It had been scorching hot just minutes ago and now, suddenly, there was an eerie coolness all around. Fayrouza sat motionless on the rock, her elbows resting on her folded knees, hugging her own self, as if caressing away the pain of life,… or maybe death. The gentle breeze blowing from the sea was playing with some loose strands of her coarse black hair- the remaining were neatly tied up in a bun at the back of her head. She wore a pale pink dress up to her knees. Her eyes were fixed at some invisible point in the misty water- some place close to the horizon, some place close to that tiny island far away- the one with a lone tree standing.
“Do you know why is that island called the ‘Snake Island’?”
The question broke her reverie and Fayorouza looked straight into the eye of the handsome man who had been sitting next to her for some time now- the one who had asked her the question.
“Snake Island,” Fayrouza repeated and her voice sounded strange to her own ears, not because of any change in the frequency or tone, but because she had half expected she wouldn’t hear it.
“Yes, do you know why it is called that?” he asked again. She shook her head in a ‘no’.
“Well, me neither!” he chirped with an obvious amusement lighting up his eyes, his face breaking into a smile that could shred your heart to pieces.
“He gets dimples!” Fayrouza thought.
His smile widened before he broke into a laugh- not a loud one but the kind of laugh you expect from men who were trying to please you, from men who could read your mind.
“How old are you?” Fayrouza blurted out. It was hard to tell whether she was only curious to know or irritated by the fact that she was actually attracted to him.
He sighed, his smile never leaving his face, and tilted his head ever so slightly before answering, “Much older than you.”
Then he turned away from her and stared into the space far away. Fayrouza followed his vision and went back to staring at the invisible point in the sea. That is when she noticed, from the side of her eye, a photograph floating towards her. When it was within reach, she bent down to pick it up. It was the picture of a cat sitting on the edge of a door. She remembered the picture well. It was from when she was way younger-during her school days, at her home. She loved the cat dearly.
“You love your cats, don’t you?” he asked.
She looked up at him. She loved the way his eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled- and smile he did continuously. The golden of the setting sun shone on his face making him look magnificent.
She couldn’t take her eyes away.
“Ehmm, ehmm…” he coughed before giving his flirtatious laugh.
Fayrouza had been so lost in the beauty of the man that she wasn’t able to recall the question.
He reminded her the question by pointing to the photograph with a tilt of his head and a look by his eyes.
“Yes” she finally replied. Looking back at the photograph she told, “He died”.
“I know” was his simple reply.
Fayrouza turned and looked at the sea again…. Hundreds and thousands of floating photographs now dotted the sea, she bent down to lift another one.
“Ohh!” she exclaimed with a little laugh and looked up at him. He was still smiling his mesmerizing smile. She held up the photograph to show him and he nodded.
It showed a young man with a bearded face and thick specs holding a little girl- both of them smiling widely.
“That’s me when I was a kid and he…he was my …uncle…friend maybe….my neighbour…my family’s tenant actually…do you know him?” she asked.
“Of course I do”, he told plainly, “I met him a few years ago”.
Fayrouza was by now kneeling on the rock, bending down to look for another photograph when he held out one for her.
“Maybe this is an important photograph for you”, he cocked his head and raised his eyebrows as he gave her an old, monochrome picture of a beautiful lady. Beautiful in an exotic way. She was dressed in a traditional Burmese sarong.
Fayrouza stared at the picture for a while and without taking her eyes off she asked him, “You surely know her.”
“Yes, I do. I’ve met her too”, she heard him reply softly.
She looked up to talk to him about the lady in the picture but he had already stood up, ready to go.
“You know how they change dates based on the moon!” he told rolling his eyes. We better reach on the same date.
Fayrouza stood up. The rocks were wet and slippery with the sea waves crashing on them every now and then. She remembered being scared of slipping on the rocks a few hours ago…well, she even remembered slipping… and falling down. She looked down at where she had fallen and saw a girl sleeping. The girl had some loose strands of coarse black hair- the remaining were neatly tied up in a bun at the back of her head. She wore a pale pink dress up to her knees.
She looked up at him and told, “I had a fall”.
“I took care of you”, he smiled back.
Fayrouza looked around for the photographs…she couldn’t find any…. They had vanished from her and from the sea- which now was slowly losing the golden shimmer of the sun and beginning to authorize the darkness of the night.
He called out her name.
“You know my name”, she exclaimed.
“And you know mine”, he laughed his half-amused-half-flirting laughter and gave his hand to her.
She took his hand and climbed down the slippery rock. His hands were warm against the coldness all around. That felt good. They started walking.
“Don’t you dislike your name?” she piped.
“Not at all…why would I?” he asked.
She simply shrugged at him.
He narrowed his eyes at her. She was thinking of wars. He laughed out…loudly this time….
“You people!!” he shook his head in disbelief. “Of all the things you could ask me, you ask me this!!”
Izraeel rolled his eyes and laughed. Fayrouza laughed back.
She could hear the echo of their laughter come back to knock on her ears.
They walked down the beach … heading back to where everything came from.
~Almas Kiran Shamim