The Day You Stopped Dreaming (So I Dreamt Instead)
~ Syeda Zainab
I dream about goats, about dandelions floating in the wind, I dream about earrings coming to life and about fishes breathing air. But, I never dream about people. Maybe I do and just don't remember them. A week after Dadi breathed her final breath. I revisit the last text I sent her, the messaging app open. The contact information says "Dadi". The text is simple, only six words. The syntax is basic, the grammar elementary.
You promised to have a meal.
It’s burnt into the insides of my eyelids.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time with Dadi. In the evenings I would go to her — She's getting old. You need to spend more time with her — dad used to tell me. I would slide down the handrails of the stairs and run into their living room, their door was never locked. I'd see her sitting glued to her chair, sometimes days on end, wearing her saree and a half sweater, glasses perched on her nose and her magnifying lens in hand — because the stubborn woman refused to undergo eye surgery — reading another para of the Quran.
As soon as she'd see my face though, she'd huff and put the Quran away. I'd sit right beside her chair, on the other diwan, and would recall to her my dream like I was sharing a secret. She'd offer me a banana after I finished. I often found comfort in the way she would just quietly listen to me yapping. Dadi was a nice person, I'd say the only nice one from my dad's side. She didn't favour me over Sumaiya, but she was the only grandmother I had left and that was enough.
I liked her because she used to narrate stories to me - of prophets and their sons, of Qayamat and God and His presence. She always told me that sleep was a great sign of the existence of God. That sleep was when we could dream, and it was where God communicated with us.
“A good vision (ru'ya) is from Allāh and a bad dream (hulm) is from Satan; so if you see anything in your dream that you dislike, spit on your left side thrice and seek refuge with Allāh from its evil, and then it will never harm you”, she would explain to me after I finish recalling whatever dream I had to her. She would recite the stories of Prophet Abraham dreaming (receiving a message from God), in which he was instructed to sacrifice his son, and of Prophet Muhammad dreaming on the night before a battle. The things she would tell me, would linger in my mind, mingle with my flesh and blood and so I'd gravitate to her and listen until the sun made way for the moon.
Whenever there was a power cut, I'd go downstairs to light a candle for her, she had bad knees and didn't know where the matchbox was kept, and sit with her. Sometimes she'd lie down on the diwan and I'd walk on her back, my feet pressing into her spine, to give her a massage and would again tell her about my dreams. I would ask her why I didn't dream about other people. She'd reply with a smile in her voice, “Beta, the people who visit you in your dreams are the ones that love you most. If you dream about someone then it means that they are important to you." I thought I considered my friends and my family important, but I never saw them in any of my dreams. I'd then ask her if she dreams and if she sees me in them. She'd laugh and tell me that she always saw me getting married in her dreams. I'd laugh and accidentally slip and she'd curse me for being clumsy but would still hug me if I cried.
Then, I moved to 7th grade and my cousin Mansoor was born. I didn't visit Dadi as much anymore, she always seemed to be busy with Mansoor. I don't remember the years after that, everything passed by in a blur, I did other things and found other people to talk to. I was so focused on getting older that I forgot time passed equally for everyone. I only realised that when one day I'd come home to find an ambulance outside the gate, they took her before I could blink. In the days leading up to her death I ran on autopilot. The doctors said she had suffered brain haemorrhage and was put on a ventilator last night. I don't remember the days or dates. I didn't go to the hospital to see her, I couldn't. I sent her texts instead, asking her how she was doing and when she was coming back. On her last day Dadu and my parents had gone to be with her. Dadu came back home crying, Abbu's eyes were puffy and red, finally it's Ammi who told us that she had a stroke and had passed.
The adults gathered in the hall and started talking about the funeral arrangements. I went back to bed.
I dreamt of Dadi that night. In my dream she cooked for me and I tried desperately to cling to the memories of that moment which threatened to slip away from me if I opened my eyes. And so I closed them. I closed my eyes because I couldn't watch her fade. Because that wasn't her. I closed my eyes because everytime I looked at her, I was reminded of my Dadu wailing and the ambulance sirens and the closed casket funeral.
Dadi hugged me and for the first time in years, I felt her and hugged her tighter. I want to ask her why. Why she never told me. Why she chose to leave. But as she kissed my forehead and tightened her arms around me, I gave up. I gave up and made myself small and hid in her soft sweater.
I woke up disjointed, but in my bed. My phone told me it was night. My face, stiff with dried tears and a memory lingering, I know, right at the back of my mind. It’s just that something was stopping it from surfacing. My heart hurt. It felt like someone had washi taped it back inside my chest. I didn't know what the feeling was, so I curled around my pillow and fell asleep.
In the morning, I remember. I cry into my mother's arms. She doesn't ask why.