Decades ago, outside the province of Hazarajat, in Afghanistan, Aayat Khan had given me his daughter, while she had freshly emerged from her landmine injury.

He was soon dead, and she was all I had.

I was as innocent as the child, and our laughter echoed while we traversed homeward.

I was an extremely playful young Mother. I would run wildly, with children, and laugh, to the utter surprise of true Mothers, who separated wheat from chaff.

Zabi, the orphan of Aayat Khan has remained with me, ever since.

The first time that I had taken her for a bath, she was not willing to be seen – but she could not have bathed herself, and there was no one else who’d have rather done the needful.

I assured her of my motherhood, and spoke to her very gently.

Her thighs were riddled with bruises and scratch marks from all those nights that she had endured, in agony.

Sometimes, I asked water.

“You are supposed to be neutral, you are supposed to be motherly. Why then, when you are splashed on a wound, you cause burning pain? Why, even you, have become so cruel, in this age? Don’t hurt this little child, for all the hurting that you did to me, has been enough – or are you not satisfied?”

Water cannot, of course, speak back. People call it wholesome, but if it were whole, it should have been most gentle – is it not?

At my scorn, Zabi would always laugh.

How could she be so oblivious, for everything that had been done to her?

At nights, after feeding her with milk, I would carefully put her to sleep.

My womb was empty, as was my life, but even empty vessels have their responsibilities.

Every night the pail awaits, that some dewdrop may be so considerate and enter it at dawn.

When Zabi would fall asleep, I would hold the corners of my pillow, and weep quietly, at my disorder.

She would immediately hug me, and it was not certain, if I had been assigned as her mother, or she had been assigned as mine.

“What must I do, this sadness, it never leaves me… When will I laugh again?”

These words were like an incantation for the little wraith.

Her laughter would fill the darkness of the room, and she would hold my back tightly.

I knew, that if that orphan, who had been raped, and blasted off a landmine, could still be so cheerful, I was perfectly well capable, of the same demeanor.

This place has become so crowded, there are so many voices, and there’s much of noise.

My own voice has become subdued – I can see everyone, but I cannot see myself.

I look into the mirror, but it never bears my reflection.

When I go to the Dargah, and peacock feathers are softly caressed over my back, I feel no ounce of devotion, I have only questions and resounding silence, as response.

“But the truth, Mother, it is this – the crowd exists as its own, but does not suffocate. The crowd has many characters, but no character of its own. It’s startling! That a crowd has many voices, but no voice of its own. It has evil-doers and do-gooders, but no act of its own. The crowd is harmless, it is lifeless. Your thoughts suffocate you. Rid yourself, sweet Mother.”

“How must I rid myself?”

“Take one face, after another, and put them all in this pail. When the first ray strikes, let the river take the pail. Rivers have their ways of drowning noise, when their own boisterous sound masks everything else. Go toward the river, therefore.”

Ages ago, when Zabi had stepped on the landmine, to the utter angst of her Father, the village people had said in cruel tones of sweetened pity.

“Khan, you are fortunate she stepped. What else was left of her anyway, after those heinous nights? The new pain will make her forget the old ones.”

I am walking fast, very very fast. I have not forgotten Aayat Khan’s hunched back, his regret, his fear, his turmoil.

The ways of the world are strange, but when a beautiful woman appears first, every man becomes heroic and approaches her with grand ideas of the beauty she creates in the world – they offer sweet praises and prostrate before her, they tell her stories, and when at last, her darkness appears, they retire, disappointed by ultimate reality.

Abuse is hurled masked as empathy, pain is justified, and men like Aayat Khan, choke to death, unknown, uncared for, and the shadows are enough to conceal.

Therefore, I walk fast, very fast – so fast that my veins become filled with blue blood and such ischemia afflicts the muscles of my body, that I cannot think any further.

I want to burn their villages – but Zabi stops me.

“What can fire do? Fire, ignorant Mother? Fire cannot erase. The ash is always alive to speak of the aftermath of one’s fury unleashed. Therefore, when intense pain is caused, one must silently endure, and remember divinity. It is very simple to procreate what was once offered, it is quite simply another, to become open to the course of life, the way it was offered. You should see where your feet take you. Where will they stop, Mother? If you stop outside the brothel of one – hundred prostitutes, you may feel one with their tribe, or you may stop outside a cave of bats, and make darkness your home. The only way, nature teaches us that we may survive best, is by imbibing and absorbing. Resistance has never found peace.”

“Oh, Zabi.

For ages, I have written about you – and tried best to ascertain your nature, give you shape.

I always fail, horribly.

Sometimes, you are a spectre – sometimes only a wisp on the wind, sometimes thick heavy atmosphere of gloom – but when I sit in sadness, your laughter brings this world back to life.”