Belma watched over the crowd gathering in the courtyard of the mosque. On the altar, stood a coffin. Draped over its raised head, a muslin scarf with a crocheted edge, and a small wreath of white and purple freesias placed upon it. Her favourite flowers. The men were lined up before the altar and the women, their heads covered, assembled on both sides. Belma scanned their faces. They all had tears in their eyes. She recognized most of them. Friends, relatives, colleagues. Someone must have died, a woman. She saw her mother, her best mate, and her cousins. Her eyes searched the congregation. Where’s Aila? She jabbed a finger at her mother’s shoulder and whispered in her ear.
The sweet aroma of the freesias reminded her of the Song of Spring she used to sing to Aila when she was a little girl, and how Aila accompanied her, trying to remember the words. That song was theirs, mother and daughter, the lyrics etched in their hearts. It gave them comfort in moments of pain and sorrow.
Belma hummed the melody as the imam began his prayers. She raised her voice and sang in a high soprano tone. She could hear the orchestra playing in the background, as the images in the courtyard blurred. Little Aila’s voice joined her in the chorus, transporting her to another place, one of tranquillity and lightness, away from the chaos.
Aila gazed through the small opening, and glimpsed the night sky beyond the bars. A crescent moon, complemented by bright stars illuminated the darkness. A beam of light filtered into her chamber, landing on the single bed. She watched it linger on the white sheets as the wind howled, swaying the branches of the barren tree outside the window. Shadows of monsters played tricks on the walls. She sat on the cold floor, her back against the wall, eyes glued to the gap that gave her access to the world outside. She sought comfort from the faint light seeping into the pitch darkness of her surroundings, and rocked, playing the scene over and over again, in her mind.
The wind stopped. Silent, powdery white specks dotted the patch of sky behind the bars. Gradually, the snow muffling the sounds coming from the other cells, decorated the branches of the tree. She imagined a white blanket covering the dismal surroundings with its magic, making everything clean, pure and innocent.
Aila remembered playing in the snow with her mother in the garden of their suburban two-storey house. They gathered the snow, shaping it into balls, and rolled them across the lawn, buried under the deep, crunchy whiteness to make a snowman. A carrot, a scarf, a hat, and pebbles for the eyes. Recalling the Song of Spring they sang, she began to hum it, her mother’s smiling face completing the picture.
The scene rewound in her mind and she wept.
“Mum, I need cash.”
“Why do you need cash, sweetie? You have your credit cards.”
“They don’t take credit cards everywhere. I need cash.”
“Let me see how much I have. Will a hundred do?”
“I need a thousand.”
“Aila, you know I don’t carry that much. Tell me truth. Why do you need so much?”
“I owe money.”
“What for? You haven’t, not again?”
“Just shut up and give me the cash or something valuable I can trade.”
“Why, Aila, why? You know how long it took for the treatment. You were dying of hypothermia and ended up with pneumonia. Remember the days in the hospital and the trip back home? I’m so glad to have you here. You went to rehab willingly and suffered through hell trying to deal with the addiction. Why, sweetheart, why?” her mother asked with tears in her eyes.
“Don’t call me, sweetheart, you stupid bitch! Your world is fake, perfected with your silly dreams and illusions. You think you can make everything right with your Pollyanna approach. You dream of happiness, but you’re not happy either. You stink of self-delusion and lies.”
“Not again, please, Aila. I can’t deal with this anymore.” Belma threw herself onto the settee, covered her face with her hands and sobbed, her shoulders shaking.
“Give me the money. I’ll go and never come back.”
“I can’t. I won’t. I cannot help you kill yourself.”
“I need a fix. You will or I’ll kill you.”
“Do it then, Aila. Do it, and end my pain. I can’t take anymore. I’m done.”
Something flipped in Aila’s mind. She leapt towards her mother and struck her in the face. Blood trickled from Belma’s nose and her broken lip, mixing with the tears running down her neck. She screamed and howled, trying to fight back. Aila picked up a cushion and pressed it over her mother’s face, with all her might. Belma resisted, her arms flying through the air in helpless struggle, her voice now muffled under the weight on her face. Aila pushed, harder and harder, until Belma’s limbs stopped moving and her legs dangled limp from the side of the couch.
Time stopped. She didn’t know how long she pushed until her arms gave in and she lifted the cushion. Belma lay lifeless on the settee. Beneath the blood and muck staining her fine features, an eerie purple whiteness began to spread, her sightless eyes staring at Aila.
Aila held her hand. “I’m so sorry, Mum. Please wake up.” She shook Belma in vain. Nothing changed. She kissed her face. “Forgive me. Please, please, forgive me. Oh, God, what have I done?”
She sat by her mother and shivered, her shoulders rocking with tremors, teeth chattering. She wailed and hugged her mother, burying her head in her bosom.
The Song of Spring flashed in her mind. She rose in a trance, picked up the phone, and called the police.
“I … I killed my mother.”