The cracks of Alwar, born to centuries of heat are now lined by a sparkling trickle of blood, my blood; and the soft white of Hasan’s cap is stained a brown I know even Ammi can never wash away. I rush towards what I fear. I can hear sounds, some of which are my own; a cry of accusation a moment ago and now a cry for help, all clouding the clink of bangles. I grab my brother’s wrist and feel a low, fading throb under his pale skin between the ticking hand of the clock. Feet are drawn in a circle with the two of us at the center and even though its radius is continually increasing, not one foot steps towards us.
“Alllahu Akbar” the Azaan or the morning call to prayer pierced through my nightmare. Once again, I had failed to join my family during Sehri and would have to fast the day on an empty stomach; not that we had sufficient to eat during Sehri. I performed my Fajr prayers and proceeded to join Ammi in the daily chores. Hasan had just returned from the mosque. He was wearing a faded, white Kurta from last year’s Eid and his favorite skull cap, Abba’s last gift to him before his functioning kidney failed him, along with his luck at the transplant list. When I saw Hasan, a proud, high school student, standing grim at the doorstep of my 5th grade class, I knew it. Ever since, Hasan had taken over the meat shop to keep us from starving. Ammi took a quick glance at him and narrated every incident that had taken place in the locality in the last few months, all while continuing to dust the empty shelves. Most recently, Amir, who was once Hasan’s senior in school, was subjected to racial slurs and death-threats while he was on his way to his father’s grocery shop, clad in a brown Kurta, with a beard that poked his chest. Having already lost Abba, she was terribly protective of Hasan and me. On hearing of these disturbances, she had directed Hasan to shave his beard, wash away his Ittar and wear khakis that she had purchased from her savings. Being the obstinate believer that he was, he had refused to abandon his faith during what he believed was a test designed by Allah. He turned a deaf ear to Ammi’s concerns and went straight to his make-shift room. Ammi ogled at me until I followed him to change his mind, to change his appearances.
“I’m playing the card.” I muttered. We each had three cards for a lifetime. He had played his to ensure I continued school.
“You can’t refuse the card.”
He looked at me with strange dismay.
For the rest of the Holy Month, Hasan rarely spoke to me or Ammi. He looked incongruous in his new attire but certainly less than how much he felt it. Guilt had invaded my interactions with him. Ammi’s relief overrode hers. I began subduing mine by saving money from my daily allowance to gift him a Taqiyah on Eid. The idea struck me when I spotted a white, crochet cap at Asmi’s clothing store. Adhering to her disposition of being a reliable friend, she promised to reserve it until I had enough to afford it.
The brightly lit streets of the Bazaars were bustling with activity on Chaand Raat. A plethora of hawkers roamed the lanes whilst ladies clad in their best Abayas haggled with shopkeepers. I walked through the alley behind our house to reach Asmi’s shop. We greeted each other with the three customary hugs before exchanging clandestine smiles while the cap and money changed hands. I rushed back home with an anticipation to mend my relationship with Hasan. I was certain that he would love the cap and more so, the intention. We would return to the comfort of our secret gestures and silent conversations. Our debates over dinner would once again let us sleep with a feeling of amusement.
I placed the cap over his head as he got up from his evening prayers. He embraced me with a smile I had longed far too long to see.
“Eid Mubarak” he whispered.
We were walking back from the shop with fresh meat for the biryani. The clink of my bangles was left faint against the greetings. Hasan was wearing an old, blue kurta I had picked out for him with the white cap. Much against my fears, we had reached normalcy and quite quickly. A few men wrapped in saffron were gathered at the street corner. They glared at our black plastic cover dripping with red. From the periphery of my lowered gaze, I saw Hasan acknowledge their presence with a smile as we quickened our steps. He dropped me at home and walked on to the mosque at the sound of the Azaan.