The tribe in the forest

And yet these buccaneers still kneel   
Trembling at the water’s verge:   
“Cool River-Goddess, sweet ravine,   
Spirit of pool and shade, inspire!”   
So he needs poultice for his flesh.   
So he needs water for his fire.
                                                     -A Muse of Water, Carolyn Kizer. 
Sometimes I wondered if the songs they sung were songs at all? Or were they just prayers, rhythmically transcribed as to create the illusion of it being a song? Which is the most baffling part about being acquainted with a new language, you cannot distinguish the prayers from the songs. You do not know whether to dance and caper about wholeheartedly or slacken your senses in a state of transient devotion to the higher power?
And on these, rather frequent, occasions of either merriment or devotion, I saw them gather outside their tents of red and yellow. Their faces smeared with colours of white and red in intricate patterns, their mascaraed eyes, their bloodstained lips made their individual identity undecipherable.
“It is the whole purpose of it”, explained our translator, who himself had only faint knowledge of their language. According to him, it would take an outsider an approximate of 35 years, depending on his or her grasping ability, to be well-versed with their language. The reason, he said, was because we cannot understand their way of thinking. “They cover their faces with all these colours as to be unrecognizable as an individual when they stand in front of ‘her’. It is a symbol of them being equal in her eyes. Whether they are praying or tripping around in joy, they do it for ‘her’. They believe that humans generally acknowledge ‘her’ only in the times of need or despair. They disagree to it. They believe that it isn’t right to only remember ‘her’ for our self-centered values. They remember ‘her’ both in the times of grief and during the times of merry-making. Whether it is crying over the famines or celebrating over the harvest, they believe that they are constantly surrounded by her. That she is always there, watching them…”
I was particularly amazed for how he used the word humans for the rest of us. Perhaps it was well justified. As they danced around the fire in their whimsical movements, frolicking around in circles, wearing only a headband with the feathers of an Eagle, the skin of a spotted dear to cover their genitals and the colours, I realized that perhaps they were indeed a different breed in general. They cannot be us. We cannot be them. It was having two seperate universes in a single world, and to only think of the consequences when the two of them collide…
Our quest for ‘her’ is what dragged both of us us here in the first place. And as the days went by Fareed’s anticipation had taken its toll.
He was like all others his age, Fareed, zealous and energetic and pompous. All the initial emotions an explorer feels. And I must agree, I saw a large amount of the younger me in Fareed. Charming young man, an enthusiastic protege I must admit. The most vital thing was that we were both two individuals driven by our obsession for one thing in general. Inquisitiveness.
Could be a little adamant and ignoramus at times, yes! Like his obsession with canvas shoes. I had specifically instructed him to wear those heavy toe-capped safety Woodlands, but sometimes instructing him felt like banging my head on a wall. “They are way more cooler!”, he said, playfully showing off his canvas shoes.
‘Cooler!’ Kids these days!
When we first reached here, the people of the tribe were, unexpectedly, quite hospitable. They welcomed us us with garlands made of garlic( a sacred vegetable for them), marked our foreheads with soot and as our translator instructed them of our intentions, they insisted on us staying with them for a few days as to have the adequate amount of information that we needed. They arranged tents for our lodging and served us with bear meat for dinner on the first day. Needless to say, the meals were rather unpleasant.
There were glimpses of their culture that we gathered over the days. They believed in the Heaven and the Underworld just like the Biblical theory suggested it to be, but they did not believe that ‘she’ resides in any of these. There was an old acacia tree that grew in the exact centre of the village. They said it was more than three thousand years old and ‘she’ held her existence within it. They nurtured it like a child, decorated it with garlands of garlic, scented it with sandalwood for sanctity and worshiped it. They believed that the mere existence of their tribe depended upon the existence of the tree and that one day, when the devil shall manifest the Earth and all that is pure shall be crumbled to ashes, a lightning shall strike the tree, devouring with it the existence of the whole community.

On the fifteenth and last day of our visit, was when the preacher arrived….

She was a frail old woman, with arthritic legs and had two apprentices carry her around in a palanquin. A nearly balding scalp, a necklace made of tiny bones, deep mascaraed eyes, all those things that make for a pretentious, pompous voodoo saint in our world, but the people of the tribe believed in her. They respected and worshiped the same as they would worship ‘her’, for they believed that she was the one that could truly unite them with ‘her’.The women gifted their ornaments to her and men the first crops of harvest. They brought their little children with them, as she held them in her palms, playing with them and blessing them, as if they were her own…
We were somewhat rattled with all the show of unexplained generosity towards her and as we stood there in a corner in silence, it as as if she could somehow smell the disbelief within us, and all the more in Fareed, as she sent for us.

As we stood in front of her, an apprentice signaled for us to bow. All of us, all except Fareed, bowed in front of her. The apprentice was infuriated at that. He constantly signaled for Fareed to bow and so did we but he refused to do so.
She observed Fareed, a dry smile perpetuated on her withered lips and she said something to him in their language.

“She says ‘I know what you want..'” the translator explained to Fareed.
She mumbled some more.
“It is answers that your heart looks for…”
Fareed eyed her with an odd sense of inquisitiveness.
“Answers to the existence of ‘her'”, explained the translator. ” Answers to immortality; to life and death, and all that there is in the middle..”
“You wish to learn the truth. ‘Her’ truth, the truth behind the stories of the demons and the witches. You look at her the same way you look at them. You wish to unite with her. You desire to see her, touch her with your bare hands, embrace her, kiss her, make love to her under the moonlight…”
“I can show you the way…”
Fareed raised his eyebrows. “Is it possible?”, he asked.
“Only if your heart in as cleansed as the rivers of Pardisus”, she said. “Tell me? Do you wish to see her? Do you wish to believe?”
Fareed pondered for a moment, then nodded. “Yes!”, he said with the eagerness of a schoolboy.
She clapped twice as an apprentice came before her and bowed. “Arrange for the ritual”, she said.

We reached the tree and gathered around it in a circle. In the centre, below the tree, sat the old woman behind the fire. She sprinkled a white powder into the flames as she sang something in her hoarse, shrill voice. The people had gathered around in a circle, just like they always did. Some of them played held bongos to the beat with a pair of limb bones. She called for Fareed towards the centre, right next to the fire. I was among the few who didn’t join in and just silently stood in a corner, observing the spectacle. Fareed stood in front of her as she sang to the beats of the bongos. The tribesmen danced around in circle, their painted faces, their tripping feet, moved to the rhythm of the beat, devouring in it, consumed by the fire that began to grow in the middle and the flames of the fire seemed to dance to the music as well.
Fareed observed all of this with his eyes full of fetish and questions. Eyes were transfixed to the tree, searching for the answers to the divinity that the tree concealed. He didn’t seem scared, just stunned!
The old preacher kept on singing the song as she sprinkled the white powder into the flames. The flames danced and grew as a choking amount of smoke filled up the atmosphere. Smoke that blinded the vision. Smoke that made the skies grayish. Smoke that filled up my lungs. Choking it. Cleansing it….
I coughed for some time as my vision blurred from the teardrops in my eyes. Fareed coughed too, but the woman didn’t. Nor did the rest of the tribesmen. She kept on singing the song. In that ethereal moment, as my vision hazed and my lungs longed for clean air, I could finally understand what she was singing about.

She sang about ‘her’. ‘Her’ powers. ‘Her’ majesty…..

She sang about the acacia tree, how the starving woman had reached the forest and had begged to the gods for food and shelter. The gods didn’t listen to her, but ‘she’ did. She had been moved by the prayers of a cleansed heart. She appeared before the woman and told him, “Shed the teardrop of a pure heart anywhere you want in this forest, and you shall never starve again…” She cried her drops of purity at the same Earth that now bore the acacia tree. The tree bore with it a fruit, the fruit of immortality, which when consumed once, would never let a man go hungry again ever in his life. And his life shall go on until the annihilation of the universe.

She sang about how a civilization established around that tree. A civilization that were the descendants of the starving woman. How the civilization had never starved once. And how they only had one divinity to thank for all of that.

She sang about sunlight and she sang about storms. She sang about humans and she sang about monsters…

She sang, calling for ‘her’, begging for her to come and answer to a heart that longs for answers, a desert that needs to be rained upon. She chanted a prayer, praising ‘her’ majesty and all she had done for them. She chanted a prayer for unification…
Large amount of smoke now consumed the vicinity and valiant winds had started to storm about. The winds shook the tree, ruffling and shuddering the leaves with it and it somehow it seemed that the tree was dancing to the music as well, waving about ecstatically in sheer rejoice of being acknowledged.

The old woman now grasped a handful of white and forced it down the flames. The pungent smoke had now started to fill up my lungs through the nostrils and as I choked and coughed, I noticed that Fareed wasn’t coughing at all. He stared at the tree as his head waved around in a circle to the music. He was smiling….

At that transient moment of haze it seemed to me that the old woman wasn’t an old woman at all. She was a young, beautiful maiden, who looked pale and dehydrated and starved…

Fareed opened his arms towards the tree as his head continued to wave to the music. The old woman again held a handful of the powder and mumbled and sang as she fed it to the flames.

I remember the fading music slowly dying away. I remember an incandescent white light that blinded my vision. I remember the skies, the colour of murk and I remember the violent winds…

And as the smoke withered away and vision was restored, I remember seeing the tribesmen, all of them, sitting in a circle facing the tree, bowing to it with their hands outstretched. There was no old woman sitting by the fire. There was no Fareed standing in front of the tree, arms wide open, trying to embrace ‘her’.

All that remained, was the little amount of smoke from a dying fire, lumps of burnt firewood and a pair of canvas shoes….

The Weatherman: Chapter 5

Gina had always hated teleporting. “Churns up a nauseating sensation in the belly!” she always said.
It was no different this time. The only difference there was maybe was the fact that nauseation probably wasn’t her greatest concern at this instant As she landed the eerie valley and the first gush of the frosty wind whiplashed across her face, she noticed that the colour of the sky wasn’t as purple as it used to be. A shade of black had started perpetuating and the highly ominous Gina took this as a sign.

She saw the motionless figure of Salem still holding her hand, in his previously endowed state of nothingness, clinging on to her foot. She bent on her knee and caressed his neck as the same shade of blue brought him back to consciousness. Salem’s first reaction to the surroundings wasn’t one of shock or disappointment, but of acceptance.

Gina smiled at him and whispered “We’re here”.

They saw the one thing that stood in the eeriness of the lush green valley. A wooden brown door with the words ‘NO TELEPORTATION ZONE BEYOND THIS POINT’ written on them. Just the door and the valley that lay behind it. Gina banged the gold doorknocker twice and waited. The wooden slit on the door slid and a pair of glittering emerald eyes stared at them.

“PASSWORD?”, came a voice from the slit.

“RATSKUNKS!” said Gina.

The door swung open and a bald, masculine figure with a goatee beard and the same emerald eyes stood in front of them. He wore a black robe with golden tapestry, large enough to conceal the sword scabbard lying behind it.

“Hello Miss Gina”, said the figure with a voice that sounded like a unison of several other voices all synced in a single vocal chord.

“Hello honorable Guardsmen!”, said Gina, “I’ve brought the convict with me.”

“Ah! Yes, yes.”, said the unison of voices. “Hello Foreseer!”

Salem smiled and bowed.

He looked around and said, “Pretty furious are the winds today, aren’t they?”

“Yes, yes” said Gina. “Perhaps the little mistress of the Windbearer hasn’t been all that faithful to him”

“Or perhaps there is something more cautionary to it than that” said the unison of voices. “ Perhaps our little young Foreseer might have an idea about it.” He shifted to the right, bent and waved his arm towards the gate. “Well anyways, welcome to Paradisus!”

The duo walked through the gates as the once lush valley now turned into a pathway surrounded by clouds of all shapes and sizes. There was the ‘Floating bridge Of Hideus’ that mediated the ground from the castle. Oh and yes, ‘The Black Castle’, pride of Pardisus that stood gigantically in front of them, kissing the abode of the skies so that the topmost point was nowhere to be seen.

On either side of the floating bridge lay the stretch of bushes with the exotic Butterbouts that grew on them.

Interesting story about the Butterbouts, these little flowers that seemed like poppies over a saucer. When the Lovelord, Sir Jean (He loved to be entitled as a knight although he wasn’t actually one) first came across his one true beloved, the Songstress Marayah, the Wilderbees were so mesmerized by the awe of the winds of love that flew that time that they accidentally cross pollinated the Butterfelds with the Rosenbouts and thus this new, beautiful creation came into existence.

“Proceed”, said the Guardsmen as the two of them started making their way through the bridge. It wobbled and lolled but the three of them didn’t stutter or bound for support for they had their trust in its firmness. As they stood before ginormous gates of the castle, the Guardsmen stepped forward and flicked the fingers of both his palms towards it as the gates gradually made way for them.

The two of walked in and turned towards the guardsmen.

“We shall see you later”, said the voices and the door swung to a close between them.

The Weatherman: Chapter 4- ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’

She wore her favorite red dress that day. That one-piece with a neck strap which stretched up to her knees. It did cost 89$ but to her it was worth every penny. It was a bright, yellow Saturday morning. One of the hottest mornings of the summer, but she wasn’t so warm. She licked on to her butterscotch ice cream cone. Again, her favorite. A kid in the park ran into her chasing his sister. She laughed, bent over her knee and patted him on the head. She was so good with kids. One of the reasons why she loved visiting the park so very often. The park was filled with them.

A little boy swung her sister so hard she fell on the ground, but she didn’t cry. She got up, dusted herself, went back to the boy and slapped him so hard on the cheek, he fell on the ground and started weeping. A father and his son were playing catch with their baseball. The father cheered his son everytime he caught the ball. There was ruckus of noise in the park which was so chaotic, but to her ears it seemed as if it all blended into some sort of music. A music only she could hear. A melody only she could recognize.

A blonde flick of her hair dangled over her face touching her lips, caressing them. It went all the way through the side of her face, touching her apple cheek, obscuring her brown eye and toying with her lips. She placed it at the back of her ear with her finger. She offered her ice cream cone to him. “D’you want it?” she asked. She was standing right next to him but the sound felt so distant. It almost reverberated as it came to him. He raised his arm to grab it but she pulled the cone away. “You have to catch me for it.”, she said and laughed. He started chasing her as she ran towards the park exit. She laughed all the way through. Somehow the laugh echoed through the whole place. Dark grey clouds had started hovering over. They covered the blue and the yellow and the somehow it felt as if the colour had faded from the world.

She exited the park gates and stood still on the pavement. She turned around and looked towards him. Her blonde flick had now found its place on her eyelid. She blinked those brown eyes and again placed the blonde flick at the back of her ear. She smiled.

A red Volkswagen ran into her and drove away. Suddenly the day wasn’t bright anymore. It was as if a solar eclipse had occurred all of a sudden. The chaotic park fell dead silent. There was no girl swinging. The swing swung all by itself.  No boy playing catch. His glove was biting the dust off the ground.  A red rose in the park withered and then fell off. Dead.

The ringing of the phone woke Sam up.

He checked the alarm clock. It was 3:19. He picked up the phone.

“Yeah?”, he said sounding almost deranged.

“Hey it’s me.”, said Eric. His voice had the same heaviness.

“Its 3’o clock”

”3:20 actually”

“What d’you want dumbass?” Sam asked running his palm through his curls.

“Nothing man. I just wanted to know how you’re doing”, said Eric trying to obscure his laugh. “Just kidding man. So listen, d’you remember our guide Iqbal?”

“Yeah”, said Sam. He remembered him quite well. That dark, middle aged man with crooked teeth and chest hair that could knit themselves a sweater. He remembered him ruffling his chest hair once in the street and going ‘It is considered to be a matter of pride and the sign of a true man in our country. Women go crazy over it’. He then smiled as his crooked teeth shone in the sunlight.

“So it turns out that our man Salem wasn’t like a complete stranger. He had come to the village a few days back to visit an old widow named Fatima. Turned out our man had the hots for her. He convinced her to leave the village just a day before the storm and she now probably lives in another small Arab village in Kuwait by the name of Behrami. So I called the boss-”

“You called the boss too? At 3’o clock?”

“I did”, he chuckled. “You should’ve listened to his voice man. It was hilarious.”

“You’re a nutjob”

“So anyways the boss says we have to go to Kuwait tomorrow. Or should I say today. There’s a bus that’ll take us to the village from there. So start packing. Our flight leaves at 5:30.”

“What as in 5:30 in the next two hours?” said Sam as he rose from his bed and looked at the alarm clock.

“No. No. 5:30 in the evening.”

“Oh Thank god!” Sam sat back on the bed scratching his head. “Wait so this couldn’t have waited until I woke up?”

“Oh! Oh yeah, it could’ve.” said Eric chuckling lightly as he hung up the phone.

The Weatherman: Chapter 3 – Meeting with ‘The Eye’

 

Twilight had started to fade in a desert marketplace somewhere in the middle of Egypt as a traveler passed through the the alley surrounded with merchant shops on both sides. Perhaps the time of the day reconciled with his current situation. He covered his black turban with his brown shawl as he sensed the palpable cold breeze flowing through the desert. A large part of his grey beard though still remain uncovered. His ragged black Kurta-Pyjama was daubed with sand as he walked barefoot on the cold, misty surface.

Even at dusk  the marketplace was filled with the cacophony of sellers, vendors advertising their products by singing about them at full stretch. The traveler passed by a vendor who sold dates as he sung

“Have a date with destiny as you buy this date

Sweet and fruity, it may alter your fate…”  

He sung it over and  over in a loop as the traveler made his way past him.. Another carpet vendor dusted off a red, woolen carpet with golden embroidery in the shape of a swan. ” Come one. Come all. Buy this magic carpet and you shall fly like the wind. Come dear visitor. Would like to buy this carpet. The tapestry so beautiful and the fabric so silky. Sit on it and you’d feel as if you’re flying.”

But the traveler paid no heed. There was an apple vendor next. The traveler went up to him and bought the reddest apple he could find. But he didn’t eat it.

He turned into the next alley and found a beggar with  an amputated leg in rags. He placed the apple in the bowl in front of him. It was as if he knew where to find the beggar and that the sole purpose of the apple was to find its way to the beggar’s bowl.
“May Allah shower you with blessings”, the old man said to him.

The traveler then moved forward and turned into a dark, deserted alley with no further way. There was nobody in the alley , but one.

“Well hello Gina”, said the traveler as he took the shawl of his head, revealing his mascaraed brown eyes and wrinkly face. “So they’ve sent ‘The Eye’ to summon me.”

Gina stepped forward out of the dark to reveal her olive skinned face and her glittering lilac eyes. Her lush, black hair stretched up to her waist and she wore a silver, Emerald studded chain over her head. She looked no older then a 30 year old woman and the traveler could not help but realize how ravishing she looked in the formal Arabian attire.

“You knew I was going to find you, didn’t you Salem?” said Gina.

“Well perhaps I had to face them sometime.”, he said after some time.

“Oh Salem!”, said Gina, “What have you done? Why would you do such a thing to your own people?”

Salem  remained silent.

“To warn the village of the storm? Well, that could’ve been overlooked, but to threaten exposure of the whole of ‘Paradisus’?”

“Oh but I didn’t!”

“No you didn’t because you knew it would be of no avail. You saw something while they interviewed you and you knew. Otherwise you wouldn’t have thought for a moment before putting the whole kingdom in jeopardy.” Gina now looked furious. “Well perhaps you’d like to know whatever little footage they had has been taken care of.”

“I know that.”

“Oh of course you would! You’re ‘The Foreseer’. You know everything, don’t you?” Gina stepped closer to him. ” So tell me little Foreseer, why would you do something like that? I mean storms happen all the time. Then why would you do something so foolish as to threaten the whole community. The Guardianheads are furious. They’re demanding you’re execution. His majesty himself has sent me to fetch you. Why would you do something like that?”

Salem saw the distant sun setting over the horizon. It was getting darker now and the cacophony and chaos of the market had now diminished a bit. He took a deep breath. “It wasn’t just one storm. I saw something.”

“What?”

“I mean don’t you find it peculiar. Storm in Arab, volcano in Japan, earthquakes in Pakistan. No, they’re not just natural disasters. Its something much more. Something bigger.”

“How can you say that Salem? All the disasters are under Weatherman, and I know you too have a history, but to accuse him of such vile treachery….”

“Oh but it isn’t Weatherman. I mean think about it. Who do you think controls the natural disasters? There is just one who could effectuate the widespread killing of such high amount of people at the same.”

Gina stared at him petrified.

“Do you even know who you’re accusing?”

Salem remained calm.

“Salem, you’re too young. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Salem stood there silently as he saw the sun submerge under the horizon. “The people needed to know.”

“And what would they have done? And perhaps even if what you say is true. What then? What could you do? You’re just a mere Guardian. You’re too weak.”

“Individually, yes. But together, with all the others. I mean, who knows?”

They both stared at each other.

“It is that woman isn’t she?’ said Gina. Salem looked up. “Is she the reason you tried to save the village?”

Salem remained silent.

“Holy Makers!”, said Gina. “You’re in love with her.”

Salem turned around now to face the open end of the alley. A cat wandered it’s way past through it.

“Why Salem? A mere mortal? What did you see in her?”

“You don’t know her.” Salem raised his voice a bit. ” You don’t know her.”

Gina looked at Salem who was now staring at the ground. It was dark now. “Salem. I’ve seen you train under me all your life. You’re like a son to me. Even if the accusations are true, something like this would only result in a rebellion.”

Salem raised his head and spoke in a low distinct voice, “So be it.”

Gina raised her eyebrows and looked at them man standing in front. He was perhaps a few inches shorter than her and looked way too much older. Gina knew the man well enough and trusted his instincts, but this was something beyond her control.

“You know I have to take you with me.” said Gina after a long pause.

“I know”

“They’ve summoned you to the court where Lord Caliph himself will see to your hearing and the verdict shall be set after that.”

“I know that too.”

The next few words fumbled out of her mouth. “The….The Truthteller will represent them. And considering the truth behind your actions is rebellion, you’d perhaps be deprived of your powers.”

“I may or may not be.”, said Salem as a dry smile passed his lips.

Gina thought about his words for a moment, then raised her arm towards his neck.

“You don’t have to do that” said Salem.

“I know. But perhaps I just need to.” said Gina as she touched her palm over Salem’s neck. A shade of blue glittering light appeared over his neck as he fell unconscious on the ground.

“Sleep dear Foreseer”, she said softly in his ear as she bent over and held his arm.

A gust of wind flew the dry leaves around them as they vanished into the air.

The Weatherman: Chapter 2 – Lost Trails

 

“Disappeared? What d’you mean disappeared?” said Aaron Fox as he took the cigarette out of his mouth and between his fingers.

His moustache told a story of constant perseverance, regular trimming and dying. His hair though told something different. The hairline had started receding and had now reached almost halfway through the top. The sideburns looked uncombed and tangled within. You could hardly notice his eyes behind those huge specs and that also helped the wrinkles on his face. He flicked the cigarettes with his fingers to dust off the ash in the ashtray. Then brought it back to his lips for a long puff.

Sam stood in front of him behind the chair. He didn’t bother sitting. How could he even think of sitting in such a situation. He just stood there, running his palms through his curly, blonde hair, like he always did.

“Total nutjob of a guy”, said Sam, “Said he feared that ‘they’ might know, you don;t even know ‘them’.  Like he was being watched or something. Just ran outta the cabin and closed the door behind him. When we opened the door, boom! He was gone. Vanished almost in thin air.”

“And you couldn’t find him? Couldn’t even notice the guy walking away in what was to be an open field?” Fox stared right through Sam.

” I told ya boss. We searched the whole surroundings. I mean, people hadn’t even heard of this guy before. Didn’t even know where he come from. They just saw him a few days before in the village when he made this whole prediction thing.”

Fox now leaned on the table and flicked his cigarette in the ashtray. “Let me just get this straight. You’re trying to say that some old, hippie Arab guy, who somehow knew English, told himself to be about 2 million years old, had no whereabouts and had somehow predicted the storm, agreed to an interview with us and disappeared within 2 minutes of it? Into thin air?”

There was an awful amount of silence. Sam just stood there. No reasonable explanation could be given to an incident like that. After some time, Fox spoke.

“Look Sam, you’re a good lad. Now I know there’ve been problems at home…”

“It’s not about that…”

“I understand what you’re going through but that shouldn’t affect your work.”

“Its not….”, interrupted Sam. “…..about that.” His voice a little louder this time . His words a little slower. He took a deep breath. “Look I know what I saw alright? I mean, Eric was there and…”

“And where is that fat fuck anyways?” Fox leaned back in his chair.

“He’s in the video room. He’ll show you whatever little we got.”

“Look Sam whatever you have here wouldn’t help me. People wouldn’t believe some voodoo Baba who claimed a storm to be actually legit.I mean, Jesus Christ, the amount we have on video, they’d think of him as a maniac claiming to be a million years old….”

“2 million.”

“What?”

There was a long silence. Suddenly, Fox’s phone started ringing. He let it ring for another second, still staring at Sam as if he’d rip apart every bone in his body. He picked up the phone and then put it down again to cancel it.

“He said he was 2 million years old”

“Yeah I know, I know.” Fox said in a solemn, low tone. He leaned forward and looked Sam straight in the eye and banged his hand on the table “Now listen to me kid. You go out there in Arab, wasting my Airfare, wasting my time which could be used on some other project and you bring me this, this bullshit explanation about some old guy magically disappearing in thin air. I don’t give a shit about problems at home…”

“That doesn’t affect my work.”

“DON’T YOU DARE INTERRUPT ME!”, stormed Fox, now breathing heavily. There was an uncomfortably long amount of silence in the midst of a backdrop of a cacophony of phones ringing all at once. He took another long puff of his cigarette and extinguished it in the ash tray. “Look Sam. I’ll give you one last chance. Bring me the guy. Or bring something me else. Something more legit. And this time with interviews that exceed more than 3 minutes. Also, thorough background and personal details. Otherwise you and that plump friend of yours, will go packing, and would probably have to work in a local news channel doing weather reports all your godforsaken lives.”

Fox’s phone began to ring again. He didn’t even bother to look at it. “Now you understand me?”, he finally said and leaned back in his chair, now facing the window behind him.

Sam headed towards the glass door. As he opened the door, he finally heard Fox pick up the phone.

“Rough day?” asked Victoria. She didn’t even look from the paperwork she was doing.

“You got no idea”, said Sam.

Victoria smiled. A flick of her brown hair tickled her cheek. She placed it behind her right ear.

Sam had seen this flick of hair somewhere. He had felt it swoosh across his face when he sat in her lap. Somehow it was as if Sam had know this woman all her life. Yet somehow Sam knew nothing about her. All he could remember were those lilac eyes. But they weren’t lilac anymore. He could could see the dimple on her left cheek. But somehow the dimple wasn’t there. All he knew was how much he loved her. But somehow he didn’t even recognize her. She was trying to say something. Her lips moved, but he couldn’t hear her. And then he woke up.

“Sam?”, said Victoria. “Sam?”

Sam stared at her blankly. He knew her. She was Fox’s secretary. He’d known her ever since she worked here. She wasn’t her. She couldn’t be.

“Yeah?” asked Sam.

“What about Saturday night?”

“Oh um…” Sam stammered a bit. “Saturday I…I gotta work on this thing with Eric.”

“Oh! Oh of course.”

“Cause you know he’d fire me if I don’t.”

“Yeah. Yeah I get it” Victoria’s intercom buzzed, “VICKY WOULD YOU BRING ME THE GODDAMN COFFEE ALREADY!”, spoke a frustrated Fox voice.

She pressed the button and spoke, “Coming right away boss.” She rose from the desk closing the paperwork file.

“Maybe some other time” said Sam and run his palm through the hair on the back of his head.

“Yeah. Yeah sure.” Victoria started walking towards the coffee machine on the left.

Sam stood there and watch her leave. He then turned around and started walking towards the video room. “Why are you doing this to me?”, he thought.

*

Eric was glued to the laptop screen when Sam opened the door to the video room. He had definitely outgrown his grey T-shirt. The thick beard had now grown a bit too much and Sam could definitely smell a man who might have spent ages since he last took a bath.

“Backstabber” said Sam as he walked towards him. “Threw me under the bus didn’t you?. And now you’re sitting here watching porn on your laptop while Fox whiplashed my ass in his office…”

“Sam you need to watch this” said Eric. He didn’t have the usual childish tone. He kept staring at his laptop screen transfixed.

Sam moved towards the table and took a seat beside Eric. A video of the interview with Salem had been playing. Eric paused the video and then replayed it.

Sam saw the whole 2 minutes 36 seconds of video. He stared at the screen as the change in pixels drained the colour from his face. He stared at Eric who was now scratching his head. He hit the replay button. Once. Twice. Every time it was the same result.

He could hear himself asking the questions.

“Okay so this is interview number one in a series of the upcoming few.Broadcasting for Discovery Channel under the category ‘New Arab untitled Project’.We’re interviewing Mr. Salem…say what’s your last name sir?”

*silence*

“Excuse me”

*more silence*

 

Sam had replayed the video thrice now. It was the same cabin. The same yellow lights lighting up the whole cabin. The same chair. The same questions. Only this time, nobody was answering the questions back.

And this time, there certainly was nobody sitting on the chair in front of the camera.

The weatherman

Eric adjusted the camera lenses, rotated it anti-clockwise and then clockwise. He  looked up from the camera to the man sitting in the chair in front of him. A man in his early sixties with a dark, Mediterranean complexion. The wrinkles on his face, the cheekbones especially, seemed like sand dunes on a long lost desert. His salt-and-pepper of hair reached his shoulders from underneath his silk black turban and his extensively long beard, almost grey now, reached his collar bone. He sat there so still, almost as if he was unaware of the hullabaloo that took place around him. His chestnut brown mascaraed eyes gazed in deep thought at the nothingness surrounding them. His black kurta and pajamas looked almost anciently unwashed and Eric could swear on God he had never seen a man smell as much as he did.

“Just a second please”, he said as he went over to his laptop. He adjusted the screen resolution to the appropriate so that the camera could focus on the man’s whole body upto his knees.

The steel door behind him opened with a loud screech and another man, a man in his early 30s with skin so white it was almost milky, came in. “Are we done yet?”, he asked. He then ran his hand through his blond, curly hair and took sip from the can of soda in his other hand.

“Yeah we’re done”, said Eric. “Say how did you get soda around here?”

“Some kid sold it to me. Said he also had pornographic DVDs with him. Had to pass him on that one.” he grinned. He then picked up his bag from the table beside him. The words ‘Discovery Channel’ flashed on them. He zipped it open and took out a blue plastic file from it.

He then walked over to Eric. “Check the phones would ya?”

Eric went over to the man and tapped his collar mike. A rumble of Congos filled up the tiny green room. “Hullo, hullo”, he spoke in the mike. The old man still sat there devoured in his nothingness.”Yo Sammy, turn down the bass a bit. It feels like a rock concert in here.”

Sam clicked on the sound icon on the laptop and decreased the level of the bass.

“Hullo, hullo”, said Eric in the mike, “Yeah much better.”

Sam then put on his own collar mike, tested it and then went on to sit on the chair next to the camera . Eric went back to the laptop. He clicked a few keys “You ready Sam”

“Yup!”

“You ready sir?”, he asked the old man who still seemed lost and uninterested.

“Sir?” asked Eric.”Sir?” A little louder this time.

The man then jolted a bit, as if been awoken from a deep slumber. He looked around him and went “Yes?”

“Are you ready?”

He looked around. “Oh yes, yes. Is this thing working? Am I on TV right now?”

“No sir your not on TV right now. The episode won’t air until a couple of weeks from now.”

The man then winced a little at his own unaware foolishness “Oh right right.”, he said.

Sam was rather surprised at the man having no foreign accent of such.

“Ok so we start in 5,4..” He gestured 3,2,1 and then a thumbs up from his palm towards Sam. Sam then looked up at his file and went on.

“OK  so this Interview number one in a series of the upcoming few.” said Sam in his mike. “Broadcasting for Discovery Channel under the category ‘New Arab untitled project’. We’re interviewing Mr…” He went on to read from his file  “Salem. Say what’s your last name sir? We don’t have it over here.”

“There isn’t.”

Sam looked up from his file, “Excuse me?”

“There isn’t one”, said Salem. His face still expressionless.

“Oh okay. Um..can you tell us, being an Arab, how could you speak English so well?”

“Oh we just can.” said Salem. “The same way we could speak many other languages.”

Sam paused for for a bit and then went on “Ok so Mr. Salem, it says in my file here that there is no exact birth date of yours. Almost how old would you be right now in your estimate.”

Salem thought for a bit. Then said in a tone of extreme confidence, ” A little more than 2 million years.”

Sam winced a little, then stared at Eric who gave the same puzzled expression. ” 2 million years?”

“Yes I think that would be the roundabout time” said Salem. His face still blank.

Sam searched for an expression of “Just kidding” on in his face, but there was none. “Umm…Okay so you’ve been here for a quite a long time then.”

“Well….compared to humans? Yes. Compared to our kind. Well, lets just say I might still be a kid.”

Sam now frowned. He thought of skipping the introduction part. The man now seemed to be a maniac anyways, but then he had to get every possible information. So he went on anyways, “Your kind? What is your kind?”

“Oh I’m afraid I must not speak of that.” he said. For the first time during the whole interview Sam could notice his eyes move around. As if searching for some intruder in the middle of a private conversation.

“This has been a big mistake”, said Salem. He started to look scared now.

“What is it?” asked Sam, ” What has been a big mistake?”

“This…this…” said Salem. “This whole thing.”

“Mr. Salem would you please calm down.” said Sam. “What is it that is bothering you?”

“Oh you don’t know them?” said Salem. His whole body trembling now. His eyes now wide. “To go against their world is one thing but this…this……” He stood up.

“Mr. Salem…” said Sam. “Mr. Salem would you please sit down now. Mr. Salem I want you to calm down.  This show won’t air until some time from now. Nobody is going to know about this, I swear.” Eric stood up from the laptop and poured a glass of water. He handed it to Salem.

Salem drank the water and began to sat down. His body muscles began to relax now.

Sam sensing the frailness of the man’s mental condition decided to wrap this up quickly.

“Are you fine now?” he asked. Salem didn’t answer. He again went on staring into his vast nothingness.

“Lets take it up from the top again. This time with no background information” Sam then heaved a sigh and went on.

“This is interview number 1 in a series of a few for the ‘Discovery Channel’ under the category ‘New Arab Untitled Project’. We’re interviewing Mr. Salem. Mr. Salem you were rumored to have come only about a week ago in the village of al-Mutila. Is that correct?”

Salem remained silent. His face now looked that of a scared kid. Sam decided not to invoke him much and so went on “It’s written over here that you came here a day before the storm that uprooted the whole village. You went to the village head Mr. Khaled Mehmood and said and I quote, “Evacuate the village. Run away! There’s a storm coming your way. You’re all going to die.” Is that true Mr. Salem?”

Salem had started tremble again. He stared into the camera, then at Sam and back into the camera.

“Mr. Salem, how did you predict the storm when the weather was all clear that day?” asked Sam and then realized that situation had now gone out of hand.

This was too much for Salem. He stood up again and started walking towards the door. “I can’t do this….I..I can’t”, he mumbled.

Eric and Sam rose from their chairs and headed towards him. “Mr. Salem…MR. SALEM!” said Sam as he began to chase him but it was too late. Salem had stormed out of the door and closed it behind him.

There was a loud rumble from the clouds. Sam opened the door and went out of into the field. The clouds thundered again and a gust of wind flew the yellow, dry leaves with them. Salem was to be seen nowhere.