I met Bilal a few months back when I had just moved to my new apartment. Bilal lives across the road that divided our old and tattered structures. I was running away from my future, and he was trying to survive his. Bilal’s father works in real estate and was kind enough to let me stay in this old crumbling home. I shifted during mid-summer, the streets were scorching hot, vapors rose as vehicles passed by, It gets really hot in the summer, but it didn’t matter, I was that glad I left my hometown.
I usually stroll around on the terrace when I need to clear my head or when the nights get burdened with nightmares. It feels like I haven’t slept much at all ever since I had to run away to start fresh.
I got a job as a “Traveling Journalist” in a local news agency, I guess they were intrigued by the stories that I had to share, it didn’t matter if they believed them or not, it kept them puzzled. I couldn’t complain too, I had a roof over my head, even though there were chances of it crashing on my head, it was more than I could ask, compared to the previous month.
I don’t know why I stuck around, maybe it was fate or intuition, to feed my hunger, to know more about me. I needed answers, that would grant me rest, answers that would rid the burden that weighed down on my chest.
It was a mid-summer evening, the sun had just set, I was growing restless sitting alone in my room, tiny beads of sweat were rolling down my face, and I thought I would step out into the terrace to cool off. The city stretched out before me and sighed pollution, dust, and hustle. The people below were like tiny worker ants, running towards their next destination carrying enormous burdens twice their weight. I was only out for a few minutes, but I was already drenched with sweat. I heard melodious tunes erupt from Bilal’s terrace as Baba Ahmed played his guitar. Baba Ahmed was a very wise man, over 90 years old, but he was always filled with life. Bilal was his grandson, and when Baba Ahmed caressed the strings of his guitar, Bilal could be found sitting across him, oblivious to the tunes.
Baba Ahmed always told me, that he played his guitar only for his wife. They ran away from the stereotypes that had become their reality, to start a new life here, a new beginning. Bilal would bring his grandmother to the terrace and massage her feet as Baba Ahmed played his guitar, she always teared up hearing him play.
I enjoyed this mellow evening, it brought a surreal peace within me, as I witnessed these humble lives unfold before me.
I felt a gust of wind brush past me, it felt like my sweat laden shirt, had suddenly turned ice-cold, as I shivered in the warmth of a summer evening. It was almost nostalgic, the wind brought forth many memories, voices unheard, familiar scents from the past or future, it was unclear, and just then, Baba Ahmed looked over and nodded as he acknowledged my presence. Baba Ahmed always said, “Death lurked around like the wind” I never grasped the depth of that thought, until now.
The night grew silent as Baba Ahmed stopped playing, Bilal along with his grandmother, went back home after a long evening. Strangely, I couldn’t sleep that night, the words of Baba Ahmed lingered in my mind, another gust of wind forced through my window as I lay still on my bed, and I felt a chill break my posture.
The very next day, I was pacing back home after a long tiring schedule, drenched by the summer’s heat I gasped, as I walked towards my building entrance, and as I waited by the door, I looked across to find Bilal’s house eerily silent, there were no lights, darkness loomed over every corner of his home. Soon it was time for my evening routine, I was desperate, for a few moments of tranquility. I made my way up to the terrace, usually, I hear the melodious tunes of Baba Ahmed even before I enter the open space, but today I was greeted by a deafening silence. It was as though the world beneath me spun, just because of the music that erupted out of Baba Ahmed’s guitar, but today, even the world seemed to mourn his silence. I leaned on the wall, beneath me was gravity, pulling me down, and across was emptiness. I was ready to go back, I felt weak, tired, and disappointed. I straightened my back, breathed in the silence, and as I turned towards the exit, I felt a gust of wind freeze me in time.
I just knew that I didn’t need to look back, I was being led towards an inevitability. I rushed back down with a purpose, that I was completely oblivious to, a few pants, and a few steps later, I was on the street, facing the entrance of Bilal’s building. I entered the silent halls, the walls caved in as I spotted Bilal’s father by his doorstep, his tears demanded my silence, and I quietly obliged. I made my way up to the terrace and was suddenly overcome by unexplainable happiness as I saw Baba Ahmed sitting where he always sat, along with his guitar. Baba Ahmed picked up his guitar and embraced it as he prepared himself to play those melodious tunes, his wife sat right next to him, she giggled, like she was 15 years old. I waited by the door in awe, I feared, that even the slightest of sounds would interrupt the peace I felt. The evening progressed as I floated away with the tunes, but I was quickly woken up by a chill that ran down my spine. I turned around to see Bilal make his way towards me, as I made way for him, I almost called out his name as I saw a light red mark around his neck, under the darkness, it almost glowed.
Bilal smiled as he saw his grandparents sitting together, it was like he was seeing them together for the first time after an eternity. Baba Ahmed stopped playing as he spotted Bilal, suddenly that silence stopped the whole world around me.
Baba Ahmed spoke with excitement, “Bilal! So good to see you, I was expecting to see you much later, I guess you couldn’t wait any longer. Come! Join us, I have so many things to tell you.”
I quietly made my way towards them and sat next to Bilal. Bilal’s grandmother, placed her legs on his lap, he started to massage her legs, I couldn’t help but stare at them, I always saw them from a distance but sitting next to them felt surreal. I often ask myself, “Why am I so involved in their life? When did I become so vulnerable?”
They didn’t seem to notice my presence, or they just ignored I was there all along, maybe after all these years, I was just a shadow on the other side of the street, a presence, a gust of wind.
Baba Ahmed continued, “Bilal, I cannot judge you for the choices that you made, some are unexpected, and beyond our control. Death, after all, lurks around like the wind. Death is all around us, it’s unpredictable, it swoops up, and transports our soul. Death doesn’t wait for anyone, its quiet and swift.”
We didn’t speak, as we were caught in Baba Ahmed’s melodious trance, time around us stood still, his heavy voice lightened our load. I didn’t mind, being oblivious to their reality, their relevance was all I needed, to feel acknowledged. Soon it was time for me to go, I felt a gentle nudge like I was not needed anymore, I stood up and left, suddenly the summer heat swooped in to drench me, leaving me breathless.
I slept peacefully that night, I woke up, energized, and was ready to tackle the world. The office was buzzing, with chatters and gasps, I tried to ignore them for a while, but I was shattered, when I heard a conversation from the tables next to me.
Jonah said, “Did you hear what happened over at Baba Ahmed’s place?”
Beth replied, “Ugh! Brutal, he was so young, I just don’t get it, what problems could he possibly have, that he hung himself?”
Jonah said, “I don’t know about that, but can you just imagine, two deaths, in two days? That takes quite a mental toll on a boy that young.”
Beth said, “Yeah I guess so, he was not close with his parents, I heard that he was raised by his grandparents, after losing Baba Ahmed years back and now his grandmother too, maybe he just wanted it all to end.”
After that, every sound, every face, was all just a blur, I don’t know how I made it back home that evening. I watched as the clock clicked away, with a desperate urge to give up, as the hours drifted.
Eventually, as the days drifted by, I stopped seeing them, as I gazed across, the building looked lifeless, the cracks grew deeper, and my curiosity started to fade away. Death came, it swooped them over, the realization of loss lasted for a fleeting second, like the wind that grazes a sweat laden body, the chill lasts for a moment, it brings a strange sense of comfort, who knows, how many voices, scents, and souls drift around us as the winds gush over? Life chooses to move on, back again, and as the summer heat scorches every inch of your body, it doesn’t matter, we progress, gasping, weary, marching on towards life.