US

At war with illusions

December 8, 2017
By Arooha Arif

The phone beeps. Rida wishes it to be from her husband informing her that he would bring the dinner

BRONZE

The phone beeps. Rida wishes it to be from her husband informing her that he would bring the dinner, so she doesn’t have to worry about cooking. Instead, the message says: Usman’s taking us out for dinner. Would be late. Do eat something.

Rida fights the urge to sleep on an empty stomach. She had nothing but a slice of bread in the morning. She stands in front of the dressing table and touches her jaw. Then, she moves her hand across her waist and gasps. She calls her favourite restaurant and places her order for a small Zinger and fries, along with Coke.

Rida collapses on her huge woollen sofa placed in the corner of the bedroom beside the dressing table. She had bought it when she got separated from her in-laws, to move to her own dainty house in Bahadurabad.

Rida is a 27-years-old woman trapped in the body of a 20-year-old girl. She works as a Market Risk Analyst at a bank, a job she likes on some days and hates on others. Despite her diet, which is that of a sparrow, she is fresh and active at the office. It is her house which robs away the light from her. The walls suffocate her, she feels detached from everything except this gray sofa behind which she keeps her guitar. She picks it up and begins to play random tunes.

She used to be a healthy person with a normal diet routine. Married happily at 24, pregnant at 25, the first shock came with the miscarriage which was followed by a second one at 26. “Two unborn babies and nothing else,” she would often say. Ahmed never complained; Rida never asked. Their marriage was smooth and silent. No loud fights, no loud love, but sometimes Ahmed would crack a witty joke and Rida would laugh out loud and thump his shoulder.

Playing guitar was the only thing which silenced her tortured mind. She moves the pick on strings of her guitar and soon the smog disappears, the temperature of the room falls into a rhythm. Rida lays her head back on the sofa and dozes off. Her hand drops in her lap. The clock stops.

Clap. Clap. Clap.

Rida shoots her eyes open and sits straight. Her eyes dart from one corner of the room to the other but there is no one. Cold beads of perspiration roll down her forehead. The lamp is lit. The heater beside the bed is on. She takes a deep breath and is about to lay her head back when the doorbell shakes her.

Rida shoots her eyes open and sits straight. The guitar is about to fall from her lap. She keeps it back in its place. The cold beads of perspiration roll down her forehead. The lamp and the heater are lit. She sighs. The doorbell rings again and she shakes. Then, she laughs.

“So, it wasn’t all a dream!” she murmurs.

It’s the delivery boy from the restaurant.

“Oh, I am sorry, I completely forgot about the order. Let me bring my wallet,” Rida says. Then, she hurries back into her room and gets her wallet.

“Hey, have you delivered the order here before?” Rida asks as he looks for the change.

“No ma’am. I joined only last week,” Rida raises her eyebrow and takes the paper bag from him. Then, along with the parcel, she slumps on the sofa placed opposite to the television in the lounge. Her blue-coloured shirt flashes. She tightens her maroon shawl around her. She had tightened her maroon shawl around her. She squints her eyes then, shakes her head. She takes out the burger from the parcel and the smell of mayonnaise hits her nostrils. This burger had been fresh but a little too crispy. She takes a bite. The burger is fresh but a little too crispy. Her stomach cringes and she puts the burger back in the paper bag.

The tube-light flickers and the lounge gets cold. Her stomach cringes again. The clock begins to tick louder and louder. She looks at it: 7:30 PM.

That was the same delivery man. LIAR! It’s the same situation, the same time, the same dress, the same burger.

“Calm down, it’s just a deja vu. All you need is a sound sleep,” she assures herself and walks into the kitchen. Then, she picks up Valium for a good sleep from the medicine box and gulps it down with a glass of water. Her stomach cringes again, this time more than the last. She whimpers and sits down on the cold kitchen floor. The pain doesn’t stop. She whimpers again, then groans, and vomits.

She has no strength to stand up. She curls up on the floor and shuts her eyes. A few minutes pass by. The creases on her forehead soften, her hands relax, and her heartbeat lowers to normal.

Ahmed is driving. A friend is sitting beside him too. It’s around midnight. The road is unexpectedly clear. Which road is that? Which place?

Ahmed’s friend says something and points to the left. He might be telling the direction to his home.

“Now that’s a good place to live,” Ahmed raises his left eyebrow in appraisal. Then, his friend cracks a joke which Rida cannot make. And then, Ahmed laughs. His laugh is lively and young. It’s been quite a time since he laughed like that with Rida. She feels a pang of jealousy. Then guilt overtakes it. Had she stopped trying to make her marriage work? Is Ahmed drifting away? But she has time.

His friend gets out of the car. He lives in a posh area which Rida cannot recognize. He waves at Ahmed and Ahmed turns the car waving at him.

A blue car emerges in a blink of the eye and smashes into Ahmed’s car. Ahmed crashes into the door of his car, his head shakes like a puppet, hits the steering wheel and bounces off only to hit back again.

His friend screams and so does Rida.

She wakes up shaking. She is drowned in sweat and her eyes are burning. It takes her a moment to accept that it was all a dream. She utters a silent prayer of thanks.

“I should call Ahmed,” she whispers and stands up but her head stings hard blinding her vision and she moans. Scared that she would fall, she holds the oven tightly until she regains her balance. She looks around the lounge trying to remember where she had kept her phone.

Her blue shirt flashes. She tightens her maroon shawl around her. She had tightened her maroon shawl around her. The clock begins to tick louder. TICK. TICK. TICK. She is unable to resist looking at the clock: 12:36 PM. Her phone rings; it was beside the fallen parcel.