Abida risks these bouts of honesty with Kareem when nobody else is within earshot. She knows that when his face is not threatened he is calculating enough to attend to her network of reasoning. Sometimes the youthful woman wishes there would be somebody, some adolescent soldier or wizened religious sage who could meet her on level intellectual grounds and discuss, say, the subtleties of the Qur’an as concerns the relations between men and women. But this is just a tiny mountain stronghold. Abida sighs.
- You are right. But are you certain, Abida, that you want to do this? Perhaps your refusal to wear the burqua is simply a means of trying to get yourself apprehended. All I am saying is there are many ways to serve Allah’s will. Just remember: “The hypocrites will be in the lowest depths of the Fire: no helper wilt though find for them.”
He is staring at her now with his eyes, silver-blue as Kashmiri ice, glittering, perplexing.
- Yes, dear, most-exalted Kareem, I am certain.
Though the old man’s unexpected question indeed has planted a tiny seed of doubt in her heart.
The double-decker train is pulling into the station and the level of collective intoxication is soaring towards a fever peak with loud, sudden shouts, bursts from invisible vuvuzelas and merrymakers tossing confetti all over the place. Abida feels vaguely sorry for the people who will have to clean up the cars in the morning, fighting winy stains out of the upholstery or trying to dislodge crumpled aluminum cans wedged into all available gaps. A battle that in the end can never be won like the one between her lands and the Rest.
Abida gazes out of the window up at the wrought iron ribcage that holds in place the arched skylights like the torso of an architectural behemoth, species unknown. A man approaches in what she surmises he imagines to be the dress of a Sheikh. A smirk upon her gentle features. His blonde hair and blue eyes look out of character, especially given the black and grey, tacky, adhesive beard and olive skin tone. The man is swaying badly on his approach. Stops right in front of her, a cheap, self-made placard dangling from his neck [“Obama Bin-Mofo-Laden”]:
- Salami al-heycum
The imbecile blurts almost rainily
- Allah the most superior, peace be upon him, has sent me here on an important mission. He let it be known to me, via a burning Salami, that I must test your womanly virtues.
And so blithering makes a maladroit grasp for Abida’s chest that does in fact protrude rather mountainously. The young woman, fleet even in revulsion, leaps away around the small, round table so that scuzzy Obama B.M. Laden topples over and goes out cold as his head crashes onto an empty cider bottle. Neither Abida nor her comrade Afaq, both dressed up as cartoonish, mid-riff sporting jinnees turn around to see what becomes of him.
The train station is as packed as an ant colony. The sound of marching bands playing out of tune is roaring over their heads, blasting up from somewhere ahead and doubled up by a dissonant echo. It is quite a bit the way she envisions the end of days, everybody just doing as they please and hellish din dominating the air all around. Abida moves forward through the thick throng, her breasts and her behind protruding massively, while she grips the hand of her friend trailing behind her.
Taking all of this in, the former goat-herderess thinks that indeed the void, which she has come to bring will be somewhat an act of cleaning, getting some of the chaos out of the world. After a ritual one will clean up the bloody mess but at least a measure of order has been restored to the cosmos. And herself, green Abida? What is purer than non-being, than joining one’s family in the after-life? And even if no hereafter awaits, if all is for naught, there will always be the peace of no longer being alive. Freedom fighting and terrorism and democracy, these slogans are much too enmeshed in a struggle for power that disgusts her to the bone. A struggle that replaces normal, sheep-herding families with burning holes in the ground. Her purpose, Abida can see now clearly, is as pure and simple as her own blood.