This town sure looks exactly the same. That was the first thought that came to my mind when I came back to my hometown, Zanzibar, after I left it 10 years ago for Oman, right after finishing high school.
It felt like I had opened a time capsule that sucked me back in time. I could literally feel the past driving through those streets. It was as if time had gotten stuck in this city. Nothing had changed at all. Old memories came rushing through my mind. I was in a state of trance, not in the present, but not in the past either. The feeling was overwhelming. Every corner that my car passed, images and voices flashed in front of me.
I had a faint smile from all the fond memories that came to me until the moment I drove past that certain road. There was life in that area, but something about it haunted me. The memories rushed even faster this time as I remembered the tragic event that occurred.
It was back when I was in high school, on a day that had begun normally yet ended so tragically.
I was on my school bus, on my way home, sitting on my favorite window seat. The bus was loud, being that a bunch of energetic children and chatty teenagers were squished into one small space. Suddenly, however, everything came to a halt. The driver stopped the bus and took off in a hurry. The noise died and was replaced with a deafening silence. All this happened so fast that it took me a second too long to register that something unusual was happening.
I looked out my window and saw a legion of cars parked on the side of the road, with their hazard signs flashing in unison. People were rushing in one direction, with faces covered in fear and worry. I followed their haste with my eyes until I saw what seemed to be a young girl laying down the lane, covered in blood. She was held by a boy whose expressions were blank. He didn’t move. He didn’t say anything. He just looked at her with hints of regret plastered in his eyes.
At first, I thought they were random teenagers, until I saw what they were wearing. They had uniforms of a neighboring school on; a school my sisters went to. My heart instantly skipped a beat, after I realised that I recognised the girl, and the boy.
The day after the incident I woke up and went to school as usual. When I got to school the atmosphere was different. It was unusually quiet; people were whispering here and there, mainly about what had happened the day before. It was as if the girl was still alive amongst us; as if she was walking in the hallways of our school. She was alive in the tongues of the living.
Rumors travel fast in the walls of any high school. It didn’t take long for people to start coming up with different versions of what had happened, or what had caused the incident to happen. But, what I can testify as my truth is that Naima* was one of those popular girls in high schools who everyone knew for her looks. She was tall, the height that would qualify her as a model, or a basketball player. She was slim and she had big, dark brown eyes. She had a skin tone that was considered as beautiful in our town. People used to call it ‘cappuccino’. She was beautiful, inside and out. Most guys adored her, but she was known for being firm and strict when it came to the opposite sex.
Adil was equally good looking. He was tall, fair, with thick black curly hair. He was one class ahead of Naima, making it a little bit difficult for him to find ways to interact with the girl he was smitten by. In the beginning, he used to watch her during recess and after school. That lasted long enough, and then he started to follow her after school to her home. To justify his socially unacceptable actions, he always told his friends that he wanted to make sure that she arrived home safe. He even tried to befriend Naima’s classmates just so he could have a chance to talk to her. But Naima didn’t get the hints or clues. She wasn’t even remotely aware that this boy was interested in her.
One day, after months of stalking, Adil finally decided to gather some strength and confess his feelings to Naima. It didn’t matter how sincere he was, or how good his intentions were, Naima told him point blank that whatever he had in mind was unwelcomed and it had to end then and there. She was young and she had no intention of wasting her teenage years in relationships.
The confrontation, however, took a big toll on Adil. People noticed that he started changing. He began skipping school, hanging out with the wrong crowds, his grades were even falling, yet none of that seemed to change Naima’s mind.
That was until one day, when Naima was heading home after school, and Adil saw her crossing the road. He was driving a car when he spotted her from a distance. The sight of her beautiful, tall figure drove him mad. The anger of rejection made reality disappear. All he could think of was to find a way to get her to want him. So, he sped the car towards her.
He drove fast, thinking that he would pull the breaks just in time to startle her. Maybe that would knock some sense into her. Maybe that would make her change her mind.
Lost in his anger, he didn’t realise that he had forgotten his initial plan until he heard a thud.
He had hit her.
He rushed out to the rescue her but it was too late.
He held her lifeless body in disbelief.
He realised then that his anger was nothing more than a devil in disguise; a devil that drove him to sin and left him with regret.
‘Anger begins with madness and ends with regret’/ ‘أول الغضب جنون وآخره ندم’ (Proverb).
*All the names have been changed to protect the families’ privacy.
Aisha Al Mughairy is a Zanzibari storyteller.