He struggled hard to breath. His lungs were full of smoke and the stench that surrounded him. The thought of what his feet had touched made his stomach lurch and his guts emptied the burden of what he had seen out of his system. His heart remained heavy though. No outlet for the poor thing…
“Will you make me a promise Sheheryar?”
“Promise that you’ll be a good…”
“… good man and I’ll prove that I was raised by a queen.” Sheheryar finished her words.
She laughed, her head fell back and her lips stretched into a smile he adored. She kissed his fore-head in that moment of mirth and held his face in her hands. She loved it when he improvised it that way and called her a queen.
Sheheryar Sikander felt dampness on his cheeks. He rubbed his fingers on his face and brought them before his eyes. Dirt and tears. She had taught him never to hide his tears.
“Boys do cry Sheheryar. It’s okay.”
“But everyone else says they don’t.” He pulled his face straight and refused to give in to tears.
She smiled that saintly smile of hers and held his hand between her two. “What’s more important is, that boys don’t make others cry.”
He met her eyes and let her words sink in. They found an easy passage all the way to his heart. Tears came and then some more. He buried his face in her and cried like a child.
“Does this mean that I am weak?” He asked.
“This means, son, that you have a strong and kind heart.” She pulled him back into her embrace and cried with him until they both felt better.
He had left his boots back near the cinders; where he carelessly threw them off to distance himself from the woman. But he could feel something. It was the hand, he had stepped on in his haste to pull off his boots. He wished he had kept them on. The fire would have been better than the feel of her flesh. He stood up and rubbed his feet on the leaves that covered the forest floor. He rubbed them against the bark of trees to get her hands off them. His feet bled and hurt. They were back on fire. He fell to the floor, feeling better. He welcomed the fire.
He lay there for hours or may be just a few, he didn’t know. When he woke up, he found himself in the village hospital. The first thing he was aware of was not the strong smell of the place or the bright light that came in through the window and pierced his eyes. It was the hands that clung to his feet beneath the bandages.
He pulled off the bandages like a maniac, howling with pain and frightening the other patients. There was nothing there, but the feeling wouldn’t go. It clung to him like a leech. He raked his fingers through his hair and held his head in his hands, banging his feet on the small cot.
For years Sheheryar Sikander couldn’t shake off the hands that clung to his feet. He was often seen in public without shoes. He gave a thousand pointless excuses for not putting them on. He kept his socks on though. So that no one could see the bruises. He had hurt himself countless times and welcomed the pain.
He knew there was only one way to shake them off. He had to do justice to the woman who was burned alive in the forest.