Ibrahim Waheed “Ogaru”

They called it the main road of their island.

And they had every right to call it the main road. After all, it was the only one that cut the island in half, and lengthwise at that. It did not matter that there were grandfathers on the island who remembered when the road did not exist. After all, it was new.

The road began on a splayed-out delta of regularly-swept white sand. On this delta sat the modern administrative office, a small stand of coconut trees which stood in front of the government-run primary school, the island court with its spacious yard, and the landing area where the recently-renovated pier unloaded welcome visitors of substance. The spacious shelter called the holhu-ashi, where rough timber seats made a good meeting point for the vocally gifted, also claimed neighborliness to the main road.

From that particular façade of the island, the road pierced itself into the island proper like those lances of yore carried by the Sultan’s bodyguards. The road initially ran purposely past the whitewashed walls surrounding the yards of the affluent and the influential. Then it served the glass-fronted shops which sold souvenirs to tourists and anything from bobby pins to imported mineral water to locals. Then it brushed firmly against the lower southern wall of the Friday mosque, providing that important edifice an opening for a magnificent gate. Almost immediately thereafter, the encountered a few other walls and buildings, one different from the other in color of exterior paint which perhaps reflected the various loyalties which were called political parties by most, erroneously or otherwise.

Once the road passed those places of importance, it soon elbowed its way apologetically past a few yards with a more local look, separated from it by fences made of sticks and living plants, the houses within these yards made of broken coral or coconut-leaf thatch. Somewhere here, industrious island folk found for themselves a few dry spots on the road for drying fish, copra and other assorted goodies. And once it had served this stalwart salt of the coral sand, the road ran darkly into a lush green umbrage of coconut trees and other tropical vegetation, narrowed itself somewhat, and pushed bravely on though the leaf litter and assorted life forms before it eventually burst out onto the beach on the other end of the island.

Even if the end of the road was officially that — one end of the main road, opinion on the island was that normal people did not usually venture onto that part of the island. Normalcy, as defined by the locals, included a healthy fear of the pantheon of beings that were said to dwell in places like graveyards, abandoned dwellings, and dark places in jungles. A broad, willing subscription to this notion of normalcy among the locals ensured that the beach at the end of the main road remained devoid of human presence almost all the time.

And on this particular day, perhaps it was the relative absence of vigorous human activity that drove Shareefa to the sugar-white sand of that secluded beach at the end of the main road. Perhaps Shareefa was also not as ‘normal’ as some people wished.

As she settled down on the stump of a coconut tree at the upper edge of the beach, Shareefa saw something moving just inside the entrance to a small hole in the smooth white sand. A small white crab peeked out of the hole, tentative and hesitating at first. Seeing that some of its friends that were already out and about, perfectly happy and safe, it slipped out and ran sideways towards nothing in particular and stopped there, waving its little claws in the air. A couple of minutes later, when Shareefa moved her arm to flick away a moth that had landed on her arm, all the little crabs suddenly darted back to their holes in the sand and vanished inside, taking their end-of-day shadows with them, leaving the beach bare. Shareefa laughed.

“What are you laughing so merrily about?” The voice was musical, almost seductive. It came from over her left shoulder.

Shareefa started and looked around. She saw two bright eyes smiling warmly at her. A sensuous mouth curved into a pleasant smile. Full, red lips opened slightly, revealing a set of perfect white teeth. A blood-red Dhivehi libaas in a very conservative, traditional cut, and almost certainly hand-stitched, gave its owner a very dignified look. The lady spoke again, “I am sorry. Did I startle you?”

“No, you did not.” Shareefa answered. Traditional Maldivian politeness and hospitality kicked in, the result of conservative nurture. “I am sorry, madam. I do not know you. Obviously, you are not from this island. Otherwise, I would have recognized you. May I ask you, if you do not mind, who you are and how I can be of help to you?”

“My daughter,” the lady responded, “I am not known to you. Not yet. And I am from this island and not from this island at the same time. I could be from this very time and maybe another as well. My name is Kamana. I have come here to help you in your hour of need.”

“But madam, I do not need any help. I am healthy and content.” Shareefa said.

“In that case why are you sitting here all alone, in a place that a lot of people of this island would stay away from at this time of day? Soon the sun would set and the creatures of the night would begin their nightly revels on this beach here, that reef over there, and this jungle behind us.” The lady said, “The Beyri would stand, dark and silent on this very beach; the Fureytha would rise up from the dark coral of that reef over there, filling the air with his marine odor; the Handi would cavort in this very jungle, ready to feast off any sanity you have left in your skull after the first two have had their way with you.” The lady said. And was that a tinkle of humor in her voice, or something else?

“You are in serious trouble and it is proper and polite for you to hide that from me.” The lady continued, the gold coins on the heavy fattarubai she wore around her neck glinting in the amber light of the setting sun. “You have just refused an offer of marriage. And that to the only son of Katheeb Ismail of this island. Now you are left wondering as to how you and your family would escape the wrath of that cruel old man who remains Katheeb and in control of everything here.”

Shareefa knew that the woman in front of her was already acquainted with reality. So, she kept quiet, waiting for more.

“The Katheeb’s son, the one you were to marry, runs the only viable souvenir business on the island. His brother is the magistrate of the island court. The Muezzin of the Friday mosque is his father’s son-in-law. The principal of the school is his cousin. Everyone who is anyone on this island is connected to his powerful father in some way.” The lady continued. “Your father Hakeem owns the biggest fishing craft on the island and the marriage would have really consolidated all the power on this island if you had agreed to the alliance. Your father, as all of us know, is a Keyolhu, a master fisherman. And now, you fool, you have created trouble, gone against the grain, gone abnormal!”

“No, my lady.” Shareefa objected. “I am normal. I believe that I am free. I know that I am the captain of the dhoni of my life. And because of that I am in trouble. I know that my parents will suffer at the hands of the Katheeb. I know that I will be subjected to a lot of suffering. But there is nothing that will persuade me to get married into that family. I know what they hide behind their artificial smiles, their publicized charity, and their proclaimed holiness.”

“In that case, my daughter, listen to me carefully.” The lady in red said, “I am here to take you to a place where your suffering will cease. All you have to do is simply close your eyes and follow me.”

“And when I open my eyes again?” Shareefa asked, recalling a faint memory of a fairy tale she had heard from her grandmother.

“You will never open your eyes again. You will have no eyes to open. You will not want because you would have never had anything to want. You will not remember because you would have nothing to forget. Your sufferings would not matter because you never existed to suffer what you thought you did. I will simply take you out of all possible dimensions.” The last rays of the setting sun appeared to pass right through the woman’s blood-red dress and fall on the flowers of the small Portia tree that stood behind her.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the island, Katheeb Ismail and Keyolhu Hakeem sat on the rough-hewn timber benches of the holhu-ashi and shared a good chew of arecanut and betel leaf, spiking their mouths with a few licks of lime every now and then as they watched the sky turn from a golden yellow into a deepening orange-red. They had always been firm friends and had always enjoyed each other’s company.

“You know, Hakeem, if only…” Katheeb Ismail said. He sighed.

Both of them saw a sudden flash of lightning that appeared to come from behind the island.

“If only what?” Keyolhu Hakeem asked after a pause of perhaps a minute.

“If only you had a daughter, my good friend.” The Katheeb told his friend. “If only you had a daughter, I would ask you to give her hand to my younger son in marriage.”

On the secluded beach on the opposite end of the island, there was no one that subscribed to the normal definition of a human being to see the crabs scurrying into their holes for the night, no one to see the shadowy fruit bats flying in to hang off the banyan trees and fold their wings about themselves for the night, no one to pick up a fallen coconut, and no young lady to talk to a red-clad lady from no particular time and place.

And the relatively new main road lay there quietly, learning much as it lay there on that particular island that looked almost idyllic and very very normal.

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