By Farah Ahamed
You stand barefoot in the dark, looking as far as you can through the large living room window to the bus stop on the opposite side of the road. You glance at your watch. The small, silver dial tells you it is six thirty-three. The 247 is late. You see the bus draw up, stop, then rumble on again. You strain your eyes to discern the figure waiting to cross the road. You go to the fireplace and light the candles and incense sticks on the mantel piece. You listen for footsteps running along the pavement of your flat, and a knock on the door. You wait a few minutes, but you hear no footsteps, and no knock, only the sound of passing traffic.
You sit in front of the fireplace on the Persian rug which has the tree of life design in green and pink. The plush weave of the silk threads feels soft and smooth. You cross your legs and open the music notation book at Raag Marwa. You look at your watch, seven minutes have elapsed since the last bus.
You read; “The mood of this raag is defined by sunset, and the sudden onset of darkness. The effect of this melody form on the listener is to create a feeling of anxiety at the setting of the sun and solemn expectation of night.” You mark the leaf with a red ribbon.
You switch on the electronic tanpura and adjust the position of the harmonium, near your knees. With your left hand you release the metal latch on the side of the instrument and with your right you pump the bellows. You pull out three stops on the front panel. You play a scale of notes on the black and white keys and continue to pump the bellows. You listen to the monotonic drone from the tanpura and play Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa. You shift the harmonium to the right so that your elbow rests on the frame. You fiddle with the knob on the tanpura and play the notes again.
“Saima?” Adeel shouts, from the next room.
“Are you teaching?”
You close your eyes and play the notes on a higher scale.
You sing “Sa, Sa, Re, Re, Ga, Ga.”
The vibration of the music and the sound of your voice makes your body quiver. You inhale until your lungs are at full capacity; then you exhale and chant the word Aum, in an elongated form; “Auuum”. You do this five times, to the note of Sa.
You forget everything, except your breath, your voice and the music.
But then you remember. You look at your watch, it’s six fifty-five.
You turn a page in the book. “Raag Marwa is an unusual raag melody because its tone is not harmonically well defined; and this imbalance gives it its peculiar character.”
You play the next note on the scale, “Ma, Ma, Ma.” The repetition calms you. You sing the whole scale, “Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa,” ascending and then descending, four times over.
The candles flicker. The winter sky is dark, you shiver. You switch off the tanpura and push away the harmonium. You get up and go to the next room.
Adeel is lying in bed in his striped grey and white pyjamas. He is facing you. His eyes are closed. The covers are thrown off. On the small trolley by the side of the bed, the grilled cheese sandwich and fruit salad are the way you left them earlier. The glass of orange juice is half empty.
“Please eat something,” you say. “You haven’t had anything all day.”
“I’m not hungry.”
You lean against the door frame and wait. He doesn’t open his eyes. He doesn’t move.
“I made it especially for you,” you say.
“I’ll have it later,” he replies.
You count to thirty. He doesn’t move. In the corridor across from the bedroom is a mirror. You catch your reflection. You see yourself. Your face. Your hair. Your neck. Your ears. Your mouth. Your eyes. You think this is not you.
Who is this woman? Her eyes have grey shadows. Her face is thin. She is greying at the temples.
You feel a chill. The curtains rise and fall, there is a strong wind outside. You walk across the room to the open window. You shut it and draw the curtains.
“Leave them alone,” says Adeel.
You open them again.
You gaze at Adeel. His shoulder blades protrude through his pyjamas. His back and knees are bent so that his body is curved like a foetus.
You take a beige cashmere shawl from the wardrobe and drape it around your shoulders.
You stare at Adeel. He is in the same position. You want to say, “Look at me, standing in front of you. Acknowledge me. ” Instead you walk to the door, dim the lights and go back to the living room.
But for the faint glow of candles, the living room is dark. You look at your watch, it is ten past seven. You stand by the window and watch the rain falling on the window pane. The rain falls fast, but it is light and you can’t hear it. Across the street you watch the bus stop. A bus arrives, stops and then leaves. There are people waiting to cross the road, you can’t see who they are. You wonder what time he will come. You know he will.
You move away from the window and sit on the rug. The flickering candles throw shadows across the room. You place your left hand on the black and white keys and your right on the bellows. You hum some notes, and move your fingers up and down the key board. You play the scale ascending and then descending. You play Raag Marwa, instinctively. You play it on a lower scale and then a higher scale. You start to sway. You play another tune, in the same tune, at a higher pitch. Your voice and body are in harmony, a slow, steady pulse and rhythm. You play the melody at a lower pitch. The mellow bass fills you with dread. You sing, “Dh Ma Dh Ma Ga Re Ga Ma Ga Re Sa.”
You sing continuously for twenty- five minutes.
“Saima,” shouts Adeel.
You stop singing. The tanpura drones monotonously. You switch it off and go to the window. He has never been late before. The rain has stopped, the window pane is wet; it is difficult to see the street. You hear the sounds of traffic. You wipe the condensation on the window with the corner of your shawl. No one is at the bus stop. A car drives by, its headlights shine straight at you. You blink. You stand at the window and look at your watch. The next bus is due. No bus comes. You watch the road. You think you must have waited ten minutes. You look at your watch, you’ve waited only three.