Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 4, Issue 37, Tuesday September 18, 2007

 

 

Pre-iftar Reads

Collector

The housing agent waxes eloquent on the virtues of the house, and you make polite noises as you look around you. Suddenly you become aware of a door standing slightly ajar, just ahead of you. The agent approaches it, and you expect him to show you the room, or at least mention what it holds, but he passes it by as though he doesn't even see it.

All at once you're seized by an inexplicable, and almost insatiable wave of curiosity. Ignoring the agent's voice, which grows fainter as he moves on, you enter the room.

It is quiet and dimly lit, and somehow...expectant, in a way you can't explain, except to imagine that someone (the room?) is eagerly waiting (for you?). It takes you a moment to realise that you yourself have been holding your breath in anticipation (of what?).

As your eyes become accustomed to the dimness, you become aware of shapes within the room, tables and objects scattered around, too neat to be clutter, and yet not quite arranged as stored objects ought to be. There are no covering sheets, no lavender sachets or tarpaulins. Yet, you note with mild surprise, even though the air smells musty, unused, there is no dust anywhere. Not even a cobweb. But for the dimness and this silence… you would not know that the room has not been used for ages.

Intrigued now, you move towards the closest article of furniture, which turns out to be a padded armchair. On it, lies a journal book. The cover is made from handmade paper, and at the centre is a bird's skull. The smile that had started to break out over your face wavers a little when you realise that what you thought was a neat bit of wood carving is actually the real thing, but you open the diary anyway. Two words are inscribed neatly on the inner cover:

“Memento Mori”
"Remember you must die", you whisper to yourself, remembering the old days when you thought Latin would be a cool language to learn. Smiling at the memory, you flip through the pages, which have odd, finished sketches of skulls and dead trees and pupil-less eyes.

You're about to put the diary back, when you reach the last few pages and find an ink sketch of a girl standing by a window, hugging herself. The simple strokes and lines are so masterfully done that they seem to be alive. The girl's hair seems to be flowing as she watches the bare branch of a tree knocking against the rain-washed windowpane.

tap. tap.
Suddenly, you can hear the branch tapping on the glass, feel the chill of the overcast afternoon, and smell the fragrance of the rain.

It was so cold that day. The dark clouds and the screeching wind transformed June to January in one melancholy sweep. It was the perfect day for the death of a romance. Except, who was I kidding really? The relationship had long been over, drying out and rotting like a tree stump. All those glitzy gifts and fancy dates could only take us so far before the lack of chemistry and emotional compatibility killed the spark. I closed my eyes and tried to call up some remorse at having the one to sever the ties, just as one would amputate a gangrenous limb. I pictured his face, shocked, and a little indignant at my stony lack of emotion. I felt nothing. Another sigh, one of several, escaped my lips.

"Do you mind? I come here for some peace and quiet."
The voice was quiet, but deep. I turned around and found the boy sitting in a corner behind me. I'd seen him before; he was always sitting in a corner, in his dark clothes, brooding and keeping to himself. A loner. A loser, I wanted to add, but somehow, the thought refused to form, and after an uneasy moment, I didn't even feel offended anymore. Not knowing what to say, I stood staring at him. Rather than being unnerved by my gaze, he went back to scribbling something in his notebook. It was a very odd notebook, with a bird's skull on it. From time to time, a small, secret smile would touch his lips, and I became aware, for the first time, of his dark magnetism.

"What are you writing?"

The words blurted out before I could stop them. I blushed, mortified, but he glanced up, and gave me a searching look before he smiled handed me the notebook. I took it, and couldn't suppress a gasp when I saw his handiwork. It was a pen-sketch of me standing by the window. He smiled another odd smile at my flattered expostulations.

"Keep it. Keep the notebook. I can make another one."
"You made this?"
"Just a hobby of mine."

The reverie dissolves and you put the notebook back with a dazed shake of your head. Moving forward, you find a little side table, upon which you find a large, dry leaf carefully torn into the shape of a heart, with a pressed rose stabbed through the centre. The leaf feels papery and stiff in your hands and when, on an odd impulse, you press the weird valentine close to your face, you can still smell the rose. It brings to mind the vision of a quiet sunset in a sun-dappled park you don't recall having ever visited, but the image is flaring to life surely as any precious memory.

We stood under the tree, under a brilliant aerial display of lights and colours that the dying day was putting up before it faded to evening. My hand felt so small and white, nestled in his large brown one. He turned it over, so that my palm was facing upwards, and then dropped something on it. It was a valentine made from a dead leaf and a dried rose. I looked up at him and met with the same searching, measuring gaze he'd worn the first time I met him.

"I think I may have found a new hobby" I laughed nervously. He just smiled.

The leaf drops from your hand as you realise that the objects are connected to the strange visions you are having. There must be some kind of story there. Rushing forward, you find a number of odd objects lined up on a table. An amber pendant with a beetle preserved in it. A bracelet made from a lock of hair. A brooch made from a dead firefly. A necklace made from some animal's teeth. Excited at your find, you let your fingers skim over each, to be rewarded by a brief flash. You see how the "hobby" turned to an obsession as the collection grew, and the girl seemed to be in the thrall of the talented craftsman, losing her vivacity as she pined for him during the absences between their meetings and her gifts.

Your walking journey takes you to the far end of the room where you find a large, life-sized, waxen doll made in the image of the girl. You step closer for a better look, fascinated by the realistic handiwork, and are horrified when the 'doll' blinks.

"Don't be surprised. You see, he's a collector too.”

By Sabrina F Ahmad

 

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