In this Issue - Fiction

 

When my mother died, her face changed. I was the first to notice. When other family members and friends came to pay their respects, what I saw in their eyes was doubt; none could believe that the deceased was my mother. Even my brother, who hadn’t seen my mother alive for three years, as soon as he saw the corpse, straightaway announced that the deceased was our aunt, the youngest girl in my mother’s family. The doctors and nurses who had cared for Mother when she was in the hospital were also surprised; no one could believe their eyes. 

 

 

That was approximately the start of the story Zara intended to write for Fayza, one that might take the form of a novel – or perhaps even a trilogy – requiring many years for her to complete. 

 

 

At that time, the ship that brought me from Lamuri had just docked. From the Malabar harbour I was to continue my journey to Istanbul by land. My father, the harbourmaster of Lamuri, doubted his sixteen-year-old child could proceed with the journey alone. A colleague of his, Hamzah by name, would be waiting for me at the harbour and would guide me until I was ensured a safe arrival at the gate of the School of Navigation in Istanbul.

 

 

At first, of course, there hadn’t been any plan to cheat anyone. That idea came spontaneously. That afternoon, Hisam, along with over a hundred others, had accompanied the remains of Salim Gurame, a villager who had died the previous night, to the Kober cemetery. Hisam had actually not been keen on going along to the cemetery. After paying his respects at the funeral home and saying a prayer over the body at the Nurul Huda Mosque, he had intended to go straight home. He wanted to shut himself away there for the whole day. He craved an extended period of time without human contact. It was only the uncomfortable thought of the neighbours’ comments that persuaded him to join in the funeral procession. 

 

 

In the end, my friend reported, she was taken back to her house and dropped off as if nothing had happened. Since that time, she has been living normally, with no outward sign to mark that strange occurrence. The only telling sign is a look in her eyes which, when we exchange glances, makes me feel as if I am being drawn into a whirlwind.

 

 

This is my biggest chance. The words seemed to make every cell in Dani’s brain seize up. Trembling all over, he followed the shopkeeper upstairs. The stairs were of solid boards, old ones which made an odd squeaking sound when stepped on. On the top floor in the gloom he was greeted by the sight of a doorway into an ancient burial cave, the staring eyes of tau-tau effigies looking like they were soaring upwards towards death. 

 

 

The sky is red. A naga swoops down, sweeping the stars and the sun. Sparks illuminate the tips of its wings. Fire spreads. Wind swirls. Fear shoots into the air like octopus’ ink. Armour-clad warriors lie sprawled on the ground. Screams of desperation fill the air. The creature is incensed. Houses, trees, distant mountaintops: everything disintegrates into unrecog­nisable rubble. Razed to the ground. Everything. Except for one child standing upright, motionless. He holds a tautly strung bow in his hand. His face is as dark as stone, but his eyes are as bright as lightning. It is from his bow that a great arrow was shot and has penetrated the naga’s chest.

 

 

Let’s go out to sea, my child. It is time. I sense them coming closer. I can hear faint echoes of voices drifting in the dawn wind. Listen: this early morn, the wind comes not softly in rustles, but hissing and slashing along the road. It is screeching through the aching joints of the windowpane, whistling through the cracks of the squeaking door, rushing chill, enclosing the house in cold. The candle stirs as if scratched: blazing awhile, blinking awhile. Harsh dark is forcing its way in through every hole. 

 

 

Usually the birds would come to perch and sing in large shady trees or on the roofs of homes with infants who were still breastfeeding, or mothers in late pregnancy. When the target baby cried, that was when the birds would snatch the unfortunate child’s aura and fly off with it far away, soaring high into the grey supernatural heavens. The baby would immediately sicken, its body slowly turning blue and eventually dying.

 

 

I felt embarrassed. Never in my whole life had anyone asked me my name. People just called me Lus’ Sister. And I would understand that it was me they were referring to, even though I had my own name, which seemed foreign to me because nobody ever called me by it. And so, when the pretty woman asked me my name, well, to be honest, I was a bit shy about telling her. 

 

 

Anwar Sadat died on the very day he arrived in Jakarta from Semarang. He was twenty-eight. Naming his son Anwar, after Egyptian President Muhammad Anwar El Sadat, his father had his reasons for choosing that name and not Gamal Abdul Nasser or Husni Mubarak. A week before the birth of Anwar from Semarang, Sadat the president had been assassinated by one of his own soldiers. According to the news reports, the death could have been avoided if Anwar Sadat had agreed to wear a bulletproof vest, as recommended by his advisors. He refused, saying that bulletproof vests were for pussies. 

 

No one and nothing in this world can protect you from the revenge of a crow. Not even if you hide in your mother’s womb. You will die a day before your birthday. Like the nut of a kenari tree, you will fall and crack on a rock. Kkkkhhaaaaaakk!