The young man was curious. I could see it in his eyes and in the way he pulled the sheesha cord to his mouth. He was not like the others who
simply drop a coin, pick the bananas from the basket and walk away.
He wanted to know, really know, about the stories of my past, about my unspoken tales of valour and unsung songs of conquest. I wondered, however, whether he'd tire easily with my long-winded tales and return to his sheesha with the effortlessness of a man easily bored.
"But why do you want to know?" I asked him and watched eartnestly as his face twisted into a melange of expressions as he searched for the right reason.
"I don't know," he replied, "I just... don't know"
"Good enough reason," I tell him, "curiosity and certainty can never go together. Bring me the sheesha and I'll tell you everything."
I inhaled it deep and took a long drag from the bubbling cauldron. The rancid air of the marketplace suddenly turned into an explosion of vanilla and strawberry and my mind slowly wandered into the blue hills where I had first met the dark woman.
It was unusually cold that year as I climbed the blue hills and fought the mist that stood before me like an ever receding wall. We were told that the marauders that raided our village hid their plunder in a cave somewhere atop these hills. I volunteered to find out if this was true or just a silly story concocted by frightened men from the nearby village. But the mist made it hard for me to walk any further and so I stopped and sat on a rock.
I waited for almost two to three hours for the mist to clear but nothing seemed to happen. I found myself being slowly swallowed by the fog and, for the first time in my life, I felt a sense of fear come over me.
“Do you want to go up the hill?”
It was a woman’s voice and it came from the direction of a soft light that became brighter and brighter as it approached me. It was a young dark woman with piercing brown eyes that seemed to clutch at me with its hawk like gaze. I felt immobilised as I looked at her. She held a lantern in one hand and with the other wrapped herself in a thick blanket made of animal skin.
"You will not go anywhere if you just sit there on that rock," she muttered, "you better come with me if you want to reach your destination."
"How did you know that I want to go up the hill?" I asked her but instead of answering my question, she simply made me hold the lantern while she wrapped the blanket around me and made me share its warmth with her.
I could not utter a word as we walked together through the mist and negotiated our way through its foggy stillness. I wanted to break the silence and ask her who she was, why and how she stumbled on my path and what she intended to do at the end of our journey. I just wanted to know who this woman could be so that it would somehow satisfy my curiosity and explain why I felt so drawn towards her.
I had heard many stories of phantom women that prowled these hills preying on the vulnerabilities of complacent men. Maybe she was someone like that, I wondered, and maybe, she planned to kill me at the end of our journey.
"You don't need to be afraid," she whispered as if she was reading my thoughts as we walked along, "I am as real as this blanket covering us."
"You seem to have a talent in reading my mind," I told her and saw her smile as she inched closer towards me, making me wonder if she was reading more than I wanted to give away.
"I am taking you back to the bottom of the hill and to the road that will take you back to your village," she said in a matter of fact tone that suggested she was not willing to hear any arguments.
I wasn't ready to give up that easily because, after all, I had come this far and how could I return empty-handed.
"You will tell the villagers that there was no treasure in the hills and that your trip was futile," her body brushed against mine while she said these words and I felt my determination slowly ebb away.
"But I came all the way here," I protested but she stopped me from speaking any further as her mouth came close to mine as she said, "now you need to go back."
We walked in silence as I contemplated my next of plan of action -- if she was a man I would have killed her by now and would have pursued the buried treasure. But this was a woman -- and a very attractive woman at that, too -- and I felt extremely helpless by my inexplicable urge to agree with her.
We walked a little more and finally I saw the road that would lead me back to my village loom ahead of me. She removed the blanket off my back and tells me that it was time for both of us to part ways.
"But who are you?" I asked the question that was raging in my mind from the moment I first saw her but she said nothing and only smiled, "but I need to know who you are."
She simply turned, walked away and disappearred into the mist.
"And did you ever see her again?" The young man asked as he took another long drag of the sheesha.
I could only smile halfheartedly at this young man's question because some questions, like some answers, are not easy to give.