“He belonged to the sea... loved her more than me... & I always left him go. Today too…” Emma told Habeeb in a bold voice, steady and stubborn like the South Shield sea wind. “Today, I know that he won’t be back again ever. Let’s go… Habeeb, It’s freezing. There can be a snowfall anytime from today on...”
She sat down whispering something to herself or to her alterego who just vanished from her vague vision to the darkness of night and the serene layers of salt water underneath. Waves swayed the boat, in a way new to Habeeb who has been listening to the melancholy of Mother Ocean ever since he was born to his fisherman father. His great great grand father belonged to Akhdam community among the Yemini Arabs, who travelled as slave for an Arab merchant to the North East of UK centuries ago. Neither Habeeb nor me the writer have any information on how he happened to become a fisherman for living. No more slavery today, Habeeb is a very respectable individual of the society of South Shield who owns a boat he calls Jannah.
Habeeb started the boat, looking at that old woman aged 87 sitting under a beam of moonlight that intruded in through a hole on the roof of the boat just by the intention of creating a hallow around her head. “Is it a miracle?” Habeeb asked himself. That old woman whom he knew since his childhood looked someone different and unknown. Definitely she is not the same who travelled with him from the shore. Her eyes were shining like never before. He, on purpose, deviated his thought and vision and turned the boat, sailing towards the direction of shore. But then, thoughts cannot be caged… that is the reality of existence…
Emma is of his father’s age, a mother figure for him since his childhood. He who lost his own mother at the age of four found her warm chest as his safest nest. Emma thus became momma for neighbour’s son.
Listening to a seagull’s cry from a distance, Habeeb remembered that ‘surprised little Habeeb’ who first saw the man who came from nowhere to his momma’s life on a warm sunny day. Till then he was a lifeless old photograph in Emma's shelf. Little Habeeb never thought that a photograph could come alive. Since then he carefully cleaned his own mother Saleena’s photo, because he didn’t want her to feel bad if she ever be back again. But she never returned like Emma’s man Richie. After many months Little Habeeb himself found his answer “For photographs to come alive, we must be praying to God for that.” Little Habeeb never prayed to Allah for Saleena to come back. In fact, he never felt the need. He was much happy with Emma. “Emma’s man came back because she prayed for him every day.” He was clear.
Once Richie called Habeeb, “Little devil” with a smile as he understood how far he had gone from Emma and how close Habeeb have been to Emma. He must be jealous. For Emma Richie was God. But her God was the admirer of the vastness of ocean more than that of her eyes. He went sailing again immediately after three months of his stay on land, to the ‘Unknown’, as he always said and done. Emma became alone again.Time scrolled slow for Emma but faster for Habeeb. He became an young man in no time.
The photo at the shelf got life again. But by then, young Habeeb was intelligent enough to know that dead people cannot come alive. At the same time, he was confident that Emma’s Richie cannot die because of her prayers. He came back as an old man to his wife on a pleasant Christmas day. They both looked at each other and laughed for hours looking at the wrinkles on their faces. Emma laughed at Richie’s bald-head while he did the same looking at her hanging breasts. There was laughter again.
Young Habeeb over heard their private talk. Emma lying on Richie’s hairy chest asked “Did you ever make love to any other girl in your journey?”. He replied, “I saw many beautiful women in India, Mali, China and Costa Rica. But I was committed to a woman whom I care for.” Kissing her lips he continued, “ Emma, your deep mystic eyes make me feel that I am still in sea, I have never seen the same in anybody else’s. The sea that I can touch… it gives me unknown targets… an unknown goal to go for… that sea set me moving… to the unknown as unknown… sea loves me and I love sea. Yea, other than you I made love to that sea. Unlike other sailors I never longed for a shore. I never felt you away from me when I was with sea.”
Emma said, “Richie, sorry… I made love to someone too. I made love to the sky when you was away. Sky never had anything to hide from me like you. He was more sincere. He was never been far like you.” Richie held her tight to him as she continued, “Every time I looked up, he showed me clouds or the stars. I tried to forget you. I knew that you must be looking up too, for your directions. One day I realised that each time I lifted my hands to touch the sky, it went much higher and higher.” Emma kissed him all over, “Richie, you know you are very lucky. You can touch your sea whenever you like, forgetting everything. But I cannot touch the sky. In stead, it makes me remember everything. Richie, you kept happy forgetting us. But I remained happy remembering us.”
Sea called him again. Richie left the shore leaving Emma with her sky and Habeeb. Unpredictable English weather changed again. It started snowing cats and dogs. After five days the sailer was found lying on the frozen shore with the waves hitting his feet. Emma ran like a rat to the beech, hugging him tight passing the heat of her chest to his skin.
Richie never left the shore again. He grew older and older with Emma. Most of the time he was at the beech whispering to the waves…with Emma lying beside him on the sand staring the sky. Sometimes she lifted her hands like a baby trying to imagine the clouds in her finger tips by closing one eye, while he was found struggling to bend down to touch the waves that kept competing with each other to touch the feet of their lost companion. They both were partners, but they had their own partners too. Richie once pointed his fingers towards the horizon. He started laughing, "Emma, look. Don't you think your sky and my sea are meeting and mating, so openly. I sailed to see their meeting point." Suddenly Richie became serious. He held Emma's face close to his eyes, "Now, don't you think we both were the victims of illusions... Let us accept the fact..." Emma hugged Richie in a way she had never done before. They made love on the beech forgetting their age, place and time.
Together, with each passing moment, they became older and older... One day the old Richie told introduced Emma to Habeeb, “If sea is love, she is sea & If she is love, she is sea. Its true...'young' devil”, Young devil smiled. He felt a father in Richie.
A silent wave lifted the boat in its hands. It started snowing lightly. “Habeeb…. It is bad weather. We need to reach home before everyone arrive.” Emma woke him up from his thoughts. Suddenly the reality they had to face the next day placed Habeeb in a confused state. To that state of mind Emma continued, “Habeeb, my sailor husband never knew to swim. He actually feared the water he loved and he was never been satisfied by any of his journey on the waves. Richie loved sea, scared sea and respected sea. The sea that washed him to the shore during the snow was his true wife. In a way, my life with him was her decision. He always dreamt of diving deep down to the bottom of her laps like a fish. He once promised me to send him there. I was scared to do that when he was alive. But not today… I am leaving him free to his dream destiny...that no one can deny him, including me...”
Habeeb got up from his seat and went beside Emma. He hugged her tight as her eyelids left a few drops of tears that fell fresh on his hands. Habeeb imagined Richie’s body touching the bottom of the ocean.
That was the only time he saw Emma cry and that was the last time she cried too…