By Tushita Rana
Ahmed had always associated fire with warmth and motherly love. The first memory that popped up in his mind was of his mother, Noor, making soft, round and fluffy rotis for their family. How she made her rotis perfectly round was still a mystery to him. The shape of the roti was not the only mystery that surrounded his life, his mother’s death was one as well. It’s been seven months since her death and Ahmed hasn’t been able to find how his mother’s unnatural and untimely death took place. However, one thing is clear, fire had caused it.
The case of Noor’s death was peculiar because it was not a case of arson , wherein the damage is caused to human life as well as material things. Noor’s body was found in a burnt state and everything around her seemed to be untouched by this fire, this is what made her death strange. The fire that caused her death did not seem to have a source as her body remains, which were largely in ashes, were found among the remains of a chair in which she had been sitting in the middle of their living room, which showed little evidence of fire. Since her death, Ahmed was on a quest to find out how his mother died.
Various onlookers from the town were of the opinion that the fire had started from within and witchcraft had played a role in Noor’s death. Ahmed’s family resided in a town where witchcraft and faith healing were common practices, however, their family had never shown any ounce of interest in such practices and this had set them apart from the other families. Ahmed had tried to gain some insight about his mother’s death by talking to the forensic team but that had proven to be unfruitful, as they themselves weren’t able to determine how she died.
“Ahmed, have you heard about spontaneous human combustion?” Atifa, Ahmed’s sister, asked. Atifa had heard her friends discuss human combustion and had recently decided to delve deeper into this concept. The subsequent research had led to establishment of the belief in Atifa’s mind, that their mother was a victim of spontaneous combustion.
The mystery of their mother’s death had become a means of distracting herself from the pain of losing a loved one.
“Atifa! How many times do I need to tell you to stop believing in such foolish concepts!?” Ahmed replied.
“Don’t let this town-gossip get to your head. These people can relate anything and everything to witchcraft or some other nonsensical thing.” , he further elaborated. It was not as if he hadn’t seen Atifa’s search history and not clicked onto the link directing him towards various cases of this ‘absurd and nonsensical theory’ of human combustion, but having a practical and scientific bent of mind, he simply refused to believe it.
Feeling suffocated by his own thoughts, Ahmed decided to go out to clear up his mind and organise his thoughts.
It was late evening, the sky was lilac and appeared to be mourning. Ahmed stepped out into the backyard of his house and stumbled upon something, upon close inspection he realised he was holding a knife which was completely covered in dried blood. Horrified he immediately dropped the knife. The fact that the knife belonged to someone he knew, appalled him.
Not knowing what to believe and who to trust he rushed outside, wanting the universe to answer his numerous questions.
He had solved the mystery and wasn’t certain as to how he had come to this conclusion but was sure of it. Slowly, almost reluctantly he approached his house, the house which held so many memories but now seemed to be haunting him.
With the bloody knife he entered his house and suddenly felt deprived of air, he realised that Atifa was strangling him. ‘She must have seen me discover the weapon.’ he thought and it seemed that he was ready to be killed by his own sister.
He couldn’t comprehend as to why Atifa murdered their own mother, this thought itself had ignited some sort of fire in him. His burning passion to know the what’s and how’s of life had always driven him, and at that very moment it helped him to tackle Atifa to the ground and he put his arm around her neck as a method to block her.
“Why did you do it!!? Why!?” , Ahmed shouted . Atifa laughed hysterically and started crying.
“I-I-I didn’t do it. She wanted me to do it!” she said sobbing.
“She wanted you to kill her, and you did it?! What were you thinking!? Why would she tell you to do that!?” Ahmed questioned, completely baffled by her confession.
“Obviously, I had to murder her. I am the second born and hence she had to be killed by my hands and later cremated but only partially. She was infected!
If you weren’t so self-absorbed you would have seen her suffer.” , Atifa elaborated.
“Infected! What are you talking about!?”
“Yes, I have been in contact with the people who practice faith healing to cure her but they said, that she couldn’t be cured and the sadness inside her would remain forever. The only way out of ammi’s suffering was to do what I did and that is she herself was eager to carry out my plan! Do you understand now? Aren’t you proud, brother?”
“I don’t understand. How… could you?”
“I took ammi to those people and stabbed her with the knife you found outside. Silly of me to leave it there.” giggles “And we partially cremated her to let her sadness escape her body and then very carefully placed her in the living room. It wasn’t easy, Ahmed. But it was the only way out.”
“I- I can’t. I don’t understand…” Ahmed collapsed
“Ahmed! Ahmed! Why can’t you see! It was the only way out. Ammi had to be freed from the sadness inside her… The only way… The only way…”