28 July 2007

back to prose - the howler

In memory of Aunty Jahiliya, ninety-ish, who passed away last Sunday. She was unschooled yet had the wit and wisdom of an alim. She was our Scheherazade, our very own story teller.

"Que pasa?", the moral guardians of those times would ask each other as they sat for their merienda cena in the magnificent dining rooms of their lavish houses within the walled city. The gossip of the day and of the days that followed was about Alma, aka the howler, aka "La Gritona". Alma was of their own, the loved one gone astray; the tempted; the temptress; the unforgiven; the woman who laughed at life; the scarlet woman; the woman who ate a lot of chilli; the woman in love - much like Arundhati Roy's tragic character, Ammu. The guardians of the "caste" were the "Bella Floreses" of those days, the anti-heroines.

We were the children who loved to play under the balites, huge trees that lined the walls of the "city". Those walls, very tall in our minds, divided the rich and the mighty from the "Gaza" of those times. "La Gritona" appeared under those trees. She was the one who howled, some would say, emitting cries of desperate longing. Others would say, they were sounds of "La Gritona" giving birth to "El Bastardo".

She was the ghost, we did not judge. As children of the "Moros", we always said "Subhana Allah" before approaching those trees. Those 'magic' words and our imaginary kris wands emboldened us. The balites were our trees and the ghost was our friend. We were never scared - no wonder - the Bella Floreses called us "juramentados".