“Such a smart girl my daughter!” Haldee Raam exclaimed as we headed out of Baseerah, “Must have inherited from her mother, didn’t even occur to me to call her! Imagine, here we’ve come all the way to Baseerah to look for her, but she’d gone to visit the qabristaan! Who would have thought?! Now if only we’d found that boy Rizzaq also, buss everything would be perfect haan! Areh, behen look there, it can’t be!” Haldee Raam stuck his head out the window shouting, “Rizzaq! Pull over pull over!”
I stopped the car and Haldee Raam jumped out and ran toward two camels walking through the sand dunes on the side. I watched his orange shirt sailing behind him, white shalwar moving up and down with every step, sometimes he stumbled and scrambled up calling, “Rizzaq, beta, stop!”
The camels stopped one behind the other. There was a boy on one, and a man on the one behind it. His camel lowered and he climbed off its back. After a few words, Haldee Raam called, “Behen, would you believe, it is Rizzaq! Come come, come and meet him!”
I got out and followed Haldee Raam over the dunes to where both camels were seated on the ground; the boy had climbed off and was leaning back against his mount. Haldee Raam was babbling in his excitement, and I finally got to meet Rizzaq, Zuljabeenah’s beau. The first thing I noticed were his eyes; shiny coal black eyes slightly slanted at the edges on either side of a large hook shaped nose. He had high angular cheekbones and his face and jaw were covered in coarse black stubble.
Haldee Raam was saying, “You have a long life beta, I was only just talking about you and here you are! What a miracle! This is Qudrat e Ilahi hain nah behen?” He stopped suddenly and asked, “But what are you doing here Rizzaq?”
Rizzaq laughed. He turned to his camel and returned with a bundle that he gave to Haldee Raam. “I was bringing this to you,” he said.
Haldee Raam unwrapped the block printed cloth. It was ajrak of fine quality that looked to be very old. The cloth had a trefoil pattern stamped into it and the colors were indigo, crimson, and white. As Haldee Raam unfolded the last wrap, I saw it held a hammer. The hammer was about eight inches in length with a wooden handle, brown worn to grey, and a metal head with dents on the edges. It looked as ordinary as a hammer could be, could this be ‘the’ hammer? I felt disappointed having imagined a hammer most mighty with an intricately carved handle of arms length, a head as big as my own made of meteorite that glowed with inner fire, and here was this unremarkable hammer! Haldee Raam was laughing. He laughed so hard tears streamed down his face and he sat down with a thump, shoulders shaking as he clutched the ajrak and hammer to his chest. His laughter turned to weeping and after a while he caught his breath and gestured to us to sit.
“Chalo Rizzaq, you found the hammer after all. Funny business, I came to Baseerah to give you and Zuljabeenah my blessing, no hammer necessary, and look at this, here it is in the end! Here you are! Here we are!” He shook his head, Rizzaq looked bemused.
“No hammer necessary? Then is Zuljabeenah here too?” He looked toward the car with interest.
“No no beta, she’s at home.” He told Rizzaq about our adventure to Baseerah. When he finished he asked Rizzaq where had he found the hammer, where had he been?
Rizzaq narrated his two-year wait to us, his meeting with Uzair, his trip to Ilaalat’s grove, and then the vision showing him where the hammer was.
He said, “So I came to the beach over there and swam in, I must have swum for days, miles deep I went, to my surprise I could breathe underwater! It was like in my vision, there were turtles swimming beside me, as I dove toward the pool. Well when I got to the pool there was no hammer there, but a woman! She had hair that streamed around her, plump and green, like seaweed, and instead of legs she had a tail. All around her were tadpoles and fish spawn.
“It took you long enough to get here,” she said, “You weren’t expecting me but I’ve been expecting you. I am Joshini, and I’ve been waiting for you for a hundred and fifty one years. Yes, a hundred and fifty one years ago I was young and beautiful, and unlike the rest of my family, I felt trapped here in the ocean. Oh, I longed to explore the world above! I’d swim up to the surface and watch people walking on the shore, under the peach streaked sky, flying kites and running! It was so exotic, and I desired it for myself. I went to my father, Jagdish. I asked him to give me the power to walk on land, but he said, “No, it is to the ocean you belong and here you must stay and make do.”
I knew he had the ability to give me what I wanted and I was filled with fury when he refused me, I would sell my soul to get what I wanted if that’s what it took! As I thought this, the waters bubbled and swirled, and a tunnel opened with walls of water, a tunnel of air that led to the world above. When I entered the tunnel, my tail forked and turned into a pair of legs. I seized the moment and ran stumbling on the path to the world above, a world with sandy beaches and two legged people. I reached it and the tunnel closed behind me with a splash! I learned to walk quickly and while I was busy with walking, a woman approached and asked me something. That was when I discovered; though I was up above where I wanted to be, I had no understanding of the above world speech. Furthermore, I had no voice in the above world and was mute. My lovely singing voice was gone, as were the pearls that dropped from my mouth when I spoke underwater. All I could do was spit out a hoarse coarse croaking sound.
The woman was kind; she took me to her home and fed me. She had a mate and a grown son. They looked at me with pity in their eyes, for I was strange to them with my green hair, blue skin, webbed fingers and toes, and croaking utterances. They fed me and gave me shelter, and over time I began to understand bits of their speech, even learned how to communicate without speaking. But they kept me hidden, when we went out onto the streets I was made to wear a big long cloth that covered me from head to toe. I began to yearn for the ocean, the feel of water caressing me all over, singing and swimming with my family. I cried but no tears would come, I was dry inside and out. They returned with me to the beach one day, and I dove into the waves where my legs joined together into a tail once more. My voice returned, creaky as a rusty hinged gate in the world above, no longer lovely as it had been before. I swam and they swam with me. I made a promise to them that day, should they or their bloodkin be in deep waters, I would give them aid.
That was a hundred and fifty years ago, and now you have come. I smell their blood coursing under your skin, had sensed your difficulty a few years ago. But the song of the deep belongs in the deep, to the deep and is not meant for the surface. Down here we shall give it voice, you have found your tail and swum through to this side, now come there is work we must do together for me to be of aid to you.”
I cannot tell you more of what happened underneath, in the ocean where the reefs grow and blossom, other than I found the hammer after we did the work that had to be done. It was not underwater but wrapped up inside my ajrak, waiting for me on the camels back all along. I was coming with it to ask your permission to marry Zuljabeenah, and then I heard my name being called, and here we are.”
“Beta chalo, let’s get back home, my daughter will be very surprised, haan, can’t wait to see her face when she sees us! Areh, come in the car with us, good idea hain naah behen?”
So the boy Ammar returned to wherever Ammar came from with the camels and the three of us returned to the city. I dropped off Haldee Raam and Rizzaq and saw the upstairs light was on, the silhouette of a woman outlined in the balcony. We said our goodbyes and I told him to please call me Shushmita instead of behen. He said he’d visit my mat at the corner of Sapnaa and Khayaal with tamarind sweeties, momos, and masala dosas. The last thing I heard as I drove away was him saying to Rizzaq, “Beta, may I use that hammer to repair the kitchen cabinets, they’re all loose and lizards crawl in, thobha thobha what a nuisance, hai hai! Areh Zuljabeenah, come and see who has come . . . . ”