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mehreen ahmed

 

Queensland writer, Mehreen Ahmed has been publishing since 1987. A featured author for Story Institute, she has published The Blotted Line, a collection of short stories. More recently, Snapshots, a book of travels was published initially by PostScript Editions, UK. This was followed by a dream allegory, written in stream of consciousness style called Moirae, also published by PostScript Editions, UK. A later edition of the book was published on CreateSpace. So far, she has co-authored two books - Magical Golden Egg and Write to Remember. Jacaranda Blues is her debut novella. To learn more about Mehreen Ahmed, please visit amazon.com/author/amazon.com.mehreenahmed

MOIRAE

Following the stream of consciousness technique and embedded in dream allegory, Moirae depicts human predicament exploring notions of fate and religion. Taken from a fantasy land on a planet with two moons, called the Lost Winds, this story is about human oppression under a tyrannical regime which calls itself democratic. Much like our planet earth, people flee to seek protection in a place called Draviland, a long way away from the Lost Winds. Dramas pertaining to such human conditions often appear in the main character's lucid dreams and knitted in pink honeycomb pattern. This metaphor is used to construe self organized behavior among men, herding as they try to escape from persecution.

 

Prologue

In the cold grip of death and high alert, stands the silent land of the Lost Winds. Moral degradation has triggered a mass exodus. Those who were at great risk and in imminent danger have fled the atrocities of the regime by a boat called the Blue Moon to seek protection in a new land. Battling over the high seas through many violent tempests, their sea unworthy vessel, Blue Moon sailed for days until one evening it was spotted under the roaming beam of the light house on murky waters. The boat has finally reached the shores of Draviland. In the meantime, unfathomable ponderings rage in Nalia’s head in Lost Winds, as she explores the chaotic, dark fate of her mates. Unpredictable times have created such people, deemed as riders of the howling seas.


Table of contents

1.Red Tempest  4
2.Ash woodlands  14
3.Black streams  22
4.Orange soils 36
5.White Vines  49
6.Purple waves  59
7.Gold Foliage  70
8.Turquoise Roots  83
9.Emerald Luminosities  94
10.Sapphire Skies  104
11.Crimson Fields  110
12.Pink Honey Combs  120 

 

“As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport-”
William Shakespeare: King Lear.

 

Red Tempests

Rain had already begun. Monsoon was unleashed fiercely that morning over Lost Winds, generally known as the village. Impending storm offered no sign of a let up as torrential rain fell from the ashen sky in every direction. Trees swayed, branches creaked and gusty winds lacerated through the tender leaves. Nalia put her knitting down on the chair, under the pumpkin vines to sheaf a broom. She put it together in a bunch with an adhesive around it at the top. Then she swept the throngs of meddling moths of black and grey pebbles off the front yard. The heavy rain pelted steadily down the tip of the serrated fungi, sprawling under the mossy matted fence. Nalia looked at it tentatively, as she finished her morning chore, gathering her clothes neatly over her young, smooth shoulder.  She wore a long, cotton untailored piece of cloth wrapped around her like a large sarong. It was a black and white check garb.

A call out from a neighbour distracted her slightly, as she turned towards the entrance. Her gaze fell on a girl whose name was Pael. Nalia appeared in the open doorway of her thatched house. She saw that Pael was talking to Shinta.

“My brother has left Lost Winds.”
“What? When?  Tell me you’re joking?”
“No, no I’m not. At 17, he has nothing, no money. Poor soul. Oh! How poor are we?” Pael sobbed.

Nalia stood there eavesdropping in silence and looked up at them with a lazy eye. Unexpectedly, she rubbed her snub nose with her palm making it appear even flatter than usual. She found her bearings and looked beyond the entrance, which lent a full view of the rain, like translucent paint on nature’s canvas running in rivulets along the gully of the leeches.

Nalia picked it up and resumed knitting. She knitted a sweater in honey-comb pattern. With a ball of pink, downy wool under one arm, she walked up to them, closer to the entrance.
“What’s up?”
“My father needs to borrow money.”
“How much? And why?”
“Why? We need it for my brother,” she said. “He needs 100 thousand to pay his Transporters who took him on a boat called Blue Moon into the island of Mundip.”
“And why did he need to leave?”
“To get away from police,”
“Police? What police? Tell me. Tell me everything.”
“I can tell you only what I know.”
“Then tell. What’s going on?”

Nalia looked straight at the vertical water lines falling through the curled up wet ferns over a wall of Rhododendrons and Frangipanis. She stood there knitting, listening to her neighbours’ ramblings. Her thoughts took her darkly away in a stream of sudden mindlessness.

On the day of her wedding, there were jubilations. Loud music and high-pitched songs were played repeatedly to entertain the wedding guests. Nalia was dressed in cheap silk of sparkly shocking pink. Matching pink slippers looked bright in the afternoon sun, as she stepped out of her father’s house into a new heavenly life of the blissful unknown. Little did she know that the cloth wrapped around her was stolen and so were her slippers; flashy studded multicoloured stones, set unevenly on the foot-ware. As darkness fell, an oddity took place which changed her life forever.

Under a full marmalade moon, she sat with her wedded husband in a small thatched room. Through the portal of the cane latticed window, she heard the ominous crow lapse into terrible wail, as it flew through the stooping, bunched up bamboo bush. No sooner, men dressed in police clothes kicked open her flimsy wooden door. Befuddled and frightened like a caged experimental mouse, she stood shivering in one corner, as police handcuffed her lover. Then they turned her wedding bed over and ripped through the new, custom made bed that the village mattress-maker had given them as a wedding gift.

Gawking, in the candle light, she could not believe her eyes. Police recovered millions of 100s, 50s, and 20s in notes. The money flurried out of the open mattress like the dry leaves of an autumnal maple tree. Accused of robbery, her love was taken and cast away in an ever forbidden hole of a dungeon. Her lazy eye welled up with tears. She wiped them off. Rain poured like a whole heap of tiny white nibbles, straight out of a party bag, in the process of strange metamorphosis.

Her thoughts returned when her neighbours left. She turned around and came back to her room. She felt tired and went to her room for a rest. Unknowingly, as she lay down on her bed, she slipped into slumber.
Night fell and she had the strangest dream; she ran, flew and soared, and then fell straight back down, waking with a scream. She crawled up to get herself a glass of water from the aluminium pitcher in the corner of the room. Sounds of the frolicking birds in the moon light of the early morning woke her up. She tried to hear, if the rains had stopped. In that moment every bit of happiness that she ever felt evaporated as rainfall on a parched land.

It was in shame that she returned to her father’s house, after her husband had been arrested. Each day she hoped for a miracle to happen and went without a meal for days. Hair uncombed, without a shower, she even surpassed banshees in looking her worst. She too had a brother once. Not being able to endure her affliction of separation from her husband any longer, he had hatched a plan in a sudden frenzy to help her. Brother had decided to borrow heavily from a wealthy farmer to bribe the police for her husband’s acquittal. He nearly succeeded. The wealthy man agreed to lend him 50 thousand in cash, but not unconditionally. It was a debt, of a most horrible kind. The brother could not pay it back. The farmer forced him to work on his rice fields without payment. It wasn’t an acceptable proposition. Brother decided to flee. On natural impulse, he desired freedom from this slave labour. Nalia heard a cough coming from the next room; her father lay snoring like a fat old cat. She called him, but didn’t hear a response. She looked out at the morning afterglow streaming in through the matted window.

She rose from her bed creeping quietly on the floor toward her belongings. Opening the lid of a black, battered suitcase, she drew out a beat-up tin of biscuits with a tightly pressed lid. With some effort she wrung it open. In it, there was some money, 500 only in cash, which she had found accidentally on that fate less wedding night after the police had left. It slipped somehow sitting in a shadowy corner to be picked up. Happy in the belief that one day she would be able to buy comfort, she put it in the suitcase tucked under the few clothes that she had, before she left this life behind her. Without anyone to care for, she had not much clothes and no jewellery at all. In all the world she only possessed 500 gold coins. Whatever relationship she had with the man, this husband of hers, was over. Her marriage was now over. The 50, 000 borrowed to free him from police had also gone unaccounted for and was now needed to pay off the farmer, which the brother had owed or else he would be confined to unpaid slavery for life.
Distraught by her sibling borrowing heavily and then trying to buy her life back, she was just as helpless as her parents to save him out of this troubled situation. They could never pay off this debt. Money and poverty was the root of all her worries.

Trepidation filled her up. The next morning, Nalia thought of her ugly life. She walked down the Murma river. The newspapers had said it all. That her husband was caught off the coast of the Panuma Island, selling riders to Transporters, people who agreed to organise illegal passage for a payment into the land of Dravi. Her brother was gone that way too. She sat down on the bank of the Murma River and weeded nettles from an over grown grassy patch. Strange, she could not find any flowers in the lowland of the river bank. Silvery waves dulled under the grey cloud. It was going to rain again. She looked up.

Her brother was gone. Yes, but his boat had capsized near the shores of the Siren peninsula. And that was that. It was one of the lucky stories. Boats always sank in the deep seas near the Underworld. Miraculously, they were rescued by Dolphins; the hapless people of the boat lived.  Incredible indeed.  The night was cold and so was the water. It was murky too when their boat sank as it proceeded through the Underworld Mountain range. Their legs constantly walked the waters under the sea; fear and panic seized them, as they heard their own shallow breathing. They looked around but encountered fury on every uncompromising lap of the waves. Children never made it back and adults were ready to embrace death just when a few survivors floated up on the bosom of the sea. They were suddenly encircled by Dolphins in the shark infested ocean while predators roamed at large on the outer circle.
Dolphins sheltered them as their own. Stories went a bit further, to say that these Dolphins, their saviours, even guided them to safety. They waded with them to the nearest island spotted within the radius of the beam from the light house where the ocean slapped those very shores in gentle wavering movement. Towards the light house, the Dolphins then swam away afterwards. And that was the tale of survival that seeped slowly into the village. Would fortune be with her neighbour’s brother too? He had also left. What if perchance, his boat also sank, and he was left with the sharks alone?
A shiver went straight up her spine. Since that day, Nalia feared the worst. She feared for Pael’s brother and for all those people who were leaving the village for one reason or the other. She was not on any boat, but was still in the village, safely enveloped within the shrubbery of banana plants and jack fruit trees. Circumstances will pull her toward a unique destiny, percolating beyond control perhaps. Her job was to continue to dream for that day, when she would become self-sufficient. God knows, she was not wealthy, but she was at least free.

Monsoon rain eased off a bit. The last of the rain water, dripped lazily down the tea leaves from the plantation along the river. Distant drizzles were a mass of tiny fluids poised spectacularly on air. Nalia got up and walked home warily; not sure if she would sleep well that night. Extending an arm down, she wrung little yellow flowers off the edge of the dirt path. These looked lovely, ‘blushed many a times to die unseen’, as many a times as the people in the village. Hapless victims ran away for reasons they were not responsible for. Human fate was strange. Stranger still was human dilemma.

Seventeen-year-old boy had escaped. His father’s arch enemy, Miah had framed him for an alleged murder. It had not stopped there. What was his name? Pontu, Pael’s brother. He left home in search of a new life, on a new soil on a journey through Mundip.

Poor Pontu. He was not wealthy, neither was his father. Look, what happened? Born in poverty, he was surrounded by vile people from childhood, who ensnared him in a murder case. A trap. Goodness me. Fleeing from one place to another was what he did all his life. The regime tried to recruit him to do the dirty jobs for them. When he did not want to do it, they beat him up; when he joined them, they played him; tied him to this murder case; an unspeakable crime committed by another.

What other option was left? The police had even arrested Pontu once, but he was able to escape from jail. He would be arrested again, he knew, in Mundip. Courage and optimism led him on, so he would live to the fullness of life. If only the wheel of fortune turned for the better. One lucky break was all that this lad needed. Being illegal, there were great uncertainties, as vast as the ocean itself. Anxiety gripped him like wet hair strand coiled around a finger hard to shake the moisture off. To be happy and to be safe were his basic rights, but he struggled to have even that. A child was always born in innocence until forces of circumstances snatched it away. It happened all too soon for him, happened almost in his infancy, at 17, only 17.

Reminiscence of her own life spoke again to her of how her marriage had ended before it was even consummated. 16 and she had barely put her foot forth into the world. Henna still fresh on her palms seemed to scream out for justice in brick red. Her entire being cried out of ingrown aches of unfulfilled love. She must get away. Get her life back together before it ended. Life would end sooner than people thought.

Up in the sky, clouds continued to manifest in dramatic moody hues. Tinges of crimson glowed momentarily, before masses of ink and grey crowded in. Constable’s sky would not have looked more poetic on its canvas with such a spillage of riotous colours. Vapours crossed broodingly about in emptiness, right before a melt-down. Quick lightening crept through unpredictably in toothed lines, followed by bellows from heavens above. Nalia began to run like a petrified black gazelle.

Funds needed to be raised. She walked past Pontu’s house and saw them eating. 100,000 was a far cry, when even one remained to be seen. Pontu would languish in some hellish hole for being illegal. But the Transporters must be paid in full or else this journey could be a futile one and not end up in Dravi. Dodging from bullets, police pastings and captures lay further ahead for Pontu in Mundip. Oh. How awful. He had only just turned 17. Nalia glimpsed at them briefly. Through the open portal, she saw them packing huge balls of fermented soaked rice in water. Radish and rice on their palms was galvanised straight out of an earthen bowl into their gaping hungry mouths. Hunger gave them insatiable appetite, anyway; fuelled by nervousness today, slowing down of the jumpy finger to mouth motion was impossible. Their son rafted on some remote corner of the Red Seas, and they were in the iron grips of bleak powerlessness.

Nalia slowed down her pace. Something needed to be done about her life too. It was not her desire to end up in the slave market or some big pleasure houses. Options were limited. She was not a defeatist. At 16 she did not want to be one. Perhaps, she could fall in love again. Her friend Tahu, worked in a garment factory in the city. She remarried soon after her first husband perished under the rubbles, when another garment factory collapsed.
Nalia picked up a tune from a movie translated as The Claybird. Forlorn and sleepless, she lay in her bed lamenting next to her parent’s room. These walls held no secrets back, as she heard them talk.

“100,000 is a lot of money.”
“They must sell the milk cow and raise the money,” A women’s voice sounded desperate.
“We could have given them a loan,” her father said,
“But we’re hard-up ourselves.”

Nalia got up from her bed and went to sit on the dirt floor in the front yard. The moon didn’t shine tonight. Sallow light from the hurricane lamp imparted almost a surreal, magical luminescence in the darkness. She heard her mother’s muffled voice.

“I wish Nalia would get married again. That would be one less mouth to feed.”
“Speak softly, I don’t want her to hear this,” warned Nalia’s father.

And then there was silence. Nalia knew what was expected of her. But she loved him, the one that she had married and he loved her so. But he was gone now. Tahu was different, the banal kind; the kind that did not procrastinate. She did what she had to do. Love was never an issue for her.

But Nalia? Would she be able to love again? Her best friend Tahu lived in the city. She left village a while ago, about two years now. She could find her a job in the garment factory in the city. She made up her mind to find work in just such a place, like Tahu and many of those young girls leaving the village. The native’s full innocence beguiled her.

She was going leave a pristine life behind to look for Tahu in the city and embark on a life of the unknown, not having the slightest clue of what awaited her. In one short move, she latched on this new exciting idea of the city full of adventure. Little did she know what she was getting into. The maddening rat race of the city knocked her over. She confronted here the most heinous of crimes.

Reality today would have been different than what it turned out to be. Fate had pushed her towards something she was helpless in resisting. Great expectations turned into unbearable misery, so much so that her plights led to muddled thoughts of an absurdist sporadic mind.

At first she couldn’t find her friend Tahu in the city, not until much later anyway. At her wit’s end, Nalia was engaged in deep monologue one summer’s day knitting her long sweater in the city of Grosnii, as her mind continued to travel randomly nonlinear across space and time; she contemplated on wretched occurrences happening not only in her life, but also in those of her friends. Echoes of the past raced through her head which offered reconnaissance of the time, quite out of joint.                                                           

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