“You don’t fear banshees but I do. Where I come from, Ireland, banshees can rise up from shrouds left unburied.”
“What is a banshee?” the young man asked in that oddly soft, slightly quivering voice.
“A banshee is a sort of ghost who haunts the living. A banshee appears at dawn or dust. A banshee wears black funeral clothes and a long black veil. They are always female. Always. Always. You are lucky you do not have banshees here in Peshawar. For there is no ghost more fearsome!”
“Female ghosts? Who could fear that? In Peshawar no man fears any woman. Women here….. are…..” his oddly soft, slightly quivering voice stopped as if overcome with emotion he could not admit to feeling.
“Banshees are most dire female ghosts! They wail such wails as make your blood curdle! They sing lamentations until your skin pricks with fear! They scream out dirges so dire your heart pounds in terror! When you see a banshee washing clothes at dawn or dust at a river or pond you will see blood oozing into the water! From bloody clothes! Of a dead man! Not yet dead!”
“How can dead man be not yet dead?”
“Because the banshee washes the clothes of the next man doomed to die! And when she washes the clothes of the man doomed next to die there is no way that man can elude his fate! And if you see a banshee washing bloody clothes in stream or pond you are compelled to creep up to see the blood oozing into the water!”
“Why to see if they are your clothes the banshee is washing!” The young man flinched but the devil was in me so I continued. “And when you meet a banshee at dusk or dawn you tremble as if rooted to ground as she comes closer and closer and closer….”
“Because if the banshee slowly, slowly, oh so slowly, raises up her long black veil then you see her face! And it is the face of death! A face like a skull. Eyes sunken like dark holes. Teeth like fangs in withered gums. And a tiny trickle of —-blood. And then you know!”
“Why that you are destined to die next! And she has already tasted your blood. And when you die she will be there! By your side! To stand on your chest as you die! And then she will kneel down and …..kiss …. you ….. drinking your blood…..”
“And then what happens?” the young man whispered, his face pale.
“And then you pray you are buried in a jackal proof burial because that is where you stay. Not on heaven. Not in hell. Not in Nirvana. Not in any reincarnation. You just stay a rotting corpse in a hole as the maggots eat you!”
I smiled and then I bowed my head and walked casually through the ghostly, rundown ruin of the ancient Mughal garden.
“Will the banshee smell of wild rose and night blooming jasmine?” the young man shouted to me with quiet panic.
“Oh yes. This banshee will! Most definitely!” I replied as I strolled away in the growling light of morning. I ignored his trembling voice or the soft whimpers he made as if seeing something so fearsome even he, a Pathan Male, trembled.
Captain Broadfoot met me at the cantonment. “Rumors say a young girl was killed last night. Honor killing. Brother killed her. She had been ordered to marry her cousin. Three times her age the man was. And vile. She refused. They forcibly married her anyway. He tied her to a bed and raped her. Finally she escaped and fled back to her father’s home and pounded on the doors for her family to let her in. And a younger brother broke clan Nang by opening the door to let her in. And thus he shamed the family. The husband refused to take her back. So they were bound by clan Nang to return the dowery which they did not have or else be disgraced. For the Nang of the family she was ordered killed. Honor killing. The brother who violated Nang by letting in back into the clan home was ordered to kill her because he had loved her the most of all of his sisters. Indeed he so very much loved her he turned a blind eye when she fled into the twilight. Thus he violated Nang twice. He may have to die now too!”
“I wish she could kill them all! Her entire family of Pathan males!”
Captain Broadfoot paused. “Son. We are here as intruders. This is not our culture and we have few rights to impose our culture on their culture. Here a girl is married at nine or ten and raped by her pervert husband and that is the way it is. Here a girl is the totem of Nang Honor of the clan. If the clan loses face she must be sacrificed. Honor killing. And we have no authority to stop it.”
“Human Sacrifice! This is 1840!”
“Agamemnon so slew his own daughter! And there are villages all over India where no female baby has ever been born alive! And they openly boast of it! Women are garbage. And we cannot be seen as interfering! John! Do you understand!”
That night at dusk the young brother of the dead sister walked in the ruined garden and they found his body the next morning quite dead, entangled in the brambles of the wild roses. His face, people whispered, was the face of utter terror. But what terror could terrorize a proud Pathan male?