Fairoz wanders the dark pathways of the internet.
The trees form tunnels over her head.
People jump out of the bushes
each with something to say.
It’s a way of leaving home.
Slurred voices in the night.
No moon. The planetary light of the screen.
Midnight. She sets off down the paths
without so much as a basket.
‘It doesn’t take long to meet a man,’ they say.
He emerges from the trees
with an axe which he raises above his head.
She can see that he’s smiling.
This kind of relationship
Fairoz is very young. And not so young.
It’s nice to have someone to talk to –
she thinks, she feels.
‘I like your name,’ he says.
Her name explodes in her head.
His name is Tahir.
She says ‘I want to find out
why people do what they do.’
Questions in the wood
She logs on. The light of her screen.
Tahir stands, legs apart in the clearing.
‘How old are you, Tahir?’
‘I’m much older than you. Guess how old?’
‘I think you’re twenty-five, no thirty.’
He laughs again. ‘Right the first time.’
‘What do you do, Tahir? Do you work?’
‘It’s complicated. I’ll tell you very soon…
You’re so pretty,’ he says.
She’s there with him, out in the open.
He puts down his axe.
His eyes are quite gentle.
‘Tahir, do you pray? Five times a day?
Does Allah listen?’
‘That’s a big question, Fairoz.
He does. Usually He does.’
When her screen lights up she steps through it.
Signposts point in all directions –
some are broken.
Not this way. She’s back where she started.
Internet wanderers step forward then melt
into the trees. She can’t grasp
what they’re saying.
She knows she’s a wanderer too.
‘See you next time.’ That’s what he said.
‘Tahir! Tahir!’ She can’t see anyone at all.
Just the angry red stalks of the brambles
and lots of clingy frilled mushrooms.
She shuts the screen down.
And for a few moments she’s nowhere.
The night is half-blind.
Schoolclothes on a chair.
Her headscarf like moonlight
touching the floor.
When they meet
Tahir fishes in a pocket.
Retrieves a small parcel
‘For you, Fairoz!’
She slides out a bangle, elfin, gold –
a gift for a fairy-child.
‘Thank you. But it’s tiny…’
‘Let me try.’
He steadies her wrist, grasps
the shining circle, pressing it
until her hand is red.
‘Sorry,’ he says.
Like a strip of land,
a swathe of forest, has she gone?
She hasn’t gone abroad,
or travelled very far at all.
She quarrels with her sister,
eats dal and rice and sleeps, at home.
She says her prayers.
She takes the normal route to school
where she goes drifting – out.
The teachers say ‘Is something wrong?
We’re here if you want to talk to us.’
Her friends? She’s let them slip away.
She’s on her phone upstairs,
her schoolbag unopened on the floor.
She’s edging out of one story,
looking both ways. Not looking.
She hasn’t left – but she has gone.
11 Driving the devil away
12 In the present tense
17 What do you do with a heap of stones?
18 ‘It was a house of female habitation’
20 Questions in the wood
21 The Devil and the gleams
22 The Devil’s soup
23 The white cat
24 Not enchantment
25 In the morning
27 Fairoz and Annat
29 As summer
30 School lunchtimes
31 Listening to Fairoz and Tahir
35 Does the Devil know what he is?
36 The notice
37 When they meet
39 A story of God and the Devil
42 What runs under her skin
43 She pictures Jannah
44 Absent and present
47 Her absences
49 ‘where the swarm is thickest’
51 The dark patch
52 The plants
53 It was long ago
54 A conversation
56 A punch
58 Ice age
59 He’s ‘v v sorry’
60 The short long story
61 The loping wolf
62 A tale reduced to a sliver
64 God’s eyelids
65 This woman will speak to you, he says
67 The bride
69 A task
71 The viewing
71 He was
72 The contest
73 A change
75 Classroom scorpions
77 Cherry stones
78 Who’s there?
81 The eye
82 She’s heard nothing from Tahir
83 Call him three times
84 What’s real?
85 The Devil’s news
89 In the snow
90 Her whole life
91 Urgent question
92 Like a mark on her kameez
93 What she’d like to say
94 The room in her mind’s eye
95 The woods
96 Cold song
97 Her future
98 ‘Over every soul there is a watcher’
99 My imagined Fairoz
102 Notes and acknowledgements
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