She could hear something loud and rushing. What was it!! – she thought.
She opened her eyes to see herself falling like a stone wrapped in cloth. Her body had given in to gravity and no beating or flapping of hands could make a difference. The rushing sound in her ears was of the still air she was passing by as she fell into some deep dark hole.
Awareness stepped in, and the howling air turned into a scream; her own scream, flooding the entire space that she was blind to. The shriek echoed through and through, and she cried her loudest cry out just before everything came to an abrupt halt. She felt a sharp pain in her back where she had hit the invisible ground. And even if she had seen it, what could she have done but just fall and feel what she was feeling right now?
And then, everything ceased to exist…
The world slowly gained consciousness and opened her eyes to a dim lit room.
“Do you feel better now?” came a voice.
It almost took her to the edge of the bed with fright. The man by the fireplace had to apologize for his suddenness. An old man couldn’t have looked more old than he did. There were wrinkles all over his face and age had bent him to a permanent bow.
“I think…” said the girl.
“Are you not sure?” inquired the stranger.
“I’m not sure about anything right now,” she whispered to herself.
She really was confused with all that was happening. In the past some time, she had fallen into a doomed dark hole, hit the unseen ground, and yet here she was with not a scratch on her, just a ringing in her head of the odd occurrences. She was lying in a stranger’s bed, in a stranger’s room, and there was a ghostly old man asking her if she was feeling better. She unquestionably did not know what she was feeling.
“Yes, you have always been addled-headed. But you will have to tell me how you feel, I cannot feel it for you.” said the old man in his unnaturally young voice; young and heavy and loud.
“I feel better,” said she uncomfortably.
All the ambiguity that surrounded her was not his problem and he distinctly expressed it.
“You were late today. Why were you late? Don’t you have any concern about other’s time? I have been waiting for you, Layal. You know I don’t like waiting.” said the displeased man.
“I’m sorry, but, do I know you? and where am I?” questioned Layal before the old man could shower anymore of his wrath on her.
“Where are you? What are you saying? You know us so well! This place and me.”
The man was so confident that for a second Layal stopped to look at the dark room illuminated by a little fire. The light was playing with her eyes. She could have sworn that the man’s grey hair had turned darker during this brief conversation. She had never seen anything like this before. She had not even seen this place before. If she did, she couldn’t remember.
“I don’t remember” she uttered hesitantly.
“What are you saying!!”
His eyes were wide open, and the slackened eyelids had grown tighter. He moved swiftly towards her and held her shoulders in his hands. He shook her as if to wake her from her forgetful trance. But all Layal could focus on was the man. He was growing younger by the second. He was growing stronger. She could see the creases of his face fading away as he sat before her in anger and distress. She was terrified.
“You don’t remember this place! You don’t remember me! We built this place together, brick by brick. We painted these walls together. We made this fireplace together, and you are saying you don’t remember!” He was raging, and perhaps a little disheartened.
“I can’t remember, I’m sorry,” Layal said in a frail voice.
The girl was scared of him and yet understood his disappointment in her. It hurt her to make him feel so. She was genuinely sorry and perplexed because she positively couldn’t recall anything. There were tears in her eyes and terror in her mind, for the old and brittle man had now fully transformed into a young and powerful one.
“Oh Layal, I don’t want to hurt you. You are my strength. You are the one I live for. You have made me the way I am today.”
He was gentle this time. He spoke softly, caressed her hair, wiped her tears, and she gradually drifted into a state of ease. He continued.
“It’s okay Layal. It’s not your fault that everyone resents you so much. I know they call you names and dislike your presence. I know you are not much beautiful or intelligent, and that you couldn’t be good at anything no matter how much you tried. It’s okay. You have me and I have you. We don’t need anyone else.”
Layal felt an agonizing peace. She let every word sink in deep. And although it tore her apart, she felt unusually calm in his presence, in his caring arms, in a room of darkness and fire – a place of numbness. She looked at him and asked him one more time.
“Where are we?”
But she couldn’t find the courage or the right reasons to ask him who he was. He answered it anyway.
“We are where we have always been, dear. We are in your head. And I am the night you carry inside you, Layal. I am your night.”
And in that numbness, the reality dawned on Layal just like it did every night, when she went to sleep with the burden of self-doubt, mockery, blame, and all the other stones she carried to shield her from hope.
She had found her demon and he had found the trick to tame her.
He was her night.