Stories in this collection (scroll down below to read):

- A Visit by By Roger B. Rueda
- Lifelong Happiness by Hilath Rasheed
- Crammed Soul by Shanooha Mansoor
- Two Random Guys by Ibráhím Sharíf
- And you, too by Hilath Rasheed
- Cold Winds from the Clouds by Ibráhím Sharíf
- Bottomless Pit of Wants by Shanooha Mansoor
- The Shrink and I: A Sequel by Hilath Rasheed
- The Box by Omar Zeidane
- Dhon Hiyala: A "Sequel" by K.J.
- The Loneliest Boy in Male' by Ali Anonymous
- Last Among Equals by Mohamed
- Unique? by Mohamed
- The Seawall by Hilath Rasheed
- Is this Love? by Bana Lathyf
- Four Stories by Ian Butterworth
- Dead Reality by Schanuha
- Midnight Prayers by Hilath Rasheed
- Company of Strangers by Sharif Ali
- The Letter by Moosa Latheef
- End of the Rainbow by Maryam
- She by Sharif Ali
- The Nasty Get-Together by Mariyam Nadhrath
- The Island by Mohamed
- The Solution by Ali Rasheed
- The Visit by Ali Rasheed
- A Thought by Mariyam Nadhrath
- Here on Earth by Hilath Rasheed
- Girl in the Shadow by Hilath Rasheed


A visit

By Roger B. Rueda* (June 2003)

While in a college in town I lived at the dormitory. It was so lonesome a place that I had time to write my poetry. Early in the morning I would open our room window and look beyond the school wall to the sugarcane field. I found solace with the scenery: it seemed I had been lying on sea-like waving blades of sugarcane.

When boredom struck me, I would go to the canteen in a nearby building. While sipping coffee one afternoon I noticed an announcement. Dakaldakal, a college publication, was now accepting applicants to fill the editorial staff.

I went back to the dormitory and asked a roommate for a copy of Dakaldakal. Inside our room we opened the cabinet in which he had stuck some back issues of all sorts of magazines and journals. In between compilations, I read. Anthony Losaria was the editor in chief. He had been a fellow at a writer’s workshop I had been to.

In the middle of the night while I was trying to sleep I groped for my poetry notebook. I remembered how Anthony Losaria, skinny and longhaired, had critiqued my work in that same notebook.

It was one o’clock in the morning when I slept. I lay on a bed scattered with papers. When I woke up at eight the small of my back ached due to discomfort and the disorder of my bed. Anthony was on my mind. And I tried to recall his appearance.

As a transfer second-year student, I made a try for Dakaldakal. Unnoti­ceably, I was in front of the Administration building. I went up the stairs. The office was very quiet. I knocked, then pushed the door open.

“–Applicant?” a student asked. “Come in.”
“Should I personally hand this application to the adviser?”
“What’s your course?” he looked at me. He was Anthony.
“Fisheries–where’s the adviser?”
“Just sit here. She’s a visitor as yet.”
“Are you Anthony Losaria?” I asked him. He was no longer skinny and long-haired. He looked handsomer than before.
“Do you know me?” he asked me while trying to recall my face. “Francis!”

I sat and we talked. At his table the newly released copies of the delayed summer issue of Dakaldakal were sorted out for distribution, he told me. I borrowed one and read the editorial. Near to end I paused and went to the adviser’s cubicle as her visitor pulled the door open, on his way out.

After a month of waiting I read my name in an announcement on Dakaldakal’s bulletin board. Immediately I proceeded to the office and we had a meeting the following day. The adviser informed us of our respective position and assignment. The folio would have to be due for publication by next month.

Anthony Losaria was the editor in chief. The nine of us were members of the editorial staff. When Anthony asked us about the theme of the folio, I suggested feminism. Anthony hinted about politics and impoverishment. Others’ suggestions were gays, sex, religion and Filipino language.

After considering the importance of every topic the group decided to come up with a folio focused on gay writing, for there had been no attempts on this before. Anthony objected to work on this topic but he had to, as the editor in chief.

I was chosen issue editor. I rejected the position for I had to learn more writing. I had walls in my writing which I had not passed through yet. But the adviser trusted me. Perhaps I was challenged by their expectations as I willingly accepted the editorship.

In my room, I read a lot–my resort to invite the Muse– for there were no ideas coming to my mind. Suddenly I remembered Anthony’s suggestion to buy a copy of Ladlad, an anthology of Philippine gay writing from the National Bookstore. Anthony was a wide reader and that was the reason he could write and talk about anything–from vegetables to basketball.

Last year he too had been chosen editor in chief. He was tall, fair-skinned, and handsome. He did not look scholarly but was like a matinee idol.

I liked Anthony’s company. When we were together, he enjoyed talking about literature. No other things. Sometimes he would visit me at the dormitory and invite me for booze at Tiko’s Bar and Restaurant. He would carry a rough draft of an unfinished short story. However, never did he show it to me. He had had a bad experience of showing his work to a friend. His work had been blue-penciled for the friend had thought it was a mere draft.

Tiko’s Bar and Restaurant was just a tricycle ride away. It was made of nipa and bamboo. The moon was lucid through the window screen and we were like shadows. The dama de noches were in bloom. I often went to Tiko’s. I liked its garden of exotic plants and flowers: the purple cogon and petunia. There were plenty of bromeliads by the pathway. I also liked the tables and chairs made of beach-combed wood.

I was a little bit drunk. I told Anthony it was time to go home. He ordered another bottle. He was a bit of a boozer. Nevertheless, he wrote finer pieces when he drank.

“I hate gays. But you, Francis Belgira, are different from them,” he told me.
“Perhaps because we are both writers,” I replied.
“Do you think so?” he looked at the ceiling.
“Why? Is there another reason–?” I looked him straight in the eye. There was silence between us for a moment.
“No,” he muttered. A waiter brought his order.“ –That is the last,” he looked at the beer bottle being served.
“Help me, Francis. I have a problem,” he wiped the mouth of the bottle clean with his hand. I knew he wanted to divert my question.

He had deep problems. Only he knew how to handle them. One time I had read his poem in Home Life. It was about a martyr mother. In Panorama–about a father who left home. He never told me his problems but I knew.

He laughed like crazy. I was surprised by his actuation. I didn’t know how to react.

“Excuse me, Anthony.” I told him. “Are you crazy?”
“Why did you laugh like that?”
“I’m just happy.”
“Happy? Laughing like that for you is an -- expression of being happy? Oh, C’mon.”
“I’m sorry. By the way did you receive my poetry submission?”
“Yes,” I answered. But I didn’t tell him I hadn’t read it yet.

In my mind I was composing poetry. My mind was out of Tiko’s for the moment. I liked the moon and the celestial diamonds. Then the dama de noches–it seemed–had been gracing us both at Tiko’s. Only the two of us were left drinking when I glanced around.

“Just write and write,” he advised me.
“Do you think I will write for long?” I asked him, to know how he considered me as a member of Dakaldakal.
“ I believe so. I read your poems in a literary anthology,” he told me. No wonder he had read me; he was a bookworm.
“This is the last,” he took the bottle from the waiter.
“How many last bottles are those? I need to go now,” I glanced at my watch. “The matron of the dormitory is strict. You know that. You told me you had stayed at the dormitory before,” I reminded him.

He listened to me. He stood up and signaled the waiter for our bill.

“Thank you. You’re a friend,” he whispered to me but I didn’t bother to ask what a friend meant to him.
“Where will you go from here? To your boardinghouse?” I asked him.
“Okay,” he stood up and I followed. “We’ll hire a tricycle.”
When we left the nipa house I signaled the driver to start the tricycle.
“I’ll drop you at the dormitory. I’m sure your matron will be angry with you. Did you ask permission from her? You can sleep with me in my boardinghouse.” He was worried for me.
“Don’t worry. Eddie, my roommate knows about this,” I assured him.
Our room was brightly lit still. It was very quiet that evening.
“See you tomorrow,” I told him in a low tone. I felt lonely when I alighted from the tricycle.
“Okay, take care.”

Dakaldakal didn’t call a meeting for weeks. I didn’t see Anthony on campus. Usually from the gate I could casually see him sitting on the bench under the talisay trees. A neighbor of Anthony informed me that he had caught dengue fever. He was home in Lambunao.

I made up my mind to go to Lambunao and was absent from school in the afternoon. I arrived at Anthony’s house without his knowing. He was recuperating. At the living room he was fastening an empty bottle of Tanduay and a spoon to a cracked plate. I was amazed by his art. As I sat on the sofa thinking over what he was doing I began to appreciate his work and like him. He offered me banana cake he had baked by himself and a can of Pepsi.

I stayed for the night. I slept in Anthony’s room. It was air-conditioned. But his books were scattered on the floor. The old computer was beside his bed and there was an organ in a corner. I saw a roach while I was sipping a cup of native coffee his mother had prepared. I pretended I hadn’t seen the insect. I was sitting on the books on the floor.

“Why don’t you change your computer? Yours is very obsolete,” I suggested, while smelling the strong aroma of kape barako.
“I like my computer. It is lucky for me. I have won prizes in poetry with it.”
“You have many books here.” I changed the topic.

I picked up a book in science. Anthony collected all kinds of books. In my case I collected books on limited topics. Only literature.

“I collect the books of Saul Bellow, Kurt Vonnegut, and William Carlos Williams,” he told me while I was crawling for the scattered books.
I never said anything.
“I also collect the books of John Updike,” he continued.
“I have Rabbit, at Rest but it’s part of my collection.”
“Really! I would have the complete set if you sell it to me.”
“It’s my collection. But for the sake of our friendship I will barter it to you with your book here.”
“Which one? Ah, the book of Ricardo de Ungria. I acquired it from the UP National Writers Workshop.”
“You have a copy of Ladlad here. Can I borrow this? I’ll bring you Rabbit, at Rest in school.”
“I’ll swap that with you and de Ungria’s A Passionate Patience.”

I was supposed to sleep in another room; however, I decided to sleep in Anthony’s. His mother brought me bedding and I spread it on the floors. I placed the books under his bed.

Anthony was an insomniac. The whole night long we conversed about literature. I told him to sleep but it was very difficult to dominate him–even his mother could not. His father, a doctor had left them when they had been young. His mother, who was also a doctor, was a martyr. She had stopped her work to tend her family. Her children were drug addicts. Anthony too had been rehabilitated before. He had been a medical student in a university but was kicked out. Now, he was an English major, my friend, and our editor in chief. And I was no longer shocked by his unusual reaction to certain things under normal conditions.

“Do you have a girlfriend?” I asked him.
“No. I don’t like girls,” he replied.
“You stole my line,” I smiled gamely.
“I just want to write.”
“Writing is my girlfriend.”
“Why–couldn’t you write when you have one?” I frankly asked him.
“I’m weird, Francis. I am afraid a girl will not understand me. There are times, you know that I want to be lonely. And girls are jealous,” he reasoned out.
“How about a gayfriend. Someone who will understand you–like a girlfriend.” I asked him. I felt pity perhaps. Or I didn’t know. It seemed I was falling in love with Anthony. Or his art.
“I hate gays.”
“Which means you hate me?” I looked at him.
“No, you’re different.” Then he paused. “Yes. I hate you, Francis. Are you really a poet?” he asked me bleakly.
“I can’t understand you.” I stood up. “Is there something you hate in my being a poet? I can’t understand you, Anthony.”

When Anthony woke up in the morning, I had already taken a bath. I went back immediately to the college. And on the bus it lingered on my mind that Anthony was homophobic. He went with me and I was a friend to him because I didn’t wear a dress and makeup. I was decent looking.

He was mysterious and my feelings toward him were inexplicable. Did I feel pity, love, hate, lust, obsession, what?

At the office, one morning when I opened the lower compartment of our steel cabinet, there were brown envelopes addressed to me. I never got to read them when I received them from a staff member. So many submissions flooded my table.

Anthony’s voice reverberated on my mind, “ Are you really a poet?” I opened one of the envelopes. I read:

“A Visit

Visit me in my room/
If ever you have time./
My room is dark/
And we can/
Play hide-/
Or you can turn on/
The light and I/
Will bring you to my/


Then you’d/
Sculpt me into David/
As if you were/


–Anthony Losaria”

It was Anthony’s submission. I had been so busy that I hadn’t been able to read it.

After a month, I went to his boardinghouse. The house was airy. A poet like me could perhaps write volumes of poetry there. It seemed the Muse was always there. So much that Anthony was very prolific.

He was in the balcony. He looked serious.

“Anthony,” I called out to him. He opened the gate. “Are you alone here?” I asked him. I was curious whether he had other companions in the house. It was far from other houses in the village and it was difficult to ask for help in case of emergency.

He opened the main door, “The other room is occupied by my two friends. They are from Bacolod,” then he looked back at me smiling. He took the key from his pocket. “Just stay here. I will change my shirt.”

I sat on the sofa and skimmed through some magazines and books scattered on the table.

“Can I get inside your room?” I asked him curiously.
“Just stay there.”
“I know. But I want to see your room.”

There was silence for a moment. I didn’t assert my intention. I continued reading.

“ Where did you buy Amina, Among Angels by Merlie M. Alunan? UP Press?”
“ Come in here,” he shouted.
“ Is it okay with you?” I asked him.

I went to the room slowly. I grasped the doorknob then twisted it open. The room was dark. As I entered he turned on the dim lamp. I found him. He was lying in bed. I didn’t know what came into his mind. Naked he invited me to sculpt his torso as though I were an artist.

He looked so naïve and I felt such a thrill while I was doing my masterpiece. I touched his dimple tenderly.

“I love you, Frans,” he whispered and started to sculpt me, too. We were Michelangelos. Also Davids.

When I rode the tricycle on my way to the dormitory I could not reconcile my experience with Anthony. It was a real visit.

By the room window overlooking the sugarcane field I put my pen to paper, this time for fiction. The Muse had been swaying together with the blades of sugarcane over there and my submission for Dakaldakal folio was almost done.

*ROGER B. RUEDA was a fellow for poetry of the 41st UP National Writers Workshop. His poems have been published in Home Life, Panorama, Hiligaynon and Mantala. Recently, he has branched out into fiction writing and poetry in Hiligaynon.

Lifelong Happiness

By Hilath Rasheed (Dec 2004)

Mirah looked down. The grey ground looked inviting. In fact, anything would have been inviting at this point other than life, living.

“What do you think you are doing!”

Mirah turned around. He was surprised that anybody would come up the terrace at this time of the day.

“Why can’t you stay at home for a weekend once?” Mirah almost shouted. He was quite upset that his carefully planned plunge was interrupted.

“Hey, buddy. I see I’m not the one who needs a vacation here.” Madih took a puff from the joint he was smoking, and with his other hand, took hold of Mirah’s arm, and slowly helped him down.

“I…” Mirah trailed off. He looked at the terrace floor.

“Help me!” he cried suddenly. His knees felt weak. He held onto Madih and Madih held onto him.

“Come on. Let’s get you a coffee.” Madih helped Mirah walk down the fire escape.


“How can I find what I am looking for?” Mirah took a long swig of the sweet hard black coffee and savored it.

“What are you looking for exactly?” Madih was observing him closely.

“Lifelong happiness,” Mirah said slowly.

“Lifelong happiness…” Madih echoed the phrase slowly as if giving it deep thought.

He was not too happy that his sunrise this morning was ruined because he had to save Mirah from himself.

Now as they sat at the elevated Dolphin View café, he found Mirah’s round face basked in golden light, much like a sun itself, but a poor substitute.

One or two guys in office attire were the only customers at this early hour. Two cups of coffee sat on their table, nothing more. Yuppies, Madih thought. Or probably the waiter is late with their breakfast, he thought, promising to tackle his cynicism some day. Chill up, he told himself silently.

“Nice phrase, huh,” Mirah said.

“What?” Madih asked when his train of thought was interrupted.

“I said, nice phrase,” Mirah said, and then forgot what he was going to say next when he realized that he was making fun of himself.

“You were always the writer,” Madih replied.

He did not say anything for a few seconds.

“I think I have the answer for that,” he said after a while.

“What’s that?” Mirah asked with a tinge of excitement in his voice.

“I am going to Bangkok for a few days.”

“The answer’s in Bangkok?”

“No. No. I have the answer with me but I will tell you only after I return from Bangkok,” Madih replied.

“Why are you going to Bangkok?”

“Oh, the usual.” Another puff. “Buy clothes for bro’s store.”

“When will you be back?”

“Probably a week later.”

“I don’t think I can wait.”

“You have to.”


“Because I have the answer.”


“Meantime, you will try to figure it out.”

“How’s that?” Mirah frowned.

“I don’t know. Ask around I guess.”


Muju sat down heavily on the wooden stool that served as an uncomfortable "sofa" at Esjehi Gallery cafe. He loosened his tie. It was damn hot. And though this was an open-air restaurant, it was right in the middle of the island, with only a few trees providing shade. The few rays which broke through the shade stung his bare arm making him itch. And to add to his discomfort, Esjehi Gallery did not offer proper lunch. He had to do with a few pieces of pizza and cake though his stomach growled loudly. Damn, Muju thought. Everyone must be hearing that.

Mirah sat facing him.

“Buddy,” he began, “I need to ask you something real serious. Don’t take me for a psycho, OK?”


Mirah held Muju’s eyes squarely as he began. “I was talking to Madih the other day about finding lifelong happiness.”

Muju smiled. “I know where you getting at. Haven’t we had this conversation before?”

“No. No. This time it’s different. Madih says he knows the answer to finding lifelong happiness.”

“Oh,” Muju sounded disappointed. “I’ve always thought that nobody can be ecstatic at all times.”

“No,” Mirah began quite animatedly, “I am not looking for a perpetual high or eternal numbness of my mind. I just want some basic things to make me happy that others take for granted.”

“Like what?” Muju asked.

The coffees arrived then.

“For example…” Mirah emphasized the word “example”, looked up, looked sideways, and then at Muju. “Hmm… let’s see. I need someone to make me happy for example.”

Muju lighted up. “You must now have a pretty good idea of what that person would be like,” he said.

“I guess in my mind it will always be a fantasy image of the person. In real life, nobody can live up to that image.”

“The problem is that the person who interests you have to fit and act according to the way you want him or her to act.”

“Him…?” Mirah trailed off because he knew better.

“OK, I know that there’s no such thing as a perfect person. But I am not asking for much. All I want is some basic happinesses that all others seem to enjoy.”

“How do you know all others are happy? They have their own problems,” Muju replied.

“Sure, they do. But they are not bitter to the extent that I have become. Look at them. They smile more often they frown. As for me, I don’t see anything that I should be happy about. People said that technology and development will make life easy but look at us. Little things have become so complicated and we are perpetually trying to solve new problems created by technology and development. In the meantime, we are holing up ourselves surrounded by all these gadgets and entertainment that now we have no time to socialize and develop human contact. I hate SMS and I hate IRC! All this is causing so much stress and depression that humans did not have earlier when life was simpler and uncomplicated. Isn’t it a paradox that all this technology and development were sought in the first place because we humans wanted to make life easier for us? Now isn’t that ironic?”

Muju sat for a while without answering, then he said, “You've been watching too much Heyyanbo.”


“Mirah! We've had this conversation before!” Mazdoog protested as he readied to sink into a hard wooden chair at West Park cafetaria.

The setting sun cast an orange glow on everything around them. Single couples and mixed couples occupied the tables nearest the seawall. Romancing under the coconut trees, Mazdoog thought.

“Sit. Sit.” Mirah insisted. “I need to ask you something really important.”

“What’s that?”

“Let me get some coffee first.” Mirah waved over a waiter and gave order for two black coffees.

“Make it hard,” he told the waiter.

He turned to Mazdoog. He put on his serious face. “What I am doing wrong with my life?”

“How would I know?” Mazdoog protested.

He lighted up a Mild Seven, relaxed and leaned back.

He saw that a few tables were occupied by groups of young heroin addicts, their eyes blood-shot slits. My dear Parteys, it is a shame you cannot properly open your eyes to watch this beautiful sunset, Mazdoog thought. But then again, maybe you have seen more, he thought.

“Ok,” he looked at Mirah. “What you are doing wrong is that you are actually doing nothing about it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean what I said.”

“And that is?”

Mazdoog turned to look at the sun which had half sunk below Vilingili.

He turned back to Mirah. “You should stop spreading yourself around.”

“What does that mean?” Mirah looked bewildered.

“You should stop making yourself available to everyone and concentrate on building quality relationships.”

“Quality relationships…” Mirah trailed.

“Nice phrase,” he said after a while.

Mazdoog took a sip of his coffee and drew on his smoke. “You are a very accessible person. You strike up friendships and relationships easily with everyone you meet wherever, whenever. But what I am saying is that you should concentrate on a few and develop strong relationships rather than spreading yourself thin.”

“Spreading yourself thin.” Mirah echoed.

Mazdoog continued, “You should spend more time with whom you think you can take your relationship to the next level.”

Mirah did not reply.

Mazdoog took a sip of his coffee. “And another thing,” he said, “I think you should have a quality relationship with people of both genders.”

Mirah opened his mouth to say something but Mazdoog interrupted. “This is just a suggestion, you know, since you said that you didn’t want to miss out on anything. This way you’ll know what makes you really happy.”


“Why can’t you do anything about it?” Mihad asked as he took another sip of his hard black coffee. He had planned to call it a day earlier but the call from Mirah sounded urgent. But all of Mirah’s calls sounded urgent. That was him. What could he be up to now? To hell with sleep, Mihad thought to himself.

The surfs off Lonuziyaaraiy Kolhu were crashing hard on the tetrapod seawall, driven by the harsh Northeast Monsoon wind, creating a perpetual din that blanketed the silence that otherwise surrounded Tuscaloosa Café at midnight.

A few couples were hanging around the café but nobody would think of sitting on the seawall because of the salt spray.

“There are things that come naturally to you,” Mirah said to Mihad as another surf crash boomed into the seawall.

“And there are things that you have to put an effort into. But the sad thing is, even if you try very hard, sometimes nothing will strike the right chord to make something really happen.”

Mihad took out a Marlboro Light. “You could start by thinking at this point on doing something that you personally can be proud of. That would take your mind off whatever’s troubling you.”

“True, but that would only be a diversion. I would have to confront myself ultimately.”

“True. But I still think you should always be involved in some high-quality creative work that you can be proud of.”

“And what would that be?”

Mihad let out a long puff of smoke. “You could do some critical research work. You could write a book. You could make a film. Anything that you would be really proud of yourself.”

“I don’t think I will ever win the Booker Prize or the Oscar,” Mirah protested.

“You don’t have to. All you need is to be able to feel really happy about yourself that you did something that you think is good. It doesn’t matter what others think of you, whether you are cool or not. You don’t have to measure up to them. You have to feel good about yourself. About being yourself.”


“Why are we here?” Madih asked, though he already knew the answer.

Mirah looked weary. “I feel so lonely.”

“Why are we here?” Madih asked again.

“I am so tired.”

Madih took hold of Mirah’s shoulders and shook him a little. “WHY ARE WE MEETING HERE ON THIS TERRACE AGAIN?” Madih emphasized every word.

Mirah looked at him sadly. “Because this is the moment of truth,” he said.

Then he doubled over, surprising Madih.

“Shit! I just can’t believe I said that!” Mirah roared. “That’s a terrible cliché!”

Madih did not look amused. “Glad that you recognized that it was a cliché,” he said sarcastically.

Mirah stopped and looked up at Madih. “What do you mean?”

“You recognize what’s wrong with you.” Madih was looking at him intently. “You know who you really are. And you know what you want.”

Mirah was silent.

“In fact,” Madih went on, “you would have pretty much come to terms with yourself when you were young.”

“I am still young,” Mirah insisted.


“I’m not!”

Mirah straightened up. He walked over to the edge. He could hear the sound of passing vehicles. Vroom, vroom, vroom.

The street below was still dark. But he will soon get to bask in the sunrise.

“Alright. Tell me. What is the secret for lifelong happiness?” Mirah turned towards Madih.

“Eternal happiness?” Madih said slowly. “That could only be got if you could become God.”

Mirah blinked. “I don’t think anybody ever has become a god.”

“My point exactly.”

Mirah frowned. He turned his back to Madih and looked down below. The grey bricks of the street looked inviting. He stepped onto the edge of the terrace.

Then he looked up. Specks of fluffy white clouds dotted the sky which seemed a little bluer today.

The horizon across the sea was streaked by a single blazing red line. The sun must already be rising, Mirah thought.

It was going to be a beautiful day.

He hesitated.

Crammed Soul

By Shanooha Mansoor (Jan 2005)

I sit staring at the computer screen, bathed in its white glow, different thoughts fleeting though my mind, not having really latched on to any one in particular. My half-hearted attention on the conversation I am having
online, I’m pressed by the need to impress the articulate faceless nick on the other side, as well as pulled by the need to be indifferent, to
protect myself against any of the ‘things’ that I might feel. I know it sounds kind of absurd for me to even contemplate that I might start feeling ‘things’ for these faceless nicknames, but when one is desperate, he or she tends to
be haunted by a myriad of possibilities, opportunities, or whatever you want to call them.

It's funny what life makes us go through. How it taunts and troubles us, and in the same breath makes our eyes sparkle and lips part, and then carry us off into the darkest depths of the nights, make promises of days filled with
sunshine and daisies but then drags us to places where no one ventures -- the crevices of the stones, the cracks in the walls, the dampness of a grey day, the smell of rotting leaves. It makes me want to crawl back and never venture out of the warm security of ignorance, of hope, of indifference. Of
carrying on as though nothing matters, as though I am happy. I dare not hope for more, not even at the stillest of the hours when I am all alone. I dare not voice my thoughts nor let hope surface in fear that it might make me do more, make me face it, make me go through yet another failure, another lost cause, another chance to live and not merely exist.

I log off from the Net wishing I could log off from life, well perhaps not life, maybe just that particular moment, just as easily, and shut out all the worries that seem to have found permanent residence in my mind, tainting
even those happy moments that I cherish so much. Put an end to all the cacophony or perhaps change it just as radically with a simple click or maybe even a double click, after all it's the same, nothing changes, it's
the same day in and day out, a ghost of an existence, stuck between two worlds, two bodies and two souls. The one you want to be (that you would never dare to be) and the one you are. I raise the volume of my speaker and
stare at the psychedelic images flicking merrily on my Winamp screen, hoping that
it might quieten the racket in my head, maybe at least for a while, and it does! My mind slowly shifts to the song and I start to sing along, mustering up all the emotions stemmed within me, trying to pour it all out onto the
song, and I smile, for another day has just passed, and I am still in the game, a game called life.

Two Random Guys

By Ibráhím Sharíf (Dec 2004)

I Love Meat-Grinders

You are here. The late afternoon sun shines upon the glossy surfaces of leaves of the trees and the short, fat blades of grass that lie in mounds and patches. The sea is stirred from its peace by the winds of some storm that develops nearby. A layer of black cloud floats over the horizon that is the sea; and a mist that is the rain hangs from that black layer, as if a great, translucent curtain.
You are near the sea. But you are not at the beach; for there is no beach; not a real one, anyway. You suppose that it is a breakwater. Thoshigan’du. And you know that much because you weren’t born yesterday. But you feel like you were.
Not born, though. You were born years ago when you came out wet, writhing, screaming at the world. Or whatever. So, you weren’t born yesterday. Something else happened to you. It wasn’t pretty, in reality.
You were just driven through a meat grinder.
But you’re not dead, are you? Not yet, at least.
You look around. You are on the road. There is nothing on the road. The road, it consists of stone bricks, dust, sand, spit, chewing gum, cigarette butts and the mounds of that hard, black stuff that had once dripped from exhaust pipes. The road is silent.
Your heel throbs.
You feel a bit disoriented. Are you really? Maybe you are. You have been for quite a while. Your skin aches. As if you have a cold, when it aches. When it hurts. You rub your chest. You touch cloth. Cotton fabric. Soft, smooth. Harsh. You want shade.
You look down at yourself. You are wearing a T-shirt and jeans. That’s really elegant of you. T-shirt and jeans. You remember that you were wearing the same clothes last Sunday. Beautiful. Your girlfriend gave you your T-shirt as a present, didn’t she? What was it for? It’s blue, and it's got a picture of an airplane on it. It says “Survivor”. There's a stain on the sleeve, and a burn mark on its front. It’s near your groin.
You think of a meat grinder.
There’s a bloodstain there too. It’s small. It’s insignificant. And you seem to have forgotten where you got it, or how.
The silence. Silent as the womb that bore you. Silent; only the disembodied voices moving through the viscosity of the amniotic fluid. A rhythmic heartbeat in your ears. Like it did, you suppose, in the womb.
The heartbeat, you realise, is your own. Now.
You look up at the late afternoon sun. It’s mild today. The black clouds in the distance seem to have nothing to do with here. The here and the now. You have forgotten already, about your clothes. About who gave you those clothes. And where she got them. They all have faded from your mind.
Rather mild, the weather today. Not like yesterday. Yesterday felt like death in the Sahara. Maybe to you, yes. You still want the shade, so you get off the road, and into the park. You notice that it’s hard to walk, because your jeans are slipping down your waist. You pull them up. A motorcycle buzzes past you. Its one of those Wave bikes. It makes a lot of noise. And it leaves trail of hot exhaust gas in its wake. You cough. The stench is pungent; it is oily. It stings. You stand there. Coughing. Someone calls you. You don’t respond. You’re angry. You’re annoyed. You’re annoyed because the motorcycle went past. Because Afeef, or Ali, or the guy-with-license-plate-number-6781 couldn’t find another bloody road to ride his bloody motorcycle.
Its engines churning, churning, heated by the burning petrol. Its engines, with its metal, mechanical things may look something like the inner-clockworks of a meat grinder. The meat-grinder that you went through. The cold, impersonal metallic teeth of the turning, churning meat grinder that bites into your flesh and keeps on going, and going as you thrash your legs: screaming, screaming, and screaming. Screaming till your lungs hurt. Till your lungs burn. As they do now.
You are disoriented.
You are reminded of elsewhere. One night, nine o’ clock, Majídí Magu. You were walking down the road. People walked around you. People with shopping bags. Chattering, talking, yapping, wagging. All of them are faceless. They walked past, entering and exiting your world as your perception defined it. Faceless, unregistered, ignored. Worthless. You are going home. You are swimming, you think. Swimming through a sea of people. You walk, overwhelmed by the multitudes of some swarming population. The lights that move across your eyes, the stench of petrol smoke, the brush of cloth, flesh, and plastic against you, the voices. Voices of people. People you may only see once. And never see again. Maybe not even on the day you die. People walking past you, people walking around you, people walking through you. You are faceless. You enter and exit their worlds as their perception defined it. Faceless.
You are in the land of the faceless. You walked disoriented in the land of the faceless.
You cough. You are standing in the park, coughing and looking stupid. No major effort for either one.
A wave crashes at the rocks at the breakwater. Tetra-pods. Stone tetra-pods. Cold, wet, stone tetra-pods. Within them infest the colonies, the hives, the families of crabs. But you doubt that much. You doubt that crabs live in colonies. You went to Majídiyyá School. And you did Fisheries Studies. And that was once upon a time, when the good little boy who was you got top marks in that subject. That's what the report books said. That’s what the teachers said, you’re a good little boy, aren’t you?
Now, you can’t remember. Why should you? You think. You wonder whether you would ever; in your existence upon the face of the planet earth; require knowing whether crabs live in colonies or not. They infest the tetra-pods. That was all you know. That was all that bothers you; that you couldn’t have a bloody smoke at the edge of the tetra-pods without having one of them things crawling on you.
Now you know why your heel throbs. Them things bit you. One of them things; the bitch-crabs. You look down at your heel. No blood. Just throbbing. It throbs with your heartbeat.
You have a slight headache at your temples. It’s there, like a cancer. Growing.
You look around yourself. There aren't many people around you. A few. But not many. There is a girl and a boy, sitting by those stone bases where the radio towers reach to the sky. You look at them. They ignore you.
Your back itches. You scratch your face. A slight breeze brushes aside dead leaves.
There are a couple of guys walking around. They’re kicking around an old football, the brand-label has worn away long ago. Its surface that could have been white is now a filthy brown. You see nylon threads of the stitches flying in the air at each kick. You hear each, hard thump upon the rubbery surface of the ball. Each synthetic strand waves as the sphere of mainly rubber and carbon dioxide flies through the air. Like a bird.
You see an old man sitting on the thoshigan'du. That is far away. Rather far away.
You scratch your face. It is oily. Wet. Sebum? Sweat? It isn’t blood. You know this when you look down at your fingers. Your fingers are pink. As they were when you were born.
Eighteen years ago.
Wasted time. Wasted. Waste. Waste. You hate the word. You think of your brother. He used to say it a lot: —You waste your time! —Time-waste. —Time-waster.
— Waste...It becomes a meaningless word, now. Nobody ever did care to define it for you. Did they?
To have meaning. Meaning. Definition. Definition. Waste.
The Oxford Dictionary defines “waste” as...
You look at the old man. The old man is wearing a sarong. A mundu. And a shirt. White, ironed. One which you used to wear a lot. A long-sleeved shirt. White. His face is cleanly shaved. He is smoking a bidi. Beedi. Whatever you called those things. You remember one time, at fifteen, when you smoked that crap for a week. You were hooked. Your brother locked you in your room when you came home one day, reeking. Sweet, it smells. Sweet, you smelled, that day. You cut your hands with splinters of the wood of the door you hit against. You pounded the door. The door stood. You screamed. You screamed. Like you did when you went through that meat grinder.
Your voice grew hoarse that day. And there was something bitter.
You ask yourself: why have you come here?
Someone looks at you. Maybe, you think, it was one from the platonic lovebirds. Maybe not. But the look sears into the tissue of your brain. Your eyes take it up. Conveyed onto your retina. Transferred as electrical signals down the length of your optic nerve, into your altered brain.
Altered brain. Yes, altered brain. You screwed up your brain. You f—ed up your own brain. You jammed it through the meat-grinder. The MEAT GRINDER! And you don't care a bit about it. No, you don't. You love it. You love it, dearly. Because the meat grinder is beautiful. And we all love the meat grinder. The meat grinder loves me. The meat grinder is my love. I meat-grinders. I heart meat-grinders as they chew my flesh into mush. Hearts. Meat-grinders.
A gust of wind blows. It rustles the leaves of the trees. It blows your hair into your face.
You run your hand through your hair. It's long. You can actually take strands of it to check it before your eyes. Some strands are black and others are a yellowish-orange. You remember and know that you weren’t born with yellow hair. No.
Some one dyed it yellow. You did it. Yourself. There was a girl, you remember. There was another guy, remember. They were smiling, grinning. They both had fags between their lips. They both slopped up your hair with the blue-paste. They were both sucking on the butts of their fags, sucking on the smoke. Fetish.
You remember: the girl gave you your T-shirt.
You look down at the wristwatch. Around your wrist. It ticks.
Like your heartbeat.
You look at the joalifathi at the edge of the park, by a tree. They are unoccupied. Empty.
You’re almost near the tree. And you came to this place, under the late afternoon sun, at 5:30 pm. It is now 5:31 p.m.


The ropes of the joalifathi feel rough, course, and hard against your body. You have closed your eyes to the light of the late afternoon sun. It is bright, it is harsh. Your bones ache. Your brain aches. Your neurons cry. Your spinal cord squirms within the confines of your vertebrae. Your heart beats and your cardiac arteries seem to rip through the throbbing, bloody tissue. Your lungs are on fire, still. Your alveoli hurt, as if they are bleeding. As if a monster, with great, yellowing, filthy fangs chewed at them. Chewed, chewed, and chewed. And defecated in your lungs, in your alveoli. And into your blood as it flows through your throbbing, dying alveoli. It filled your blood with its faeces. With its shit. Skag. Your blood is thick, coagulated and saturated with shit. Skag. It can't move easily through your veins, your arteries; but it moves through. Your heart beats them on. In its rhythmic pulsing, the way it beat the day you saw the light of day, and breathed in the air of this earth. Since then, and before, when you were an embryo. Embryonic heartbeat. Grew; pumped blood. Pumped, pulsed, beat.
It now pumps shit.
Your arteries scream because of the thick shit that moves through them. Skag. Your brain struggles; suffocates. Your brain screams. Your brain revels. It revels in the blind sound and fury of the skag. Skag-death. Brain death by skag. A little part of your brain has died by now. Its there inside your cranium, where it’s dead, where it’s useless. Faceless.
And you don't care a bit. You live in shit. Skag. You moan as if serviced by an exquisite whore. You scream like a beaten, wretched little girl as she is deflowered. Violated. Like a seven-year-old girl. Like the seven-year-old girl. And that little girl screamed until she was hoarse because of you. She squealed, she screamed, and she scratched you, and scratched you. She coughed out blood as she screamed, as you went on. She cried for her mama but you went on; and nobody came. Don't you remember? Remember, you sick bastard! Sick skag brain! Sick skag brain. The shit killed you. The skag rapes you. Rapes you like you did that little girl! You scream, scream, scream, scream. But you make not a sound. You are ravaged. Ravaged. Ravaged. You moaned like a whore. You scream like a little girl. You sick, stupid little bastard. You dirty little boy! What have you done? What have you done to yourself, you poor, sick bastard?


You turn around. You light a fag. The kind you've been smoking since thirteen. Or twelve.
You open your eyes. You've been killing yourself so much that you can light a fag with your eyes closed. Your brother smoked a pack a day. And so do you. What did your brother die of? You strain to remember. You don't. The white rod stands from between your lips, now; like that piece of aluminium foil over the lighted candle. They’re almost like your nose. Remember Pinocchio? Wooden boy? Your brother read that story to you once. You were six. He was sixteen.
Pinocchio's nose grew when he lied. Your nose shrinks when you kill yourself. The fag burns away. The aluminium foil curls, burns under the melting skag. Among the thick, white fumes.
You have killed a bit of yourself. And you walk on. And try again. Until one day, some one may find you on the road in a puddle of your own urine, burning fag in your mouth, milky foam around your dried, cracked lips. Your eyes may be bloodshot, your hair much longer. There may be flies around your orifices. There may be maggots eating their way into your carrion meat. Now, the skag may have coagulated so much that your heart stopped. Five hours before your rotting corpse is found on the road in a puddle of your own urine. And you may still be wearing the same T-shirt. And the T-shirt may still say: “Survivor”. But it doesn’t sound really right in the context, does it?

Two Random Guys

Two guys come and sit behind you on the joalifathi. You don't really see their faces. Because you have your eyes closed. You think that ash from the growing pile of fag ashes has entered your right nostril. You don't really care; because there’s no sneeze coming on.
—Must we really sit over here? said the first guy.
—Why not? asks the second guy.
The first guy has a voice that is sort of familiar to you. He has a reedy sort of voice. You think that he is almost your age. The second voice is stranger. You don't know his voice.
—Well… says the first voice.
There is a pause of silence. There is the sound of movement in the air. Like wings.
You know that he is gesturing at you.
—Come on... says the second voice. He lowers his voice down to a whisper, a soft whisper; yet you can hear him. —He’s asleep.
—But the fag is still lit.
—Why don't we tell him?
You stir. But you don't open your eyes.
—Leave him.
—Come on, man.
There is a pause. You feel a slight nudging on your shoulder. You don't move at all. It is a mere pressure applied at some random frequency on your shoulder. You spit out your cigarette. There is a slight gasp and the nudging stops.
—Is he awake?
There is a pause.
—I don't think so.
There is a short chuckle.
You feel pressure behind you. As they sit down.
—It's sad, really.
—Just don't talk about it.
—What happened?
—An ant bit me!
—Oh please!
—It's a bloody red ant!
—OK. OK. Should I call the ambulance?
You, in your assumed sleep, snort to yourself. You find it hard to believe that you too, were once like these two. You think this in contempt.
—Come on, Fárúq, it hurt.
—Stop acting like such a baby.
—The pain fades away in a while.
There is a pause. Silence. Like the womb. You savour the moment. You can't seem to move. Because your bags of flesh seem to be too heavy for your skeletal frame. You imagine that the cigarette that you spat out is burning its way to ashes at your heel. Slowly, slowly.
—What's that smell?
—That guy's fag.
—Where is it?
—On the ground somewhere.
—It sure smells nice doesn't it?
—How's your brutally ravaged hand?
—Drop it, man.
—Well, can't help to think of what a baby you can be...
—Shut up.
—Never mind, says the guy with the voice you know.
You scratch your face. You wince as you open a scab. It's the scabs from scratch marks. They were a week old. You had forgotten that you still had them.
—So, as you were saying, who else was there?
—That other guy, can't really remember...
—The short guy?
—Something like Afeef, or something?
There is a pause. It takes a while. You realise that you recognise the name. Afeef. Rode a motorcycle around. Friend of his. Sugar-daddy. Hakuru-bodubébe.
— It's a plague, dho?
— And that's not all...they're so bloody stupid!
— What do you mean?
— Well the other day. A friend of mine got his wallet snatched. He had 5 rufiyá in his wallet, OK?
— So?
— Well, these guys took out the note. Threw the wallet to the ground. Ran away. The thing is that the wallet itself cost around 250 rufiyá.
There was laughter. Forced.
You don't understand what is so funny. All you know is that...and you forget. In the middle of it. Your lower lip aches. You feel a bit short of breath. You want your fag back.
— Stupidity...
— No, desperation.
— Well, you would start—
— Yes, I guess you could say that...
— In some cases.
— Well, I have a friend—
— You mean Salah?
— Yes, him, and he—
— Well, I really don't think that there's much hope for Aisha...
— Come on...
— OK. I may be generalising it a bit. But you make a choice...
— But—
— You make a choice... like you choose to get a tattoo...
— Who has a tattoo?
— This Dhivehi bitch I saw in Bangkok…
— Bangkok?
— I wonder whether “Bangkok” is a proper noun or a verb.
— Eh?
— Never mind. What I mean is that Aisha's life revolves around?
— You aren't making much sense, you know...
There was silence.
— I mean, I know...
— What?
— Stuff.
— A lot of stuff?
— Maybe...maybe not.
— I hate them.
There was silence.
— I hate them, too.
There was silence.
— How's your sister?
There is silence.
— Please don't ask about her.
— I want to know.
— What does she have to with anything?
— OK. I understand...
— She's fine.
— Really?
— In a sense. Doctors are saying that she needs some surgery.
— Is it serious?
— No, not really... What happened had hurt her pretty badly. And...
— Never mind.
— She's awake now. But she screams at night.
Your face aches. Your brain aches. Your medulla oblongata aches.
— That is really sick...
— I should know...
There is a slight patting sound. He is patting him on the back.
— She's like a sister to me too.
There is silence.
— I just wonder... who did it...
— Someone...some f—head…
— And why he did it...
— Please don't go ...
— I mean she's just a little girl...
There is silence. You lie there. Numb. Dead. The repulsive, disgusting thing that you are. You are screaming. But you make no sound. You don't open your mouth. You are screaming. Because of your own skag. Because you are killing yourself. You are screaming like the little girl screamed.
— ...what are you planning to do?
— Be her father, I guess.
— You mean?
— Spend more time with her.
— Let's just get off the subject, shall we?
— OK.
There is silence.
You scream, scream, scream, scream.
— I pity the fool, says one of them.
You don't know who the fool is. But something deep inside of you says that you are him. They pity you. They pity you, fool!
The weight on the other side of the joalifathi decreases. Decreases, and is gone. And you don't listen to their speech anymore. You are a leaf, in a great tempest that has stirred inside of you.
You sit there. For a while. You breathe. You inhale. You exhale.
A great wave crashes against the thoshigan’du. Its foam splashes onto the damp stones of the road. The road that consisted of stone bricks, dust, sand, spit, chewing gum, cigarette butts and the mounds of that hard, black stuff that had once dripped from exhaust pipes. You touch the freshly opened scab on your cheek. And you wince.
(The little squealer scratched me! She actually scratched me!)
The sun is setting.
And blood is running through your arteries.
And you have a tear in your eye.
But you really don't know why.

And you, too

By Hilath Rasheed (May 2004)

“If someone had told me only six months ago that it’s possible to fall in love with two people at the same time, I would have laughed at the idea at the time.”

I brushed back my hair. It was difficult to keep it in place in the breezy Lonuziyaaraiy Kolhu wind.

Lonuziyaaraiy, the place where infinite waves break, the place where countless hearts are also broken.

“I’d have said that it’s just…ridiculous,” I shook my head, trying to find the right words.

Nina, my quiet bestfriend, nodded. Being my lifelong friend, she knew exactly what I was talking about. Sometimes, it was as if she can read my mind…

“But,” she held my eyes for a moment, “…you have to chose between the two.”

That was true. As a matter of fact.

I didn’t answer at once. My eyes wondered to the surfs; a surfer had just wiped out. If only I could time out like that -- all my problems will be over…

What am I thinking! It’s not the end of the world after all.

It all started with them, my boyfriends. Plural, yes. As in Mahid and Niyaz.

Was it their similarities? Or was it their differences?

I simply don’t know. It doesn’t matter.

But now that I am being forced to choose between the two, I am having to give it some thought. Some serious thought.

It wasn’t their physical features that attracted me, that much I am sure. But I cannot deny the fact that when you find somebody appealing, all his physical features become attractive, too, in a way that cannot be explained.

They were the same height -- two inches shorter than me. Not a problem but one which made my parents -- and some friends -- comment, off the mark, that we were the most “mismatched couple” on earth.

As far as I was concerned, we matched perfectly.

Which was the start of all my problems.

“Why can’t I have both?” I pursed my lips, sulking at how the natural order didn’t fit my own scheme of things.

Nina touched my arm. “You cannot marry both.”

The simple truth.

The truth of the matter was that I was in love, deeply, with Mahid and Niyaz. And I loved them equally, which is quite hard to explain.

Mahid lived in my neighborhood, another surprise to me as all this time I had never actually noticed this beautiful creature, a fruit of -- I came to know later -- an interracial marriage. But it was more than his olive skin that caught my attention. Nor was it his soft touch which never failed to thrill me as if always for the first time.

One day he just was there. Relaxing on the pavement, sharing a cigarette with two of his friends, and taking in not just the nicotine but the moment itself, with me being caught helplessly in it.

Entangled may be the correct word as I tried to clear myself of my Dahon bike which accidentally collided with an ‘ofialay’ tree which just seemed to grow out of the blue.
No sooner did I get my bearings than I saw a hand being offered.

“I…” I murmured sheepishly, taking his hand. It was hard -- no, rugged -- and strong.

“You alright?” He looked concerned.

“I’m…alright,” I tried and failed to smile at my savior. His two friends, fortunately, didn’t snicker at my plight, as does all the “roadies” seem to normally do these days. Perhaps, they were descent fellows unfortunate enough to be born on the lesser side of life.

“Thanks,” I said. I straightened my bike and was about to get off when suddenly I had a wild idea. To this day, I don’t know why I flirted with a stranger I had just met.

“I am Suha,” I gave him my best smile. “Short for Suhana,” I added as an afterthought.

The guy stood there, intrigue listing on his face.

“Listen, how about a coffee sometime?” I seemed to have no control over myself.

“I live right over there,” I said, when he didn’t answer.

I gathered myself, and invited all three of them, but getting the hint, his two friends politely declined, and said something to the effect that “the garage awaited them.”

“I’m Mahid,” he said, nodding, accepting.

It turned out that we didn’t go to coffee after all but actually bought ourselves some burgers and cokes and went for a walk down Lonuziyaaraiy Kolhu. On the seawall, we sat, close, shoulders almost touching. I didn’t mind. He didn’t mind either.

The week seemed to pass in a whirl. I found out that Mahid worked in a garage the next street round the corner, and everyday I found myself taking the longer route to work, always finding some excuse to stop at the garage and asking Mahid to fix this or that.

The truth was I was totally mesmerized by this human, who almost seemed…out of this world. In truth, he was. I haven’t in my whole 23 years met a person who is less cynical than Mahid and who is less selfish. He struck a balance between reality and idealism, which perfectly suited me. Though he dreamed great dreams (I happily found out that I wasn’t the only one who wanted to climb the top of Mount Everest one day or make the treacherous long walk down the Silk Road) he took life as it came and seemed to drink in and enjoy each second of this short, precious life. He was my kind of person.

But then, I met Niyaz who turned out to be just like Mahid.

I was thrown into conflict; all these years, I was looking for that rare person who would like me for who I am and not because he needs someone to sleep beside him and make him lots of babies. The idea itself freaks me out. Where is the sense of adventure, the passion, the zest for life? Perhaps, it was lost in the sands of tradition. The recesses of culture.
I fought that culture. And now I am an outcast. A nomad traveling on the fringes of the so-called “mainstream” society.

I wasn’t afraid. But they were. They chose the blue pill after all. Mahid, Niyaz, me… we all wanted a way out of the Matrix that was Male’.

Niyaz was the new guy in our office. Got the job just a week after I started dating Mahid.

Niyaz is coal black which is kind of sexy because it brings out the twinkle in his eyes. And combined with the calm, intense look he always gave everyone, it set my spine on fire everytime he gifted me with a gaze from those eyes.

I made up all kinds of excuses to hang out in his department, always wanting him to look at me straight in the eye. I don’t know how this feeling came about but I sensed that somebody who had as intense a look as Niyaz must have something deep inside him.

I was right.

I began to dig and he opened up. Over our various coffee shop outings during the course of the week, I found out that though Mahid and Niyaz had their differences, they were not so different at all… in their spirit.

But the irony of it all was that instead of just that one rare person, I had discovered two. And though I don’t believe in soulmates, they both perfectly fit the concept.

“I do understand,” Niyaz said when he found out that I was going out with Mahid.

Of course, he would. We were all alike.

But then, he dropped the bombshell.

“I guess you have to choose,” he said calmly, looking into my eyes, oblivious to the waves crashing on the tripods, wetting us with their spray.

“But I don’t want to,” I was adamant. “I can’t choose between you. I just can’t.”

I got up, walked about a little on the slippery seawall, and sat a down a distance from him.

He came over quietly, and touched my shoulder.

“You’re important to me, too. I need you both.” I hoped that I sounded firm but knew deep down that Niyaz was right.

I shuddered to think what I would do without them -- Niyaz and Mahid.

“Just take it easy,” he said, taking my arm in his. “It’s alright.” He held my eyes for a moment. “You’re not thinking clearly. I want to you to go home and take a rest. I’m sure you’ll understand.”

He was right. I had to choose. It was the will of the people.

I shook my head. “I’ll have to settle just for their friendship, then…” I looked at Nina.

She was the epitome of beauty. Fine, wavy hair, more soft than silk. A pixyish face. She was what you would call… exquisite.

She was also a realist. Though she was one of us, she consciously held on to an invisible thread to the mainstream, perhaps because of her own insecurities.

I took her soft hands into mine, and held it there. My eyes lingered on her for a moment.

“This must be true love then. I cannot bring myself to choose between the both of them. But I guess I must. Meet met here at 5:00pm today.”

It was almost sunset. I was late. So was Nina. And so were Mahid and Niyaz, too. It was not a good sign. It only increased my anxiety.

Nina was surprised to find Mahid and Niyaz -- I didn’t tell her beforehand what I had in mind.

Mahid and Niyaz were bewildered as to why I had called for an “emergency meeting” at Lonuziyaaraiy Kolhu.

They were also apparently uneasy to be in each other’s presence, especially with me being there.

I looked at Mahid. It was obvious he was unsettled by all this. He still surprises me to this day because, unlike Niyaz, he never asked me to choose between the two of them. Was he content with just my mere presence in his life?

“You asked me to choose,” I said, my eyes wandering from Mahid to Niyaz.

The moment of truth.

“I love you both. Equally. And I need you both.”

I waited for a reaction.


Both Mahid and Niyaz stood as still as the lifeless tripods.

“I know that sooner or later I have to choose between the two of you. But that is not what I am going to do. I choose you both. The decision is now in your hands.”

Nina’s jaw dropped.

Mahid blinked a few times.

Niyaz took a deep breath.

I walked away.

Cold Winds from the Clouds

By Ibráhím Sharíf (Nov 2004)

Prologue with a Verse for Children: The Old Man and the Cat

“Bao kaló nádhé, migé dhosha nádhe,”
the old, crooning voice
echoed through the silence. One night.
The little boy remembers it.
Once upon a time, there was an old man.
The old man killed his cat.
The little boy called him Bao bébe.
But that was a long time ago.
The little boy is scared of Bao bébe.
And that was a long time ago.

Salah and the Mechanical-Wind Up Dolls

When one is in misery, in sadness, it really allows one to think; in retrospect and reflection; about life. Here is a young man, walking down the road, as the waves splash against the tetra-pods of the thoshigan’du. The sky is unusually overcast, and the air is unusually cold; and it is five p.m. This young man is tall, lean, with a mess of straight hair; he is wearing a blue shirt. His limbs dangle by his sides, suspended from his slouching shoulders. His eyes are wide, as if lost into some thought. He is alone. And he was aware of that. And he despaired.
It is in such state of mind that a vague breed of masochism reigns. To dwell upon the pain, to feel it again and again, was it masochism? Or some psychological process of healing that the so-called scientific community is unaware of?
He sat down upon one of the brine-washed stones of the thoshigan’du. And he stared, but saw nothing. He scratched his unshaved chin. Not that he shaved, but even in his late teens, the hormones of adolescence played their role in the body's journey to maturity. Maturity, that was the thing—physical and mental.
Puberty, that age where the little children come to terms with their newly discovered sexual identity. They come to it, they are frightened by it, at first; then they accept it. Then, they fall in love. (Or lust, rather, depends on your subject and your perspective).
This young man had fallen in love, once upon a time, and now, he was spurned. Unwanted. Dumped.
His name was Salah, and her name was Aisha.
A band of motorcycles raced past, their riders laughing raucously and rudely. All male, of course, leaving behind the streaks of engine exhaust fumes and tobacco smoke. Their long, dyed hair flapping in the wind as they rode on. Smoking, laughing, and forgetful. Worshipers of ephemera.
“Memento mori,” one may say. “Memento mori” in this age we call “today”.

(…Injustice. Was it injustice? Freaky really. She just doesn’t care. Ripped me apart. I’m like tissue paper. Ripped me apart. Ripped me apart. Ripped me apart. Tissue paper stuck to the ground…migégai roa kujje núlhé…)

He sat there, the waves crashing behind him. A hundred or more metres behind him, a surfer, with an unlit Marlboro in his lip, was wiped out as he fell off his varnished surfboard and into the foamy brine. He went under, and came back up again. He felt a mild sense of relief and gratitude that he was still alive. He felt short of breath. Emphysema had already begun to take one of his lungs. One year later, he would be dead. Yet, he knew nothing about it.
The surfer glanced at the young man on the thoshigan’du wearing the blue shirt. He climbed back upon his board.

* * *

If Singapore was a real place, it was hard to believe. But it was a real place. Salah had lived there for a while—studying for some obscure and vaguely defined diploma. Although such a society is utterly peaceful to live within, the people were dead. Dead to the rest of the world, that is, as they walked about engrossed in their own mechanical, monotonous lives. It was as if there was a factory in Jurong Industrial Park where the real people worked. And there, they made lifelike (and life-sized) wind-up dolls of themselves. And therefore, whilst they sat around and loafed around, they let their mechanical dolls do their work for them.
(They had keyholes in their back, to wind up the clockworks within their bodies. They had stamps on their temples that said: Manufactured in Jurong…)
In Singapore: perceptions that never wavered, thoughts that never grew. As you walked through the crowds; nobody looked at you; nobody spoke to you. Nobody cared about you. You, to the rest of the crowd, were a speck, another person taking up oxygen and occupying volume within the space of the world. You were worthless. The systems, the meticulous functioning of the national infrastructure with the MRTs, the schedules; the glass-and-concrete jungles of skyscrapers, HDBs, condominiums and such that boasted of high-class development; their imported and exiled angmos with their Western ideologies and habits, and perversions strutting about on Orchard Road, muttering into their cell phones; ears hooked up to their iPods, CD players; whatever; playing Bach or whatever; investing, working, investing—all part of the Great Singapore Sale. A façade for the necropolis of the mechanical wind-up dolls that it really was. Salah was alone.
Now, all the joy he had accumulated on the flight home had disappeared. Disappeared leaving a swirling void, a maelstrom of his own loneliness, self-pity, and bitterness.

Salah lay supine, now, upon the cold, stone surface. He cared little for what the gawking passers-by thought of him.
Many thoughts passed through his brain, as if they were cars upon a highway at rush hour in some great metropolis. He contemplated, and reflected. And the neurons within the tissue of his brain connected. And connected. And connected.

The elderly Chinese man was sitting, reading some Chinese newspaper. A toothpick was between his yellowed teeth. He was sitting against the metal railing at the MRT platform. The LCD clock announced one minute for the train's arrival. Salah was bored. The Chinese man wore a clean, pressed white shirt, and grey trousers. His white hair was neatly combed back, and glistened with an oily substance. He sat there, alone. The train drove in, and Salah walked into the train, through and between the many people within the massive crowd.
He sat down, and looked out the window of the stationary train. The old man still sat there, reading his newspaper. He made no move to get on the train, or walk away from the platform. He sat there, his face as hard and rigid as it was before. He has no keyhole. And he is real. He had never been to Jurong Industrial Park.

* * *

Salah’s mobile phone went off. Nobody about him looked around, and he did not expect anyone to do so. It was a thing of modern society. “As'saläm 'Alaikum,” he grunted, not really meaning the peace he claimed to wish.
A zephyr moved across the air. It rustled the leaves of a tree.
“Wa'alaikum assaläm, Salle dho?” the voice on the other end crackled. It was Ali. Salah had met none of his friends after he went over to Aisha’s house. Yet, Ali was the sort of person who had his ways of knowing. Uncanny, yet not outside those that may be listed in a realistic sort of epistemology.
“Yes,” he said.
“I'm really sorry about what—”
“Please, don’t—”
“Listen...where are you?”
“I'm at the thoshigan’du...”
“Near Henveiru Park?” asked Ali, with a little light heartedness in his voice.
“Why should I be there? I'm at the thoshigan’du, near Tuscaloosa,” he said, a bit irritated.
“Basically the same place, Salah,” Ali said, “You, of all people, should know.” There was sarcasm. A hint. Like salt.
Before Salah could reply, Ali had hung up. And there was silence.

In Henveiru Park, a boy of eight was kicking around a football with his cousins. His mother had told him not to go so near the thoshigan’du for very obscure reasons. The boy has thalassaemia, and his mother knows it. So did he. But “THALASSAEMIA” was just a word to him; a word that adults used to describe him with. His mother had suffered much shame when her own mother had discovered that she was pregnant. She looked on from a nearby tree, she was young, and she covered whatever she felt. He was dying, and he himself knew nothing of it. The boy caught the football with his hands, he looked right to see a man sitting by himself upon the thoshigan’du. He was wearing a blue shirt. The boy kicked the ball and went on.
“Why did you start smoking?” Salah asked Ali. They were sitting on the thoshigan’du, now. The sky was taking that dark, bluish colour it normally takes when the sun had set. The sun had set.
“I was sad, man,” Ali said, “and I was sick unto death. Getting over it.”
“Why did you quit?”
“It’s harám. Plus, a waste of my good health.”
“Was it really?”
“What’s with the questions?" Ali asked, he was looking a bit stern.
“Just because Aisha smokes—”
“Ayya, I'm not planning on smoking!"
“Who said anything about you smoking?”
“Please, Ali, I'm not in the f—ing mood!”
“How are you feeling, then?”
“I feel like jumping for bloody joy...”
“That bad?”
“Is it just Aisha...?”
There was silence. A slight drizzle had started.
“You know, I really missed you when you were in Singapore,” Ali said.
Salah grinned, a bit, “You know that that sounded so gay, right?”
“Ah!” said Ali, quietly, “talk about slips of the tongue.”
The waves went on gently in their rhythm. They seemed to be looking at Ali.
Salah chuckled. He did not want to. Yet he did. He went quiet again.
“It's for a good reason,” Ali said, looking back at the waves, “From what you tell me, I don’t really think that she’s your type.” He was mild and subtle.
“My uncle always said that girls were like buses...” Ali looked at him; and Salah's voice trailed off. “You,” Ali asked, peering at him, “heard from your uncle?”
“No,” Salah said, quietly.
Ali nodded. Ali understood. But not quite.
Ali was quiet. And Salah was quiet. And none of them spoke.
“Aisha was so…different before,” Salah exclaimed, suddenly, “What happened to her?”
“Aisha is dead,” Ali said, “Right?”
“How would you know?” Salah asked, looking down at the imprints of the raindrops upon the ground. “How would you know whether she's dead or not...?”
“I've kept in touch with her,” Ali said.
Salah scratched his head.
“Come on, man. Why are you doing this to yourself?”
“Well, Ayya,” he looked up, “What if she wants to come back to me again?”
“Do you want her to?” Ali asked.
“Besides everything that she's said and done, do you still want her back?”
“Yes.” There was a hint of something in his voice. Like salt.
There went a time. None of them spoke; at least not to each other.
“Caecus amor,” said Ali.
“Caecus amor.” And that was it. Caecus amor.

A baby is born to the world, screaming. It is blind to the world, although its eyes may see. Man is blind, with or without his eyes. He is a helpless little creature. And that is a simple truth.

There was silence. A couple of bats soared overhead in their journey towards some other island. The thalassaemic little boy was still playing football with his cousins. When in childhood everything seems beautiful. And everything seems dark and ugly. That’s something that, in a sense, follows into adulthood, dho? It is emotion; emotion that colours the paradigms of your perception; and it is emotion that links. Who on earth knew the mechanics of his own subconscious mind?


Salah lay upon the bed, supine. His eyes were closed, and a streak of dried saliva had snaked down the corner of his open mouth. His crumpled clothes shrouded his frame, and his hair was ruffled against the dry pulp of the cotton-stuffed pillow.
There was a slight tapping against the wooden door of the room. The tapping was there, and had been there, for how long he had not a clue. It had melted away into the silent cacophony of the unnoticed.

The air within his room would reek of stale and stagnant air to anyone who entered. He kept the window closed, and the curtains drawn. His bed was covered by sheets, disarrayed, and in chaos. What else was new? His books were in a mess, pages thumbed through, but unread. The pencils in the cup upon his desk were blunt, and his wastebasket was bare. His desk was bare. Except for the square notebook that lay, alone, upon its wooden surface. With big, bold letters he had written, years ago: “el rey del islas maldivas”, in what was a fit of childish megalomania and exhibitionism. “The king of the Maldive Islands”. The yellowing pages of the notebook were greatly scribbled upon; scribbles in English, scribbles in Dhivehi. Scribbles. Sans meaning. The workings of a chaotic electric activity amongst the neurons within the human brain transferred to the muscle tissues and tendons of the hand and arm that gripped a pencil that left dark marks of its graphite on contact.
Caecus amor. Caecus amor.
He was bored, he was sad, he was
"Empty," he groaned, when one would have mistaken him to be dead.
Away, in Singapore, where many strands of his DNA lay abound, the mechanical wind-up dolls walked about in their emptiness. And the old man sat against the metal railing, reading his Chinese newspapers. He inhaled. ("Is it just Aisha..?" he had asked.)
His face twitched: there was an itch on his calf. It was the scar his uncle’s new cat had given him. He hates the cat, he hates it now more than before. Cats are predators, hunters. They hunt, and then they look at its prey, and now, at this very moment, you were the prey...and it looks at you: to analyse you, to play with you, to kill you, to eat you. To assimilate you into its system, to satisfy its animal needs.
(and he had said "Yes")
Salah opens his eyes. The room is dark; his mobile phone is turned on. It's not that anybody really called within the last few days; but he kept it on, because he (hoped?)
“Hoping can kill you,” he said to the ceiling above him. Dark, high, and brooding. Eerie in the light that streamed in from the bathroom.
Yes, it can, said the ceiling. Or at least, it seemed to say.
Salah's drowsiness left him, and for a moment he looked up at the ceiling. And the ceiling looked back down at him. All was silent. “Yes it can,” he said to himself. There was nothing more. Nothing more. Anger can kill you, said the ceiling. He slept. And dreamt that the housecat ate him. And dreamt of the empty box. The housecat ate him. It was his uncle. Salah was six years old. And his uncle ate him alive.
Housecats can kill you said the ceiling.

Salah opened his eyes. He closed his eyes. He opened them once more. The ceiling looked down at him. It disappeared. And it looked down at him once more. His discontinuous perception did nought to the staring ceiling. It stared. It glared. He would not know the truth, for what did man truly know?
Nothing, said the ceiling. You know nothing. And neither do I. For I am a ceiling.
How can you talk, if you are a ceiling? asked Salah.
The ceiling was silent. And it did not speak. And it never had.


It was seven o’clock in Malé. And at seven o’clock in Malé, things were silent; the faithful sat in their homes or in the mosques, praying or reciting God’s Word. The shops stood closed, darkened save for the solitary lamps they keep running through that one hour. The main road, Majídí Magu, was almost deserted, save for the few taxis that still moved about, either On Call or Hunting. This happened every day, almost always at seven o'clock. Placid, quiet, it is Malé, at seven o’clock.
It was during this time of the day when people (particularly the youth below the age of twenty-five) became more sociable. The night, with neither the heat, the light, the workload, nor the lack of privacy of the daytime hours. The latter, to some, being the hours required to sleep off the fumes and the fatigue of the previous night’s debaucheries, to awaken freshened, anew, and ready for another round.
They were waiting for Asaf to arrive. Neither of them liked Asaf, but for the time being, neither of them cared. “Do you really expect him to come?” asked Ali.
“You mean, on time?” replied Nizar.
“I mean, on time,” replied Ali, flatly.
“Come on...”
“Well, its no biggie,” said Ali, “He can go almost as soon as he leaves.”
“Well, knowing him,” said Nizar, “That assumption can’t go far.”
“I don't know him, man,” said Ali, “Never did, and probably never will.”
“Be nice.”
“I’m a nice guy; it's in my nature to be nice.”
“Defiance…” smirked Ali.
“Defiance to the truth that I am indeed nice; a root of envy, I believe,” said Ali.
“Stop acting all bloody intellectual on me, man.”
“Ha!” said Ali, “I am intelligent, not an intellectual. Intellectuals are people who run around playing with big words and continuously citing bird-brained philosophers.”
“And you don’t?”
“I quote myself, don’t I?”
There was silence. Ali slapped Nizar on the back. Nizar chuckled. He did not find it funny, but it was in jest; and it wouldn’t be proper of him to be offended because of a harmless jest, would it?
“What is with that Salah?” exclaimed Nizar, suddenly.
“What about him?”
“He flies into Malé, and he acts as if he doesn't even know me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Has he dropped by? No. Has he called me? No.”
“You see,” said Ali, “Aisha broke up with him.”
“He was really screwed. I mean, he was really depressed.”
“Today, an hour or two ago.”
“Well, I'm not surprised.”
“He was with her for a lo—”
“It's not that,” said Nizar, cutting him off; finding a little piece of aluminium foil on the ground very interesting. They were sitting at the thoshigan’du. And the nightly health-conscious crowd of joggers and walkers passed them. As if rush hour in some metropolitan necropolis.
“Its just that I’ve seen Aisha around... quite a lot.”
“She’s always with this guy...”
“Do you know Ahnaf?”
“Dhon Gaburey?”
“I think that's what they call him. Not sure.”
There was silence.
“How on earth does she know Ahnaf?”
“You know her sister? Elder one?”
“Well, never mind, the thing is that she’s not exactly a paragon. And Ahnaf is a pretty close friend of hers.”
“I see.”
“Are they getting along, or something? Aisha and him?”
“I just observe.”
“Come on, Nizar, stop it.”
“I think that they are.”
“How long do you think?”
“I don’t know... a month or so. Not sure.”
There was silence.
Ali exhaled. “She couldn’t wait one month...”
“The thing is the context...”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I guess that it isn’t so bad if we take Salah like we do Ahnaf, and Ahnaf like Salah.”
“Oh. True.”
“Doesn’t sound as bad, dho?”
“No. It doesn’t.”
“But now it does.”
“Poor Salah...”
“Is he really?”
There was silence. And Ali coughed. Nizar fidgeted his pocket.
“Do you have your mobile phone with you?”
“How come?”
“I wanna know what’s taking that Asaf so long.”
Bats flew above. And the moon moved, just a little, in its apparent climb to its peak at midnight.


“My beloved brother, Ahmad Adnan Maniku, has passed away following several days…”

Epilogue: Salah and Real Life

A week had passed. It was two hours, really.
There was a slight knock upon the door. Salah stirred, slightly. His eyes did not open, though; and his body lay upon the bed.
"Ey! Sallebe, wake up!" called a high-pitched voice from the other side. Salah was awake, and in that split second, nothing made sense. The world was there, people were there, the fan turned, and turned, the bed was there, everything was there. The world, such a curious place as it is, was there. In that second he believed that he had a doctorate in Polynesian Literature. A study of the clockwork that made Polynesian literature “tick”. Literature produced in Industrial Parks.
"Sallebe, wake up!"
No, he did not have a doctorate degree, he realised... And he knew, or rather, re-discovered the world. The knocking persisted, growing a decibel louder by the second. He got off the bed and opened the door.
A wave of bright light swept over him, so bright that he squinted as his retinas broke down the saturation of rhodopsin they had accumulated.
A little girl stands in the doorway. Not older than nine, she has a water-filled plastic bag that hangs from her small, clasped fist. A wide, toothy grin has cracked open in her face. “Look at the fish!” she says, ecstatic. A small, red organism—much like a painted tadpole—swims in the clear water. Its wide, fishy eyes moves about, as if in panic, as it swims to and fro within its plastic confines. Salah looks at it. And it looks back at him. He exhales. “Where’d you get it?” Salah asked, with a slight smile. His little sister shakes her head. “I’m not telling you!” She breaks into a girlish giggle. Salah shrugs. The fish swims. “How is mamma?”
“She’s not home yet, she’s still with bao bébe,” she says. “I’m hungry!” she interjects, suddenly.
He was eaten alive at the age of six by the housecat. And he had a doctorate in Polynesian Literature. And the fish swam.
Masks fell. He cared little.
His mother called later on. She was crying. That was all. And Salah cared little. The little goldfish in the plastic bag swam, and swam. And so did Salah.

Bottomless Pit of Wants

By Shanooha Mansoor (Nov 2004)

Silent and dark, in the dead of the night I peer out at the sky, dotted with millions of stars, imagining that someone is gazing back at me. I yearn to go out and lie on the grass, with their blades caressing me, like thousands of fingers, the cool night air enveloping me, stinging my face with its coldness, prickling my body, its smell taking over me intoxicating me, leaving me yearning for more and more. My parched lips cracked and open for a single drop of dew, as though it will quench my thirst for eternity, a thirst so great and consuming that I feel sometimes as though I am drowning in it.
The whole world silhouetted against the night sky, soft halos surround them, lacking details and definitions, a time when true beauty really shines, with the sharp edges, the soft contours, the smell, the warmth, and emotions that vibrate in the dead of night, beauty at its purest and most primitive form. I see the world as I’d never seen it before, touching me at the very core, but that somehow doesn’t seem enough. I’ve got a yearning, a yearning for something more. It creeps up on me, even at the moments at which I am most at peace with myself. I try to coax myself, to delude it, to make myself believe that this is as good as it gets.

But there’s always a ‘but’, or an ‘if about what I could and would do, an insatiable desire to have more than I get, to do more than I could. First it was about a toy, then friendships, then about love, about a career, about money, something or other was always there, something I wanted and when I got that it somehow was never enough; the grass on the other side truly seemed greener and more lush, the trees in that pasture seemed to grow with fruits much more bigger and juicier than on mine. Even the shadows looked bigger and intense. Someone else always seemed happier than me, more content; they seemed to know the secrets of love and life and I was left wanting that, changing from one thing to the other, searching, wanting, my mind always in turmoil, my soul in tatters. I was nothing but a bottomless pit of wants.

Somewhere along the road I had lost touch with being content, with being what I was. There always seemed to be attainable heights, greater pleasures, a bit further I could push myself. I could not live, not happily anyway, for I was blinded by my wants, when I could very well have done with all I had, all that was mine. I could have been one of those people smiling, a soul at peace, that free spirit without fretters that bound me to my miserable self. Sigh!

But, I am what I am, and I guess I will console myself and blame it all on human nature once more (sure way to block that accusing voice in my head!). After all it is true, that we really are bottomless pits of wants without a clue as to where we begin and where our wants end.

The Shrink and I: a Sequel

By Hilath Rasheed (July 2004)

"Up yours!” Shiuneez yelled.

Ismail passed a glance at Shiuneez. Poor sod, the guy had reason to get so worked up. In fact, today was one of those days when Shiuneez did more paddling than surfing. It was tiring all right. All that paddling. And oh, that dragging current! That can really wear you out.

However, the rest of the line-up seemed to be enjoying a high. All chatty.

No doubt Shiuneez had reason to sulk. Shiuneez, just a boy entering his teens, sitting crossly on his boogie, swearing at not having caught a single swell the whole day.

“What’s all this bullshit excitement about, huh? That you aalaathun caught a wave-and-a- half?” Shiuneez yelled again.

Someone from the line-up showed him the finger, and that shut him up.

Ismail started swimming towards the thoshigandu. He had enough for the day.

Heaving a deep breath, Ismail half-dragged his boogie board toward Tuscaloosa. A few guys and gals were hanging out there, the ones who sensibly stayed out of the water today.

Ismail rested his board on the wall of the open-air restaurant. The outside of the restaurant was painted turquoise green, which somewhat, from a distance, matched with the blue of the Rannamaari waves. There was nothing scenic about the concrete ridden restaurant or the concrete seawall but a few snapshots that Ismail had shot of bodyboarders and their families during the last Varunulaa Challenge contest earned a spot of display at the Youth Talent show this year.

Ismail made over to one of the tables near the corner where he could get an unobstructed view of the surf. He wished that the floor was a little elevated; he had to crane his neck to see who actually got to ride and who got wiped out.

“Buggeration, huh?” Seeza, the waiter, came over.

“Hello, C. Black as usual.”

“Don’t worry. It can only fall downhill.” She walked back into the kitchen and came back with two cups of coffee.

Ismail sometimes wanted to go back to jogging. Around the Henveiru park.

The sun had already set, and shadows were moving. Ismail still threw the occasional glance at the bushes at the far south corner of the park. Most of the bushes were now trimmed, and he remembered nostalgically how he had come across a girl sitting in those shadows, a girl who he will not forget easily even though a few years had since gone by.

He had stopped jogging a few days afterwards, he did not know why, may be it was because of the incident, or may be because jogging was plain boring, had become too monotonous and routine. He had needed something more exciting, and surfing somehow seemed to be more thrilling.

But still from time to time, he could not help but look for that girl in the bushes.

How he still hoped she would come out of the shadows. Perhaps, one day, when he had enough money, he would go on a round-the-Maldives sort of trip, and hope that by some cosmic coincidence she would come across him. But that seemed far-fetched. From the meager salary he was making from being a part time writer for a tabloid, he hardly could afford DVDs, his second love to surfing.

Seeza settled into the chair next to Ismail. “Mind?” she asked but of course she knew he would not; Ismail never minded her company. She guessed that he was just comfortable with her, but she knew that Ismail was only comfortable around a few girls, and this made her feel something for him, though she was not sure what it was.

She thought it was may be a crush. Well, as long as it was a crush, she would not mind. Boys were damn boring.

Just then two guys entered, one in his 20s, the other older, probably in his 40s or 50s.

The younger one was Adham, an acquaintance of Ismail, and the elder one, Seeza seemed to recognize immediately.

“That’s the exorcist!” Seeza whispered under her breath.

Ismail almost choked on the coffee he was sipping. “Exorcist! What…?”

“You don’t believe in jinnis?”

“No.” Ismail paused for a moment. “I mean, yes, I do believe in them. But there are certain things that I am not so sure about.”

“Like what?” Seeza looked questioningly.

“Like, for example, how does a person become possessed? How does it pass on to you? Like a virus? I don’t believe one thing about people accidentally pissing on jinnis and the jinni then taking revenge ‘cos I am pretty sure a jinni would not allow himself to get pissed on.”

“There are female jinnis, too,” Seeza pointed out.

“Yeah. I know. Is that relevant?”

Sheeza did not reply. Ismail was sometimes so sexist.

She took a sip of her coffee again. “I do not know but they say that Adham is possessed. Sort of like Exorcist the movie you know.”

Ismail began to imagine all sorts of things. “You mean, Adham actually can do a 360 degree turn of his head, or climb onto the wall like Spider-Man?” Ismail smiled wickedly.

“Just kidding of course.” He downed another sip.

Seeza chuckled. “I can already see him spitting green vomit!”

That really started them. They began to holler until pedestrians started giving them weird looks. Surfers were a mysterious bunch. Ismail did not give a damn.

Now the two new customers were looking as if Ismail and Seeza were possessed themselves.

“I better go to them.” Seeza got up and walked over to their table.

Ismail observed quietly. An exorcist? That sounded interesting. Perhaps, he should introduce himself and ask a few questions. There were not many exorcists around now. In fact, he heard that there were only two, and it would be interesting if he could do a short piece for Huvaas, the gossip magazine he part-timed for.

Ismail saw Seeza whisper something to the two customers, and then all three of them looked together at Ismail and Ismail saw Seeza wave him over.

Ismail offered his hand to the exorcist and without waiting to be asked sat down in a chair across them. Seeza went into the kitchen.

“Listen, I was wondering if you would mind me doing a feature on exorcism provided that I don’t use your names of course,” Ismail began.

The exorcist introduced himself as Bilehdhoo Areef. “Well,” he cracked his knuckles, “what do you want to know?”

“Everything. I guess.” Ismail looked towards the kitchen and saw Sheeza coming towards them with steaming cups of coffee, and a notebook and a pen.

“Thanks,” he said to Sheeza, who sat down in the chair next to the exorcist. “Where to start? Now, let’s see.”

Bilehdhoo Areef looked pointedly at Ismail. “First, I would like to know, do you believe in spirits?”

Ismail was taken aback. Bilehdhoo Areef had already taken Ismail as a skeptic.

“Sure,” Ismail stammered, “I mean, the Holy Book says so, doesn’t it?”

“The Holy Book says so!” Bilehdhoo Areef laughed and struck his fist on the table. Coffee spilt from all the four cups. Seeza looked cross, Ismail wondered at which.

“Ok, then, would you doubt someone who has actually seen it? Would you doubt your friend here?” Bilehdhoo Areef pointed at Adham.

Adham had remained quiet all this time. He now looked at Ismail, but his eyes somehow looked empty, as if he was under some sort of spell, of the jinni or of Bilehdhoo Areef, Ismail was not sure.

After two hours of intense talk over coffee, Bilehdhoo Areef and Adham went off.

Adham had shook hands with Ismail but said not a word.

“That was weird,” Ismail said to Seeza after she came back attending another customer. “I think Adham is not possessed by a jinni but rather by that impostor!”

“Impostor!” Seeza exclaimed.

“Oh, you missed the nicer bits. Let me tell you.”

Just then Ismail spied a friend, Husny, come in, alone. He waved him over.

“Guest what? You just missed meeting an exorcist!”

“You for real?” Husny looked doubtful.

“What the hell’s wrong with you? I thought you believed in all sorts of shit since you read all those books. And what was that last one you read? The Celestine Prophecy?”

“That was one cheap fraud! A life-changing experience? Bah!” Husny made a face. Then he looked thoughtful. “You should read Getting Rid of the Evil Inside You.”

“What’s that?!” Seeza exclaimed. “You think this here Ismail is evil?”

“Did I say that?” Husny shrugged. “Perhaps. Haa, haa, haa.”

Ismail frowned. Husny had a way of getting on your nerves sometimes. He wasn’t funny. Wasn’t funny at all.

“Anyway,” Ismail began, “to get to the point…” He skimmed through his notes.

“Ah, here it is,” he read out loud. Husny leaned close, so did Seeza. “His name’s Bilehdhoo Areef and he claims to be the last of a dying breed.”

“That sounds reasonable,” Husny said. “I think the word you should write in your article is ‘dinosaur’ ‘cos I don’t believe that there are genuine exorcists now.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Oh, I read somewhere that the Holy Prophet said that with the advent of Islam, a curtain has been drawn between the human world and the spirit world.”

“Yeah, I know that. But then, the wall can be breached, can’t it?” Ismail asked.

“Go on,” Husny shrugged.

“Well, Bilehdhoo Areef says that there are legions of jinnis just like men.”

“Erm, I believe ‘humans’ is the word?” Seeza corrected again.

Sometimes her sense of gender equality is so misplaced, Ismail thought.

He was somewhat irritated for the interruption but went on, “Yeah, sure. As I was saying, Bilehdhoo Areef claims to control more than 100,000 jinnis, including males and females,” at this point he looked at Sheeza, “and that is just one legion, he says. Imagine!”

“No way, man!” Husny banged the table, and the coffees spilt. Seeza rolled her eyes.

“That’s the thing!” Ismail too banged the table. “I was telling him why if he had such a force, he would not use it to more practical purposes.”

“Like what?” Seeza asked.

“Like, for instance, if I had the power of a jinni, I would obviously want to become the President or Buruma Gasim so that at least I will have lots of money and power.”

“Why am I not surprised.” Seeza said, to no one in particular.

“I would like to fly!” All three turned and saw Zuhuda come in.

“Sorry. I couldn’t help listening. Mind if I join?” She sank herself into a chair.

Seeza waved over another waiter and asked to bring a cup of coffee to Zuhu as well. “Get it yourself!” the waiter growled at Sheeza. “What are you supposed to do here, My Lady? Play Oprah?”

Nevertheless, he brought over the coffee, and Ismail thought that it was because Seeza had this aura about her which made people reluctant to mess with her. But he, Ismail, would not hesitate to give her the finger if the need arose. She was too much empowered, Ismail thought to himself.

“So,” Zuhu began, “as I was saying, why not fly? I mean, that’s what jinnis are good at, huh? If I had a personal jinni, I would at least fly once a week across from north to south, over all the islands. Like on a magic carpet.”

“So now you want to play Ali Baba?” Husny said, having not have said something for a while.

“That was Aladdin, you pseudo-bookworm,” Zuhu said. Husny looked pissed off.

“And I hear that jinnis can teleport themselves,” Ismail said, glad to use the technological jargon in front of Husny.

“That’s basic.” Husny seemed to have an answer for everything.

“Ok,” Ismail said defiantly, “Bilehdhoo Areef also says that 200,000 jinnis can fit into one square inch of area. How do you explain that?”

“That’s easy,” replied Husny, “they live in another dimension, you see.”

“I got you there, man!” Ismail exclaimed, “if jinnis are like that, why does Bilehdhoo Areef pour holy water on the corridors and stairs? Do you think jinnis need stairs to go up to a room?”

“Ok.” Seeza nodded. “I agree that’s dumb.”

Zuhu nodded in agreement.

“Hmm…” she began. This was not going to be good, if Zuhu started her sentence with that, Ismail thought.

“I was thinking, remember Ismail, that jinni girl you met a few years ago?”

Ismail hid his face in his hands.

“Yeah!” Seeza joined in. “The one who usurped your virginity!”

“Usurped!” Ismail exclaimed. He looked at Seeza and then at Husny and Zuhu. “Who said it was a jinni? Just because I haven’t been able to track her down since then doesn’t mean she’s a handi, right? I mean, she could have been a girl from an island on a medical trip here. She might have gone back to her island and maybe does not want me to get back to her for some reason that only she knows.” He said it all under one breath.

“I think you should get married like good old Husny here,” Zuhu said, laying her hands on Husny’s arm.

“Hey listen,” Husny said. “I know this cute psychologist woman who can do wonders for you!”

“Live Viagra?”

“No, you dumb ass.”

“OK, who?”


“Sure, I know.”

“How?” all three of them looked at Ismail at once.

“Hey, hey,” Ismail made a gesture with his hands to back off. “I happen to know quite a few cute women, too.”

“And?” Seeza made a face.

“Well, ok, she’s a friend of my bosses’ daughter. We used to go to Dhivehi films together.”

“You go to Dhivehi films!” everybody exclaimed together.

“Of course, I gotta review them, remember.”

A short silence followed. Seeza sipped her coffee, and said, “I guess we haven’t seen the back of the wave yet.”

“What wave?” Ismail asked.

“You, of course,” Zuhu replied.

“That’s right. Tell us more about your sex life,” Husny prodded.

“I don’t have one,” Ismail replied.

Then as if a new thought struck him, he snapped his fingers. “No, wait! Riding a wave is a better orgasm!”

“Duuude!” the others exclaimed in unison.

“That’s why you should go to this woman.” Husny looked at Seeza and Zuhu and then at Ismail. “If you get her help, I am betting you will get married in six months!”

“What! She gonna marry me herself? Look guys, I know her, she doesn’t know nothing.”

“Wait!” Seeza exclaimed. “I’ve got an idea. Let’s say that you agree to go to a counseling session with Fareeda and we promise never to talk of marriage to you again. Is that all right?”

“What’s up with you, guys.” Ismail protested.

He took a sip of his coffee and slowly put down the cup. “Sure, if it makes you happy. But I am sure it will be just a waste of time.”

“But go!” Husny pushed on. “Just call her up tonight and say it will take only a few minutes. Then ask her why you are still single, and she would have all the answers.”

Ismail downed the rest of his coffee and stood up. He was not happy at the turn of the conversation and would not mind going home early, taking a shower, and going to dinner. Hell, he would probably go to Fareeda too tonight and get it over with. He was not afraid of anything. He was sure nothing was going to change.

Towards midnight, Ismail dropped into Tuscaloosa again for a cup of coffee. There was no Seeza on duty but he saw his good friend Muad sitting in a corner. He made his way over there. “You alone?” Ismail asked.

“Hi man.” Muad pointed to the chair next to him. “Sit here.”

Ismail signed over to the waiter for a black coffee.

“Guess what? I just went to a shrink!” Ismail started.

“A shrink!” Muad exclaimed. “What the hell for? I tell you man, they are all fakes. High class frauds!”

“Mmm.” Ismail pretended to ponder for a moment. “I think it’s quite noble work. I mean, helping out someone, giving advice.”

“And taking money for it!” Muad exclaimed. “What’s noble in that? I can give advice for free! I tell you, it’s not a profession at all!”

“If it’s not a profession, how are they able to help you open doors in your mind that you never thought existed?”

Muad did not reply. He puffed on a Marlboro Light and said, “So. Why did you go?”

“To get married in six months!”

Muad went into a coughing fit. “What! Why you in a hurry to be married?”

“Well, I guess it’s something you gotta do, you know. They talk behind your back, you know. Like if you are single and in your late 20s, you know…”

“Who are we talking about?” Muad asked.

“Society, of course.”

“Society!” Muad laughed. “That’s a good one. What the hell do you care about what a bunch of crack heads think of you? Nobody gives a shit these days, man. You should try everything. Or else you end up having wasted your whole fucking life.”

Muad puffed on his cigarette again. “So,” he began, “what did this shrink say was wrong with you?”

“She didn’t say that anything was wrong with me. She just said that I was having a problem.”

“Ok, tell me about the problem.”

“Well, she said it might be a lot of things.”


“Like, she said I might be not having enough respect for women. That I might not be looking at them as my equal.”

“A woman-hater you mean?”

“No, but a prejudiced person.”


“Anyway, she said that I might also be having a mental block.”

“A what?”

“A mental block against having sex.”

“So, she gonna teach you now how to have sex? That’s cute.” Muad stubbed his finished cigarette and lighted another.

“Wouldn’t mind myself either,” Ismail said. “Damn, she’s beautiful and all. She should have been a TVM announcer. At least some big shot would then notice her, ‘cos she got big boobs, man.”

“Lucky girl.”

“She also said that I was abused as a child.”

Muad went into a coughing fit again. “You, what!”

“Well, I told her how we guys in grade 7 used to be naughty and grab each other’s crotch. I told her it was a guy thing or something like that, but she said that it was still child abuse, no matter what, whether it was grade 7 or not.”

“But… that’s stooopid.”

“Yeah, I know. I told her it was silly but she told me that since I obviously would not have given permission for any of my classmates to grab my crotch, they would have done so without my consent and technically therefore it was child abuse.”

“So now you are a victim of child abuse. I see,” Muad let out a long puff. “What else she tell you?”

“Well, she also told me that I might be a latent homosexual.”

“A latent what? What the hell is that?!”

“Well, she says that some people realize that they are gay only later in their lives.”

“But that’s so…so stupid. I mean, I knew I liked girls even in grade 7 and hell, man, I even kissed that Aminiya girl in the Science Fair, remember!”

“Yeah, your first kiss, huh,” Ismail thought for a moment. “That’s what I told her too. I told her that that film, what’s the name, ‘In and Out’ was bullshit.”

“Haven’t seen it.”

“Oh? Well, I for one cannot believe that Kevin Kline would not have earlier realized that he was gay. But Fareeda said that sometimes you need some sort of trigger and in the case of Kevin Kline, Tom Sellek’s kiss must have done it.”


Muad took another sip of his coffee.

“And then she told me the worst,” Ismail continued. “She told me… she told me to be prepared for what may come…”

“And that is?”

“She said that I might be a Kevin Kline.”

Muad opened his mouth to say something, but did not.

“She told me not to worry about it,” Ismail continued, “that I should be comfortable about it.”

“That is so fucking bullshit, man.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Ismail took a tissue and wiped the sweat off his face. Gosh, it was hot in here.

“I told her I have evidence that I am not gay,” Ismail then continued. “I told her that men have rough skin which I don’t like and that women have soft skin which always feels good when you touch. But then she pointed out that there were men who have soft skin and there were women who have rough skin and what would I feel if I happened to touch such sort of people. I said that nevertheless I think touching a women’s skin will be more pleasurable than a man even if his skin was soft. She then said that skin was skin no matter what, and that flesh was flesh, no matter whose. She then asked me to touch her hand and tell her how I felt. And then she told me to touch my own hand and tell her how I felt.”

“Oh.” Muad sat thoughtful for a moment. “Man, that has to be the most fucking weird thing you have ever told me.”

“Yeah, I told her too. I told her that her skin feels womanly, not like a man’s skin at all. And I told her that that was what I was talking about. And then she told me, ‘Think, use common sense, if you rubbed yourself on a pillow or a wall, would you still come?’ I thought for about a moment and somewhat agreed but told her that though I may still come against the wall it would probably injure my member. She said that of course she was not expecting studs on the wall but that what she meant after all was something to the effect of a hard surface.”

“So, her point is?”

“Well, her point is that whether it is a hard surface or a soft surface, you will still come.”

“Man, that is so dumb.” Ismail was sure he had heard that word ‘dumb’ before earlier in the day.

“I mean,” Muad continued, “it’s the pleasure that counts, right? I would prefer the soft surface of course. I am sure the hard surface will hurt.”

“That’s what I told her, too!” Ismail banged the table. He was getting pretty excited that someone, even if it was Muad, was seeing his point.

The coffee and the cigarettes were over. There was still an hour before closing time, but Ismail wanted to go home early and watch that DVD he bought yesterday.

“Hi, Ismail.” Ismail felt a friendly pat on his back and turned around.

Shujau, another surfer buddy, was making his way out of the restaurant.

“See you at the surf tomorrow!” Ismail yelled back.

Muad was looking at Shujau’s residing figure. “You know,” he started, “I think that Shujau is rather cute.”

He took a tissue and wiped the sweat off his face. “In fact, I think you should go out with him, one on one.”

“What!” Ismail looked shocked.

“Hey, hey, don’t get so worked up. Just a suggestion you know,” Muad said, a calm look on his face. “Maybe you should take your shrink’s advice after all.”

Ismail turned around and saw Shujau’s shadow disappear into the Henveiru Park. “Sure, he is cute. But he is not my material.”

“Denial, denial, denial.” Muad smiled.

Ismail stood up. “Gotta go. Have to wake up early. The waves are great at sunrise this week.”

He walked out of the restaurant, turned back, and yelled to Muad, “You can have him!”

The Box

by Omar Zeidane (15 March 2003)

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking… I hope that you are enjoying the flight. Err, we have another two hours before we commence our descent into Montergan airport… weather at our destination is 27 degrees centigrade… Shortly our cabin crew will serve lunch. Enjoy the rest of your journey. Thank you.”

“Ha, don’t you ever get bored of saying that?”

“Not really, comes with the job I suppose…” [Long pause]

“What do you think of Jacky?”

“Jacky? Yeah she seems to be good at her job and pleasant enough.”

“Yeah, what about her legs? You see those?” [laughter]

“Come on, I’m a happily married man.”

“So am I, but it’s okay to look sometimes, so long as you don’t touch…. It’s human instinct really.” [Flight attendant Jan Hse Kyi enters flight deck]

“Morning captain, here’s your coffee.”

“Thanks Jan. How are the passengers?”

“Not bad, but there’s a real asshole in row 14. He’s been drinking since he got on and he made a nasty comment about Charlie’s bum.” [Laughter]

“Shut up Doogan, what’s wrong with Charlie’s bum?”

“Hey come on.”

“Why do they always employ idiot co-pilots?” [Laughter]

“Hey, just gimme the coffee and start serving lunch.”

“Asshole,” [laughter]

[Jan leaves the flight deck]

“She’s not bad as well.”
[Long pause]

“Hey do you know where we’re staying tonight?”

“The Meridian?”

“No, I heard it was fully booked again… Hope they don’t put us in The Grand.”

“Yeah. Too many cockroaches in there.”

“Fancy a few cold ones later?”

“There’s no such thing as a few cold ones with you. But yeah I think I’ll have a couple.”

“You think Jacky will come out with us?”

“Maybe, why don’t you ask her?”

“Yeah, I will.” [Pause]

“Hey, how’s that sister of yours? Is she alright now?” [Short pause]

“Yeah getting better. I spoke to her last week and she said the swelling was going down but it’s still really painful. She’s got some kind of medicine which she’s not happy about… That’s her problem you know, she can never be happy. The slightest ache or pain and she starts thinking she’s got cancer or something.”

“Yeah, I know a few people like that.”

“Like a couple of months back she had this pain in her throat. She was complaining about it so much. She called the doctor at his house one night.”


“Yeah, she was really panicking. She called up my wife and said that she was dying of cancer. We always told her to quit smoking but she never listens…”

“Hey, what was that? You hear that?” [Pause]


“That noise, did you hear it?” [Pause]

“I can’t hear anything… some turbulence.” [Long pause]

“So what was wrong with her?”

“Just a sore throat.” [Pause]

“My wife’s like that. Especially when it comes to the kids. She worries about the smallest things. If Johnny’s got a runny nose or got a fever, that’s it.”

“That’s women for you.”

“Yeah, I mean it’s natural for kids to get sick. They need to get exposed to all kinds of germs to build up a resistance when they’re older.”

“I know.”

“And it’s natural for boys to be running around, getting into mischief. What’s a few cuts and bruises? I keep telling her, stop fussing. She’ll turn the poor lad into a hypochondriac. He should learn how to be tough.”

“How old is he now?”

“He’s three in March.”

“Any plans to give him a brother or sister?”

“Ah, I dunno. Julie would love another, but I don’t really need the hassle right now. I’ll have to be running around after her, back massages and weird craving. You know what it’s like.”

“Yeah, certainly do. Amanda was like that.”

“I’d rather spend all that money on a new sports car.” [Laughter]

“I bet you would. Julie wouldn’t be too impressed would she?”

“Nah.” [Long pause]

“I like Jan, but she really doesn’t know how to make coffee.”

“Mine's alright.”

“She puts too much sugar in it.”

“That’s how I like it.” [Pause]

“Argh, she forgot the biscuits.” [Pause for several minutes]

“When are you going to retire?”

“Ah, come on. Do I look that old?”

“Don’t ask me that question.” [Pause]

“I haven’t really thought about it much. Get a house in the country; do some gardening, a few rounds of golf on Sundays.”

“Sound nice. I’ll visit.”

[Jan enters flight deck]

“Phew. That guy’s really getting out of order now. He just tried to grab Charlie’s bum.”


“Yeah, she’s quiet upset about it, was crying in the back.”

“Don’t serve him any more alcohol.”

“We’re not. The poor woman on the seat next to him, we moved her to a spare seat in row 20. He’s a really nasty man.”

“Probably just drunk. Try not to aggravate him, see if he goes to sleep or something.”

[Jan leaves flight deck]

“Holiday started early for some eh.”

“Yeah, I really wish they would ban alcohol on flights, it just causes too much trouble than it’s worth.”

[Violent noise]

“Jesus, what the fuck was that?”

“Number two is on fire…”

“Shit, lock it down!”


[Undistinguishable sound]

“I’m loosing control!”


[Unidentified voice] “We’re gonna die!”

“It’s gone!”

[Unidentified voice] “God help us!”

Transcript ends.

Black box recording from flight AL-112 to Montergan, July 11th 1994.

(This short story was published in Haveeru Daily on 15 March 2003)


Dhon Hiyala: A "sequel"

(A short story by K.J. for "Joos Petty" magazine,

My name is Dhon hiyala. Yes, the Dhonhiyala in the story Dhonhiyala aai Alifulhu. You might be surprised to hear from me like this. After all I am supposed to be dead, aren’t I? Well, I am not. And Alifulhu survived, too. How can you expect us to die so easily with all the magic powers that we have? What I am trying to tell you is that the ending of the story isn’t quite true and it was just an illusion I created. Don’t tell me that you don’t believe that I can make myself invisible or appear as someone else. It may not be written in the story but surely you must have read about me walking across the sea! So anything is possible, you see!

Anyway, we escaped. Hand in hand we ran across the seas and ended up in some faraway island in the North. Through all the suffering and the struggle my looks had changed but still I remained a beautiful woman, though not as beautiful as I had been. My skin had grown coarse and sun burnt. My eyes remained slightly red after all the crying I did (very secretly) and I had grown so skinny that my wrists remained no more giyulhu athukuris. In other words, I was more a normal woman than a faiymini and I was glad about it. Alifulhu hadn’t changed much, but he seemed to have grown stronger and more handsome.

Then came the happiest days of my life. Alifulhu was the best husband any woman can ever have, so loving and caring. We both worked hard together, him collecting toddy and I making sugar out of it. It was difficult at first as we didn’t own anything but our life grew more prosperous with each coming day. Likewise our love for each other also grew…until our first child was born.

It was eighteen months after we started living there and it was then I began to notice the changes in Alifulhu. I noticed that he was not spending time at home as much as he used to. On many nights he’d go out (to Mudhimbe’s House, he says) and come back late at night. Of course, he loved our daughter Amina. Whenever he was home, he would be with her and I never complained about anything.

An year passed. Nothing changed. Along came our second child, then the third, fourth and fifth followed by the sixth. This was within six years. I hardly saw Alifulhu then. Every evening he’d come from work, take a bath, splash himself with atharu and go out. I knew what he was up to. I’ve heard all sorts of rumors about him and other women. But whenever I confronted him he would threaten to divorce me and leave the kids. He would remind me that I didn’t have the good looks I had before and would call me an old woman. So much for love! How I wished I could use my magic powers, but I had grown so out of practice.

One cold night, six months after our youngest child was born, Alifulhu suddenly woke up from his sleep and started to get dressed to go out.

‘Whussup?’ I asked.

‘I’ve had this funny dream,’ he said. ‘An old man dressed in all white came to me in my dream and told me about this faiymini girl. I’m going in search of her.’ He rushed out of the house and that was the last I saw of him.

Four years passed and there was no news of him. I finally married Hussein Fulhu who had been helping me the past years and we lived happily ever after.

If you believed this story, you must be out of your head but I hope you enjoyed reading it anyway.

The Loneliest Boy in Male'

by Ali Anonymous (Oct 2001)

It started with him peeping into the toilets. There was a hole in the wall of the toilet that was shared by virtually all the members of Ali's extended family--and the servants. Sometimes Ali would see water from the shower running down the tip of a servant's manhood, and he would immediately turn away, washed in guilt.
Only once did he get caught, by Grandmother, who, upon spying Ali with his eye on the peephole, screamed at him: "What the hell do you think you are doing!" and grabbing his arm, taking him away, and surprisingly, letting him go, without further reprimand.

This surprised him. Surely, Granny would have discussed this incident with Father and Mother, but to Ali's relief--and unease--they did not bring up the matter with Ali. Ali thought that the grownups might have not made much of a fuss over this incident on the grounds that Ali was only satisfying a childhood's naughty curiosity that was appropriate for his age.

It even surprised himself. He was only eight years old and his small mind was too young to comprehend why he was peeping into the toilet everytime someone went in and whenever no one was around for him to get caught.

It surprised him more when he realised that he was not interested in his secret pastime when women went into the toilets. It was only when the menfolk went in that Ali's loins were stirred.

Ali was too young to understand why his little organ down there stirred. He had a vague recollection of an elder schoolmate, from form six, once telling him about having vayah kolhu vaa erections.

"What's vayah kolhu vaa erections?" Ali asked uncomprehendingly, and Hassan, the elder schoolmate, his sexual mentor, told him, "It is when your penis is hard but nothing comes out."

"What doesn't come out?" Ali's bewilderment increased and his growing curiosity made him proceed with this line of questioning.

"Semen, silly."

"What is semen?"

"A white slimy fluid that whooshes out of your dick, you idiot!"

Ali was horrified. Never before had he ever imagined that anything other than urine could come out of his penis. He had developed this belief that only urine was meant to come out of the penis, and on a few occasions when he heard about people bleeding from the penis, he understood that it was a kind of disease, and that if he was careful (not to play with his manhood in an injurious way), no blood will ever come out of his penis.

But now Ali was finding it difficult to accommodate the thought that it was natural that anything other than urine could naturally come out of the penis. And he started wondering, according to what Hassan had taught, why "semen" didn't come out of his penis every time his manhood hardened ("erection" Ali corrected in his mind.)

After giving this some thought, Ali asked Hassan, "At what age does it start?"

"Oh, I heard that it's sometime when you are 15."

"How old are you?"


"Have you had any…?" Ali asked curiously.

"I do but it's only a drop or two everytime I jerk off. It's watery but not slimy yet."

Uggh, Ali thought.

And as the eight-year-old Ali continued his days peeping into the toilet, he realised that he got a kick out of looking at other people's manhood. He also developed a fancy for circumcised penises and found it exciting to see the head poking out of the skin. He especially enjoyed looking at stiff penises.

It was somewhere this time that Ali began to fantasize about boys. In his later years, he would wonder why, when he enjoyed looking at penises, the thought of sex didn't come to mind at the time he started daydreaming about boys. But the truth was that he was not aware then that sex existed. He thought the penis was only for peeing and that it was just a symbol which represented his male-ness, nothing more, nothing less.

Until he was 11, Ali only fantasized of hanging out with the boy who appealed to him most -- at any given time.

There was a long line of boys.

His "dreamboy" was always the one he would take a fancy to at the moment, and they came mostly from his class, or his neighborhood.

At that time all he would do was daydream. He would dream of running around the garden, he being chased by his dream boy (blame it on all those Hindi films he had been watching). In all these dreams, Ali was always the one who is chased after. He was the passive partner, the "girl" in this boy-boy relationship. He would dream of being swept into his lover's arms, taken out to dinner and then the usual hugging and kissing.

It was only when Ali was 13 that sex peeped into his mind. He started to ponder on why he took a fancy to boys, why he liked looking at them, watching them, and daydreaming of hanging out with them. Hanging out, that was the word that came to his mind, the interpretation of his intimacy with the boys he dreamed of.
Ali thought that the reason why he was dreaming of "hanging out" was because his overbearing and overprotective parents and grandparents never allowed him to take part in extra curricular activities or allowed him to play with other neighborhood boys for the fear of Ali "going astray." (In later years, Ali would realise that "going astray" means smoking pot and having casual, heterosexual, sex.)

Ali and his two sisters were virtually the only children in the household. Therefore, he spent all of his time playing with them, and at a later point in life, Ali would ask himself whether it was that factor (growing up with two girls, thereby getting exposed to and doing "female stuff") which made him gay. But then he would dismiss that thought and say to himself: "My cousin Ahmed grew up with two sisters two but he is the most heterosexually notorious guy I know in the neighborhood." Finally Ali would decide that his attraction to guys came from somewhere within himself. It was just his natural self.

When Ali was into his early 20s, he tried everything he could think of to make himself attracted to girls; he would secretly watch porn movies, secretly kept a collection of porn magazines locked in a shelf to which only he had the key, and always he found out that he rather enjoyed looking at the men's genitals and felt aroused by looking at them than the sight of the female genitalia. When he masturbated, it would be the boys he would be thinking of when he came. Thus his efforts to becoming straight stopped short of only actually having sex with them, the girls.

Finally, he came to the conclusion that though he found beautiful girls beautiful and could force himself to fantasize about having sex with them, that deep down, acts such as touching a girl's breast or inserting his penis into the vagina would not bring to him the excitement he could get by an act as simple as touching the naked flesh of a guy.

In the confused state of his mind, he refrained from any kind of a sexual experience whatsoever. Some may argue that Ali would not know what kind of sex he would enjoy because he had not actually tried it, but Ali's inner core told him he would enjoy more being in the arms of a man than a woman. That feeling was enough for Ali to decide that he was gay.

The idea of having sex with a guy was strong in Ali by the time he turned 13. But because his mind was still young, he thought that since it is prohibited in religion, he will just put away any thoughts of that kind behind him, and just go on with life, marry a girl like everybody else and have children.

The love of Ali's life came around that time -- in the form of a delivery boy. It was actually an emotionally turbulent time for Ali. His "dreamboy" kept changing faces; one week it would be Mohamed but the next week he might have discovered Hussain and the next week Ibrahim may appeal to him more.

He started thinking on this, and realised that his latest crush always had something physically more appealing than his earlier crush. He then realised that this type of attitude was detrimental to his mental ability to love and stay loyal to one guy. He decided that though beauty was appealing, he should start looking at people beyond their skin.

Thus the idea of love and loyalty and monogamy was born also at that time.

The day he met the delivery boy he then and there decided that this would be his first and last love.

In fact, it worked for sometime. Ismail, as was the delivery boy called, was around 10 years older than him, and he stayed in Ali's affection for more than one year, which to Ali, was a long time, because his earlier flames died within a week at the most.

Through both subtle and not-so-subtle gestures, Ali made his affection known to Ismail, but for some reason that Ali still do not know, and is afraid to find out, Ismail neither said no or yes to Ali's offer of love, but continued to be friends with Ali, and to Ali's relief, did not tell anyone of Ali's "condition."

Ali wondered why Ismail kept the secret. Was it because Ali was only 13, just a kid, and because of that, his advances on Ismail was taken by Ismail as some kind of childhood adoration for a peer? Ali would never know because the truth is he is embarrassed by having made his affection for Ismail known, and now in his mid-20s, is afraid that the truth (that Ali was gay) might surface if Ismail's memories of Ali's affection 13 years ago is triggered somehow. Some secrets are better kept buried, Ali decided.

As Ali turned 15, his testicles and penis and hormones did their job, and he was becoming restless. He then realised that he cannot just put behind his homosexual fantasies aside. He had to deal with them.

He began to masturbate regularly.

Ali couldn't actually bring himself to have sex with another man. He was still deeply religious and the idea of spending an eternity in hellfire gave him the jitters.

There was a muscular boy in his class whom Ali always fantasized, and though Ali got closer to him, he never did let on that.

Nihad, who sat next to Ali, when they were in form six, was the closest that Ali ever came to experiencing gay sex. They both talked about sex a lot and one day it got to the point that Nihad wanted to look at Ali's penis and he promised to show his in return. After class, Ali and Nihad stayed behind when everyone was gone, but Ali was still reluctant to do it though he was dying to see another man's penis up close and personal.

The fact was Ali was shy, and he thought that nudity was something so personal and intimate that only the one you love can be justified to show and share it with. But here was Nihad who was quite insistent, and when Ali was still hesitant, Nihad pulled out his own penis and asked Ali to touch it. Ali saw the muscle hanging out, felt an erection coming, and remained motionless, not knowing what to do.

It was Nihad who snapped him out of his immobility. Nihad took Ali's hand and put it on his penis and Ali squeezed it once.

Then suddenly Ali wanted it all to end and he feverishly worked to open his fly and when it did his penis stuck out, hard and erect, and Nihad squeezed it once, twice, and surprisingly did not question why Ali had an erection.

Ali returned home, guilty from head to toe and repented to God that he would never do such an act as long as he lived.

However, in later years, when he thought back upon it, Ali wondered whether he should have used that moment to the full because that was the only opportunity then he ever got, and he could have pushed it to the point of actually performing sex with Nihad. Anything could have been possible that day.

Ali would meet Nihad in later years but on those occasions Nihad never brought up the subject of their secret. Ali wondered whether he forgot about it because to Nihad it was unimportant; that to Nihad it was part of being naughty while being that age.

Ali wondered whether why he still remembered the incident was that because he was gay and that experience stayed with him because it was his first gay experience.

And he wondered whether Nihad forgot it because he was straight and therefore that incident was of no consequence to him but a part of innocent experimentation, like so many straight college boys jerking off one another in mutual masturbate sessions.

Whatever it was, Ali was determined that like the case of Ismail, this incident would remain closed forever. He was a public figure now and could not afford to be exposed by past "mistakes" coming back to haunt him. Sometimes, he wished that all those things did not happen; he wished that he had never fallen in love with Ismail and more or less never made his affection known to him.

He wished that he had never talked sex with Nihad during that particular day which led to both of them exposing to each other.

As Ali entered his early 30s, his condition became worse. Only two of Ali's closest friends became aware of his "condition." It was not that they accidentally became aware of it. Rather, Ali decided to tell them. But here also he took some caution, and without outright admitting that he was gay, Ali told Suhail and Mamdooh (on separate occasions so that they would not know that the other knows of Ali's secret) that he was having weird fantasies about cute men and that he could not get rid of those thoughts.

Ali's purpose in revealing it this way was to find out how much his two closest friends understood homosexuality and how much they would be tolerant if they came to believe that Ali was gay. On another level, Ali was expecting that they could be of some support to him; he was feeling utterly lonely in his suffering.

It provided some relief to Ali that they did not condemn him, but Ali was not happy because he found out that they did not understand why homosexuals are who they are and therefore they could not suggest any appropriate solution to Ali's preferences. Their consequent advice thus was more oriented towards "curing" Ali of his male infatuation.

"Get a girlfriend," advised Suhail.

"Sleep with a gal," Mamdooh was bolder.

Their approach was totally wrong. In a way, Ali was trying to make them realize that he was gay and that he would like them to understand that homosexuality was not something he took it upon himself deliberately but which came naturally to him without him anything to have done with it, and that therefore he would still like them to remain his friends and be there for Ali so that he could be open about himself and discuss anything that came to his mind.

Ali's frustration grew as he came to realize that there was no way anyone will ever come to understand or accept his homosexuality. If Suhail and Mamdooh, who were educated enough to understand things like this, could not grasp the secret behind homosexuality, there was no one who ever will, let alone Ali's parents or family.

Ali grew restless. There was no point in living any more if he cannot lead a normal life. A normal life for him was falling in love, like everybody else, and settling down. But since that was not possible with a gay partner in this small conservative Islamic society, and because Ali could never live in together with a guy because of his own strong religious convictions and beliefs, he started wishing that he would die soon. Although he could not bring himself to pray to God to end his life before it came to the point where he will be exposed to ridicule and social ostracism and alienation, deep inside his heart, he began to wish (or was his heart really praying, he couldn't know) that God will take his life soon, without letting him -- and his family -- become an object of ridicule and loathing.

Ali also had a strong belief that it was God's mercy to him to date that he had never actually indulged in gay sex. Although he certainly hated his autistic character, Ali believed that it was this autistic character itself that kept people from him at a distance and therefore never led to an opportunity where it could lead to sex, gay or straight. And concerning the case with Nihad, Ali inwardly felt that it was divine intervention somehow that day that prevented him and Nihad from actually indulging in gay sex, other than harmlessly touching each other's manhood.

Now in his early 30s, and very much confused, not a day passes without Ali contemplating suicide. Sometimes he spends hours lying on his bed, mentally tired, and seriously in thought, and there comes certain points where his mind stops thinking, and he actually touches the veins on his wrist; it comes to the point where his mind actually tells him that it will be quite painless if he cut it clean with a knife that is real sharp and that death like that will not be painful -- it would just flow out along with the rest of the blood, and he would wake up on the other side. Like coming out of a bad dream. It might even be a wonderful experience, like that feeling of immense relief one gets from waking up out of a nightmare.

Last Among Equals

by Mohamed (Nov 2002)

In the not so distant past, my friend, who I will call Amber since she is a foreigner, would have been known as a pen-friend. But we Maldivians have come a long way since then. Thanks more or less to the PC and the Internet we have almost overnight been transformed. We've adapted to the marvels of modern technology at breakneck speed and communication, as we knew it was forever changed.

In the days before the introduction of the wonders of voiceless, fingertip communication our correspondence was at the most 12 letters back and forth throughout the year. After the letter was dropped off at the mailbox there really was nothing to do but wait and pray that it would reach its destination in the fastest time or at least get there eventually. More often than not letters got lost and if you were in a mood to try your patience then you could try tracking it through the post office which of course would lead to more days spent in a futile search.

Fast forward to today and an SMS to my mobile phone is all the notification I need that Amber was online and waiting to chat with me on MSN or Yahoo! Messenger. Isn't progress a wonder? I wonder now how it was that I had managed to survive not being able to 'reach out and touch someone' in cyberspace whenever I felt like. Truly, progress should be embraced at all possible speed. At least, in my humble opinion.

Then again, as some theorists claim, there is an exception to every rule. Recently I had the misfortune of being introduced to the exception, though in this particular case it isn't really a rule but an exception to the general trend. I unwittingly and rather embarrassingly (in the light of hindsight) stepped into one of the few places in Male' that has refused to join the Maldivian journey into the future. Indeed, it seems that the only way to make sure the place made a transition from the present to the future would be by brute-force. Kicking and screaming at that!

As most things usually begin, this little embarrassing anecdote started with a totally unspectacular and seemingly insignificant event. It started as a small message at the bottom left corner of my computer desktop announcing that I had just received an email from Amber. I clicked on the MSN Messenger popup and a few seconds later was reading through the mail. The essence of the message when you get right down to it was that Amber was planning on visiting Maldives for her holidays which started in a few days and that she was looking forward to meeting me face to face finally. This was something I had been looking forward to for a long time so I agreed.

Cut to scene of pages from a single-day wall calendar flipping by very fast, blowing away in the wind and then the big day arrived. A ring to my mobile-sorry, Dhimobile- (maybe I should have said a vibe since my phone is set to silent mode) and a confirmation of our rendezvous and we were set. After getting over the novelty of finally meeting in person for the first time and some trivial chit-chat she told me she was hoping I would show her around Male'. I told her it would be my pleasure and took her on a tour of the Capital on my cycle.

Almost all of forty minutes later, and having exhausted all the main tourist attraction sites of Male', I decided there were some places that were less popular that could interest her. She was a movie-buff and loved to read so I showed her around the <ahem!> many movie theatres and some of the bookshops. We were a little too excited to sit through a movie at Athena cinema, plus there was nothing good and I had a personal dislike for the quality of the video and audio setup at Athena. She was very interested in the bookshops though, and spent a lot of time browsing through their inventory and eventually ended up buying some books. We chatted endlessly throughout, exchanging news and comparing conditions, politics and general stuff about our respective countries. Mostly due to our combined interests in books eventually our conversation turned from books to bookshops to libraries.

"Of course we have libraries," I told her when she asked if we had any. "Almost every school has one."

"Really? Is it possible for me to check it out?"

I could tell that she wanted very much to see the libraries. But I had no idea if it was allowed or not. I might have to pull a few strings, get permission and cut through some red tape to get it done but I didn't feel like going through all that hassle. So I thought of the next best thing. Not even the next best thing; come to think of it, the very best thing!

"I can do even better," I said and off we went.

A few minutes and numerous traffic lights later we arrived at our destination. Amber looked up at the three-storey building with its light purple paint and numerous windows. A look, which had, when it had first been opened, prompted a lot of local wise-guys to dub it "The Purple House".

A bright blue signboard, a little to the left of the metal gate proudly announced 'NATIONAL LIBRARY' in bold, white letters. A second signboard below it notified that the building also housed 'The British Council' under its roof. I vaguely remember there being a sign with reference to a National Archives or something like that somewhere on the building but I couldn't find it. Must have moved it to a more er… convenient location, no doubt.

"Wow!" said Amber, looking around. "It's beautiful!"

"Uh huh," I responded noticing that her eyes were lingering on the patches of pale blue peeking through the peeling light purple paint. In an attempt to answer her unasked question I continued, "Probably getting ready to repaint the building again. Our Republic Day is coming up and almost all Government buildings get a makeover for occasions like that." The lie tasted bitter but I consoled myself that it was probably true. At least I hoped it was. I wondered if the building had ever had a paintjob after the initial one. I couldn't remember.

"Really?" she said smiling innocently and gestured for me to lead the way. I nearly made some crack about 'ladies first' but thought better of it, remembering in the nick of time that in addition to being attractive she was also a feminist. Albeit a rather tame one compared to a few local feminist friends of mine.

Together, we entered the National Library of the Republic of Maldives.

I should tell you right now that the last time I had set foot in the National Library was when it had been temporarily relocated to the old EPSS building. The Library has had its share of relocating but ultimately it has returned to its familiar and original location. Even if it was after a lengthy absence.

During its absence as a public service, it was sorely missed by the general public and school children. The Library finally opened its doors without much fanfare and after several delays, almost after a year of inactivity. God bless the capable individuals who were responsible!

"Okay, here we are," I said climbing the stairs to the first floor. We had passed by the counter where a queue of people was waiting for their turn. To borrow, return or donate books, although judging by some of the almost raised voices I had to draw the conclusion they were settling some financial matters. "Now remember to keep your voice down. This is a library, you know."

"No kidding!" said Amber craning her neck to look up at a TV that was on a wall bracket in the reception area. I heard suppressed laughter coming from somewhere. As we arrived at the first floor we passed a young couple that were whispering quietly and giggling. Ah! Love. You never know where its flowers might bloom! Actually, it appeared that there were couples all over the place; sitting at the tables, near the balcony, talking in hushed voices near open windows.

"Hmm. My dear Watson, it appears we have blundered into a love nest." I could hear the mirth in Amber's voice. "Are you sure this is a library? You're not getting ideas are you, hmm hmm?" She fluttered her eyelashes at me as she said this.

"Very funny!" I said, not at all amused. She knows I have a serious girlfriend so I always get a little uneasy when she starts flirting. I am not the most secure of people, I know, so I am at a disadvantage when the person I had been shamelessly flirting with on a chat window for so long was no longer represented by a witty moniker and a smiley! This was not going the way I had hoped. "Libraries are very romantic places and I see nothing wrong with a little flower blooming as long as they keep it quite and do nothing untoward."

"Untoward?" Still the amused half-smile played on her lips. She may be a feminist but she was first and foremost a big flirt.

"You know. Inappropriate stuff. Like hugging… or… or kissing! As long as they remember where they are and respect its rules and keep quiet then it's acceptable."

I think Amber must have heard the defensive tone in my voice because she immediately raised her arms, palms outward. "Hey, I was just kidding. No need to get all huffed up. I was just making an observation. Of course there's nothing wrong in it. I myself have had many a clandestine meeting in our college library."

As we were talking a woman in purda approached the couple standing near the window. A few swift words later a very subdued couple walked down the stairs.

"Well, at least to me it's acceptable," I said somewhat deflated.

"Anyway to get back to our tour, judging by the sign there, we appear to be in the Children's Section."

"Then let's make like children and explore," said Amber moving towards the first shelf.

We walked past some brightly coloured little desks and chairs and Amber mouthed, "Oh! It's sho shweet!" I smiled my acknowledgement and reached the first shelf. A sign on top of it said KINDER COLLECTION. I felt a little nostalgic when I saw some of the books in the section. I had borrowed those from the library when I was a little kid. I was even more surprised when I realised that the books were exactly the same books I had borrowed when I was a kid! They looked like they might come apart if someone breathed on them too hard.

"Hey!" said Amber, her eyes sparkling. "Look at this one. Pinocchio. I used to love this when I was a kid. Even now, actually." She took it out and opened a page. Tried to, anyway. She quickly closed it as the pages slid out of the book as if greased and made a mess on the floor. I helped her pick it up and put them back in the book in order.

"How come all the books look so battered and tattered," she complained. "And there are so few of them. Is this the whole Children's Section?" She looked around. Apparently this was it. Around six shelves.

"These are probably the old ones that everyone has read and re-read. The new ones most likely are borrowed so often that they never stay on the shelves too long." I really don't know why I was making excuses. It's not like it was my library.

"Uh huh?" she said. "How about recent ones? Do you think they might have a copy of Harry Potter. The latest one? Or maybe Artemis Fowl."

"Don't know. Let's see."

We hunted around a few minutes and turned up zilch. If Harry was here then he was either in his robe that made him invisible or lent out. The latter sounded more likely so we decided to ask one of the librarians. We avoided the roving purda-clad librarian in case she decided to have a few swift words with us and went to one who was reading at the table. To our chagrin she wasn't sure so she had to go and ask the purda-clad librarian we had been trying to avoid. After a few words with her and some exchanging of looks, our librarian came back to us and told us that at the moment it must probably have been lent out. We thanked her and turned back to browsing.

"Yeah right!" said Amber, the moment the librarian was out of earshot.

"What do you mean?" I asked, getting a little annoyed with her 'your library sucks!' attitude.

"She obviously has no idea what the hell Artemis Fowl is! Did you see the look on her face when I asked? And as for Harry Potter, if she had to ask someone else if one of the most famous books in the world is available at the library she is working in, then either she is dumber than she looks or the book is not here. But she probably was too embarrassed to tell us, so she had to ask her superior what the correct response was."

"But she told you it was lent out!" I said.

"And that's why I said, yeah right!"

"You could be wrong you know. In fact you are most likely wrong!"

"I don't think so."

"Excuse me!" We both stopped and turned to see who had spoken. Of course it had to be the librarian we were trying to avoid. Of all the rotten luck!

"This is a library," she said quietly. "If you want to start a debate could you please take it outside?" Her voice could have frozen us both on the spot.

"Sorry," said Amber matter-of-factly. "Won't happen again."

The purda-clad librarian glared at us for a few seconds more and then walked away. She glance back once towards Amber who gave her sweet smile.

"See what you got us into!" I said trying to keep a straight face.

"I don't see how she could have heard us all the way from over there. For that matter, I am surprised anyone can hear themselves think with the din those ceiling fans are making."

She had a point. Now that she had pointed it out I realised that the ceiling fans were really noisy. All those fans working in sync created a loud roaring sound. Not to mention the wind generated by it causing minor annoyances. I could see the visitors who were reading newspapers trying to hold the papers steady. I bet they must have wished for an extra pair of hands to hold all four corners of the paper and another one in the chest to keep the middle of the page from flapping in the wind. It was such a constant and ever-present noise that I had mentally blocked it out. Sort of like people who live next to the Power House. They don't really notice the sound of the generators. Until they stop, that is. Then they wonder what was missing. I couldn't really guess why the Library had opted for ceiling fans instead of air-conditioning. Probably because it could damage the books or something, I'm sure. Whoever was responsible for that particular brainstorm must have had the Library's best interest at heart.

"I'm sure there is a good reason for it. It could be any reason. I thought you weren't judgemental." I kept wondering why I was defending the Library. We started walking towards the JUNIOR NON-FICTION section.

"I am sure there is a really good reason and I am not being judgemental. Like I said I am merely making an observation. If I was being jud-SONOFA-!"

Heads turned. Luckily a purda-clad one wasn't among them. I looked at Amber who had stumbled forward as she had uttered the half finished curse and was now holding her toe in her hand.

"What happened?" I asked bewildered.

"What do you think happened, genius?!" her voice was strained. It was obvious she was in pain and wanted to scream. "I tripped over that!" She pointed to the floor.

I looked at where she was pointing and found one of the floorboards had one corner sticking up. She had tripped on that. Oh! That must have hurt! I moved closer to the board and stepped onto it. The floorboard shifted back into place and the floor was even once more. Then as I shifted more weight onto it, it creaked and slid a few centimetres below the floor level. Shocked, I took my weight off the board in case it couldn't hold my complete weight and the corner sprang right back up until it was sticking an inch or so above the other floorboards. How appropriate for tripping over, I thought. I wondered how many others had fallen for that trap.

"Another thing I don't understand is why this place is made of wood?" She was still massaging her toe. "This place was going to be a library right? Not like they built this place to house a different institution and at the last minute decided that the library would do nicely in here. In which case the place was destined to be filled with books, and books, in case you haven't noticed, are heavy. Especially the kind of books you usually find in libraries. Encyclopaedias, atlases, thesauruses, and dictionaries just to name a few. I don't have to be a rocket scientist or even an architect but even to me it's obvious that if I was designing a place that was going to eventually fill up with books then it should be made of stronger stuff. At least not out of wood. What if there is a fire? Whoosh!"

I winced as she made an explosive gesture with her hands. Even with a weak imagination it's not hard to imagine a place made of wood filled with paper going up in flames.

"Got a fire escape?" she asked.

"Don't think so. Could try jumping out the balcony. It's not too high."

"Fire extinguishers?"


"Didn't think so. This place isn't temporary, is it?"

"Not as far as I know," I told her truthfully.

"Oh great!"

She tested her footing, finding it to her satisfaction, grinned at me. "Shall we carry on? I don't believe we've finished with the Children's Section yet."

We continued our tour of the JUNIOR NON-FICTION. To me, suddenly the sound of our footsteps on the wooden floor seemed very ominous indeed. And it seemed that a lot of the floorboards creaked all too frequently for my liking.

She picked up a hardcover book from the Non-Fiction section. It looked ancient. "Bet you didn't know this was a junior non-fiction book." Her voice almost dripped with sarcasm..

I took the book out of her hand and examined it. The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. She was right! I didn't know it was non-fiction! She pointed out some more books that had been misplaced. I kept quiet through all that. Mostly because I really didn't know what to say. To me it was an understandable mistake. Probably some visitor had taken it out of its real location and put it somewhere else by mistake. My assumption was proved wrong when Amber pointed out that the label on the book clearly defined it as belonging to the Junior Non-Fiction section. Didn't the librarians ever check out which books belonged where? Maybe they just didn't know. That wasn't such a good thought.

Amber picked out another book and showed it to me. How Newspapers Are Made. A few minutes going through the book told me that this book was thoroughly outdated. Either that or the person who wrote the book had never heard of computer software being used for page layout and design. I hoped to God that the children who read this knew how outdated it was. This was like giving false information about the way the world worked.

"I think it would be a good idea to keep all these outdated books in a different section and label it as such," I said.

"In that case most of the books in this place are going to go into that section," Amber quipped. "Why not just get rid of the outdated stuff and buy new up-to-date books?"

"Yes, there is that option," I agreed.

"Look at this!" She was standing near a shelf filled with reference books. The Junior Reference Section no doubt but there was no sign over it. She picked up one book at random. She riffled through it. "Aha! Just as I thought."

"What?" I asked, even though I had a feeling I knew what she going to say.

She picked up another big book at random and read "Junior Encyclopaedia. Published date: 1974." She picked up some more books. "Children's Britannica 1961. New Standard Encyclopaedia 1981. My God, most of these books are older than I am. Are you sure this is the real library? You must have brought me to the museum by mistake."

"Trust me, the museum is worse." I don't know why I said that. It had sounded so much better in my head.

She gave me a look that said you're joking. After a while it changed to please tell me you're joking!

I shrugged and smiled. I better learn to keep my mouth shut. Anyway I guess we were done with the Children's Section.

"What's next?" she asked.

"The Fiction section."

"Oh joy. Can't wait!" Amber intoned and then snickered as she arrived at the end of the section filled with books. Excuse me, filled with shelves. That the shelves were not full is another matter.

One glance assured me that my worst fears were confirmed. The newest book that had graced this section was at least, at least, two years old. And those were a few. Most of them had to be more than five years old. There was no hope of seeing any of the current bestsellers around the world in this library at least. It was very sad. As a collector and lover of books I knew that the local shops regularly brought in the latest bestsellers from around the world. So why was it that this library, the National Library, was so outdated? I knew this was not the case with the school libraries. Can't be lack of funding, could it? Libraries were usually well-funded and besides it used to be well-stocked when I was a kid.

We roamed around the first floor and checked out the sections including the Dhivehi section. What I didn't tell Amber was that I noticed that even the Dhivehi section was outdated. Not as bad as the English section but not better off by much. Most of the books were well worn and dog-eared, no doubt from frequent reading. Some were ruined beyond use.

"You know something," I said to Amber, "When I was a little kid there used to be all these magazines for little kids in the library. Lots and lots! Really interesting and fun to read. I still remember the fun times we had doing the puzzles in the magazines. Most of them were Singaporean magazines I think. Let's see, I remember some of them still. D'light, I think one was called, was my favourite. So many others, too. But I don't see any more magazines for kids here."

"Oh, I am sure if those magazines were in any respectable condition then they would still be here for kids to read. The same books I mean. Around 15 years out of date but still here." She was saying it in a sarcastic way but I could tell that she was feeling for the kids who would never be able to enjoy the library, as it should be. Thank goodness that the school libraries were better off.

"Hey look!" I pointed at a sign on a shelf. It said NEW BOOKS ON DISPLAY.

Excited, we both rushed to it only to be disappointed yet again. It was mostly empty. And the books on display didn't look particularly new. A few Mills & Boons and an Agatha Christie collection seemed to be the only books worthy of note.

"Boy, if this is new books I'd hate to see the old ones!" said Amber sadly.

"I know!"

"Well, shall we go to the next floor?"

"Okay," I said and started towards the stairs.

To make a long story short let me say that what we found on the second storey wasn't all that different from the floor below. Same outdated, old and worn-out books lined shelf after shelf. The Reference Section was a horror from the grave! Some of the books were from 1960's! In fact the whole Britannica in the library series was dated almost two decades ago. Wasn't a library supposed to maintain and update their collection?

"Check this out!" said Amber opening a page in one of the huge outdated dictionaries. She jabbed at a page with her finger and I read:

Abbr. lib.

1. a) A place in which literary and artistic materials, such as books, periodicals, newspapers, pamphlets, prints, records, and tapes, are kept for reading, reference, or lending.
b) A collection of such materials, especially when systematically arranged.
c) A room in a private home for such a collection.
d) An institution or a foundation maintaining such a collection.
2. A commercial establishment that lends books for a fee.
3. A series or set of books issued by a publisher.
4. A collection of recorded data or tapes arranged for ease of use.
5. Computer Science. A collection of standard programs, routines, or subroutines, often related to a specific application, that are available for general use.

"Okay, let's see," said Amber. "Check for the 'a' of the first one, don't know about 'b', 'c' I guess we can ignore, but a big X for 'd'! Maintaining? Doesn't that mean keep up-to-date or sustain? Nope, haven't seen any maintaining done around here!" She snapped shut the dictionary with a loud bang and a cloud of dust, drawing a few looks from some visitors at the desks. She grinned sheepishly and put the book back.

We had a nice surprise at one point when we found a whole shelf filled with classic books. Volumes of collected stories and poems by famous authors. Shakespeare, Daniel Dafoe, Joseph Conrad just to name a few. It was a beautiful hardcover collection and comprehensive too. Intrigued I picked up one and found that it was a gift from The British Council. I guess having the two offices in the same building paid off for the National Library. Wonder if the benefits were mutual? This also explained some of the few new titles we had come across. No doubt they were gifted by someone or other. I myself have donated a lot of books from my personal collection to the Library. I hadn't come across any of those and I wondered what had happened to them.

There was a funny moment when we found Aliens and UFOs and Mysteries of the Universe under WOMEN AND GENDER COLLECTION.

"This is not the correct location for these," said Amber picking out the two books.

"What makes you think so?" I asked pokerfaced. "I think it's in the correct section."

That really brought her hackles up! I couldn't help but laugh at the look on her face but when she started her speech on women's rights and the like I quickly apologised. She really knows how to dampen any man's spirit.

"Someone seems to be trying to attract your attention," said Amber looking over my shoulder.

I turned around to see and found a friend of mine waving at me from a table. I smiled and when he gestured for me to join him at the table I walked over.

"Kihineh?" I asked, giving the perfunctory greeting.

"Rangalhennun. Kon biteh?" he asked, nodding at Amber.

I waved Amber over and introduced them to each other and we sat down next to him.

"We were just talking about how outdated most of the books in the Library were," I said as a way of starting a conversation.

"You think that's something? Listen to this. Sometime ago, they were actually contemplating whether to have separate sections for male and female visitors."

"Get out!" said Amber, thinking he was joking.

"No seriously!" said my friend in a hushed whisper. "I heard this from one of the librarians. I think it nearly came into effect but was vetoed at the last minute."

"What a ridiculous idea!" Amber said. I had to agree. What misbegotten madman had come up with that brilliant idea! Already, there weren't enough books in the whole library and then to make things worse by introducing silly and childish rules was just plain silly.

"That's not all. You know there is a Cyber Café on the second floor, right?"

We both nodded. We had gone past it on our tour but had decided not to enter since all the cubicles seemed to be filled.

"Well, get this. You can use the services of the Cyber Café free for fifteen minutes everyday if you are a member."

"That's good," I said. At least I think that's good!

"Yes, that's good. But the kicker is that you are not allowed to use any floppy discs. Can you believe that? You can do any kind of research you like but you can't take it with you."

"Why ever not?" asked Amber leaning forward to better hear him.

My friend snickered. "This is the best part. The reason you are forbidden from using floppies is…. because of the threat of viruses."

It took me a few seconds to fully comprehend the utter ridiculousness of the statement and then I nearly started laughing aloud. Both my friend and Amber were laughing quietly with their heads on the table. The table shook visibly as they tried to mute their mirth.

I could not believe it. This was beyond ridiculous. This was sheer stupidity! One of the biggest risks of contacting a virus would be through the Internet. Being connected to the Internet automatically made any computer potentially viable to a viral attack. The only way to be safe and to prevent infection was to have anti-virus software installed and keep it up-to-date. To forbid the use of floppies to a computer that was connected to the Internet for fear of virus infection was like closing all the windows of a house and opening all the doors to stop people from coming in. It's an utterly er... er… there isn't a word for the sheer magnitude of stupidity that went into that creative thought process!

"Of course, there are ways to carry your research home," my friend continued. "You can print it out and then take it. Can you imagine the cost to cater to that? How many people will want to take their research home? And how many pages do you think they will print out? I bet at least two or three reams everyday. And how much will go to waste? As anyone who has printed out webpages knows, there is usually a lot of junk at the end webpages that you don't need."

I nodded. That was true. Usually the end of a webpage would contain some links and other junk that wasn't really necessary or relevant to the page. And God help us if a print goes wrong! Endless pages of garbage. Never-ending printouts of junk and machine code before you realise what had happened. Especially if you were far away from the printer.

"Hmm… no wonder they can't afford new books!" quipped Amber. "It probably all goes to buying paper."

I made a face. Easy for her to judge. She didn't know the effort that had gone into making this place at least workable. It's very easy for people on the outside to judge the hard work of others. Like they say, it's easy to criticise. I just hope I am right.

Just then a bell rang. I nearly grabbed all the books off the table. It was an automatic reflex. That's what I usually did when the bell rang when I was in school.

"What's that?" asked Amber.

"That, is the warning bell," said my friend. "It means we have fifteen minutes to get our collective butts out of the library."

Suddenly the entire floor began to shake accompanied by a distant rumbling. Amber got up in alarm and was about to rush off when I grabbed her hand. "Where are you off to?"

"Don't you know the safest place during an earthquake is under a doorway?"

"Very funny! Hilarious," I said sarcastically. "This is Male'. We don't have earthquakes."

"Yeah," said my friend getting up. "What you just experienced is a regular phenomenon at this library. It's what I affectionately call the '15-minutes-before-the-end tremor'. When the bell rings everyone gets up to go. They pull their chairs or get up to put a book back or whatever. It's the collective effort of everyone moving at the same time that puts such a strain on these floorboards resulting in the minor shaking that you just experienced. You'll notice that the ceiling fans are now swinging a little. It's a wonder none of them has fallen on someone's head. That's the result of the same phenomena on the third floor. Up there it's even more pronounced. I hear there is already a crack starting at the top of the building making its way down. You can probably see it from the road. Wouldn't want to be in here when the bell goes for the final time, heh heh!"

It was true. Not the crack --I had yet to see that. The moment after tthe bell had rung, the 'silence' of the library was broken by the sound of chairs scraping on wood and heavy thud of footsteps and the sound of people climbing down the stairs.

"Yeah well, gotta go then," I said taking Amber's hand and getting up. "Hey, it was nice talking to you. Very educational."

"Yeah, it was fun. Thanks," said Amber. "Catch you later!"

We joined the throng of people on their way out and tried not to stamp our feet too hard on the way downstairs. Already it was too noisy for my liking. Once we were out Amber spread her hands wide and yelled. "Aaah! Firm ground at last! Terra Firma! Oh! Am I ever glad to have my feet back on solid ground!"

I rolled my eyes. "It wasn't that bad."

She laughed. "Of course, it wasn't. I am just kidding. You know me."

As we passed out the gate she stopped and turned back. "You know something?"

"What?" I asked stopping and turning with her. She pointed to the sign near the gate.

"They should change that. It's an embarrassment!" she declared.

"Why? Not fancy enough for your liking?" I asked.

"No, no, nothing like that. They should just change the sign. Instead of NATIONAL LIBRARY, it should say NATIONAL SHAME. It would be more appropriate."

This time, I had no comment.


By Mohamed (Feb 2003)

Everyone has secrets. No one is exempt. The important thing is to know how dangerous the secret is, or how important that it be kept secret…

For a long time I believed I was alone. Then, I knew I was alone. Even when I was not, I was.

If the world really was the Matrix then I was The One. The only one. Not even a rarity. Unique.

A few days after I had come to this conclusion I had an epiphany and all the beliefs I had held dear for so long was cast into the cloudy waters of doubt. Not the first time I’ve been proven wrong, mind you, but it’s not something that happens often and hardly something you get used to.

You see, just when I had everything figured out, I came face to face with another. Someone else who was, apparently, just like me. And strangest of all, it was a girl!

Oh, it’s not something you can tell just by looking. And I can’t really explain it either. Like the Matrix, no one can tell you what it is. You have to see it. Except that even when you see it you can’t really put your finger on it. To all outward appearances, I am just like you and everyone else. Nothing special unless you count being exceptionally <ahem!> handsome and charming as something special.

And on the inside too. Not handsome, I mean. The same. During my childhood, I’ve had the occasional illness, mishap and accident which resulted in broken bones, headaches and infections which consequently led to X-Rays, CAT Scans, the works. Okay, so a normal kid wouldn’t need CAT scans but my parents loved me a lot (being an only child will do that) and they were rich, but you get the idea. So in light of all these tests I can tell you quite frankly and truthfully that the doctors found nothing unusual or strange. Or at least nothing that required any special attention. I am the same as everyone else. One heart. One brain... er… stomach, liver, the rest and the internal wiring. Nerves, I mean.

Anyway the doctors found nothing odd. Nothing weird. Certainly nothing that will explain to me or everyone else why I am the way I am and why I could do what I could.

Only once, and once only did I try to share my secret with someone else. It was with my then best friend. Having said that, I feel obliged to include that he is not the most open-minded of persons. After that little chat, our relationship was never the same. I don’t know if he thought me the world’s biggest liar or that I needed psychiatric help. Either way he was always wary around me after that. Wary, cautious… hesitant. And tolerant. Mostly tolerant. We could never again talk like we used to before. A barrier had been raised between us. What it was made of or why, I had no idea but I had no desire to bring it down and he felt likewise I am sure.

Since then, I don’t talk about it to anyone. My big secret. My secret identity. All super-heroes and even some super-villains need a secret identity, don’t they? For that matter, we stopped talking to each other altogether. I still meet him sometimes on the road or elsewhere and give each other the perfunctory raised eyebrow greeting. I can’t help but sometimes wonder if he told anyone else about me and my secret. I wish I could tell just by looking at him. If he did, I haven’t heard about it… so far. Maybe my secret is safe. It would be a shame to kill someone just because he couldn’t keep a secret. But then, some secrets are worth killing for. I haven’t decided whether mine is worth it or not. Not yet.

I’ve heard that life can take you down strange paths and usually when you least expect it. This was one time that turned out to be true. It was a life changing experience. An epiphany, like I said before. As Frank Maier said about epiphanies, “I experienced an epiphany, a spiritual flash that would change the way I viewed myself”. And how!

It’s true! At first I was at a loss. Stuck at crossroads without any clear signs. Should I tell her that she was not alone? (Remember the girl I was telling you about before?) Should I bring her into my secret world? Should I tell her she was not a freak and share myself with her like she had with me? Years of hiding your feelings and concealing your real self from a world that isn’t ready for you makes a person wary. But those same years had instilled in me a need to be understood. And much as I hate to admit it, a need to be close to someone. To share and lighten the burden, even if for a small amount of time. But hindsight is a great teacher and I am a fast learner.

Sure I’ve had my share of girlfriends. Nothing serious, mind you. Being what I am I couldn’t really or possibly get serious with someone who wouldn’t understand me. And most of them didn’t even realize what a gem they had in me. If only they knew they would never have agreed to break up. Even if they didn’t understand me they would never have broken up with me. They wouldn’t. Understand me, that is. I know it. None of my ex’s would. Cause on purpose or by chance I tend to go for looks. Not saying that being beautiful necessarily makes any woman dumb. God knows there’s enough of them to prove the theory wrong. It’s just that I happen to latch onto girls that are, okay? It’s very shallow of me I know, thank you very much and tell me something I don’t know, but it cannot be helped. I don’t know why but it cannot be helped, alright? All right! Okay!

By the time I reach third base with any girl -- well the penalty area since this is Male’ and football is the game -- I would be looking for a way out before she became too attached. It’s not simply because I don’t want a commitment you see, it’s just that by then I know she wasn’t the one for me. Comprendre?

I have come to accept my fate and just be happy with myself. I never worry about it or question it. I am happy with myself. I did not really expect there to be anyone else like me. If you can’t accept you for what you are then who can, eh? I am a once-in-a-lifetime-thingy. The world is a better place because of me. A miracle. Unique. All alone and lonely at the top. Certainly did not expect to find someone who shared my er… how shall we say… special predicament, a kindred spirit, if you will… but then I did. So it seemed, anyway.

And what happened after that was stranger still. I still cannot explain it. Not even to myself. If only I had known how it would turn out as I stood with her on the beach on that rainy night. Listening to her tell me her story. If only… I wonder if things would have turned out different then.


“Do you think I am weird?” she asked when she finished her monologue.

She was very beautiful, no denying that. And I don’t mean just her face. But then as I’ve said before, I go for looks so it’s no surprise. And worse, she knew it.

She looked up from under her perfectly shaped eyebrows and gazed straight and deep into my eyes (and skewered my heart like a shish-kebab in the process) with her almond shaped and light brown eyes. My breath caught. They were sad eyes. Just sad enough to look very beautiful.

Enchantingly beautiful. Lovely.


Just a touch of mistiness in them to make them sparkle just so in the light. Pink lips that had gone dry while she narrated her story had been licked until they were moist. And her hair! Ah, let’s not even go there.

I became aware that I was saying something.

“Groff kuz nught!,” I said conversationally and meaning every word with all my heart.

“Excuse me,” she said taken aback.

I cleared my throat, mentally kicked my ass and said. “Of course not!” and kicked myself again just for good measure and as a reminder to pay attention.

She didn’t look convinced and pouted. Plus she looked at me with those soulful eyes that practically begged me to prove her wrong. Oh! She was good. I’ll give her that. She was as good as any I’ve met.

“It certainly is strange, I’ll give you that, but it doesn’t make you a freak. Not at all.” Was that a correct response to whatever she had been saying? I tried to pay attention, tried not to fall into those beautiful eyes again. In vain it seemed, because they seemed to be getting bigger and wider as I drew closer and closer to the hypnotic pair. I was beginning to see impossible details that tugged at my heartstrings. Tears pooling on the lower eyelids and splashed away in billions of minute sparkling droplets accompanied by the echoing sound of water splashing as she blinked… ever… sooo… slooowly.

I fancied I could hear waterfalls in the distance. Tiny drops of tears clung to her eyelashes and slid off the ends with a plink sound like dewdrops from a leaf as she blinked again. Impossible! This was getting ridiculous!

Suddenly she turned away and I felt as if someone had violently pulled me back from the brink of an abyss just as I had leapt. Clarity returned with a rush as the sound of waterfalls changed into the drone of the air-conditioning. I tried to turn my thoughts to her beautiful face… I mean, what she was saying, not her face. Not her face. Her beeyoootiful face.

“You don’t believe me!” she was saying, looking hurt.

I was ready to believe anything she said. Honest to god. Anything! Moon made of green cheese. I’d eat it! Day was night. Must be an unforeseen and unexpectedly sudden eclipse!

“Either that or you are just humouring me.”

Something about that sentence rang a bell. Now where had I heard that before and why did it sound so familiar? Had she said that before? I couldn’t remember. Damn those eyes!

“No doubt you are going to tell your friends about it and all make fun of me.”

Now she was just getting carried away. For a moment I regretted not paying attention to what she had been saying. Only for a moment. Those eyes were worth it! Whatever it was, she obviously thought it was important to her. I made an effort to remember. Let’s see now… something about… dreams I think. Didn’t sound that serious.

“I wouldn’t do that,” I told her. Best to fix this as soon as possible. “Besides it’s only a dream. In dreams you see lots of weird things. It wouldn’t make you a weird person. You are normal, just like… any other.” I pointing vaguely. Couldn’t very well say normal like me. Hah! That would be a laugh. Me? Normal! Nah! A normal miracle maybe. If there was such a thing.

Her lovely eyes narrowed a little and she stared at me. God! she looked beautiful when she stared like that. I should take a picture of her and paste it on my glasses so I could see her all the time.

“What are you talking about?” she said frowning. “What dream? Are you nuts!? You haven’t been listening to a word I’ve said all this time!”

That shut me up real tight.

She hadn’t been talking about a dream?

Then who did? For that matter what the hell had she been talking about all this time? You’d think she would take the time to make sure I was listening to her when she started going into one of her monologues. She had been telling me about a dream. She had! No, wait! I had been telling her about a dream I had. Was I? Or had I just been thinking about that weird dream? Aww crap! Something was wrong. Definitely. I was still wondering what was wrong when I realized that I was standing alone.

Well, doesn’t matter. She wasn’t the one for me. I could tell. Trust me. I know. She wouldn’t have understood me anyway. Come to think of it she wasn’t all that hot either. Probably false eyelashes, mascara and coloured contact lenses. Yeah that was it. Artificially enhanced beauty. Who needs it? Give me the real deal any day. For a moment, I was reminded of a dark and cold night some four years ago. Somewhere high up and very windy. Some memory about that night was stirring up. Something about “humour”.

“You know, you’re a lot like me,” said a voice behind me.

I nearly jumped. If I had been a normal human being I probably would have. Then again like I keep saying, I am not your average human being. I was special. A miracle. One of a kind. Unique. You get the idea.

“Honey! You have no idea how wro…” I said turning around… and stopped.

Without a shadow of doubt, there stood an angel. And if angels didn’t look like this, then there was something seriously wrong and ugly with the universe.

“… how beautiful you are!” I finished even though it came out as something else entirely.

The beautiful face tilted sideways a little, stared deep into my eyes. A soft, delicate hand reached up slowly and gently touched my smooth chin. Oh, my kingdom for some stubble! I willed myself to look older, more mature and if will power could make hair grow I would have sprouted a goatee on the spot.

Then she smiled. The world was suddenly a much brighter place to be. I should have worn my sunglasses.

“You see,” said the vision of heavenly beauty as a chorus of angels burst into song all around me to accompany her melodious voice. “I fall for beautiful eyes too.”

I smiled and the smile began in my beautiful eyes.


I remember very clearly how the conversation with my best friend went that night we ceased to be best of friends. Not exactly, of course, not each and every word but enough to give a fairly accurate play-by-play. I am hard pressed to remember my school lessons from day to day, let alone a conversation I had with someone around four years ago. Still, thinking about it I am a little surprised that I can remember any of it.

It was night and chillingly cold. The promise of rain hung in the air but that was all it was. A promise. And as everyone finds out eventually, promises are made to be broken. The sky did light up occasionally behind the heavy and dark clouds that had threatened rain for a week but the sound of thunder never reached us. It should have. That would have been the perfect setting for us. Dark, dramatic and loud. A perfect night for revelations. For secrets. Dark secrets. Secrets that should have remained just that.

That high up, with no buildings around us to block the full force of the wind we could feel the chill of the biting wind all the way to the bones. Several metres below us the traffic passed by noisily. In those days the now numerous one-ways and traffic lights were non-existent. There was no occasional lapse in traffic and the accompanying lull in noise pollution to inform us that traffic had been checked for the moment in that particular artery. It was a constant barrage of honks, beeps, revved up engines and the occasional screeching of brakes.

Anyone looking up from the road at the coincidental moment of sheet lightning would have seen us as two dark shadowy figures standing atop a skeleton of a building under construction, splashed against the backdrop of gathering storm clouds. There should have been thunder. Or at least a low rumbling. That would have been the final touch.

That high up, no one could hear me talk. Except for my best friend. Which as it turned out, was only one person too many.

The wind whipped through my shirt and through me as well it seemed and I wished my teeth would stop chattering every once in a while so that I could talk without stuttering.

My about to be ex-best friend was not looking at me. He was staring off into the distance as if lost in contemplation. Oh, he was listening all right. I knew it. I could tell. He had heard all I had to say. And yes, he asked no questions. That would be interrupting. No requests to clarify something I had said. That was just like him. You could tell him that the classic grand piano from a hundred Tom and Jerry cartoons was falling on his head and he would nod sagely and wait for you to continue to explain the physics behind it. Just the occasional nod or hmmm to encourage me to keep going.

“That… was the first time.” I said. “There have been lots of incidents like that since.”

I was feeling good. Very good. I had had second thoughts about it even as I started telling him. But now that I was finished I felt a lot better. Sharing does that, I guess. For a while anyway.

“Don’t worry,” he said finally, still not looking at me. “You are not a freak. Different? Yes! But not a freak.”

It was a shock. Different! Insult! I wasn’t a freak!

Different? Damn right I was different! I was unique! Hadn’t he been listening to a word I said? Different indeed! I would show him different. My eyes narrowed a little. I could feel a stirring in my chest. The change was almost on me. So quickly. So sweet. I could sense it.

“We should be going down. It’s almost dinner time.” He still wasn’t looking at me.

What was wrong with him? The least he could do was react. I had just told him about one of the most amazing developments in the entire human history. The least he could do was at least act interested or surprised. He seemed to take it in stride. Either that or…

Or he was just humouring me.

He turned his back to me and started walking down the rough grey staircase. He said something but with his back turned I only caught bits of it as the wind brought it to me. I doubt he had wanted me to hear it but I heard some of it nonetheless.

“secret….. dream…. wish….”


“What is it that makes each individual different from the rest? Is there any two people who are exactly the same? Hardly likely. Almost impossible. Almost I said. Do you know why I said ‘almost’?”

I looked at her. My angel. In the two and half years since I had been with her I had eventually grown to really love her. I mean really. Yeah I know what you are thinking. Me, love?

Yeah. Me! Love!

It wasn’t a sudden thing. From the moment I had seen her I had fallen hopelessly in love, that is true, but that’s not the love I am talking about. That love, I have come to realize, is just physical attraction coupled with lust masquerading as love. No, I am talking about the real deal.

I love her. You don’t see me evading the issue here, do you? Does that surprise you? Why? Everybody falls in love. Somewhere, sometime, somehow. At least that’s what the movies will have you believe. The ones worth watching anyway. And everybody knows that movies are based on real life, right? Only difference is that the people in movies are generally more beautiful. Sometimes.

It was only a few days ago I had realized that I was in love. I guess in my heart of hearts I had known it for a long time, but admitting it to myself was different. Once I did though, I felt liberated. The truth shall set you free, they say.

“Why?” I asked. My question was accentuated by lightning and the whole beach was lit as bright as day for a few seconds. It was still sheet lightning. Sadly there was no display of what I considered to be nature's fury in it’s most spectacular beauty; forked lightning. Thunder rolled. If it had been dice it would have rolled a six. A low rumble that rapidly became deafening and then faded into the distance.

It was going to be another dramatic night. A perfect setting for the climax. If I had planned this I couldn’t have done it better. But then I didn’t.

A light rain started falling, almost horizontally. Very cold. Like tiny pin pricks on my arms and face. Unlike the last memorable dark night, this night I had no secret to share. Oh, I am still unique. The only One. And sometimes I still feel the occasional urge to let people know. But it isn’t important anymore. When you grow old your priorities change. In strange ways.

“Because,” continued my angel, giving me her special one-dimpled smile. “nothing is impossible.”

I have never told her I love her. The situation is mutual. She has never professed her love for me either. But some things don’t need to be put into words. Feelings can sometimes be as strong and as real as the spoken or written word.

I was watching her face and thinking how lucky a bastard I was, so it took me a while for what she had said to really register. That and the way she was looking at me. Almost looking for something. Searching. Seeking…

“You mean to tell me that it is possible to have someone who is exactly like you somewhere in the world?”

The rain was coming down harder now. Water was dripping down my nose and chin and when I spoke I could taste the rainwater on my lips.

“Not exactly.” She was thoroughly soaked, too. Her long jet black hair was plastered to her face and she made no effort to pull it back from her face. We don’t mind a little rain. We love the rain. Among other things.

“Then what do you mean?”

“Every person at one time or another in his life believes she or he is unique. In a special way. Different from every other person. Maybe a small thing. Maybe even a tiny insignificant thing. But still different from the rest. Which makes that person unique.”

“Definitely can’t be the feeling of thinking he or she is unique then.” I said jokingly. This was getting scary. Where was she going with this?

“Yes, that in itself isn’t unique. It’s very common actually.”

I felt something stirring inside me. Something that had been dormant for a long time. Common? Hardly likely. I knew I was unique. It’s not common. If I was common I wouldn’t be unique. Where the hell was she going with this? This wasn’t like her at all. She never takes this long to get to a point.

“What is unique is that each person considers him or herself unique in a different way.” She was still looking at me in that strange searching way. She reached for my hands and held them. Moving a little closer she said a little more softly. Almost too soft to be heard above the sound of rain falling on sand and sea.

“But that doesn’t mean a person is a freak.”

I felt my insides go cold. I was shocked. Had she been talking to ‘certain’ people? Was this her way of showing that she knew my secret? How had she found out? Most importantly, did she believe me? Or was she just humouring me? The stirring inside me grew stronger. I felt myself going tense. Not good.

“I’ve wanted to talk about this with you for a long time now.” She sounded a little sad.

I looked away. It breaks my heart to see her crying. At least in the rain I wouldn’t see any tears. At any other time I wouldn’t have looked away. I would have wiped her tears and kissed her eyes and hugged her close. The anger that was threatening to explode melted away with the sound of her sad voice. “But I just couldn’t bring myself to tell you. I’ve tried to tell you so many times but I just couldn’t. Please understand, I love you, even if I have never said so, I do. I love you with a passion that overwhelms reason. And whatever you tell me about yourself, it will not change what I feel for you. Whatever deep and dark secret you may hold in your heart I will adapt to it. Because I know that someone as loving and wonderful as you will never hide a secret that will hurt me.”

I didn’t know what to say.

When I had first met her I had wanted to tell her my secret. Not because I thought she might understand me. Just for want of sharing something different. As the days went by and we grew closer to each other the secret became less and less important. It never hindered in any way my capacity to show my affection for her. I always knew that it was just a matter of finding the right person. Eventually I locked it away in a dark corner of my mind and never gave it another thought.

Maybe it was time to open that locked door. But did it matter anymore? It wasn’t that important, was it? Not as important as my angel. Should I risk losing her? What if she asks for proof? Could I provide it?

Ultimately none of these questions were important. What mattered was that I tell her the truth. If you couldn’t trust the one you love, who could you trust? And here she was, asking me -- practically begging actually -- for me to tell her. I reached a sudden decision. Yes. I will tell her. But truthfully. The past is the past. The time had come to tell the truth. Risky as it maybe.

I reached for her hand and drew her close. I looked deeply into her eyes. What is it about brimming eyes that is so heart-achingly beautiful?

“The same goes for me,” she said, averting her eyes. “That is why I have to tell you this. That is why I have to tell you my secret.”

I blinked.

What? Her secret?


When we went down to dinner, he still wouldn’t look at me in the eye. All through the climb down the stairs he didn’t speak to me. It was at that point that I began to realise that it had been a mistake to tell him. He obviously wasn’t the type of person who could handle something this big. How could I have not seen it?

Throughout dinner, he continued to ignore me. Whenever I asked him something he averted his gaze and mumbled something incoherent. When I went home that night I knew I should do something. Anything. Maybe tell him it was a joke. But I knew I wouldn’t. Couldn’t.

I spoke to him once after that. He was abroad and online. I sent him a “hi” and he answered. But we didn’t have a conversation. He just sent me some junk quotes or something. I can still remember it.

“Everyone at sometime in their life believes he or she is unique. They have a secret dream that they fancy is real. Sometimes the line is so thin they don’t see it. Almost no one is exempt. Not me. Not you.”

What a lot of crap. Was I supposed to take this to heart? So maybe he has a secret dream. But that doesn’t make him unique. Not like me. I could almost laugh at this pathetic person. Did he fancy that he was like me? Dream on, then.


“It’s hard to believe, I know. But it’s true.” She had finished telling me her story and now was looking at me, I could feel it. I didn’t look at her. Couldn’t. I was at a loss. She was serious. She had to be. She really believes this.

The wind howled all of a sudden and whipped her wet hair all around her face. The rain stung my face but I didn’t even feel it.

“Say something,” she said and touched my arm. Her touch felt colder than the rain and brought me back to my senses.

So it was true. I was not alone. Not exactly how I had thought things would turn out. Here it was, my epiphany. Ironic, in a way. But where was the irony? Maybe that was it.

I don’t know what prompted me to say it. I don’t even know where the words came from.

“No, you are not a freak. Different, yes.” Even as I said it I knew it was the wrong thing to say. She had not asked me if she was one. Even though I wasn’t looking at her I felt everything that was going through her mind as if it were my own. Anger. Fear. Disappointment. Suddenly I wanted to get away.

“It’s getting late. We should be getting back. You might catch a cold.” With that I turned around and walked away. The wind pushed me forward over the soft wet sands, urging me to get away.

Maybe it was the wind that brought the words back to me or maybe it had been buried in my consciousness all this time. I don’t know. But suddenly I remembered a long lost sentence that had been uttered on a cold night. On a windy night such as this. A sentence that had been ripped away from the spoken mouth but returned to my ears, here, tonight.

If only every secret dream we have is a wish come true or vice versa.

I walked on and didn’t look back to see if my angel was following.

The Seawall

By Hilath Rasheed (Feb 2003)

The water tasted sweet in his mouth. Felt soft on his skin. A melodious beat drifted across the surface, soothing as if the world wanted him to sleep. He kept opening, then closing his eyes, surprised to see nothingness. But he didn't mind; the peace he felt now… calming.

Slowly, he became aware of his surroundings. Water. Everywhere.

No. Not water. The sea. He was in the sea.

He jerked back his head and realized that the water that he had been swallowing was far from sweet. How come it had tasted sweet a moment back then?

And what was he doing in the sea?

He realized he was in his swimming trunks, and although he was not moving his hands, he stayed afloat, as his legs were kicking on its own… purely on reflex.

A sense of dread engulfed his body, and he almost choked on water when he tried to take in a deep breath to stuff his oxygen-starved brain. He now clearly remembered why he was in the water, half-conscious, seconds from drowning.


Taking a fag out of the crumpled cigarette packet that he always kept in his trunks (swimming was no exception not to smoke), Hilmy looked across the horizon. Not much horizon to look at; the view was completely blocked by the grey tetrapods that separated the shallow strip of water where young men and women normally took their afternoon swims.

As he drew on his smoke, he spied a figure propelling himself quietly under water.

Only Ihsan could hold breath and cross the 25-meter distance between the inner and outer seawall.

Hilmy had tried that earlier but he always came up halfway, out of breath.

Now as he watched, Ihsan surfaced.

But he made no effort to swim to the platform. He stayed there… just stayed there.

Hilmy squinted and looked closely. Ihsan was opening and closing his eyes in quick succession, his head bobbing in and out of water, his mouth open, gasping for precious breath.

Without a split second's hesitance, Hilmy jumped in.


He heard a splash, behind him. He was sprayed by foam, made in the wake of whoever had jumped in.

He turned around. A head surfaced, and he observed the young man, gasping, trying to say something to him.

"Ihsan! Are… you… alright?"

It took a moment for him to realize who was speaking to him.

"Hilmy…" He spoke the name quietly, as if unsure he recognized this person.

"I'm… alright…I…" He could not continue any further. He was tired. Very tired.


Hilmy drew in a deep breath and slowly, gently, let out the smoke.

Ihsan seemed to love walking on the tetrapods. Hilmy caught him wandering over there yesterday, well away into the afternoon.

"Don't you want to swim?" Hilmy had asked Ihsan. Hilmy wondered why Ihsan did not do his ritual swim today.

Ihsan said nothing. Hilmy did not want to press the matter, especially when he sensed that Ihsan was not his usual self. Not that he knew Ihsan much.

Ihsan was quiet. He hardly spoke, except to point out some interesting fish or unusual coral. Hilmy was surprised why any coral or fish for that matter grew in this closed water strip which was chocked by oil slicks, excreta, rubbish, you name it.

Ihsan continued his stroll, hopping from one tetrapod to another. He was wearing a grey T-shirt, ragged, and grey shorts, tattered at the edges. He looked one with the tetrapods he was walking on, all grey inside and around the edges, and could easily have been part of the seawall, invisible to any uncaring eye.

Did Hilmy care?

Ihsan seemed not to have a care in the world, a quiet fellow sitting on the inner seawall, everyday, every afternoon, without fail.

If he did have a care in the world, he did not show it.

Which disturbed Hilmy.

Hilmy met him on one of these afternoons, on the day he, for no apparent reason, decided to take up swimming as his regular exercise.

Ihsan was good -- no, great -- at diving. Hilmy envied him. Ihsan could jump up, hang in in the air, suspended as if defying gravity, the very laws of this physical world, and then plunge straight into the water, like a fish which belonged in there.

Hilmy was at first embarrassed but later appreciative when Ihsan, for reasons Hilmy still could not understand, offered to teach Hilmy how to do it the proper way.

From his vantage point, Ihsan gave only short, crisp tips. "Bend a bit." "Give a push."

Weeks later, Ihsan still spoke in monosyllables, but Hilmy did not mind. He was intrigued by Ihsan, this quiet young fellow who seemed not interested in anything, anybody, except the blue water which he always looked at longingly.

Ihsan did not even offer the obligatory smile whenever a newcomer to the thoshigandu said "hi" which perhaps was the reason why they left him to himself; the boy on the seawall.

But as weeks passed, Hilmy slowly learned what ticked Ihsan, which was few. The sea being part of it.

Hilmy now regarded Ihsan as his swimming "guru" though he never voiced it. He held firmly to the need to keep a distance as Ihsan seemed to want to.


Today was different. Hilmy did not know why but he sensed it. Sensed it when Ihsan gave one of his rare smiles.

Ihsan surprised him again later when, towards late afternoon, he actually offered to catch an octopus that had lodged itself under a concrete stone, pushed itself halfway into the muddy floor when this "artificial" beach area was constructed.

Hilmy felt a thrill when Ihsan suddenly emerged from the water, and held the spear with the octopus -- a small one -- stuck fast onto it. Was there pride on Ihsan's face? Hilmy could not be sure. But if it had been him, Hilmy would have been proud and joyous and conscious of the applause of the children who reveled around their newfound hero.

Now as he observed, Ihsan handed over the spear and the octopus to one of the children, and swam away, over to the outer seawall.

Hilmy knew what Ihsan was going for; he was going to cross the stretch under water, holding his breath.


He came up behind Ihsan now, who slowly turned towards him.

Ihsan could have been dead. He looked it.

Hilmy almost crawled out of his skin. He came right up to Ihsan and tried to say something but it would not come out.

Calm down, his inner self seemed to say to him.

But he could not calm down. "Ihsan! Are… you.. alright?" he managed to gasp.

Ihsan whispered something, perhaps his name, but Hilmy was not sure.

"I'm… alright…I…" This time Hilmy heard him clearly.

"Let's get you out of here!" Hilmy grabbed Ihsan by the arms and dragged him to the platform.


Ihsan sat quietly, deep in thought.

Enough excitement for one day, he decided finally.

Hilmy sat beside him. A concerned look on his face.

Ihsan looked at Hilmy, and wondered what would have happened if Hilmy had not pulled him to the safety of the platform.

He saw himself choking on water, his lungs getting filled, until there was no more breath, and no more reason to live.

His body would jerk back to life, in one final desperate attempt, but it would be too late.

Hilmy kept observing Ihsan, as if expecting Ihsan to say something.

Ihsan said nothing. He was tired. Very tired.

And very sleepy. Was that what death was like?

He acknowledged a nod towards Hilmy, but did not offer a smile.

Picking up his shirt, he turned to go home.

He walked quietly.

Hilmy was not sure whether he should follow. He kept sitting on the seawall, looking at Ihsan who now had his back turned to him. Was he coming back?

Is this Love?

By Bana Lathyf

Love is in the air… very true…
Starting from children's novels such as Beauty and
the Beast & Sleeping Beauty, love spreads its
fragrance onto adult novels from world famous authors
Sidney Sheldon and Danielle Steel.

Its every where I go…
No matter what the language, more than 70% of its
songs are based on a love story. 'My heart will go
on', 'meine pyaar tuji se kiya hain' and 'loabi
loabin' are such songs which would always b adored.

It follows you all over…
Go and rent a movie. Titanic, Pyaar Ishq aur
Mohabbat and Hii Halaaku would surely make you cry.
So switch the channels… OMG. Its Kasautti Zindhagi
Ki on Star Plus, Heena on Sony, Kitty Party on
Zee TV.
Quick turn it off!

And now am sorry to say it is in you, my friend. Yes!
You are in love with that cute neighbor of yours. You
can't sleep 'till you see her at least for the sixth
time in the day. You can't eat a bite 'till you hear
her soft voice sing sweet nothings in to your ear.
Yes. I agree that it could happen to you too after all
what's surrounding us all. The story Beauty and the
Beast and as such had lit up a flick in you. And your
surroundings have made you fall deep in blind 'LOVE'.

But did it ever occur to you that you are just trying
so hard to be the typical 'ROMEO'? The more you showed
would mean that you loved most?

Am sorry my friend, but tell me what is this 'love'
you claim of? Is it that little flick you had in you?
Or just a flame of desire you are airing with the
winds of lust?
Are you in 'love' with this girl like that first teddy
your parents gave you? Didn't you replace it with the
new Pooh you got after a week? Pooh took its place
beside you on the bed and teddy was thrown out. And
the routine continued all along. Is this 'love' of
yours as such?
Still you claim that you LOVE her?

SHEEEESSHHH… someone's had you my friend…
Listen up buddy…
'LOVE' is a word created by William Shakespeare. He
made up this magical word, defined it handsomely and
seasoned it with feelings just for the publicity of
his novels and to make his plays give out big green
But little was he to know he was creating a feeble
disease that would make the world population soft
brained and to act as klutz's.

Why do you want to 'fall' in love? No one would want
to 'fall' in life. Falling means loosing. And don't
you mind at all to be blind in 'love'? Wouldn't you
care that you could be loosing so much of the other
potentials of life while being blinded? You define
'LOVE' in so many ways…
"Love makes you hurt… makes you cry… makes you envy…
makes you jealous…"
Is that how you define some thing nice?

So tell me my lover friend… tell me any two lovers
who's been totally loyal to each other. Why are you
shaking your head? NO?
So what you mean is 'LOVE' isn't loyal and sincere?
Wonder what good it is for then. Just an excuse to
play hard???

Heyy… heyy… that isn't your lover girl you are staring
at right now. Aha… so you still find this new girl

Well… let me tell you my friend you aren't in love.
And to be more specific 'LOVE' doesn't exist. He he…
just don't make a fool of yourself by calling this
love. What's there is the physical attraction, which
is far stronger and true than what you call 'LOVE'.

Four Stories

by Ian Butterworth*

My father owned a shop. When I was eleven, his nephew came from the village to work. He was eight years older than me, already a big man. He filled the house. In two years, we were married. I had seven living children, and three dead. At twenty-seven was my last pregnancy. He'd had enough of me. I was glad.

My husband's voice was quiet, but everyone listened for it. Laughter stopped as he entered the house and my children grew watchful. They should have been smiling, but he made them wary. He gave them no childhood.

There were nights when he wouldn't come home. At first I cried and couldn't sleep. But soon I found that I liked being alone. My neighbours told me names of his women. I wouldn't listen to them. From the beginning I tried to be a good wife, but he hurt me. I wanted someone to hold me and tell me things. I was so young. Everything I said made him angry, so I said nothing.

A boy came to stay, from my husband's island. He served in the shop and looked after the house. Each night he studied. His eyes were gentle. He smiled and carried things for me. He joked with my daughter and picked her a flower. She wouldn't leave him alone. I loved to watch him, when he was clean and praying. I breathed the freshness of his newly washed clothes. Once, I was burning up with fever. The boy brought me soup. He bathed my face and stroked my fingers. My husband was watching. He slammed his fist into the side of my boy's head. After this the boy wouldn't look at me. But he still played with my children, and smiled at them.

The boy stayed for a year. He left when he married his cousin from the village. She was very beautiful. I was happy that he could start a new life.

* * *

I was my father's eldest son. He lived from fishing and dreamt that I'd work in an office. I was sent to Male' to study. It was a different place in those days. The rustle of leaves was cooling. The white walls felt warm against my cheek. There was more time.

I stayed in the house of my uncle's wife. Inside was dark and quiet. On the wall hung a photograph, brown tones and curling paper. It was of a young woman, laughing and beautiful. She was lovely. I didn't know it was of my aunt until I saw her laugh with her daughters. Then she came to life.

My uncle married her for the house. There was nothing he could give her. He was unaccountable. He stayed away and was unfaithful, but my aunt seemed indifferent. She'd fallen in love with what she hoped he'd be, not what he was.

I'd been in the house some months when she was sick. I took her food and held her hand. Her eyes filled and she clutched my fingers. She breathed my name. He walked into the room and beat my head against the wall. When I saw her next there was a burn on her face from the soup.

She had neither choices nor will. She did her jobs, fulfilled her duties. She was frightened of being disappointed, so she asked for nothing. If there had been magic in this life I would have taken her somewhere and made her laugh. When I married a girl from my island she was so happy for me. She cried for us as we left. That's how I know she loved me, too. More than my own wife ever did.

After years working away I returned to Male'. The old man was in hospital, hollowed with cancer. I visited him with my son. I was shocked to see his dying eyes glisten when he saw my boy.

She was by his bedside. She held his hand, her tears falling to his parched skin. I couldn't find any words to say to her. She looked at me, and whispered, 'Stay away.' Six days later I heard that he'd died. She'd died years before.

* * *

I haven't long to live. Pain rides through me. My wife is by my side but she can't give me comfort. She is weak, of no use, and I wish she would go away.

She was lovely when we married, looking like a woman. I could make my hands into a circle and reach almost round her waist. People said I married her for the house. But it's not true. Her shy glances were mesmerising. Her hair, her eyes were so beautiful. I really did love her. I wanted no one else. But I married a child.

She never laughed. She never spoke with me. She only replied. She was mine, but there was nothing to own. I thought children would make us better. But she excluded me. When I came into the room their conversations stopped. She hid them from me. I was left alone. I spoke to them but they only gave me answers. If I hurt her, she would notice me. I went with other women, but I never divorced her. She filled me with guilt. How can you talk to someone who will not look into your eyes?

She was in love with my brother's boy. He was a lad from the island who stayed with us. He took her from me. I know they met in secret. Some girl came from the island to marry him. She was sleeping in my wife's room. On the morning of the wedding, before light, I walked in, covered her face with my hand, and forced myself on her. I finished and looked across at my wife. She was watching. She didn't say a thing.

Part of me wants to talk of this now. But it would be like telling a corpse. I could weep at the waste.

* * *

My husband has never hurt me. He studied and worked all hours, earning money to support my son and myself. Every day he has worked to bring us comfort. But our lives are false. There is no meaning.

On the morning of our marriage, before dawn, his uncle came into my room. He raped me. I'd never even spoken to him. His wife was in the same room. When he left she just turned to the wall. I can never forgive her for that.

How could I tell my husband? What choice did I have? I forced myself through the day. On our wedding night I froze. I felt dirty. I couldn't sleep. My husband thought I was just frightened. He fell asleep, holding me, suffocating me with his kindness.

For years I dreamt of that morning. I could feel his hand clamped, pressing my mouth; his weight draining my strength. The pain tore me. The worst was that his wife had done nothing. Was that all I was worth? I couldn't understand how my husband continued to love me.

We have no other children, though we tried. I would have been proud to have a little girl, all of our own. My husband never knew that he was not his son's father.

Many men tried to catch my eye. I was frightened of them all. I am so lonely. I loved my husband, but I could never open myself to his love. I know that I hurt him dreadfully. I wish with all my heart that it could have been different.

He's visiting the hospital now, with my son. The old man is sick. When he dies, they'll ask me to pray for his soul.

(*Ian Butterworth is a VSO in Maldives)

Dead Reality

by Schanuha* (2001)

Lying on the cold metal table, I feel a chill go
through my spine. There seems to be a permanent
coldness in the dissection hall made worse by the
stink of formalin. It never escapes me; I seem to be
drenched in the smell of the dead, suspended somewhere
between life and death.

The worst part comes during afternoons when I am taken
out and callow students to stare and cut me open. They
stare at me with vacant glassy eyes. I see no feelings
in them. I send out a silent plea: hey I am supposed
to be the one who is dead and devoid of feelings, not
you guys. But to no avail, they seem not to hear

Their scalpels deftly slice through my skin, exposing
me inch by inch. They smile they laugh, I am just like
a dummy to them, well, I guess I would be, after all,
I am dead. But I wonder if it ever occurs that I was
once like them. I had feelings, dreams, and hopes.
There were people who loved me, someone had held the
hand they have cut with such precision, those feet had
roamed around Katmandu, and those eyes had seen so
much. I never ceased to get over my wonder of the
beauty of this world.

But with death, everything comes to a halt. You are no
longer one of them. You become alien. You no longer
are entitled to the same privileges. They probe, poke
even slap or drill holes on you. They peel you off
layer-by-layer, going to the core of you, not leaving
even a single iota of you unexposed, the only thing
they seem to miss out are your feelings.

My heart cries out (that too, would be in someone's
cold hands pretty soon!) how cruel is all this. The
injustice of me having to lie here, its not the fact
that I am here that bothers me, just that I am being
sliced up by a group of people who seems to be more
dead than me. They seem to have left their feelings at
the entrance of the dissection hall. (So much for my
hopes of witnessing blooming romances!!) I wish I
could let go of my stupid feelings and be like them,
but I can't seem to. Sometimes I want to shake them
and bring them to reality (well my kind of reality at
least, I guess you can call it dead reality), show
them that I too had feelings once upon a

(*Schanuha is a Maldives medical student overseas)

Midnight Prayers

by Hilath Rasheed (Dec 2002)

“Don’t!” Ilham grabbed the yet unlighted cigarette and stubbed it on the floor. “You cannot smoke in my room.”

Mohamed looked at him, amused. “OK,” he said.

He walked over to the dressing table and took the half-full mineral water bottle.

“I guess I’ll have to manage with water then.” He drank a mouthful, and wiped his mouth with the back of his palm.

He looked quizzically at Ilham.

“I gave up,” Ilham replied to Mohamed’s unasked question. “Months ago,” he added, as an afterthought.

“So that explains,” Mohamed said.

“What do you mean?” Ilham frowned.

Mohamed didn’t answer. He was like that sometimes.

He quietly made his way over to the mattress Ilham had prepared for him.

Mohamed would be bunking with Ilham for tonight.

Ilham rolled over to a side and observed him. “I’m really sorry.”

Mohamed said nothing.

Ilham rolled over towards the corner, and switched off the light.

“Goodnight.” He didn’t turn to look back at Mohamed.

It was dark, anyway.


It was 3:00am. Dead of the night.

Ilham made his way slowly towards the mosque. Sleep made his footsteps heavy, and it was almost the only sound on the lifeless street at this ungodly hour.

Ilham had not offered his Isha prayers and somehow he had to do it now, otherwise he was sure he would doze off and not wake up later to do this duty.

He hugged himself in an attempt to keep the chill out; the cold wind settled dew on the cool leaves of the shadowy branches overhanging from the trees, brushing his cheeks then and now, adding to his unearthly discomfort.

Everything was a blur; he had left his specs back at home. There was no need for it. But it only accentuated the haunting gloominess of early morning on the pitch black street.

He entered the desolate mosque, turned on the tap; the water running on his hands was cold, and he gave an involuntary shudder. He forced himself to run some of it over his still half-closed eyes and washed his feet.

The door was ajar and it opened effortlessly. He made his way to the front and started the prayer.

He had to make an effort to stay awake, but within a few minutes had managed to complete the prayer. Immediately, he got up and made his way towards the exit.


He wasn’t sure he heard his name being called.

He squinted and saw a figure sitting at the back, the Holy Book in his lap.

Ilham slowly made his way towards the stranger; without his glasses, the person sitting in the corner was a blur, too.

Ilham squatted beside him.

The stranger was smiling.

He took a good look at him. Somehow the face was familiar but he couldn’t quite nail his finger on that face.

“How are you doing?”

Ilham would have recognized that voice anywhere.

“Mohamed.” He broke into a smile. “What are you doing here? At this hour?”

Mohamed had lost weight, Ilham could see that. He had thinned since Ilham last met him… months ago.

“You didn’t ask me how I am,” Mohamed said, a slight hint of dejection his voice.

“I’m sorry,” Ilham said hurriedly. “It’s totally unexpected… meeting you like this. What are you doing here at this time of night?”

Mohamed had never been religious. Ilham didn’t remember the last time Mohamed had stepped into a mosque. Something was surely amiss.

“I was late tonight. My folks locked up the house. I guess I am stuck here until morning.” Mohamed looked expectantly at Ilham.

Ilham looked at the Holy Book on Mohamed’s lap; he was not sure whether Mohamed had actually even opened it. He was right after all – nothing had changed. Mohamed was still the same.

Mohamed put back the book on the small cupboard beside him.

Ilham sat thinking for about a minute. “Alright. You can sleep over at my place.”

Ilham was not sure he had made the right decision. But that was always the way things worked around Mohamed; you finally gave in.

A hint of a smile formed on Mohamed’s face. “I do appreciate it. I just came back from the resort.”

So, Mohamed worked in a resort now, did he? But Ilham did not voice his thoughts.

Mohamed got up. He offered his hand to Ilham.

Ilham didn’t take it.

The walk back to Ilham’s place was quiet.


Ilham lay awake. The luminous hands on his alarm clock said 4:30am. He had lain awake for one and a half hours.

The exhaust fan near the ceiling turned and turned, its busy humming adding to Ilham’s irritation. On other nights, it left him alone, but tonight it bothered him. A lot.

For the hundredth time maybe, he touched the keys he had pushed under his mattress, and felt reassured. There were certain things you could not trust around Mohamed. And there was no reason to believe that Mohamed had changed after all these months.

There were too many questions. Where had Mohamed been all this time? Working at a resort, as he claimed?

“I bet you’re thinking where I’ve been all this time.”

Mohamed’s voice almost jerked Ilham to his feet.

Ilham composed himself. He rolled over and turned towards Mohamed. “You’re not asleep?”

He couldn’t see Mohamed. The room was full of shadows.

A moment passed.

“You aren’t asleep either.” Mohamed’s voice came inches from Ilham’s face. Ilham shuddered. He had no idea how Mohamed had stealthily moved so close.

Mohamed moved back and switched on the night lamp. He settled beside Ilham.

“Are you still into those stuff?” Ilham couldn’t rid himself of the curiosity that had been building up in him since meeting Mohamed at the mosque.

“No. I gave that up a long time ago.” Mohamed gave a meaningful look to Ilham. “I can see that you have given up on a lot of things, too.” His voice had an accusatory tone to it.

Ilham did not reply for a moment.

“I guess I outgrew them,” Ilham said finally. “I wanted to think straight. I couldn’t stand that hazy world of fantasy.”

“Fantasy!” Mohamed chuckled. Almost mocking. “What makes you think your life is now real?”

Ilham had no answer to that.

“So, are you going back to the… resort?” Ilham asked after a moment. Somehow he still felt concerned for his friend, though this friend had ceased to become one a long time ago.

Everything was changed...for them, at least.

“No.” Mohamed did not elaborate.

“What are you going to do now?” Ilham pressed, knowing well the answer was not forthcoming.

Mohamed turned towards Ilham. There was some cruel pleasure to be gained from what he was going to say next.

“I’ve got a job… in Male.” He let it sink in for Ilham.

Ilham didn’t say anything. He would not give Mohamed the satisfaction of an answer. He could almost detect a smirk on Mohamed’s face.

Mohamed switched off the light. “Let’s go back to sleep. It will be morning soon.”


Ilham couldn’t sleep. He kept watching the hands on the clock. 4:45… 5:00… 5:15… 5:30…5:45… 6:00…

His eyelids finally grew heavy. He started to doze off.

“I gotta go.” A voice whispered near his ear.

The lights came on.

Ilham sat up heavily on his mattress.

Mohamed was already putting on his shirt. He went into the toilet, and came out a few minutes later, water running down his face, some of it wetting the front of his shirt.

Ilham felt uneasy. “So, I’ll be seeing you around…” A statement, not a question.

He never wanted to see Mohamed ever again. But that couldn’t be helped. It’s a small world after all. Especially Male.’

He could never fathom Mohamed, and that always made him uneasy. Mohamed was mysterious, the devil that Ilham never knew.

Mohamed combed back his tousled hair.

He unlocked the door and looked back at Ilham.

Ilham still sat on his mattress, unwilling to move.

Mohamed’s eyes wandered around the room.

“Goodbye.” His eyes settled on Ilham. “I mean it this time.”

(This short story was published in Haveeru Daily, Maldives leading daily newspaper, on 17 Jan 2003)

Company of Strangers

by Sharif Ali (Dec 2002)

For those who’re reading this in the morning, good morning, if it’s afternoon good afternoon, if evening, good evening, and those who don’t feel like wasting any more time on this and wanna get a good night’s sleep, good night.

You know, they think I’m weird cos I say all sorts of weird things and think the weirdest of thoughts. I guess they’ve a point.

In any case I’m just an ordinary guy trying to make sense of things.

Or maybe I’m just plain paranoid.


They say the sky is blue and I ask them how they could be so sure. And they say it’s because the sky has the colour of blue and I ask them why they think the colour is blue and they say I give them the creeps. We’re only slaves to the single person who came up with that name for that particular colour. How could we be so naïve? Well, we’re slaves to so many such single persons, right? Blue doesn’t sound bad though. And you know what I think? There’s no such thing as a sky and it’s just an open space and maybe blue is the colour of the universe. So I say the universe is blue.

I like pink (alright, its pink!) but they say it’s feminine but the funny thing is I haven’t met a single girl who likes pink, and most of them like blue and red, and some like black and green. Everybody believes pink is a girls’ colour but nobody knows why and whether it’s true nobody bothers and they just keep saying pink is for girls and blue and red are for boys and not pink. I wonder how many of those baseless superstitions exist in this world.

The other day me and a coupla buddies had nothing to do and were loitering around and Kutti asks what to do to kill the day and Lonjey, the only married fella amongst us, says we’re free people and we can do anything we wish and he comes up with the brightest idea of sitting somewhere and evaluating all the girls that pass by until no more girls come by. And then I ask him how we could be free since everything we say and do is written in the book of fate and we only do and say what’s in it and what’s so free about it? Well, that’s one way of looking at it and that’s how I look at it. And then he tells me I’m talking a load of gobbledygook.

And the next day I’m on my way to office and I meet a friend who asks “heading to office”? It’s 7.30 in the morning and I’m wearing a tie and shirt and trousers and shoes and where does he think I’m heading? To the heavens?

Last year in school the English teacher was giving us meanings of all sorts of words I’ve never come across and would never come cross ever in my life like that of Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis (he says it’s the longest English word and it refers to a lung disease and you can take note of that) demisemiquaver, Quinquagesima and the Almighty knows what else and I ask him the meaning of life. Everyone bursts out laughing and he stands there with a funny look on his face and an odd smile on his lips and a suspicious look in his eyes and then tells me it’s a peculiar question. I say it’s the simplest and the commonest word we’ve heard so far in this class and I’m curious what you think of it. And then he tells me, this aint no philosophy class, dear. Brainless little swine got away with it! He never liked me anyway.

You know, when I ask something nobody has an answer and I end up looking like a dumb butt. Everyone says everything happens in life and everybody around is real. How do they know life is real? I tell them they might wake up the morning to realise today was just a dream, or a nightmare, and that I don’t even exist in reality and they say I’m the weirdest creature that ever set foot in this beautiful world. What do they know about the world?

Here comes a simpler one. I like cheese fruit (ahi) juice and none of my friends like it and says it smells like dirt and I say dirt don’t smell that bad. The funniest part is they’ve never tasted it cos it smells bad. It doesn’t taste that bad you know.

Take my word, my life aint no glass of cheese fruit juice.

I dated this girl who says she has the deepest of feelings for me. I’m sure that’s the last thing she’d have ever said in her blinking life if she had the slightest idea what she was in for. Not to mention I also felt butterflies in my gut whenever I saw her. And our relationship had a single mode to it. Not much talk, not much hugs, not much sobs and shoulders, not much sitting at the sea and telling how beautiful the night is when there’s no moon and no stars and the sea is roaring; not much standing in the middle of the road on a sunny Friday afternoon and telling how hot the day is; not much getting soaked up in the rain together and falling sick the next morning, not much telling how good we look when we both think we look kinda funny and not much expression of warm sentiments which is always a “I wanna get laid” in disguise and the like. It was just one-on-one. And believe me, she’s the hottest thing since mechanisation of fishing boats.

You know, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, goddamn it, and she tells me I’m the most unromantic thing since flying cockroaches. I promise to be a good boy and not to make her meandering life difficult ever again. I learned after a while that she has been bedding with the girl next door, and I ask her how many times and she tells me, big time.

Aah, what nerve she has!

I cry and cry and mama sits beside me on the floor holding my hand and tells me I’m a good boy and be good to people even though they treat you like turd, and she keeps on telling me that papa did the same to her and she starts to cry and cry and I hold her hand and tell her papa won’t do anything of that sort again and she gives me a what-do-you-know-about-papa kinda look and she cuts her waterworks after an hour or so.

Then there was my friend who was boasting the most romantic and the most faithful and honest bloke a girl of age 20-21 could hope to have, and I ask her why she’s so sure he aint sleeping around. And boy was she mad. She says she wanna yell at me all the bad things that come to her mind and that nothing much comes to her mind except I’m the most cynically unbearable prick she has ever known and she says that to me seven or eight times and hangs up. Three and a half years later it was none other than her on the phone to break the news and says she was the only person who didn’t know about it and cries a bucket full of snot and hangs up after a coupla hours.

They say love is the most beautiful thing in the world and it makes you real happy. Well, if beautiful means making love an excuse to getting laid and lying and sleeping around and hurting, yeah, love is darn beautiful.

Sometimes I feel placing faith in humans is the worst blunder humans make. It’s amazing how often you get the most let down by the ones you’ve trusted the most, and how commonly we have to say, I never expected this of you. Yes, you never know. They may be your soul-mates but who knows what they’re thinking. But I dare not mention this to anybody.

The other day a chum of mine with whom I’ve lost touch for some time zooms on his motorbike as if he just got outta jail, and I wave my hand and as soon as he catches sight of me he yells at the bottom of his lungs “Hey, how ya doing” and before I could respond he is way beyond sight. Well, it’s nice to hear somebody ask that but it goes without saying, “Listen, I don’t give a rat’s ass whether you’re doing fine but since we’ve bumped into each other after a long while I think it’d be nice to ask how you’re doing, so how’re ya doing?” It’s just a courtesy but I think there’re better things to say if you wanna be courteous rather than asking how somebody is doing while you don’t care. Just a hello will do and if he or she looks as if expecting something more you can simply say, I don’t know what to say first since I’ve so much to tell you and will give you a ring later cos I’m in a hurry and then get the heck outta their sight. Whether you wanna call or not is another matter.

Maybe I should show some respect to human superficiality.

And then there were our neighbours who came over and we had nothing much to offer except for some pudding, and then they raved about the taste. What pretence! Believe me, my mama makes the worst pudding.

They give you a grin from ear to ear and say the sweetest things but deep down they hate your guts and talk behind your backs. But I think it’s best if we acknowledge that superficiality and live life cos if we had a sixth sense to read minds and hearts the chaos we’re up for is beyond imagination. Of course we don’t wanna ruin the existing shallow harmony.

And who knows whether they actually set foot on the moon? You see such stuff in the movies and they can create it in credible fashion; people fly, people survive explosions happening at their feet, reanimate the dead, so why can’t they do it in the news? Technology makes your day! We only believe what they say and what they show. Why should we? Who knows Gulf War actually happened? Maybe it was just created to unite the Western world against Islam, Saddam to be precise. And they ask me how I could possibly not believe it.

For me the world is only an illusion. I think there’re two concepts of reality. Reality and actual reality. It’s hard to draw a distinction between them. What we see is reality, actual reality is a different thing all together. Sometimes I feel it’s all a make-believe and no actual reality exists. Sometimes I wonder why I bother. It won’t get me anywhere cos it’s just the way things are. Maybe it all happens in the best interest of human well-being. Maybe it’s how God wants things to happen. Maybe I should just keep my frigging mouth shut.

(This short story was published in Haveeru Daily, Maldives leading daily newspaper, on 10 Jan 2003)

The Letter

by Moosa Latheef (Dec 2002)

The letter began: “You are that beautiful girl I have seen in my dreams every night.”

The first time I read the letter, it was without any feeling. But by the second time I was totally hooked and read it another few times.

The writer’s prose was superb; his concise use of Dhivehi words was pure magic, and stirred unfathomable emotions deep from my core.

I had to admit, his vocabulary was beyond excellent.

And, of course, it helped that he knew me very well.

Even though I spent the whole evening probing my mind, I still failed to pinpoint who he was. He remained a shadow in the dark recesses of my memory.

After the clock struck 3:00am, I had to go to sleep. His identity had to wait for the morning.

When I opened my eyes, there were only the usual sounds of early morning; roosters crowed, crows scratched the roofs, chickens clucked about.

I lay in bed for a few minutes, completely still.

My hands were resting on my chest, holding the letter protectively, lest it be blown away with the morning breeze out through the windows. I had it clutched to my bosom tightly right throughout the whole night, even when I slept.

I started reading it again. Somewhere in the middle, it said: “O girl, you bring to me with you the smell of roses every night in my dreams. When I wake up from the dreams, the scent lingers in my room, smiling back at me with your sweet scent.”

Whose words were these?

The author probably knew I was coming to my home island yesterday. He probably knows who I am, on a personal level.

The author must also be well-read; no ordinary mind can produce a letter as intense as this. He must have read countless works of romance, of melodrama and of beauty.

He wrote in the final lines: “When the sun slowly goes down to make way for darkness of the night, it paints the horizon with a mixture of bright colours. And everyday, the picture is different. But during the last six years, your picture was on the horizon of my love, without the slightest change… your face always fresh and young.”

Those lines were purely infectious; I could not help but smile everytime I came to those lines. It was teasing, which only added to my excitement; who could have written and sent this letter to me?

After studying for six years in Male, I finally returned to my island only yesterday.

Who was this person who spent all these years loving me?

I did not have any boy friends from my island. When I lived in Male, I had not even spoken to a boy from my hometown.

Young men from my island did not express any outward attractions towards me. I do not know why.

They might have been hesitant because I was the only daughter of the wealthiest businessman in my island.

I first came across the letter on my dressing table. Nobody seemed to know who had put it there.

The letter ended with these words: “Every love may not be real. I may be living in a dream. But this dream has been going on not for six years. It started well before that — ten years ago. Four years before you left to Male, you had built a palace in my dream. I was living in that palace. But I met you only in my dream. I am not afraid even if I can’t have your love in real life because nobody can ever steal my dream from me. And this dream of mine will always be mine and would not be unfaithful to me even if you became part of another man.”

No name, no address, not even an initial. It was typed on computer.

Should I share this letter with another?

I decided to keep it in my photo album.

If only I knew who the author was, believe me, I would not hesitate to become a part of him. I would gladly bring light to his dream.

(This short story was published in Haveeru Daily, Maldives leading daily newspaper, on 3 Jan 2003)

End of the Rainbow

by Maryam

Tonight was the special night that came in every woman’s life. It was the same for Leena. She was to marry Aiman, the one she loved, and it was going to change her life forever. She had never dreamt that life could be so generous, that it would gift her with something that she had thought she would never have which was marrying the person she was in love with.

She had always held a pessimistic view of what her future would be. Her whole life had been spent in unconscious fears that she would never marry, that she would never be fortunate enough to own the one person she loved. But tonight, wearing her wedding dress and accepting the fact that she was to become Aiman’s wife, sent a flutter of excitement through her. She couldn’t resist abandoning her fears and surrendering to the joy that began to envelope her. It took all her strength not to let herself get lost in her own free world.

There was still one hour left for the ceremony to begin. According to custom, the wedding ceremony was a quiet one that didn’t contain much festivity. Only the party that followed celebrated the occasion. But none of these formalities could impress upon her mind their full significance or diminish her nervousness. She looked around for Aiman who had excused himself from her a few minutes before. Lately it had become a torture for her to be without him. His easy manner and sympathetic attitude had become indispensable to her. And she felt an endless yearning to become a part of his life -- a part of him.

To Leena it seemed time had almost ceased as she sat and waited for everything to begin. Aiman’s absence in her gravest moment of anxiety almost drove her to a panic. Deciding not to surrender to her worries, she left the room in search of him. The front of the house was full of relatives from both families who had come to share their moment of happiness. It was a tedious task for her to politely avert from their varied remarks and make her way through the house. As her eyes roamed over the familiar figures, she could not mark Aiman’s tall frame among them. She began to ask nonchalantly among her cousins, which only increased the teasing she got. Now she began to seriously wonder where he was.

Her search led her past the dining room, which was abandoned by everyone at the time, and she thought she heard a sob. She paused near the doorway and heard the sob again. This time, it was followed by a murmuring male voice. She stood frozen in her tracks, as her ears adjusted to the silent sounds that got louder, and she began to discern the voices. She could never mistake that gentle voice anywhere because it was the one voice that soothed her fears and had whispered endearing words to her for so many years. It was the one voice that had held her intact through the roughest times she had in her life.

A cold fear gripped her heart as she sensed a mysteriousness prevailing in the air. Though she still could not completely make out the words, she became aware of the urgency and discreetness exuded by their hushed tones. She was tempted to go in and quell the feeling of uneasiness that almost threatened to grip her nerves.

Just as she took a step into the room, the voices ceased and she found herself facing Aiman who desperately attempted to regain his composure. Leena could see no one else in the room. Fear, mingled with elation and alarm, crossed Aiman’s features as he began, “Leena, what are you doing here? I just came to get some ice cubes for Farisha. She must be really angry by now. I’ve finally got them. Come on.”

He caught hold of Leena’s elbow and steered her out of the room before she could even protest. But her keen hearing did not miss the soft sound of the dining room door closing behind them.

As Aiman accompanied her out onto the front of the house, all anxieties concerning her wedding evaporated. Her mind began to crowd with curiosity and alarm at the recent incident. Who was Aiman talking to? And why was she crying? Most of all, why would he try to be discreet about it? Though how hard she tried to ignore, suspicion began to creep into her mind. Finally, regaining her composure, she disregarded her doubts and reaffirmed her belief that he would never hide anything from her; that the incident must have been of no importance and that he would bring it up if it needed to be known. After all, wouldn’t Aiman mention it if it were of any real importance? She had that much trust in him. It was the one thing that she had most admired in him -- his honesty and his faithfulness. And she had found no reason to distrust him all those years they had known each other.

The crucial moment of the ceremony arrived. Her doubts forgotten, Leena could hardly contain her thrill and excitement as she momentously accepted Aiman as her husband. And as the most important moment in her life ended, joy and expectation filled her. She looked at Aiman and felt a warm glow pervade her body as he gazed deeply at her. It was a moment she would cherish forever. The evening merged with the knowing feeling of hidden pleasures yet to come, of worlds to be explored together, just like she had dreamt of how her life would be -- sharing it with the person she loved.

Leena’s ears echoed with the voices of well-wishers’ greetings and congratulations that eventually began to cease. The house began to be drawn into silence as the few members of Aiman’s family bade good night and offered their last teasing remarks. Both were exhausted and felt elated to return to their room.

For Leena, the thought of spending her first night with Aiman had made her tense and apprehensive at first. But tiredness overtook and diminished the prolonged fears that she had had. Entering the room, she was aware of Aiman’s presence behind her. All through the night, insistent voices talking together and exchanging friendly banter had hardly given them the time to speak to one other. Now, entering a room that was completely a new abode for Leena made her glance back at Aiman as if to reassure herself that this was where she really belonged. Giving her a comforting smile, he ushered her in.

The room was bathed in a soft bluish glow that emanated from the night lamp. Aiman entered and switched on the light, filling the room in a bright fluorescent white glow. For a moment Leena stood transfixed, as Aiman moved in and locked the door. Where was the expected rejoicing embrace that she had thought would ensue once they were alone? Suddenly, she began to experience a tinge of aloofness that had not existed before. And for a moment she began to ponder the change in Aiman’s behaviour. But her fears seemed to be unfounded as he took her hand and brought her close to him.

Exhausting thoughts of the night had thrown Leena into a restless sleep and she woke up with a start. For a moment, she could not distinguish where she was, and then the evening’s happenings flooded her mind. She looked for Aiman who was not in the room. The door to the toilet was ajar and inside it was dark. She glanced at the clock that indicated it was past midnight. Leena was drowsy with sleep. Yet, she could not help putting on her slippers and slipping out in search of him. For an instant she felt a tinge of fear that fleetingly gave way to a familiar curiosity. Leena had never known Aiman to vanish on her like this. And it drove her to a frantic search of the house.

The house was in deep silence. Darkness pervaded the deepest corners of it. Leena passed the rooms occupied by Aiman’s family. There was no sign of anyone awake. For a moment, she thought she heard a low sobbing. It seemed to come from the building adjacent to the main quarters of the house. Leena made her way stealthily towards the rooms that housed the boarders. There was a light in one of the windows made fainter by the curtains that covered them. But the voices began to get audible, and she was shocked as she realised the voices once again, and memories of what she had encountered earlier in the evening began to crowd her mind.

Shaula had lived in this house for almost five years according to Aiman. She had come to stay with them to complete her studies on account of her family’s close relations with Aiman’s family. This was her window that was lit and occupied by another person in this ungodly hour of the night.

A cold sense of fear rippled through Leena as she tried to think of a reason that had placed Aiman in Shaula’s room. For an instant, she thought of walking in and screaming out at them. But she calmed her senses as she cajoled herself with the fact that Aiman might have a reason for his unaccountable actions; that she should not act so rashly in her decisions.

Leena creeped up to the sill of the lighted window. The heavy curtains silhouetted the two dark figures inside the room and she could only hear the sounds that increased with the stillness of the night. Shaula’s strained voice cut through the air, “But what about me? I’ve been there for you, too, and you know that! I can’t help feeling this way. I’ve tried so hard to get away from you. But I can’t…I love you too much.”

Leena’s heart skipped a beat. A feeling of uneasiness and fear gripped her as she tried to control her emotions. Never in her entire life had she imagined that the unimaginable could happen: that Aiman could be a part of someone else’s life.

Aiman’s next words froze her, “You do understand that what happened between us was just an accident, only a fleeting desire! I never said I loved you. I had told you I was sorry that it happened. I never meant for it to be that way. We agreed that it would be only a memorable moment in our lives, nothing more, nothing less. I cannot undo it. And you know I am married now.”

Hoarse with emotion, Shaula’s voice pleaded with Aiman, “But you enjoyed it, Aiman. Admit it. You have been the only man in my life. I had given you what was most precious to me. Doesn’t that night mean anything to you, the love we made, the wonder of it all?”

Leena could not bear to listen any more. She didn’t need to hear anymore. Her whole being shook as she tried to control the emotions welling up inside her. Just in that single moment, everything had snapped, and her whole world had come crashing down on her. One simple sobbing confession was all that it took. It could never be the same again for her. She ran away from the window, away from the silence of the night, away from the darkness of it and the sorrow it had brought her. The faith she had entrusted in Aiman, falling away with her tears as she entered her room and shut the door against all that had happened. Her body racked with sobs mounting into a hysterical turmoil of emotions. How could Aiman have betrayed her in this way? She had thought that she was the only woman who had shared his most intimate moments, that there could be no reason for anyone else in his life. She could not imagine Aiman in his most intimate moments with another woman. She could never bring herself to touch him again. She knew it was the hurt and pride that was reining her mind. But she could also remember Aiman’s voice, “I want you and you only. How can there be anyone else?” So how could she believe that she could ever place herself in his hands? Hands that had belied words of fidelity, hands that had caressed someone else as intimately as it had touched her but had forgotten to confide in her with the most important fact of his life.

A wide breach began to form in her mind. She found herself isolated in a hostile world where she groped to touch the belief that had once held her together. Her regard for Aiman began to diminish completely as her mind began to distance itself from the feeling of ever having known him. He had become a stranger to her, all in a few seconds. She could not feel familiar to him again. Her pain was too deep. She could never forgive him. She could never accept him as a part of her life, a sharer of her intimacy, a partner in her life, ever again.

(This short story was published in Haveeru Daily, Maldives leading daily newspaper, in Dec 2002)


by Sharif Ali

Once upon a time in the crowded city of Male', there lived a girl, an element of the feminine kind not quite like the others. Her name was Sheeza but she didn't like it. She despised her parents for calling her such a, in her terms, godawful name, so unfitting for a pretty girl like her. What she didn't realise was that her uncle came up with it. It's amazing what parents go through when they have to name their child, all the research, and sometimes quite unfortunately settling for the most unappealing name. Well, too much choice could lead to wrong decisions. Sheeza loved it when she was referred to as Shizu, She, Shizy, Za. She thought they were kinda cool. What she didn't realise was that all these nicks were all derived from her godawful name.

She was good-looking. She had what it takes to make any man, with the exception of right-minded men, her willing slave. She was tall, fair, had lovely curly hair and a voluptuous figure. She would dance in front of the mirror for ages. She had black eyes and wished they were blue or green or violet or yellow maybe. Something different. Something nobody else had. But yellow and violet were out of the question, she thought. At least she had the mind to figure that out. She wore heavy make-up whenever she stepped out of her majestic, four-storey house. Even during a dog day afternoon. Well, she saw collisions right before her eyes, motorbikes and motorbikes, bicycles and forklifts, cars and pedestrians. Once, a man strolling with his 7- and- 1/5-month old baby in a baby-carriage slammed right into a lamp post. How pathetic that even paternity hadn't taught him a lesson. The event would have been all the more spectacular had his wife accompanied him. Good for him. Sheeza sniggered in conceit, wondering how disastrous her mere sight was. Men! She thought. What she didn't realise was that it only happened to some men, not all.

In terms of men she was in full swing ever since she was 16. Sweet 16 they say. Makes you wonder what 15, 17 or 21 are. Bitter? Sour? Sweet but a tad bitter? Sweet and sour? Why 16? Heaven knows. Sincerely, we don't wanna know. It's best if we leave some things to mystery. Otherwise the world is gonna be such a dull place where every Tom, Dick and Harry knows everything. Anyway, she found love at 16 but even before that her life had a taste of sweetness. Men of all stature pursued her. Tall, dark and handsome; tall, fair and handsome; tall, dark and homely; short, fair and handsome, the list goes on. She was enormously proud of the wonderful reception she was enjoying. She didn't know what they were but how they looked. What she didn't realise was that handsome was as handsome does.

Sadly for her, her dad was a bit restrictive. You've all the time in the world to mingle with men, just hang on until you're through with O-level, he advised while caressing her hair. He was bald, husky and just plain hot-blooded. If you mess with my girl once again I'm gonna bake your butt for breakfast, he yelled at a guy she grumbled about. Well, not the exact terms he used but something like that.

First came Ahmed just after she completed secondary education. Ammadey, in modern context. Some called him Madey. Apparently, ey is a necessary suffix for male nicks. He said she was pretty. She wasn't pleased much. She said beautiful sounded better. He was average-looking, charming and a little distant. She complained he wasn't devoted enough. Of course he didn't bring her flowers everyday, call her up every hour and buy her gifts every other day. He was smart enough not to put himself in the scrapes. He believed in keeping a gap in relationships in order to avoid being taken for granted. She believed in keeping a gap from him for the rest of her life. Not to mention she had every certainty she could have a better looking man anytime. You and him, come on, this place is full of attractive men, aren't you ashamed moving around with him, her best pal Gumreesha advised. Gum was gorgeous and had a boyfriend half her height and thrice her flesh.

It didn't take long for Sheeza to connect with Hassan at the expense of Ammadey. Hassan-ey. He was good-looking, poor and dedicated. He said she was cute. She thought that was an excuse to say she wasn't beautiful. He walked his way to pick her up for their first date. You expect me to hoof it all the way, she whined. What she didn't realise was that their destination was only a few steps away --129 steps maybe. For the next date he borrowed a motorbike and had to return it half way through. She didn't utter a word and gave him a scowl. He shrugged with a pitiable look on his face as if he heard all the things she had to say. She shrugged him off. In actual terms it had nothing to do with his motorbike-less nature but to check out Niyaz.

Niyaz. Niya, for a change. He looked decent, wore tight shirts and was a bit... feminine. He was loving, caring and behaved oddly in intimate circumstances. She always had a sinking feeling. He confessed he was gay before he met her. He said that was the first occasion where he was attracted to a woman. She was flattered but couldn't stand the revelation and the sarky comments that came piercing at her on the street. Beauty and the Fag, one fella commented. She wanted to spit in his face but restrained herself in fear of consequences. She knew he was mean enough to take a leak on her feet right on the spot. Anyways, it was too embarrassing a relationship that she called it quits. Hapless Niya. He was ready to leave his past behind and move ahead in his transformed state. That was the first and the only instance where a woman made him cry. He vowed never to look at a woman again.

Nazim stepped in. "Joadey." How fascinating. What could possibly be the reason for one to be nicknamed after a cup? Let's not waste our valuable time and energy in trying to figure that out. Joadey rang her up on his mobile and topped up every other day. By the time they were about to go on their first date he was broke. He sought a loan to no avail. The month was pushing an end. He said he had no appetite and ordered a drink. She knew what was going on. Listen, I want someone who's responsible and who can take care of me, she said in displeasure. He promised it would never happen again. She promised herself not to see him again. Only if those demented guys gave more serious thought about first impression, she wished.

But that was only an excuse to hook up with Hamid. Hamittey, bass guitarist from Hysterically Obnoxious, one of the upcoming rock bands in town. He was tall, skinny and had long hair which she thought was sexy. He played bass guitar for her until she drowsed off. She thought that was the only thing he was bothered about. She needed someone who'd always be at Her Majesty's service, someone for whom nothing mattered more than her. Hamittey was deeply in love with her but he had his own career to think about. He was definitely talented and couldn't possibly forgo his guitar for the sake of Sheeza. Inevitably she had to forgo him. She felt he wasn't good enough for her. What she didn't realise was that she wasn't good for anybody.

Well, here's a girl who was hard to please. If there was anything she was content with, it's her beauty. She was a commodity in high demand and reaped maximum benefits out of enthusiastic investors. She took no more than a fortnight to get into a relationship and found a way out just as soon. Only if she showed some concern for the feelings of all the innocent, loving and committed men she led and then brushed off.

The only person she felt cut out for her was Nazim. "Bog-ey." Man, that stinks! She met the person she was always craving for. The perfect man. Mr. Right and prince charming. Two in one. Bogey was exquisitely handsome, well-off, devoted and charismatic. The man she always hoped would fall out of her dreams into her life. Days of unbounded love and joy passed. All heaven broke loose. He said she was beautiful. He whispered the warmest sentiments in her ears. He promised he'd always be at her side. He brought her flowers every night and gave her expensive gifts. One month into the relationship her room was a gift store. He made passionate love to her. He drove her back and forth in his Mazda. Basically, he took her to the moon and back. She loved him with all her heart. It was a strange feeling, she thought. The first time she was head over heels about a man. The first time she felt the desire to hold on to a relationship. She couldn't possibly afford to lose him.

She was the happiest girl ever until she began to sense a touch of betrayal behind his tender smile. One fine day she dropped in at his place to find him in the arms of a drop dead gorgeous. Doomsday lurked in on Sheeza. She cried until she dried herself of tears. That was the first time a man ever made her cry. The first time she was cheated on. The first time she felt she was the loser. The first time she felt inferior. The first time she knew love wasn't a game. The first time she felt she wasn't beautiful enough. The first time she understood the power of true love. The first time she realised how much she'd hurt Ammadey, Hassaney, Hamittey, Joadey and Niya.

Love, the most powerful thing in the world. Love kills, love makes you feel alive, love lifts your spirits, love mellows you down, love makes you happy, love makes you cry, love pains, love heals, love makes you complete, love makes you feel empty, love unites, love parts, love gets you going, love makes you give up, sometimes on life. Sheeza felt the taste of true love when she met Bogey. Prior to him she was happy-go-lucky but they meant business. She betrayed them all. Including herself.

(This short story was published in Haveeru Daily, Maldives leading daily newspaper, on 5 Dec 2002)

The Nasty Get-together

by Mariyam Nadhrath

She was tied to the mast of his father's old boat. The boatyard was deserted and it was really dark, an appropriate setting for tying girls to masts.

She tried to free her hands but the knot was faithful to its master. She was helpless and completely at his mercy.

Suddenly he was standing right next to her, his face, inches from hers.

What was he going to do? His fingers trailed softly down her jaw. What did he intend to do to her? His nose nuzzled her ear. What did he intend to do with her?

Udugaa vidaa babulhaa tharithah,
Bimuga folhilaa hurihaa maathah,
Reechey bunelaa aduthah ahamey…
Namaves… mi dhelo mi lolah fenilaa
Hurihaa alikamakee thiyaey
loabin dekila kamanaa,
sooraakee thiyaey

His voice caressed her in the darkness and like a wizard's spell it swirled around her until she trembled and pleaded with him to set her free.

"No! I will not let you go," he said. His voice held just a hint of desperation.

"I have to go home. To pack my things. Please… untie me." She pleaded and looked into his beautiful eyes. His eyes spoke volumes but his mouth refused to form the words.

"You have to let me go," she whispered achingly. Their time had come to an end. It was time to say goodbye.


The insistent, unflattering voice broke through Thaufeega's walk down memory lane. It was an unfortunate case of high pitch and volume combined with an insulting tone, vocabulary and personality. In short, the voice belonged to a very unbearable woman -- Zeeniya Wajdy.

"What is wrong with you? Stop wool-gathering for heaven's sake! It's your turn to tell your deep, dark secret!"

Zeeniya was a strange creature who thrived on gossip and telling people what to do. (Thaufeega's explanation for this was that Zeeniyaa had been allowed to be the captain of the bashi team for longer than what was considered safe.)

"Dhen saabahey... tell the story will you. I'm sure yours will be the best," Zeeniya was still talking.

Thaufeega arched her elegant eyebrows. She knew that Zeeniya was implying that since Thaufeega was the biggest slut of the three women, naturally she would have the juiciest secret to tell.

Thaufeega bit back the retort that was aching to be unleashed. (It was a get-together after all and things had to be civilised -- at least on the surface.) She'd just have to manoeuvre her way around Zeeniya's grand plans.

"Ameena, why don't you go next. I'll tell my story last." Thaufeega smiled at Ameena. (Aaah, sweet Ameena. The nicest one amongst the three, she would do whatever was asked.)

"OK!" Ameena said instantly, even more agreeable than usual.

"I had an affair with Sobir," she declared softly in the usual Ameena style and smiled serenely at two of her closest friends.


"You bloody what?!" That came from Thaufeega.

"Sobir? Sobir? The Sobir? You are kidding!" That was Zeeniya. She seemed to be dangerously close to losing her eyeballs.

Deafening silence.

Zeeniya had her eyes and mouth opened as wide as possible.

Thaufeega had gone into what seemed to be a trance.

Ameena was sweetly oblivious to the state of her two friends. It was her moment of glory and she was basking in it.

"Believe what you want to." She then went for the kill. She looked into the eyes of the two women and pushed in her victory flag. "We all wanted him… but I had him."

There, she thought, that should give the two self-made, man-eaters something to chew on. The boring vegetarian of the group had gotten way with the best meat. Hurray for her!

"Ameena! You wouldn't even know how to have an affair, let alone have one." Thaufeega's tongue was like a snake's. It was poisonous and came out when threatened.

Zeeniya closed her mouth, and wondered why Thaufeega was getting upset. Then it came to her in fragments. About seventeen years ago… in Thinadhoo… a mast!. Zeeniya turned to Thaufeega and narrowed her eyes. This should be very interesting.

"When exactly did you have this affair?" Thaufeega demanded.

If anything had happened, it had to be before Ameena had moved to Male. Probably sixteen or seventeen years ago. But the whole idea was ridiculous. Ameena and Sobir! Preposterous! It was Sobir for goodness sake. He was the most notorious thing born to the island of Thinadhoo. (He had actually owned a motorbike!) And Ameena… she had been the perfect daughter of the island Mudhim. The girl would turn pale at the thought of sitting behind a man on a bike, let alone frolicking under the bushes after sundown. She had been the perfect unspoiled little thing whom everyone had loved. Not that Thaufeega minded. She had rather enjoyed her frolicking episodes.

"Tell us the details. Was that where you went with the flower in your hair?" Zeeniya demanded.

Zeeniya had always wondered if there was more to Ameena than was readily apparent on the surface. After all still waters ran deep. She was just too perfect. Never once had she cheated on her husband. (Reason enough to suspect that she came from another world). She didn't like going to Galaxy shows. She didn't like the material at Amety shop. There was something seriously wrong with Ameena.

"Come on, tell us!" Zeeniya was getting impatient. She had heard from friends that Sobir's voice was sinfully sexy and when he whispered in your ear, you just… melt. The whole concept of it fascinated her so.

"Is it true that he writes poetry?" Zeeniya asked her eyes shining. It kind of reminded her of Amitabh in Silsila. She sighed.

Ameena sighed, too.

Thaufeega rolled her eyes, disgusted. There ought to be a vaccine to prevent this. Sobir was an epidemic.

"Yes. He has such a beautiful voice," Ameena went on excitedly, her eyes unfocused and very un-Ameena like. "When he recites, you just… melt."

Zeeniya swooned.

Thaufeega put her sooji cup on the table and ran her fingers over her face. Was she getting a headache? Obviously Ameena, too, knew of the man's lethal tongue. Damn him!

"Thaufeega, are you alright?" Ameena asked, her smile faltering. Maybe she shouldn't have talked about Sobir.

Zeeniya used the moment to water her curiosity. "Thaufeega, what exactly did happen between you and Sobir?" Her voice took on a sly wicked tone. "I hear he tied you up in a boat and ahem ahem…"

Thaufeega was an accomplished liar. This was child's play. "Zeeniya, if the girl on that boat had been me, believe me it would have been Sobir who was tied up!"

Zeeniya looked pensive as she tried to find the truth in Thaufeega's eyes.

Thaufeega stared back without flinching.

"So it's not true?" Zeeniya looked crestfallen.

Thaufeega nodded and turned the spotlight away from her. "So, Ameena... do go on with the story."

Ameena looked quite pleased with herself. Like a cat which had gotten the cream a couple of decades ago and no one found out.

She continued her story. "It all started when Kalo was circumcised. It was so much fun. A mad mixture of atharu , talcum powder, water and god knows what else! And the music… we listened to Hamdy's songs all the time. It was such fun… Sobir used to sing ey loabi vaa mala for me."

Thaufeega rolled her eyes again. So Ameena fancied that she was Sobir's flower, did she? Maybe she hadn't realised that Sobir was more of a bouquet kind of man… or maybe a garden or two.

Thaufeega did a bit of maths. This flower picking must have been done in 1976 . That was when Kalo was circumcised. Interesting. Very interesting, since eight months later, Sobir had been banging his head on Thaufeega's wall. Quite literally.

The phone rang. Ameena picked it up.

"It's for you Zeeniya. Your daughter."

Zeeniya wondered what kind of permission her daughter was after now. (Clothes which looked like handkerchiefs. Jewellery that looked like spareparts. Boyfriends who talked like they had marbles in their mouth and walked like they had glue on their feet. Her daughter was mindboggling!)

She took the phone, an answer already prepared.

"No …. Come home before eleven o' clock… No… No… When I say 'no' I mean NO!" she yelled and hung up the phone.

"The idiots think they invented lies and sex," Zeeniya scoffed.

"What did she want?" Thaufeega asked, putting the phone back.

Zeeniya groaned. "Some birthday in a resort. Wants to stay over night." Over her dead body, Zeeniya thought.

"You are too hard on her," Thaufeega said. "So what if she wants to wear short dresses? What did we wear? I remember you wearing nothing but sleeveless sundresses which were way above your knees." Thaufeega looked at Zeeniya, daring her to deny it.

"That was different," Zeeniyaa bristled, tugging at her dhiguhedhun. Thaufeega talked too much. Damned woman did everything too much.

"Yes. Very different. Men didn't have eyes those days," Ameena chuckled.

That got them all laughing, thinking of all those times that they were sure that men did have eyes.

"Ameena," Thaufeega started, "do you remember the day we went to watch Bobby?"

Ameena grinned. She remembered all right! Rishi Kapoor was the best. She had even gone to see him when he had come to Male.

"Yes, Zeeniya had bought this lovely bells, but since she was too skinny she had put something in her back pockets to make her look more….voluptuous." She grinned. "The damn thing was so tight she couldn't even move. And when she was taking money from her pockets, the stuff came flying out. Some strip of sponge I think?"

The women nearly sprayed sooji all over each other.

Zeeniya turned crimson. The nerve of them to mention that. It was supposed to be taboo. Was nothing sacred!

"I hate you!" she declared.

No one heard her. They were too busy trying to contain the sooji in their mouths.

"Yes, it was sponge," Thaufeega managed to confirm between howls of laughter. "And everyone at the canteen had witnessed it."

Zeeniya narrowed her eyes. So it was going to be like that, was it? Two can play the game.

"What about that time when Thaufeega had gotten all those jinni moya vaa episodes and the Ibrihim Beyyaa put a thaveedhu on her?"

Another hoot of laughter.

Thaufeega gritted her teeth. She hated Ibrihim Beyyaa. Everyone had later known that the only thing Ibrihim Beyyaa had written on that allegedly miraculous thaveedhu was her name and adresss. Wise guy!

The reason for her miraculous cure had been that Ibrihim Beyyaa had told her that if she had gotten another fit, good jinns would come to fight for her. She really hadn't wanted any jinns (good or bad) around her. The only demon, which had been haunting her, was the handsome man who had taken charge of the Health Centre. The theatrics were for his benefit. To have a dose of his bedside manner.

"Did you mange to get your hands on the Health Centre guy?" Ameena asked.

"You haven't finished telling us about Sobir," Thaufeega countered. No need to tell them she had made sure the doctor got addicted to medicine only she could provide.

"Oh... where was I? Yes… I had fallen in love. I was sooo happy. He promised he would marry me. But then my father found out about it and he told mother to take me to our falhu rah. They made me stay there for a week. I had nothing but dried fish and water."

Ameena shuddered at the memory. It had been horrible. But she had hung on for Sobir.

"On the eighth day they brought me back home. And I told Kalo to take a letter to Sobir. I asked him to marry me as soon as possible. It broke my heart to hurt my parents but I had to do this to tell myself I was alive."

None of them said anything. They understood. Ameena had lived with more rules than all of them combined. But everything has a crack.

"He told me to be ready for the people to come to ask for ran. I waited and that very night, he married someone else… He married SOMEONE ELSE! I never talked to him after that," Ameena's voice cracked. She had lost everything at the price of nothing.

"He's a lying piece of slime," Thaufeega growled. She looked magnificently livid.

"Let me tell you." She banged the sooji cup on the coffee table. "Sobir is the worst scum ever. Six months after his marriage, he was after me, banging his head on my wall. Said he would leave his wife. But he never did leave her. So I came to Male and got married."

Whoa! Thaufeega stopped for breath. She really hadn't meant to rattle on like that. But men can come and go, friendship was sacred.

"So he did tie you up!" Zeeniya cried. The notion seems to brighten her universe. Heaven help her.

Thaufeega indulged her. "Yes, he did tie me up and I stayed with him till sunrise. That was when we said goodbye… and yes, he did recite poetry to me that night."

"Wow!" Zeeniyaa squealed. "It's like Amitabh."

"Yes, it was amazing. Sobir was the best." Thaufeega smiled at Ameena.

"I second that." Ameena grinned, too.

Zeeniya looked at the two smiling women, thought it was horribly unfair that she was left out.

The three of them drank their sooji silently. Life was so weird.

The phone broke the silence.

Ameena passed it to Zeeniya. "Your daughter again." She winked.

Zeeniya listened patiently to her daughter's planned pleading.

"Yes… yes… who else is going?… OK. OK. You can stay the night. Call me when you get there… and be careful. Don't do anything you regret…OK?"

Zeeniya hung up the phone. She wanted to say more… but didn't know exactly what it was that she had to say.

No one asked her why she had given permission. Even Zeeniya herself didn't quite know…

Author's note: This story is not a true story but it contains incidents from the lives of men and women who shared little bits of themselves with me. Due to the nature of the events please don't ask me who they are.


bells: bellbottoms
dhiguhedhun: a Maldivian national dress
falhu rah: uninhabited island
jinns: genies or spirits
ran: dowry
sooji: a sweet paste made from flour
thaveedhu: a talisman

(This short story was published in Haveeru Daily, Maldives leading daily newspaper, in Nov 2002)



by Mohamed, Oct 2002

(based on a parable circulated on cyberspace)

Once upon a time, far away from all the places you have seen or heard about, there was an island inhabited by FEELINGS.

It was a small island with white sandy beaches and surrounded by a
beautiful blue sea. The FEELINGS had lived there for a long time and as it happens often and when least expected, one day their lives changed forever.

For you see, the island that they had been living on for so long was
under threat from global warming and the resultant sea level rise that is a constant threat to all low-lying islands. So eventually, the island
gradually began to erode away. Seeing the threat to their existence the
FEELINGS decided to leave the island and find another place.

Everyone collected their things and prepared to depart. All except
LOVE. LOVE was alone. LOVE did not have any means to leave the island. While living with all the FEELINGS, LOVE had a reason to live, but now that LOVE was alone, LOVE was feeling meaningless. And as was typical for LOVE, decided to find someone to share herself with and went about asking all the FEELINGS for help.

LOVE went over to WEALTH who was piling all his money, gold and jewels into his boat. LOVE had always wondered why WEALTH lived with the FEELINGS? The answer had always eluded her and she had decided that it didn't matter since he was one of the FEELINGS now.

"Oh WEALTH!," said LOVE. "Could you please find a little place in your boat for me?"

WEALTH looked around him and shook his head. "Dearest, I would be delighted to have company such as you with me but as you can see I am weighed down by all my gold and jewelry. If I were to take you with me, my ship will definitely sink before I reach safety. Haven't you heard, WEALTH doesn't necessarily bring HAPPINESS or LOVE with it."

"Besides," came a muffled voice from beneath the layers of gold and
money, "you don't belong with us!"

It took a moment for LOVE to understand who it was. GREED of course. Lately WEALTH had been seen in the company of GREED
all too much. It was a mutually beneficial and strictly business relationship. Apparently.

So LOVE went over to SADNESS who was sitting alone on his raft made of wood, looking lost and forlorn. She called out to SADNESS and said "Oh SADNESS! Could you find a little place in your boat for me?"

SADNESS blinked away a tear, sniffed into his hanky and moaned, "Alas dear LOVE. You know I'd do anything for you, but what you ask of me is impossible. I am so overwhelmed with grief that I doubt I could find the room for you in my little boat. Try MISERY! I've heard that she loves company."

So LOVE went looking for MISERY and found her. She was in a huge boat that was brimming with FEELINGS. Watching MISERY gathering all FEELINGS to her, LOVE knew there was no room for LOVE with MISERY. LOVE walked on, trying to find someone to help her.

Abruptly she came to a scene that was ruled by CHAOS. She found TERROR and PANIC running havoc, as if the world was coming to an end. She tried to get a word in but was forced to turn away when they wouldn't remain in one place or listen to anyone for long. They ran away screaming and shrieking. And then PENDEMONIUM broke loose. A terrible sight to behold. And LOVE continued her search.

"Oh Joy! Oh Glory Be! Oh Happiest Day!"

Hearing the shouts LOVE looked around and saw HAPPINESS practically jumping for JOY and grabbing her by the arms and bodily hauling her up onto a basket attached to a huge hot-air balloon. Then HAPPINESS looked around and saw LOVE watching and bounded in great leaps towards her, arms spread wide and wearing a smile that illuminated a good distance around him.

"Dear Heart!" he cried skidding on his knees to a halt before LOVE. "I have been looking all over for you! Of all the FEELINGS I know, and you can be sure I have been acquainted with many, you --and only YOU-- are the most deserving to leave this island with me. Come dearest. Let me take you away from all this. Oh Joy! Oh Bliss!"

HAPPINESS was contagious, everyone had told her that, but LOVE decided beggars can't be choosers and to take the risk. LOVE was just about to let HAPPINESS lead her towards the balloon when HAPPINESS let go of her hand and ran away, shouting for JOY who had managed to scramble out of the basket and trying to escape while HAPPINESS was occupied with LOVE.

Seeing this, LOVE decided that too much of HAPPINESS was not something that LOVE could handle. HAPPINESS was just too busy imposing himself on other FEELINGS to be good company. HAPPINESS could use REASON and LOGIC to help him get a hold of himself. Keep him firmly tied to the ground so to speak.
LOVE turned away, wondering if she was doomed to go down with the island.

At last, tired and even turned away by REJECTION, LOVE sat down on the beach. The sun was about to set. It was a beautiful scene. She saw all the FEELINGS leave and wondered if she should try for SADNESS again. LOVE looked down and began doodling in the sand. Her thoughts were interupted by a shadow that fell over her. She looked up and saw a figure silhoutted against the setting sun standing before her. She looked up but couldn't make out the
face. The figure seemed to constantly shift in and out of focus, and
change. The figure wore a huge cloak with a hood pulled over low, covering his face and putting it into shadow.

Without saying a word, the figure reached out a hand from within the
black robes. The hand itself was strange. It seemed to constantly change and shift. One second it looked old and mottled, the next young and virile.

LOVE heard a single word and she wasn't sure if she heard it in her
mind or with her ears.


Strangely feeling at peace and at the same time anxious, she reached
out and clasped the shifting hands. The hands of who? she wondered.

The figure pulled her close and LOVE tried to penetrate the depths of
the hood and see who it was. But then LOVE was enfolded within the dark robes and everything faded. And LOVE felt that finally, she had been accepted.

When LOVE awoke, she was lying on a beach. The sun was rising. It was a beautiful morning and she realised that she was no longer on the doomed island. She had been rescued by the mysterious stranger. This island was huge and there was no pollution or any signs of erosion on the beaches.

Looking around for her saviour, she was startled to find an old man
sitting cross-legged a few yards away from her. His hair and beard was white, and he had grown his beard long.

And he was glowing softly in the early morning's light, as if with an
inner light.

Wondering if this was her saviour, LOVE walked hesitantly towards him. When LOVE was a few feet away from him, he spoke:

"The answer to your unasked question is 'No!'"

LOVE blinked and was about to ask how he knew, when he spoke again.

"It is my job to know, for I am WISDOM." Then he opened his eyes. "But even WISDOM sometimes need to open his eyes to see. JUSTICE may be blind but WISDOM has no time for such foolisheness. The person you seek has left. Don't try to find him. Many have tried but ultimately it is futile. He waits for no man or woman."

"Yet I would still like to know the identity of my saviour," said LOVE,
knowing that even as she said it, WISDOM was already answering her half-asked question.

"And know it you shall. Your saviour is the only one who can understand you. The only one who cherishes you. The only one who knows your value."

"Who? Who has brought me here?" LOVE almost shouted.

"TIME. TIME brought you here."

"Why? Why did he save me when so many did not?"

"Because only TIME knows the value of LOVE!" said WISDOM, smiling.

(This short story was published in Haveeru Daily, Maldives' leading daily newspaper, on 24 Oct 2002)

The Solution

by Ali Rasheed

Hassan swam along the starry reflection of the afternoon sun. Thousands of people followed him, all of them zombies; nobody knew how long they had been dead for.

Hassan began to get tired. The distance between him and the zombies narrowed at once. Now when he looked back he could see their dull, lifeless faces. He struggled on.

And then he saw land ahead of him. It lay on the horizon--a long thin line shimmering in the afternoon haze. Behind him the zombies began to drown one by one.

The alarm clock rang piercingly, forcing him out of the dream. He lay on the bed and felt the sense of elation slowly leaving him. It was utterly unfair. Why did he have dreams like that if he had to get back to this life? He could never bear the transition into the real world. Well, this was the last time he would have to suffer it. Tonight, before he went to bed, he would inject a vial of insulin into his blood stream. He had heard a doctor jokingly boast that if she were to murder somebody she would give them a dose of insulin.

"It's the best murder weapon," she had said, "easy to get, does its job, and doesn't leave any traces."

Well, he would use the stuff to murder himself.

Feeling much better, he got up from the bed and plodded into the bathroom. He untied the knot on his mundu and let it fall onto the tiles. He stepped over it and sat on the toilet. He felt his muscles relax and his mind loosen up.

It would be nice not to have to return to this world of routine. He wondered what dream he would have tonight. Perhaps he would see the ending of the zombie dream. Or, perhaps he would see the continuation of the war dream. Gosh, that had been an exciting one. A couple of mysterious planes had flown over Male and begun to bomb the island. The havoc it had created! Nobody had known what to do. At first he had rolled on the ground. Then he had found himself in the sea, swimming away from the explosions. He always found himself in the sea when he wanted to escape.

He got up and flushed the toilet. Then he stood in front of the mirror and began to brush his teeth. He felt a numb pain as the bristles of his toothbrush pierced his gum. He grimaced. He had never been able to master the act of brushing his teeth without drawing blood.

Some dreams made him sad. There had been a dream in which Hafza was newly married. She had paraded her meek, tiny husband proudly. He had woken up from the dream with an indescribable sense of tragedy and loss. In actual fact he did not love Hafza that much. He wondered if he loved her at all.

He spat onto the basin and drank some water. Ugh! It did not just taste salty it was rotten. He spat it out and went under the shower. He turned it on full blast and shuddered as the fetid water rained on him.

How surprised he had been when Hafza had told him that they should get married. He had asked her if she was pregnant.

"Certainly not!" she had said indignantly. "But we can't go on like this. We have to marry. What'll people think?"

"Oh I'm sure they won't mind."

Hafza was mad. They were happy the way they were. They could meet when they wanted and stay away when they were cross with each other. If they married they would only lose their freedom.

Marriage! To live with the same person day in and day out, talking about and doing the same things forever. To watch each other grow old and whither away into crumpled bags of skin. And to realise only when it was too late that they had wasted their lives together.

He towelled himself dry and came out of the bathroom. He put on a black shirt and grey trousers. Then he made up his bed---it didn't need much making up as he hardly moved in his sleep. He looked round the room. It was clean. He brushed his hair and put on his wristwatch. It was exactly 0830 hours. He shut all the doors and windows and let himself out of the house. He locked the street door and began to walk.

He was fond of his little house. Buying a plot of land on Male and building a house on it had been a wise move of his father's.

Hassan had lived in Male for almost twenty years. He had almost forgotten his first home in Addu Atoll. There were times when he couldn't even remember his mother's face. She had died when he was eight. His father had brought him away from Fedu soon afterwards.

Five minutes of brisk walking brought him to Hotel Sapna, the teashop where he had most of his meals. It was crowded with men of all kinds, shapes, and sizes. Hassan sat down on a chair at a round table occupied by five people. They ate solemnly, their faces expressionless. Rather like the zombies, Hassan thought. Perhaps they were zombies. Perhaps all the people in Male were zombies. He was certain that there was something terribly wrong with them.

He ordered an omlette, roshi and curry. When they arrived he picked up the fork and broke the omelette into pieces. He put one into his mouth. Gosh, it was hot. He almost spat it out. Why didn't he ever wait for his omelette to cool down?

Thankfully, the waiter had brought a jug of water. He poured out a glass and drank it. It tasted of chlorine. He went back to his omlette.

As he began to walk away from the teashop he saw two boys in school uniforms, riding hurriedly down the street. They had probably sneaked out of school. School! How Hassan had hated it. He had stopped going to school when he was barely fifteen. He had found lessons intolerable. And the teachers! Shapeless middle-aged drudges! They never realised how the students made fun of them. He felt sorry for them and hoped they were treated better now.

It was exactly 0900 hours when he reached the shop. He unlocked the two iron bars across the door. What if all the rolls of cloth should suddenly race out of the shop like escaping prisoners? Gosh, that would be a sight!

His father had sold their large Addu odi to open the textile shop in Male. He had managed the shop until Hassan left school. Now he was abroad, working on a cargo vessel in the Gulf. It had always been his wish to travel on a ship. He would be coming to Male soon. He came to see Hassan once a year.

A woman came in. After looking intently round the shop she came over to the counter.

"Have you got buruga cloth?"


"Have you got buruga cloth? You know, to make a buruga."

"Oh yes, to make a buruga. Well, we have, as you can see, all sorts of pretty cloth. I'm sure you can make beautiful burugas with any of them."

"Are you mad?"


"Are you mad? You have to have buruga cloth to make burugas."

"Really? I wasn't aware of that. How about that blue cloth over there, the one with the large pink flowers?"

She looked shocked. "What? Pink flowers on my buruga? Why did you think I wanted to wear one? For a fashion contest?"

Before he could say another word she walked out. People! He could not bear them. They never seemed to know what they wanted. There was something wrong with them.

Some years ago when he had been more than usually depressed, he had attempted to socialise. He had been having particularly wonderful dreams and the pain of waking up from them had been unbearable. The realisation that nothing as half as wonderful would ever happen in his real life had put him in a gloom for days. So he had gone out with people, in an attempt to take his mind away from distressing thoughts. He had gone to parties: birthday parties, wedding parties, and circumcision parties. Circumcision parties had been marginally more tolerable than the other sorts, he had to admit. He had even picnicked on Kuda Bandos, where the entire population of Male went once a week to go mad for a day. That had been the last straw. He was grateful to return to isolation.

But he was glad he had met Hafza. They had come across each other at Hafza's cousin's circumcision. She had brought him a drink and sat with him while he had told her about a dream---the one in which he had walked on a winding path in a rainforest for days. The only thing that kept him going was the thought of fellow kindred spirits, living together in harmony on some breathtaking spot, that surely awaited him. Only when he reached the end of the path had he realised that he had been walking on uninhabited island. Hafza had been fascinated by the dream. He could never understand why. He thought the dream rather boring.

"I think you took the wrong turning," Hafza had said, adding rather mournfully, "I never have dreams!"

At noon he closed the shop and went to Hotel Sapna for lunch. He sat with five new zombies and ate farata and musamma.
Not a single customer came into the shop that afternoon. He was annoyed. He might as well have stayed home and had a nap. He re-arranged the rolls of cloth and went through the accounts. Everything was in order. His father said he was a three-in-one: accountant, salesman and housewife. His father was always saying things like that. He liked his father very much. He liked his father and Hafza best in the world.

Dear Hafza! She was always asking him to tell her his dreams. He often made up bits, to give her a treat. He did not tell her all his dreams. He knew she wouldn't understand them; indeed he found them quiet muddling himself.

It was a pity that they hadn't met much lately. But he had been so busy trying to get the vial.

Gosh, he had almost forgotten it! He looked at his watch. It was 1500 hours. Seven more hours to live! He would inject the stuff at 2130. He would try to sleep immediately after that.

Once the thing was in his veins his blood sugar level would go down drastically. His brain, starved of sugar, would begin to malfunction. Pretty soon he would be in a coma. With luck he wouldn't come out of it. Hassan Ismail Didi, aged 28, would be no more!

He was sweating profusely. Gosh, it had been hot lately. He closed the shop for afternoon prayers but did not go out to tea.

He wondered what to do to pass away the time. That was a laugh! Here he was with less than half a day to live and he was wondering how to spend the time. That proved he had made the right decision.

He could not remember exactly when he had decided to end his life. It hadn't been when he had overheard that doctor, he was sure of that. Perhaps he had made the decision in a dream. Yes, that seemed likely. He had often found himself executing decisions made in dreams.

Poor Hafza, it was a shame that he could not explain everything to her. Every day was a repetition of the previous day. Every day he put on false smiles for customers and ate cardboard hedika at the Sapna with zombies. And to have to return to that from the world of his dreams. No, no, he had had enough of it thank you very much.

At 1930 hours, bathed in sweat, he went to Hotel Sapna for dinner. He sat at a table all by himself to eat. He always had dinner early because he wanted to be at home when Hafza called.

He did not like to visit Hafza at her house. He had to talk to her in the living room, where her family watched TV. Her family was always watching TV. They had not liked it when Hafza had begun to come to his house. But they had not said anything about it. Lately he suspected that they had begun to exert pressure on her to marry.

When he came out of the teashop he was still sweating. He decided to go for a walk, so he took a turning that lead to the Marine Drive and headed towards Henveiru. As he circled the Saw Mill, he could feel the wind hitting him directly from the east. The moon was up, it's reflection glittering on the waves as they crashed relentlessly into the rocks. He heaved himself onto the breakwater and looked at the reflection. It was a silver, sparkling path, alive with promise. Perhaps if he stepped on it, it would take him to some heavenly spot beyond the horizon.

Suddenly the Hulhule runway lit up. Air Lanka arriving late as usual, he thought. In the distance he could see a star growing in size and intensity. It gradually morphed into a plane and soared over the airport before heading south.

How nice it was to fly! He too had sometimes flown over the reflection of the full moon, soaring higher and higher into the cold night air.

His father did not like the full moon. He said it drove people mad. His mother had gone missing on a moonlit night. She had been found dead, lying under a pandanus tree in the jungle. Some people had said it was the work of a jinni. Others said she had been raped and murdered.

The plane turned north towards Hulhule again. The
distance between it and the sea was narrowing every
second. Hassan wondered what would happen if the plane
landed on the sea by mistake. He rather hoped it
might. Gosh, the ripples it would cause. And
afterwards there would be hundreds of corpses floating
on the moon's reflection

But there was no disaster scheduled for that night. The plane landed on the appointed spot on the runway and taxied smoothly towards the terminal. The lights were switched off.

Hassan looked around him. A crowd of people had gathered around unnoticed. Some of them were still gawking. Poor things, he thought. It was not their fault that there was no other entertainment in Male. He jumped onto the road and went to his house.

When he was inside he looked at his watch. Gosh it was 2130! What time had he planned to inject the stuff? He couldn't remember. Really, he was always forgetting things.

He hurriedly opened the cupboard in his bedroom. He pulled out a drawer and looked down on it. The vial lay harmlessly beside the syringe pack. A shiver went up his spine. He began to sweat again. Suddenly he wanted to urinate. He went into the bathroom. He pulled down his zipper and felt the tension drain out of him.

He went back into the bedroom. He took the vial and the syringe from the drawer. He tore the syringe pack and uncapped the needle. It gleamed at him. He laid it carefully on the bed. He broke the neck of the vial.

He picked up the syringe and dipped the needle into the vial. He drew out the solution carefully until it was emptied into the syringe.

The telephone rang. He almost dropped the syringe.

After a while he picked up the receiver. It was Hafza.

"Hassan? I'm coming to see you. Your father's here. We want to talk to you."

He was annoyed. It was just like his father to come back without warning. He must have come here while Hassan was out and gone to Hafza's to see if he was there. Now he would have to sleep in the living room. Suddenly he panicked. If they were coming here he could not inject the stuff. They would be here before he blacked out and would rush him to the hospital.

"Hello? Hello? Are you there?"

"Er...yes. Er.. don't come right now. I have to go out for a while. Look, give me two hours."

"Is something wrong?"

"What? No, no, everything's fine. It's just that I have to do this thing. But I love you."

"Hassan are you alright?" She sounded alarmed.

"Of course I'm alright. Why shouldn't I be? What's the matter?"

"Well... you see...well, we'll see how things work out, OK?"

"Give father a good dinner. He must be hungry."

"Oh, I couldn't do that."

"Why not?"

"He's already left. He should be there any minute now."

Hassan slammed down the receiver. It suddenly dawned on him why his father had come back. Some time ago Hassan had written a letter to him describing a dream, but had forgotten to mention that it was only a dream. His father had sent a very concerned letter saying that he was coming to take him abroad for a medical checkup.

A medical chekup! As if there was anything wrong with him. He had not fallen ill in years. He hadn't gained or lost weight. He had been perfectly fit for...he did not know how long.

Another thought struck him. If his father had talked about the dream to Hafza she might have described some of the dreams he had told her! Gosh they would think he was mad! Perhaps his father was going to have him put away in some madhouse.

There was not a moment to lose. He would have to kill himself before his father arrived. He looked around desperately. His eyes fell on a cutter on the table. He had used it only once--to cut the wrapping paper when he had made a parcel to send to his father. He could insert it into his heart.

There was a knock on the door. The telephone began to ring almost simultaneously.

He raced to the table and picked up the cutter, and slid out the blade as far as he could. It did not look too strong. He would have to put it in gently through the ribs, into the heart. He could not afford to have it broken half way. If he could manage to do it he would be beyond repair by the time father had smashed open the door. Certainly no doctor in this country would be able to bring him back.

"Son, why didn't you open the door?"

Hassan froze. Slowly he forced himself to turn around.

His father stood at the bedroom door, looking inquiringly at him.

" did you get in?"

"The key was on the door. When you didn't answer I came in."

The telephone stopped ringing.

(Ali Rasheed wrote this story in 1991)

"Many thanks to all the reviewers for taking the time not only to read The Solution, but also to send in their comments. And Hilath, what can I say? Cheers for resurrecting the story from the dead, man!"--Ali Rasheed, author of The Solution (20 Sept 2002)

WARNING: Insulin can kill. Visit this link:

The Visit

by Ali Rasheed

The Large Katheeb of Kudafushi was in a foul mood. He had slept very little that week. He had been trying, rather unsuccessfully, to convince people to slog day and night to decorate the island for an official visit. In the end, he and a few die-hard loyals had done all the work while the rest of the island slept.

It was also common knowledge that the Katheeb and his wife had had a bad row lately, and that divorce was imminent. In fact it had been imminent for years, for
they had a major tiff at least once a month, not to mention the weekly, and sometimes daily, fights which were not considered as serious.

When the Katheeb entered the island office his face expressed all his troubles, the visit and all, and the temporary clerk, a pesky girl just out of school, was
unable to suppress a giggle. He turned on her at once.

"You there! Copy all of last year's daily fish reports and add them up."

Temporary look dismayed. "Do I have to copy them? I can add them up nicely without copying them."

"Copy them and add them."

He went into his room. Temporary's face looked like a moonless night. The radio telephone operator grinned. He had enjoyed every second of the exchange. He hated
the temporary clerk and was glad of any misfortune that befell her.

The Large Katheeb yelled for him.

"Go and fetch that Saranfeena. Didn't I tell you yesterday that she was to be here at 7.30 sharp?"

Radio's face fell. If there was one thing he hated more than anything else about his job, it was summoning people to the office. He had never been able to bring anyone here at one go. Usually it took at least three visits to successfully convince anyone
that they had to report, and then they grumbled about it so much that he would almost wish he hadn't.

The women were infinitely more tiresome. Saranfeena hadn't even acknowledged his presence when he gave her the Katheeb's message yesterday.

"I did tell her to come," he said sulkily.

"Then why isn't she here?"

"I've no idea. She didn't bother to reply when I asked her to come. You know what they're like, the women of this island."

"Do I?" the Large Katheeb glared suspiciously at the young man. "Well tell her again."

"It won't do any good. She doesn't like you."

"Tell her! And don't come back without her."

As the radio telephone operator fled out of the office, he caught sight of the temporary clerk looking at him interestedly. It was clear that she had been
listening. He was furious.

"Better start adding up. You've got 365 reports to copy," he said cruelly and left.

It took only three minutes on his perishing bicycle to ride to Saranfeena's house. The island was so small that it was almost no use owning a bicycle. It was impossible to have a decent ride.

Kudafushi was less than one square kilometre. The village, with its sparse population, was on the centre. There was a noticeable lack of young men; most had gone off to Male or the tourist resorts for work. It was years since the island had been able to hold Friday prayers, which required a minimum attendance of 40 adult males.

Kudafushi had two mechanised fishing dhonis, at least they had been built for the purpose of fishing. They were anchored most of the year because people were
reluctant to toil away at sea for a meagre income. They only went when they absolutely had to, and when there was no other way of getting emergency cash into
the household.

The island had once been famous for dried fish and rihakuru. In the days before mechanisation, six sailing dhonis had gone fishing regularly. Fish-collecting vessels equipped with freezing holds did not exist back then, to buy the catch off dhonis
for scanty sums. All the catch was cooked at home by women. Men would then take large stocks of dried fish to Ceylon on the large odi. The odi had been
obliterated, like the island's previous wealth.

Saranfeena, the President of the Women's Committeee, had seen those glorious times unlike the radio telephone operator. She came out of her house and looked at him with undisguised contempt.

"You can tell the Katheeb from me that the women of this island are not his slaves." Radio felt a spray of saliva on his face and backed away, alarmed.

"But the office needs you and all the members of the Women's Committee to make the island look nice for the government dignitary."

"We've already done more than our share of the work. Tell the Katheeb to make the men do some work for a change." Her massive bosom heaved in a frightening but
fascinating manner.

"But they're out at sea in the bokkuras, catching fish for supper."

"Do you really think a couple of skinny tholhis will keep the island from starving? They're running away from work. I'm not fooled even if the island office is."

"But I can't go back without you. You'll have to come."

"I'm the President of the Women's Committee, an elected leader unlike the Katheeb I might add, and I expect to be treated like one. If the Katheeb wants me he can fetch me himself. Tell him not to send half-witted clerks."

The President turned her unyielding back on the indignant Radio and went back into her palmy hut.

"I'm not a clerk," he yelled after her but it was no use.

He got back on his creaking bicycle and rode off. He stopped by at Sameena's house for a chew. She didn't look pleased to see him.

"Oh it's you. I was just going out."

Radio lowered his lean frame onto an ample joli and stared at Sameena's body appreciatively.

She was light-skinned and comely, with just the right amount of roundness that gave softness and femininity to a woman. A picture of health, and unflagging
energy, he thought, as his eyes travelled up, stopping at her chest.

"Bring out the chewing box," he said huskily.

She hesitated for a moment before reluctantly going into the house. Radio lay back comfortably to enjoy the rear view as much as the front.

Sameena's mother always insisted that she be nice to him. His father owned the only decent shop on the island and it was obvious to everybody what she had in mind. Sameena herself wouldn't mind owning the shop, but not if it came with the radio telephone operator.

She brought out the chewing box and place it on his lap. He felt a little shiver of excitement.

"Where's your mother?"

"She's gone to make a fanditha for Saranfeena's back."

"What's the matter with it? I've just been to see her. It looked alright to me."

"Well it isn't. She's been complaining about a pain in her poor back for days. She said it was because of all the work the island office was making her do for some

"Oh never mind Saranfeena's back. It's your parts that I'm interested in. If you don't have any pain anywhere I'm happy."

"I do have a pain, in the neck. But it'll disappear eventually I hope."

"Perhaps I should massage it, I'm exceptionally good at that."

"No thank you," she said firmly. He had tried to claw her before and she wasn't going to have any of it again. She shuddered as his long, clammy fingers folded the arecanut into the betel leaf. He put it into his mouth and his eyes gleamed with pleasure and self-satisfaction as the juice dripped down his chin. He wiped the red-brown liquid with the back of his hand and looked hungrily at Sameena.

"You look sick. Sit down here. What're you standing there for?"

"Sameena!" She heaved a sigh of relief as she heard her mother's shrill voice.

Sakeena was small and thin with large hands and feet. Radio looked at her breasts with distaste. Flat as a murana roshi, he thought, not at all like her daughter's.

"Saranfeena's having a bath. She's always having a bath when I go there." Sakeena's scowl disappeared when she saw Radio.

"Sameena, why haven't you brought him anything to eat? We need to fatten you up, my dear boy. You're far too thin to marry my daughter. Why, she would break you in
half the first night." She gave a shriek. "For that matter I would too."

Radio felt a certain thrill at Sakeena's familiarity as well as repulsion. He imagined her as a mother-in-law, and his stomach turned at the thought. He wouldn't mind marrying Sameena, she had the best boobs on the island, but not if she came with Sakeena.

But Sakeena was as oblivious to Radio's horror of her as he was of Sameena's of him. Sameena had no intention of marrying Radio. She would marry anybody if they would take her away from her mother and Radio. She watched her mother fussing over him and marvelled at their amazing likeness, both of them scrawny and callous.

Her father had died two years ago and she missed him even now. He had adored her from the first. Some people claimed he had often stopped her mother from
beating her up when she was a child.

Not that she didn't take the occasional smacking, they said. She had driven her mother crazy with her disappearances. Sometimes she would spend all day out
with the boys, swimming, fishing and drinking coconut from other people's trees. No matter how hard her mother scolded her, she just wouldn't read the Koran or learn her prayers.

The more her mother scolded her the worse she got, and the more indulgent her father became. Some people said he'd stopped loving his wife then, if he had ever
loved her in the first place.

As Sameena grew older, Sakeena firmly drew her husband aside.

"She's becoming a woman now. It's not proper for a father to show so much affection for a grown-up daughter. It might lead to unspeakable things."

He had died soon afterwards of a mysterious illness. Some people said Sakeena had put a spell on him to prevent the unspeakable things she so dreaded.

Sameena herself had become quieter and more disciplined. Sakeena's only wish now was to get her married off; indeed it was her burning desire.

The radio telephone operator was a perfect match for any girl. He had everything a woman could possibly want: a government job; a retail shop; good looks; and
a bicycle. Admittedly, the bicycle creaked a bit, and he was a little on the thin side. But those were minor faults which could easily be rectified with a bit of Singer oil and rich food.

In fact Radio was so attractive that Sakeena would have married him herself if she didn't have a grown up daughter to look after.

Radio felt increasingly uncomfortable as he felt Sakeena's gaze on him and hastily got up to go.

He would have brushed hard against Sameena but she neatly dodged out of his way as he went out.

As he walked into the office he bumped into Katheeb, who was hurrying out.

"Where've you been? It's been hours since you left. And where's Saranfeena?"

"She wouldn't come. I told you it was no use."

The Katheeb didn't seem to mind.

"Guess what? He's coming tomorrow?"

"Who is?"

"The government dignitary of course. I'm not supposed to say his name, not yet. So I can't tell you who it is."

Radio wondered if he had ever been curious to know. He certainly wasn't now.

"Isn't it wonderful? A respectable person is at last about to grace this soil by putting their foot on it. What I don't believe we've had a high level visit in a decade."

"What's he coming for?"

"I've no idea but I suspect he'll give a pious and morally beneficial speech to the entire population. I must beautify the school hall. I've waited all my life for this moment. The degeneration of this island will be reversed tomorrow. I'm determined on that account. I shall ask for an electricity generator, an English teacher, a family health worker, and new corrugated sheets for the roof of the mosque."

Radio felt an unexpected pang. "I hope he'll remember all that," he said.

"Of course he will. I shall assure him of the island's undying support for the government. And he will be fed the best meal he's ever had in his life. There will be
no less than 40 fat fowl cooked to perfection on the table. When I get the island what it needs, I can resign for I will know that I have been of use to it."

Radio felt awkward and looked away. He didn't know what to say.

"I'm going out for a bit. Blow the conch. I want the entire island here when I come back." Radio was relieved to hear the familiar tyranny in the Katheeb's voice.

He went in to fetch the conch shell. The temporary clerk was busy fiddling with something.

"What're you playing with now?"

She looked up at him. "It's the durra. I'm admiring the lacquer work. Most intricate."

Radio was shocked at her irreverence.

"Put it away at once. It's a good thing Gazi didn't see you. What would he think if he knew you were playing with his durra while he was spilling out his insides with diarrhoea?"

"Oh is that why he didn't come in this morning?" She ran her fingers over the durra. "I love these stud-things."

"You'll love them even more when you get the feel of them in your backside. I've a good mind to make you pregnant just to have them flog you a hundred times with that."

"Go and make Sameena pregnant! And I hope you get squashed in the process." Giggling, she went to the island court, which occupied one room of the island
office, to put away the durra.

"Good for nothing lump of flesh."

"What a marvellously accurate description of Sameena!" she shouted from the court.

Radio went to the office locker and took out the conch. Then he went outside. A few people were sitting on the road, talking in the shade.

He put the conch on his mouth and blew with all the might of his small lungs.

A hoarse, windy sound wafted out of it. The people lifted their heads, stared at him, and then resumed talking. He gave two more blows and went in, out of breath. The clerk was back at her desk.

"Nobody'll come," she remarked.

"Nobody takes any notice of the conch anymore. They know it's only sounded to make them slave away or to take a donation from them to repair the mosque or the
visitor's house or some such thing. You'll have to go round the village as usual and beg them to come. The conch has outlived its effectiveness, and not a bad thing either."

"You give that tongue of yours a rest or it'll drop off in a year."

"If it does it will have done more service to this world than your tongue, or any other part of you is ever likely to do."

The small room darkened as a huge shape blocked off the light coming in from the doorway. It was the President of the Women's committee. She was dressed in
a pink digu hedun with matching bolu foti. Her hands and neck glittered with ornaments.

Radio looked at her in awe. He felt she would burst out of her dress any minute. He could almost hear the seams saying their last prayers. Did she and her husband still...

Saranfeena looked at him sharply, as if she could read his thoughts. He looked away hurriedly.

"Kindly tell the Katheeb that I wish to see him."

"He's not here. Come later." The temporary clerk was the only person in the island office who wasn't scared of Saranfeena. The President ignored her.

"Where's he gone?" she asked Radio.

"I don't know but I'm sure he won't be long."

"How dare he disappear after asking me to come here? I've a good mind to report this to the Department of Women's Affairs and have them chose another Katheeb. Go out and find him. I can't wait here all day."

The radio operator fled thankfully. He got on his bike and rode off to the Katheeb's house.

The Katheeb's wife was sitting on the road in the shade of a breadfruit tree. Another woman was sitting behind her, removing knits from her hair. The Katheeb's partly deaf mother was also sitting in the shade, weaving a fungi.

"The problem with the island is that it hasn't got enough people. No wonder nobody's ever visited it," the Katheeb's wife was saying.

"You could say this island is like the country. Nobody outside it takes any notice of it," remarked the knit-remover.

"Yes, and the country is like the world. God's left it to destroy itself."

"How irreligious."

The Katheeb's mother took part in the conversation. "I think it's disgraceful that the island's bashi team lost the match against Bodufushi last Eid. Bodufushi may have more people than this island, but what's the use of that if they're all fools?"

"They once said Friday Prayers on a Thursday," added the Lice-Remover disdainfully.

"When I was on the team we never lost a single match," the Katheeb's mother declared.

The Katheeb's wife spied the radio telephone operator.

"The Katheeb's not here," she said, "he hasn't come here since he left for work."

Radio rode off without a word, leaving the women staring after him.

"Rude, skinny thing," said the Katheeb's wife.

"I know what he's after," said her mother-in-law, lowering her voice. "He wants the Katheeb's job. I knew it the day he was employed. His father thinks just because he has a little money his family can rule this island. Don't they know my son and the ministers are like brothers?"

"His mother's worse," said the Katheeb's wife. "Never turns up to do her share on sweeping day, just because she was in some third rate school in Male for a few

"As if money can buy leadership. You can take it from me that they'll die wanting but not getting what they want," concluded her mother-in-law.

Happily, Radio hadn't a clue about his gloomy prospects, as he rode back to the office, panting. There was no point in looking for the Katheeb in the hot sun. He was probably on the men's part of the athiri, enjoying a solitary crap. A Katheeb who couldn't afford a septic tank, he thought, disgusted.

There was nobody in the office. Perhaps they'd all gone out for mid-morning tea. He suddenly remembered it was call time and went to the communications set. He turned it on and the entire atoll squealed at him. He turned down the volume hurriedly. The Katheeb burst out of his room.

"Turn that thing off. Can't you see I'm busy with Saranfeena?"

Sure enough he could see, through the half-opened door, pink posteriors protruding from the back of the chair.

"It's call time." He said stiffly. "Romiet, Papa Three. Romiet, Papa Three calling."

Romiet was the code name for the capital island of the atoll.

There was a squeal in response. Radio adjusted the tuning and called again.

This time the answer was loud and clear. "Papa Three, Romiet. You can switch off. There's nothing for you."

The Katheeb snatched the mouthpiece.

"Romiet, Papa Three. Any news about the visit?"

"He's changed his mind. He's not visiting you after all. He's visiting Bodufushi instead."

"But we've already slaughtered the chickens," the Katheeb said.

"I'm cutting you off now."

The squealing stopped.

Saranfeena came out of the Katheeb's room.

"So all my work was for nothing."

The Katheeb looked at her helplessly. "Perhaps he'll change his mind again tomorrow."

The President of the Women's Committee snorted, turned her back on them and went out. The Katheeb and the Radio Operator watched in silence as the pink rump
disappeared into the sunshine.

(Ali Rasheed wrote this story in 1994)

GLOSSARY of Dhivehi words used in this story:

Athiri: beach

Bashi: women's game played using tennis balls and

Bokkura: small rowing boat

Bolu fothi: head-dress worn with digu hedun

Digu hedun: tight fitting long dress, widely used as
national dress.

Durra: flat baton used for flogging people for
offenses such as fornication

Fanditha: magic spell

Fungi: matting woven from dry coconut leaves and used
for fences and roofs of thatched houses

Gazi: magistrate

Large Katheeb: derived from Bodu Katheeb literally
meaning large island chief. The proper translation
should be senior island chief.

Murana roshi: toasted pancake

Odi: large traditional wooden cargo vessel

Rihaakuru: thick paste made from excessive cooking of

Singer Oil: Brand name of grease used to oil machines

Tholhi: trumpet fish

A Thought

By Mariyam Nadhrath

She looked at his crumpled shirt, the mess on his table and the serious look on his face as he read one important document after the other.

She felt restless. As if she was Pandora and the box was begging to be opened. She had questions …and answers … and some thoughts that fit in to neither category.

Why did she like him? The question challenged her rational thought. Is it because fate had destined them to meet in this small cluttered office? A meeting that was simple and ordinary on the surface, but was chaos, if looked at, through her eyes.

She had been content, if not happy in her busy isolated existence, had even forgotten that she was supposed to be lonely. And then she met him. After that… few things had made sense.

She looked at him again. He rubbed his eyes and put his glasses back on, an action she had learnt to associate with him. Did it mean he was tired?

It frightened her that she didn't know him. She didn't understand him but had somehow arrived at the conclusion that he was good. Does one not fall in love with the eyes and then mind, heart and finally the body? How has he gone straight from eyes to body? Perhaps she did know him…or may be she didn't want to know him for fear that the perfect image she had painted of him would fade. She needed to believe that he was meant for her, at lease for the time being. Then she wouldn't lose the string and get lost in the labyrinth of her own cynicism.

The question made her wonder if she was attracted to not him but the thought of unwrapping something that she found interesting and mysterious. Perhaps something she regarded as her gift for missed and ill-timed Cupid's Arrows.

He got up and her eyes followed him as he got a drink. Coke. He looked at her with raised eyebrows. She nodded. Using lean fingers he opened the can for her and went back to his papers. She went back to her musing.

Why had it excited her to see him open the can? Why notice it in the first place? Because it was a display of strength, because of what he did for her? Was that why females tend to go for men who were taller and broader than them? Do we still harbor the secret wish to be small and dainty compared to a man? Are we looking for an unconscious guarantee that we would be kept safe?

She looked at him. He was tall. But that wasn't the reason…

Maybe she had needed someone to fantasize about so that she wouldn't fully forget that she was a woman.

He looked out through the window lost in thought. He was so close but yet so out of her reach. Yes... fantasizing about unattainable objects did give an objective to a life which went on because you were not dead yet.

It frustrated her… why why why… more than the feelings itself the evasiveness on the reasons for it disturbed her.

It was all chemical, wasn't it? The chemical reactions make our palms sweat and heart thud. Believing that explanation was easier since the reactions would not be conscious. She could then detach herself from the treacherous reactions of the mind and body. But… nothing was that simple. One cannot write it off as clinical chemical reactions. There had to be magic in there somewhere… the magic that brings a smile where tears had just treaded.

There just had to be magic. She couldn't believe it any other way… why had she been pulling it apart to find a speck of sense? What if there was no sense in it? Couldn't she just surrender to the unexplained beauty of it? Couldn't she just accept that she was simply attracted to him?

She should just tell him. But she was the female, should she? The question irritated her. Does sex determine the intensity and the legitimacy of one's feelings? She should definitely tell him.

But how? How does a human being drop all pretence, all expectations and fears and stand in front of another human being?. Would there be a more vulnerable form? Did she have the courage to do it? Does he mean that much to her?

He looked up and saw her blank stare. He smiled.

She smiled back. She must tell him or she would wonder for the rest of her life, think about what could have been.

She stood up and walked to him, started talking and didn't stop until she had nothing more to say.

What happened next was not important. What was important was that she had reached out for something she had thought was meant for her. It was indeed … was it not enough…???

(This story was published in the Monday Times, Maldives' only English language weekly newspaper.)

Here on Earth

by Hilath Rasheed

The meeting is brief. Me, on my Dahon bike. He, on his mountain bike.

Our eyes meet. For the briefest of seconds. And then we pass. He is lost.

But the memory lingers. Inside the deep recesses of my mind. Something deep inside me rekindles a flicker of longing.


Next day. I am at the gym for my first aerobics class since coming back to Male for holidays.

The class is over and I am readying to go back home. Guess who should step in right at that moment? Him!

What kind of connection did we establish?

He smiles. Comes towards me.

"Hi." He's still smiling. It's dazzling. The kind that keeps you
hooked. The kind that makes it impossible to break contact. The kind that makes it impossible to end the magic.

"You came here today?" He asks. And I am happy he didn't ask me: "You're new here?"

"Yeah. Just thought I shouldn't waste three months."

"You living abroad?" He is precise. Of course, the thought must have crossed his mind that I may be studying abroad but I am happy he didn't get too specific.

"Yeah, I'm studying in Malaysia. This is a long holiday break."

"You're right. Shouldn't let ourselves get out of shape." He nods.

"I'm Sara," I extend my hand.

"I'm Ali," he accepts.

My friend Saju is standing by the doorway. Waiting for me. Amused.

"Coming," I call to her. I turn to Ali. "Gotta go. See you around."

"Take care," he says.

And I am touched. Only my closest friends said that.


I don't see him the next day. Neither the one after that. Or the one after that.

Three months pass. My holidays are over. I go back to Kuala Lumpur.

But the memory of him lingers on my mind. Like a magical moment that leaves a mark on your soul.


A year passes. I am back in Male for holidays.

The next day. Call it coincidence. Call it chance. But I meet him again. On the road.

"Hi." He stops by me and gives me a broad smile. The dazzling one.

"When did you come back?"

I'm overwhelmed. A few seconds pass before I reply, "Just last

"Let's go for a drink."

We go to Quench. Sit in a quiet corner.

Conversation comes easily. Another surprise for me. I'm not usually much of a talker. In fact, sometimes I have a hard time keeping a decent conversation going. But here I am. With Ali, the conversation comes so easily, smooth as water meandering down a tribute. I feel so at ease with him.


I find myself hanging out with Ali often. We go to each other's house, go for rides, sit on the seawall, or just plain hang out. I start feeling like I've known Ali all my life, although it's just a few weeks.

He's so frank with me, too. And I can see clearly that he looks forward to our meetings, to our hangings-out.

I find out of course that Ali is going steady with a childhood chum of his called Fazu.

At first I feel a pang of jealousy. Only to give way to disappointment.

But then I try to make myself content with the fact that I at least get to hang out with him, be with him, be with a guy so unique (at least in my view), and... so human. But, although we do not talk about it, I know that I am more than a friend to him. That he is more than a friend to me.

Deep down I have a feeling that he wants more from life. I sense that, behind that carefully crafted mask, lies a deep sadness-of lands yet unexplored, of dreams yet unrealized and of fantasies yet unimagined.

But my holidays are abruptly over; so fast, the days pass relentlessly.

So, it is with a heavy heart, that I return to Kuala Lumpur. And the next year goes agonizingly slow.


Finally, the much-awaited holidays come. I am back in Male again.

And I decide to have a talk with him.


We are sitting on the seawall. A clear sky. A cool night. A translucent sea. I decide to plunge in straight ahead.

“We can’t go on pretending that nothing is happening between us,” I begin.

“I know,” Ali nods.

The problem with Ali is that behind that quiet, down-to-earth, and unpretentious boy lie years of conservative upbringing, a belief in the typical cycle of life, where you reach 25, raise a family, do your part of the duty to the world, and leave in peace.

But is that all that life has to offer? Doesn’t Ali deserve more
happiness—adventure, fantasy, a spirited journey that would make his being whole, full. Bring inner piece to his unassuming self.

Maybe Ali is afraid to tread the unknown. Maybe he is more contented with the devil he knows than the friend he doesn’t know but could prove to mean more to him.

“We should be together,” I blurt out.

Ali looks at me. I see him in deep thought. “Let’s not talk about it. I don’t want to end this special thing we have.”

“Ali. Ali. Ali.” I shake my head.

I suddenly hold his face in my hands, look directly into his eyes.
“What has to happen, has to happen right here. Here on earth. I don’t know where you or I will be after that. What I know for sure is that we need each other in our lives.”

“I’ve already made the commitment,” Ali replies.

“But, Ali, look at you. You want more. You need more.” I say it all in one breath. How do I explain it all?

“There’s something to look forward to about someone when you are in love with her. And I see that in you, Ali. Everytime I meet you, I see in your eyes a longing to see me, to be with me…You might not say it, but it’s just there.”

I am talking fast. Way too fast. I am pouring out everything that had been slowly building up in my mind, waiting to break through. Like a flood about to break the riverbank.

“Ali, you may feel happy to be with Fazu, because you feel safe around her. But don’t you see, there’s no passion between you two. Anyone can see it. Everything’s so... routine around you and Fazu.”


“Sorry, Ali,” I hold my tongue. “I didn’t mean to hurt you by saying that. What I mean is that…it’s just that…you have to be passionate about someone when you are in love…”

Ali doesn’t say anything. He keeps looking at the surf.


I am sitting in my room. Gloomy.
I am playing a song by the New Radicals.

Two years later, you’re still on my mind
So many questions, I need an answer
If I could ask God just one question:
Why aren’t you here with me?
Who holds the stars up in the sky?
Is true love once in a lifetime?

I bought a ticket to the end of the rainbow
I watched the stars crash in the sea
Someday we’ll know if love can move a mountain
Someday we’ll know why the sky is blue
One day I will go dancing on the moon
Someday you’ll know that I was The One for you

I turn off the CD. The song is making me sad enough as it is.


Next evening. I am sitting on the seawall, off Henveiru park. It is after 9:00pm. A few joggers still tiring themselves out, while I am all comfy. At peace.

Or am I?

The night is clear. Stars, thousands of them, shine down, brilliant little white specks twinkling like prized jewels on a vast black velvet cloth.

I spot Ali coming on his bike. Good old Ali. He is not one of those guys who would try to impress his girl by ‘borrowing’ a mobike from a friend. Nothing fake to anything about him. True to the core. Could that be his problem?.

Ali parks his bike, near to a man who is angling several feet from me.

He comes and sits beside me. Looks up at the sky, lets out a deep breath, bracing himself for things to come.

A street light behind him casts a half shadow on his face that outlines his strong, chiseled face. I feel a thrill inside. He looks at me, deep, thoughtful.

“Where to begin…” He lets the sentence hang.

“You can’t just pretend that nothing is going on,” I say. That sentence again. I am not looking at him. My eyes are watching the white foam of the surf that breaks on the stubborn rocks. Here I am, waiting to get broken, too.

I am sure I am not the only one to go home heart-broken from
Lonuziyaaraiy Kolhu. Like those jagged rocks that slowly crack and ultimately shatter into a thousand pieces, over time, with the persistent bombardment of the ever-present surf.

But my case seems to be different. And worse. Ali was not an
ever-present factor in my life. He came out of the blue. Like a sudden unrelenting huge wave, swept me off my feet, took me by surprise, left me overwhelmed. And shattered like a thousand rocks that swept onto a deserted shore, left all alone.

I turn to look at him. If only there was something I could do to bring out the real person who is hiding behind that unsure shell that I now see as Ali. A crust that was hardened by years of peer pressure.

“You feel safe with her, don’t you?” I ask.

“Please, we’ve been through this.” He looks down. Is quiet.

“Being safe and secure is not everything,” I say softly. Let a moment of silence pass. Want to take this real slow this time.

“Love is when you are passionate about someone,” I say. “It’s a waste of time being with someone you are not passionate about.”

Another moment of silence. Only the soothing sound of the surf hissing.

All joggers have gone home. To their own loved ones, I guess.

I swallow, feeling glum. Here I am, close to the one I’ve ever really fallen in love with, yet as far away from him as I ever could be. If only there is a way to bridge the gulf that seems to be widening, even as I speak, drifting us farther and farther away from each other.

“It’s not everyday that we fall in love, Ali. Think about it. Let’s not give up on things when we have the chance. Let’s not make a decision we might regret for the rest of our lives. We belong to each other, Ali.”

I am close to tears, my voice trembling even as I speak.

Ali looks at me. He doesn’t speak. I look at him. At that moment, I see a sad face. Brows slanted, the corners of his mouth drooping, and I realise, with shock, that I am looking at someone who is as heartbroken as I, and who is trying as hard as me, not to cry.

I suddenly hug him, close to my heart. I can feel his suppressed sobs.


It is my departure night. Back to Kuala Lumpur. Back to the hustle and bustle of Malaysia. Not that I mind. It would help me to take my mind off of things. In fact, I can’t wait to leave. I want to escape from all the pressures of these past days.

That other night with Ali was the final blow.

It is almost a week now. He called only once. To tell me he will come to Hulhule to see me off.

He is late. We wait. Five minutes. Then ten minutes more. Then, just as we are about to embark, Ali comes rushing on his bike. With a ‘Hi’ he climbs aboard.

The ten-minute ride to Male International Airport is peaceful. I engage in small talk with my friend Saju and with my sisters. Ali is sitting on the other side.

I glance at him from time to time, and catch him looking at me. He smiles when I look at him. It only breaks my heart more. To see that smile now, a smile that I probably will not see for quite sometime.

I check in my luggage but come out of the departure terminal to stay with my family until the final call-in.

Ali draws me aside. “I’ve something to tell you.”

We go and sit on a bench at the children’s park, near the departure terminal.

Just the two of us.

“We broke up.”

I can’t believe what I am hearing. “When?”

“Day before yesterday.”

“How did she take it?” I can’t help feeling sad for Fazu, even though I want to be with Ali.

“Pretty well. We had a long talk. In fact, she told me she was trying to find a way to hint to me that our relationship was pretty monotonous and not getting anywhere.” Ali pauses for a moment. “But…”

“But…?” I ask. Anxious.

“Sara. I need a little time to work things out. Please understand

“I understand.”

I am thrilled, beyond words. I wouldn’t mind waiting a whole lifetime for Ali. For love.


I am in Kuala Lumpur. My last year of study starts and I get loaded with bundles of assignments.

A week after I come back to Malaysia, Ali calls. We talk about good old times. It is wonderful.

Then about three weeks later, two days before my birthday, I get a card from Ali. And therein are the most wonderful words I’ll ever get from Ali:

Since that day I met you, that long time ago, I’ve known all along that you were a special person. That you made me feel different like no other did. You made me look forward to seeing you. You made me look forward to hanging out with you, doing little things, little things but that made a big difference in my life. Made me feel alive. And free. But I didn’t realise what I had been feeling all along. I was much confused and walking in the dark. You helped me walk into the light. You are the fire that rekindled my soul. Nothing in this world makes me happier now than to love you. Yours for ever, Ali.

Some people live their whole lives, and never fall in love.
I did.

(This is the complete story which was published up to a point in the Monday Times, Maldives' only English language weekly newspaper. Now you can read the complete story from here)

Girl in the Shadow

by Hilath

“Going for the jog?” The ritual question.

“Yeah, seven o’clock, right?” My ritual answer.

It never fails to amaze me why humans have to play this game. The game of communication. But then relations will be no more if this mode of communication broke down, right? Though there is a superficial tone to it.

So it is. Every afternoon at six o’clock sharp—just an hour before our jogging spree—my friend Nahid, will give me a ring to see whether I would go jogging that night. It is but of course a formality. He knows I would. That getting into shape—to get rid off all those fat in the wrong places—is my topmost priority. Not for health reasons. But to look good. To fit into those clothes that I see in the windows of hip clothing stores in Male. To look good in somebody else’s eyes. No one in particular. No one yet.

Actually, the Six O’clock Phone Call became more of a confirmation ring when both Nahid and I broke the habit of jogging each and every night. It was not that I was tired or anything. Even a long day’s work at my office desk cannot justify a tiredness that deserves my absence from jogging, exercise. Unlike popular belief, a public relations officer’s job is not harsh. Not in the way they show it in show business. For me it is part of my daily life. Like living. Like having breakfast. Or going to prayers. It was just that on some nights, I didn’t feel like going. No special reason. Maybe a little disappointed. Disappointed that I was not getting the results fast enough. Therefore I just did not feel like putting too much effort into this jogging thing.

Nothing unique about this particular night. At least not right away. Nothing seems out of the ordinary as I put on my Puma shoes and pedal on my dark green mountain bike. From Majeedee Magu to Sosun Magu. And from there to Lonuziyaaraiy Magu, directly heading east and onto the Henveiru Park. I park my bike next to the former High Court building, its walls dirtied with dust marks from a hundred other bikes parked leaning on them every day.

Orange light from atop the community police centre casts a haunting glow on the bushes that mark the perimeter of the park. No doubt the lights were put up to discourage couples from practicing their mating rituals in the dark corners of the park. They even got rid of some of the bushes because lovers were caught kissing—and maybe going a little further down the moral ladder—in those bushes.

But the efforts were to no avail. The light did not reach the whole park, and the perimeters further to the police centre were still engulfed in dark—made blacker by the overhanging, ever-present canvas of the night sky.

A few young people are doing stretches on the soft sand of the park, readying for their jogging, exercise. People of all ages exhibit the park. People with different motives. Old people who do it to escape the pangs of old age illnesses, be it combating rheumatism or fighting cholesterol levels. Middle-aged people, a bit of youth still left in them, trying to stay in shape, trying to ward of the old-age illnesses that they keep hearing about in the media. Young people, somewhat confused in their motives: Some of them did it for the hack of it. I still can’t figure out why. Then there were those who came for the fun of it. Like all other social activities—from hanging out at the artificial beach or the outdoor cafes on the southwestern harbour of Male to going to Star Cinema—jogging, exercising around the Henveiru Park is a leisure activity, a recreation, a place to hang out. A lifestyle.

And of course, there are the young people who had the same concern as me. Doing exercise to get into shape. To look good. Looking good made you worthy of admiring eyes. Or so it is said. It’s a false motive. But we believe in it anyway. For the fear of being ignored. Not been looked at by people of same age of opposite sex. Fear of being not looking good enough for a possible mate.

The fear of being alone. That was the worst.

I am going on 25, but no lovers, no. No one yet. Not even a proper kiss. Or was there any kissing at all? That sweet tender feeling of wet lips lubricating mine? I do not know just when it is that high point comes in our lives when a mate becomes the topmost priority. One thing I know is that the time has already come for me.

But I don’t have a clue as to when it was that this realisation struck. Sleepless nights—those were the first symptoms. Tossing, turning. Falling off the bed.

Then came the insomnia. Of course, I’ve read that human beings are social animals. Always on the look out for companionship. Loneliness is their worst enemy. And so it is that our cavemen forefathers lived in tribes, groups. Hunted in pairs, groups. Sat around the fires in the evening in pairs, groups.

They say that if you go looking hard you won’t find anything. You have to take it as it came. For me, it just didn’t come. Not yet, anyway.

But tonight was to change everything. Not in the way I expected. It was just the beginning. Of opening my eyes. Of opening me to a whole new world. Whole new experiences. I’ve always longed to belong to that “normal” group of people. Guys who just got their gals along the way. No major efforts. No covert operations. No stalking. No staking of homes in the cool evening hours, on their bikes, eyeing the doors or gates to a home of a possible catch. Just a phone call. In this age of technological mobility and of cellphones, everything is just a ring away.

I wanted everything to come natural to me. Like this. But I lacked assets. Cultural assets. Good communication skills. A persuasive tongue. Sweet talk. Good looks. Where do you buy those?

I look up at the sky. All clear. The sight of stars always cheered me up. And so I was heartened, for perhaps a fraction of a second.

“Let’s go.” Nahid starts walking to our “starting point” which is just the southwest corner of the park.

We break into a light jog. It is never sensible to start off fast right away. You increase pace with metabolic acceleration. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have the energy to complete the whole twenty minutes required for the warm-up that is then needed for the exercise session afterwards. You wouldn’t even have the psychological determination to go the extra mile, if you tired first.

The dhiggaa and hirundhu bushes keep passing by as we jog round and round the park. They sometimes give me the creeps. Give me the feeling of being running under overhanging black minions, with crooked arms reaching for me, to grab me, and send me into their netherworld. But they are trees. That’s all. Or are they?

We are on our third round. I am looking straight ahead, but can’t help noticing some of the visions that are caught from the corner of my eye. Is it the dark shadow of a girl I see sitting between the bushes, the light of the white lamppost casting an eerie glow on her face? There is no way to tell. I have already passed the point. Have to wait for the next round.

As I come up again, I am determined to shake the feeling that it is nothing more than an imagination of my mind. Surely, it’s just a bush. But no. The next time “she” actually moves. Or “the thing” has legs and feet, and make a motion of stretching itself. There is no way to tell, as I have passed the point again. Have to wait for the next round.

Five minutes, and we are going to pass the point again. I make up my mind to look directly into “it” this time. Not from the corner of my eye. That’s the point where imagination plays tricks in your eyes.

I don’t need to look at it this time. “It” proves to be a girl, in her teens, wearing a flowing evening dress, reddish black. She is crossing the road when we are about to pass the point where she sat, and just when we pass her, she turns sideways, gives me a look and there is a hint of a smile. Is it someone I know?

Our twenty minutes of jogging are up. It is time to begin the exercises. The exercise session is a three-tier programme of stretching, push-ups and sit-ups.

On the inner seawall just off the park, my mind is more on the girl than the stretches I am doing. Nahid notices I am not talking much tonight.

“Hey, did you know, last night I watched this movie…” He attempts to make conversation but my mind is more on the girl-thing that I saw. Was it really human? It looked human enough to my eye.

I believe in spirits. I believe they exist in their own world. Like the angels. But where does the line draw? I had heard stories of breaches in the veil that separated the human world and the spirit world.

Spirits were not all bad. There were the good ones, too. At least I heard of some when my late grandma (bless her soul) recited Saif Rasgefaanu’s adventures to me when I slept.

That was ages ago. But the memory lingers. And it helped instill a feeling of respect for the spirits, or moreover, an urge to meet those wonderful beings, who could help you in wonderful ways, than our mere mortal brothers and sisters could help us. The spirits, they could take you to the stars. Make the wildest fantasies come true. What more could one ask for?

I have no reason to suspect that what I saw tonight was a spirit. It could have been a girl, naïve, innocent, wantonly sitting, embracing the feeling of being at peace in the cool of the evening. Still the aura of something unnatural surrounding her keep nagging at my mind. I want to see her again.


Next day. Something comes up and Nahid cannot go jogging. All the better for me. Now I would be able to follow Her if She shows up.

Sure enough, she is sitting on the seawall.

I start off my exercises, pretending I am not looking at her too much. But the whole time, it seems, she has her eyes on me. And there is that mysterious smile. Or is it a smile? Or something resembling a smile?

She stands up. Starts walking in my direction. It gives me a little start to see she is coming this way. She sits right beside me. Bold.

I am out of words. Not even a Hi.

I am facing the ocean. She is looking up.At the stars.

“Beautiful night, isn’t it.” More a statement to break the awkward silence.

“Yeah…” I shake my head in agreement.

“You know…” she begins, “I see you a lot here.”

“Yeah, I come here almost every night.” I nod. “Do you come here often?” I want to probe into her ways.

“It’s beautiful here, isn’t it? Sort of makes you feel alive.” Is she dodging the question?

She isn’t beautiful but there is an intensity in her gaze that is sure to keep anyone under her spell.

My eyes take her in full. She has dark flowing hair, skin thin and tight on her delicate jaws. And then I do something I would never ever have thought of, much less done it. My right hand goes up and runs, all the way, down her neckline. She closes her eyes, doesn’t resist.

“That was nice.” Her acceptance of my impulsiveness.

“Umm…” I don’t know where to begin. “You live near here?”

“You want to come find me?” Warning bells.

“No, it’s just that, I want to see you again.”

“That’s not possible.”

“What’s wrong?”

She sits there, without a word. Thinking. Formulating an excuse.

“It’s my parents. They would never let me…”

“…date someone?” I finish for her. And boy, am I making progress. Here I am, talking about “dating” in front of someone I just meet.

“I will see you tomorrow. Same time. Here.” She stands up abruptly, and starts walking. Defensive?

I don’t follow. For some reason, I trust her word. She will come back.

I watch her disappear into the bushes.


I do come the next evening. Not in jogging attire. Just to be with her. See if she has an interest in me. And see whether I can develop an interest in her. Now that I know she is of flesh and blood. And not some spirit I imagined walking out of the woods.

It is remarkable. We just sit there. Without talking. In silence. For a full ten minutes.

My eyes are taking everything in full. Living in a small place like Male pays off, I think. No lights to blink out the stars. No pollution to blot out the blanket of the sky.

I stare off into deep space. Realise how insignificant a being I am in this vast cosmos. Is she having the same thoughts? She is looking, intensely, into the ocean. White foamy surf breaking onto the tripods of the outer seawall. A moment of peace. I don’t want to break the silence. The peace. Want to take it all in. Want to let her take it all in. It is a moment of tranquility.

I sit with my legs jutting out, my hands resting around my knees.

She makes the first move. Takes my hand in, and intertwine her fingers with mine. Rests her head on my shoulder. Looks at me with an expression that I could only describe as sweetness.

“Have you ever known what it feels like to be with someone?”

I am not used to this type of conversation. But I am determined to keep up. Maybe this is the ritual. That right of passage that makes someone make the transition into the adult world of longing, affection, passion—and love.

“To tell the truth, no.” Am I embarrassed to tell this? Being a guy and all. I look into her eyes. “Don’t be surprised. There’re many guys like us. Not all of us are sex-crazed, you know.”

“I know.” She turns once again, looking towards the ocean.

“I see that you’re like me. There’re of us who want to make it a special one, a unique experience. Something worth remembering.” She turns to me. “But we would be labeled crazy to admit things like this, right?”

“Right,” I agree. “But somehow, I don’t feel ashamed to admit it… to you. You’re being quite frank, too, do you know that?”

No answer. No need for one.

A few minutes pass. She breaks the silence. “I’ve always believed that intimacy is something that you can have only with a person you really care about.”

“And you feel that way about me? You seem to be OK with this?”

She sits straight. Lets loose my hand.

I realise what I must have meant.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean that.” My mistake.

“It’s OK,” she says. “You must feel uncomfortable. We’ve only known for a little while, right?” Another moment of silence.

“I know this must sound weird,” she begins, “but I feel very close to you. Like I’ve known you my whole life. I don’t really know how to explain this.”

“I know,” I reply. “I felt attracted to you the first time I saw you that night. I guess everything doesn’t have a reason behind it. Somethings happen because they happen.”

Is it a good enough explanation? I don’t care. She seems to be OK being with me. And it’s OK for me being with her like this. We can decide later on what direction this thing between us will lead to.

“Have you ever been with someone?” My turn to probe into her life.

“No. Not in the way you mean.”

“I didn’t mean that.” I am embarrassed that she took it the wrong way.

“Time’s up. I’ve to go.”

“Where?” This time I am not letting her get away without letting me know a little bit about her. Something about her. Of where she lived. A little information that will enlighten me in which direction I am now headed in my life.

“My folks will get worried if I turn in late.”

Somehow I expect this. She senses this and tries to console.

“I promise to see you tomorrow.”

She doesn’t add, “Same time, here.”

“OK.” I watch her walk through the bushes.


She doesn’t keep her promise.

I return home, feeling heavy.

There must be a reason for her not to show up. Overpowering parents, maybe.

The doorbell rings. She stands in the doorway of my house.

I don’t have words. It’s a total surprise. How did she find me?

“Come in,” I say.

Suddenly, I have an idea forming in my head. She is going to love this. If she’s the romantic type, that is.

“Wait here.” I offer her a chair in the sitting room.

I go into my room. Draw aside the window drapes. It’s a beautiful night. A full moon casting white faint light onto the couch below my window. Perfect.

She is sitting where I showed her, biting her nails. Nervous?

I take her hand. “Close your eyes.”


“A surprise.”

I lead her into my room. Lead her next to the couch.

“Lie down,” I say. I am wondering what she will be thinking now. Surely, the thought must have crossed her mind.

But she lies down anyway. Regardless of whatever can happen in a situation like this. Maybe, she is expecting something from me. Or is it the other way around?

The moonlight streaming through the window paints a bluish outline on the delicate features of her face. She is exquisite, looking like this, drowned in moonlight.

“Alright. Open your eyes.”

She slowly opens her eyelids. Me towering over her.

“Do you know how beautiful you are?” I touch her face and run my fingertips, from her temple, down her nose, down her soft lips, under her chin, and down her neck. I slowly make rounding motions on that hollow part just below the neck. Her breathing rises. She runs her hand down the front of my shirt. A little trick there, and then I am barebodied, her hand freely running down the muscles on my chest, my abs.

What happens between me and her is pure bliss. No words can even come close to describing what we felt. And it wasn’t just the sex.

Afterwards, we just lie there on the couch, dampened in moonlight, soaking wet with the dew of early morning.

“I have to go.” She sits up.

“I know.”

“No.” She looks at me strangely. “I have to go.”

“I know,” I say it again.

“No, you don’t know. I cannot belong to you. I cannot be part of your world.”

I am confused. Whatever she meant? Everything is going perfect for us.

She hastens out of my room, then out of the house. I don’t pursue. I am thinking to catch her again at the park.


I can’t find her anywhere. Not to this day. No one even seems to know her. No one even seems to have ever heard of her. She just came. Out of nowhere. And disappeared. Just like that.

I got over it in the end. But it took a lot of time and pain. It was an overwhelming experience. Something I would treasure for the rest of my life. The joy she gave me. The magical feeling of being with her. Of having that feeling of being in the arms of some who really cared about you and whom you really felt intimate with.

I don’t even know her name. It doesn’t matter.

You might ask: was she real? She was real enough for me. The thing we had was real.

(This story was published in the Monday Times, Maldives' only English language weekly newspaper, in December 2000)


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