A Day in the Graveyard

Ibrahim Waheed “Kalaavehi”

A Day in the Graveyard

There was a time when cute little supernatural creatures crawled the dark nights of Maldivian yore. Such creatures, whose names often ended in ‘-devi’, often undertook the strangest little tasks like placing stretch marks on pregnant women’s bellies, announcing impending deaths with clanging noises, or populating deserted graveyards at predictable times. However, as western colonization persuaded natives to abandon traditional beliefs in favor of the scientific method, it became increasingly difficult for the modern and enlightened man like me to continue believing in such mythical beings. Of course, when you actually saw a devi standing in front of you in glorious see-through Technicolor, you abandon all your foreign education and sensibilities.

“Hey! Your thoughts are completely wrong!” A high-pitched voice that appeared to come at me from nowhere startled me. I had been thinking about various sad allegations that had been leveled against an old friend of mine in certain media which were owned by eminent persons with known grudges against him. How the voice in the graveyard knew the substance of my thoughts eluded me entirely.

When the apparition accosted me, I had just embarked on taking an established short cut through the yard of an old mosque. A narrow, stone-lined pathway which curved past the mosque and through an old graveyard that was no longer in current use. Coral tombstones with exquisite carvings and Arabic script rose out of the ground there in weathered beauty, telling anyone that cared to look whose bones they glorified. Among those stony gray reminders of the departed affluent, I suddenly saw the hazy outline of a woman smiling at me with the reddest of lips and the kindest of gray eyes I had ever seen. Something inside me told me that this was a devi from a belief system I had never subscribed to.

“Don’t be afraid of me. I mean no harm. But I must tell you that your thoughts are wrong.” The voice now came out of the devi’s sharp-toothed mouth.

“I am not thinking any thoughts that would be called wrong on this island. I do not dwell on religious controversies. I don’t care how many votes had been horse-traded on what day and where. I don’t even think about unreachable women like you. I was just thinking about an old friend. ” I told the devi.

“Exactly! Old friend is what he is. And your thoughts are going in the wrong direction about him.” The devi smiled at me sweetly. An indulgent expression played around her smooth face. Her eyes glittered. She said, “He is not in pain even though his lips curve into what many people call that sad-face crescent. It tends to hurt old friends like you more than it hurts its pwner. That bitter expression is nothing more than an indication of the nasty aftertaste lingering in his mouth after he chews on what he has to these days.”

The devi was absolutely right. I had been thinking about that bitter set of lips which had become a permanent feature on the face of the man who used to be my friend in high school. I remembered the old days and my friend’s easy banter and the lovable habit he had of rhyming silly little expressions into rude little poems. I missed his quaint little jokes. I wondered what bitter gall he had to force down his throat that made him look so pessimistic and disgusted with the very air he breathed now. I asked the devi, “What is it that he is forced to chew?And do you know what compels him to do so?”

The devi smiled at me, “Let me tell you the why first! You see, your friend is no longer the idealistic young man you knew as a friend. He allowed his penchant for worldly comforts lead him down the road of increasing greed. He permitted the dark lord, whom I cannot name myself, to come into his life and acquire your ex-friend’s once-sweet soul. As he acquired more wealth, he wanted ever-increasing amounts of money in his coffers. As the sun set on every nefarious day of power acquisition, he allowed his baser instincts to crave more power in the night. He now wants to be above all and second to none in every way. That is the why.”

The devi’s smile sparkled at me. She said, “If you want to know what he chews on, let me explain it to you in two ways. If he speaks the language of your faith, he has to chomp down on a fricassee of the dead and decaying flesh of a brother every time he craves what he calls a victory. In the lore of your native language, he feels he has to chew on the skull bones of his unfortunate victims simply to survive. Scalps of friends and foes line his never-tightened belt, making him saunter along with his bowed arms held at his sides like a rooster going a-courting. And with a diet and attitude that, anyone would go around with a pursed mouth like his.”

There was a time, I thought again, when Maldivian nights of yore went acrawling with supernatural creatures galore. Now, more dangerous creatures crawled the byways clothed in ordinary felsh and blood. There was also a time when I could not have, not even for a million dollars, believed in the existence of a Kissaddevi or a Buddevi. Now, I jump in fright when a weed addict asks me for a light on the road. And to cap it all, when the friendly neighborhood Mulhadevi is the only well-meaning creature to materialize in front of me in a local graveyard to explain to me the simple, plausible reality of an old friend, I had to sit down and listen to my inner self. I had to listen to the reality and the fantasy, the allegory and the allegations, the cheap calumnies and the sad realities of my sad little land that exceeded the realm of even false little demi-gods.

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