Jinn Jaani was quiet like Samia. She lurked in shadows, hiding in the corners of dusty closets or behind large vases or lamps. Jinn Jaani appeared as soon as Samia died (Nadir did not notice at first but Nargis did). The dreams that came next were sticky, like putrid honey oozing from their ears at night. A honey that led to poisoned fights between them from tongues twisted by Jinn Jaani’s screams during the day.
By Samia’s twenty-fifth birthday, only Nargis and Jinn Jaani saw each other, if Jinn Jaani saw Nargis at all. The day before Samia’s birthday, a large dandelion struck out from the ground floor where she had died. It was stained in blood orange and yellow (this Nadir finally noticed). “Just finish it here,” Nargis said, standing behind Nadir who stared in disbelief. Her voice felt raspy and she stuttered. Nargis knew Jinn Jaani in ways she had never known Nadir. Unsettling ways that made her limbs tremble and her heart stop, plunging her into a state of deep panic at any moment.
Nadir disappeared as soon as the flower appeared, leaving behind a half-emptied bank account and a handwritten note for Nargis: talaq.
Allah worked in mysterious ways.
A divorced woman, Nargis hid with Jinn Jaani. Money appeared each month still; Nargis assumed this was Nadir’s repayment of her dowry. Nargis was no stranger to the calls that flooded in after Samia’s disappearance—gossip filling rooms and every moment that Jinn Jaani was not crying somewhere in the house. The year after Nadir left, Nargis paid the last phone bill and the calls stopped. Nargis enjoyed this quiet except for Jinn Jaani’s tricks. Clothes were ripped, teas spilled, and piles of cardamom and burnt ashes covered rugs, carpets, and bathroom floors.
There were no photos of Samia in the house. Nargis remembered the color of each frame they threw away: rose, pastel blue, black, beige, and white. Nadir threw away the bag of photos from the hospital where the girl was born, burning her identity cards and birth certificate.
Samia, they threw away bit by bit.
But the girl’s dark eyes still burned in Nargis. She felt tiny hands, little girl’s hands, pulling at her worn kurta every time she remembered. Other times, Samia’s eyes glowed in Nargis’s dreams, widened in fear as she saw shadows of Nadir grow into flames of sweat and ire in scene after scene of a movie she was unable to escape. Morning prayer brought little relief, but enough for Nargis to pack away the previous night’s unrest.
“You should have listened,” Nargis said when she saw the first pile of cardamom and burnt ash appear on their white bed linens. “Everyone tried to make you understand, but you did not listen.”
Nargis eventually settled into Jinn Jaani’s tricks, keeping to prayer and reading when she was not cooking or preparing herself for the shame of leaving the house for groceries. She carried a heavy burden, divorced and dishonored, but for God she was willing to carry anything.
Jinn Jaani stayed out of the kitchen. Tupperware lined beige-cream colored counters and a refrigerator stood off to the corner, stocked-full of frozen meats and vegetables so outings for Nargis were limited. As long as she cooked, she was safe, she decided. The dining table remained set for years, except for the last seat at which Nargis took her meals.
Years after Nadir’s disappearance, there was a period of remarkable quiet. Nargis did not know if Jinn Jaani had gone or was planning another trick. But the quiet slipped into several days of quiet, finally cajoling Nargis to celebrate newfound peace. Ambling through the living room and its empty walls and shelves (she packed away everything), she entered her kitchen. Her prayers were not lost on Allah; Jinn Jaani perhaps had gone. But it was a nice day for a special meal, nihari. The thick masala from goat’s meat brought memories of her childhood, before she was married off, age 15.
Nargis leaned over the stove, quickly working her stubby fingers to sprinkle generous piles of cardamom, fennel, cloves, nutmeg, and dry ginger into a medium pan. Elaichi, saunf, laung, jaiphal, adrak. Pulling at the knob, distinctive clicks of the lighter littered her ears before a blue-white flame shot out like water from the pan. Removing a deep bottom pot from the cupboard, she placed it on the back burner to manage both cookware.
She lifted a soaked package of white paper from the sink, peeling it apart to reveal a thawing piece of goat meat. On the rare days that Nargis left the house, she hurried through the local farmer’s market and picked up generous portions from the halal butcher. She bought only shank cuts with the bones still intact, enough so the marrow could simmer in the thick broth.
The meat held sticky in her palms but soft to touch. Nargis rolled several pieces at a time to tenderize each one before plopping it into the pot. She scooped a generous heap of the ghee with her fingers and dumped it on top of the simmering meat. The spices were at the brink of charring, teasing the humid air with a faint burn. Nargis pulled the pan from the stove, flipping the spices gently. A nutty earth aroma instantly overtook the kitchen. It was familiar – warm in the way little Samia ran to her and pressed her tiny body into Nargis’s stomach and thighs. The little child was better, easier, Nargis thought. Did she have to grow?
A sizzling drop sent the masala into the buttery liquid in the pot, marinating each piece to ready it for stewing. She topped it off with a few cups of water, then wrapping her hands in her apron to draw a lid over the steaming pot.
Nargis hummed softly to herself as she settled into the wicker chair at the dining table. Her heavy set body fell in, rushing bones. She was fat, with her flabby arms and her stubby legs. It did not matter now; Nadir was long gone. It would be four hours until the water would settle into a fine, silky gravy and the meat would be ready to pour into a single bowl for her, served with a piping hot roti.
Nargis stared at the empty seat. She grabbed the fat hanging from her arm, massaging the grainy bits before tucking them back inside of her kurta. There was comfort in her ugliness. Even with photos burned, she knew Samia was beautiful. Nargis prayed, how she prayed, for Samia when she was alive.
Nargis remembered her sickness too. But now she could bear no more children. Her body was at peace, having done God’s will, not having the thoughts of lust or of other men that were not her husband (though she was divorced now). How bad she felt when she would sneak a quick brush of her fingers in between her legs, stopping briefly at the fleshy ball of nerves. All of this for a daughter?
But the sickness came with Samia and so forcefully it came. Samia grew large round breasts that protruded even if draped in oversized kurtas. Her cheeks were so rosy and lush that even Nargis looked away in excitement. And Samia’s eyes, as if like a deer invited—almost pleaded—for sin. It was true, Nargis felt envy at times. Watching Samia die at the hands of Nadir relieved her, if only temporarily, of envy and of shame.
But now, Jinn Jaani. She was waiting for a sign, from God, that her sins were absolved. After all, were children not to obey their parents? Had Samia not disobeyed?
Nargis saw one penis in her life and it was forgettable. She had sex once and could not bear to do it again. Nargis felt like a flower who only blossomed once, never to share her colors or scent again with the world. Two women in the house and Nadir had grown angry, frustrated with no options. As if Nargis had a choice, which made her wonder why Samia would enjoy a luxury when all the women past in the family had not.
But Nargis knew there was little chance Samia would settle. She was too loud, contrarian, and wore makeup that invited commentaries of their community too unbearable for Nargis. Gossip flooded every hallway of the homes of friends and neighbors, waters to this day that kept Nargis hidden in her refuge. She could preserve herself and fight against the Shaitaan’s invitations, why not Samia? Was the child’s will of God so weak that the West could so easily overtake her?
Water spilled furiously from the pot, crashing underneath the steel and into the flames. Tiny explosions of team jostled Nargis from her chair as she grabbed oven mitts to tame the fire. It was nothing to worry, she thought, readjusting the knob. There was no time for these mindless thoughts now, especially since Jinn Jaani had gone. Nargis was at peace now, absolved, to enjoy her meal.
But the mitts were ashed. Black ash, like the bed linens. No. The pot steamed again, water spilling from underneath the lid and into the blue flames growing bigger against her widening eyes. She stepped back, her neck bending forward out of curiosity then stiffening. If it not Jinn Jaani, what was happening? Nargis stepped back again, easing herself into the familiar seat of the wicker chair. Her limbs trembled. The putrid taste of honey trickled down her throat, ruining memories of the savory goat stew.
A familiar set of eyes shone from the table.
Samia’s lips pursed, her skin glowing as if she fell from a Bollywood poster print. A playful innocence sunk behind her wry smile. Samia was white, cream-colored wrapped like an angel from the Jannat coming down for blessings and for death. Nargis shuddered, throwing her scarf over her head in panic over trembled prayers slipping from her drying tongue.
“You should have listened,” Nargis said. The pot simmered, returning to a slow boil as the aroma of goat stew mixed with the cloud of air hanging above her daughter. Samia smiled and shook her head, pulling away the white clothes to reveal her rounded breasts and pear-shaped hips. Nargis noticed bruise marks on the girl’s neck, blackened like the ash from Jinn Jaani’s tricks.
“Go away,” Nargis shouted, pulling from the table and running into the living room. It was nighttime, Samia’s pictures restored on white walls and Nadir’s familiar stature hunched over in an armchair facing the door. He was waiting for Samia, Samia was coming home. The flower was gone, she noticed, as smoke rose from Nadir’s cigarette. “We’ll take care of this tonight,” he said.
No, Nargis thought. Not again, she was already dead and he had been gone, long gone, years gone.
“No,” Nargis said as she rushed towards the armchair. Nadir turned to look at her. A fury swept over his face at the sight of his defiant wife. She remembered the first time, the only time, she waited with him and opened the door when Samia returned. She locked the door with a key after Nadir grabbed the girl by her arms and flung her to the floor where the flower bloomed.
Now Nargis scrambled back, missing Nadir’s swing as she ran into the kitchen. The pot tipped inside, crashing to the floor and releasing a a river of blood that swept under Nargis’s feet. The door creaked open behind them and Samia’s eyes shone across the rooms. Nargis’s widened glare signaled for her girl to go, to leave and never come back. Nargis watched the girl’s fingers slip away, closing the door behind her, as Nadir’s hand wrap around her throat. It would be different now, she thought, way it should have been. Nadir’s grip tightened, blocking her breaths as she collected prayers into her stomach.
But she knew Jinn Jaani was free now.