I Dreamed of Home and Lily/ By Fariel Shafee

Fariel Shafee

Dhaka, Bangladesh

  I Dreamed of Home and Lily

Fariel Shafee

How far away is the bridge?  I can only see the hazy line above the narrow waters.  The trees on the sides are gray, broken.  The figure atop that bridge, though, is disproportionately large.  He is a thin man.  He is floating in the air.  What I see is not possible, I know.  But the thick fog between me and the man makes him look like a ghost.  I cannot see his face.  He moves smoothly, as though he indeed is floating in the air.

I, on the other hand am standing in the water.  It is a clear stream but the waves are small and frigid, as though the water threatens to transform into an icy mixture any time.  My feet are numb.  But I do not move.  I only look at that floating man.  He lifts his hand and points East.  The East is filled with yellow dense fog almost resembling clouds that have reached down to the earth.  I wait for the fog to lift as the cold wave slowly moves towards my knees.  

Then I hear the splash.  It is a large fish swimming past clumsily as though it has a broken fin.  The fish is black and slimy.  The head is too big.  It could have been a catfish but then it looks back as though it is a cat instead.  The eyes are red and large.  It has two rows of neatly lined teeth.  Those are sharp and small.  I feel those teeth could cut through anything, especially my skin.  

I try to break myself from the numbing waves that have grabbed me like thin spider webs.  I have a terrible urge to scream, but my throat feels jammed.  I can twist one leg after some struggle.  Something smashes underneath.  It feels like glass but I don’t feel any pain.  But something hurts my eyes.  It stings like a group of small, thin arrows.  My back burns.  I am now sleeping on yellow sand.  The ocean is about half a mile away.  The air smells salty.  There is no fish in the sand.  It is dry like my mouth.  I am thirsty and tired.  I need to go back home.


My house is at the end of a narrow alley.  It is a modest brick house with three rooms and a fenced kitchen garden.  One of the rooms is for me and Rob to sleep in.  One is a living room where we also watch the TV and dine.  The third room is locked.  Rob wants to convert it into a study: “I have a work heavy load now.  Clients want results.  I need quiet,” he demands.  But I disagree.  “Not that room!  We made that room for Lily.”  

Rob yawns.  He listened to me for the first few months.  “I am so sorry.  You cannot believe how it makes me cry.  I wanted it to happen so much,” he would say, embracing me.  But now he simply yawns.  He tries to hide his boredom, but he can’t.  I always see his face change, his eyes dilate.  I say nothing.  He does not feel ashamed knowing I have seen his real face either.  That makes me hate him a little.  But I try to forget that memory.  I cannot.

Lily’s death was not his fault. It was not my fault.  It was not the doctor’s fault.  Lily was asleep.  She never woke up from that sleep.  When I walked into that little pink room in the morning, she was still lying in the cot and her cheeks were pink.  But she was cold.  She was colder than a plastic doll.  She was as cold as my legs were in that frigid water.  Lily had suddenly stopped breathing.  “Did she suffocate?” I had asked the doctor.  “We cannot say.  There is no particular cause we know of,” he was curt. “Sometimes it just happens.”  

I think Lily had drowned.  I think she had drowned in a cold ocean of apathy.  No one was responsible.  But someone had to be apathetic.  Maybe someday, I will find that someone or something.  Maybe someday I will find redemption.

“She is gone,” Rob would sigh.

“I know,” I would answer.

“You cannot bring her back even if you know what happened.”

I would stare out through the window.  Lily used to stare at that large willow tree.  She used to smile when the leaves would move.

“Do you think she was dreaming of the sun?  The yellow specks on the leaves?” I ask.

“You should have your lunch,” Rob would be more straight forward.  

I would stir the creamy white soup, take a bite of the tuna sandwich.  The tuna would smell rotten.  The fish would smell of death.  I know Rob was tired, fed up.  I could see how he had given up on me in his eyes.  He almost did not look at me straight anymore as though he was looking for an excuse to leave.  I wish I could look cheerful and say, “Let’s go out, honey.”  But this is not about him.  This whole story is about death and how we could not save even a healthy little baby, and how hopeless we are as humans.

“There is something bigger.  Mightier.”

Yet I want to know, make it right.  She was in my custody.  I could not protect her.


Rob is not in the house anymore.  He is out for a business trip, at least as per his own explanation.  Perhaps he has gone out to the mountain.  Perhaps he is sleeping with the promise of a new life in a hotel room that smells fresh.  I wish I wanted to confront him, but I don’t.  I want to go to the sandy spread of dry hope.

This time I take my backpack with me and a bottle of water.  I lie down about half a mile away from the ocean again so I can hear it roar from afar but cannot see the waves.  I look up and see the sun.  It dazzles my eyes.  Soon I see the bridge.

It is less foggy today, but the stream is muddy.  I feel light, fluffy.  I am floating in that muddy pool.  Yet I am stuck as though my skin is stuck to jelly.  I want to move a little but then I give up.  I lie and watch the bird.  

It is a large black blood and it sits on a sinewy white branch.  The tree is closer to me this time, just beside the muddy pool.  But the bridge is far away.  The bird has long feathers and a yellow beak.  Its eyes are red.  The creature stares at me and then flies away.  I think it disappears into a hole that momentarily opens up above the top branch.  I cannot see the bird now but that man is there.  He is floating above the bridge.  He looks clearer now, but his face is obscure.  He is wearing a long black robe and a hood.

The figure points his finger to the East and I see a ball of light.  It is not large, but it is green, like a glowing emerald.  I shiver when that light-ball dazzles.  It has an unworldly feeling in all its glitter and that scares me.  But then I suddenly feel the motion.

It is that large black fish again.  The same one.  I know.  I can feel it.  It is in the mud now. It smells rotten like that tuna in my sandwich.  But from far away behind the tree some other smell is floating in with the air.  It is sweet and seductive like flowers filled with necter.

I am sure that fish can swim in the mud pool even though I am stuck in it.  It swims over to me and then dives in.  “Ouch!” I squeak.  It is that fish!  That horrible fish!  That creature has bitten my left toe.

My toe hurts.  It feels like a sweet pain that you wish to have stuck on you when you walk into that green ball, but then it bites again, and I want to shake all that mud off run away, strangle that fish.  That’s when the ball disintegrates into little shards of darkness.  That sweet smell too feels shattered, broken down into beads of glass that escape into the hole.  Then the hole gets bigger and explodes.  There is nothing but darkness in this new world and I feel nothing.


When I find myself in the sand again, I feel nauseous.  The sea smells rotten from afar.  Maybe a school of dead fish have floated up and have found themselves in the sandy shore.  The sun is bright and stinging, but that large black bird is there.  It circles above-head as though it is waiting to feast on flesh.


I know I am sick.  My own body has betrayed me.  Some might say it is I who had betrayed the parts that make me.  I am what I ate, where I went and how I basked in the sand.  My own body’s misbehavior, too, is my fault.

“You are just unlucky,” the doctor had looked me into the eyes.  Yes, but I am lucky to have a doctor who feels sorry for me.  Maybe I needed a priest instead who would simply give me some peace and show me the door to eternal living.  “The food matters.  Lifestyle matters.  But that doesn’t prove anything.  Sometimes, it is just bad luck.  It doesn’t matter who you are.”

The doctor really cared.  So he had gone on:

“This medicine is strong,” he had then looked forward into the future.  “You will feel weak.  You will have sores.  You want to think about the baby.”

“How long?” I had asked directly.  He had hesitated, and then he was blunt too.  “Six months.  But it is different for everyone.  It can be years.  And then new things are coming out.”

I did not have to think about the baby.  I knew that I wished to have it.  This was nature’s gift to me.  That baby was my legacy.  I had messed up my own life and body.  But I would bring this baby out into this world.  That would be my final accomplishment of pride.


In the breakfast table, I am alone, seated on a pale wooden chair facing the window that overlooks a wilted garden.  The leaves are wan.  The birds had eaten up chunks of the tomatoes.  It didn’t matter.  I take a bite of my sandwich and then feel nauseous.  Then my toe begins to hurt.

I stick my toe out to the part of the floor where the sun has hit in a triangular slice.  The wound is still there.  It is the size of a dime – shaped like a crescent.  I bring my foot up closer to my eyes.  There is something inside that wound.  I can see small creatures moving about and little specks of light.  I poke the wound with the fork.  “Ouch,” I scream.  Blood is coming out like a miniature deluge that devours that small cosmos.

By the window, is a small gray bird, staring innocently at my gestures.  “Stupid girl,” I can almost hear it speak out.  “Go back to that swamp.”


This time, I will make that thin man lead me to the source of that sweet smell.  I am at the beach again.  The sun dazzles my eyes at noon again and I see darkness before the fog appears.  This time, the thin man is floating next to me.  I want to touch him.  But my fingers are numb.  “Where?” I want to ask.  I cannot speak, but I believe that he can understand my thoughts.  Someone laughs out aloud.  That little bird is here too, chirping on that bough that almost touches the mud.

“What do you want?” I want to ask the ghostly figure.  The man is mum.  But I hear a lingering cry.  I know that cry.  I knew it from inside my womb.  Lily is back in the forest.  She had floated in that cold water and came into this muddy swamp.  That’s why I am here.

“You knew!” I almost utter as I look at that silhouette.

The hooded man bends over.  He smells of death, like that can of tuna, and he breathes out wintry unhappiness.  Then he points at that tree.

When the large green ball disappears, I see the fruits – one green and the other red, like a ruby and an emerald.  They smell sweet, like a flower.  “She’s up there?” I want to ask that man.  He is not there now.  He is nowhere in the swamp, not near the bridge either.


Back at home, for the first time in three months, I have walked into Lily’s room.  The walls are pink and smooth.  The maroon silk sheet lies coldly on the cot with a soft brown teddy.  I think that I can smell my girl.  She is sweet and delicate, subtler than those flowers in the forest.  “Where did you go?” I ask softly.  “I know you are sleeping in that forest, cold and calm.  I will not let the wolves ever touch or scratch you there.  Don’t cry!”

I lock the room and walk out to the garden.  The sun is mildly warm and my hands feel chaffed.  I did not die then.  But I have just a few months more to live.  Inside my skin, the cells are still wired wrong and they are running about like there are no traffic laws or property rights in their realm of revelry and death.

“Look how messed up I am,” I almost whisper to the defiled tomatoes.  “She was perfect.  I promised her.  I will not let that tall man grab her.  That fish is mean.  I will save you, Lily.”


This time, I am wearing walking boots.  I will go past the sands into the marshes and I will find that large tree that bends into the mud.  Then I will find those pair of fruits.  I will climb that tree and push into that green ball, find Lily.  She will sleep quietly on my lap.  She will not cry again.  “Don’t be scared, my child.  I know that fish is mean.”

Rob will be back in two days.  I will get Lily back into her own room before he returns home and converts it into a study.


That bridge across the narrow stream in the heart of the dark and damp forest is broken.  It is about a mile away from where I stand.  My legs are tired.  But I can see that small gray bird.  “I know you.”  The bird dashes into a shrub, but then I see it again. There is another one.  They both look like the same bird.  Another one flies in from the North.  There is a flock of birds, all looking like that bird I know, all of them. 

But I know this tree.  This is that exact tree.  There is only one such tree.  I had stared at that root so many times when I was stuck in that pool of mud.  I can see the deep scratch in the shape of a crescent, the one just like the wound in my toe.  One of the roots protrudes like a finger pointing at another tall red tree.  I know the smell.  It is a mixture of death and flowers filled with necter.

The last time I was here, the fog stuck to the earth.  Where the tree descended into the ground was a hollow darkness.  Now I see the hole, the tunnel.  It is dark though.  But I can see the red glitter.  The fruits are indeed in there.


The red fruit was sweet like honey.  The green fruit tasted salty and fermented.  I ate them both nonetheless, slowly, as I watched red and green fish scurry about the crystal-clear waves.  

I need to find the muddy swamp.  That is where the hole is.  It is a trapdoor into another world where things go right.  Lily is in the swamp, I think, and that mean dark fish guards her.  I will grab her from the fish and walk in through that door.  Where will it go?  Will my body begin to understand that chance is not right.  You don’t take chances and mess up something beautiful just because you can divide and run amok as you wish?  Will the cells line up as they should and make that city clean?

If not, that is okay too, as long as I can grab Lily tight, hold her and feel her heart beat.  “Mama!” “Oh baby, you are cold.  Look, this light dazzles.  Let’s go warm our blood!”  I close my eyes and feel dizzy.  Have the fruits unlocked that world for me?  Are the solutions all in my head now?  “I feel cold, mama,” Lily speaks in the voice of an adult.  “Wait a moment.  Just a moment.  That door will open.  Maybe the tunnel goes to your room.  I have kept it clean and locked.”

I open my eyes when I hear a drum.  Some one is in the jungle.   I see that bridge again.  It is fragile but not broken.  The river has become a pool of mud.

I feel stuck in it and I hear Lily cry.  She is crying from within that ball of green.  But that ball looks perfect now – round and smooth.  Lily is stuck in that world of perfection.  “At least you are alive.”  I try to move, but my skin is glued into that thick sludge.  “I am happy for you,” I whisper.  “My baby.”

The big black fish has come.  I can see those teeth.  They are sharp and triangular.  The eye has streaks of ocher in that red.

The fish bites and it hurts at first.  Then I let it bite again.  My body is in pain and I cannot move.  The tree overhead bends further, almost touching me.  I can smell the necter.  It is a maddening smell and my body feels light.  But I cannot move.  This whole world has become small.  It is a bubble and it floats.

That green light is gone but in that dark sludge, a luminous aura glows.  I see small people and tall houses, trees that sway and a storm.  The world is just a shadow.  I am elsewhere now.

“For how long?” I whisper.

“Eternity,” I hear the voice.  The tall thin man is standing still like a statue as though there is no tomorrow.


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