by Airaz Amor
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Experience · #1786064
A 40-something woman living in Islamabad wakes up in her balcony and goes for a run.
|It was during the interlude of tranquility between a compelling dream and the prayer-time clamor that Ana Dawood realized she was sleeping alone under the open sky. It was cold, and she had woken up with her elbows tucked between her knees. She was fumbling for the blanket, and not finding it, she tried to open her eyes. Blinking in the cerulean light of dawn, she saw it. Through the glass door to the room, she saw Junaid's foot hanging over the side of the bed, the upper part of his body disappearing into the blanket. Watching it indolently moving with his breathing body, she thought: So this is the part they leave out in the movies. It was her idea, sleeping together outdoors. She straightened out her legs. Lying flat on her back now, she expanded out her arm to reach for the edge of the white sheet drooping over the recliner and pulled it in over herself. In the liquid clarity of the sky, she observed the night-ripened stars and the seashell moon above the sleeping city. I could get used to this. The trill of birdsong, the wild, minty fragrances that the breeze carried in, and the rustle of leaves wiped her senses clear of the residues of sleep. Ana decided to run to the nearby woods and back while the autumn-morning cool lasted.|
As the first notes of amplified liturgical pipings cut through the ambiance, she dropped her feet to the cold floor and let them carry her inside. The tactile warmth of the rug below her feet made her stop on the way to the bathroom. She sat down on the edge of the bed. The undulating flesh of the calf above Junaid’s foot was visible where his leg emerged out of the blanket. She lifted its corner, and before lowering it over his naked leg, she lowered her mouth on the sparsely-haired flesh, feeling a twitch of muscle under her moist lips. Her hand followed the path of warmth on his skin, and her body followed suit, feeding on the charge of feeling generated where skin met skin. She snuggled her cheek into the depression between his shoulder-blades. But before she could find a good position, his chest expanded underneath her to the accompaniment of a loud snore; he turned, and she fell off him. His body curled up and his rear backed into her pelvis, pushing her away.
A shower and a fruit-and-milk beverage later, Ana stood in front of the mirror. She combed back her wet ear-length hair, rolled up the sleeves and bottoms of her crinkly royal-blue track-suit, and set up her music gear. A lone, straggling prayer-call was ringing in the air when she hit the asphalt, but she drowned the plaint by turning up the music in her ears. The sky was a lighter shade of blue now and she could make out the whites of the clouds on it, but the sun was still tucked under the horizon. She cut through the empty lot to make for the road heading east to meet the woods. Foot after foot dropping and bouncing in its turn, her body seemed to draw its motive charge from the ground. The pulsating rhythms of movement, music and heartbeats met in her abdomen, and she felt a surge of energy. Her lungs were extracting more air than they were putting back, and her chest felt light. The blood brought that extra air to her head too, and she felt it float. Her airborne feet were landing harder now, launching off almost as soon as they touched down, kicking up the papery-yellow heralds of winter. A group of old men in white, their ankles visible and their hair hidden under prayer caps, all came to a halt. When they saw no signs of let-up in the onrush of the approaching specter, they cleared out of the way, turning to look at her go. Cowering in anticipation, they turned back to look at the direction the middle-aged woman came from. Not used to such sights, their minds had assumed the worst: the woman must be running from a wild animal.
At the edge of the suburb, the road turned north and the forest floor descended to meet it. Approaching the wood, Ana looked up to see a light mist draping the canopy, its green shot through with the warmer hues of red and orange. The trees were set back from the road, a strip of soil of running alongside it. Several yards ahead, the curtain of hanging branches opened, and reaching it, she turned into a trail that sloped up and disappeared into the trees. The air laden with scents of earth, wood, and herb mingled with the present moment traces of a past one that only survived in fragmented sensations. Reaching inside her pocket to cut the music, she slowed to a jog and allowed the moment to linger as her mind excavated it for half-remembered images and feelings.
The air was abuzz with the early-morning cheep-cheeping of birds. Her runner’s high subsided and her breathing moderated, she could now smell all the notes of the fragrant forest air. Accompanying it was a childlike state of elation mixed with guilt, fear and anticipation. It brought back the feeling of grass against her back and fingertips moving up the skin of her neck to underneath her hair; a tingling that was still new and strange; a warmth that reached her skin from the inside and set it on fire; a smile that egged her on, helping her ride the storm of sensation like an adventurer; and arms that kept her warm as the forest air grew colder. The outer edges of the memory-picture were made of drops of soft yellow moonlight falling through gaps in the leafy shelter above. The leaves whispered and the wood whistled as the stems swayed to the solicitations of the breeze, opening and closing the passages of light. Now extinct in these parts, the sacred bodhi had formed a protective enclosure around them, its branches arching out and almost meeting the ground. In the middle were the two of them, fearing no intrusion, human or animal, in that part of the forest off the beaten path.
The forest trail sloped downward and she emerged from her reverie as the trees ahead of her opened out on to the steely brightness of a road. The morning sun sprawled out in the sky was stretching its light beams as if in a yawn. She was thirsty, and as she panted, the cold air hurt her dry throat. Light reflecting from the road made her head spin, and she found support against a tree as her knees gave way. They would be looking for me by now.
Her breathing normalized, she stepped out and hailed a taxi. She climbed inside the warmed automobile and asked for water. The driver complied, and fished out a plastic bottle. Plucking it out of his hands, she took a greedy gulp. She mouthed off the directions, and as the car moved, sank into the seat. Holding the bottle to her mouth, she closed her eyes as she felt the warm liquid pour down her throat. The memory had left its imprint on the back of her eyes, and as it slowly faded, she saw that it was still incomplete, a hole right in its middle, where there should have been a face. Her face.
She rolled down the window, and sat up to stare at the forest, ignoring the driver’s grunt. Her arms and legs felt cold, and it hurt to swallow spit. The cold wind stung her eyes, and she drew her eyes back inside. Eddies of fragmented dead leaves came streaming inside, and she put the window back up. She slumped back, and closed her eyes again.
Ana Dawood came home that day to a household on the verge of panic. Junaid was on the phone with someone, and the kids had just come back from outside with their heads drooped in disappointment. They were all relieved to see her. But their exclamations elicited no more than a mumbled apology and a grin. They ceased their demands for explanations, and let her be. Instead of her usual coffee, Ana took a cup of warm milk, and retired to the bedroom. She felt a fever coming on, she said, and she would sleep it off.