Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust: Symbols: Part III

Tears flow in my heart…

Il pleure dans mon cœur

Tears flow in my heart

Il Pleure Dans Mon Cœur…

As rain falls on the town;

Comme il pleut sur la ville,

What languor is this

Quelle est cette langueur

That creeps into my heart?

Qui pénètre mon cœur?

Gentle sound of the rain

O bruit doux de la pluie

On earth and roofs!

Par terre et sur les toits!

For an aching heart

Pour un cœur qui s’ennuie

Is the song of the rain!

O le chant de la pluie!

Tears flow senseless

Il pleure sans raison

In this breaking heart.

Dans ce cœur qui s’écœure.

With no betrayal?

Quoi! Nulle trahison?

This grief is senseless.

Ce deuil est sans raison.

This is the worst sorrow

C’est bien la pire peine

Now to know why,

De ne savoir pourquoi,

Without love or hate,

Sans amour et sans haine,

My heart has all this sorrow.

Mon cœur a tant de peine.

Paul Verlaine

1844 – 1896


I was looking up at the sky, wondering. The constellations came together, and then their formations were disrupted by bursts of light. A star? One that dies far away, perhaps? Lost in the moving mass, the timelessness of the universe, forever. Leaving no imprint, having no meaning for people. A source of enjoyment to the child who sees it flare and burst in a final surge of light

Oh look Mommy! A shooting star!


I looked up to see a short lady who was wearing a sweater despite the heat. The first thing I noticed was how many age spots she had on her hands. And that she wore a deep mauve shade of lipstick. And she wore those sensible Scholl shoes.

I almost winced knowing the ‘you’ve-grown-up-so-much’ comment that was to come next.

‘Hmm, I think this tastes just right,’ she said as she handed me a hot cookie.

‘Yes,’ I said, at a loss. When will she start the interrogation…or the sermon about how I have to work hard to pass?

‘This is the text we’re going to use. Get the book by Ian Hobday too; its best for such a crash course.’


‘Here’s a file,’ she handed me a thick file, ‘this has papers that I gave my students from the past twenty years. The questions are in the same order as the syllabus. Solve the first questions from the most recent ten exams, copy from the book if you have to, okay?’ she looked at me over the top of her bifocals.

‘Tomorrow?’ I was stunned. The whole exam required you to solve any five questions and she wants the length of two exams by…tomorrow?

‘Is that hard?’ she asked. No criticism, no comment, no sarcasm; just a genuine question.

‘No, I’ll do it,’ I said.

We went through a quick summary of the relevant chapters.

‘Now start to solve the questions,’ she said, ‘No, no, not right now! First, we’re having dinner. I told your mother you’ll eat at my house.’

I was a bit apprehensive but I nodded and tried to smile. I was tired and I really wanted to go home and get some rest.

‘You seen that Leonardo DiCaprio in that new movie?’ she asked and I was thrown off-balance for the second time that day.


Leonardo was HOT those days and I was thinking…you kidding me lady??

‘I did. Oh its so boring. You know that woman, oh my god, her dressing! She…’

and on and on she went till I was in tears from holding back the laughter at her ruthless commentary. She was in on all the latest film gossips and all the fashions. She would tell me about her children in general terms, and what was going on in America these days (her kids were there so she knew everything) and how this and that man had a horrible dressing sense… and how she and uncle had met in England and fallen in love… all these stories were told to me over dinners in that kitchen. I didn’t want to disappoint her so I work the hardest I could. The day she gave me my first assignment, I remember looking at the clock and thinking, yeah, I’ll hit the sack at two. Next I looked up when my father walked into the room and startled me. But no one was more startled than him.

‘Have you been studying all night?’ he asked the ‘failure’

‘All night?’ I repeated.

‘Its seven in the morning. I was about to wake you people up for school.’

‘Really?’ I had no idea I was capable of such single minded dedication.

From then on, it became a routine because I was beginning to see how she was right in making me solve every exam paper for the past ten years. Every question approached the topic from a different direction so I had to learn to handle the topic in every way. So, the files, kept on filling up with solved exam papers and I privately started the same for other subjects.

‘Will she pass?’ inquired my mother.

‘Who?’ Mrs. S was surprised.

‘I meant,’ my mother began but Mrs. S cut her off.

‘I’m expecting straight A’s’ she told my mum, ‘those teachers don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re blaming their own ineptness on the child.’

I had never been defended like this and I felt on top of the world. I did the most I could in three months. But, I messed up the accounting exam. In fact, I messed it up so bad that I only solved two questions out of four.

When the grades came out, 8A’s with a just-barely-made-it in Accounting. ‘No distinctions?’ asked my mother.

And that was when I realized, I could die for this woman and she’d pick on the mistakes in the method I chose for dying so I should not bother.

I remember the ‘I knew it!’ look on her face when my mum told her, “I can’t believe it. She has straight A’s. And she’s done with her O’Levels in just three months!” That look is shall be something, the memory of which i shall treasure the rest of my life. The complete lack of doubt…the way she wasn’t even surprised…the way she had the i-knew-it-all-along look on her face…she HAD believed in me…what she had said weren’t just empty words meant to ‘encourage’…

She really had believed.

All this led me from one triumph to another. I did not want to disappoint her. Her belief in me. The way no one believed her when she used to say “She can manage. Just let her be.” I could not afford to make her look bad in front of others. These words meant the world to me.


The vastness of the universe seemed to overwhelm me. I left earth and started to fly. Left and right I could see galaxies shooting by. I hummed a little and enjoyed the colors; the rush of wind on my face, the liberation of soaring through infiniteness.

Oh, a Super Nova!

I reached out trying to take it in my palm when…my hand jerked. I couldn’t move it.

I crashed to Earth with a thud. Squirming, I could faintly make out the outlines of chains beneath my back. My hands had been bound. Cruelly. I couldn’t move. The chains were biting into my wrists.

I squirmed but that just made the chains dig in deeper. I could feel the blood running down my hands…but if I had to take these off, I must bear the pain. Just a bit more. Just…a…bit…

Don’t think about the bleeding; don’t think about the pain….it has to be borne if the chains have to go.

With a final jerk. THERE. I was free!

Free to reach for the stars.


Time after time, great surges of murderous hatred spewed forth…it was some time after my 16th t birthday that I took a step back and analyzed my rage from an objective point of view. Was my rage really directed at these people? Why then, could I not find emotional satisfaction in every set-back they suffered? Why was my heart still pounding in rage? Why would I go on and on planning all sorts of murderous revenge, probing where it would hurt most and yet, I could not be satisfied that this was enough?

In school, the teachers kept on trying their best to make my life miserable. I complained to Mrs. S.

She looked at me over the top of her bi-focals.

‘Have you ever thought why they do it?’

I was surprised at this question. It seemed fairly obvious to me.

‘They just hate me.’

‘You think people have so much hate to spare?’

Cruel question… but necessary.

‘You know your mother taught there 20 years ago, don’t you?’

I nodded.

‘All of the teachers you just named were there too. Your mother was teaching to fill her time…they were teaching because their families needed that meager amount they bought home. When they look at you today, don’t you think they wish they could afford the same for their children?’


I couldn’t believe I’d been so self-centered…so deep into the quagmire of self pity that I never stopped for a moment to think there might be someone who deserves that pity more than I do.

All of a sudden, I didn’t ‘hate’ them anymore.

Once that realization arrived, I just sat down and for two days, I worked. I sorted out my feelings and began from as far back as I could. In each situation, now I saw, it was my own perceived helplessness that frustrated me.

I had been wrong. That was what angered me now.

It was then I realized what I had been cloaking subconsciously from myself all my life. The anger did not stem from their actions; it stemmed from MINE. It was not a rage directed at their control over my life, it was rage directed at how impotent I felt when I could not stop it.


Then came the big day…I was going to college.

To everyone’s immense surprise, I chose something totally middle tier.

‘Why?’ yelled my mum.

‘Why?’ asked my dad.

‘Why?’ my class mates were puzzled.

‘Because, for once, I’ll do what I want. I’ll go there because I want to go there.’

Little was I to know, I had made one of the best decisions of my life.

to be continued

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16 Responses to Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust: Symbols: Part III

  1. Amir says:

    Your writing amazes me! Such a touching story. And Mrs S., may Allah bless her, she was truely a blessing in your life. She reminds me of Rahim Khan from The Kite Runner. Your story reminds of The Kite Runner!! Keep it…anxiously awaiting Part IV!

  2. Mezba says:

    You are very unique in having your own style of good writing. Most good writers who are bloggers follow a style or other – but yours is really really distinct.

  3. Mezba says:

    Of course I am really enjoying this series, and it really touches on so many levels and is so relatable. I am glad you came out of it so good.

  4. misspecs says:

    Amir– Thank you. And Mrs.S was someone i think everyone meets in one form or another in their life. Someone who is selfless…and makes a difference. THE difference, in fact.

    Mezba-Thank you. That just made my day! I’m glad you’re enjoying the series.

  5. brainsmoke says:

    Another beautiful chapter. Its always a blessing to find someone so selfless, and at such a young age, you are very fortunate! And she connected with you as an individual, at a human level. She showed you respect, when no one else did. I love to hear stories like this, its strengthens my faith in the goodness of people, the gems among us. I’m happy for you that you had her in your life exactly when you needed her 🙂

  6. John Davis says:

    Thanks! Really amazing. I wish i could spend my time on writing articles…just have no time for it.

  7. elena says:

    I am loving your posts!!! You write so well, I can’t wait for the next story!

  8. misspecs says:

    Brainsmoke Thank you for the praise.
    I’m always surprised she came at the time she did. I think i never realized till a lot later in life how much she had done for me. Right now, even if i try, i couldn’t have orchestrated her entry into my life at a time when she could have made a bigger or a better impression… Allah has been merciful. Truly Merciful. 🙂
    John-It took me some time to start writing too. I hope you find some time to do what you want, and soon!
    Elena– Thank you! Its always a pleasure to write for responsive readers like you!

  9. 'liya says:

    So great, thanks for continuing with the series! Like Amir said above, I was also thinking ‘Rahim Khan.’

  10. misspecs says:

    ‘Liya I’m glad you’re enjoying reading the series…it does feel good to share. And now i have to read the book. I don’t know who Rahim Khan is!

    But i guess, like i said before, on some level, we all have our Rahim Khans and our Mrs.S…its just that most of the time, we like to attribute success to ourselves alone and forget the credit due somewhere else.

    P.S. Your blog has been mentioned in my interview. 🙂

  11. studentin96 says:

    Hi, such a moving story. If I were not in a public computer facility, I think I would have tears in my eyes. Ppl that we know shape us, and it is very fortunate if they shape us good 🙂

  12. Mona says:

    U write very very beautifully ..MashAllah

    Had read one part sumtime back came to it after a loong time n search ..Its really amazing 🙂

  13. BigBan says:

    Oh, Thanks! Really funny. keep working!

  14. misspecs says:

    Studentin-Thank you. 🙂
    Mona-I’m glad you enjoyed it. Welcome to my blog.
    Big Ban-Um,er, umm…

  15. Pingback: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Symbols, part IV: The flower « The view from behind my specs…

  16. Pingback: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust- Symbols Part V: On Trust and the Present « The view from behind my specs…

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