The Companion - Humayun Ahmed's short story
I heard this weird story from my friend Misir Ali . He was a professor of behaviourial psychology at Dhaka university . One night I had a small fight with my wife and she had gone to stay at her mom’s for the night . I was lonely , angry and sad and thought I would stay the night at Misir’s place. After dinner we were having some tea and Misir told me this weird tale . I’m not sure if something like this is possible .
“ … At that time I was a part time teacher at Dhaka-versity . I was teaching the students about abnormal behaviour . I also tried to teach them about the connection between dreams and abnormal human behaviour . I told the students to inform me about any weird or unusual dreams they had . Students used to inform me , but those were only usual stuff like falling down from high places or snakes chasing them . I had an intention of researching about unusual dreams, but it seemed like that was never going to happen . It was beginning to look as if people were not having nigtmares at all . I was starting to forget about my research , it was then I met Lokman Fakir .
Lakman Fakir came from nabinagar comilla . He was about thirty …maybe thirty five . Did an average job at the shipping corp . Had rented a two roomed apartment at kathalbagan . He wasn’t married , but was thinking about it . He came to meet me one evening . I was shocked to see the guy . His face was pale , eyes were impassive like that of a dead man . There was nothing of that brightness that young people have in their eyes . The man was limping . He was a little shaky . He entered the room and without any introduction said , “ Sir , please save me …” .
I sat him down . Asked about his particulars . Tried to make him comfortobale with some chit-chat . That didn’t seem to work much . His restlessness didn’t cease . I noticed , he could not sit straight . He was swingi back and forth . I said , “ What’s your problem ?”
He wiped the sweat from his forehead and murmured , “ sir, I get nightmares , terrible nightmares ….”
I said , “ You won’t find someone who doesn’t get nightmares . Snakes chasing , tiger chasing , falling fron heights – these are very common bad dreams . Usually people get nightmares when they have a problem with digestion . They also get them when there is some diffulcty in sleeping . You are sleeping and your pilloe slipped beneath your head – then you might also get nightmares . Physical discomfort is expressed in the dreams . Do yu know when people dreams about burning in fire ? When they are flatulent ……
“ Sir , my dreams are not like that , they are different .”
“ Okay , tell me . Let me hear what its like .”
He started right along . Told it , like he had memorized it . May he had arranged everything before coming and rehearsed it a few times .
He didn’t look into my eyes for once while speaking . Not even when I asked him questions .
“ I saw the first dream on Wednesday night . I went to sleep around eleven . I don’t have any problem with sleeping . I can be asleep as soon as I go to bed . It was the same that night . I was asleep as soon as I went to bed . Right along I had the dream .”
“ How do you know you had the dream right after you went to bed ?”
“ I saw the clock right after I woke up . It was ten ten past eleven .”
“ Tell me about the dream .”
“ I saw some place like na open field . A wild wind was blowing . There was a gushing sound of the wind . It felt quite cold . There was a lot of people around me but I couldn’t see any of them . I was hearing their voices …their laughs . I can even hear a little boy crying . An old man was coughing and I could hear that that too , but I wasn’t seeing anyone , not even a glimpse . For once I thought I had gone blind . I looked around very sharply – I was seeing the field , the fog – but wasn’t seeing any people though I was hearing their voices . Suddenly their voices stopped . The gushing sound of the wind came to a pause . It seemed as if someone had arrived . Everyone had gone silent out of his fear . I myself felt very frightened …. a kind of blind fear.
Then someone said in a rough hoarse voice , It looks like the boy has come . Where’s the girl ?
No one answered . For a few moments the crying of the little boy was heard , it also stopped right along . It seemed like someone was forcefully stopping him from crying . The man with the hoarse talked again , “ Why is the girl being late ? Why so late ? The boy can’t be kept for long . His sleep is bcoming light . He would wake up .”
Suddenly there was a commotion around . Everyone said together - she’s here ! she’s here ! the girl’s here . I was shocked and saw that a girl was standing beside me . A very skinny girl . Bright skinned , about 18 to 19 years of age . Shabbily dressed . Long hair . Her hair wasn’t tied up , it was flowing in the air . The girl was trembling with fear . I was staring at her astonished . She hold my hand without any hesitation and said in a shaking voice , “ I’m scared . I am so scared .”
I asked , “ Who’re you?”
She said , “ My name’s Nargis . What you are seeing ig a dream . A horrible dream . You would understand it a little latter . Before, I used to see this dream alone . It looks like you too would be seeing it from now on .”
She started crying . Struck by horror she stood very close to me .
While crying she said , “ please don’t mind . I am standing so close cause I’m scared . They show me this dream once every month .”
I asked , “ Who are they ?”
“ Don’t know. I don’t know anything . Don’t know why but I feel a bit relieved because you are here . Though I know you can’t do anything . Nothing, nothing ……”
She started panting and right then that hoarse , rough voice shouted , “ Time’s up ! Start running … run , run , run ….”
There was something so horrifying about that shout . Every nerve on my body started throbbing . The fog around us started to thin out . There was an intense light everywhere . It was so intense that my eyes were dazzled - the ones whose voice I was hearing but couldn’t see them ; in this intense light I saw every one of them clearly - they were like .. like …. Like ….
“ like what ?”
“ They were not human , something else – faces elongated like animals , hands and legs were like that of human . All of them were naked . They started making a strange noise . In my ears it was ringing – run , run ……. we started running . Behind us , this people like animals were running too .
We were running across a field . There were no grasses on this field . Hundreds and millions of blades were arranged in coloumns across the whole field . My feet were getting cutting into pieces from the blades – an intense sharp pain . I cried out , and right then I woke up . Saw my whole bed was wet from sweating .”
“ That’s all ?”
“ Yeah ..”
“ When did you see the next dream ?”
“ Exactly one month later …”
“ Was the girl with you too , in the second dream ?”
“ Yes ..”
“ Same dream ? Or a bit different ?”
“ Same dream ..”
“ In the next dream , did you ran holding the girl’s hand ?”
“ The way you talked with her the first time .. did it happened the next time too ?”
“ Yeah ..”
“ Did the girl came later in the second dream too ? Were you waiting ?”
“ No , in the second dream , the girl came earlier . I came later .”
“ At what time of the night did you had the second dream ?”
“ I don’t know really but it was the end of the night . I heard the fazr azan sometimes after I woke up .”
“ The man with the hoarse voice , did he spoke in the second dream too ?”
“ Yes ..”
Lokaman Fakir wiped the sweat from his forehead with a hangkercheif from his pocket . He was sweating so much . I said , “ You want water ? Should I bring some ?”
“ Yes … please …”
I brought water , he drank it with one breath . I said , “ After your dream broke , you saw both your feet were wounded and cut by blade – right ?
Lokman was stunned and said , “ Yes sir . How did you know ?”
“ I can make that from your limping , when you entered the room . Besides , your dream is horrible because your feet are wounded after you’re having the dream . If your feet didn’t cut this wouldn’t be a horrible dream but rather a sweet one . Because in the dream you are meeting a girl and she’s standing intimately with you . A pretty girl of eighteen or nineteen , is running holding your hand .”
In the middle of my speech Lokman took off his shoes, his socks . I was shocked and saw there were numerous deep wonds on the sole of his feet . I didn’t thought something like this could really happen .
Lokman said in a weak voice , “ How can this be happening Sir ?”
“ I don’t know really . But I can tell you something from what I have read about dreams – there is something called an invert reaction . Suppose , one of your fingers got burnt – when this news reaches your brain through the nervous system you would feel intense pain . Know what happens during invert reaction ? At first the brain gets the sense of your finger burning , then the news reaches your finger – then the finger looks like burnt . The whole thing about dreaming happens in your brain . From there the body might be affected by invert reaction .
A man saw someone pricking his hands with a pin in a dream . When he woke up , there really was a pin mark on his hand . Maybe that is happening in your case too . But I don’t know if such horrible wounds on the feet is possible from invert reaction .”
“ Then what is this ?”
“ I can’t understand”
Lokman said in a tired voice , “ I get this dream once a month . Because the wounds take a month to heal ..”
I stared at Lokman Fakir for some moments and said , “ You shall try something from now on – you will go to sleep wearing shoes . If you do have to run in your dreams , you would have your shoes . Blades will not be able to hurt you .”
“ Seriously ?”
“ I think so . I think if you go to sleep wearing shoes , you wouldn’t be having the dream at all .”
Lokman went away . He didn’t look much relieved . I had told him to come after one month when he was done seeing the dream , he came after one and a half month .
His face was more pale than before . Eyes impassive . He was walking like a zombie .
I asked , “ Having the dream ?”
“ No .”
“ Are you sleeping wearing shoes ?”
“ Yes sir . I am not having the dream because of wearing the shoes .”
I said with a smile , “ Then your disease is cured . Why are you so upset ? Looks like you are in some deep trouble . What’s the problem ?”
Lokman said in a low voice , “ I feel bad for the girl Sir . The poor girl is seeing the dream alone . Such a good girl is going through so much pain . She feels a bit relieved if I am around . I feel so bad for her .”
Lokmans eyes were filling up with tears . I kept staring at him with surprise . What the hell is he talking about ?!
“ Sir I have decided not to wear shoes . I don’t care what happens . I wouldn’t let Nargis go alone . I shall be with her . I feel so bad for the girl . Such a wonderful girl . Sir , I shall be with her .”
“ Is that a good idea ?”
“ Yes Sir , it is . I can’t live without her .”
“ She’s just a girl from dreams …..”
“ She isn’t a girl from dreams . She is like me . Both of us live in this world . Maybe she lives at some place in Dhaka . She has blade wounds in her feet . Maybe she thinks about me all the time , like I do . Only we meet in dreams .”
Misir ali lit a cigarette – and said , “ That’s it …”
I screamed out , “ What do you mean that’s it ? What happened in the end ?”
“ I don’t know the end . The guy came with wounded feet once . He said he started having those dreams right after sleeping without the shoes . Gets to meet the girl in the dreams . They chat for a while … cry holding each other . Then after sometime the people like animals starts screaming , run run.. They start running .”
“ Didn’t he came to you anymore ?”
“ No .”
“ Do you know anything about his present condition ?”
“ No , I don’t . But I can assume . The boy knows he wouldn’t be having those nightmares if he goes to sleep wearing shoes , but still he won’t do it . Because it isn’t possible for him to let the girl be alone . Its not really possible to understand the immense power of love , if you haven’t fallen in love . It’s not possible for him to forget about his dream companion in this life . For the rest of his life he would sleep with his shoes on . He doesn’t really want to get rid of these nightmares. It might be a nightmare but it’s also the sweetest dream of his life .”
“ Do you think there really is any girl named Nargis ?”
Misir Ali said in a very low voice , “ I don’t know . I know so less about this mysterious world . But sometimes I too feel like running holding that girl’s hand . How about another round of tea ? Shall I heat the water ?”