By Talib Gibran
I was obsessed with Mexican telenovela, and GRTS was my favourite TV station. How things have changed! Cuando Seas Mia (When You are Mine or Paloma), Esmeralda, Maria de los Angeles and the last one, Caminho das Indias (India, A Love Story).
That Brazilian telenovela was the beginning of my love affair with what I called theatre love; a love that is only imagined and written, and made into movies but it is never true love, never has been.
And there were a lot official theme songs in the series but, without a doubt, one song stood out for me: Salaam, by Alka Ragnik. For those who religiously follow Bollywood, methinks, will probably remember this timeless masterpiece:
Tumhari Mehfil Mein Aa Gaye Hai
Tumhari Mehfil Mein Aa Gaye Hai
To Kyun Na Hum Yeh Bhi Kam Kar Le
Salam Karne Ki Arzoo Hai
Salam Karne Ki Arzoo Hai
Idhar Jo Dekho Salaam Karle
The first sevenlines killed it for me. After that, all I want do is start from the start, and listen to the first seven lines all over again. Here is a loose translation of those epic lines, with the help of Google of course, as always:
I tried to make my heart see reason,
A million of times
My heart still brought me here
I have come to your gathering,
So why shouldn’t I do this also
I have the desire to greet
Just look this side, and I shall do the salaam.
That is my ringtone, and even if I am appointed chief imam of Baddibu Salikenni, that song will remain my ringtone. The music would give me more pleasure than leading one Mustapha Darboe in prayers.
Anna and I shared more than the usual coitus feelings of adults; we respected and appreciated each other’s efforts to make things work. Love, it’s said, is like a fingerprint; it’s unique to everyone. Believe it or not, Anna and I gave meaning to that rather bland expression. Ours was a unique one, a match not made in heaven, but on a lonely beach at nightfall.
Talib: “Hey, I hate surprises, and I equally hate to surprise anyone but I’m coming over to your house.”
Anna and I had been treading delicately on a thorny path. And like any other romantic relationship in this era, we had to weather fear and doubt, with constant reminders that such love is either not genuine or worse, is gonna end badly. She took unusually long to reply. I waited and waited. And I just had to call her because I also hate protracted suspense.
Talib: “Well, at least you picked. Much better than not replying”
Anna: “Yeah right”
I’ve exchanged thousands of messages with Anna in the last few months and she is not the type that sends one-word replies. If anything, she keeps the chat alive and interesting for longer than it would have been.
Talib: “Are you alright? You don’t sound good”
Anna: “How do you know that? Are you a doctor now?”
Talib: “I don’t have to be a doctor, Anna. I sent you a text that I’m coming to your house, no reply. I called and you tried as much as possible not to laugh. It’s either you’re not in the mood or you’re in pain and laughter will not help”
Anna: “I feel terrible today, really”
Talib: “What’s wrong?”
Anna: “My stomach. It’s been really bad since last night”
Talib: “Wow, how come I didn’t know that? We spoke last night you didn’t mention it at all”
Anna: “It started late in the night. I couldn’t tell you. It was really late. Besides, I would only get you worried cuz you couldn’t have done anything”
Talib: “That’s true but you should have told me in the morning”
Anna: “Relax Talib, I’m not dying”
Talib: “This isn’t funny Anna”
Anna: “I know, but I’m fine now”
Talib: “You don’t sound fine at all. Did you go to the hospital?”
Anna: “Yes dad and the doctor assured me that I’m not in any mortal danger”
Talib: “This is why I don’t like to surprise anyone. I only thought about it for a second……look what happened”
Anna: “C’mon, nothing happened. I’m allowed to get sick too”
Talib: “Get well soon then. Surprises are cursed”
Despite feeling her pain while talking to me, it was like listening to a soprano, singing with beaming, radiant sweetness. I could easily get cured with her voice. In this world littered with distractions, Anna had been my focus; a rare gift that never stopped giving. She would text, call and ask everything about me. One by one, she would take on all my problems: doubts, hurdles, occasional weak mindset, and she would talk me through them with ease and finesse. I always tell people that I came late into this world; that my perfect coming would have been in the 10th century, so I could wear amulets, pick a sword and ride a horse to the battlefield. Anna, on the other hand, was born ahead of her time. There was no one quite like her; the sharpness of her mind, the clarity of her thought, and the patience with which she handled problems are all alien to this generation of young people.
Anna: “Let’s talk later yeah. I will take some pills and rest a little bit. Once I feel strong, I will call you. If I take too long to call, check on me please”
Talib: “I will. Be safe”
The call dropped and with it, my heart. The emptiness. The anxiety. My audible beating heart. It was all too much to take. I had to convince myself that it was a normal sickness that each of us suffers anyway. But my brain was too weak in that moment to have a major impact on my heart. And like Jackson said, I’ve discovered that love isn’t perfect but it isn’t blind either. It sees with so much clarity than our eyes. It’s our human imperfections that cloud love.
The rest of the day went quietly. I was just not ready for anything. I just wanted Anna but she was not available. So I had to improvise. I picked up my phone and got on social media.Something was trending in The Gambia as always, only for some weird reasons: kettle challenge, Africell, 3YJ, tax evasion, and of course, the ever-growing toxic partisan politics. And the anonymity of the Internet brings out the basic instincts of Gambians: treachery. If you want to stay in love and stay in your marriage, find a way to live without social media.
Talib: “Hey, how do you feel now?”
It’s been six hours since Anna and I spoke. She promised to get back to me. She didn’t keep that promise, but I’m keeping mine of checking on her. The longer she took to reply the more terrified I felt. And the nagging feeling of the worst stared at me like a bad reflection.
Talib: “Anna, are you there?”
I waited. Ten minutes passed. No reply. I wanted to call but doing so would be annoying to anyone in her condition. So I took a long breath and stretched on the floor. I didn’t realise I fell asleep on the tile until I woke up knowing it was already night. I checked my phone, no missed call or unread messages. It is now ten hours. I did my ablution, stepped on the mat and said the last prayer I missed. I rushed the prayer. I know. But anyone in my shoes would probably finish it faster. I picked my phone and called Anna. It rang, rang, rang and dropped. That’s another unusual thing. So I called again. This time, and for the first time, I heard a voice on the other side of the line different from Anna’s velvet voice. And I knew it couldn’t have been good news.
Talib: “Hello, this is Talib. Who am I speaking to?”
Caller: “Hi Talib. This is Maya, Anna’s cousin”
Talib: “How are you Maya? May I please speak to Anna?”
Maya: “I’m fine Talib. I’m afraid I got bad news. Anna said you would call and that I should tell you that she loved you very much”
That was enough from the bearer of bad news. I didn’t know if I ended the call or Maya did. I just threw myself on the floor trying to control my heaving heart from bursting. I cried and cried. I cried so much that I lost my strength to even stand on my feet. This was never fair to either me or Anna. She said she wasn’t dying. She said she wasn’t in any mortal danger. She was, and I could feel it. I just didn’t want to think about it.It was the end of a trailblazing love story; a tragic end of a love that brought so much light into my life. Now it’s dark all over again; darker than ever before because the light that just went out can never be eclipsed. I have lost love again. But I will never stop dreaming about true love.W Somerset Maugham said, the great tragedy of life is not that men perish, but that they cease to love. I will not. At least I owe that to Anna’s unforgettable memory.
The author, Talibeh Hydara a.k.a Talib Gibran, is the assistant editor of The Standard newspaper.