After a year had passed since he lost his wife, Hamza decided to go to the Isle of Skye on his own. It was a place he and his wife had intended to visit together and had even started planning just before her diagnosis. At that point they were both stunned but still had more than plenty of hope that it would merely be a delay. It would be even more special when they finally got the chance to go, when she was well again; it would be like a celebration. Their hope was premature and foolish and it wasn’t long before neither of them spoke of the Isle of Skye or of their plans which they realised would never come to be reality.
Nobody had understood why he wanted and needed, to go; especially alone. Nobody except his twin sister, Najma.
He needed to see and breath the places he had wanted to see with his wife before he let life carry him away. His busy city job, his city commute and his flashy lifestyle. He needed to be swept away by the beauty of the scenery and the wildlife that he knew she would love. The nature; completely unadulterated and undisturbed by the toxic society he had come to hate since the loss of his wife. He remembered, with a painful twang, the way they had joked about retiring to somewhere like the Isle of Skye but were both secretly and quietly serious about it. They had been so sure that they would still be together, of that there was no doubt, and equally sure that they would both still be alive. They had been married just shy of two years when she was diagnosed. Another year of pain and suffering before she died.
If he hadn’t loved her so much, and if she hadn’t loved him equally, he thought it might not have been so hard. The aftermath. Life. Going on. He had never comprehended nor imagined that a love like theirs was possible. Yet discovering that it was and then losing it was what he found unbearable. So now at just 29 years of age, he could not see a way to move on. After a love like that, anything that might come after it would feel utterly bereft and empty, would it not? He didn’t even want to experience any kind of mediocre love which would be waiting for him after the love his wife had given him.
Hamza flew from Luton airport to Glasgow on a rainy January morning. As soon as he entered the airport, he already noted a remarkable difference that he couldn’t quite put his finger on at first. Then he realised; everything was calmer, slower, more relaxed. People were not barging past him in a frantic rush and this was in the airport. He was yet to encounter the quiet highlands and quieter still, the Isle of Skye.
From the airport, Hamza rented a car and drove the rest of the journey. There was a long drive ahead of him. Several hours, even more so because he had chosen to rent a secluded lodge at the far north end of the island. He couldn’t tell whether he was trying to get further away from society, or closer to his wife somehow.
His lodge was in Uig. He said it out loud, or tried to, as he arrived at long last and he was sure he could hear his wife’s teasing laugh at his terrible and definitely incorrect pronunciation. It had been dark for half of his journey and made even worse by the darkness of the island. With little population, there was little light to be seen. Half way through his journey it also started raining torrentially, bringing with it extremely strong winds. As Hamza crossed the Skye bridge, he was sure he would be blown away. He drove carefully and steadily but a small part of him almost wanted it to be his time.
The lodge was cosy and welcoming but it took a long time to warm up and he had to fill up the coal burner in the middle of the living room and light the fire. Hamza checked his phone to find several messages and missed calls from various people. He let his parents and Najma know that he had arrived safely and then swiftly turned it off. After he had eaten, Hamza faced the silence. He had deliberately come alone and to the most secluded place, he reminded himself. The lodge had a TV but instead he went over to examine the bookcase and what it had to offer. The were lots of travel guide books about Scotland and the Isle of Skye. There were plenty of romance novels and crime thrillers. Then he saw one entitled Scottish Myths and Legends. His interest piqued slightly and he took the book over to the sofa to read.
A couple of hours later, Hamza had completely forgotten himself, immersed in the book. He only looked up when he felt the chill and saw that the fire had burned out. He looked at the time; midnight. He left the book and made his way to the bedroom. It wasn’t long before he began drifting into a much needed sleep and in his hazy state he thought he could hear his wife’s voice calling his name but it was already forgotten in the morning.
His first day out in Skye was a clear sunny one, much to his surprise after the welcome he had the night before. He used the clear visibility to go to the Quraing. Even though he had seen pictures, he found himself startled as he drove along the winding and treacherous road through the steep hills and crevices as he reached his destination. There were jagged rocked and shards of earth sticking out all over the place, sending a feeling of inferiority through Hamza. The setting was powerful and intense; he had never experienced anything like it. The image in front of him was so haphazard yet it made him more sure of the Designer than ever.
After hiking through the Quraing for several hours, not seeing a soul, he returned to the car and ate the food he had brought with him. He was not ready to go back to the lodge yet and there was still some daylight to be had so he travelled further down to see the Old Man of Storr. This was one of the myths he had read about the night before. A large narrow rock coming out of the earth was the Old Man of Storr. He was surrounded by shorter rocks, though clearly alike, one of which was supposedly his wife; unfortunately she had fallen over at one point.
One legend said that the old man and his wife had been travelling together when a giant came into their vicinity. In their panic they had both made the grave mistake of looking directly at the giant and had been turned to stone instantly. Another legend said that the old man was a giant himself and when he died he had been buried with his fingers sticking out; explaining the stone ridges. Hamza, though, liked the legend about the man and his wife more and decided that this was the case. At least they were together, he thought to himself. That was one thing he almost couldn’t forgive his wife for; going without him.
Back at the lodge, Hamza was tending to the fire again. He had been amazed and impressed by the scenes and landscapes he had seen today. He was in awe. He and his wife had looked at pictures but nothing was as good as the real thing. Hamza felt such a strong surge of guilt that he let out a roar of grief. Perhaps he had wanted to let it out for a long time and only now, in his seclusion did he feel able to do so.
When Hamza arose the next morning, he had a vague memory of hearing his wife’s voice in the middle of the night. Vivid dreams. Torturous dreams. He couldn’t remember any word she might have uttered, only that it was her voice.
When he looked out of the window, Hamza saw that it had snowed heavily overnight and was now a clear, crisp morning. A blanket of white covered everything within his eye’s reach. He got ready eagerly and decided that he would go to the Fairy Pools today. It had featured in his reading about myths and legends and was also one of the places his wife had been most excited about. She had always been liking pictures on Instagram of the mystical waterfalls and the beautiful surroundings.
It was a longer drive than the day before as the Fairy Pools were in the south of the island but the journey, although slushy at times, was worth it. It showed him the beautiful image of the island that had been painted overnight. Several times on his journey he pulled the car over and stood on the side of the road, looking at whatever view had taken his breath away and urged him to stop and enjoy it. Mountains, beauty and snow everywhere. When Hamza arrived at the Fairy Pools he parked in the empty car park and made the short walk across to the waterfalls.
When he reached the Fairy Pools, he took in the view slowly. A small waterfall fell down into a pool, filled with rocks and crevices and that in turn fell further down into another fall and so on. From where Hamza was standing, behind the Fairy Pools was a deep forest and to the right was the large mountain range, the Black Cuillins. The water in the pools were blue-green, constantly fluctuating and curling around the rocks. He could see how it would be even more majestic in the spring and summer, when even more vivid colours would be bouncing around.
He walked down the hill alongside the waterfall, minding the sheep that were all over the hill and then he looked out at the mountains.
He opened his mouth in awe. The view was stunning. The snow purified and beautified everything it touched and it glistened gloriously under the quiet glare of the sun. The air was so clear, crisp and clean. Hamza took several deep breaths and found himself grinning widely; soon he was laughing. He was surrounded only by the purity and the innocence of nature; an astoundingly beautiful scene and he couldn’t believe how happy it made him feel. He shut his eyes and lifted his face to the sun, feeling the subtle rays caress his face.
Today marked one year to the day since his wife departed him.
“Dalia. I wish you were here.” He said his wife’s name out loud and a tear escaped his eye. He realised it was the first time he had spoken out loud since he had uttered ‘Uig’.
Hamza jerked around and nearly slipped in the snow when he heard something behind him. A giggle? In the corner of his eye, as he was adjusting his balance he saw something move by so fast and then it was gone just as quickly. He looked around him, turning in a full circle several times.
“Hello?” He called.
No answer. More than slightly perturbed, Hamza stood still for several minutes, not sure what to do now. As he started walking further down the hill and towards the mountains, he heard the giggle again but it was further away this time. As he turned towards the sound he saw a figure run into the forest. What the hell? There had been nobody around. There were no cars in the car park, no town or village for miles. People used to live in the foothills of the mountains years ago but their homes were now merely ruins.
Before he realised what he was doing, Hamza started crossing the water, carefully stepping on one rock, then finding another stable one to make his way across towards the edge of the forest. Just as he planted his foot on the other side, he heard that enchanting laughter again. He snapped his head up and this time he saw the figure as if she were glowing. She turned her head quickly and fluttered back into the forest with her hair flowing behind her.
The familiarity of her struck him but he didn’t think to find it odd as to why or how she was familiar. He almost started running towards the forest and as he reached the edge he stopped abruptly. He stepped over the threshold into the forest and the air suddenly felt different. Warmer and something else. As he walked onwards, again there was a sudden movement and a flash moving away from him but this time it was a red deer disturbed by him.
Hamza walked further into the forest and as he reached a clearing, he saw the figure standing in the middle with her back turned to him. He stopped in his tracks, scared to breath in case she ran away again. She looked over her shoulder at him and smiled that smile that drove him crazy. A part of him, deep inside, was panicking, struck by grief and utter shock from seeing that smile that he should not be seeing. That he thought he would never see again until he hoped to be reunited with her in the afterlife. He should go back, he knew that. This wasn’t right. Yet, he couldn’t resist. What was the alternative? Live out his life as a grieving widower? The prospect filled him with desolation.
He walked towards her slowly and as he got nearer he breathed in her scent and almost felt dizzy from it. The memories and bliss that it brought with it was almost too much to bear. She was still looking at him over her shoulder and as he reached out to touch her she fluttered further away and told him, “follow me.”
Her voice was like an instrument making a melodic sound rather than a voice. To call it a voice was wrong. He obeyed.
The deeper she went into the forest, the faster he followed her. With each step, he forgot more of himself and his life. All he could think about was her, in front of him. He vaguely wondered how he would ever find his way back out of the forest but he dismissed it. He thought about his parents but they were blurry images in his mind. Najma. She would be so worried. He had told her where he was coming today, she had been the only one he had spoken to regularly and he was sure she would be worried soon. After a few more paces, it occurred to him that he could not summon to his mind what Najma looked like. Several steps after that, he could not remember why she was important.
Finally the figure stopped. They had reached another pool, this one even more vivid than the one outside the forest. It was shining proudly, shimmering in such a way that it was never one colour. She turned around, facing him fully for the first time.
“Dalia?” Hamza murmured, his voice thick with emotion. He lifted his hand up but it stayed suspended in mid-air.
There was no doubt it looked like Dalia and yet equally it did not look like her. Her features didn’t seem to stay clear, they were glowing and emanating such a beauty that he almost couldn’t look.
“My dear.” She sang, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“I’ve missed you… I’ve needed you-” His voice broke.
“Shh, my love. It’s okay. We can be together now.” She smiled that smile.
That was his Dalia. He didn’t know how or why. Perhaps the Creator had taken mercy on him and granted him a reprieve from his grief for a short while.
“Come.” She purred and held out her hand.
Without a moments hesitation, Hamza stepped forward and took her hand firmly, gripping it, determined not to let her slip away. In that instant, her face changed. She was not Dalia, he thought to himself, but he could not remember who that was, or why it mattered.
To be continued…