A Stubborn Girl With Down Syndrome Refused to Forget Me
She found me after 5 years, while I forgot her name.
I have a special error code in my brain that enables it to forget the names. Names of people I am associated with or have neighborly affection. Often I run into them only to be neurologically insulted. I assume it is to do with the Karmic cycle! Like how else is the universe going to reach out for my atonement? In an awkward spot, I try covering up by exaggerating my emotion towards the person whose name I’ve slipped on. But recently I met a girl, who left lasting impressions on my heart as a fossilized bee stuck in tree resin since Dinosaurs. The way primitive bees stuck and hardened themselves in exquisite details like some precious gemstone, she carved her place in my heart. I met this beautiful girl on a pilgrimage tour, where she came with her family. The smallish problem with her was, she perceived the world with ‘her’ eye. Her oriental eyes, dangling chin, and incompetence to articulate social talks were all the signature traits of the creative brain, isn’t it? I have the same problem. Even after 22 years of wedlock, I fail to convey my intentions and emotions to my husband. I found her very normal.
I was on pilgrimage with my children, husband, and his mum. The first international tour was bone-jarring, reaching the hotel we ordered food in the room. But late-night, time zones caused the havoc. Leaning down the railing in the alley, I was taking in some soft slaps of cold foreign breeze. Suddenly a creepy figure materialize from behind and clutched my waist. It was disgusting. I was freaking annoyed. It was a pilgrimage, and I wasn’t ready to buy the fact that a sleazy creep was molesting me on the holy land.
Infuriating and exhaling wrath, I discovered a thin, diminutive girl curling her arms around my waist. Oh! But why? I didn’t praise that either. In the remote corner of the alley, there was clutter. Some people were marching up in my direction, charged to set me guilty for god-knows-what? Rattling they passed, and one of the women clutched her from the shoulder and dragged the girl to the farthest room. It was ridiculously unacceptable social behavior. She didn’t utter a word, passively she allowed herself to get dragged. But her gaze was fixed in my direction. I was dumbfounded.
My first night was certainly an adventure in the holy land. But it was a dawn of something I can’t place my finger on. The next morning she sat on the closest table for breakfast. I was in a fix whether to glare at her for the misbehavior or look away. It was then her mother approached me.
Her name was Najhu. She had a way of seeing and feeling things. Quite bizarre! But something that I found very qualm was her unwavering sudden love for me. Yes, she stuck around. She stalked me everywhere, and her poor family stalked her everywhere. It was a swarm of people that followed me to every nook of the city. Her mother said she became violent if she was denied to stay close by me. I also found this disarming. Well my husband too, didn’t take the umbrage for two reasons. Number one she was a girl, and number two, she was under the spell of Down syndrome.
Najhu was always around me. In the ‘Mataf’, ‘Munnawara’, everywhere. It was wearing me down, because I had to see my kids, and the crowd was astronomical. She behaved like a kid around me. She was almost 28 then, and had great trouble focusing on an object, but never forgot me. The pilgrimage was for 40 days, I believed that making her feel loved was also my part of religious duty. I sat next to her, while she gazed in the sky in trance. All she demanded from me was a mix of sisterly and friendly physical love, like brushing her hair off her forehead or stroking her back. Sometimes she tested my patience. She was acutely shy and stared on her feet for hours. I remember listening to her ear-pounding shrills when her parents locked her in the room. I doubt she was brought to obedience by force and violence. However shy, she had an inexhaustible urge for adventure and baby pranks. She wore her family down and so they locked her in the room. Or at least I suspect that. At times, it was hard to tell what she could do next?
She bore a big resemblance to her mother. Naturally contoured nose, cleft-chin, and head-scarf made the mud for Najhu. Najhu is the abbreviation for Nazneen, which in their dialect was ‘Najhnin’. But yet everyone called her Najhu. It is often unfathomable to see beyond certain relationships. I still don’t understand, why she felt so close to me, although I never put any effort to listen to the unspoken words that brewed behind her exhausting silence. In actuality, that silence was ambiguous. Whatever was her disposition, but there played a mischievous smile on lips always. It was like she had so much energy stiffly packed inside her. So, when she got into a tantrum-throwing mode, I suspect she was beaten brutally.
Returning home, the family maintained the report with me. They visited us, under the pretext that Najhu was on a train of tantrums and would not let her feet down till she saw me. This became a routine. She choked her mother to visit me. I saw her jitter vanishing after she came home. But later, due to my dysfunctional schedule, they stopped. She stopped visiting me, like a foggy cloud that slowly passes away, and we fail to determine its presence. Najhu was the lost chapter in my life. It was a relief at that time, to not spend the time frivolously doing nothing and hanging around her. I thought I had better things to do.
Suddenly I saw her at the ring ceremony. But my incompetence to remember names gets over me. It clouds my brain and posits me in an emotionally awkward spot. But to my relief, she seems more dull and lost. She didn’t care to notice me. Her mother was trying to avoid my glance. So was I. I had my reasons, I wanted to disown the pain that Najhu’s down syndrome gave. It freaked me that the world is full of pain and agony. I wanted to live in my makeshift cocoon where the world was populated with normal people. Lastly, I mustered courage and picked up the conversation with her mother. To my dismay, I was still clueless about their names. I asked about her health, and her mum said it was worsening. I stole a look at her, she was counter-stealing the look, or maybe she was upset with me. Or felt betrayed. Apparently, I did not betray her. After long deliberation, I went to her and brushed her unruly hair off her forehead. I asked her if she remembers me? My question was streaked with guilt. How do I expect a girl with down syndrome to remember my name when I failed after 5 years.
But human beings are the weirdest species ever, she shouted at the top of her lungs, ‘SEEMAAAAAA’. I was mortified amid the throng of normal people. Her face shone again.
Intense shame and guilt creep up my throat. ‘Najhu’ you still remember my name? I ask.
She repeats the arm-curling drill, and I could see a streak of dried tears on her unmade face, and nods her head in affirmation.