“Beware of women whose feet point backwards.”
My mother warned us about the banshee-like churails. Murdered by their own, they avenge their deaths by returning for the males of the family. They hide their pig-like features, wild hair and black tongues under the guise of beautiful women. The only things they can’t change are their feet, which are back to front.
Mother said churails also spirited away naughty children. Their screeching outside your window heralded their arrival, clawed feet scraping on the marble floors as they shuffled towards your room. Many a night I had shivered under the blanket, stiffening at every sound from the courtyard. I would will the crickets to keep on chirping and clutch my taweez, praying for forgiveness and invisibility.
What fairytales! Churails have better things to do than terrorise the quaking innocent.
I unfurl myself from my earthly bed. Keeping to the shadows, I slip through the gate. An owl hoots and its call rings through the air like the cry of a dying man. A rickshaw sputters past. The scent of jasmine fills my lungs. I fancy I hear my heart beating.
I approach the haveli. Over the years, the lights have gone out, one by one.
He is in the garden, motionless, frail as a skeleton. Age has caught up with him. He gasps when he sees me and struggles to rise. “You!”
I walk towards him, my footsteps leading away from me. “Father. I have come.”
Iqbal’s short story “The Boy with the Green Eyes” was published in the Leicester Writes Short Story anthology in September. He is one of fifteen emerging writers to feature in the Mainstream anthology by Inkandescent, published July. Iqbal’s first novel, Northern Boy, is out on submission.