Grave Hunting

The streetlights illuminate the road ahead of us as we sneak our bikes out of the house garden. The call for Maghreb (sunset) prayers passed an hour ago. If Chachu (Uncle) spots us, he might make us stand in a corner till Mama and Baba get back. But Chachu’s not home; I think he left for a friend’s wedding.

“Are we really doing it?” I let out a deep breath.

“Well, you always wanted to see what the place was like,” she says.

“Yes, of course. I … I can’t wait.”

An army of ants run down my back and I shiver.

This time, I don’t struggle to get on my new Islabikes Beinn. I raise my right leg as high as I can to seat myself.

Ayesha instructs me to stay behind her. She’s older than me. She knows better, so I obey. I trail behind my cousins. Our three shadows meander across the caved-in trees and come out of the other end, turning into a narrow street.

We reach the street corner where grey shutters and crossed metal gates cover Bilal’s Store entrance. I summon my willpower to go on. I had turned back earlier this evening, but it won’t happen again. Not everyone dares to take an eight-year-old to Baba Rukat ki Kabar (the grave of Baba Rukat). I don’t know who Baba Rukat was, but they say his grave lies eleven feet long. There’s no graveyard nearby, but all the other children have seen the Tall Man’s Grave. Last night, when my cousins, brothers and I gathered in the backyard for our Friday night hangout, Umer started to talk about the grave.

Faizan laughed out, leaned in and whispered in my ear, “Baba Rukat’s sons buried his body in their house garden.”

I think Ayesha has never seen it either, but Umer has. Faizan, my older brother, discovered it with Umer and the other boys.

Umer glances towards Ayesha with a smirk and she looks back at me with gleaming eyes. My cheekbones arch up in a smile.

We avoid the route where Rehmat, the thick-bearded security guard, patrols at this time.

Our excitement leads us to race ahead. We no longer care about who hears us. We’re almost there. We let our feet loose on the pedals four houses from the street’s end and the unanimous whirring sound of the three bikes fades out just as we turn the corner.

My eyes widen and my jaw drops. I inhale a gush of air, filling my lungs. Without getting off my bike, I slowly put one foot down and then the other. I march up the concrete slope with my bike still between my legs. As soon as I’m close enough to the black wrought iron gate with spiky tops, I peek in through the inch-wide slits cut horizontally across the center of the gate.

Half a dozen overhead wires cross each other from wall to wall over the enclosed area before the house’s building begins. Crows sit in tight packs. The whole area is concrete with a barely visible narrow brick path along one of the walls. A crow caws and the rest follow.

The shrill noise of the birds echoes in my ears. I get off my bike. I bend at my knees, rest my hands on the slits, put my nose against the gate, and peer far into the garden on the left.

A dim tube sheds faint, white light onto the moist monsoon grass. A swarm of mosquitoes bounce off the tube light. My gaze shifts to the rusted iron windowpanes. Black, drawn curtains guard the inside of the house from the eyes of strangers. The grave must lie in the garden.

My gaze falls back on the flat green grass. The tips of the grass blades reflect the moonlight after the first rain of the season. I inhale the fresh, earthy aroma. Without moving my head, I scan for the grave one last time. I turn back, beam a smile at my cousins, hop onto my bike, and paddle away from Baba Rukat ki Kabar.

There are still no cars in the driveway. Dado Jee (Grandmother) thinks we’re playing in the garden, and my brothers are sleeping. I can’t wait till they get up. Faizan had always teased me about being the only kid on the street who hadn’t yet seen Baba Rukat ki Kabar.

-Amna Azhar


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