Bad Bone by Mehreen Ahmed

The cafe hummed a note of non-rhythmic jingle. I sat with a glass of sparkling water reading Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night; deep in reading, I took a sip occasionally. As it stands, the passages of infidelity bothered me more than the stylistic complexity of the book. It resonated something that I did not wish to remember. A wind picked up just outside the glassed window. My attention diverted because of an intermittent, yet twiggy knock; a tall gum tree stood against the pane; a sudden blast tore off a branch and felled it on the sill. I looked at it briefly and resumed with my study of the characters.

A sea of snow; the whispering winds of quietness. I reflected on a placid icy slope of a winter afternoon; silent like a still painting, my face stood out amongst the cafe crowd. Not a sore thumb, as there were others like me too, but with more sprightly, appealing demeanours. It eluded me. Carefree, I thought. Something tore me in the gut. I conferred with an inner self and tried to understand a joy colluded with despair. Not known to me, why had it always been like that? To not to be able to seperate the clashing emotions fused within the unmarked waves of the soul. My soul never at peace, oscillated between here and there; between a temporary world of the body and elsewhere, a life of the mind or of the spirit. Of the mind, I noted with care. An inner self of being, where dreams took place, more so in hibernation.

Hibernation was the word. That was a long journey. It offered no reprieve from dreaming on a continuum. In awakening, the tall green grass now turned into straw. Dehydration caused hallucination. The letter way too late, my fate could have turned. But no, that was not written in the stars. Love written off. I couldn’t break someone’s heart. Accepting the letter meant, a defeat for Pat. Married, yes but she had married him, while his realisation of love for me came later. He had already married but full of dilemma. Pat never knew. Pat had no where else to go. He married her, then left her by herself. Long overdue. Forlorn, she didn’t know what happened to him. I received his love letters, one too many. An imminent affair loomed at my doorstep; knocked me over. I read the letter but did not respond.

A marriage of the heart very well could have been. But the grass had been dehydrated by then. The dehydrated grass turned into straw. Then the brittle straw clung on to the earth for dear life. I went quietly into hibernation. Now there was a stream of straw whose tortuous roots lay rooted to the soil. The soil made of sand caved into its roots. Nurtured it not, the soil lay hollow. Then there was a hole. A hole in the soil where I slept in awakening and I dreamt of nothingness. But hunger acted as fuel. A hunger I ate all day. I walked in a dream. Dream of life. Listened to the spring birds, broke the silence of the morn. There was silence in my heart. It whispered, but a dirge. It was spring. Love in the air.

The air was fresh; I sat under an apple tree. Fresh red apples hung over me. An apple tree burdened with fruit. Burdened. My heavy heart burdened; so many memories. If one could paint them, then there would be many shades of red. I buried myself deeper into the burrow. The hole which I clawed. I picked up the dirt with my own two hands. The dirt which slithered between the five fingers. It slithered right through. The waves of my thoughts flowed undulated. I wanted to see him now. After many seasons, I wanted to know what he looked like. I gave him up for Pat because she was a homeless orphan. I had given him away only to find him after all these years. Age and ageing broke me. Broken bones but not bad bones. Would it be bad to want him back in my life? I didn’t have a single bad bone they said. Alas! It was the paradox that killed me. The poisoned ivy crushed me unduly. Creepers, the poison, crept up the spine. The love potion, at its best worked like magic, at its worst a delusion. Maybe, it was delusion. I never really wanted him. I was better off without him, perhaps. Leave him to his nemesis, to his Pat, one that he married, then he had second thoughts and wished that he had not married for he loved me. That was what he thought. And his thought turned in while, and then he took Pat back. She was soft and sensitive. She used to say, this world too harsh; far too harsh. Yes, it perhaps was for her, who never cared to do much. I dug deeper into my trench. I dodged a bullet. It could have taken its toll. He would never have understood. Much too much, far more engrossed, with money and matter. I on the other hand, soared on the wings of poesy. It would not have worked out for me. A realisation, it was better this way. I pulled myself up, out of the burrow. The leaves under the tree crunchy and brown.

Brown, natural process of decay; brown, because they paved a way to new life. The dehydrated grass had turned into straw, when I hibernated. Now the straw turned back into green grass. I felt content. Shades of pink turned my reds around. I felt not just content but young again. I was a sheaf of corn; the life giving properties of the sun; sprinklings of water. Back to the waves where life began as did hope and optimism. Optimism and hope replaced the drought of the soul, and the nihilism of my thoughts.

Mehreen Ahmed has published with Cambridge University Press, Routledge, Ginosko Literary Journal (forthcoming), The Cabinet of Heed, Mojave Heart Review, and more. Her book, The Pacifist was Drunken Druid Editor’s Choice, June 2018. Short story, Bats Downunder, was Best of Cafelit, 2018, her debut novella, Jacaranda Blues, Best of Novels, 2017 by Novel Writing Festival. Her works have been translated in German, and Greek languages.