Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Haunting by Zainab Alam

It was all white. The trees. Even the grass. Even the sky. All serene. And from somewhere between that serenity and whiteness, we came out running – you and me. I was running after you as if indulged in a childlike game. You were exuding happiness – I’d never seen so many colors on one person. But you looked like you belonged there; a drop of color on a white canvas. And then we were suddenly reaching the end of the hill – you didn’t realize, you kept on running. I reached for  your hand, so as to hold you back, but you were so fast. I tried to scream out your name, but the quietness drowned my voice. It was so close, I simply had to stop you now. I ran faster, my face contorting in concentration and focus – I had to hold you back. And then you fell. I didn’t see you falling, but you were gone. And I just stood there…

It’s been two months today. Two months to the day he left me alone. Two months to the day I killed him. Yes, killed him. His death was a murder. It was my constant nagging, my habit of arguing, my tantrums, my immaturity that drove him insane – that gave him a tumor. Doctors say that it was some chemical reaction in the brain, but I know that’s not true. That’s why whenever I see him these days, he’s always lurking in the corners of the house and never looking at me… maybe he realizes that it was my fault, as well.

Aapajan came to the house yesterday. She kept ringing the bell for about fifteen minutes but I didn’t open the door. I haven’t spoken to his family after he left; I know they just want to make me feel guilty; guiltier than I feel already.

I’m so scared. I hear voices in my head all the time, telling me to kill myself because I don’t deserve to live anymore. This morning when I woke up, I had knife-inflicted wounds on the sole of my left foot. They were raw and bloody… I don’t even remember how I got hurt. I haven’t been able to walk at all. So I’ve been sitting in his armchair, draped in his grey shawl, and writing.

The night after he left, everyone was staying over at our place. I was in our room, lying down curled up on his side of the bed, hugging his beanie pillow. And I saw him… I saw him again. For the first time ever. He was standing right in front of me, and he was crying. Howling. Pulling his hair and wailing. Screaming for help, screaming for someone to save hi,. And suddenly he became still, blank. And in the most broken of voices, he whispered my name. I jumped off the bed and screaming, ran out of the room, through the corridor and into the TV lounge. I collapsed in front of Bhaiya and started to cry. Everyone was relieved, because I hadn’t cried till then. But no one saw what I saw. No one felt how I felt – so scared. So guilty.

I sometimes wonder. I wonder a lot, actually. Most of the time. What if I hadn’t fought with him so much?  What if I hadn’t neglected him so much? I mean, I practically blamed him for everything. We had a small apartment, I blamed him. We didn’t go out often, I blamed him. We didn’t have a big car, I blamed him. I wasn’t getting pregnant, I blamed him. I feel so hollow sometimes, like there’s no feeling left inside of me. And sometimes, I feel so heavy, as if I’m full with things to apologize for. Maybe I am. But the irony is, he’s not here to accept my apology and forgive me. And how could he forgive me for taking away his life? For taking away his desire of becoming a father? For taking away his dreams of watching a football match in Manchester stadium? For not letting him complete his wristwatch collection? How could he forgive me? I can’t forgive myself. I can’t.

Sometimes I feel like my end is near. And then I begin to fear -  where will Allah put a murderer? Heaven or Hell? I shudder at the mere thought of what the answer would be. But without him, there is nothing, so I might as well cease to exist. Everything is meaningless without him. I don’t drink coffee anymore, because he’s not around to make cream smiley faces. I don’t watch TV, because he’s not here to fight with me over the remote anymore. I don’t even talk on the phone anymore, because it reminds me of how he used to record even our most random phone call conversations, just because he loved hearing my voice. And I took all that away from him. Me. I did it. GOD. I wish I could die… I wish I could die.

I feel him around me right now, again. He has come to see me. Yay. Sometimes he scares me, because he just gets so angry. Sometimes he makes me hurt myself. Not directly, but it just hurts. Oh I remember, how he used to get fever when he got too angry. Sometimes I dream of fire. And me burning in it. It’s scary.

Oh, he has got me coffee. I don’t understand how he could still be sweet to em after all I did to him. It’s beyond my understanding. My head is getting heavy now – maybe it’s the too many pills I took earlier. My throat is also getting very dry… I don’t understand…

… I stood there, my hands outstretched, eyes staring at nothing. You were gone, I had let you go. I began to walk towards the edge, as if hoping that you’d surprise me by coming back – your usual I-scared-you-game. But I couldn’t see you… I kept on walking, closer to the edge… and then I fell.


  1. The intro of this piece is perfect for the genre. It fully grasps the reader's attention and keeps us interested till the very end. This piece illustrates the complications one encounters, unexpectedly, in life, the horror of losing a loved one, and the complexities of marriage. the narrator is completely guilt ridden and its the dominant emotion she feels right now. 
    Paragraphs 5 & 6 are the highlight of this story for me. The rhetorical questions, the reminiscing, the nostalgia, all this has been expressed in a very realistic manner. 
    As the reader, I felt that through the diction used, the writer has successfully managed to make her audience feel empathy towards the narrator. I actually got goosebumps when I read "And I saw him… I saw him again. For the first time ever. He was standing right in front of me, and he was crying. Howling. Pulling his hair and wailing". The image built up is of a man in excruciating pain, and the narrator being suppressed with tons of guilt weighing her down. 
    Her guilt makes her want her existence to cease. Her life to end. She feels it's meaningless without her loved one. Her life is full if regret, regret  over how she treated him, how she blamed him for everything that went wrong, regret over how she didn't give their relationship a 100%. And wondering, that if she had, things would have been different. He would have been with her. She could have been happy. To lose a loved one is tragic, depressing, and hurtful. However, there's always more pain and sorrow, if that depression is full of guilt and remorse. In this case, it is. 

  2. You need to focus on the tone Mahnoor. Identify writer's purpose, tone and where the story begins and ends in the introduction.
    Focus on the progress that takes place in the story and how the tone changes as the story progresses and what specific language features show these effects. Yu must pick individual words, style features, POV, to show the effects. For example - The rhetorical question in paragraph ___ shows.....
    You wrote - "He was standing right in front of me, and he was crying. Howling. Pulling his hair and wailing". The image built up is of a man in excruciating pain, and the narrator being suppressed with tons of guilt weighing her down.
    The assessment is correct but the quote is too long.
    It's a good effort for a first commentary. A 7/10.

  3. The opening to this story is cryptic to me. The way in which the story begins shows that this in fact is not the real beginning, that there is a story behind it which has already taken place and needs to be told later. Two characters are introduced in the opening paragraph. The point of view used in the first paragraph is second person. The intro gives us an idea that someone is to lose someone else, hence compelling the reader to move ahead on the story and know what happened. The pacing in heavily descriptive, focusing on the setting and atmosphere like the ‘serenity and whiteness’ which is symbolized by ‘a white canvas’ and the character is described as a ‘drop of color’ which makes the character more interesting. The tone is serious and sad in this paragraph.
    The second and third paragraphs then tell the reader that a character died due to medical reasons, but the protagonist blames it on herself, believing that she caused it to happen. She feels guilty about what she did to him that made him die. The point of view here changes to first person.
    The tone in the next two paragraphs is both contrite and plaintive, showing sorrow and for a sin, feeling guilty and suffering at the same time. It shows how she is suffering in the aftermath of her husband’s death. She even hurts herself without realizing it. The lines ‘I don’t deserve to live anymore’, ‘knife inflicted wounds’ and the vivid images she saw of him ‘howling’, ‘crying’, ‘screaming’ all show the repentance and shame of the protagonist over what she did.
    The same tone continues in the rest of the story. She misses her husband and regrets blaming and fighting him all the time on petty issues. She asks herself rhetorical questions in paragraph 6 which actually tell us more about the situation between the two characters, giving a clearer picture of the background for example the question ‘What if I hadn’t neglected him so much?’, shows her carelessness towards her husband.
    The ending of the story is tragic, as her husband has died and nothing can be done to bring him back. Her soul is so restless that she imagines him making coffee for her, actually showing that he was nice to her despite her behavior towards him. The last paragraph is then again connected to the first one, giving it a perfect closure.

  4. Frankly, i can not find much wrong with this essay. It's excellent. The only thing i can think of that would make this essay even better is more imagery. images that arouse the five senses.
    "Sometimes I feel like my end is near. And then I begin to fear - where will Allah put a murderer? Heaven or Hell?"

    "I often mind myself plagued with the thought of my end drawing near. The anxiety that soaks through my sheets at night, the anticipation that pulls my heart into my throat, the terrifyingly cold sensation that flows down my spine. And then I begin to fear - where will Allah put a murderer? Heaven or Hell? and suddenly, I can't breathe"
    Can you see/feel the difference?

  5. LOVE the intro Zainab! I think you created a great effect with it.
    Focus on showing more and telling less.
    Is it a short story - yes, is it The Haunting - yes, Do we see guilt - yes, Do we terror - at time. Over all a 7/10