Pulp.net - The Rope

The Online Home of New Fiction

November 2008

Tariq Mehmood
Oh Lord Almighty, I can no longer bear the taunts of these bitches, Rabia thought, closing her eyes whilst brushing flies off the face of her two year old son, Atif.

Now he seemed to be at peace, asleep in the shadow of a winding branch of a Kikker tree. This was the same branch under which her husband had first embraced her. The same branch on which she had sat on her first swing and had spent countless hours of her childhood; the same branch on which she now tied a long nylon rope, one of the few things her husband had ever bought her. But even this he had bought so it could be used as dawan for his own bed to make it more taut.

Holding on to the rope, she felt the old axe slip out of her hands as she closed her eyes. Her world became engulfed in raging waves of pitch black darkness. She felt light-headed as though she was spinning downwards into a deep deep well.

A faint noise of someone talking on a radio, close by, reached her ears. A news commentary was praising Dr Qadeer Khan’s achievement on this first anniversary of Pakistani nuclear explosions . A bird screamed in a branch above.

My beloved maker, stop me falling into this hell, Rabia pleaded inside her head. Disfigured faces of dogs gnarled at her from within the whirling darkness into which she was descending. Rabia saw her body turning upside down. It was a lifeless body with outstretched pleading arms trying to hold on to a brilliant white caffan, the cloth into which her corpse had been draped. The caffan slid off her head and hands and floated away before dissolving into the darkness. Her naked arms moved. She tried to dig her fingernails into the sides of the wall of this tunnel of darkness, but as soon as she raised her hands, her body turned upside down again.

Perhaps I am already dead and in hell Lord, and if I am, then tell me for what crime you have sent me here, Rabia thought in snatches. And if I am not in hell, then tell me why I am still alive.

From somewhere in the darkness a voice laughed shrilly: Look at her, walking as if nothing had happened and her husband was chasing anything wearing a sothan. She knew this voice well. It was her fat bejewelled neighbour Shamim, who never missed the opportunity of telling anyone who might be listening about all the glorious gifts her sister kept sending her from England.

You are right, sister, another voice replied to Shamim, surely she is being punished for some crime she has committed.

No crime have I committed, Bano, Rabia shouted back, and what bigger crime is there than someone stealing food from my children?

See how sharp is her tongue, another voice roared, and Shamim is like my sister. You should have died when you were born.

Rabia recognised the voice as that of Khatija, the woman she held responsible for her life’s misery. Look at you, you dwarf of a woman, is there any wonder he does not even look at you? Beauty alone cannot keep a man. A woman needs a lot more. Lots and lots more, hissed Khatija.

Let it go, Khatija, forgive me, for walking this earth. We women should not fight each other. We have too much to do.

Bano and Khitaja started to laugh hysterically. Rabia tried to block her ears with her hands, but they were gone. Only stubs at the end of her arms remained. Rabia shouted back, Oh God, save me from these bitches.

She started drifting on waves of memories of that hot burning summer’s day when she had gone into Khatija’s house and found her in bed with her own husband. She had seen them and they had seen her, but they continued in their embrace, letting out a few jeering laughs as they did so. She had turned around, quietly, biting her lips.

You should be ashamed of yourself, Rabia had said to her husband, giving him dinner when he came home late that evening.

Are you saying I have no shame? he laughed, lighting a cigarette.

Do you think they do not know what is going on?

Don’t you dare bring my daughter’s name into a subject like this, you daughter of a wild pig.

You care not for me or for my daughters. And what should I care what you think of my father? My father may be poor, but he has honour and he only ate after his children.

You should not have given birth to so many of them; there would have been less mouths for me to feed.

You have not fed a single mouth and it was God's will that I have such beautiful daughters and a son and can no longer live with a man like you.

Where will you go? Who is going to have you and your army of children?

My Allah will fill my children’s mouths.

Shut you up now, woman. Leave me. I will see you tomorrow.

Rabia knew he would be good to his word. She had begged him not to strike her in front of the children. Begged him to strike her twice as much, but not in front of her children. And the children had watched, in silence, as they always did.

The next night, Rabia’s husband turned up just after the last Azaan. Bring me my food, he had ordered, sitting cross-legged on his bed.

There is no food for you today, Rabia had said, without raising her head from her bed.

What do you mean there is no food?

I have made no food for you.

Who are you not to make food for me?

Keep your voice down or you will wake my children.

Get up and make me my food or, as god is my witness, I will cut you into small pieces and feed you to dogs.

I will make you no food.

Get out of my house!

The children were awake but lying fearfully still. Quietly, they followed their mother out of the house and through the dark narrow streets of the village in which stray dogs barked.

This is no time to be walking around with children. It is snake season and you, daughter of mine, should know better than to do this, Rabia’s father had said, sleepily opening the gate.

I have been stung by that snake you married me to, Abbajee, and now I can no longer live with a beast like that.

You have to live that life which is written for you my child.

No life is written for me my father. Only torment and suffering.

In suffering our Maker is testing us.

I do not give my Maker the right to test my children. Let me in now, my beloved father, for my children are tired of this night.

No! No daughter. You must live with your husband.

He has been claimed by a bitch.

May Allah forgive you for what you say.

I cannot live like this.

There is nothing I can do.

If you must slam your gate in my face, at least recite with me. La illaha il-lallah. There is no god but Allah. There is no god but Allah. La illaha il-lallah.

A sudden flash of lightning chased the image of her father out of her mind.

The caffan floated back and transformed itself into a dupatta around her head. Sobia, her six year old daughter was standing in a throng of people. A man was holding her by her hand and leading her towards a house. Rabia stood immobilised. He led Sobia towards a bed.

Allahjee, no! Rabia screamed. There is no god but Allah. La illaha il-lallah. I will not let this happen. I will leave this hell. Help me master, or I will leave you as well.

She felt a chill run down her back and opened her eyes.

The leaves of the tree were spinning slowly. The sun twinkled above and a crow flew noisily out. Darkness began to form in front of her eyes. She could hear her children crying.

Just then, Rabia remembered she had not unleashed her goat. It was still tied to a small branch at the base of the trunk of the Kikker.

You poor tongueless creature you, Rabia said as she saw herself walking, axe in hand, towards the goat. I have forgotten to even water you. Don’t be scared of me. Have I not watched over you in the jungles and looked after you when you were ill?

Fazila, Kiran, go wash your hands, drink some water and eat your food that has been waiting for you. Sobia, make sure your brother eats all his food. He is small and has a long journey ahead.

Then the image of Sobia flashed through her mind again. She was standing alone.

Have your seen that man anywhere, my daughter? Rabia asked.

Which man Ammijee?

That man who led you into that dark room.

Which dark room?

It is always dark in this room.

In our house, you mean?

I will no longer let this darkness remain.

Then Rabia was standing in her own house again. The goat struggled so hard to free itself that it had ended up tightening the rope around its neck. It was gasping for breath.

My beautiful children, Rabia said, kissing each child on the head. I will not leave you in hunger or want, nor in pain or homelessness nor to be sold to those demons. La il-laha ilallah. There is no god but Allah, Rabia screamed.

Summoning every ounce of energy left in her body, Rabia fought to open her eyes.

No, Izraeel! No! Rabia said, piercing open her eyes. I cannot leave my children behind.

An announcer on the radio read out some figures about the power of the nuclear explosion. Rabia tried to block the noise from her head as she looked down from the rope swinging around her neck and saw Sobia’s headless corpse on the bed on which she had ordered her to lie down. Asif lay motionless, blood oozing from his ear. Next to him lay the blood-stained axe. Fazila and Kiran were writhing on the ground.

© Tariq Mehmood 2005