The Half-Caveman by Muddasir Ramzan

Cave painting at Lascaux

 

‘It was a Saturday night in the winter of 1998. I awoke in the middle of the night. My wife Amina and my little son Ahmad were fast asleep. I didn’t bother to wake them.

‘I went outside and saw that the snow was still falling fast. There was a thick blanket of snow on the ground. I took my umbrella and went straight to the cowshed to see if the first-calf heifer was fine – she was to give birth to her first calf soon. I locked the cowshed and began walking back to my house, holding my umbrella in my left hand and the kerosene lamp in my right. As I walked, I gazed at the whirling snow and checked the fallen branches.

‘I heard a woman calling me when I tried to shake the snow from some trees. In fear and excitement, I tried to locate the voice and walked towards the peach tree. There was so much snow on the tree’s foliage and branches that it caused the main branch to snap and fall down on the snow-covered ground. When I went near it, I saw what I thought was a woman dressed in white looking straight at me; I thought it might be an illusion created by the snow. But I trembled in fear. The kerosene lamp slipped from my hand. I kept wondering if it was an evil spirit or a giant. “Stop”, she called out, when I began to move. I rushed towards my home which was only a few steps away, but my shaking legs and the snow made those few steps seem like a thousand miles away. Somehow, I managed to reach the steps of my house; I breathed deeply in relief, thinking I had escaped her.

‘When I tried to push the main door to enter, a huge hand caught my left shoulder; I struggled to free myself but in vain. I cried aloud but her other hand clasped my head along with my mouth. I kicked the door but her powerful hands dragged me back. I could see her closely now. Her stench filled my nostrils; she had a hairy face; a huge, dirty, and hairy body with long heavy breasts, and long nails. Long untidy hair fell over her shoulders. I noticed her feet last; they were turned backwards which frightened me.

‘She was exactly the type of creature whose stories my grandmother used to distract me with in my childhood whenever I cried or wanted something that was not available. For some time, I thought she would eat me alive. I had lost all my strength and began to think she had cast a magic spell on me. I helplessly let her tie me to her back with her long hair. I could have cried, or made a noise and asked for help, or at least struggled again to escape. But I was under her magic spell. I …’

‘Yes, carry on, what happened then?’ asked the young man, who was keenly listening to him. When the caveman didn’t reply, the young man looked towards the elder man, the Ustaad, as though asking him what to say ahead. The elder man took the lead.

‘It is clear she took him to this cave then. Isn’t it?’ the elder man asked loudly to stir the caveman.

‘No, not to this cave, I was half asleep on her back all the way, she walked fast and I couldn’t recognize that pathway. Later, when I opened my eyes, I wondered where I was. The place I found myself in was dimly lit. I could see stones and some dry logs, lots of straw, and some sand too. I walked a few steps, exploring the place. There was a wicked smell nearby and my left hand covered my nose and mouth. I found myself standing upon a huge carcass, surrounded by bones. I was frightened, much more than you two were when you first laid eyes on me. So this is it, I thought to myself. I am her food. I could see my death now.’

‘Wasn’t she there?’ inquired the lad.

‘No, I didn’t see her there. I kept searching for a way to escape. But all I could see were little holes in the cave’s walls and it was the only source of light in that dark cave.  I whispered some verses of the Quran and tears rolled down from my eyes. I begged God to save me – what wrong have I done, Allah?  How can you end my existence here? Is a grave and a proper funeral not in my fate? I prayed regularly to you, always tried to do good, never committed any grave sin and this is what You have in store for me? Am I really worth this? What will happen to my family: my old father, my wife and son, my little sister and brother? You’re well aware of my condition. Save me!

‘Meanwhile I saw a big rock turning and there she was. I kept reciting the Kalima (La Ilaha Illa-l-lah Mohammad–ur-RasullullahSAW). She entered and turned that big stone again to close the cave. I said to myself – look at her, see her power, she is moving mountains, she may have eaten half the world and you are just a tiny morsel for her! I could hear my pounding heart, when she began to walk towards me. I was watching my end; that was the first time I had felt so helpless. I begged her, with tears in my eyes, requested her to leave me and not eat me. But to my utter surprise, she laughed. It was a strange laugh, I can’t describe its musicality. She said “I won’t eat my husband” and dropped some roots and herbs there for me to eat and left me bereft in shock. I froze. How could I be her husband? Have I heard right – did she really say I am her husband? I was completely broken now, all I could do was to guess about my future while looking at her. But when I found thinking was no escape, I switched to imagining things that always gave me pleasure and filled me with joy –my family, Amina and Ahmad, their love for me. Later, when I came out from my trance, to my utter surprise, I saw Amina in the cave sitting close to me.’

‘Please don’t cry, wipe your tears. Everything will be alright now; it is all God’s will that we came to this side of the forest today.’ The elder man tried to console him.

‘Yes, look around; is there anything you think we would come here for? We were cutting some pines down the other side of the forest and he, my Ustaad,’ said the young lad pointing towards the elder man, ‘he suggested we should check this side’ the lad added.

The Wildman sighed: ‘I am one of the living dead, is God still there? I don’t believe in Him anymore.’

‘Tell us what happened then, how did your wife arrive there?’ asked the elder man.

‘I was puzzled to see her there, but when I spoke to her, she turned out to be the witch disguised as my wife. She confessed her love for me and wanted me as her husband. It was strange when she told me about her desire to have a family with me. I was too scared to hear all that but then little by little my fear vanished. I eventually learned to talk to her; and it was easier to love her when she disguised herself as Amina. But when I woke up in the morning, I found myself on top of her real self. At first, it was a maddening experience, but when I couldn’t escape, I stop thinking of it as unnatural and accepted myself as the half-caveman.’

The half-caveman seemed strangely better now. He was looking deeply into the eyes of young man and the young man looked sharply back at him.

‘Tell me, what’s the date today? I remember the name of days, I was regularly counting weeks in the early days of my captivation, and then I lost track of everything. I can only guess the passing of many ages by now.’

‘It’s Wednesday, 20th July and exactly 3:55 PM,’ answered the young man after opening his mobile phone.

‘Which year?’

‘2016.’

‘What! Are you serious? Is it 2016? Have I spent this much time here? I don’t believe it! Oh my God! Are you listening? It is 2016. The world will no longer remember me!’

‘Yes, don’t you see yourself? You hardly look human. Come with us, let’s go now. You will be a great surprise to your family and others.’

After a pause, the young man again asked the half-caveman to come with them, but the half-caveman remained silent. When the young man pressed him for an answer the half-caveman replied in a harsh tone:

‘No, I can’t leave. I have three daughters here.’

‘My God!’ They both sighed. ‘But how is it possible and where are they?’ asked the elder man.

‘Long story, they all have gone to get food, they only spend their nights in this cave. I’m usually alone here. It is better for you to leave me here. You don’t know what they’d do to you.’

The young man suddenly got up and raised his voice: ‘how can you still live with them, when you could easily escape with us?’

‘My dear, they will easily find us if I come with you. I won’t endanger your lives. I always look out from these holes in this cave, pointing his right hand to the cave, to see if I can see any human. When I saw you two coming, I was baffled and yet, my joy knew no bounds. I could only shout to get your attention. Tears of gratitude flow from my eyes. But I have to remain calm and stay inside this cave. You are very courageous, but please, be careful. A long time ago, when my daughters were little and when we were living in another cave, I watched three men with their long axes, just like yours, approach the cave. When I called out to them, they came to help me, but when they peeked through stones and glimpsed me, they ran away, screaming. Probably my looks made them scream in fear and they didn’t even look behind. I know I give the impression of being more like a monster with my long dirty hair, beard, nails, and evil smell. I could only bathe whenever water was available, which happened only a few times, mostly after Ramini delivered her five babies.’

‘Her name’s Ramini? Do witches have names? What happened to the other two?’

‘Yes, we also had two sons, but they didn’t survive. She can’t have sons because her clan is cursed.’

The elder man scratched his head and looked confusingly towards the younger one. The lad seemed lost in the tale. It is as if he had discovered the fountain of secrets or maybe the caveman had cast a magic charm on him. The young lad showed the elder man his watch and looked worriedly ahead. But when the old man didn’t respond, he said, agitated:

‘So what have we to do — stay here in this cave?’

‘Forgive me; it is because I have so much to tell. Yes, you should leave now. I am very much thankful to you; you are not ordinary humans.’ the Wildman interrupted.

‘We will come again for sure, don’t lose hope.’ said the elder man. ‘What’s your name and where are you from? We’ll inform your family about you.’

‘No, I won’t tell you anything about me. And please don’t tell anyone else about me. Go straight to your homes and be careful.’

They helped him to get in and gave him a long axe before they left him.

After moving out from there the elder man asked ‘Why was he only looking at you, your eyes, he was staring at you even when we left? I am afraid, he seems dangerous. I think he liked you, he may be thinking about his daughters. And why didn’t he told us about his village, his name, why he hide his identity!’

‘Ustaad, don’t worry. The poor man is living in another world; he looks frightening, but his story melts my heart. I think we should come again and save him.’

They walked carefully in the midst of forest, searching for a proper path to get back to their other friends. Finally, they found one.

***

Their company of woodcutters had been looking for them for about four hours. When they couldn’t find them, they gathered around a clump of trees, nervous, and discussed their friends’ disappearance. They tried, again and again, to contact them through phone, but there was no network coverage. After a short while, one man among them caught sight of their missing friends and bellowed ‘Here they are. Badass Baba Hamid and his little dog Talib! Come, we’ll screw you here’. All these men quickly jumped in joy.

‘What should we tell them when they ask us where we were?’

‘They are our own men. We aren’t supposed to hide anything from them. See how happy they are to see us. They must have been searching for us. There’s love in their anger.’ said Hamid.

They hugged them, some began teasing and slapping their backs. The men inquired where they had been but their group master, Habib-ul-Lah, told them to keep quiet.

The band began to walk in one large group now. Habib-ul-Lah asked Hamid about their disappearance and when he tried to answer, another man in their group yelled ‘Why don’t you tell them what they’ve missed? Tell them what we did in their absence?’ Talib, in a very pleasing tone, said ‘You may have done something exciting but we too have something great to tell you.’ Aejaz, Hamid’s friend, came near them, filling them in on what they had done in Hamid and Talib’s absence.

‘After lunch, when you both disappeared, Ustaad Habib-ul-Lah asked us to look for you. We searched the places you had been to but couldn’t find you.  We anxiously came back to Ustaad Habib-ul-Lah, he gave us his shooting gun and we – Akram, Sultan, Yousuf, and I – took our axes and a few other essential things and went to the other un-discovered side of the forest.  We climbed up the hill to see if we could catch a glimpse of you two from the top of the hill.

‘While we stood there, we saw a giant creature. Yousuf began to shout, ‘Rantas, Rantas!’ We were frightened, we feared, both of you were dead. You know how daring Akram and Sultan are! We went to check if you two were hiding somewhere nearby, or if she had eaten both of you. We moved slowly until we reached the place where she lay among the fallen trees. She had made a sleeping seat there by joining the fallen branches and trunks and bound some dry logs to make the bed-frame. To make the seat smooth and comfortable, she had layered it with dry leaves.

‘We could hear her snoring, while we carefully searched for any hint of you there. When we were about to leave, Akram whispered something to Sultan and raised the gun he was carrying. They both walked silently towards her and we followed. The Rantas slept well in the good-hot-sun. The leaves and logs she slept on had dried up due to the heat. Akram lit some small dry boughs and carefully put them on every side of the dry logs. Soon the leaves and logs began catching fire, and we managed to run away and hide behind the pines. The witchwas still fast asleep. The dry logs and leaves underneath and around her were burning fast. A moment later, we heard her cries and saw her surrounded by flames until she died.’

‘Oh God! You killed Ramini!’ Talib exclaimed.

‘What? Who’s she?’ asked Habib-ul-Lah.

Then Hamid told them the story of the caveman.

After listening to him, Habib-ul-Lah told them about the legend of the Wildman and his power to enchant women. He recounted a story of a newly married couple which he had witnessed himself when he was young.

‘It was evening when a young man came to me and asked for help, his wife was in danger. I and my other friend accompanied that young man, and he showed us his wife as she walked ahead of us. He called her to stop, but she didn’t hear him. We rushed towards her. We thought they’d been in a fight maybe, and that she’d been angry and left home, but no, we stopped when we saw the Wildman there. We were only few steps away from his wife. The Wildman was walking at some distance from her. He had tempted her. When we called out to her, telling her to come back, she didn’t answer. She kept following that Wildman, even when her husband urged her to stop. Her only reply was ‘leave me, you are no one to me, I am going to live with my real husband, or else I will die.

‘The young man requested the Wildman to leave her but he wouldn’t listen and kept on walking with the woman. When, after all our entreaties, we realized she wouldn’t come back, the young man shot her and she died in front of us. We ran away when we saw the Wildman coming after us. Later, the young man told us how, she had been behaving strangely lately and had gone missing.’

Hamid mentioned that he had met the Wildman, but they didn’t fear him, since he did not seem dangerous.

Sultan added ‘I’m sure he must be that ‘Wan-Mohneu’ (Wildman) who recently abducted a tourist girl from England. Haven’t you heard about that? It was the biggest news last month – she was skiing in the hills, and there he was. He cast his magic on her, and she willingly followed him into the dense forests. When some people saw her following the Wildman, they tried to save her but in the snow she vanished from their sight.’

Hamid looked astonishingly at Talib. Talib too was in shock, as he said – ‘He cannot be that, he was kind to us, if so, he would not have spared us.’

Habib-ul-Lah patted Talib’s shoulder, ‘You’ve a lot to learn son, just forget about that man. He may be expecting you again and maybe he has cast some magic on you. Tell your family about him. Be careful and strong, and never ever visit that cave again.’

He gave him an amulet and told him to keep it with himself always.

 

 

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Muddasir Ramzan read English Literature at university, and now writes regular research blogs for the Muslim Institute in London. His reviews have been published or are forthcoming in the quarterly, Critical Muslim. Recently, his interview with the acclaimed writer Aamer Hussein was published by the Kindle Magazine, Calcutta. Muddasir Ramzan lives in, and writes from, Kashmir, India.

 

 

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