The White Curtain

“Wake up, Amir. It’s time for school.”

Amir opened his eyes and blearily looked out the window. Every morning since he could remember, he had awoken to the sight of that stunning landscape. The Himalayas stood proud and mighty, like a wall of white guarding the very gates of heaven. Clouds floated leisurely up towards the mountains and, finding them impenetrable, contented themselves with lazily milling around and creating fantastic shapes for those lucky enough to see them. Amir saw them now and the overwhelming whiteness of the clouds and the sunlight reflecting off the snow removed the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes.

“Yes, Ammi, I am awake.”

His mother turned away, smiling. She never once had to check on him once he had awoken. Amir was the definition of a morning person and it made life much easier for her. She had six other kids who laid claim to her attentions.

Amir bathed, got dressed, shoveled down his breakfast and stood waiting for his brothers at the door, impatient to get going. His brothers glared at him, they could never understand how a child Amir’s age could ever be eager to go to school.

“What in the world do you like about school anyway? They make us do so much work, it’s so boring.”

“It’s fun if you stop looking at it as work,” said Amir, wisely.

“Sometimes I think you must have been adopted.”

Amir giggled, his brothers’ irritability amused him. And what secretly made him even gladder was that no one, not even his mother, knew the real reason for his eagerness. That secret remained within Amir, and its warmth made his face positively radiant.

The brothers set off towards school, situated three kilometers away near the base of a particularly beautiful mountain. The school had no classrooms, the students were taught in the open air, under the shade of a tree or in the adjoining meadows. The daily trek took the brothers forty minutes each way, mostly because they spent the majority of the time chasing each other, getting into fights and organizing impromptu races. Amir always stayed out of these games; however he was secretly glad of these delays.
They gave him an excuse to tarry a while longer and listen to the voice he so craved.

 Every morning for the past five years, when walking these streets to school, or on weekends to the grocer’s, Amir heard the most beautiful voice ring out to him. He had never heard a voice that could so effortlessly pierce his heart and from the very first day he had been lovestruck. The voice would sing songs of love in perfect English, and the purity of the voice held Amir in thrall no matter how many times he heard it. Over the years he memorized the songs and would hum along quietly as he went on his way. He liked to think she sang only for him, and indeed he seemed to be the only one who ever paid any attention to her voice. His brothers remained immersed in their fun and games and never once mentioned or wondered as to the origins of the voice. Amir was careful never to show his excitement, fearful that he would never be allowed to listen to her voice in peace if his infatuation became known amongst his brothers.

Where the voice came from, Amir himself did not know. His village was a large-ish one, with the houses spread wide over the plain on one side, and climbing up the mountain on the other. The houses near the higher end of the mountain lay hid from view by the expanse of clouds that collected at the side of the mountain. Amir had never ventured that far up; the clouds formed a vast, white curtain, hiding all behind it in a luminescent veil. From behind this curtain it was that the ethereal voice emanated. The silence of the mountain valley allowed it to carry over great distances and it was always clearly audible to Amir for the duration of his treks.

He would often sit at his window at home and try and put a face to the voice.
“Such a voice must have a face most beautiful,” he would say to himself. But then he would remember the pain in her songs and he would feel depressed, cursing at the world for its heartlessness in dealing out misery to even its most beautiful creatures. He would chide himself for not being brave enough to cross the white curtain and see her with his own eyes, to rescue her from her worries. He imagined himself as a white knight, disappearing in the whiteness of the clouds, to re-emerge with the maiden in his arms, safe from the world’s troubles. But they were a mental block for him. Try as he might, Amir could never muster up the courage to go and see what lay beyond the clouds. He would rage at the clouds, cursing them for denying him the pleasure of setting his eyes upon her. Then he would snap out of it, shake his head sadly, and say to himself, “What can you do, Amir, you are only a boy of ten.” And so shaking his head, he would put himself to sleep. Every night, Amir’s hopes died this death, and yet he always found them alive and kicking the very next morning.

“Wake up, Amir, it’s time for work.”

Amir opened his eyes and blearily looked out the window. He was a strapping lad of 17 now, and the years had brought a muscular toughness to his frame, but his eyes remained as soft as ever.
Lots had changed over the years, his brothers, all elder than him, had married and gone away.
His father had retired and now spent his days helping around the house. The house expenses were taken care of by Amir, who now plied his trade as a highly competent carpenter.

Lots had changed indeed. But for Amir, the most important thing remained the same.
 He still heard her voice every morning.

He got ready for work, ate a hearty breakfast with his parents and then bade them a hurried goodbye.
Once on the street, his ears immediately strained to hear her voice ring out over the valley. The village had changed so much so fast, technology making it seem so rigid and geometrical where it had once been flowing and natural. But neither technology nor time seemed to affect her voice in the least. She still sang today with the same clarity and the same feeling in her voice as she had in the days of his childhood.

Amir trudged on slowly, reluctant to move on from the spot where her voice seemed the closest. He stopped for a while, deep in thought. Suddenly a look of determination set upon his face.

“I am no longer a child. I am no longer afraid. I can seek her out and confess my feelings. I could put an end to her pain and misery. I can marry her and bring her to live with me. Then I can listen to her sing to me whenever I wish.”

Such thoughts ran through his brain as he stood listening. There was nothing stopping him, yet he hesitated. For twelve years now, this woman had lived in his dreams. She was a spirit, beautiful and otherworldly, he attributed qualities to her which had no basis in reality. Amir was afraid that his trespass beyond the curtain may put an end to that fairy tale. He was afraid of the voice losing its aura once he had glimpsed the singer. He was afraid of his dream dying forever.

But he was more afraid of being a coward. And so he made up his mind and turned to walk up the mountain. The climb was steep and the streets were unfamiliar. Amir kept glancing nervously down at the village, as if unsure if he would ever return. Higher and higher he climbed, looking about him, taking in every new sight and sound. After climbing for a while, Amir glanced down again and gasped.

Before him stretched out not the village below him, but an immense sea of white. He felt almost God-like, standing upon the clouds, staring away into nothingness. He marveled at the view and felt a pang of irritation at himself that he had never before witnessed this spectacle. The melodic voice did not seem out of place in this setting, it seemed as appropriate as the harpist would in heaven.

Amir continued along the streets, guided, almost beckoned by her songs. He stopped to ask directions from an elderly old man.

“Excuse me, could you point me in the direction of the house from which the woman sings?”

The old man gave him a strange look and then pointed at a dilapidated building up the street.

“Thank you,” said Amir, turning to look at the building.

“I swear this generation’s kids are getting nuttier by the minute.”

Amir ignored the man’s comment. He had ears only for her voice, but now his eyes craved her too.
He was unsure of how to approach the matter, he couldn’t very well just barge in. But in the end, he decided honesty was the best and simplest way to go about it. At worst he would be turned away at the door.

He reached the building, her voice almost tangible to him, tantalizingly daring him to enter. Amir knocked twice. The woman stopped singing immediately.

A man of fifty or so opened the door. He was in his night clothes, wearing a loose t-shirt and  pajamas and did not look like he had washed his face. His eyes were moist as though he had been crying, but upon his face was the most joyous smile. He looked at Amir curiously, as one does when one is visited unexpectedly by strangers.

“Good morning, sir. My name is Amir, I am from this village, I live a little further down. I was wondering if I could have a few words with you.”

The man did not say anything but stepped aside to let Amir in. The house looked even shabbier on the inside. Pieces of paper lay strewn all over the floor, dishes lay unwashed, the shelves coated in dust.
“How could she live in such a place?” Amir thought to himself.

He could not spot a chair to sit on, so he cleared a few feet of space and sat on the floor, the old man sat on the table.

“I realize this visit is sudden and unexpected, but I came to speak with you about the lady upstairs who sings every morning.”

The old man’s face lit up, no longer suspicious, but bore the expression of one who is conversing about his favorite subject .

“Ah, you mean Ella. I hope she has not troubled you with her voice?”

Amir indicated that this was not the case.

“Then you are a fan, wonderful, wonderful. It is rare to find boys of your age who appreciate the quality of her singing. Most of the visitors I get are complainants who are tired of her voice and want me to make it stop. As if I was anyone to stop her singing!”

“She has the most wonderful voice, I have listened to her every day since I was five,” said Amir.

“Wonderful, wonderful. This makes me very happy. Won’t you have some tea?” the old man asked meekly. Amir got the impression he did not have any tea to offer. He refused politely.

“I was wondering, sir, if it would be possible for me to meet her?”

The old man let out a great laugh and slapped his thigh. “Why certainly, nothing would make me happier.”

Up he pranced and took Amir by the hand and led him up the staircase. He led the way into a small corridor at the end of which a closed door was barely visible. Amir’s heart thumped loudly in his ears as he approached.

The door opened to an empty room. It consisted of a bed, a cupboard and a table. The man walked to the end of the room and busied himself fidgeting with something on the table.

Suddenly Amir’s ears were filled with her voice, coming from within the room, as loud and as clear as if she were singing from within him. He glanced confusedly at the old man, and he pointed at his table, grinning widely. Amir looked at the table and understanding washed over him.

On the table stood a tape recorder.

“This is my faithful old tape recorder. It belonged to my father, it came into my possession when he passed away. I own only one tape, and I play it every morning from start to end.”

He held up a cassette cover, Amir read the words, “The Best of Ella Fitzgerald.”

Amir did not speak. He sat in the room for an hour, listening to the voice he was so familiar with. Finally he took his leave from the old man, thanked him, and left.

Out in the streets, Amir walked aimlessly. He was unsure of how he felt. Eventually his footsteps took him back downwards towards his workplace. He gazed about emptily, the picture of the tape recorder stuck in his head. He reached the spot where he had made his fateful decision and looked up.

The clouds were there, they always were. Her voice was still there too, as clear and real as ever.
Amir smiled. He had gone looking for a woman and he had found music, unchanging and eternal. Time or weather would not affect her, he would hear her voice every morning, coming to him from beyond the curtain.


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