Read Part I here.
Najma had gotten engaged just before Dalia was diagnosed. She and her fiancé were due to get married the following year. She was content in her career, she had found the right guy and she was happy and hopeful about life in general. After Dalia was diagnosed, everything changed. Najma saw what it did to her twin brother and it shattered her. When his wife died, she knew that a part of him did too and that was what she couldn’t bear. She did not want to be in that position, ever. Najma called off the engagement, giving a false reason and pushed away all questions from her parents. Surely it was better to be alone than to be so deeply in love, so attached that it would leave you utterly broken if you lost that person. She found herself wishing that Hamza had never married that woman. Anyone else and he wouldn’t have been so completely infatuated, bewitched and taken over. Anybody else and he would have found a way to get through it.
Najma had always been his best friend. His person. She couldn’t believe it when he had fallen in love with that girl. She was so different. So unexpected. Hamza had changed after that. He was happier than Najma had ever seen him and it took her a long time to not only be genuinely happy for him but to accept it. Najma had never let herself be swept away by love the way Hamza did. She couldn’t understand it when his wife became his priority over his twin sister. It took her a long time to realise they could not both stay young and attached to each other as they were as children. As much as she wanted to go back and stop time; remain young, innocent, carefree and together, she also accepted that Hamza had found something rare.
He and his wife had the kind of relationship that most people only dream of. Najma soon admired them both and the way they loved each other. Then she wanted that too. All of those thoughts seemed a million years away. Now here they were. Najma had pushed away the man who might have loved her more than anyone else could. Hamza was grieving his loss that would haunt him for a lifetime. They were both alone again. Yet, it had not bought Hamza back to her. It had only taken him further away.
Najma had wanted to go to the Isle of Skye with Hamza. She had completely understood why he was adamant to go there but she only wished he would have let her go with him. She realised, it would have felt wrong for him to go with anyone except Dalia. She accepted it and she defended him to their parents.
Now, Najma was cursing herself. Furious and beyond livid with herself. Najma had not heard from Hamza since the one year anniversary of Dalia’s death. He had messaged her in the morning, telling her what he was planning to do that day. She didn’t let herself get worried straight away. She knew he was walking, exploring and enjoying the peace and quiet. She also knew that the signal was very volatile at times. So, she did not let herself worry.
But by that evening, she was beside herself. She had rang him countless times. Left numerous messages on every single platform of social media and communication and she had left voicemails pleading with him to let her know he was ok. Najma and her parents had informed the local police of where Hamza had been that day and they promptly began a search for him.
They did not deliver promising news. They found the car Hamza had rented in the car park but no sign of him. The scoured the forest, the waterfalls, the foothills of the surrounding mountains. They were very sorry but there was absolutely no trace of him. Whatsoever. We had given them the background of Hamza’s situation and why he visited alone so they put it to us that perhaps Hamza had made a decision. Perhaps he had chosen to end his life and did not want to be found.
That hurt her the most. Not just the suggestion or the idea of it; but that a tiny shadow in the back of her mind not only entertained the theory but believed that it might possibly be true. Hamza had voiced some of his innermost and darkest thoughts to Najma alone. The moments when he was at his lowest, when all hope had ebbed its way out of him and he turned to her in his hour of need. Telling her he saw no point, no way and no future in this life. Did he mean it? Was it more than a passing feeling?
Najma refused to let herself succumb to the idea of it. Hamza was her twin. They came into this world together and he surely knew the damage that would be done to his twin if he had made that decision. How could one survive without the other. Najma refused to believe he had willingly done this, knowing that it would irreversibly break her and their parents.
After several days of searching, the police had declared the case closed. His body was nowhere to be found. Not even a footprint for that matter. Only his rented car told us that he had been there for sure and all of his possessions left at the lodge left another question in the air.
So that was how, one week after Hamza went missing, Najma found herself sitting on a flight to Glasgow. Following in the exact footsteps her brother took. She was going to stay in the same lodge as well. Anything to help her find him because that was what she was sure she could do. If anyone could find him, surely it would be his twin.
Her parents had completely refused to let her go. But they didn’t understand. They had accepted the verdict, albeit at a level of pain Najma had never witnessed. But she would not and could not accept it. She had snuck away before her parents awoke that morning, and was on her way on the early morning flight before they could stop her, leaving a note explaining what she had done. She had a deep nagging guilt but it soon subsided when she put her mind to finding Hamza.
From the airport she rented a car, just as he had, and she started the long drive to the Isle of Skye. Knowing that the lodge was at the far north end of the island, and the Fairy Pools, his last location, were in the south; Najma made straight for the pools.
As she drove through the Highlands, Najma felt for the first time since he had gone missing, a level of ease sinking in. She felt that she was getting nearer to him. She was suddenly filled with hope that he would be there waiting for her; smiling from ear to ear with his eyes creasing. The way he used to smile and hadn’t been able to for a long time.
As Najma got nearer to Skye, she even started to enjoy the scenery around her. The endless mountains and wild hills doing whatever they pleased. Pure wild landscape as far at the eye could see, with only the road the car was on as any sign that modern life had yet interrupted here. She saw Highland cows and for the first time she paused in her journey, pulling the car over to have a closer look. She had never seen a creature look so soft and hardy at the same time.
Najma crossed the Skye bridge soon after that and as it was still midday she felt safe in the knowledge there would still be plenty of time to look for Hamza at the Fairy Pools before it got dark.
Najma arrived at an empty car park just as Hamza had. She even parked in the same space he had, out of all the places. With her spirits and hopes high, she started walking across to the waterfalls, rushing in her frantic and desperate hope.
Najma found herself at the first waterfall and took in the surroundings, trying to envisage which way he might have gone. She could see the vast forest across the water and the immense mountains in the other direction. Her eyes were drawn to the forest and it was the only place that made sense to her.
As she scanned the edges, suddenly her eyes met her heart’s mirror. Her twin. He was standing at the edge of the forest, in between trees, barely noticeable except to someone who had grown in the same womb.
“Hamza!” She shouted, disrupting the perfect quietness.
Fury and anger were in her voice. The turmoil she had been through and he was just standing there. Another part of her wanted to burst out laughing in relief. It had really been that easy! She had found him straight away.
But something wasn’t right. He wasn’t moving, he wasn’t coming to her. After the initial recognition of his eyes, now that she saw him more clearly, he looked just as much like a stranger as he did her twin.
She found a shallow part of the water and waded through up to her ankles, barely noticing the sharp iciness of the water. When she reached the other side, she saw him walking back into the forest.
“Wait, Hamza! What the hell are you doing?”
Her relief was being taken over by her fury now. Clumsily she made her way after him, stumbling several times in her rush. The forest was thicker than it even appeared from the outside and she struggled desperately to keep Hamza in her eye line while she continued to shout his name. Wildlife was being disrupted all around her by the coarseness and desperation of her voice.
She was running as fast as she could but the path was continually obstructed by trees and rocks, ditches and bumps. Hamza seemed completely unaffected by the awkward terrain and in fact gave the impression that he was gliding seamlessly ahead of her.
Several times he paused and waited for Najma to catch up but always kept well out of her reach. Finally, he stopped and Najma tumbled into the clearing where he was waiting for her. She didn’t see the pool, glistening and vibrating with colour. All she saw was her brother. Her twin.
“Hamza?” She pleaded.
“Najma.” He turned to her, stepping towards her now. But Najma stepped back. What she saw frightened her. Her brother, as if he had been taken apart and put back together again, only whoever put him back together replaced some of his pieces with someone or something else.
A noise in the trees behind him made him turn. He shook his head, signalling to someone.
“What’s going on?” Najma demanded.
“I want you to come with me, sis. We’ll be happy here.” He smiled from ear to ear and the edges of his eyes crinkled. That was what Najma had longed to see again.
“What do you mean, come with you where?”
“I’ll show you.” He held out his hand to her.
Something bristled in the tree behind Hamza and he turned quickly.
“She will come!” He protested in the direction of the tree. Something hissed back, viscously.
“Please, Najma. Just for a while.” Hamza insisted, holding out his hand and stepping forwards.
Just for a while, she thought to herself, then we’ll go home.
As she took her brother’s hand allowing him to guide her, suddenly he looked himself again. Truly himself and truly happy. In an instant, all hesitations and suspicions left Najma’s heart and she started laughing, overcome with happiness at the sight of Hamza the way he used to be.
The moment after that, Najma realised they were surrounded by people. People that did not look like people. People that were shining and glowing. They were floating and gliding. They came out of every gap between each tree, they huddled through the bushes and ditches and dens and they call came to greet her as though she were a queen.
Hamza was never far from the one who posed herself as Dalia, or rather she was never far from him. She became viscously jealous when Najma arrived, furious that she might take him home again. Hamza placated her and devoted himself to her more than ever before. Najma was vexed by this but soon she found her own amusements and was happy merely to be where her brother was.
One morning, not long after the twins had been reunited, Hamza and Najma found themselves free of the elvin Dalia and they went for a walk together. They were following a pair of red deer through the forest, who were only too happy to be their companions. Hamza started to fret after a short time.
“She’ll be wondering where I am.”
“Stop it. You’re my brother. Come for a walk with me.”
Najma linked her arm through her brother’s and they carried on their walk with the deer. They were laughing and joking as they used to when they were children and they started racing each other. They were a fair match and they sprinted alongside each other, carefree in the moment.
Without warning, running as fast as they could, they unexpectedly broke through the edge of the forest and both stumbled and fell from the shock. They were at the waterfalls. Hamza’s eyes were wide and alert as he looked around him, taking in his surroundings. At that moment they both heard the most blood-curdling howl come from inside the forest. They looked at each other and knew exactly what, or rather who it was.
Suddenly Hamza jumped up and made to run straight back into he forest, to the being that made that awful noise.
“NO!” Najma leaped up just as quickly as he did and grabbed Hamza, taking him to the floor.
“I have to get back to her!” Hamza sputtered.
“No, you don’t!”
He wrestled his way free of his sister only for her to bring him straight down again. Najma slapped him hard across the face, hoping to knock some sense into him.
Using all her strength and determination, Najma pulled her brother up and dragged him across the water to the other side. She kept pulling him until she realised he was walking, just as determined to get away from the forest as well now.
They headed towards the car park and let out a cry of relief when they saw cars in the car park. They rushed over towards the cars and called out to a group of people who were heading in the other direction.
One of them came back towards them and smiled expectantly.
“Can we use your phone?” Najma asked.
As he was borrowing through his backpack to find his phone, Hamza took in the surroundings with more detail.
“What’s the date today?” Hamza asked.
The man laughed and told them, “It’s October 29th, mate.”
Najma gasped. She looked at Hamza and they were both shocked to their core. Since Najma had been at the forest, they were sure only a few days had passed.
“What year is it?” Hamza asked, fear lining his voice.
The man handed Najma his phone and frowned at Hamza. “It’s 2109.”
Najma looked at the slice of glass in her hand which projected a hologram with a menu waiting for her to interact.
“No.” Was all she could say, shaking her head slowly in disbelief as she watched her brother slide to the floor as he let out an agonising cry.