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VII. The Possession of Afiza

It was quite evident that something was seriously wrong with Abdulla the Dhobi. His features had lost their former placidity and wore an aspect of troubled wonder; the clothes which he erstwhiles washed and returned to their owners with such regularity were now brought back long after the proper date and occasionally were not returned at all; and the easy good temper which once characterized his conversation had yielded place to sudden outbursts of anger or protracted spells of sulkiness. The major-domo consulted on the point could only suggest that Abdulla's ill-temper was typical of the inherent "badmashi" of the Dhobi nature and that probably Abdulla had taken to nocturnal potations, while the youngest member of the household unhesitatingly laid down that Abdulla had been seized by a "bhut" or in other words was possessed of a devil. When the former suggestion was laid before Abdulla, he contemned it with unmeasured scorn and then turned and rent the spirit of the butler with winged words, but the small boy's opinion seemed to give him pause. He held his peace for a moment, gazing earthwards and rubbing a small heap of dust towards him with his toe; and then on a sudden he burst out into the tale which is here set down in his own words:--

"Nay, Saheb, I am possessed of no devil, but my wife Afiza is sore troubled by one. Only three months ago I sent for her from my village, as she was expecting to become a mother and I was desirous of looking early upon my first-born child; and for six weeks she dwelt contentedly with me in the house which I have rented near the ghat. And then the child was born--a child without blemish; and Afiza and I were happy. But, Saheb, the shadow of evil was even then drawing nigh unto us. For on the sixth day after birth, when the midwife was about to light the four-wicked lamp for the 'chatti' ceremony, Afiza suddenly cast the child from her, leaped wildly from the couch, tearing at her hair and swaying to and fro as one demented, and broke the lamp with her hands. And the midwife fled from the room crying for help, and brought my mother and my sister in to try and soothe her. And even while they wrestled with her spirit someone set light to the urn of frankincense, for it was the evening of Thursday; and as the thick smoke curled upwards towards Afiza, she trembled and gasped out: 'This is my house; and this woman hath been delivered on the spot where I died in childbirth five years ago! I will never cease troubling her, for she hath forgotten even to burn a little 'loban' (frankincense) for the repose of my spirit.' So saying my wife fell senseless on the ground and remained motionless for thirty minutes until the spirit had fled. And, Saheb, from that day forward not an evening passes but the 'suwandi' (the spirit of a woman who has died in travail) lays hold upon her, and my house has become a place of evil and a byword among the neighbours. Several exorcists, Siyanas and Syeds have we consulted, but all in vain. Their ministrations only make her worse. What can be done!"

One can hardly conjecture the ultimate fate of Abdulla and his family, had not some one who took an interest in the case suggested a final resort to the Syed from Cambay, who some little time ago opened in Goghari street a branch of the famous Gujarat shrine of Miran Datar. To him Abdulla half-hopeful, half-desperate, repaired: and the Syed came into his house and gave Afiza a potion composed of incense-ashes and water from the Miran shrine. But the evil spirit was terribly violent; and it required regular treatment of this nature for fully twenty days ere it could be dislodged. Evening after evening Afiza was taken into the presence of Syed, who summoned forth the spirit with a drink of the sacrosanct water; and at home Abdulla and his mother who had been supplied with water and ashes by the Syed, were wont likewise to summon the spirit at any hour which they felt would cause it inconvenience. Thus the struggle between the powers of light and darkness for the soul of Afiza continued, until at length the evil spirit deemed it wise to depart; and on the twenty-first day, when it was racking Afiza for the last time, it demanded as the final price of its departure the liver of a black-goat. So Abdulla hearkened to the spirit's will and buried the pledge of his wife's recovery in a new earthen pot just at the spot where the four roads meet near his house And Afiza was at peace.

Since that date nought has occurred to disturb Abdulla's peace of mind. The Syed of Goghari street has earned well-merited fame among the poorer Musulman inhabitants of that quarter; Abdulla has cast off his ill temper as it were a garment; Afiza the possessed has become Afiza the self-possessed, helping Abdulla to earn his livelihood and obtain the approval of his masters; and the child, unharmed by the Evil Eye and beloved of his parents, is daily waxing in favour with God and man. According to Abdulla the only spirit which occasionally attacks him is a spirit of mischief not unknown to the parents of healthy little boys.