by Ali Hammad
The wind was picking up when I left office. By the time I got home, it was turning into a gale. The wind in Kansas is always strong. Sometimes I have thought of hitching a ride on a tornado to the Land of Oz, but on the stated day I just wanted to get home.
I pulled my car up the driveway, and parked it before the front door. The door was wide open. I was a little concerned at seeing that. I tried to hurry in, but rammed my body into an invisible barrier at the doorsill, as if the door was shut despite being open.
I stroked my forehead where I had bumped it, and looked in. Past the short corridor, a French door led to my fenced backyard. I’m not really the narcissist that some people accuse me of being, but can one be allowed to delight in one’s creations? And there was one creation right there in front of my eyes: my backyard.
Late spring had been kind to a place that had been laid out well. The Bradford pears and the red maples were almost fully foliated. Douglas firs and blue Atlas cedars, planted in a scattered manner to give the impression of random growth, were resplendent. The acacia and the willows were random without design, and majestic. The French door from the house led to a stamped-concrete patio that was highlighted by fiery red azalea bushes. A couple of steps down from the patio, the centerpiece of the yard was my sixty-foot, sky-azure pool. (Note: twice the length of an average American pool.) To the west of the pool was a shaded and screened verandah surrounded by armies of foxglove and blue hydrangea, a counterpoint to the azalea of the patio. East of the pool, the pool house was covered by nurtured ivy climbing its walls. All corners of the pool deck were adorned by gigantic urns sprouting daffodils. Not quite Lake District, then, but a Wordsworth-inspiring vista, nevertheless, I would have ventured to say.
The whole backyard was still, and shimmered in bright sunlight.
“Wait a second!” I thought, “A sunny and still yard?”
I looked back. Behind me, the sky was overcast by a dense nimbus. The wind was gathering ever more power, and the tops of trees were bending in obeisance.
I looked again at the backyard: sunny and serene. I pressed my right ear against the invisible barrier. I could hear faint music wafting in from the yard. Something exotic. Like a lyre, maybe. Not that I know what a lyre sounds like, but the word goes well with exotic. And I could hear a faint murmuring—some clinking of glass, too—like a party was in progress, albeit an invisible one because no guests were to be seen.
“Is anyone in there?” I shouted.
“Present your credentials,” said a voice.
“What?” I asked.
“Like I said, present your credentials.”
“I don’t need any credentials to enter my own house, and how dare you use some device to prevent me from entering through my own front door.”
“This is not your house. Back there is Heaven and you are standing at its door.”
“Who exactly are you?” I asked
“I am who I am.”
“Never mind. You won’t get it.”
“You thief, you. Just you wait. I’ll be back with the police.”
“Ha,” said it.
I turned back to get to my car, but the driveway was empty. Gone was the car and my mobile phone that I had left lying on the passenger seat. The wind had more force, the clouds were angrier, and thunder and lightning had made a menacing appearance. It was clear I wasn’t going anywhere or calling anyone for help.
I didn’t know what to do. The front porch I was standing in was a limbo between a gathering storm and probably a loony who had commandeered my home. Perhaps, I thought, I can talk the voice into letting me in and then overpower the person behind the voice.
“So, why is it so calm in there while I am almost in the clutches of a terrible storm?” I asked.
“It’s because this is a different time here. You are in serial time, divided into past, present, and future. Here time is continuous without any past, present, or future.”
“Never mind. You won’t get it.”
“How do you know what I will get and what I won’t?” I said, raising the decibel a notch.
“You won’t get that, either,” said the voice, as flat as before.
“Listen, I do need to get in before the storm gets me.”
“Alright, if you don’t have the credentials, then just give me the password.”
This was no time for games. Thunderclaps were getting closer together and also simultaneous with lightning bolts. The wind was howling. On the horizon, a vortex was forming. Then the tornado sirens began to wail. I knew if I were to live, I had to get to the safety of my home’s basement, or to the mysteriously oblivious backyard.
“Let me in, please,” I pleaded. “What password are you talking about?” I said as I tried to push my way in but was again thwarted by the invisible barrier.
“The password to Heaven,” it said. The voice was mellow, yet it boomed over the thunder.
I was furious. “I don’t need your Heaven. My home is my heaven. I just want that back,” I screamed.
“Hold it, hold it. What did you say about your home?” it said.
“My home…is my heaven,” I said with hesitation, not sure what the voice wanted me to repeat.
The next instant, the thunder and lightning stopped, the din of the wind quieted down, the wailing of the sirens quit, the nimbus disappeared, and a warm afternoon sun shone.
“What happened,” said I, quite perplexed.
“You said the password,” said it, quite calm.
“Password?” I said.
“The password was ‘I am my heaven.’ You said ‘My home is my heaven.’ That’s close enough. I’ll accept that. Remember, Heaven is within you, and the only barrier to you getting there is you.”
I nodded vacantly for a second and then asked, “So, can I enter now?”
No response. The voice had left.
I gingerly reached with my hand across the threshold of the front door, expecting something unexpected.
I entered into my house.
From the kitchen came a familiar voice, “What a nice surprise: you back from office early on a nice day like this. Let’s go enjoy the yard before I get dinner ready.”
I let escape my bated breath in a huge sigh of relief, and shut the door behind me.
Photographs by Ali Hammad