Nightmare

Ibrahim Waheed “Kalaavehi”

I did not know it was all a dream. It was so so sweet.

The sweet smell of frying breadfruit floated in the air, mingling well with the tinkling melody of giggling children playing old fashioned fas-oh with glass marbles. A man in a maroon sarong walked past me, his bare feet leaving quaint marks on the grayish sand, as he lugged home a fat tuna for dinner. A bright smile creased his face as he saw me sitting on the low wall of a mosque, enjoying a chew of betel. Blowing a puff of white smoke from my strong bidi into the evening air, I smiled back.

As more men passed by, each with a tuna and a smile, I knew that everyone from the humble sailor seeking temporary refuge at a friend’s house to the honorable Sultan in his copper-roofed palace would have tuna garudhiya for dinner that night. There would, of course, be differences. Perhaps the poor sailor would have one or two toasted dry chilli peppers on the side while the Sultan would enjoy a full onion satani with fresh lime.

After all, Maldivians born in the Maldives, brought up in the Maldives to care for each other, taught by elders the gentle ways of how we had survived together as islanders for centuries, would be expected to have the same taste, I thought in my dream.

Since it was time for me to go and get my tuna, I hopped off the wall and took that left turn into the lane that would take me to the fish market, right past that new red and green flag with the white crescent in the middle.

As I turned into the lane with the mango tree on the corner, everything simply changed.

Old two-story buildings made of coral sand and lime bravely stood next to modern high-risers made of all-imported metal and composites. All offered the various goodies in their ground-level shops to souvenir hunters from countries as far apart as Belgium and Japan. A couple of local touts in loud T-shirts hung around the narrow door leading up to a second-floor massage parlor. One of them, clutching a can of Red Bull in his long-nailed claws, snarled at me as I passed him. A rich dude in a late model Volvo swam by like a shark in Carrera shades.

As chattering holders of work permits bustled by with assorted packets, cases and baskets, I could not take the wildest guess as to what their Maldivian employers or the latter’s wives and children would have for dinner that night. Some might have succulent T-bone steaks for main course while others might have bibimbap with kimchi. Flaunting a few minor laws simply because they could, some might even serve a good Chablis to wash down a particularly choice pheasant.

After all, Maldivians would still be Maldivians, especially the have-nots brought up in the Maldives. The grown-up children of those who could afford the best of Paris, London or Christchurch would be too. They would care for themselves, each alone, and plot through the devious ways of winning the pitched battle for the thickest cream the land had to offer, available only to a few by reason of scarcity. For the first time in my dream I realized it had all been a dream and asked myself if nightmare-land was where I was setting foot in.

A young man in dreadlocks came running up to me, beads of sweat on his shiny face, a dead Marlboro stuck in the corner of his mouth. I had no idea whether he was a local or a foreigner. He looked really worried. Almost out of breath, panting hard, he said, “Some people stole the colors off the big flag on City Square. Now it is just a huge piece of black cloth waving in the breeze. They are saying that your unborn children did it. I am scared, Monsieur LeBlanc. Really scared.”

What? My unborn children? Stealing the colors off a piece of cloth and leaving it black and not colorless? That was fine with me in la-la land. I had heard enough of innocent people being crucified by perfectly sane but buy-able miscreants for sins their absent predecessors were supposed to have committed. I had heard enough of crooks using lesser crooks to make the straight look like strands of monkey DNA under a scanning electron microscope.

And how did this apparition in dreadlocks know my name? How come I had a name that did not sound even vaguely Maldivian and yet sounded like it belonged to me? And then another question, not yet asked, came screaming into my brain as Rastaman jogged away on his mission of bad news, Marlboro included.

“Hey you! Wait up. Did you say someone stole just the colors off the flag? Where did the crescent in the middle go? Where is the crescent?” I screamed at him. The Rasta smiled at me sweetly, waved goodbye, and simply vanished into thin air in a puff of multicolored smoke as all self-respecting demons should.

“Where did the crescent go? That’s what held the colors together all these years. Where did the crescent go?” I screamed and tried to wake up….

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