by Fatima Ijaz
Rania used to visit the graveyard every day. It wasn’t to mark a death, but rather because it fell on her way to college. Sometimes on her way she would gather a few blue and purple wildflowers which were growing improperly on the sidewalk. She would place these on a grave of her choosing, and this daily activity got her to notice the names and epitaphs inscribed on the gravestones. At times the names became stories simply based on their phonetics. “Umar Jang” became a warrior who had been betrayed by his best friend at the moment of his death. No wonder his epitaph said, “Till Death Do Us Part.” “Asma Ahmed” was a university professor, all prim and proper, except on her death when she lay sprawled on the floor, blood oozing out of her nose. “Eeman Rasheed” lived unnoticed, and died as such. She lived as an ordinary woman with no regrets but no longings either.
One day, as Rania placed a crushed purple flower on Eeman Rasheed’s grave, she sighed in a mysterious way. Eeman Rasheed reminded her of her mother. They were both simple, pious house-wives. They hadn’t achieved or conquered much in grand terms, but knew how to fix a broken kettle and reorganize kitchen shelves as if they possessed a magic wand. As she was moving away, she stopped in her tracks. For a few seconds she thought of what an ordinary life was. Deciding that it was unmarked already, she went back and placed a second flower on Eeman Rasheed’s grave. The soft blue petals of the flower contrasted vividly with the hard gray of the grave.
Her musings got her in trouble at college. Coming late had become a habitual practice, queries grew morbid and then there was the daydream factor. Her math teacher was annoyed with her lack of attention to algebra. Her English teacher noticed references to the dead in her essays. But it was her Religion teacher who was accosted by questions of the afterlife. What was death? Where did the dead go? Did their life have any continuation?
Rania was dissatisfied by the answers and comments she received from her teachers. They didn’t understand that the dead were not part of living, but their hearts had been interwoven into the stars. This made the incidents of their lives live on in the imagination. They weren’t resting in limbo, nor were they to be mourned as gone. They were, in fact, like fireflies caught in an old, grand tree. Those who were blessed to see their rare light, would be able to tell their stories just by the names on their graves.
Fatima Ijaz is based in Karachi, Pakistan and teaches English and Speech at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA). She is a contributing editor at Pandemonium Journal. She graduated in English from Hartwick College, NY and York University, TO. She holds an MA in English Linguistics from Eastern Michigan University, MI. She won first prize at the Mclaughlin Poetry Contest in Toronto (2007). She has been a reader at the Karachi Literature Festival (2020, 2021). Her work has been published in The Aleph Review, Ideas&Futures, isacoustic, Tillism, Kitaab, Rigorous, The Write Launch, Bombay Review, Naya Daur and The Friday Times.