A familiar stranger


September 2019
It was a night with a bright full moon and its iridescent glow was enough to light up the surroundings

Brishna gave up all efforts to fall asleep and opened his eyes. He could see moonlight coming
through the cracks of the windows and doors of his ramshackle bedroom.

How can it even be called a bedroom? All living family members had taken to sleeping there because
of it being the only room that could be dwelled in. The other room was occupied with all the stuff
they had!

Brishna glanced at the sleeping family for a second and got up from the bed. Very silently, he
managed to open the ratty door, went out into the quiet, lonely street and closed the door

Serene milky white light of the moon gave him a psychedelic feel and view to that street of town
Aleppo. Even after 3 years of ISIS’ defeat in the city, the screams of ruined lives were still echoing
silently. It would have been quite a sight for the sore eyes but alas, the street was now a place of
ruins, and rubbles of stone were what, was left behind.

Brishna looked at the pile of bricks, stones and cement he was living in and thought it was not much
different from the neighbouring ruins that were dilapidated and scruffy in the same way. “Is ISIS the
only reason I am living such pathetic life? Or is there something else too!,” a depressive thought
passed through his conscience. Usually, he used to sigh over such thoughts.
But somehow, there was something different today. He didn’t feel gloomy even a bit. Maybe, it was
the moonlight which was affecting his senses. For the first time ever, he felt at calm and peaceful.
He felt that the condition of his street and deep state of his heart are same –devastated and lonely.
For the first time, the sight of the ruined street didn’t give him pain, instead, he felt at ease sitting
among the ruins.

He climbed the heap of remains of a devastated building and settled down on a stone from the
building scrap. He looked up at the sky taking a deep breath.. Was that pretty moon reminding him
of something?? Or perhaps someone?? His own voice rumbled in his mind – “Poonie, if the moon
had a face, it would have been a face of yours. No one in the world is prettier than you sweetie”. He
could also hear her heart-warming laugh in answer, sweet and lovely like a wind chime. This
remembrance brought a smile on his face for a while. With a deep breath, he plunged into the ocean
of those lovely memories…

The city was not the same, the street was not the same, and his life was not the same a few years
ago. Those wonder years of teenage were the dreamiest, happiest time he ever had.

There was no civil war, no ISIS and absolutely no miseries in the life. Aleppo was alive and happening
at that time, so was his street. He firmly believed that his street was the best place to live in the
entire world. Nothing less than heaven! The reason it being Pooneh lived there. He felt that his
entire existence was revolving around Pooneh. Now who is Pooneh, one might ask!
Beautiful, bubbly, sweet, lovely, etc. not enough words could be expressed to describe her! Fairy,
that is what he thought her to be because how can a human be so beautiful. “There is no doubt that,
yes, I must have done something too good to be blessed with Pooneh”, he used to think.

“Poonie, boys of this area as well as other parts of the city are crazy for you but you get along well
only with me…Why is that so?”, Brishna used to ask his dream girl. She laughed every time blushing
and saying, “because you are so special” while pulling his cheeks. Brishna always felt her laugh was
sweeter than the sound of a wind chime. He used to forget his own existence while talking to her.

Suddenly, a barking street dog broke his flood of memories. Brishna threw a stone. The dog ran
away, barking at him and disappeared behind the ruins of a house at the end of the long street.
That was Pooneh’s house!

Brishna could see the house from afar, with its position etched in his memories forever. How can he
forget it? Can anyone forget those wonderful days?? Especially that day when Pooneh called him in
front of all.

“Come fast Brishu, I want you to see something”, she yelled from the balcony while he was passing
by. (Well, actually he passed by the house sixth time that day just in hope to have a glance of

Brishna’s cheeks turned red as the prettiest girl in the city called him Brishu in front of all on-lookers
and invited him to her house. His heart started beating a horse’s pace.

“Yes….ok….but what…..”, he blabbered being aware that everyone in the street was staring at him.
“Just come fast please….”, Pooneh yelled in a sweet voice.

Brishna was still in dilemma and kept looking around at the passers-by when Pooneh yelled again,
“Faaaast…. Faaaaaaaast……Faasst”

Now there wasn’t any chance he could let his brain intervene when heart was sensing serendipity.
He quickly rushed inside but oops…Pooneh’s Abbu stopped him. “Oye Brishna, what do you think of
yourself?”, he asked in a scolding voice.
Brishna lost his confidence again. “No….No…I…..I….actually…..”

Her father cut him off and asked “Why did you make Pooneh yell? She has got an iPad and wants to
show to you. Just go fast.”

Brishna could breathe now in relief and said, “Yes… Yes… Of course uncle…” He moved upstairs
while he heard her father again, “And please, help her operate that stuff as none of us know how to
do it..”

Brishna shouted “Yes… Yes…..yes sure….” as he reached Pooneh’s room upstairs.

“ Yes…yes…yes”, Pooneh dragged him inside the room and closed the door while imitating his recent
blabbering and laughed out loud. Brishna blushed and felt excited as she was still holding his hand.

“Poonie…”, he tried to start.

But Pooneh stopped him saying, “What Poonie, huh?? When I was calling, you were still thinking and
asking questions and when Abbu told, you immediately obeyed…” She smiled and looked in his eyes
and said dancing her eyebrows, “ I think……you like Abbu more than me.”

Brishna could not breathe then. Pooneh was so close that even if any of them moved an inch ahead,
they would be kissing each other. Her soft perfectly shaped body, her mesmerizing sweet fragrance,
untied hairs, sight of her peeping out cleavage and smooth fair skin….this all was driving him crazy.

“Should I take a chance and kiss????”, Brishna thought but felt guilty and lost courage.

His lips trembled. “Poonie….actually….actually I Iike you more than anyone in the world… in fact…I

Pooneh again giggled while imitating his style, “I…….I…..” and laughed again. “Malik almuluk, it
seems that I have to teach you alphabets again. J comes after I.”
Brishna too broke into a laugh. Both laughed for long, holding each other’s hands. He felt that if
there is any damn thing in the world known as love, THIS IS IT. And it’s damn beautiful.

“Let’s see your iPad”, he said coming back to senses.

“Stupid….!! Ipad was just a fake reason I gave to Abbu to call you here”, she winked.

His excitement again reached a new peak. She had never been so close to him before. He thought
perhaps she is going to propose him today.

“Yes man…get ready for the moment..”, he said to himself. He was fully excited and aroused.

“Oh damn, my mouth will stink when we kiss. I had onion Omelette in breakfast..”, he thought and
again got nervous but didn’t want to portray it.

“Oh..then??”, he could say with great efforts of hiding excitement.
“See this…”, she removed her full-length coat and threw it on the bed.

“Ah damn..” Brishna’s jaws dropped down. She was wearing a short dress inside the coat. It was a
kind of western dress that was banned for girls in Aleppo because it was revealing thighs, shoulders,
and cleavage.

“How am I looking…??”, she asked dancing her eyebrows and took spin on her heels with both hands
raised like a ballet dancer .

Brishna was staring madly at her angelic beauty and grace. Her milky white thighs, smooth shining
shoulders, glabrate armpits, and skimpily clad and prominent rounded hips…all these were casting a
spell on him. He had never seen any pretty girl so up close, in this sort of attire.

His excitement broke all barriers and his breath rushed faster than before. Not only did, his lungs fill
with air faster but also, his heart was beating so fast that he felt as if it will come out of his chest.

He tried to speak but he was a mess! Woah, he wanted to hug her immediately, squeeze and stick
her to himself tightly and whisper “I love you Poonie” in her ears thousands of times while kissing
every part of her silky smooth body.

He could see her saying something but he was so excited that her voice was reaching his ears but
was not sent to the brain.

He moved towards her and held both her hands with his one hand and put his second hand on her
waist pulling her close to him.

Pooneh was surprised by this act. But before any of them could say anything, there was a knock on
the door.

All the fizz of excitement disappeared and the beautiful moment had been ruined. He didn’t know
what to do. Before he could react, Pooneh opened the door, dragged the visitor inside and closed it

It was her younger sister Doa. Brishna took a breath of relief but also knew that now chances of
proposing and kissing Pooneh had been washed down the drain.

“Brishna.. See her amazing dress like Hollywood staaaar. How is she looking?”, the sister asked him.

“Well…..that’s ….that’s amazing and she is looking damn hot in it. I am going crazy Doa. Your sis is
truly a fairy! ”, he gathered courage and spoke his mind. Both sisters laughed giving high five to each

“ But how did you manage to get it.???”, he asked. Both sisters stopped laughing and got serious.
They both looked at each other and again burst into a laugh.

“ Brishnaaaaa…..” his mother’s voice broke his dreamy trance and he realized that it’s almost

“Get ready dear. Mr. George will be coming”, mother said.

It was a little hard for Brishna to come back to the present. He wanted to stay in treasure of
hedonistic memories a bit longer. But at the same time, he was also quite aware that dealing well
with Mr George was extremely crucial at this juncture.
Unwillingly, he got up from the stone and moved inside the house. When he came back after a bath,
he saw that his mom had kept his breakfast ready. He sat and started eating without looking at her.

He feared his mother might read his eyes. What he wasn’t aware of was that his mother had already
sensed his mental state.

“When your father passed away, I had two choices. One was to succumb to depression and
negativity, live life cursing myself and the world. Second it being was to hand over all your four
siblings to any of our relatives, get married to someone and start a new life…..”, she spoke in one
breath while serving him another omelette, pausing for a second to gauge his reaction.

She saw that Brishna froze for a while and stopped eating. She knew that it means he is paying

She continued while serving the sauce on his plate, “But my Mom encouraged me otherwise so I
chose to live happily for and with the ones I love. You four, Brishna. You and your siblings…! And it
was easy once I decided. Today I am proud that I chose wisely. Allah has been protecting us!
Although we couldn’t leave this place like others did in times of Caliphate attempts. But we survived
those darkest days and scariest nights! And today, the eldest male in our family, Brishna, is now
going to embark upon a new journey with affluent Mr George’s company. Proud of you Brishna for
taking responsibility of the family so well! “
The words were casting a spell on Brishna. He was all ears and even forgot to blink for a while. The
mom he could see that day, was a different person altogether!

“Remember, either we can let situations design our destiny or we can take control and choose to
pave the paths to our destiny our own way”, she completed and went away.

Brishna was stunned. He never stopped to think about the struggles that his mother had to live
through. He had noticed the wrinkles on her face but he never thought about her emotional state all
these years. He felt quite embarrassed.

“Taste that hummus. Sabr has made it for you.”Mother said while going out for fetching water. It
again spoiled his mood. “Why is Sabr even bothering to do all of this? Can’t she see that I am simply
not interested in her? She is not even half pretty compared to Pooneh.”, he said to himself.

Brishna then, got angry with himself that he couldn’t stop memories of Pooneh again flooding his

That day, Doa came with sweets to his home. She gave a box of sweets to his mom and said that this
is for Pooneh’s engagement. She knew Brishna was there and without even looking at him, she ran
away hurriedly.

Brishna thought it was a sort of practical joke being played on him but sheer anxiety took the best of
him so he rushed to Pooneh’s home.

Pooneh was alone. “Hey Brishu…” she immediately responded. She seemed to be shying away from
him . Before Brishna could ask her anything, she put sweet in his mouth and said “This is the last
time. Now I will be someone’s wife.”

Brishna was shocked. He was severely frustrated and angry. He grabbed both her shoulders and
shook her fiercely. “Then what about us Poonie… Why are you marrying someone else??”, he cried.
She gently pushed him away and said, “What are you talking about, Brishna? Are you kidding? You
are like my brother. I have never seen you that way…..”

“STOP….”, he yelled. “Brother?? Did either of us EVER said that we are brother and sister?”
She quickly replied, “Did either of us EVER said that we love each other or will marry?”

Brishna cursed himself for not proposing her at the right time. He had no answer. He tried to put his
point, “But…. but… I…I love you…”

“Please understand Brishu… I always wanted to marry someone from my own caste and finally, I am
so elated today. My parents are happy today. Allah knows, why you aren’t happy! Listen, forget
everything taking it as time pass. We will always be best friends. You will find a better girl ….and….”

The rally of memories could have lasted longer if an unknown voice had not broken the trance and
brought him back to the present.

“Excuse me….is this Mr. Brishna Abdel??”, a man in white uniform knocked the ratty door and asked

It took a moment for Brishna to connect back with present. He nodded affirmatively. Although he
didn’t like an interruption in his thoughts but kept his facial expressions polite.

“Mr. George has sent this. It’s your first assignment of the job”, chauffer said giving him an
envelope. Brishna opened it after the chauffeur left and started reading the letter.

Brishna had never been to Istanbul before and also, never had a chance to fly. He was happy and
excited during the flight that finally his life was on track. After all, how many get such a job that gives
opportunity of international travels at company’s cost.

“ I will make Mr. George proud”, he promised himself. He felt he has experienced this level of
excitement after many years. Perhaps, first time after tryst with Pooneh.

The flight was about to land. The sight of Istanbul’s evening from the sky was so pleasurable that he
forgot everything else for a while.
Later in the day, around 7.30 in the evening, Brishna had entered the golden banquet hall as per
instructions of the assignment given to him. The most prestigious banquet hall of Istanbul was
witnessing a special party being hosted by wealthiest person of Turkey –Alim Demir.
Brishna was wearing Indian style outfits as the dress code for the gathering was Indian ethnic. His
mission was to get snaps of Turkish business tycoon’s arrogant and inaccessible wife. No one from
the media had her photos. The hall was full of elite class people and no one from media was allowed
to have cameras but this was no issue to worry on for Brishna as he was given the identity of a
socialite and he was going to click photos with a hidden camera.

He was standing near the doorway and surveying the golden banquet hall, which was filled with
refined bodies in saris and jackets, and beautiful young women.

And the moment came….. Business tycoon AlimDemir entered the hall with his spouse. He was
surrounded by associates and bodyguards. Demir couple was hardly visible. He slowly and carefully
moved towards them. It was paramount that no one got to know his intentions. He could see the
back of a gorgeous woman with straight hairs in sleeveless blouse and saree holding the hand of
Alim Demir.

“Damn these business tycoons… They always manage to get wives much beautiful and younger than
them”, he thought. He moved closer very slowly keeping his eyes on Mrs. Demir. If she turns back,
he was ready to capture snap with a hidden button camera.

From behind, she reminded him of his love – Pooneh, for a moment. But he forcefully pushed the
thoughts away to concentrate on the mission. And cursed him self for not being able to get rid of her
clingy thoughts. He shook his head a little and moved bit ahead to concentrate on the subject.

Now he was very close to the group surrounding the couple. He was ready with the gadgets to take
snaps at any moment and the couple turned back. He immediately clicked the button of the device
in his pocket. The next second was a blur because the only emotion that raced through him was of
shock and he couldn’t click further. She was Pooneh. His dream girl Pooneh!

He rubbed his eyes and shook his head. But no…. his eyes weren’t cheating him. Excitement of
seeing her, not in dreams but in reality, overpowered the resentment. He couldn’t withhold his
outburst and screamed – “Poonieee….”

He was so loud that it drew everyone’s attention towards him. Alim seemed angry and the ambience
was tense as the people could see his wife anxious. No one had seen any expression on her face
during any public event. Alim gave an inkling to his bodyguard and they moved towards Brishna.
Immediately, Pooneh whispered something in her husband’s ears and Alim called back his
bodyguards the very next moment. Demir couple moved ahead with the group even without looking
at Brishna, as if nothing has happened. And the party was rocking again ! As if everyone has
forgotten existence of Brishna in the hall.

Brishna couldn’t understand what happened. He was about to call her again when he felt a tight grip
on his shoulder. The cruel looking man cued him to stay silent and come with him. That man’s cruel
face brought Brishna back to reality and he thought it’s advisable to follow his instructions. He took
Brishna to a room away from the gathering, pushed him inside and closed the door from outside.
Pooneh was waiting for him in the room. Anger was spilling from every curve and corner of her
beautiful body.
Before Brishna could speak, she started in frustrated voice, “I thought you were dead in civil
war…Why did you come here and why you called me in front of everyone…?? I am married now.
Don’t you understand?”

“But you said, you had married in your caste. Caste, my foot! Alim is not even of your age. Didn’t you
know I loved you deeply? Why did you dump me? And if you were not interested then why did you
get so close…?”, Brishna couldn’t stop himself from crying.

“Please stop this nonsense!”, she yelled for the first time at Brishna. “Listen…The only caste in the
world is wealth which you didn’t have. You could never realize that wealth is the only thing that
matters for girls. So I chose Alim. And yes, everyone needs a friend of their age which I didn’t have.
You were the only person of my age group in the entire locality.” She spoke untold truth out of
outburst of anger. Brishna was shocked to death by her words.
Very next moment she felt bit bad for being so harsh towards sobbing Brishna.

She raised his chin with her hand and said politely, “Please understand. I beg you to leave. I am
someone’s wife now. I have a life to live! ” She clapped and a cruel-looking hunk got inside to take
Brishna away.
Brishna was still in awe of wounds by his dream girl’s stinging words. But he also felt deep bliss when
she touched his chin. It was like quenching thirst after wandering hours and hours in the torrid
barren desert.
The cruel faced hunk grabbed his shoulder and pushed him. Brishna recovered fast sensing the
He wiped his tears and said, “Ok. I’ll leave…. But can I see your dazzling smile that I have always
craved and cherished? , Please…! It had been seven years since your family left Syria and me! But I
couldn’t get rid of your remembrance. I love you and always wanted to see you smile… Please, for
my love’s sake…”

She thought it’s okay to extend such a tiny favor to this nerk lover. And she smiled. It was the same
dazzling smile that Brishna always craved to see. “She has grown more beautiful than before.”,
Brishna felt for a while but he controlled his emotions very next moment.

As promised, he turned back with tears and left. He was taken directly outside without entering the

Brishna took a cab to go to the airport. He wiped his tears and burst into a laugh. He dialled George
and said, “Mission accomplished, sir. I got her snaps. Smiling ones too. And guess what, We will be
the first newspaper to have her full background. I have it all.”
George apparently sounded happy.

“The only caste in the world is wealth”, he murmured and repeated the words his dream girl had
reiterated today, remembering the biggest lesson of his life.

His cab was entering the airport premises where he made the second call to his mother. “Ammi, I am
returning in the morning. Please ask Sabr to keep hummus ready for me. Tell her that I have
requested her to make.”

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