Monday Column: Among old ruins of the ghosts

Oman Sunday 13/November/2022 21:14 PM
By: Saleh Al-Shaibany
Monday  Column: Among old ruins of the ghosts
Saleh Al-Shaibany

In my idle travels to the small villages one weekend, I stopped at old ruins. The place was deserted. I parked my car just outside the gates of the ancient and abandoned area. There was no way I could drive through the narrow streets designed for donkey carts, horses and camels.

As I was walking among  crumbling houses, my shoes treaded softly on stones buried in dry mud that paved the narrow alleyways. It was eerie but strangely calm to stroll through history that affected the life of thousands people somewhere in the mist of time. 

I almost could hear the hooves of the animals and the screeching of the pushcarts marching on the narrow streets. I passed a house whose door was half closed. I stopped and peered through the crack. It was very tempting to walk in and take a glimpse on the way people lived a hundred years ago.

I justified my entry convincing myself that the house has been abandoned and ‘unlived’ in for many decades and no one would mind. The door squeaked when I pushed it. It was made of solid Indian teak and that was the reason why woodworms could not ravage it.  I stood in the hallway trying to figure out the utility of the various rooms that faced me.

Somewhere in time, someone removed all the doors but left shelves intricately decorated by teak panels. I walked to the living room and touched the designs of the shelves imagining the books or ornaments that were lined up there.

Strange enough, a mat woven from date tree fronds, torn in places, was still on the floor. It stuck on the ground as if it was part of the flooring made of mud plaster. 

It was trodden on so many thousands of times that no one found use of it. I entered the next room, obviously a bedroom, that had a beautiful ceiling supported by wood columns tinted in black, perhaps teak again.

For another strange reason, an old chest was on a corner, its top lay open. It was adorned by brass, whose shine has been lost forever.  There was of course, nothing in it except thick dust and spiders.

The second room was larger and a distinctive sweet smell was on the air. I hesitated entering it, half expecting to bump into a woman with a scorn in her face.

Instead, I was greeted by a brightly lit room.  I searched for the source of the fragrance. It was an old incense burner. The charcoal inside was not fresh but recently used and there was burnt frankincense.

There was nothing else in there and that made my hair stood on its ends. According to local tradition, empty houses are incensed every Thursday to make the spirits of the dead owners happy. I walked out quickly not sure if the spirits of the house would approve my intrusion. Back in the street, I saw an old man shuffling along with his stick and walking right past me as if I was not there.

I took a turn on another street and ended in a square which certainly looked like an ancient marketplace. It was empty and I sat on an old log looking at the centre, imagining the commotion of the traders and buyers. The ruins of the shops were still there, doors and windows long gone.

Minutes later, the shuffling old man walked in the square and I watched him enter a shop. He emerged out without his stick but with a small wooden stool. He sat on it and looked longingly at the centre.

It was time to leave. Perhaps he was the last of the traders and the only survivor of the old area trying to relive the good old days in his mind.