Attempting to Imagine
Clare and Miguel
Half an hour later and Miguel stood before the main entrance to the Alhambra and gazed up at the symbolic key above the outer arch and the outstretched hand whose five fingers reminded the faithful of the foundations of their faith. He entered and moved straight to the Nasrid quarters. He had been here so often and never tired of its beauty or its historical importance. He could truly claim that his first acquaintance with the Alhambra over thirty years ago had marked the inception of an academic career that had brought him a great deal of intellectual satisfaction and great respect for Islam.
‘No more than that?’
Had someone whispered in his ear? Or was it the light breeze that blew through the cypresses? Startled, Miguel looked around. What was transpiring? Why did the very air appear to unknot and emit a fragrance that Miguel could only describe as arousing simultaneous emotions of joy and terror? It was tinged with sibylline memories of grace and love, blended subtly with earthy undertones of a dark fear. This fragrance dismantled his ego and stripped his soul naked. He searched frantically for the owner of the voice, rotating on the spot, his eyes darting in every direction.
He stood near a mihrab, the arched alcove that indicated the direction for prayer, and his restless gestures were brought to a sudden halt as the subtle movement of a finely woven robe drew his attention. A female figure issued from the niche of the mihrab and stretched her hand toward him. Confused, Miguel first took her to be one of the many tourists that visit the Alhambra and he looked around to see who she might be offering her hand to. There was no-one else in the vicinity, Miguel stood there alone and, for moments that raised him above the normal dictates of time, he stood in a silence so complete that he imagined hearing the finest of melodies emanate from the fragrance and descending around him like a rain of barakah.
‘You have not brought her to me yet?’
She questioned him softly. Her tones applied a soothing effect to his perplexed mood. Her appearance filled his soul with an unexpected serenity, and yet he would not have believed there could be so much pain in that serenity; the sorrow of a regret that sought atonement without naming its source, a sorrow that manifested as an accompaniment to serenity for only serenity was able to contain and allow its cathartic effect. Overcome by emotion he began sobbing.
‘Do not worry,’ she continued, and she bent forward slightly to brush a smudging of fine sand from her clothes. She glanced toward the fountain in the Court of Lions and then returned her gaze to Miguel. Those eyes carried a deep affirmation of her ease on the soil of his homeland and a conspiratorial spark signalled her inclusion of him in the heritage of this country; this country that was now forever another. The Spain of his birth had become a land that marked the remembrance of the journey he was about to undertake and that he would henceforth travel wholeheartedly. The mihrab from which the woman had emerged transformed into the springboard of his heart.
‘Do not worry. You will bring her here one day soon and I will be here to meet you.’
She swung around and blended subtly into the intricate textures of her surroundings until she was no longer visible.
Miguel was shaken. A few minutes ago he could not have believed anything of what had just happened to him. Surely occurrences like this were the figments of overheated imaginations? He knew with conviction that this was not so in his case. Everything that had just transpired contained a core of uncommon reality that spoke with a rare eloquence of compassion. He had no idea what she had meant about someone he had not brought with him but she had spoken more than words. Her very being had transformed what he had always taken to be a healthy scepticism into a sureness of faith. No! Transformed was not the right word. He had simply been recalled to what his soul had always professed. The pace of terror and joy pulsed through his heart at an increasing speed and he questioned his ability to sustain it without damage to his system. Previously it would have been impossible for him to contain this fear and this love simultaneously. He admitted to himself that he would have made an attempt to turn away, take the easy option as he had done for most of his life, yet now something was telling him that this was the meaning of ‘insh’allah’, the primal covenant that we all made before birth and that we continuously forgot, always needed to remember. The Covenant of Return trembled as the vibrations of an eternal string instrument, and so finely that perceiving it required the art of loving. So much of our original nature as true human beings was veiled and wrung from us in the mangle of sensual gratification and egoism that we no longer understood the meaning of loving oneself. This is surely the origin of my fear, thought Miguel. It is the fear of letting go.
Copyright Katherine Randall, Granada 2006