People always leave, he remembered the saying, as he sat there, in the car park of the busy airport, in that evening of great silences and spaces, wholly tranquil, motionless. He was a tired, weary sentinel, as he watched her leave. He’s always been too deep for literal sayings― may be people are never there in the first place. People came and went, they showed up quick, then just as fast, disappeared. They ran, or crawled, or flew or vanished. It was normal. Because leaving implied staying and people were never fond of staying. He too never was crazy about staying.
But she came, stealthily, like footsteps upon wool, at dawn, when your guard was all down, when you were in your sweetest dream, and left, with everything you guarded as sacred. She left before you sat up, before the sun came up, before you wiped your eyes off, before you could tell if you were still in a dream or awake.
She floated away, a phantom, like the spirit of sound wind, slow, then fast, her long dark dress training behind, unable to catch up, reluctant, as though trying to pull her back. The air inside the old rusty 504 gushed out, following her, gathering at the seams of her dress, lifting her, as she left behind nothing but her scent– faint, bold.
Or maybe it was just her scent that sucked the air thin, suffocating him. An icy wave, a swift and tragic impression swept through him. She glided further and further away, like a dream, making no sound, just like the way she came the first time, and as she did, her presence grew in his world, grew bigger and bigger.
The sound of an aircraft filled the air, as it gathered speed along the runway, rising steadily, soaring, leaving. Airports, stations, unsettled him— people running, sitting, waiting, embracing. People coming, going, working, eating, exhausted, energetic, running from themselves, to find themselves, going for a thrill. But never staying
People always leave.
The words hang in the air. He wanted to run after her, grab her by the arm, stop her and get her back, like they did in the movies. May be she would stop and it would rain, may be he’d recite a line from a Lifehouse song and she’d acquiesce and relent.
“If you want something in this world, you fight for it,” he remembered his father’s favourite life mantra. But then Old Man was a true Somali― proud, simple, religious and Machiavellian. “The fairer sex is like fortune; only the bold man will conquer.” Aabo would say, hitting his walking stick hard on the hot, dusty ground, the vains and muscles of his arms heaving up and down, bulging, on one of those carefree evenings long ago, spent outside sipping milk tea under the shade of the acacia trees. “Boldness my son, boldness.”
“Men don’t get what they deserve, son, but what they fight for. You think if I wasn’t bold, I would have won your mother’s hand?” His Hooyo would then quip: “I still don’t know how I ended up with your Aabo. God has his ways.” “It was never your decision you know,” would come Aabo’s quick response. Laughter would ring the hot evening air as they poured themselves a refill of the hot spiced tea. Hooyo’s stand on this stood in contrast. “She will come to you. You will know.”
He just sat there, amazed at the power of the mind to summon long forgotten days with dizzying clarity. He couldn’t move and run after her. Boldness my son, boldness. The words stirred in him a surge of strength but his Hooyo’s words of passive acquiescence sated it. She will come to you. Besides, he knew too well that if she ran, she wanted to run; she thought through it, she knew there was no other way. She was never one to change her mind. He felt that she was selfish with her sacrifice. The world has been unkind to her, she didn’t owe it anything. He felt she didn’t owe him anything. She was doing this to protect him. He knew it had to be like this. He knew she had to run, she had no choice. His biggest feeling for her was his respect. Everything else only flowed from this. He knew, the best thing was to sit there and watch her walk away into the distance. And he did.
He remained, but things went after her, as she looked back, summoning everything, as if by a wizard’s spell. Everything except him. The smell of things like the leather seat, now absent; then the feel of it, now just coarse; the sound of the engine, once a common heartbeat, now weak and poignant— tedious and needless drudgery. The passenger seat where she had sat, now a vase in which roses have once been distilled. Some line came to the periphery of his mind, a thing read in a book or remembered out of the faraway past, from Murakami perhaps, about things that would be lost forever, that you couldn’t afford to lose. As she walked away, loneliness struck him like a blow. The world outside the glass windows rushed by, with harsh indifference, as his world came shattering like so much glass, crashing down in a dizzying frenzy of parts.
He always thought that leaving implied large suitcases full of things never really ever needed. But then she didn’t need large suitcases, she already had a big old one, deep inside, where she carried things around, always ready to leave. May be she was born to leave. For she was other-worldly. She was too special to be any one man’s. She’s was a fucking wreck. A gorgeous mess, of flesh and bones. Hair and eyes. The feeling of dawn and twilight’ kiss. She lived on the shores of where long dark nights met dew on a sleeping flower, where the somber 4 am grey moon in water seen by night met the brilliant 3 o’clock sun, where endless sheets of snow met burning desert dust.
As the tired engine croaked, he rolled down the window, and it creaked as it slid back down. The smell of diesel burned her scent into his memory, branding it into permanence. She had always been too big for small towns, and too small for big ones. She inhabited the spaces between these two places, looking for certainty in grounds that faded into black, riding like the wind through the night, a wave of the wild sea, unhasting, unresting.
“Men and pain are twins, forged of the same thing, cut of the same cloth,” he remembered overhearing the gabay (Somali poetic chanting) playing in a cassette. “A man may have many camels, but he knows that one afternoon, raiders will take away his prosperity; the yoghurt he used to enjoy, all gone. He knows he will sit in an empty straw hut, his children hungry. His camel calves will be orphaned. But he knows this is normal. He knows that sometimes, things will be beyond his control.”
These words came floating from nowhere, like unbidden guests, he wasn’t sure if they made him feel better or worse, and they sat on the dashboard, next to her mango shake, still half empty, the mark of her lip formed where she took her sip, red as the print of a kiss might be. He strangled the fierce tide of feeling that welled up within him, as she walked further and further away, a curious and inexplicable uneasiness. Men and pain are twins. Not every wind that can blow a man from his anchorage, he thought. When you dream, when you are in an abstracted reverie, you get too caught up to think about consequence, he thought, and we are never prepared to wake up.
She was out of sight now, completely gone. He sighed, as he shifted the gear, turning the car in the opposite direction, stepping hard on the accelerator, the lights winked as the dying day lied beautiful in the tender glow of the evening. The poignant riffs of Hey Jude danced off the record player, as he lit a cigarette. The freshening breeze struck his face with a cooling hand.
He knew she was going to leave long before she did. He knew this the first time he met her, slightly over a year before, on a bus headed north. Their seats were next to each other, her sitting by the window. He had barely sat down to his tattered copy of War and Peace when she first spoke to him.
“Aren’t you too harsh on that book?”
He turned. He saw her face.
“Aaah, this one is fine, you should see the others, barely legible.” A faint smile came, but he could swear he heard her laugh.
“I’m Waris.” She had said.
“Waris,” he said after her, the name tasted like honey on his lips. Desert flower. He knew there was a story there. He knew she was trouble. He know she was going to leave.