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July 15, 2024

The Buraq

By Mehreen Ahmed

In the darkest hour of a summer's afternoon, the clouds gathered in an elegant mass of deep grey. Mugginess hung thick in the atmosphere. Pushpa Pervez sat curled up on a reclining chair, in the far end corner of her balcony. Inhaling a cocktail mix of air, made of pungent rain and perfumed gardenias, she looked at a retinue of ants climbing up the balcony wall. She snapped at a minuscule black fly hovering over her upturned nose; she ruminated, "Well now, finally some rain, long overdue."

The horrid black flies swamped her. They stung her in a number of awkward places, under her upper arms, and her lower legs. She was beside herself with itchiness. No sooner had she started to scratch them, the itchy spots burst into ugly little blisters on a range of red mounds. They erupted randomly on the smooth surface of her elbow and the calf, like tiny molehills of all sizes and shapes. Visibly vexed, Pushpa looked at the red swellings and began to count them with her index finger. "Gosh 13!" She swore under bated breath and rubbed lightly over in rapid successions to avoid an onslaught of abrasion of black blotches.

Storm-clouds, as menacing as they seemed, looked spectacular. They loomed at large in the distant horizon. She tried to decide whether or not it would be prudent for her to go to the spice bazar after all. She was almost out of spice. For dinner tonight, fried, hot curried fish. Nothing less, could spice up this stormy evening.

The spice bazaar was just around the corner of the next street in the West End. She lived on a busy street. Most of the time, it was impossible to cross the Montague Road near her apartment building. Some days better than the others, but most of the time, people waited on the footpath for hours before they could go to the other side. Pushpa joined the cautious crowd and crossed over through the rush hour traffic.

When she finally made it to the spice bazaar, she walked the dirt road to the nearest spice shop. The shopfront was decked with spices of many extraordinary colours. It showcased a great variety of saffron, turmeric, coriander, cumin and red chili powder in top folded down, hessian sacks. Each packed with the potent goodness of Ayurvedic medicines. The yellow turmeric assisted in subsiding the swelling from the cancer of the bowel. Brown coriander and cumin served as antioxidants. The orange saffron, an aphrodisiac, and the red hot chili was the detoxifier. She took a deep breath of the varied flavours exuded from them. She asked the salesman sitting behind the products to pack a few grams of each. He scooped out a measured amount and poured it into neat brown paper bags. The rumblings of the clouds intensified. The storm would sweep through any minute now. Before the pelting began, she rushed to get back home, just when she saw a mother struggling to get through with a double perambulator. Pushpa wondered, what could have driven her to come out on a day like this? She stopped short to give her a hand with the perambulator. The mother looked at Pushpa and lashed out, "Don't bother."

"Excuse me?" Pushpa asked, taken aback.

"I said, I don't need your help. Mind your own business."

For the first time now, Pushpa actually stood back and looked at her. She could have been in her late forties, who had a distinctive beard and a moustache. Overweight as she was, she was wearing a frumpy, old frock. She also saw several beer bottles necking out from the bottom pocket of the perambulator.

"You clearly need help!" Pushpa tried.

"And you've come to help?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Thanks. But no thanks."

Pushpa looked up and down and saw twin babies seated in the pram. "What do you mean?" she asked aghast. "Are you their mother or not?"

"And you, a complete stranger. Who're you and why should I tell you?"

The storm had started to roll in by now. Drizzles lashed haphazardly in the strong winds. "Look, I can help you, I think. It is raining. Shouldn't we run for shelter?"

"I don't need shelter. I'm already sheltered. You go on now."

The woman paused and then pushed on, straggling down the wet path. She disappeared among the motley crowd. It was so strange that Pushpa should've met this person. She had half a mind to follow her. But she didn't. Then she also didn't know what to do. The storm gained momentum in the meantime; and the visibility, quite poor, she decided to search for her. Soon the spices began to run down in coloured rivulets through the soaked paper bag. "I don't have to do this," she cried out in the heavy winds.

"No, you don't," someone behind her screamed.

She looked back and saw a young man talking to her. "Who're you?" Pushpa yelled.

"Time," the young man replied.


"Yes. That is my name."

"What do you want?" Pushpa asked. They were running abreast in the same direction.

"I want to talk to you."

"I don't understand." Pushpa looked at him.

"I would like to explain something to you," Time said.

"Like what? What about?" she asked.

"Did you not say just now, you wanted to help her?"

"Yes I did."

"But you couldn't."

"And how would you know? Have you been following me? Are you a stalker?"

"You could say that, a stalker. I like that. Like I said, I'm Time.

"Should I have not offered to help, then?"

"Yes. But that was all in the plan, as was her refusal. There was nothing you could do to change that."

"Plan? What plan?"

"I saw everything coming. Down to the last minute."

"Why did you not stop to help her then?"

"Because I can't, either!" said Time.

"Her perambulator was stuck and I was just trying to get it out of the rut."

"That's the whole point of it. The bit on the perambulator was but a fraction of an entire chain of events. Her disapproval meant, you couldn't help, because it was no more pre-determined than the sun setting in the East and rising in the West. Get it?"

"How was I to know that?"

"You don't! No one does. Events that come to pass are pre-determined! Even seers get baffled sometimes. Do you not see where I'm going with all this?

Not completely sure, Pushpa kept running. In the blinding rain, she couldn't see the woman anywhere, neither could she see the young man anymore. She stopped, clearly chagrined. She looked around. "Where did he go now?" There was a shady tree nearby. She thought she would sit down here to catch a breath. Its umbrella leaves drooped in the rain water.

A couple of hours later, the man suddenly appeared, and sat down beside her under the tree. "Come with me," he told her. "Close your eyes for a moment, and put your trust in me. Come, let's time travel together."

"What? Time travel?

"Yes, time travel. Yes, I know. I've been away a rude few moments," he said.

"I am older by those few moments, now," she laughed.

"You are, my dear. You're a time-rider, unlike me. I am wrapped all around you. While you age on account of me, I don't," Time said. "Come let's go for a ride."

"Where to?"

"Imagine you're on a date with me. This young man who took you somewhere you could only dream of," replied Time.

"Okay. I could live with that," she said.

He held her hands and they took off. Jetting through the air at the speed of light, Time transformed into a white knight on a winged mythical horse, called the Buraq. They rode on this unicorn through various time warps. He took her to a place where larks and the doves chirped in the depths of ancient olive groves.

Olive groves, doves ... she asked in awe, "Are we in some kind of an oriental paradise?"

"Maybe we are. The heavenly God's waiting for you, humans, to seek Him out and to meet Him here."

"Really? Have you seen him?"

"No. Everywhere and nowhere. Down under, up above. Don't really know."

"Why should we worship him then?"

"Don't, if you don't want to. He wouldn't care."

"But we're stuck in His plans nevertheless, aren't we? The cosmic scheme that he has devised for us?" she asked.

"Yes. Do you know how His 'cosmic scheme' works?" he asked.


"Events not only pass, they're intrinsically irreversible too," said Time.

"Irreversible? In what sense?"

"That's where it gets tricky. It means events are tied up in irreversible knots. What's meant to happen? Will happen, thus fatalistic, and also irreversible. For instance, no one could reverse that meeting with the woman in the market; it had to happen at that precise moment in time." Saying so, Time gave her a kiss on her lips and vanished with her into another warp.

This place felt like a new day, bursting into a sunny, late afternoon after a fresh rain. She sat by the jaded River Nile, and he, the young man sat with her. They saw together Cleopatra's golden chariots pass with Mark Antony by her side.

Conversations with this elusive character opened her eye to this theory of irreversibility. "You were saying?" Then, she saw the reversal of every moment from this point backwards. She saw through a portal her own events unfurl. This rare date with Time; meeting him in the rain; searching for the lady in distress; stopping by to offer her help; getting insulted in the process; crossing the Montague Road; feeling itchy; getting bitten by black flies; watching the ants and the storm from the balcony; sitting curled up in her chair. She kept taking the clock backwards, as far back as she could. She was a baby again. Then the growing up began. With every step forward, time traveled backwards. Each precious moment disappeared into the past. Here and now, her mind danced like waves; her thoughts roamed freely. The clock ticked tirelessly onward. With each ticking, world's events reversed. Epic wars, ancient history, the Pharaohs, once in the future, now gone. And then she beheld trees, the humming birds, the dragonflies and the petrified forests; the milky-ways, constellations, the galaxies, the entire cosmos. All rushed back together through celestial spacetime like rewound cinema. She saw the beginnings and the endings alike. There was darkness before the inception of time. Time set the universe in motion. With a bang some billions of years ago, she saw it all. How the universe expanded like a stretched balloon, life was born on earth. Yet, it was in this very passage that time also took steps backward. Every passing minute, life glided towards death. Deaths took place. Time traveled through the future, the present, back into the past. In this travel, it carried all events of the human dramas downstream. The future became the present, and the present became the past, lost backwards in the snitches of time. Then the universe crunched back to singularity. It collapsed into the blissful 7th sky of a complete void. She saw how time itself came to a halt. How the clocks stopped ticking and even the death of time had occurred. Time itself had died.

These were pre-determined events, of irreversible order. That was the deep paradox, lying within this metaphysics; the irreversibility of reversed order. Her friend, Time, who kissed her in the olive grove. One who truly wrapped her around like the tortuous roots up the brawny bark of the oak tree. She noted his word, 'wrapped' her, within his invisible heart. He showed her some more. That no human predictions, nor interventions could change this rigid paradigm, nor its luminous pathway of marked irreversibility. People had no hand in reversing this course, but only a belief that they thought they did. "What the heck? Feeling itchy again," she complained. Time zapped her back in a flash, and sat her down with a jolt on the root of the old oak tree. Then he was gone. "Where is Time?" she asked. "He is gone, yet again." She imagined the tight kiss as she looked around for him in her familiar surroundings. "Well, of course, he would be, wouldn't he?" She locked her arms together and felt a chill go right through the spine. The storm-clouds were still dark.

She came home. Upon returning, she found the towel still lying on the apartment floor. The gusty winds blowing all the clothes off the pegged line.

She put the kettle to the boil. The water boiled, a nasty storm. Branches of the trees came undone; they flew in havoc. She saw her six months old knitting, lying on the coffee table. She picked it up, and she began to knit. She couldn't procrastinate much longer. Just a few days now, that the full season change would embark; autumn's 'mellow fruitfulness and mists,' heralded the sweet summer's peaceful retreat. Caught up in this Tango with Time, that memorable date at the speed of light, was unmissable eye-opener. "How about that? Going back to the source? That's mad," she speculated.

Article © Mehreen Ahmed. All rights reserved.
Published on 2020-02-03
Image(s) are public domain.
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