If You Ever Go There

A Short Story by Nasir Ali Hussain

In late March 1979 my friend Omar and myself had gone on a family holiday to Pakistan. Our parents were both from Lahore and after a couple of weeks out there we decided to take a break from our parents and extended family in Lahore. We were both twenty at the time and we suspected that our parents had ulterior motives in getting the arranged marriage ball rolling and had good reason to believe they were scoping out future possible daughters in law out there.  

President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the socialist leaning prime minister of Pakistan, had been hanged on April 4th, without proper due process and what many felt was a trumped up charge of arranging the murder of a political rival. The atmosphere in big cities like Lahore and Karachi were volatile to say the least. Therefore we decided that it would be a good time to take ourselves out of circulation for a while, at least until the boiling returned back to a gentle simmering.

A family friend arranged for us to take a tour of the hill regions of Sawat, Kalam and parts of Murree. These lie in the northwestern region of Sandian, close to Islamabad. These places were sedate and prosaic by comparison to Lahore; the city that never slept.

In fact, even my father had said. “People go up to that part of the country to escape the chaos of the city and enjoy nature. But nothing ever happens there.”

It was indeed an idyllic place, a real contrast from Lahore. We had gone fishing, climbing and hiking up there and had a good few adventures. We were awestruck by the natural beauty of this part of Pakistan. I’m still convinced that parts of Pakistan are the most beautiful places of natural beauty in the world; under explored and under appreciated to this day.

After two weeks out there we readied ourselves for returning back to Lahore for another ten days, before then leaving for London. I would go and start my doctorate, while Omar would begin his Barrister’s course in Holborn.

In total we spent eight weeks in Pakistan.

My uncle had kindly arranged for us to stay at the Islamabad home of his old friend, a retired college professor by the name of Alan Moss who now divided his time between London, New York and Pakistan. 

We only stayed at his home for a few days, but both Omar and myself decided it would be better if I stayed at the Pearl Continental Hotel in Bhurban and he stayed at a wealthy uncle’s home about a mile from my hotel. We did, however, spend time with him every day and often took lunch or dinner at his house.

My uncle had studied at Forman Christian College in Lahore and Alan Moss had been his law tutor. They went on to become good friends. Professor Moss, like most of the teachers at Forman Christian College was an American, and like most of the American tutors at F.C College he had stayed on after British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan. 

The Americans had stayed on into the 1960s, but by 1970 the staff was almost entirely composed of Pakistanis. FC college had been established as a liberal arts university in Lahore by an American Prebystrian minister called Dr Charles William Forman. 

Professor Moss had bought the lovely large house in the early 1970s.  He only used it for a few months in the year and had only purchased the house as a kind of angel invester to help out a family of Nawabs who had been faced with serious financial difficulties after the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. In return, he could come and stay as often and as long as he liked and would be treated like royalty. Not a bad arrangement, I thought, if you could afford it.

One of the sons of these Nawabs had studied under Professor Moss. And he was the one who had struck the deal whereby the family stayed on taking care of the upkeep of the place and being owners in all but name.  The title to the property would presumably revert back to them afterwards I suspected.

A few members of that Nawab family were still there in 1979, so the house was always inhabited. At this time, Professor Moss came and stayed there only during the Summer months. The rest of the time he was either in America or London where he attended as a visiting professor emeritus. 

We were fortunate to be in the country at the same time as he was. This was not only because we had the benefit of staying at his beautiful home for a few nights, but also because we were lucky enough to have the pleasure of his company over many days. 

Professor Moss, besides being a lawyer, was also a folklorist and a linguist. He could knowledgeably comverse for hours on languages and beliefs.

Anyway, one evening Omar and I stayed on longer than we had intended to due to the sudden stormy turn of the weather. 

The lights went out, so candles had to be lit. This added to the ambiance. It felt like we were in a different time and place to Pakistan 1979. We chatted about that idea that exists, in many cultures, of intelligent life that was not human, yet at the same time not animal either. All the while one of the house servants waited on us.

I can still see the old professor leaning back with half closed eyes, behind his glasses with his hands tented on his lap.

  “This world is older than we think. And every few years we find that we have to trace back the origin of both the planet and the origin of the human race or races supposed to represent our ancestors. Science does not consider the possibility that both evolution and the idea of a fully formed homo sapiens primate could be concurrently true, just that our evolutionary tree goes back six thousand years and is maybe not connected to Homo Erectus, the Neanderthal and the Cro Magnon; that our line came later from entirely different circumstances” he said in his baritone Bostonian accent. 

“Anyway, be that as it may. If we bear in mind the age of the earth versus the age of the sun, it is not beyond the realms of probability that other, less material and more fluid dimensions exist; which means other beings can also exist. Remember we exist in three dimensions , which are solid, liquid and gas. The body, the plasma and the gas- which we can call the soul. There is more in this world than are dreamed of in your philosophy,” he chuckled as if amused at some private thought.

“Here is the mythology, or history if you will, according to Islamic lore,” he continued. “There was a long period of life before humans. Christian theologians refer to it in their ‘Gap Theory’. This was an extended age on the earth, but not earth as we know it. And it was during this period that a species of intelligent beings, known to us by the ambiguous, umbrella term of ‘Jinn,’ dominated the Earth. In Europe they are referred to, rather simplistically, as Demons. The purpose of the Jinn was simple.” Professor Moss counted off the points on his fingers. “One, respect and do your best to obey the laws of life. Two, live in peace and harmony with both the environment and each other. Three, have no worship other than that of God. However, because of their fiery, proud and high tempered nature this was not the case and there was much blood shed.”

“Pretty simple then,” said Omar.

“Not really. Eventually a war broke out that proved a kind of Armageddon for them as they fought each other in a war nobody could make sense of. In the end God sent the angels down with the command to wipe the evil Jinn from the face of the earth, and they did just that. One child Jinn however, by the name of Haris Bin Haris, was spared. The angels asked God’s permission to bring him up to the heavens. They were granted permission and this Haris Bin Haris grew wise, strong and very beautiful. It got to the point where he was mistaken for an angel, or celestial being, himself. However, in time, God decided to create a new race of beings from out of clay. And the angels fearing a repeat of what happened in the past asked:

‘Are you going to create someone who is going to create mischief and shed blood?’

God placated them by explaining them that he knew things that they did not. He told them that this new species, although composed primarily of the earth, making him a fundamentally material thinking being, would also have a bit of everything in him. Some fire, some water and some air to go with his earthy nature. This new creation would be more versatile mentally and emotionally than the jinn ever were.

Lastly, and best of all God himself was going to breathe into him. Thus making him unique, because this breath of life would bring with it something of God’s own nature. This is what we know as ‘free will’. This being, called ‘man’ would have the ability to be truly good or truly evil, depending on how he chose to use this faculty of free will against his base physical nature. The angels were awestruck. This notion of free-will was something entirely new to them, and when they were told to bow down to this new thing called ‘Adam’ they had no hesitation in doing so. All except the young jinn who had been taken to live among them. He refused outright and said: 

‘This thing does not even know its name and he is made of clay while I am made of fire. I am better than him!’ 

Here we have the very first recorded instance of racism and the metamorphosis of that child into the personality we know as Satan. The religiously minded forget that Satan was not always a figure of evil doings. He was wise and very beautiful in form and speech. Do any of you fine young men by the way know what the name Lucifer means? That’s supposedly one of his other names isn’t it?” He added rhetorically. “Not that you’ll find that name anywhere in the biblical texts.”

He looked at us individually before continuing.

“Well, it means ‘the morning star’, ‘the bringer of light’. Light is another word for wisdom, revelation. He used to walk and talk with angels and they would listen to him in wonder. That’s why some of them stayed with him when he came down from heaven…. Hell always begins on earth.”

Omar gave a good natured chuckle in the pause that followed. 

“I always thought of the Devil as a disgruntled employee. I feel kind of vindicated now.” He said and the professor smiled before furthering his point.

“This concept of a parallel species to humans is known in other places by other names. The Irish called them The Gentry or Faerie. The Vodun beliefs of West Africa referenced such beings of power as Shango. However, nowhere is such a concept taken as a fact of the natural world so casually as in the Muslim world.” He paused and took a sip of his tea, then sat back and savoured the taste. I thought about the things he was telling us and wondered if he was being serious or was merely providing entertainment for all concerned. In my experience old men can have a lot to say, but few listeners and even fewer takers for their advice. So naturally they like nothing better than a captive audience.

It was dark rainy night. You could hear the wind whistle, then at times rise to a shriek; whilst the rain tapped insistently against the window like it were asking permission to come inside. We sat on ornate, wooden furniture that was at least half a century old. I felt a curious sense of loss for a time and place that was long gone well before I was born, but still somehow made me feel mournful.

Some carefully spaced out candles were the only lights in that large country house of many corners. I thought that the sudden storm had affected the mains, but it hadn’t. Pakistan, at the time, in a bid to save energy would have regular occurrences what was called ‘load shedding’. This was where, without warning, the electricity would go off and there would be no light, or electricity, for a couple of hours or more. Industry work continued by using generators and those who could afford it installed generators to handle ‘load shedding’ hours.

The only other sounds in the room, besides the crackling fireplace, were of the teacups and the antique grandfather clock. I felt a kind of fear, the kind that made me glad that we were sitting so close together with the light from the candles making the Professor’s eyes glean behind his spectacles. 

“Can you tell us some more about The Jinn,” I asked. “Pakistani people for some reason don’t like to talk about them.”

He smiled, gave a gentle nod and said yes.

“The word Jinn is Arabic and essentially means something hidden or not visible to the eye. The word genius is most likely derived from it and the word janna. The Arabic for Eden is also linked to it. Jinns dominated the earth before there were any such things as men or women. Maybe they see us as intruders? If they are real and actually exist of course. Jinns are not angels or men. They’re made from fire that brings no smoke. They are not affected by physical laws as we are. They can travel long distances in seconds, they sometimes appear as shadows and they can change shape and size. When they come among people, they try to look like us… but when they do, something is always not quite right and they can look like parodies of humans, walking caricatures.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, for instance, sometimes their hands and feet will be backwards. Other times the fingers will be either too long, too flat or too thin. Or they will be unnaturally beautiful and always appear taller than other people around them. Often their pupils will be straight and perpendicular, like those of a cat. They can shape shift too. Sometimes they can appear and vanish like scattering dust. Sometimes they are as big as houses, sometimes as tall and thin as lampposts and they can stretch and bend like they are made of rubber. And the worst thing is, they can see us, but we can’t see them. Not unless they want us to.”

Professor Moss paused again to take another slow sip of tea, then leaned back as if to gather his thoughts, or perhaps to clarify which direction to take the discussion. He gave himself a slow, solemn nod before resuming.

Certain Jinni females, as you may have heard, are known in Pakistan and India by the name Churel. They are known to cover themselves from head to foot and live in dark and isolated places, such as graveyards filled with disbelievers and hilly areas where no one walks…. certainly not alone and certainly not after dark. In short, places of desolation and remoteness. The Jinn tend not to stay in places where electricity has encroached. And they hate and fear iron.

These Churels are either gruesomely ugly or bewitchingly beautiful… on outside appearances anyway,, but even then some have thick, animal-like hair on their body. 

Picture by Sadia Hussain

Pagans in Europe- like the Celts and the Hindus in India, took them for gods because of their strange powers. They worshiped them and offered up human sacrifices.

That’s why in India you see all these unlikely, humanoid looking statues in their holy places. The Jews learnt many things from and about them whilst they were in captivity in Babylon. They learnt how to conjure and make strange new creations via a strange combination of letters, numbers and rituals. That’s where the ability to make a slave built from the dust came from. The Golem. 

Many magicians who do strange impossible feats use them after striking a bargain with them. Among the magician fraternity the Jinn are known as The Outsiders. 

 And now in our age of reason and science no one believes they ever existed, except the Muslims…And even most of them don’t know that they come in and out of our world.”

“Are they stronger than us? What do they fear?” I asked.

“Not much, “ Said Omar. “ Certainly not us humans.”

The professor gave a dry laugh.

“Everything that has a life force fears something. They fear faith, faith that has substance to it. So if you have a cross, a Bible or Koran in your hand and have faith. You can get angry at them and tell them to leave and they will go. Remember us humans are stronger than they are. But you must genuinely believe in your belief if you want to defeat them. If you have that, they can’t even argue with you. 

I knew an old Imam who claimed that he taught Islam to a group of male jinn. The day before they would come to his house he made sure to tell people to stay away. I insisted on being there one day, when he made the mistake of telling me that he was expecting them. He tried to persuade me to leave, then gave up and resigned himself to my being there. When they arrived I knew they had come, even though I could not see or hear them. The whole house darkened and an almost stale and unnatural taste came into the air as a smattering of strange shapes could be felt, as opposed to seen, entering the room. They were cone shaped, at first, and then they kept changing form. What had arrived was neither solid, liquid or gas. They looked like large spinning swirls of cigarette smoke. Whenever I would look directly at them they would vanish and seconds later from the corner of one eye I’d see those same spirals of grey fume again, vibrating turning or spinning in another part of the room. It was like they had some power over my eyes and were using that power because they were not comfortable with my eyes upon them. I’m sure they would have done me some mischief had I been alone. I believe my being there put them into a bad mood. One of them argued with him about some point or another and he later told me that that had never happened before. He got angry and said with a pointing finger stabbing at the air.

  “Do not argue with me I am a man, and you are not. You are things of fire. I am higher than you!”

The Jinn stopped arguing with him, but I believe that my not leaving had something to do with it and I went away shortly after that and never made the mistake of going there at that time again. It was silly of me to do so. Now as some people are good and some not so good, some Jinni are good. But the bad Jinns seem to far outnumber the good ones and most people today have no faith in what is above or what may lie below … I have also heard that they fear smoke…”

I laughed. “So they hate cigarettes do they? Sounds like Omar’s ex-girlfriend.”

The professor gave me a smile, then returned back to his serious expression and thoughtfully scratched his goatee beard.

“Yes, I suppose they do, that or fire.” He said.

“You don’t believe they are real then?” Said Omar with a finger raised and looking and sounding like some barrister making a point in court. 

“Have you had any personal experiences with them?” I asked the professor before he could answer Omar’s question.

Outside the wind suddenly hit a pitch and one of the windows threw itself open, the fire and all the candles went out. The cups and saucers rattled as if we were sitting on a train. Everyone jumped, except of course the Good Professor.

It took a few minutes for everything to calm down again. His housekeeper Arshad and I bolted shut the windows. The fire was re-lit and so were some candles.

“Arshad, be and good fellow and go and make some more tea for our guests now will you and bring some biscuits as well. I promise not to continue the subject until you return.”

The servant smiled and disappeared into the gloom of the kitchen with a candle holder in tow.

“You have a beautiful house Mr Moss.  Don’t old houses like these have memories? Stories that are left in their walls?” I asked.

“Yes” The old Professor smiled back. “But let’s leave that conversation for another day? One unlikely subject at a time my dear boy.”

Arshad returned with some fresh tea and cake rusks. The combination of our talk, the dark shadows and the wind had made us all quite hungry. We chewed in silence for a while, digesting not just the biscuits, but also the depth of information that was being shared with us.

I looked at Omar. I could see his mind turning as he ate and I knew what he was going to say before he said it.

“You know, professor? This talk of Jinns as a race of things who live so close to our world that they can come and go as they please …and this talk of Churels. These devil-women who live in graveyards and hidden, mountainous places waiting to trap men ….Are these not just children’s stories, sir. Just a part of our mythological tapestry. Stories we have told and retold for so long when we needed stories to explain the purpose of things, that now they have just been taken for granted as facts by those who don’t know any better?” He said looking pleased with his summation of what he had heard.

“Do you have any proof?” I asked in a more polite tone.

“Yes, have you ever seen one?” said Omar. The professor leaned back and smiled.

“Would you believe me if I said yes?” He said and we nodded. 

“Well, a long time ago when I was a young man, this was in 1955. I was travelling through the hill country in the land between Murree and the frontier mountain country. The only companion I had was my horse.

I had been travelling all day, becoming increasingly weary and realized that I had lost my bearings. The more I traveled, the more lost I became. There was no reason for this to be the case you understand. I had a map and had been followed it, but still I was lost and out of sorts.

Time was becoming a factor. And the sun was beginning to slip behind those hills. All I knew was that the terrain seemed to become increasingly steep. It was endlessly going uphill, and me and my horse were tired and in need of some refreshment. I stopped to eat something and to also give some water to my animal when I began to hear the sounds of voices, lots of voices and the sounds of celebration. But I did not sense jubilation forthcoming.

As those happy sounds crept closer my horse became jittery. It began snorting like it sensed something ominous in the offing, moving left and right a few steps at a time like it could not decide on which direction to go in. Then it came to an abrupt stop.

Something in the air had changed. The wind became stronger and felt as though it was blowing straight upwards towards the heavens. The air tasted salty and metallic almost and my horse refused to go further on. Its eyes grew big and it turned round and round in tight circles. The combination of this and the whirring wind made me fall from my saddle. I fell to the ground with a thud.

I was a little dazed, with a few minor scratches, but fortunately unhurt. When I got up and looked around I could swear that everything looked a little different, a tad off as it were. Initially I thought I had taken a bump to the head, but soon realized that was not the case.

The sides of the hills looked reddish and jagged, like they had been cut out of the landscape with a strangely shaped knife. In those days I was a big, strong man, over six-feet tall and fearless, but this was unlike anything I had encountered. It left me feeling a little more than perturbed.

Just a little way into the distance I saw lights twinkling. Within seconds they were near me and around me, these, these, people who were not really people, if you know what I mean? Some of them were very tall and thin. Some of them were very small and wide. They had lumps on their backs, like jackals and their eyes were not the same shape as ours…. And they all knew I was there.

They were dressed in these strange bedouin like white robes that changed colour with every movement. Two of them came up to me. When they spoke they spoke in strange, scratchy, husky voices. It was like there was more than one voice coming through each mouth. 

“Hey come and join us… Dance with us! Dance! Jump! Fly!” They said, swaying unnaturally like living cloth from side to side; with some of them actually taking off into the air when the word fly was said to me. 

I shook my head in disbelief, instinctively trying to hide my emotions in a bid to prevent them from reading my thoughts. I then tried to calm my horse down, as it had begun to panic in fright. In all honesty I was as much trying to calm myself down as I was the beast; hoping to settle my fast beating heart and clear my mind enough to decide on what I should do. 

“What was happening? I mean what were they all doing there?” I asked.

“I really can’t say for sure. I can only liken it to a wedding, or something like that. I could hear music, what sounded like bagpipes, but weren’t bagpipes you understand and drums, lots of rolling drums. The ground vibrated with their movements. Every so often one of them would come up to me and try to get me to join them in their celebration.

“Come on why are you being such a bore? Stop sitting there so seriously and have some fun with us. What’s wrong with you, eat, drink and be merry! Come join us…” said one holding out a hand on which the ring finger was longer than the middle finger.

I just sat there shaking my head waiting for the night sky to be slit by daylight. It had grown cold, but my body was soaked with sweat. I didn’t want to show them that I was afraid. I knew that they could and would start playing some real dangerous games with me if they smelled fear from me or took any offence or worse still, began to take a dislike to me.

Every now and then one of them would again come over to me in a bid to get my involvement.

“Come on get up, enjoy yourself, have fun with us!”

“Just leave me where I am, friend, forget about it.”

“Have some food with us at least. Oh come on!”

“No thank you I’m not hungry,” I said, even as my stomach made noises. I had heard that sometimes when you cross over into the world that is half of this world and half of their world you are not supposed to eat anything that is offered to you especially if it has salt in it.”

“Why is that?” said Omar.

“Because if they give you food with salt and you eat it… you may never come back. You stay with them forever. Or if you do come back, an unnatural length of time will have passed. One night with them could amount to anything from a month to years in our time. I wanted to get back home then. I felt like a child caught in a dark, windy night. Again and again they approached me. And again and again I tried not to look afraid and not to do anything that made them angry. I just wanted them to forget that I was there to ignore me and to do whatever it was they were doing in their celebration. Every second felt like a minute, and every minute felt like an hour. I sat muttering crazily in my mouth and gently rocking backwards and forwards with my knees up to my chin; too scared to run and too petrified to hide. I started talking to myself. Because at that moment my voice was the only thing still familiar to my senses.”

“What were you saying?” I said.

“Get me out of here. Please get me out. Save me, save me, save me. In the end one of them said to the other in his thick, scratchy voice.

 “Aach! Just leave him, he’s boring, he’s got no fun in him!”

It seemed as though they were deciding on what to do with me. The night was beginning to fracture into dawn and one of them had his cat-like eyes transfixed on me, while another muttered to him.

I then began to pray openly, with increased fervor. They then started to laugh among themselves. I could not tell if this was a good or a bad sign for me…. They then began to swirl around me as the sound of laughter increased in volume so that it sort of ricochet around me like an echo.

I felt paralyzed with fear. Then all of a sudden- they decided to leave, just as the sun began to come up. They were gone. All of them, leaving as quickly as they had arrived. They took their wedding, drums and bagpipes off somewhere else.”

“Where?” I wanted to know.

“I wasn’t staying to find out, but I think the hills were a part of it. In one of those hills there must have been a crack between dimensions. Strangely enough when I got back on my horse I found my direction within minutes. I was home within an hour. I stayed in bed with a fever after that for three days.”

“I believe you,” I said.

“I don’t think you are lying,” said Omar, “But I don’t believe you.” 

The professor laughed a kind laugh, soft and with just the slightest touch of regret.

“I wouldn’t believe me if I were you either. Be that as it may, that’s what happened. Don’t worry Omar. These things are true and truth has a way of arriving like an unexpected visitor at the door of those who least expect it.”

The clock chimed midnight. The sound, doomy and final, reminded me of London and home- which was a long, long way away just then. The rain had begun to stop and the wind was blowing less than before. I looked at Omar as if to say, ‘we really should be leaving’. We got up and shook hands with the old man. 

“You know you are both welcome to stay the night.” He said.

I didn’t want to tell the professor that I had heard noises in the house the night I stayed before. It had been a scuttling noise above my room like something running back and forwards and of a chair being moved, someone tying something together in a hurry. 

I felt freezing cold all of that evening; despite it being the month of July. All the while I felt uneasy, like someone, or something, was watching me.

Sometimes I laugh by myself when I’m alone…but I didn’t do that there. I’ve learnt never to laugh alone when you are in an empty room. Sometimes the room isn’t empty and your laughter can invite things you hadn’t intended on inviting.

The next day Professor Moss returned and was not happy about my staying in that room. I asked why and eventually, after a certain amount of persuading, he told me that the room had remained locked and unopened in many long years. He was uncharacteristically cryptic when questioned. 

“When a room is locked and no one ever goes there, something will move in.”

“What happened to the last person who slept there?” 

He shook his head, sadly and closed his eyes. “It was a long time ago, before I bought the place. The last person was the mad, elder sister of the previous owner of the haveli…she hung herself in that room.”

As we made our way to our car the professor put an arm around Omar.

“Stay away from taking any short cuts my boy. We are miles from anywhere and the road signs are there for a reason. Do not explore the roads on a night like this.”

Omar grinned and jingled his car keys in his hand. 

“Of course not,” was all he said. As Omar drove us home that evening he had a good chuckle at what the old man had said.

“He’s a lovely and sweet old fellow, but definitely a few eggs short of a dozen,” he said shaking his head. “Crazy as a bag of nuts.’ He said laughing at his own words.

Along the way we got lost. We drove and drove, seemingly going in circles. Yet, all the while the road went up and up. We were hoping to ask someone for directions, but we did not see a single soul out there.

Then out of nowhere and much to our combined relief, we saw a tall woman, with a fine, full figure standing by the roadside at one point like she was waiting for someone. Omar’s eye’s lit up  at the sight of her tall, proud, shrouded figure. She was covered from head to foot in black, like a religious Muslim woman.

We couldn’t see her face.

“Wow,” was all he managed to say.

“Do you think we should help her?” I said

” Of course we should help. What kind of a gentleman would leave a woman all alone in a place like this at night? Tell me that?” He said.

We pulled up alongside her. She didn’t move as we drew up to her. She  just leaned against an old broken down wall. 

“Are you alright sister? Do you need a ride into town?” I asked trying to sound as non-threatening as I could.

There was no reaction from her at all. She didn’t move or even make a sound. I wondered for a brief moment whether she was literally frozen with fear. In that moment it occurred to me that we were in one of those parts of the world where if two men stop a car on a lonely road to a woman and she doesn’t respond it’s better to skedaddle than face face any potential hostility from any locals who might suddenly materialize.

I told Omar to get moving. But he didn’t like that, I could see his mind ticking over as he drove.

“I’m going to go back there,” he said after dropping me off at the PC hotel.

“No, don’t do that. I don’t have a good feeling about you going there.” I said to him.

“Nah, your problem is that you just don’t know how to talk to women. that’s why you get the cold shoulder all the time” he said, waving my concern away. ” She looked too nice to just drive away from. I bet I can get her talking, besides it’s damn shame to leavea damsel in distress stranded out in a night like this,” he added with a sly look on his face.

” You’re mad,” I said to him.

” Mad enough to know that things will be different if I go back there alone,” said Omar enthusiastically as the night wind whistled about our ears.

” Suit, yourself,” I said pulling my coat collar up and turning away to get back into the warmth of the PC hotel.

From behind me I could hear his car start and then roar off into the night. I looked up at the stars twinkling in the inky blue sky, turned up my collar, and trudged towards the hotel.

The next day I called him at his uncle’s home where he was staying while I had been staying at the Pearl Continental in Bhurban. No reply. I called the day. Then they day after that as well. He wouldn’t come to the phone.

One of three things have happened I thought. He’s been kidnapped, or he’s gotten married, or he’s in a coma somewhere.

“He’s sick and in bed” one of the servants told me.

On the fifth day I received a call from him. 

“Come round to the house. I’ll send a driver over to collect you.” He said. I had a shower and stood outside the hotel ready to be collected.  A black raven flew past one of the tall pillars and I wondered if that meant something.

When I saw Omar he was in bed and didn’t look as good as he had when we had last seen each other.

“Take a seat,” he said motioning to one of the chairs. I sat down.

“What happened man? You look like you’ve had a nervous breakdown.” I said

“If I tell you, you can’t speak about it to anyone.” He Said

“What about the professor?” I said.

“Especially not the professor.” He said with some alarm.

“Okay, so what happened?” I said.

“After leaving you last week I got back in my car and went looking for that woman. I wanted her so badly that I was a little bit ashamed of my desire. I went back where we had come from. I didn’t see another living thing for a long time. The only other living thing I saw was her. She was walking, but not in the same place as before. So I stopped the car and asked her again if she wanted help. This time she agreed to my offer of a ride. I was delighted. 

“I didn’t like your friend,” she answered in a deep, creamy voice, as she looked out of the window. “That’s why I ignored you earlier.”

I asked her where she wanted to go and she told me not to worry and that she would direct me to where she wanted to go.

We kept driving on and on. I didn’t recognize anything. When I lit up a cigarette she became suddenly agitated.

“Can you put that out” she said, a little too firmly I thought to a man who had offered to give her a lift in his expensive car.

I smiled and complied, chucking my last Marlboro out the window, but not before noticing what looked like a little smile creep over her face, which made me think to myself – What’s so funny about that?

Anyway, I drove on. 

“Where is it that you live exactly?” I kept asking her.

“Nearly there, sir, nearly there,” she kept repeating as if she was absently singing a lullaby to herself. I had a map on the back seat of my car and reached out for it. I was really excited. I thought she would take me back to her place and perhaps be invited to spend the night.” Omar said in the same miserable tone.

“I manoeuvred my hand on her shoulder as I reached back to the back seat, and from there my hand went to her back. Just for a few seconds you understand and I felt a cold feeling go through my body, like an ice cube had slid down my neck. Under her long, black clothing I felt hair, and not any kind of hair. This was thick and full. I swear it was just like that of an animal!” He said and his eyes widened and face went momentarily blank at the memory of whatever it was that had happened.

“Did you say hair like an animal?” I asked.

” That’s right.” He said.

I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“I continued driving, not knowing where I was going and definitely not wanting to show her what I was feeling. I was also noticing how the air in the car tasted sort of like the bitter iron taste of blood. I rolled my window down and asked her to do the same.

“We’re almost there now,” she said. “Almost there.”

“I was so frightened I thought I was going to have an accident in my trousers, because I saw no homes or signs of human life, only trees. She had dragged me into the woods, mate.”

“Why have you gone so quiet?” She said with an edge of irritation in her voice after a minute or so of silence from me and no other sound but the purring of the motor.

“No reason.” I said smiling at her. And then I remembered what the professor had said about how Jinns hate and fear smoke and remembering that I had another pack of cigarettes, but that they were in the trunk in the back of the car.

“We’re lost.” I said to her, noticing that I would run out of fuel if things carried on as they were. I then told her. “I have to get something out of the back.”

“We’re not lost.” She said. “What do you have to get?” This time with some impatience and she ran a sharp fingernail across my arm as she spoke.

“I have a flashlight there. It will help.” I said as I pulled over and opened the door. I quickly got out and went to the boot and thank God there was a packet of Benson and Hedges there. Nothing in my life had ever looked so golden or sweet. I took one out and sparked up. Then I swaggered over to her side of the car, and blew into the window.

“What do you think you are doing?” She said, her voice suddenly angry, her beautiful face flushed red and her eyebrows had knotted in disapproval.

“Get out of my car!” I said.  I then gave her a volley of some very, shall we say, colorful language.

” What! How can you do this to me, sahib? I’m just a poor girl, lost and-”

I put some bass in my voice and tried to look brave, even though my legs were shaking beneath me. 

“You said we were near your house just a minute ago…get out of the car- now.” I said, forcefully and continued blowing smoke into the car at her. The smoke began to move around her.  Her face became discolored, sort of going from pale, white, to meat red and then to something almost purple. But it was working and she made a frightened, sort of breathless sound before finally getting out of the car, albeit with slow deliberate movements, still protesting my sudden turn in behavior.

It was too late to call it night and too dark to call it day as she walked a few feet away from the car, then turned round and stood staring at me with this maniacal stare. I swear, if looks could kill she would have had a corpse at her feet. Then her expression changed to one of cold anger as she just stood where she was frozen and staring .

The cigarette was almost out. I wasn’t taking any chances and used the one in my hand to fire up another one. I got back in the car and she stepped close to the car, but away from the smoke.

“You son of a bitch.” She finally said in a low measured voice that sounded more like a man’s than a woman’s voice.

“This time you got away… but the next time you won’t be so lucky.” She said before slowly walking off into the woods. I sat transfixed as I watched her slowly fade out of sight and then I regained my senses and turned my key in the ignition and drove away. Anywhere was better than that lost road. Eventually I got home. My box of cigarettes was just an empty box by the time I got back. I got into bed and haven’t got out since.”

“That’s some story” I said, “But I don’t believe you” I laughed. He smiled a thin, tired smile. 

”Oh, I think you do. So if you ever go there again and you happen to see a woman dressed all in black, don’t call out to her, don’t invite her in or ask for directions. In fact, don’t do anything but put your foot down and keep going.”

“Why don’t you want me to speak to the professor about it?” I asked him.

“He was in bed for three days. I’ve been in bed for five days.”

I laughed.

“Oh, I’ve got something to ask you.” Omar said, suddenly looking embarrassed.

“Oh? What’s that?” 

“Do you have any cigarettes, Nas?”

By Nasir Ali Hussain    

Copyright 2021

Published by simonmandrake

A weekly dose of short stories, short films, web series, blogs and articles.

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