As the rain drip-drip-dripped onto her bare head and the tears slipped down her exposed face, Farina watched the love of her life roll away in a hearse. He had always held a curious fascination for death; Rakim had been dark-humoured that way.
Before they were married, he brought Farina putrid bouquets of dead, wilting flowers and coaxed mournful funeral dirges from the tenuous strings of his ebony viola. Farina had embraced all of Rakim’s black whims because they marked him as a singular creature, different from all the other boys at her college who kicked around the futball and shouted jeering epithets and flashed cocky grins at blushing girls. Rakim, in his old-man coat and driving cap, silently nodded to everyone but smiled at no one, speaking in measured, thoughtful doses and writing poetry from the point of view of inanimate objects.
Farina watched him in class beneath her fringe of heavy lashes, feeling veiled by the bright, multicolored hijab draped over her head and secured close to her face, but apparently she had not been as clandestine as she’d thought. Somehow, Rakim had sensed her amber eyes on him, her blossoming curiosity. One day he walked up to Farina and, without a word, handed her a scroll of parchment inked in charming calligraphy. Farina, wide-eyed and breathless, read the flourishing script – a poem, from the point of view of her hijab, about how lovely it was to caress her beautiful black tresses, to protect her sweet and brilliant mind, to preserve her modesty, to flutter in the breeze, to tighten snugly around her warm neck, to whisper in her ears.
Within a year, they were wed and moved to a flat in England. Rakim, captivated by all things hopeless and dying, explained to Farina how beauty also lived in death and despair. Everybody found splendor in burgeoning flowers and golden-rose sunrises, but only the careful and brooding observer could spot just how exquisite a mangled bird, a marble-white cadaver, a weeping widow could be. For beauty lurked in darkness as well as light, for beauty was not that which brought joy, but that which stirred human emotion, that which drew the eye and moved the heart; beauty was a particular arrangement of circumstances, of colors and lines and shapes and shadows, a precise culmination of individual aspects, that awakened a sleeping spirit, that roused a mystic sense of mood and madness. For was not joy only half a heartbeat away from misery? Could not one cry of happiness as well as of sorrow?
And Farina saw in Rakim a world she had never known existed, an underworld so beautiful it hurt. So used to living on the glittering surface, she learned slowly how to tread deeper, darker waters, to swim in the pain of dread, ugliness, and ruination that she had feared so much – to swim and not drown, to swim and enjoy it. It was unthinkable. It was miraculous. For Farina had once used her hijab as a mask, bound so near her flesh as to cover much of it, while the other girls arranged their hijabs to frame their exposed, lovely faces, their pristine skin. But after marrying Rakim, Farina hid no longer behind the fabric; she stared in the waters at the beauty of her reflection, of her scorched flesh: red and gray gnarled skin, scaly ridged cheeks, blistering scar tissue.
Now, as the hearse rolled away, the rain drumming upon it, Farina smiled. She held her hands out and caught the cold raindrops as though gold coins were falling from the sky. Twirling on the doorstep like a little girl, Farina let the water stream down her hair and the grooves of her face, a face that had been licked by black fire. By bringing Rakim into her world, Allah had blessed Farina with a love of the darkness, and for this she was thankful. But she had not forsaken the light. For life was a precarious balance between dark and light, joy and sorrow. To reject one was to reject a full and meaningful life.
Farina called out her love for her husband as he drove away in his hearse – a man with such a curious fascination for death, such a dark humour, must of course drive a hearse in what was yet another one of his endearing eccentricities – and Rakim called back his love for his wife, and the rain fell steadily on and on, watching them die little by little, watching them live as large as oceans, as grand as the cosmos.