Dancing with Shadows

“Are you praying?” my mother asked, her voice quavering through the phone. She repeated it again and a sick silence followed.

“No Maam…,” I stared at the floor and saw nothing.

“Girl, you have to pray.” I nodded as if she could see me. In the name of Allah the Beneficent, the Merciful. But she was in Costa Rica and I was in Belize.

“You hear me girl? This keeps happening, so you have to pray. Seek refuge in God, okay?”

“Yes Maam.” I seek refuge in Allah, from the accursed Shaytan.

A week before my mother left for Costa Rica, my little sister, Amina got the chicken pox. My mother boiled and stirred herbal remedies that kept off the severe itching; however, when she left Amina’s chicken pox got worse and she walked around constantly scratching. Her pimpled body twitched during sleep; her contagious itching could spread; so she had to sleep in the living room. The creaking floors and grainy cement walls would be her only allies when the itch crawled on her skin.

A tattered mat, made of sponge, was covered with a thin floral sheet and Amina molded into its soft lumps. She slept in the living room, behind the couch, for an entire week and would come into my room and wake me.

Her hands shook me one night, “Maryam, something’s in the living room.” She was holding the floral sheet tightly around her body; she was too awake for the hour; too alert.

“Aright, I’m coming.” I got up and followed her into the unlit living room. Amina tiptoed as if she didn’t want to disturb the sleeping, but the wooden floor moaned under our steps. Her petite silhouette and head full of dreadlocks were the only things I could make out in the dark. We crouched to the floor to avoid bumping into the bookshelves; our fingers searched for the softness of the sponge.

Soon, Amina was breathing deeply in her sleep. I stretched my body on the soft mat and felt the humid air tighten. The mosquitoes’ high pitched singing was faint. The television was a box without lights. Dark figures stretched themselves across the room: the shadow of the breathing curtain, the lazy broom, a crooked bookshelf. And then…something else.

The thing stood tall: shapeless and wispy at the edges but with human form. An angular body and round head came into focus. Its human-like-shadow was near the couch; as if it leaned any closer it would loom over me and Amina. My body tightened. It braced itself, as if it were ready to charge. It pushed its upper torso and head forward, but appeared stuck. I stared in disbelief. It tried again. Something was keeping it away from us: Liquid-like glass created a wall between us and the Jinn.

A copy of the Quran was on the bookshelf. The bookshelf was adjacent to the couch, half of it blocking the Jinn with its holy powers. I recited the prayers that I knew could delay the bad-spirited creature. I looked at Amina and recited and recited. I knew that Allah created things of which ye know and which ye know not, and a Jinn stood in the living room.

I prayed until I fell asleep.

My mother’s flight got cancelled and her stay in Costa Rica lasted a week longer than expected. The Jinn visited again the following night. SLAP! SLAP! SLAP!  It stomped up the stairs and my stiff body was rigid, unmovable. This time it did not stay in the living room.

It lingered in the bedroom doorway and then stepped on the bed. The sheet dipped in small, scattered craters. It walked up to my thighs and then stepped onto my torso, clawing at my stomach and chest. It stood on my chest and its feet scratched at my neck. The air stopped coming inside. My head felt lighter and a dizzying feeling pursued, but suddenly a glowing snake sprang from the ceiling and the heaviness on my chest was gone.

I woke up Amina and told her what happened; she sat with me and we prayed. The Jinn visited every night until my mother returned. Some nights it came into the room and did nothing. Other nights I prayed and prayed and it left me alone. Other nights it didn’t.


            I realized later that when my mother wasn’t around, a Jinn was. I thought that I was crazy. But I believed in the Jinn.  Now, I know that the Jinn represented the physical manifestation of how powerless I felt when my mother left. It was a symbol that reflected my inner confusions and terror. The uncertainty that lurked in my psyche during her absence.

             In the sacred pages of my journals, I struggled to record most of what happened and I tried to make sense of it. That’s what writing was, a means to make sense of something that in reality, was illogical, unreal.

“Undated entry, year 2000,

Something is in this house. Something is here. Something is watching me.

I am scared because my mom isn’t here.”


Filed under: Prose