each one resembled a Chinese spring roll made out of messy tufts of hairy seaweed!

As if the camera was a juggling ball, the monkey casually threw up his box of light magic into the air, its lens joyfully caught the warm beam of afternoon sunshine, and then it fell down and he caught it in one hand. He turned to face Arundhati and she, in turn, took away her fingers from her nose. The air was clear again. The monkey slipped the foldout camera back into its inconspicuous pouch and stood up to its full height. He was ready to leave. She did not wish to forget his face, never, and without thinking, brought her binoculars up to her eyes to see his face properly. It showed her nothing, only the monotony of black discs. A little saddened, she slowly slid the camera away from her face and as she did so, she raised her right hand to her forehead and sent her little hero the proudest salute she had ever done to anyone. The monkey bowed down, with grace and humility and saluted back at her. It made her feel like a hero for something that she had yet to do. A boat-shaped dimple stretched and shone out from inside the trees to which a white cloud of whiskers fanned outwards from below ground. He skipped backwards and made a short wave before he vanished behind the bushes. Arundhati caught herself wishing that she saw him again, perhaps in another story.

If an ancient scribe of Nepal were to cross oceans of time and had sat and watched the spectacle that had just passed, he or she would have taken note that today was the day that saw four beastly frogs be blown way off course, and all thanks to the joining of two forces, two unlikeliest of friends, Hanuman and Saraswathi…  ♥♥♥     

 

Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Hampshire | UK 2016
Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre |Great Missenden | Buckinghamshire | UK 2016

Turn To Chapter: 5 Diagon Alley in ‘Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone’

It is said in the Magic world that the wielder does not choose the wand, the wand chooses You. Mr Ollivander, an elderly maker of fine wands and whose prosperous and reputed little shop in Diagon Alley has served the wizarding community in Britain for hundreds and hundreds of years, has one day a most intriguing customer pay a visit.

Harry Potter is new to these parts, a world breathtakingly different from the one that he has always known, and yet felt never quite at home in. Donned with round spectacles whose fractured middle is held together by sellotape and a scar streaked across his forehead in the shape of a lightning bolt, Harry is in search of a wand – his wand – so that he may be properly equipped and prepared for his first term at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. No two wands are made out of the same ingredients, Mr Ollivander importantly insists. After a tedious number of failed attempts, Harry finally discovers that one particular wand, when he holds it, makes his fingers tingle with fizzing warmth, and after swishing it down through the dusty air of the little shop – though he does not know how – he causes an effusion of brilliant red and gold sparks to shoot out from the tip of the wand. Both Mr Ollivander and Harry are relieved and pleased, however, the old artisan thinks it is exceptionally curious that the scarlet phoenix who gave away one of its highly potent feathers for the forging of the wand’s internal core had, in fact, given one other feather to another wand. This wand belongs to Voldemort, the arch nemesis of Harry Potter and the cruel murderer of his parents.

Mazzy Tea-Char’s Q: Why do You think the author attempts to establish a connection between Harry and Voldermort in this unconventional way? Answers to be strictly directed to my home address by Owl Post only, and by no later than whatever date You think is wise! Giggle! ♥♥♥

Supplementary Quote: http://i.quoteaddicts.com/media/q4/509764.png

Words: © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Winchester | UK 2016        

The Dreaming: Chapter 11 An Unexpected Trunk Call!

Hello, Arundhati, do you know who I am?

An entire cluster of pink lantern flowers stirred, sifted by a breeze spun out of memories too faded for her to catch the face to whom the voice belonged. Arundhati held her breath and quietly moved the phone away from her ear, only slightly, for she did not want the person on the other side to listen in on her mind frantically working things out.

And do you know who I am?

There was a second person on the other side! It was odd enough to deal with the very confusing prospect of taking a phone call in the middle of nowhere. Arundhati had honestly believed things could not turn any more mystifying than they were already. She was, of course, extremely wrong about that! Now, the resolve in her buckled in. A gnawing vulnerability seethed in its place, because to have two voices poke out at her from the unknown, she reasoned, did a pretty good job at creating the impression that a nasty conspiracy was at foot and that she was alone in her corner. Everyone else, it seemed, had the pleasure of working side-by-side, in pairs or teams, conferring and confiding in each other as they pleased, apart from her, she was the exception.

She could not delay answering any longer, although that did not mean that she was ready to speak either. An incomprehensible mumble escaped her mouth and dribbled into the receiver with flimsiness that resembled lukewarm water. “Erm…

Come on, we haven’t all day! Chop, chop!” The first voice reminded her of the smile of farmers at autumn. The time when they wheel-barrowed into the store house their first golden crop of the harvest. It was a voice that leapt out of the phone and embraced her with unconditional affection and love. Arundhati flicked through her mind as fast as she could. The owner of the voice remained elusive.

Oh my, you do sound familiar! I can’t picture you, though…” Arundhati bit her lower lip and squeezed her eyes down, whilst her thumb and index finger clipped themselves onto the top part of her nose, for she was in deep thought. Not realising it, the toes of both her feet were also tapping against the ground. Every part of her physical being was doing something besides standing still in the hope that it would hurry along the right memory.

It will come to you. Think…Arundhati…” When the second voice, a considered and soft and gently-spoken voice, addressed her by name, Arundhati felt a hundred-fold more unsettled and ashamed. She was sure that these two were most probably exchanging incredulous eye-rolls between them, a perfectly acceptable way to behave, she argued, especially since her tedious dithering was causing her to dislike her own self!

Erm, I’m not having much luck here…”, and then, out of the blue, she was struck by the thought that it had to be at school that she had met these two, for, if there was any place after home that she spent much of her time in, it was there, at school. “Do you know me from school?

What followed was an eerie silence that threatened to fill up eternity. No one spoke.

Erm, hello? Hello? Anyone there?” Once again Arundhati took the phone away from her ear and looked into its screen to see if it was still working. There was no time or date displayed on it, as one would expect on a normal phone. What she saw instead was a counter going up. To her, though, that was a tremendous relief as it meant most likely that the phone was still operational, however, on a more important note, it also suggested that the device was not a ticking bomb! She had seen plenty of movies to be wary of what they looked like. Cautiously nearing the phone to her ear again, she tried one last time and spoke into it. The distinct tremble in her voice made it apparent that she was shaken up. “Hello….?

Oh Pooja, cut it out! Can’t you see our poor friend is miserably stuck?! I can’t do this anymore!

Deflated and a tad bitter, the first voice playfully chided her partner in crime. “Well, now you’ve gone and done it, Pushpa! I was really enjoying the suspense! Duh!

Arundhati suddenly realised that the situation could not be as sinister as she had feared. There was genuine humour in the air between the two callers, a clear signal that from now on in she could carry on more comfortably and lightly. On the other hand, it did little to calm her tempers to learn that she had been made, literally, the butt of their jokes. Her courage restored, she demanded, “Ok, what is this all about?! I am busy with something and you two are holding me back!

You still can’t remember us?! I can’t believe this!” Pooja huffed.

You are right about school, that is where we used to hang out, many years ago…” Pushpa, it seemed, was always more than ready to give away the lion’s share of hints to help out Arundhati.

Arundhati sighed in half-defeat and half-boredom by the dreariness of what was fast becoming the longest guessing game she had ever played. She strained and uttered repeatedly the two new names under her breath. “Pooja… Pushpa… Pooja… Pushpa… Pooja…. Pushpa…”.

You’re thinking about secondary school. Go back to your primary years – Mr Patel’s class…” Pushpa was firmly decided that she would get Arundhati to remember.

Pooja… Pushpa… Mr Patel’s class…”, and suddenly the lightning of the memory flooded back and it shot through Arundhati as though a bullet had pierced her awake from a hundred year slumber, “POOJA, PUSHPA!! Yes, yes, I remember, only barely, that is! Oh my goodness, that was so long ago, many years ago, no wonder I was having all this trouble!” Inside she felt immensely buoyed by the fact that it was perfectly forgivable to forget people from the distant past. She no longer felt like an idiot, after all, it was understandable to have jaded memories of one’s kindergarten years.

The Dreaming Chapter 11

“… A roar of laughter and giggles stormed through the phone from the other side and blared out so loud that a few lantern flowers wobbled mid-air...”

A roar of laughter and giggles stormed through the phone from the other side and blared out so loud that a few lantern flowers wobbled mid-air. Arundhati smiled as she brushed her hand down her face, relieved that she had entered a circle of old friends. What plagued her now was the outbreak of questions bubbling on the tip of her tongue. “How is this possible? Why are you calling me and how did you get this phone number and who was the chap who handed me the phone and does this mean that you are working for The – “ Breathless, Arundhati was cut off. In her head she was still asking them a million more questions.

Ariundhati, Arundhati, stop, stop. Let us explain”. Pooja cleared her throat.

Alright. I’m listening... ”

We’re happy for you, Arundhati. Honestly, we are. We couldn’t think of anyone better to carry out this important mission”. Pooja’s each word seemed as though it had a cut-out hole in it from which she was able to peer through and check up on how Arundhati was taking it all in.

Pushpa seconded her sentiment. “Agreed!” As if she would burst into flames if she kept the next part to herself, Pushpa gleefully added, “And by the way, the ‘Street Vendor’ idea was mine!

Arundhati was at a loss for words. It was like as if she were a little dot floating in an ocean of overwhelming secrets, and the ocean was growing, exponentially, as the clock ticked past the division of each second, piling mystery upon mystery from which she thought at any moment she would be inescapably lost within its depths forever.

After a while, miraculously, Arundhati found her voice. “Your idea?!

We don’t have much time, not on these airwaves”, Pooja spoke hurriedly now, “… and Pushpa, dearie, can you stop gloating about your ideas, there is a time and place for showing off!

You are right, sorry!” Pushpa’s apology was tinged with a smile which beamed out of the excitable skip that could be heard in her voice.

I feel so left out, everybody seems to be two paces ahead of me, having knowledge of things that I don’t.” Arundhati did not mean to come across as a moaner, and soon afterwards was eager to apologise for her impulsive outburst. She tried to say this, but was halted before she could begin. Pooja spoke authoritatively.

It’s important it stays that way, Arundhati. No one in the organisation knows everything. That would be too risky. We are all like you, in that respect, each holding a piece of the answer. But, you have a special relationship with this land, that makes you the binder, gluing all the pieces together, which will eventually lead us to The Shaligram Ammonite.” Pooja purposefully paused, she was well aware that her words were solemn and heavy, and that Arundhati would need a moment or so to pull them in and accept them for what they were.

And right now, we are here to protect you. Danger lurks four paces behind you.” Pushpa could not have said it any more bluntly.

Stop scaring her like that!” Pooja sliced in.

Arundhati snapped round and deliberately scanned the pathway and the trees. She did not want to admit it to her two old friends that her heart was secretly hammering against her chest, that she was scared of what could materialise from the overlapping greenery. What if another shadowy figure were to step out from the whispering leaves? What if this time behind the mask of silence lay a creature of hideous intentions, one who truly wished to bring harm to her?

The phone made a strange cackling sound and Arundhati brought her attention back to her two friends. Her instincts told her that whatever it was that made it possible to make this call was about to be used up. Time was running out, yet she knew exactly what to ask them. “Is someone following me? Please tell me the truth.

The line grew scratchy and the voice faint, and Arundhati could not tell who spoke, but one of them managed to tell her just in the nick of time, “We will help you… now…”, and then the line went dead.

Hello?! Hello?” Pooja? Pushpa? Hello?!

There was no reply.

Arundhati’s heart sank deep down into her stomach and she flung another glance behind her. As far as she could see or hear there was not another person about. Silence descended down, ruthlessly hard and unsparing, onto her nimble shoulders. All at once she could have sworn that she was the only living person on the planet. It was too quiet. Her lips ravaged and parched by the slow-burning panic building up in her belly, Arundhati was about to slide the phone away from her ear and tear down the hill when out of the leafy mass of the sal tree next to her a long furry arm shot down like a brown lightning bolt and rudely scooped the phone out of her hand! She staggered back and nearly fell, yet she somehow managed to catch sight of the five wrinkled digits of a hairy hand, balled into a fist, and the phone glistening from inside its clutches. Before she could make heads or tails of who or what the thief was, it had vanished into the covert thicket of the sal tree.

She sprang back up on her feet and edged closer, on tip-toes, towards the tree, all the while her eyes were wide alert. Something had uncivilly filched her phone and one way or another she was going to find out what it was. She cast a sideways glance at the lantern flowers who were now, it appeared, had taken to a dance of little wriggles from the fixtures of their stems. It was a daft thought, however, one that she could not shake off, and that was, that these flowers, absorbers of secrets, did look much fatter than when she had inspected them previously. Had they already feasted on the knowledge about the culprit responsible for the disappearance of her phone?

A clump of leaves and branches in the centre of the tree shuffled, as if whatever was inside was telling the tree in as explicit a way as possible that there was not enough room for it. A sharp screeching sound came next and then there was nothing, only the now all too familiar silence.

Arundhati was stood under the tree. She choked down her fear and as quietly as possible raised both her arms up and grasped the nearest two branches that were thick and sturdy enough to take up her weight. She pulled herself up and as soon as her feet came off the ground she made sure that they were quick to lift with her and then pressed them against the bark of the tree for support. Resembling a koala on its way up for a nap, Arundhati hovered this way for a few seconds, for she was painfully at two minds about what to do next. She could simply jump down and leg it. The next village was not far. Yet, it was undeniable, she was actually liking all of this. Somewhere along the line she had started to grow attracted to the uncertainty and adventure, and at whatever cost it was, she had now decided that she would expose the identity of the uncouth rascal who was toying with her phone. She pulled herself up further and this time her head scraped through the thick foliage, the odd crooked twig jabbing into her cheeks and a leaf or two tickling the crescent of her ears, until finally she was waist-high inside the green, luminous heart of the tree. It was a cool and dappled world, where everything was tuned to speak in whispers so that even the few patches of sunlight, which had struggled to reach this far, appeared more like shadows of a lighter pigmentation.

The Dreaming Chapter 11

“… She choked down her fear and as quietly as possible raised both her arms up and grasped the nearest two branches that were thick and sturdy enough to take up her weight…”

At first, Arundhati saw no one. Bemused, she held firmly on the branch and swivelled her torso around to look the other way, causing the tree to judder and a few leaves to fall, and that is when she received the shock of her life.

Staring back at her was a small monkey!

The Dreaming Chapter 11

“… Staring back at her was a small monkey...”

An aged chap, his two round eyes shone like fresh amber sap that had been mixed in with copious swirls of honey, and pencilled within their centres a perfect black dot, and all this was set within a greyish-pink pointy face. His lipless mouth was a fine rug of white hairs only just visible, but the rest of his body was a different matter altogether, it was abundantly layered in brown, pink and white hairs, even the tips of his ears, whose overall shape reminded Arundhati of the betel leaves that her Amma could never live a day without. Monkeys trooped everywhere in this part of the world. Arundhati was no stranger to them and to their interrupting and opportunistic ways. What threw her off completely was that this particular monkey had one thing about it that set it apart from every other monkey on the planet, or so she believed so.

Not only was the monkey jerking the phone in its nimble fingers while beaming a proud smile at her, exposing all its pristine white teeth, as if to say that he was far more intelligent than her and that he would always be one step ahead in the game, but that this cheeky imposter was equipped with backup. He wore a headset! A black, plastic headband arced around his tiny head like a rainbow and a padded speaker, a cup dotted with many holes, cushioned against the monkey’s left ear, all of it perfectly adjusted for his comfort. From the base of the speaker a thin black tube extended out so that it curved in line with the jaw, and on its tip was a microphone that looked like a bumblebee without wings.

Oh my goodness! What are you!?” She wondered out loud.

Immediately the monkey brought its index finger to its lipless mouth. “Sssshhhh!

Arundhati’s mouth dropped.

The monkey nodded its head towards something behind her. She rubbed her eyes hard and made them sore, and then looked up again. The monkey and his impressive headset was still watching her intently. He was real! The monkey repeated his nod in the direction behind her and this time she obeyed. She quietly turned around and searched below. What was it that this strange monkey was telling her?

A few seconds later it became clear to her that he was not telling her anything. He was warning her.

Directly beneath the bulbous sal tree in which she and the monkey now hid were stood four people all of different heights. Three words she heard over and over again. The Shaligram Ammonite. For the first time ever Arundhati saw what she, alone, was up against. ♥♥♥

The Dreaming Chapter 11

“… Directly beneath the bulbous sal tree in which she and the monkey now hid were four people all of different heights…”

 

Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Hampshire | UK 2016
Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Herefordshire Adventures | Herefordshire | UK 2016
Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre |Great Missenden | Buckinghamshire | UK 2016

The Dreaming: Chapter 10 The Return Of The King – Sorry – Ring, Ring!

Day blazed into brighter day, and Arundhati came to the Lantern Tree Grove, where the sharp luminosity of the noon sun overhead was proudly companioned and lit up by the presence of numerous and magnificent pendants of delicate pink drops. Lantern flowers. Each flower slanted its head towards the ground, as if addressing something that lay directly below it. It was why the people of these parts agreed that their shape resembled the papery canopy of a night-time lantern, the ones held up by the watchman as he went about making his rounds along the border of his village whilst people slept.

Unsure still of what bridge these lantern flowers served in her finding The Shaligram Ammonite, Arundhati could not escape from her delight in being surrounded by these fine specimens of Mother Nature. She was convinced that she had been born loving flowers from the moment she took her first breath, that she had the power to partition her inhalations so that half of it fed her lungs and the other was shielded from that duty so that it may be kept like a carpet of breeze reserved for carrying the scents of roses and jasmine to her nose. Of course the elders in the village, and her own Amma, on occasion, had laughed out hysterically upon hearing these strange ideas, for, they argued, how could anyone ever possibly remember if they shared a close bond with the floral world from the time of their birth? For Arundhati, these taunts never dealt her any serious blow, and she quite easily dismissed the scoffing ways of the world. As plucky as a bumblebee was to a rose, she, too, stuck to her beliefs in all weathers.

The Dreaming Chapter 10

“… She was convinced that she had been born loving flowers from the moment she took her first breath…”

She crept up slowly to the long wall of leafy shrub before coming to a standstill just inches away from the tinkling audience of lantern flowers. A strange and precautionary urge came over her to be weary and to look all about her. As far as she could tell, she was alone. But it was still hard for her to shake off that unsettling impression that she had been led here, and she soon imagined – which did little to ease her discomfort – that someone was out there, nearby, watching, spying and ticking her name off from their appointment’s diary with a sliver of smugness elasticated across their face. Just to be sure, she peered back up the path from which she had trudged down from. The tea house was firmly out of view now, and turning to face below, she saw the familiar dirt track leading a raggedy course down to the neighbouring village whose edge brushed against a mighty serpent of gushing water. Except it was not one singular vein of water. A short way along the bank and the river divided into two, the larger one running its course straight and out of view as it became engulfed under the over-arching branches of giant bristly conifers, whilst the smaller one, like an arm splintering off in rebellious defiance, wound its way north towards villages that Arundhati had never ventured into. The enormity of the task ahead of her suddenly turning to leaden weight and her feet seeming to grow heavy, Arundhati distracted herself and hurriedly turned round to face the lantern flowers again.

She came in closer to examine their form and realised that they were not enslaved by the whims of the winds. They moved as they pleased. Some of the lantern flowers nodded up and down, others shook their heads, and a few, let their heads touch the one next to it, as if they were talking about a pact or enthralling themselves in the latest schoolyard gossip. A flash of a fond memory trickled into Arundhati’s mind, the time of when she and a few friends of hers had met here after school, and how they had giggled and chuckled as they rushed to share out multi-coloured threads from an old pouch so that each would have the colours they wanted to string out their friendship bracelets. Arundhati’s shoulders jiggled as she smiled to herself, reaching out with the gentlest of touch, stroking the tips of the lantern flowers, half-hoping that they would chime as her fingers tapped and drifted through them, they telling her in unison that they had all indeed watched silently that day when she and her friends had gathered her for the marvellous swapping of threads. “You flowers soak in other people’s secrets, don’t you?” she whispered to one lantern flower. “Look how plump your pretty belly is, fattened up just like the yummy pickle jars in Amma’s cabinet!” She sighed and stepped back and scoured her eyes at all of them, daring to hold onto the chance that perhaps one of the lantern flowers would relent and prise open its fleshy petal body and shed light that would show her the way to the river that she saw in her vision back at the tea house, that vein of black water shown to flow close to the location of The Shaligram Ammonite.

The Dreaming Chapter 10

“… She came in closer to examine their form and realised that they were not enslaved by the whims of the winds…”

She was lost in thought when it dawned on her that she was not alone. The dried leaves on the ground behind her sent out a muffled sound, a rustling of laborious footsteps accompanied by the creaking of mechanical parts. She shot round, just catching her breath in time, to find that a street vendor was stood in front of her. He was not a particularly old man, his face was angular, blackened by the unforgiving sun, his black hair was stuck to his skin by sweat, and he wore a holed vest mucked by dirt and splotches of grease and food, while his blue and white sarong was tied above his navel in a tight bun so that his extraordinarily dark, bony legs and protruding ankles helplessly peered from below, his feet finished off with a pair of stringy flip-flops. His hands were fastened to a cart draped in green cloth and arranged neatly on it, row by row, glittered a handsome crop of antique-tinged wood apple, spiky jackfruit, pomegranates whose cracked ends reminded her of lips prepared to kiss, and yellow persimmons secreted forth by the frothy laughter of the summer sunshine. The cart was held up by four large rubbery wheels positioned on each corner. Patches of brownish-red rust had attacked the axis and spokes, presumably accounting for the screeching sound earlier.

Oh, I am so sorry. I will move out your way, Uncle.” It was a very narrow point on the slope, and she felt terribly oafish that she was obstructing his right of way. Arundhati leaned as far back as she could against the lantern flowers, taking care not to squash any of them in the process, and then gestured the street vendor that he could now pass.

But, he did not.

A fly buzzed down and took the opportunity to forage on one of the jackfruits whose tough outer skin had somehow received a gash, exposing a glimmer of its sticky and sickly sweet interior flesh. Arundhati swore she could hear the fly siphoning the juicy blood of the fruit into its thorax and down into it abdomen. “Excuse me, Uncle, but there is a fly on your jackfruit. Look, over there, can you see it?” The man did not move, yet he had heard her, she knew that. Arundhati felt the hundred scrawling legs of cold fear shuffle up her arms and slither across the sides of her neck. She reached up for her binoculars, slowly and tactfully, all the while slanting her eyes to her right to better understand her escape route. Her feet were already trembling, obeying the desire to flee, and she prayed to herself that he had not caught her in the act of thinking through these thoughts.

Whatever it was that prompted him to snap out of his statue was anyone’s guess, for he abruptly let go of the cart handle and lazily walked round it so that he now was only a few paces in front of her. His eyes were as black and viscous as bat wings, she could not see their pupils. She shuddered. “Is anything the matter, Uncle?” A whip of anger scorched down her throat and into her stomach. She had not meant to speak to him, she was meant to have dashed for it.

A deathly silence, a staunch standoff of crackling electricity, ensued between the two of them. If only his face could break out with a recognisable expression then at least she would derive some relief that whatever it was that she faced now could be bargained with. Alas, the man’s face remained agonisingly wooden, indeed as wooden as the table of his cart. She forced her body now to loosen, the final preparation in its readiness for scrambling down the hill. She was going to run, run away from this phantom figure, this sinister man who seemed to not belong to anywhere.

But he took one step forward.

She had planned to run, instead she maintained her sight on the man and heard herself whisper with concentration, “Help me, Mr Roald Dahl…”.

The street vendor must have heard her whisper, and not only that, he knew exactly what those anomalous words meant, for he nodded decisively towards her binoculars. Quick as a flash, Arundhati tipped her head down and managed to just catch the last of the three red flashes. She gulped and when she looked back up at the man he was wearing a smile that was fantastically camouflaged. Fine flecks of crinkled skin had collected at the edge of his eyes. He was smiling with his eyes. He approved. Arundhati lifted the binoculars and expectantly brought them to rest against her own eyes.

A brief message had been sent to her. It was about the art of disguise, and as a way of example, Mr Roald Dahl was more than happy to oblige and share his own instance of rustling up a pukka disguise from his youthful days, one that prevented him from being caught red-handed by those who wanted nothing more than to see him in the principal’s office!

The Dreaming Chapter 10

“… A brief message had been sent to her. It was about the art of disguise…”

The message disappeared after a short while, and Arundhati taking the binoculars away from her face, crinkled her eyebrows into a knot and searched the ground below, as if the significance of the message would miraculously appear from the undergrowth and dissolve all her confusions and take them away far from here. Slowly her voice found her again and she croaked out the best she could, “Uncle, do you happen to work for The –

Before she could finish anymore of her sentence the man shoved his hand under the row of lighter fruits at the top of the cart and pulled out a block neatly wrapped in shiny paper with bold words lavishly penned across it. He offered it to Arundhati. Her mother had strictly forbidden her to accept goods from strangers, she had warned that it could land her in very serious trouble, the consequences fatal, even. Arundhati momentarily closed her eyes and asked for her mother’s forgiveness as she reluctantly opened her palms for the man to place the block in it. It was light and cool to the touch. It certainly was not fruit. When Arundhati drew her hand away from the man and peered at the item she was hit by more puzzlement than she could possibly take in one day!

Wonka Chocolate Bar?! But, how will this help me find The –

The Dreaming Chapter 10

Wonka Chocolate Bar?! But, how will this help me find The –

Once again her sentences, her questions, were left mid-way, unfinished, drifting on the air. The man was retracing his steps back round the cart. He took hold of the handle, issued a subtle bow of the head, before trundling past her and then vanishing down below, the voiceless man and the screech of his mechanical accomplice both gone.

She had never heard of this brand of chocolate and had no desire to test it out on her palate, who knows what peculiar things were contained within it. She turned on her heels to face the watchful curtain of lantern flowers. “There, one more secret you are going to have to keep which I’m sure will fatten you all nicely!” She examined the bar and concluded that the neatness of its packaging and the sophistication of its printing could only mean that this came from another country, but her speculation only drilled more questions into her brain. Her ears picked up the distinct murmur and rumble of the two rivers down below. “Chocolate bars and rivers, what is the link?” A chiming rang out, sweet and high-pitched, like the twitter of a bird mixed in with the tinkle of a metal xylophone. She dismissively muttered, “Ah, so you lantern flowers do know how to make music!” The chime rang again. She raised her head and awkwardly poked at the lantern flowers, as expected they made no sound of such sort. When the chime rang again she realised that it vibrated her palm. The noise was coming from the chocolate bar!

Whether it was the right thing to do or not did not even cross her mind, and so her fingers scurried across to where the paper was joined together and proceeded to rip apart the layers, and there was so much of that to get through that she imagined that the final article buried deep inside it was most likely a fraction of the overall size of the package itself!

She could not believe her eyes when the last shred of wrapping swayed and fell like a feather down to the ground.

In her hand was a wafer-thin device. It was a phone.

It had a pretty cover depicting pinkish vines of flowers and for a second she thought she felt all the lantern flowers around her crane their necks in for a closer view.

The phone chimed again.

Arundhati licked her lips in anticipation and held her breath, before bringing the device to her ear and answering it.

It was the voice of a long-lost friend and the pink lantern flowers knew that before she did. ♥♥♥

The Dreaming Chapter 10

“… It was the voice of a long-lost friend and the lantern flowers knew that before she did…”

 

Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Hampshire | UK 2016
Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre |Great Missenden | Buckinghamshire | UK 2016

The Dreaming: Chapter 9 Ali Baba’s Tea Shop

The tiny hut of azure, its long narrow windows bordered in blood scarlet, had a third of its foundation teetering on the edge of the vast cliff face, as if it were flirting with the thought of diving into the gushing valley below. Of rickety build, its bricks were made more of guts and brazen defiance, not of the expected clay and shale.

Arundhati, a little out of breath from the steep ascent, felt relief soothe over the sores on her feet as she read out loud the words on the rectangle board hung on the hut’s sloping roof of tiles, “Mantola Tea Shop”. Her feet now paced on ahead faster, the words pulling her in like a fish caught in a net. Not quite understanding why or how, but she sensed it so clearly that this place had been waiting for her, that it had held a patient vigil for the day she would delve inside. High above her head, on the currents of the clear alpine breeze, swayed and fluttered hundreds and hundreds of prayer flags, squares of fierce and bright colours, and her interest soon fixed tight on them. She was close to tripping over if she had kept her eyes on them for any longer. Each one seemed to be sewn with its own character, as if it were a person, and together their hushed voices beckoned her to venture ever forth towards the hut, whose walls were painted from dyes harvested from the great Himalayan sky.

Arundhati saw the two wooden saloon doors, ribbed and chipped, motionlessly hang in front of her and nervousness pricked her skin with needle-point sharpness, for she had never entered these premises, because she had overheard at school that the old man who ran the place was a madman. What if he were to use his cunning ways to trap her inside forever? Unlike the Ali Baba of ‘Arabian Nights’, what if this man of the same name had no care or intention for goodwill, and that instead he poured all his malice into the forging of this den of corrupt things, a place cleverly cloaked under by the daytime guise of an unassuming tea house? No, she could not let imaginary horrors, truths stained out of uncertainties, stall her feet now, and with a deep sigh that came from beneath the sheath of her heart, she whispered fearlessly, “Open Sesame!”, and with that she pushed the saloon doors open and stepped inside.

The blazing light of the day suddenly became eclipsed and in its place, there she was, in a room that only suckled on the secrecies of the night, a wide room caressed in the fog of smouldering wisps of frankincense, whose sticks burnt from brass holders made of filigree bodies fixed midway along the teak-panelled walls. A naked bulb hung down from the centre of the ceiling by a single threadbare wire and when its light merged and mingled with the languorous wisps of incense smoke it made everything seem as if it were a memory that had estranged itself from the past of a stranger. Arundhati stood still, her eager eyes panning from one end of the room to the other. Small tables, each adjoined by four chairs, were strewn around the room, some were filled with bantering customers on each side talking over each other, on others pairs of old men whiled the time away as they became engrossed in deep conversations on course for lasting as long as eternity itself. Without a doubt what united them all was their singular and unspoken love for tea, glass cups filled to the rim with luscious thick brews of hot milky nectar, and from each exuded ethereal twists of steam that danced into the accumulating growth of incense smog like phantom dervishes twirling, spinning, and finally losing themselves into the bliss and ecstasy of annihilation.

Soon her searching eyes froze in their tracks. Ahead of her, beyond the counter, stretched out across the entire wall like some vestige of the Milky Way itself, she saw the most beautiful prayer mat she had ever laid eyes on in her life. It depicted the Kaaba, cloaked in black mystery, which stood in the centre, and it was surrounded by two tall minarets of pearl and beyond that lay ragged mountains and valleys that rose out from the earth, their towering presence spoke testimony to the ancientness of the site. The inner border of the rug was intricately woven in geometric patterns of black and white, and the more she peered at it, the more the patterns grew, as if it were something alive and evolving by the passing of each second. She could not take her eyes off it, and taking a step forward, she gazed through it and for a moment or so, she could have sworn a river of peacock eyes swam through the currents of the geometry, perfectly reamed and riddled inside the borders of the rug.

The janamaz you see was handed down to me by my great-great grandfather.

Arundhati snapped to her right where stood an old man, not too short, not too tall, he wore a bushy white beard, his face speckled in countless age spots, and on top of his oil-slicked hair he wore a black cap, it was flamboyantly fashioned with circular mirrors embroidered in to the velvety fabric, affixed with zig-zag threading of yellow and red. He looked at Arundhati thoughtfully. She knew then that this was no madman. She could feel that her presence was awaited by him. She chanced another glimpse of the prayer mat, in case, she feared, it became obscure or melted away without her ever paying a proper compliment to it.

It is extraordinary. Like a storybook, but with no pages.” She turned round to face the old man again and realised that he had not taken his kindly eyes away from her. He had not let loose a single twitch of an expression to tell her of what he thought of her assessment, but that was not necessary. Arundhati smiled at him just the same.

Come with me, have a better look at it”, and then he paused and she sensed that he had gone as far as reading into her soul. He resumed, “… so that my mat can take a better look at you.” The old man walked round in front of her and gestured with his left hand to follow him. Wedged within his right arm was a silver tray, and together with the single pen clipped inside the top pocket of his grey kurta, she noticed that he did not seem to be as old as she had presumed he would be, it was rather more accurate to say that here was a man who was of the moment, ageless and fantastically unhindered by the arrow of time.

As she paced slowly beside him some of the customers looked up at her from their tables. Brief swivels of the eye that made it apparent to her that she was a novice here in this steamy world of tea and incense and timeless prayer mats inherited down the generations. When they got to the counter, a smooth ledge of teak wood, the old man laid the dish on top of it and then leaned his elbow on it before cupping his head in his hand. “I dream to go there someday.

Awed by the stunning craftsmanship displayed by the weaver behind its creation, it took a while or so before Arundhati noticed that the old man was still speaking to her. “I am sorry, yes, yes, of course, you will go there someday. I hope you do. It is Mecca, right?

Are you not Muslim?

Well, to be honest with you, Ali Baba – …”, Arundhati halted herself, she felt embarrassed, for it struck her that it was foolish to presume with such haste that this man was the owner of the Mantola Tea Shop. “… Erm, you are Ali Baba, right?

The old man let out a hearty chuckle. “Your instincts serve you well, yes, I am Ali Baba”.

Arundhati smiled, happy that she had got it right. “Well….” , and she uttered his name decisively as if she were willing him to become more alive than he really was, “… Ali Baba, I am not really sure what I am. I don’t have a prayer mat – a jana –..” and she had already forgotten what it was called in the man’s native tongue and raised her eyebrows for assistance.

A janamaz”.

Yes, a janamaz. I don’t have a janamaz at home, but I do have on my bedside table a wonderful image of Maa Sarasthwathi, the Goddess of Knowledge and Music. She is like a good friend to me, I look to her for help when I need it.

The old man smiled, a wise smile that told her that he knew of more things than a tea house alone could store within its four walls. “It is important that we all have something to believe in when things turn hopeless and dark”. A glimmer of moonlight drilled a noble stand in the core of his pupils, it immediately inspired Arundhati to treat the man with the utmost respect. The lack of long years of acquaintance between the two of them, that was usually required for such respect to ferment from, was suddenly irrelevant.

Why don’t you take a seat, my dear…” He did not have to scan the room, with blinding spontaneity he pointed at a table, the tiniest of them all, near the wall on the right, it was completely unoccupied, “… and I will make you a fine cup of tea and while I do that you can sit and choose what you wish to ask me of The Shaligram Ammonite.

Arundhati looked at him bewilderingly and followed his movements as he swiftly got down with the business of making her tea behind the counter. With his focus down on the stove, he once more gave his gentle order, “Off you go, my dear, there is a free table over there, and I will come to you soon”.

She pressed through the thick tresses of the fragrant frankincense, a spidery web that brought impenetrable mystery to the place, and when she reached the table, she saw a gleaming hardback book on top of it. It looked like a brick that was birthed by these cliffs and its colour dyed out of the juices of a billion sal leaves. Arundhati sat herself down and put her rucksack by her feet. She glanced back at the counter where the old man quietly whistled to himself as he poured out loose tea leaves into the cast iron pot. She knew he would not mind it if she were to inspect the book on the table, but still felt safer if she were to do it whilst he was preoccupied with his work. She drew the book closer to her and brushed her palm over the large, gold-gilded words embossed deep down into the canvas of emerald green. “The Holy Qu’ran”. The inner border of the cover arrested her senses, it was a design of ornate lattice, arches and paisley shapes, and within its tracery she received that unmistakeable impression that the grace of the peacock, its plumes of elegant feathers, was staring back at her. She felt as if home had followed her to here. As she picked up the book, the gravity of its weight mimicking a miniature earth, a single loose paper stuck out from within its covers. Curious, she carefully opened the book out and discovered that one of the pages, where the inked words floated along the page in strokes that resembled the hull of boats, had been torn from the centre stitching, and not only that, the page itself had a violent rip down one side, a lightning bolt cursed only by the hands of an angry soul. It saddened Arundhati to see this, and she concluded that this could not be the wrongdoing of the old man. She believed in her heart that such behaviour was not in his constitution. Bending down into her rucksack, Arundhati poked about until her fingers hooked onto her pencil case from which she took out a small roll of clear tape. She surveyed the whereabouts of the old man. He was expertly pouring the steaming light brown concoction from a burnt pan down into the glass tumbler, a wide smile adorned his face, a tell-tale sign of a man who considered himself the grandfather of delicious waterfalls with the potency to quench the thirst of the weary.

Just as the old man came over to her, Arundhati slipped the clear tape back into her rucksack with a satisfied grin. The old man picked up the book, he discreetly brushed his thumb over the title, and Arundhati was just quick enough to catch the ghost of a tear drop swell in the old man’s eyes. He had lost someone that was close to him, someone who had walked out on him. Arundhati was certain about this, more certain than anything she had ever been certain about, and that, like the way the Mantola Tea Shop tip-toed on the edge of uncertainty, gambling each moment with the irregularities of the land, so did this old man appear to her as if he were waiting out for the return of someone who meant the world to him, and that he still did. She wished she could ask him more about why his copy of the holy book kept within its folds the pieces of a broken heart, but alas time was not on her side, and she shuffling her back straight, thanked and smiled at the old man for his generous hospitality.

The old man sat opposite her before passing over to her a delicious cup of golden tea, its flowery steam trails coiling towards the ceiling and staying up there, feeding into the already convoluted clouds of water and scent. “So, do you have a name?

It felt right to tell him of her name after her first sip, an initiation of trust fulfilled. “Arundhati Mehta. I always walk past your tea shop on my way to school, but never got a chance to come inside.” She saw that the old man had not prepared a cup for himself.

Why would a schoolgirl be so interested in The Shaligram Ammonite?” He leaned in closer, his arms crossed over the silver tray.

I think you know the answer already, Ali Baba. You must know of a treasure, the one I seek, just like your namesake once did in the ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’.

A faint smile passed by his face. He admired her precocious acuity.

She took another sip, as the warm liquid cascaded in between the valleys of her lungs an overwhelming power forced her eyes to anchor down on the beautiful janamaz on the wall. Not taking her eyes from it, she spoke to the old man, “We are both seekers of treasures, Ali Baba, and I trust you will be able to help me find mine.” She returned to meet his gaze. “Please, help me…

He was reading her soul, she could sense it with magnificent lucidity, as palpable as if it were the sun kissing her cool moist skin after bathing in rivers all day. He let out a long exhale. “There is magic everywhere, my dear Arundhati, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikeliest of places”.

Arundhati was clueless as to where to begin. The old man had spoken, word for word, the very same passage that was shown to her through her binoculars the night before. She came in a little closer, darting a look in every direction to ensure that no one was listening in, and she whispered hesitatingly, “Are you working for The British Secret Service, too?

I’ve never heard of them….”, he replied it so matter-of-fact that Arundhati’s growing crescendo of adventure and drama fell flat on its face, she reprimanded herself for being too ambitious and was about to slump back into her chair when, quick as a flash, the old man firmly gripped her arm and forced her to freeze, “… though I suspect you will ask me about Mr Roald Dahl now”. Slowly, he broke into a conspiratorial smile. With a huge wave of relief, she did, too.

The Dreaming Chapter 9

“… Slowly, he broke into a conspiratorial smile. With a huge wave of relief, she did, too…”

See that table over there, young Arundhati Mehta?” He nodded his head to his left and she followed it, and lo and behold, there was a long table scattered with a miscellany of objects comprising of old and dusty things, as if they were long ago collected up from the raining of a rare breed of meteor shower. “On that table, one of those objects is the hip bone of Mr Roald Dahl. He had it removed after a near-fatal plane crash into the desert.

Ali Baba, I don’t understand. How will identifying the hip bone of a dead writer help me to find The Shaligram Ammonite?” She was normally extraordinarily inquisitive and would have, under other circumstances, ran to the table, on the contrary now a thick sludge of confusion had set in, she could not see how the dots joined up and that mildly terrified her.

The old man folded his arms and leant back in his chair, he knew very well that she would ask him this question, a reasonable poser, if ever there was one. “All of us have been entrusted with a part of the puzzle, no one individual can see the whole picture.” He turned around his chair slightly and looked endearingly over at the table, “And my part is this. Take what you will from it.

Arundhati did not know what to do now, and secretly she was hoping her binoculars would perform that handy trick of the light show again, however, it was resiliently mute on the matter. She was on her own for the time being.

Do not waste time, Arundhati Mehta. Get up and seek your treasure.

Arundhati slowly rose up from her chair and made her way to the table, and from afar, given that the giant janamaz posed itself as a natural canvas, one would have said that the girl seemed as though she were walking against the backdrop of the desert dunes, towards the Kaaba, in the direction of treasures that did not glint like the coveted sheen of gold or silver, for these treasures in question beheld forms grained out of dust and humility.

The old man did not move from his chair, though his watchful presence walked beside her. When Arundhati found herself stood in front of the table, everything on it fiercely vied for her attention, each mothballed artefact competing to be adopted and given sanctuary inside the protection of her rucksack. Her eyes soared all over the surface of the table, possessed by the flitting motions of a butterfly. Here there were glass vials, over there old postcards, pens, metal balls, a vase of yellow pencils, rusty scissors, framed photographs, slabs of stone, the list just seemed endless the more she peered and rummaged into the sea of trinkets below her. “Mr Roald Dahl’s hip bone… where are you….?”, she muttered under her breath. She tried to spread eagle her hands over the objects, crossing above them, waiting for her palms to frizzle with a sensation that would tell her that she had located it. It did not help. She turned round to face the old man, he had not budged the slightest bit, he was still wearing an expression that said louder than words that he had an immense faith in her and in her skill of detection. She gulped and pursed her lips and tentatively turned back to face the table. The smog of tea and frankincense swirled around her, a phantasmagoria of allies caving into her ears, ushering her sight to look deeper into the odd spread of objects. “How am I supposed to know what a hip bone looks like?

The Dreaming Chapter 9

“… a long table scattered with a miscellany of objects comprising of old and dusty things, as if they were long ago collected up from the raining of a rare breed of meteor shower…”

A gust of cooling breeze whooshed through the shutters and tickled her neck, she swerved round. The room descended into a new quietness, the tables of customers no more, and the janamaz hung on the wall, fluttered a little, wanting to pull itself off so that it may float down to her. A light ripple, a gravitational wave, travelled across the woven scene of the Kaaba. Arundhati was startled as she observed a thousand million peacock eyes rustle inside its geometric borders, and the next moment each peacock eye transformed itself into a dark ribbed shell, rotating on its axis. In the centre of the rug shimmered a river as jet black as a starless night. The music of a flute player trilled out from under its surface. What sweet music it was, it penetrated deep into the fibres of her skin, and she heard it say to her that it had chosen to stay there forever.

That ought to help you, Arundhati Mehta”. The old man spoke and the world of home and Amma and school all came rushing back to her. The janamaz went back to how it was and the din of idle chattering and clinks of tumblers once again filled the room. Her mind unable to comprehend what she had just witnessed – or had she dreamt it? – she could not tell, but in her gut she was certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that the old man was somehow right. She had received help. She discreetly nodded at the old man and this time, determinedly, she turned on her heels, and trained her vision on the contents of the table with renewed vigour. She mumbled to herself, stressing the syllable in each word to a tight pulp, hoping by doing so would unlock the appearance of the preserved piece, an ammonite of human bone kindly donated by the great author himself! “We are all made of ammonites just waiting to happen, that is what bone is”.

The old man, from his seat, stretched his neck out a little further, he wanted a better view, something told him that she was getting closer and closer and he, for one, did not wish to miss that moment of her discovery, the moment when she would grab it from the table, as if it were the sole solution to ending all the world’s woes. He waited patiently and he did not let his neck hurt either.

So, Mr Roald Dahl’s hip bone must look like an ammonite too, something once joined, belonging to the waters of the body, now lying here, somewhere on this table, washed up, dry and smooth and well preserved.” Just as she was sweeping her hands over the splayed items for the fifth time, her hand abruptly came to a stop. It hovered above a dome of a smooth and hard material, the faded beige colour giving away that it once had lived in a different manner, inside of living matter. “Ah-ha, are you it?” Arundhati reached for the ball of rock, and held it in the palm of her hand before turning it over. An orb on the top, but with jagged slots underneath it, she shook her left hand in a victorious fist and concluded this was the bone of Mr Roald Dahl. “It must be this!” The old man’s eyes held a proud glow of approval. Now that she had the object in her hand it hit her that she had no idea of its significance in guiding her to the location of The Shaligram Ammonite. She gasped in dismay and was too ready to roll her head back in defeat.

Remember, we all have a part of the piece. Your part is yet to be seen.” The old man was forcing his cryptic words into her soul. She edged away from the table, tirelessly scrutinising the hip bone, inspecting its every surface feature as she held it between her index finger and thumb. She stepped directly under the naked light bulb and stayed there. She pondered hard. What she did not know was that she was stood exactly where she ought to be, for the light emanating from the naked bulb bounced off the rounded top of the bone and immediately sent a faint, but distinguishable beam of straight light, towards the janamaz where it concentrated onto a single spot, directly over the Kaaba.

Arundhati flicked her eyes between the bulb and the rug back and forth in fast succession, she was desperate for someone to tell her that this was indeed real magic, and if it were a trick then that too she welcomed, for she delighted in knowing the secret workings of illusions. When she disentangled herself from the flurry of excitement, she remembered of her mission and the importance of investigative reasoning. “There is no such no landmark in Nepal. I don’t understand.” She shifted her foot from right to left to watch whether the aim of the beam changed. It did not. The trajectory of the light was a promise made of pure adamant. A few customers began to take notice of the girl’s unusual behaviour in front of the prayer mat, though they paid little heed in the end, comforting their suspicions with the fact that childhood made everyone do ridiculous things from time to time.

You saw something else earlier.” The old man finally creaked out of his chair and backed up to the janamaz. He stood by it, solemnly, as if he were the chosen ambassador for giving voice to the wishes hidden in the rug’s compact castle of threads. “Think, Arundhati Mehta, think of what you saw.

Burrowing her eyebrows, she concentrated hard. She wanted to shove it out of her mind because she feared she had fallen foul of a hallucination, and yet, it was too taxing on her when she attempted to deny the vision she had of the black swathe of the Kaaba giving way to a mighty river, as pitch black as coal, as bright as day. “A river, I saw a river inked in black”.

That may be a start, little one”. The old man had already guessed that she had more to say and casually crossed his arms, waiting keenly for what else she would dare to interpret.

Arundhati stared up at the naked light bulb. “The light showed the way… before arriving at the river there will be a sign of light”.

The old man looked impressed, an unrehearsed joy sprung in him. “Good, keep going.

The names of many rivers swam and thrashed into her mind. She could not tell which one bore The Shaligram Ammonite, for all the rivers, large and small, wore a coat of black sheen in this part of the land. Dazed by the knotted possibilities she rigorously rubbed her eyes up and down until they burned. When she opened them again and rolled her head back to relieve the tension in her neck, the stream of light emitted from the naked bulb slammed into her eyes like a speeding bullet. She flinched and quickly dropped her head down. “Ouch, I should not have looked straight into it!

And, then, it occurred to her, like a fire sparked out of emptiness, the link, it was suddenly there, right inside her eyes, the second clue that would lead her onto the The Shaligram Ammonite. She ran over to her rucksack and pulled out her notebook, flicked her pen into action, and scribbled the words across the page, ‘The Lantern Tree Grove’. It was located at the crossroads between two gigantic rivers bodied by black waters. In her small triumph, she fought back the doubts, redoubling her trust in herself, she could at last accept that she had it in her to crack this puzzle down to its knees. She swung everything in her rucksack, replaced the bone back on the table, and approached the old man with a new confidence in her stride. “I think I know where to go next, but I would not have been able to do it without your help, thank you!” She was not sure why the incense smelt more fragrant now, and the tea fresher than ever before.

That is quite alright, Arundhati Mehta. I am glad you found another piece in your journey”. He extended out his hand, old and wrinkled, coarse like a layer of tree bark that had witnessed the complex undulations of living history. She shook it and they both smirked. “All the best, my little one”.

Thank you, Ali Baba!” She lowered her voice to a mousey whisper, “And when I am done with this mission I will make you a cup of tea, at my home. That is a promise!

As you wish, my dear Arundhati Mehta…

She let go of his hand and stomped off towards the table where they were sat at first, took a quick swig of the remaining tea in the tumbler, brushed the liquid residue from her face, and then swooshed out of the saloon doors, unintentionally blowing the locks and hats of many of the customers sat nearby. Before they could say a word or raise a finger against her, she was gone.

The old man pulled up a seat by the table and fondly looked at the thick compress of the holy book. At first he stared at it like he always did. Gradually, however, he become frightened and then he was gripped with panic. The loose page that so often protruded from it was missing. His first instinct was to look under the table, in case it slipped out onto the ground. There was nothing there. He sat back up and picked up the book and hurriedly flicked the pages across, and where there had been the ugly duckling of that loose page, the one torn into two, the old man, now with huge awestruck eyes, discovered that not only was the page fixed back in it original place in the book, but that the page had come together again. The pieces were sown up with the magical remedy of clear tape. The old man lovingly gazed at the saloon doors, and his heart rejoiced until it flew higher than the top of the Kaaba itself.

Ali Baba, we’ve been waiting a while, can we have another round of your fine house tea!” A family of four, all of different heights and with beady eyes, sat on one of the tables. They were fidgeting a lot. It was obvious from their attire that they were not from these parts.

Of course, of course!” The old man walked over to their table, but in his haste he had forgotten to close the holy book, leaving it wide open at the part where the loose, wounded page had once belonged. Now, clear as water, the healing hallmarks of tape ran across it, left by the girl who could fix things. Under the naked bulb, the tape shone like the fine tributaries of rivers, threads of desires winding their way down along the mountain of the page. The hull of holy words knew what it felt like to float again.  ♥♥♥

 

Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Hampshire | UK 2016
Photography & Words:  © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre |Great Missenden | Buckinghamshire | UK 2016