The clouds appear ineffably mysterious when they reshape themselves. They form assorted impressions in your mind—sometimes of birds, sometimes cars, sometimes human-faces and suchlike.
I'm feasting my eyes on these beautiful clouds right now. I do this more or less every day—the mystery in the shapes of clouds never got old for me. But today the intention is not to feel fascinated; I’m desperately trying to find myself a distraction.
It seems the eastern clouds are separating themselves from the rest of their family, forming a pattern of their own. The pattern is bizarre, but at the same time quite familiar to me. It says: (x + y)2=?
I take my eyes off the sky—knowing that the equation will disappear when I take another look—and turn my head downwards on the tiled floor.
There I make out the uneaten slice of pizza—the one my sister was too lazy to dispose of when dropped from her hand last night. By now, numberless ants have gathered there, trying to make a feast out of it. They’re all wriggling in a remarkable pattern, at least the way I see it. The pattern says the same question: (x + y)2=?
I shut my eyes, trying to soothe my knocking heart and get hold of myself
The last 48 hours has been the worst period of my life. I couldn't talk, I couldn't eat, I couldn't feel anything but a burning sensation in my heart, and everywhere, I saw the same question: (x + y)2 =?
It all began two days ago with the 'Family Show'—sort of a homely function that my cousins and I arranged on the day of Eid (A Muslim festival) in our grandparents' cottage. We've been doing it for a couple of years, only to add some spice to the celebration of Eids. Our shows were all strokes of genius as we had what it took to bring off a fantastic show.
All my cousins were intensely enthusiastic about the shows. But Parihan, the only daughter of my eldest uncle, was simply unparalleled in this regard. She possessed a melodious singing voice, had quick hands and legs which could set off a storm while dancing, and was a brilliant reciter of the modern abstract poems. She used to start preparing herself for the show months before the Eids; and the moment I'd set foot in the village, she'd rush to me and say, "Tawsif, I've got a new plan! Come and see."
What she'd display afterwards—a song, a dance, or a poem—would never cease to enthral me to the bone.
But no matter how hard she tried and how well she performed, to her mother's eyes, she could never cut the mustard. Her mother would always find stupid and silly mistakes—the ones I could call anything but 'Mistakes'—in everything she performed and scolded her at all times, claiming she should've done better.
Parihan had presented a classical dance on this year's 'Family-Show'. Her delivery earned a rapturous ovation from all, except for her stern mother. As soon as Parihan finished the dance, her mother gripped her hand and took her away inside the cottage. I followed them, and immediately a quiver climbed up my chest as I picked up the loud noise of a slap coming from the cottage.
I ran as fast as my legs could carry me. But hardly had I stepped inside before an ear-piercing scream broke into my eardrums, "How many times did I tell you not to make lazy steps while dancing? Can't you be stronger?"
"Aunty, just leave her alone!" I seized her away to another room.
I sat on the bed in that room and made her sit beside me. She was in tears, her body shaking violently every second. I never really understood why her mother was so angry with her all the time, but she had nothing to with it. The thought of her helplessness, and the out-and-out grief in her tearful face sent a spasm of sympathy to my skin. I began to caress her hairs and whisper, "There, there! Mothers can be cruel. You know we love to watch you dance. Don't you cry."
What I did that day was only the reflection of my brotherly affection towards her. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that this could imply, from a very subtle angle, a deeper and tenderer emotion.
Parihan came to me in the morning the following day, her cheeks rosy and her eyes dilated with excitement. She gave a torn piece of paper in my hand and said, "Tawsif, can you crack this equation real quick? I need to pee!" And then she left the room, blushing.
I looked at the paper. It said "If x2=I, xy=5ve and y2=U; then (x + y)2 =?"
Algebra's the easiest of subjects to me, so I finished the math quick as a flash. The answer, as I found, was "I + 10ve + U".
When I sprawled on the bed being befuddled by the strange math, Parihan came back. She said with a smile, "Well?"
"It's done," I retorted, "You had me worried—this was too easy. Here." I returned the paper.
She took the paper, cast an eye over it, and instantly, her face turned gloomy. She uttered, "Is that the answer?"
"Course, it's I plus Ten-V-E plus U. It's a weird math though."
And then, she left the place, saying nothing more.
Hours later, dad discovered Parihan in the storeroom hanging with the ceiling fan. Her eyes were lifeless. Her visage, which used to be an ever-smiling one, had lost all its colour, turning horrifyingly pale.
The suicide induced a pin-drop silence among my cousins. They forgot to play and just stood stock-still here and there, their faces blank and confused, as if they couldn’t understand what was happening.
And the adults let out all the emotions inside with their cries, as if they’d forgotten their adulthood and turned into children. Nobody could accept the fact that she was there with us minutes ago, but yet she wouldn't be anymore.
And I felt completely numb; I was bleeding inside, but the ache was too deep and heavy to be expressed. All I had inside my head was a painful question buzzing like a bad headache: "Why?"
With a heavy and shattered heart, we buried her beside the garden. Every time I released a handful of mud on the grave, my inside was somewhat different, like the house which has been returned to after a long journey—everything unchanged, yet so foreign.
The heartrending burial finished, I began to walk back to the cottage with my cousins and uncles. My mind was a mess; I wanted to believe this was all just a nightmare, that I'd just suddenly wake up from this dreadful dream and find Parihan with all her life, playing and running and laughing as she always did. But that belief was merely a consolation, but not the reality.
When I was only a couple of feet away from the cottage, my eyes lit on the paper-piece—the one Parihan handed to me—lying on the mud. It was all twisted. Perhaps it had flown outside through the window and fallen on the mud.
I picked it up and unfolded it. The equation and the answer I'd written once again appeared before my eyes.
Though I'd written the answer myself, I felt at that moment as if something about it wasn't right. I gave the paper a closer look.
"I + 10ve + U". It's so weird. Where did she find this from? I thought.
And my heart leapt to my throat as I realized something I should've realized long before..........
Suddenly the sky reappears before my eyes, breaking the painful flashback. I feel the burn in my chest, firing up more frightfully than ever.
The eastern clouds, as if to ridicule my stupid sense of maths, have now added a slight extension in their pattern. It says, "(x + y)2= I Love U."
Warm tears mist my eyes......