“There it is,” she whispered loudly. She closed the file cabinet and sat down opposite Ali. The wooden chair creaked under her weight as she adjusted her posture. Her eyes were fixated on the table as she ran her fingers across the braille title, confirming if it indeed was Ali’s file.
Ali’s legs dangled from the chair, barely touching the carpeted floor. He had been inside this room only once before. He swayed his legs around, waiting for Nurse Ayesha to start.
“We’ll get a shorter chair for you next time, child”, she smiled, running her fingers across the first page of the file.
Ali stopped swaying his legs, his eyes closed in on the nurse’s face. She always knew how to grab his attention.
“Hmm, Ali…..Qazi. A heavy name for you, I suspect”, she whispered again. Her whispers carried only a hint of her voice. A voice that few had heard before. Despite this, Ali could listen to her every word clearly.
“Everybody just calls me Ali, Ma’am”, he replied, looking down.
“Young Ali, it is then”, she whispered gently. She slowly set the file down on the table and brushed it aside. She was facing young Ali now.
Her face was wrinkly, and it reminded Ali of his grandmother. For him, old people looked alike with their blemished skin, wrinkled cheeks, and slow conversations. Nurse Ayesha’s eyes set her apart. They were striking white with even whiter pupils. They’d always be fixated on something else, which Ali was not accustomed to.
“Have you been eating and sleeping as we discussed before?”, she asked.
“Yes, mom made sure I was following your diet plan and sleep schedule”, he answered. The nurse kept quiet. She waited for Ali to finish.
“And..sometimes…”, he continued, which prompted the nurse to smile a bit.
“I eat a chocolate bar, but that’s once or twice a week!”, he said hurriedly as if trying to cover up a mistake.
“That’s fine, young Ali. Sweets are good in moderation”, she said.
“Do you miss your brother?”, she asked slowly. Ali shifted uneasily on his chair and looked down on the carpet. It was a maroon carpet, decorated with ornate floral patterns. It reminded him of the carpet back home, except this one seemed much cleaner.
“Sometimes”, he answered briefly.
“What about your mother?”, she asked.
“She misses him more. I hear her crying in her room. She tries to cover it up and says its allergies. I know that’s not true”, he continued on, his eyes still glaring down on the carpet. He felt them well up and quickly wiped his hand across his eyes.
“Ali, its okay to miss those who you love”, she whispered again. She reached for his hand on the table, awkwardly placing it on the bare tabletop first. Ali noticed her effort and moved his hand closer to hers. She patted the top of his hand, subtly.
“Ali, you know why I whisper?”, she asked.
“Why?”, he took a deep breath, a strategy Nurse Ayesha had taught him in their previous session.
“When you whisper, you talk directly to the soul”, she said.
“The ears listen to sound, but the soul responds to whispers”, she added. Ali had never thought about this.
Before, he had a habit of talking a lot, often to the point it would annoy his brother. He would make up stories on road trips. His mother would often joke about how he could be a fantastic writer if only he learned how to form sentences. Ali would name characters and give them funny backstories. His brother would sometimes chuckle while staring out the window. Although Ali had never seen his brother appreciate his elaborate stories, an occasional chuckle would encourage him to continue narrating. While driving, her mother would ask questions about the story, and Ali would make up answers on the spot. His stories never lacked detail, and no one could point out a problem with them. Lately, he struggled to even start a story, let alone come up with characters.
“Why do you talk to my soul, Ma’am? Why not just me?”, he asked curiously, still inhaling deeply. His tears were drying up, and he barely felt any new ones forming.
“It’s not you crying, Young Ali. It’s your soul. When your soul laughs, you laugh. When your soul cries, you cry. That’s why I talk to the soul first”, she whispered.
“I cry a lot, Ma’am. Can you tell my soul to stop doing that?”, he asked. Ali was finally figuring out what was going wrong.
“I can’t tell your soul to do anything, Ali. It has to be you. You have to talk to your soul, dear one”, she whispered.
“I…can talk to my soul?”, he squinted in puzzlement.
“Not yet, but we will get there”, she answered.
“And my mom? Will you teach me how to talk to her soul?”, he asked. Nurse Ayesha stayed quiet for a moment. Ali could almost see her think.
“You already do. You’ve talked to her soul since before you were born”, she replied. “I’ll tell you more about it one day, Ali. Now, do you have something to tell me?” she asked.
“Ummmm”, Ali weighed his words carefully. He knew that Nurse Ayesha was aware of his secret.
“Ma’am…”, he said slowly. Nurse Ayesha kept her hand on top of his. Ali glanced at her hand. It had wrinkles, yet it felt very soft. Hers were the most soothing hands that he had ever felt, more-so than his grandmother’s.
Ali felt a pressure build up inside of him. Under Nurse Ayesha’s white eyes, he felt that he could never truly hide anything. Every secret that he had ever kept, every shameful and embarrassing moment seemed to be as accessible to her as her cabinet files.
“I stole money from mom. That’s how I get the chocolate bars. Mom doesn’t know. Please don’t tell her.”, he poured out and pleaded.
Nurse Ayesha calmly withdrew her hand and leaned back on her chair. Ali expected to see anger and disappointment on her face. Instead, it still showed kindness.
“Young Ali, this world is a beautiful place. I have never seen it, but I know it is. How can an ugly world have beautiful children within it? The world must then be beautiful too. That’s how I know. Ali, you have a gentle soul. After talking to it, I know you do.”, she whispered slowly.
Ali seemed to nod along with her as he usually would when his mother scolded him. Nurse Ayesha was barely scolding him. Her tone had remained unchanged since the start of their session.
“Young souls are also the most vulnerable, Ali. They absorb most of the world’s beauty but some of its ugliness too. When you steal, Ali, you hurt your soul”, she said. “Tell me, what you think of villains in your stories?” she asked him politely.
“My villains are evil, Ma’am. They hurt and steal, but they always lose in the end!”, Ali replied in his standard fashion.
“They become villains not because they hurt others, Ali, but because they hurt themselves. Every time they steal, they hurt their own souls”, she said. “Ali, if you keep on stealing, you will hurt your soul. You and I won’t be able to talk to it anymore.”
It took a while for Ali to understand what she was saying. He had never heard someone talk about souls in depth. His mother could not describe what a soul was when he had asked her before. Nurse Ayesha seemed to have a better idea.
“Have I hurt my soul, Ma’am?”, he asked finally.
“No, young one. Your soul is hurt, but not by you. As you grow up, your soul will be hurt by a lot of things. Sometimes it will be because of you, sometimes it will be because of someone else. As long as you can keep in touch with your soul, you will be fine”, she replied.
“I think I understand. I won’t steal again. I won’t hurt my soul”, he promised. He felt as if he had promised this to his soul and not to Nurse Ayesha. She leaned back again.
“That’s really good, dear one. Now, I will see you next week, and we will talk more. Send my best wishes to your mother”, she whispered again.
Ali got up from his chair, and his feet finally touched the carpet.
“Then, we will talk about your brother.”