Daily Archives: April 25, 2016

‘Theirs to keep’ by Fatima Malik

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Every Friday, my dear mother would make sure to take me to her weekly visits to the hospital. She knew. She knew exactly how every corner and every speck in the waiting room glared at me, threatened me, told me I was broken, told me I had no future. She saw how the receptionist shot daggers at me and how the janitor scurried away as fast as he could from every corridor that I walked in. Worse of all, she made sure the seat next to the aquarium was left for me. So, I sat at the very edge away from my death every Friday.

How did I survive? I screamed. I screamed at the top of my lungs.

“Banshee!” the receptionist would scream and in less than two seconds everyone would be out of the waiting area. Then, my oh-so-lovely mother would take her time to walk in and slap me, right across the cheek. It had become routine for me. It did not even bother me that the print of her fingers would not even go away anymore.

“You dumb kid! It is only an aquarium! You have to learn to look it in the eye and not let it scare you,” my mother would say, every time. She would then forcefully grip my arm and drag me out of the hospital. Yet, she would still bring me the next time and history would repeat itself every, single time.

A gush of wind rushed past me and it takes me two seconds to regain my balance, stretch my arms again and secure myself on the rope. I had taken twenty three steps and according to my calculations, I was now in the middle. Never had I imagined my brain to remind me of my mother; my mother who was the reason fifteen years of my life had been a complete and utter disaster. I thought this while I was on a tight rope with the risk of plunging to death and with no idea what lay underneath the pads of my feet and the tight rope.

In that moment, my eyes felt as restless as ever. I knew they were going to betray me, exactly like every other organ in my body had betrayed me. What I felt in that moment was intense and tempting; the kind of feeling that is hard to describe. You know that tingle in the pit of your stomach when you are on a rollercoaster and it goes into a free-fall? It was the reason I would sneak into the local circus every year and ride the rollercoaster; it was my form of getting rid of the temptation that feeling gave me and hence I looked down and my heart skipped two beats or maybe more. I did not have time to count.

As I glanced down, I saw it; I saw it all and I heard it. I heard it all. You know the feeling I described? It came with twice the force but I was not falling and the feeling was not going away anytime soon. Underneath me, the expanse of blue water stretched in every direction. The waves kicked in every direction. They were angry. They roared until the birds stopped singing and they screamed to tell the world that they were not afraid.

Inside me, regret of coming here filled in. How had I not heard the roar of the waves before stepping towards my death? I had always wanted to do this but I never knew I would have to face water, the one thing that I feared. Why had my eyes not betrayed me earlier? I could have easily walked back. My hands felt shaky and the inside of my knees and elbows started sweating. My knees felt weak and in that moment I decided that the only way out was to trust the tightrope and walk as fast as I could, reach the other side of the cliff that was twenty three steps away, go home and sleep until my knees calmed down.

Yet as I stepped forward, my eyes refused to leave the blue of the waves; the blue of the waves that refused to come in one color; the blue of the waves that reminded me of the painting shade card back at home.

The most dominating ones were the ones that were midnight black. They reminded you of cloudless night skies and when they roared, the roared like the lion. They roared how the lion roars to prove its dominance. Then there were the ones that changed colors. They were the ones that had two sides: the calm and gentle side and the rough and tough side. Then came the waves that reminded you of calm California beaches. They were the lightest shade of blue and they splashed with a white lining. Yet, the darkness of them all combined made me believe that these waves had no ending, that if I fell I would be falling for the next two centuries.

In a matter of seconds I realized that I was two steps away, two steps away from the cliff. I had made it, I was safe and I was ready to go home and mark yet another adventure off my bucket list. An adventure that was by far the hardest. All the mountain climbing and late night driving to the middle of nowhere were nothing compared to this.

Something then surged inside of me, in a very little amount but it was something and I did not like it. So I took my chances and I glanced down and I was right, the feeling disappeared but something else kicked in. Beneath me, the waves were calm. They were lying down and they refused to roar. They collected themselves and lay there, waiting, waiting for someone.

Who were they waiting for? Why were they acting so calmly? Did they always do this? In the midst of it all, I noticed it. I noticed them smiling up to me. I noticed them calling me, but why would they? What was I to them? Why were they acting like if I fell down, they would catch me. They would rescue me and they would take me home? Did they make everyone feel at home?

I was out of my mind; I had to go home. Locking each and every thought in the back of mind, I stepped forward. One step to go.

“You are one of us.”

Were they calling me? Did they want me? No one has ever wanted me.

“We need you.”

That was it. That was all I needed to hear and I was theirs, theirs to keep forever. They needed me and I was glad to be theirs.

 

‘The Stranger Who Helps’ by Khuldoon Khan

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It was raining heavily in Islamabad, since it was the monsoon season. A Figure in black clothing stood out in the busy Markaz of Sector F-10 as people hurried along to shops and restaurants, hiding underneath umbrellas or their own jackets which stretched over their heads. The heavy downpour had been in the city for the past few days and didn’t seem to be stopping soon.

The Stranger just stood there, next to the DVD store, dripping wet. It seemed like he was waiting for something.

Or maybe he was waiting for someone.

If one were to look the Stranger in the eye, under his drawn hood, they would see just white, with no pupils. For you see, the Strange Man was not entirely human. In fact, he was old. Very old. He was probably the oldest person alive. A little rain was not something that fazed him, meaning he did not move. Not that anyone would really know about the Stranger. He was a Stranger after all.

At last, the Man saw his objective.

The objective was a young man, in his late twenties nearing his thirties, wearing a white Shalwaar Kameez and a black jacket, both of which were soaked. He was clean-shaven and had some handsome features that the harshness of the world had not worn out. He was stumbling through the rain, carefully shielding something under his shirt from the water. The Stranger followed.

It was not a long journey, as the man lived in the apartments next to the market, as houses had gotten much more expensive to build or buy in F Sectors in recent years. The man cursed, as a car splashed water on him as it passed by. He couldn’t let his latest work be ruined! It would finally be the end of all the ridicule he faced! The man hurried to cross the road, not noticing the Figure that followed. Sighing in relief, the man entered the building and into the elevator, taking him to the floor he lived on. He quickly got out of the elevator, hastily opened his rooms and stumbled in.

He took out the sheet of papers from under his shirt and smiled widely. He’d finally done it. He’d finally written his little project. It had been a while since he had had such inspiration. At least enough to write something concrete. He looked at the title.

GUINEA PIG DETECTIVE

Granted, it wasn’t the best title, or the best premise, but it was his story! He’d written it! He almost laughed out loud, before stopping himself. He might finally get published!

All thoughts stopped when he realized something. He hadn’t written an ending yet. Of course he hadn’t written an ending. It was the hardest part! And it had to be good! He sat down on his desk, slightly sobered from the excitement. He needed an ending!

Four hours went by in this difficulty. He wrote something, but realized that it wasn’t good enough. It needed to be a great ending! But he couldn’t come up with anything! He was starting to get depressed again. It had been this way for a long time. His family had told him time and time again to pursue something more practical, like engineering. But he wasn’t made for that, he had argued. He wanted to write. He wanted to create his own little world that he controlled and to create characters that he wanted to go on adventures! That hadn’t gone well with his family. So, he had become a writer for a local newspaper, making enough money to get by, but never really creating the story he wanted. He had tried of course! He had tried so much! But nothing had ever felt right to him. He always got bored with the story or couldn’t think of anything else to write.

As the man dwelled on his life, the Man stood outside. He knew what was going on in the writers head, for he could feel his discontent, hear his thoughts about his life and almost see the desire to be successful in his endeavor. He knew that if left alone, the Writer would eventually give up. That would not be allowed to happen. He looked at the door of the Writers apartment and, without bothering to knock, slipped in. He passed through the door like it was made of nothing. He had acquired some tricks over the past millennia.

The Writer crumpled up another piece of paper and threw it into the already full dustbin. He was swearing internally, holding his head in his hands and rocking his head back and forth. He couldn’t do it! He couldn’t end it!

“An ending eludes you”, said a voice from behind him.

The Writer fell off his chair in surprise. He turned around to look at the Man in Black behind him, wearing a hood that covered half his face in shadows. He couldn’t think clearly. Who was this man?

“W-who are you? H-how did you get in here?” the Writer exclaimed. He was shaking in fear. A Stranger was in his abode. Did he come to rob him! Did he come to kill him!

The Stranger was silent for a few seconds, as if pondering the question.

“I Help. And I merely entered your home by means that you could not understand”, he said plainly, not moving from the spot he had been for the past few seconds.

“I-I’m calling the police! Leave me alone you freak!” said the Writer. He was panicking. His phone had fallen on the ground and he scrambled to pick it up, hurriedly dialing the number for emergency help.

But his phone wasn’t working. He couldn’t get a signal. Stupid phone!

“Your ending”, the Stranger said, “It eludes you”.

The Writer stopped.

“What?”

The Stranger repeated the question. The Writer was bewildered. Did this Man break into his apartment just to tell him that! What kind of a shoddy robber was he?

“I am not a robber”

How did the Stranger know what he was thinking? What in God’s name was happening here! Taking a few seconds to compose himself, the Writer straightened. The Stranger still had not moved from his spot. The Writer decided to humor the Stranger, even though he did not know why he would entertain such a notion. The Stranger was a criminal! Why would the Writer stand there and humor him?

“Who are you?” the Writer repeated.

The Stranger tilted his head slightly to the side, regarding the Writer, even though the Stranger’s eyes remained hidden. Then he spoke.

“I have many names, across time. Some have called me a titan who gave man Fire. Others called me a saint who slew a dragon. Some even thought of me as a wandering mystic, ready to teach people my wisdom. I have lived for a long time. I come to those who need me. I have inspired humanity countless times, but never by pushing. I always nudged humanity in the right direction. I gave men the idea to strike two rocks together to create a spark. And man discovered Fire. And look where humanity is now. Space farers and manipulators of nature. That is who I am, Writer. And I knew you needed my help”.

The first thought that came to the Writer’s mind was that this man was insane. He talked of ludicrous things! He didn’t look a day over thirty! What nonsense was he listening to?

“Leave now mister, before I call the poli–“

“Your ending eludes you still,” the Stranger interjected.

The Writer stopped, the frustration finally reaching its breaking point. He couldn’t write and this lunatic kept on reminding him of that!

“YES! I CAN’T FIND AN ENDING! NOW LEAVE ME ALONE! I JUST WANT TO BE LEFT IN PEACE!”

The Stranger just stared at him, while the Writer sighed deeply. The anger was in full force.

“I always found a peaceful ending to be best in my travels. That’s serves as a nice ending I think”, the Stranger mused.

“I thought I told-“

“The ending eludes you because you elude yourself. You torture yourself. You think too much of what your family would think. Their judgment weighs you down. Why do you let it?”

The Writer was dumbstruck. This Man had the audacity to–

“I am merely pointing out that which you do not accept. You have the potential to become an amazing writer. Yet you hold yourself back with beliefs that you cannot achieve such a thing”.

The Writer didn’t know how this Stranger knew, but it was true. He always held back because of the expectations, or lack of thereof that his family held for him. He had always expected a dismal living as a man with a ‘non-practical’ job. But he had also kept himself there, fearing rejection and humiliation. He looked down at his page.

“A peaceful ending?” he asked. The Writer turned around and found that there was no one there. Maybe he was going a bit mad. Maybe the lack of sleep was making him hallucinate or something. A nice and peaceful ending was what he said. The Writer grabbed his pen.

And he wrote.

And this time, he didn’t crumple up the paper.

This time he continued to write.

Before long, he had finished writing and smiled.

Maybe he would get recognition, or maybe he wouldn’t. As long as someone read his book, he didn’t care. Maybe the Stranger was a sign? Maybe he was sent by a Higher Power? Or maybe he was just a hallucination? If so, it was one hallucination he would always be grateful for.

Who knows what the future holds?

The End

‘OUTER SPACE’ by Rafia Sajjad

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I sit on the edge of my bed. Well, for the time being I can call it mine. The motel I have been calling home since the past week is a dilapidated, ram shackled building with a neon sign that reads ‘MOTEL’ with the E dimmed out, making it unflamboyant in the starry or even starless night. The unappealing double-storey structure has chipped-off paint and has seepage all across the walls. I am used to the beat-up condition so it does not really bother me anymore.

Today is the day, after all this time, after a lustrum of prolonged waiting, after five gradual years of remaining inactive. Finally!

******

A call came in a few weeks earlier, taking all my enthusiasm and concentration from the intense rugby match to my buzzing cell phone. I attended the phone call and a screechy, pumped up voice starts jabbering next to my eardrum as if nails were being dragged upon a chalkboard. I would have heard the man’s larynx vibrate even if I placed my mobile six feet away from where I was sitting. Despite his tone being full of energy, the news he provided me after clarifying my identity was music to my ears.

“Yes! Yes! Of course!” my dispassionate voice suddenly changing into a contented and exuberant one, just like that of the man cheering me up. An astronomical job offered to me after half a decade was mind-boggling. That time span was enough for me to convince myself that I was a failure; it was enough for me to transform into a person full of negativity. But just one question changed all that.

******

Thinking about entering space makes my stomach curl due to both, excitement and nervousness. Butterflies in my gut cause me to jump up and down like a child departing for Disney Land for the first time in his/her life. I cannot even cast my mind back to when I was a blissful quokka.

I take an electric blue tablet, with a gulp of water. The bitter residue of the pill caused a disgusted expression creep over my face. I swig in more of the colorless, odorless and flavorless liquid. Then, I move straight to the bathroom, fix my disheveled grayish white hair, brush my teeth, wash my face, clean shave my scruff and change into a pair of beige khakis, black moccasins and a black ‘Bee Gees’ T-shirt, which I always thought was really cool even though many people refer to my style as démodé.

After packing all my possessions, I take one last glance at the congested room, now a former abode, and lock the creaky, old, wooden door with a rusted key. Swiftly pacing towards the administration, I hand in the antiquated key and hit the road once again, the only difference being that this time I am headed for the spaceport and not another motel.

******

Five hours later, the digital clock in the car reads 10:09pm; the forlorn road seems to be stretching minute by minute. I impatiently keep my hands on the tough leather of the steering wheel, reminding myself not to over-speed.

Two more hours pass but now I see the vast area occupied by the modern white edifice protected by high iron grills from all sides. I take a turn which revealed a gigantic granite gate that was secured by guards and two ferocious-looking German Shepherds. After proving my identity, I am let in into the premises of geniuses. I park my car in the basement where I was led to; then a man in a gentian-blue uniform escorts me to the interior of the structure.

While briskly walking along the meanders of the long corridor, the man speaks up, “My name’s Alec. Oh! And welcome to the HOLO spaceport. Today I will be showing you around a bit so that you get familia-.” I blurted out, interrupting him, “No, no. No need to do that. I’m an astronaut. I am ‘familiar’ with all the stuff.”  The officer turned slightly pink within his cheeks.

He was adamant to make me meet a few significant personalities of HOLO (which is an abbreviated form of the full names of a couple: Holland Owen and Luke Owen). It was greatly an honor to have met the Owen family members and to have had the chance to go on this mission – even though it is known to be the hardest one recorded in history – to get to mars, to see if there is life there.

“I am tired of living like this!” I thought to myself, “…fed up of walking the earth in an impecunious state. I know it is a precarious and a life-threatening mission that I have signed up for but I cannot just throw away an opportunity that fills me with content…”

******

Here I am, standing at the entrance of the vast room, inhaling the hard-work being done by the infinite masses. The atmosphere in the lab is tense and over-wrought, people scattered everywhere.

I soon realize that a bulky man accompanies me, seeming to be lost in his thoughts. Just a few minutes pass when I hear the clicks of a woman’s stiletto heels from behind us. Her sagging skin has been uplifted via various kinds of surgeries and the wrinkles are hidden from the heaps of make-up that she has applied, showing the color difference between her neck and her face. In a stubborn voice, she says, “I’m sorry if I’m interrupting your reverie but it is time.” And with that, she indicates us to follow her.

Outside, the scorching sun, escorted by the spacesuit I am wearing, makes me feel dehydrated. The much younger man looks over to me, reaches his rosy hand towards me for a friendly shake. I do the same, saying, “Brock Campbell and it’s nice to meet you.” He replies, “Same here and you can call me Wil Valderrama, short for Wilden.” And after flashing a smile, we both turn back to our positions.

The blistering sun, that has started to sink down in the horizon, has just about baked my back when the obstinate blonde appears with her red-blood high heels now informing us to move ahead towards the colossal, modern, stream-lined rocket. The titanium white of the missile-shaped spacecraft glimmers under the searing weather, making the daylight look dark.

We approach the aircraft; eagerness to fly it building up inside me with every step I take. A line of soldiers on both sides look straight ahead, pokerfaced just like Wil.

Once we reach the rocket, I gaze at the electric blue stripes of the transport above me; it looks like Burj Khalifa. Wilden calls out, “Impressed, huh? It’s called SPORTAC-110.” I just nod; my heart in my mouth, I climb the rusted stairs that lead to the entrance of the spacecraft, holding the railing, which has gone crimson-brownish, with one hand, and my helmet with the other.

As I do get inside, I take a deep breath, battling the tension and the anticipation away. The HOLO employees finally are out of sight the instant Wil closes the compartment door behind me, locking it. I move ahead to the rocket body, finding all the facilities needed for us to survive the probable months in this ship. Advancing, I get to the flight deck, followed by Wilden, who has already taken up the job of flying the rocket, leaving me to be the co-pilot.

I examine all the buttons; breathe in the air, the atmosphere of a spacecraft, leading me back to all the previous memories of a successful me five years ago. A small smile creeps upon my slack face, but in under a minute, I snap back to reality, buckling myself up. He says, “Ready, sir?” And all I replied with was, “Oh, I was born ready” and then with a click of a few buttons, the engines reverberate and the countdown begins….

******

As soon as we blast off into space, I catch a glimpse of the whole world underneath me: the aligned roads, the deserted area, but in the distance I even see the shabby houses, the modernized skyscrapers, the residential areas and millions and millions of dots that represent people walking, running, jogging.

******

Space looks the same. No updates; it is unchanged, just like I left it the last time I visited it. The infinite stars, just like silver glitter thrown on a black chart paper. The galaxy is a peaceful escape from the catastrophic planet of Earth. My mind lingers to thought of having a life here, which undoubtedly is unattainable. Déjà vu strikes – well, it had to –due to the distant spheres that represent the planets. The surface of the fields, even from far away, seems smooth as if carved to perfection.

Wilden intervenes between my contemplation and I, the sound of him clearing his throat distracts me, bringing me back to this world.

******

A few days, actually almost half a month, has passed. We refer to SPORTAC-110 as our new home, the rocket where we have to spend the dawdling eight months. Seems impossible – probably even is. We consume our rations cautiously.

******

As I have, once more, become used to the ‘scenery’ up ahead, the galaxy that was intriguing a little while ago is now just emanating a nostalgic vibe. One thing I have learned during this whole expedition is that Wilden is a quiet guy…or maybe, just maybe, he is a shape-shifting robot. Nah! But I still let the thought roll in my mind until it has become a knot that cannot be undone.

I grab a bottle of carbonated water and rush back to my cushioned chair. As soon as I buckle up my seatbelt, a jerk sends me straight forth until the pitch-black surface, glowing with lemon yellow and neon green lights, and the deck and I are at a hair’s breadth. Bewildered gazes are exchanged and both of us hastily unfasten our seatbelts, pacing towards our spacesuits and helmets, then directly heading to the heavy door that leads outside to the deadly environment. A high-pitched squeal of, perhaps, a heavy object being dragged on the surface of the top of our ship makes my ears stand up immediately. We stride outside our vehicle to see the cause of the dragging sound and the jolt that left us puzzled.

The feeling of being uplifted, as if I were a feather, makes me want to bury myself in my memories but I manage to fight them off. Before me is the ship, with the top layer scraped off, revealing the dark shade of metal with screws fixated to keep the structure in place. “I think the outer surface only got damaged, and it is only a portion that has been spoilt,” Wil says. I reply, “Yeah but what hit it?” He comes back at me by saying, “Probably debris of a satellite that is now in the orbit…” I nod, searching for that large chunk of whatever it was in the vast empty space but failing to find anything. As I am looking through the area, he casually raises the question, “Hey, would you mind checking if the shuttle still works?” I was always dreaded by the question.

This isn’t the first time anything has gone wrong with the spacecraft; almost every tour to space consists of a failure or dent on the used rocket. Hesitant, I answer, “Umm… sure but I have to tell you that I am not much of a spaceship flying person.” He bluntly says, “And you are certainly not familiar with the term.” Before I have time to tell him off, he makes a giggly sound, quickly adding in, “Just kidding. I mean how bad can it get?” My insides burning with rage, I think, “I’ll show you” and thump my heavy footsteps inside the metallic floor.

Uh oh! Part of me reminds me what I am about to do is wrong; however, the other part encourages me to do what is to come. I tightly lock and secure the door and run through the sections of the ship until I am at the deck. I place myself on the ‘king’s throne’. My head hurts; I clutch a handful of my white hair in a fist, letting out all the pain in the form of a bellow yelp. I dig my fingernails in the scalp of my head, as if that would prevent the demons inside me stop controlling my mind.

Five minutes of just sitting there, I adapt to the throbbing in my brain and proceed towards the infinity buttons. I take a deep breath. One side of me tells me, “Do not.” I hesitate; the other goes, “Do it.” I end up pushing the start button, hearing the sound of engines starting. I let out a smile, but that is not all. After making sure all the hums in the shuttle are absolutely clear, I buckle up and just as I am about to take off, I hear a thud on the door which is on the other side of the rocket. I ignore it and advance towards the steering. I take hold of the round object that lays in front of me, attending to the thuds at the backdoor, and blast off!

******

I sit in the head chair that I have possessed, uncomfortably yet comfortably at the same time. Mixtures of emotions run through my veins, making me feel uneasy. Sweat beads along my bushy brows at the thought that I left Wilden in the vacant space. I heard him scream at me, profanities leaving his mouth; I heard every bit of what he said until he was clearly out of sight. This is not the first time I have done this. People say something as a joke and I take it seriously, bursting into a fireball. I think about the episode that took place a while ago as guilt continues to overcome me….

******

Gradually, I move towards the planet, like a child taking his first steps, that has threatened to take away my life due to various reasons that can affect my landing on Mars; the most obvious being the thinness of air on the red sphere. I tighten my grip on the steering wheel and accelerate. Optimism fills me because of the hazy voice in my head repeating the same sentence over and over again: You are going to be the first man to land on Mars.

Drifting through the black and white canvas, my eyes become weary and heavy at the monotonous background and I start to doze off….

******

I wake up at the sharp sound of beeping and open my eyelids to see blinking red in the whole compartment. I realize the system has been overheated due to the speed and as soon as I am about to fix the simple problem, an asteroid-like object is visible, tumbling through the scene towards my direction. The timing is certainly not perfect; as I am about to move the ship, the humungous item hits the right side of the rocket, chipping a few pieces of glass, which allow the air to suck out. The shuttle is spinning vigorously; dizzying me and forcing me close my eyes shut.

The spiral movement does not stop but I squint my eyes open to get a peek of what is happening and I spot a hole in the middle of nowhere. As the shuttle gets sucked in that hole, I let out a mumble of an “Oh no!”

******

Am I dying? All the haunting memories come to life before me. Vibrant hues flow in a loop. Recognizable tones can be heard but the words do not make sense. I am oblivious of what is happening around me. Is this what death feels like? I cry for help even though I know no one would come to save me. The pandemonium lasts about two minutes according to my watch and then here I am, standing on the barren land of God knows what planet. I gag as I am thrown off the porthole with no notice of my rocketship.

I can assure you that it is not Mars; the surface is not crimson as it should be, instead it is flaxen. I glance through the region, finding nothing but a carved-out, wooden sign that reads NEBASKAS. I feel the plank which shows no symptoms of decomposing, meaning that someone must already be here and would have put this up recently. I also notice the sky which has streaks of not only orange and pink but also green and gray as well as the two suns, making it much brighter and hotter than Earth.

I saunter ahead, heedless of my surroundings, until I discern a voice going, “Aye! Who are you?” I swish around, surrendering in front of the man. All that goes through my cloudy mind is that I deserve this; my minor mental health issues and overconfidence led me to this point.

The man is not alone; he is bordered by a mass of bodies: human and inhumane. I let out heaves of my breath, judging what is seen.

My cracked voice speaks up, “I am Brock Campbell; an astronaut. I was sent on a mission to Mars but I ended up…here.” The supposed leader talks back, “We all were. There is a connection you see. Look I do not expect you to believe what you are witnessing…I mean the creatures amongst us but I have to tell you that this is your home from now on.”

My pupils dilate, “What do you mean? Is this like jail?” He makes a sour face, replying, “No one’s ever found a way out of here…” and with that I let out a grunt and a sigh, convincing myself that nothing can be done and that the hazy voice inside my head will never come back to encourage me.

 

‘Lost Innocence’ by Areeba Amjad

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The fire in the distance flickered ominously as shadows lingered on the wall. Ali peered again into the darkness but saw nothing; he rubbed his eyes but nothing was visible.

 

Heart beating fast, hair on end and adrenaline rushing through his entire body, Ali tried to collect himself.

 

“But how am I ever going to ignore that piano playing in the background?” Ali murmured softly.

 

The music stopped as soon as he uttered those words – all the more reason to question his entire belief system at the moment. What was happening? And where had that sound originated from? More importantly however, why had it stopped all of a sudden, right when he had said that sentence?

 

Imagine being in that position though: all alone in a dark room with a red and orange flame burning in the distance, but as you try to walk towards it, no distance seems to be covered. Shadows outlined on walls (that again seem to be unreachable) simply swirling around as if they were contents of a broth, slowly unfolding and detaching from each other. The horror was almost palpable,; for Ali it certainly was.

 

He could feel it as his body tingled to the extremities with the passing of chilly breezes; he could hear it with the soft, classical playing of a piano; he could smell it in the pungent odors; he could definitely see it in the darkness surrounding him.

 

As if it wasn’t enough, there was a woman up there, all clad in white clothing.

 

Where had she come from? Ali was now very on edge. His entire mind seemed to be running wild as he could not comprehend what was happening to him or how he had ended up in this mess.

 

The woman. The WOMAN.

 

The woman in white seemed almost luminescent, emitting light into the cold and dark. Ali tried to keep his distance, but she seemed to be beckoning to him. For a moment he almost inched closer to her because of the warmth she exuded in the chilly area; the fire itself seemed to serve no purpose but to burn bright.

 

Everything was very strange – Ali couldn’t make anything out of the situation. His heart was beating as fast as the fire crackled. He glanced back at the ghost-like woman and locked eyes: a deathly blue stare met him that almost seemed to be warning him….

 

All of a sudden his position changed as his body slammed straight into a soft, springy material. At first he couldn’t understand what had happened, but then he was relieved as he opened his eyes and saw the ceiling fan.

 

He broke into a million sweats at once.

 

—–

 

It was a few days later now, and Ali was attending Chemistry (and as usual, the words washing over his head like a misty breeze), when the first of many reiterations were to come.

 

“And next we’ll discover how Permanent Dipole – Permanent Dipole or P.D-P.D interaction works in polar…”

 

Obviously the voice soon faded out, but another odd observation jolted him back to focus; he heard the piano playing again, this time slightly louder than before. Ali got up with a start and froze, straining his ears to figure out the direction of the noise. It seemed to be coming from out of the classroom – he ran straight out the door.

 

“Ali! Where…?”

 

He ran before anyone could stop him. He ran across the hallway, down the stairs, and into the school grounds, only to hear the same loudness of music playing. This meant he wasn’t getting any closer or farther from the source. His heart began to beat fast once more as he tried to pinch himself as an attempt to figure out reality. It was all a waste.

 

In an agonizing scream, as he grabbed a handful of his hair, he fell to ground, unconscious.

 

He knew what he was getting into before it even began: the darkness prevailed all around. The shadows seemed to be more outlined than before and the fire burned a slightly more blood red too.

 

He wandered around in the abyss before realizing that the temperature had fallen down a little bit – his body was quivering in the cold. Regardless, Ali decided to look around and find a way out.

 

As his feet crunched some autumn leaves on the ground, he felt a rigid, firm grip on his shoulder from the back. His pupils dilated and he made an effort to scream, but his voice failed him at that instant. His body shook as he felt razor sharp nails dug deep into his shoulder blades and he knew the end was to come. With a horrified gasp (which was all he could manage) he turned around to see what looked like a human form, but with an ear cut right off. The blood was still leaking from where the ear had been chopped off and Ali couldn’t bear it, nor the expression on the face of the injured man, with widened eyes and a gaping mouth as if also trying to scream.

 

Ali wrangled himself free and tried to run away again, only to end up head first onto the ground, losing his consciousness once more. His last sight was the white ghost –like woman who seemed to be fading away to grey….

 

—–

 

The next day Ali was back on his feet and (thankfully) the Chemistry teacher had not reported the odd event. All the better for Ali as, because it was a Friday, Ali had to attend a proper party for the first time. Despite it being an 18th birthday party, Ali knew it would be good because of all the popular kids attending the event.

 

Now Ali wasn’t the type of guy who would normally do any of this, but recently his interests had been changing as his character and morals were slowly deteriorating.

 

The party, held in a huge mansion owned by one of the kids, was the experience of a lifetime for Ali: as soon as he entered the marquee erected for the party, Ali met a billion puffs of smoke down his windpipe and hit him straight in the lungs like a dash of poison running through his blood stream. He met with the birthday kid, but unable to bear the smoke, decided to go for a round of a table tennis game instead.

 

Even though the game soothed him, Ali could not believe what he had gotten himself into. This was apparently the biggest bash of the year and Ali, the A grade student, was a part of it. As he began to ruminate, his thoughts took him elsewhere as the piano playing was brought back in his mind. Even though the garden (now with tens of people all filled in) had blasting hip-hop music and a LOT of lighted cigarettes all around, Ali could still hear the piano playing a classical tune that hinted to the tunes of Sinatra. As usual, nobody else seemed to hear the piano but him, which seemed to be loud enough for him to hear. It brought chills right to the very core. Ali was frustrated and tried to block out the sound but nothing could stop it. Thinking that all the smoke from the cigarettes and rugs was making him a little dazed, he slowly made his way out of the labyrinthine passage of drugged high school students dancing to the beat of the night, out of the dark marquee for a breather of fresh air.

 

All was silence away from the havoc.

 

Ali breathed a sigh of relief as the piano faded away.

 

But just as he held the cloth of the marquee to go back inside…that’s when he saw her again. She was greyer than ever, her whiteness slowly fading; her blue eyes this time bloodshot red and her hands ice cold as they dropped to Ali’s face.

 

Again no sound came out, but Ali was a deathly pale.

 

He pushed the woman aside, her long, dark, black hair almost hitting his face – and tried to get into the zone with the rest of the ‘students’ enjoying themselves inside.

 

He was going to grab a lit cigarette from the hands of one of the girls as his eyes made a shocking discovery: the bottle of alcohol now discretely being handed around near the table-tennis table and being poured into tall wine glasses. The colorless liquid proved itself to be vodka.

 

He needed to get out of there before it was too late, but his feet were firmly stuck to the grassy ground.  Even before he could move, one of his new friends approached him out of nowhere, handing him a glass of the poisonous liquid. There were cheers all around him as people drunkenly encouraged him on to take a sip, all dancing around to some really heavy deep house beats now.

 

Ali didn’t know why he accepted the glass – albeit with trembling hands – and began to advance it towards his parched lips. At the exact moment that his lips sealed on the rim of glass Ali heard a loud bang.

 

The crowd did not seem deterred at all (as if nothing had distracted them); Ali saw a dark cloud surround the atmosphere.

 

One, two, three, four light bulbs cracked open, leaving Ali jumping.

 

Time again seemed to freeze.

 

The piano keys began playing but this time very horribly and loudly, as if someone was simply sitting on a bunch of them at a time. He looked around but, again, the darkness did not show him anything – until the red flame erupted right in front of him that left him in a gaping expression.

 

What was happening now? Was he dreaming again?

 

But no amount of pinches to his body brought Ali back.

 

“Please not the woman, pleas not….”

 

Before he had even finished the sentence, the grey figure, with (now) wiry and thin hair advanced forwards to Ali. His lip quivered as she spoke from those dull lips for the first time,

“Go back before it’s too late!”

 

Her voice was very raspy, like someone close to death, and her blue eyes seemed to be trying to coerce Ali into something. Her long fingers clutched him by the throat, squeezing him into a dark purple face.

 

—–

 

He didn’t know how long after, but Ali woke up in a hospital with bruises and cuts all over his neck.

 

3:00 a.m.

 

Massaging his neck with his left hand, Ali forced himself upwards form the hospital bed.

 

And there, for the last time, he saw the woman. She was now all wispy and fragile, giggling continuously as her rotting teeth began to show. Her face was almost sunken, revealing the bones underneath. She flung back her head for another large cackle as Ali grabbed a lamp from his bedside table.

 

Before he could harm her with it though, she rose up from the bed in front and, with a quick swoosh, slammed her body against his, only to come out the other side like a ghost. Ali glanced behind and there he saw the woman lying on a broken piano, no more music playing.

 

To the left he saw the fire flickering a VERY bright red, almost ready to engulf him in its wrath.

 

Not remembering whether he had drunk the liquid at the party or not, Ali lost his consciousness once again.

 

As the flame burnt bright and the grey woman completely disappeared from grey to colorless, Ali heard a shrill voice shrieking,

 

“No more sense. Lost innocence.”

And with that he realized the once white woman had left him forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Journey to Self’ by Shehryar Mir

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I woke up to the desire to never wake up. I forced myself up and threw myself around in my vicinity till tears flowed down my cheeks.

Days went on like this. I tried to realise that I had no control over people and what they can say that can hurt me but my mind could not settle upon that fact. I had spent all my life being someone I was never meant to be, but rather became the person everyone expected me to be. I had no control over what side I would tilt on at times. I felt as if my mind could conjure up thoughts on itself.

Wherever I went I felt as if a “depressed” sign was resting on my forehead. I felt a thousand pairs of eyes dart towards that sign. I felt like a misplaced creature that was never meant to be here. What is the point of living when you know you have no purpose?

I had realised that I had lost myself a long time ago. And, now, ever since then, I had been in this perpetual war with myself. I felt as though I was losing the whole time, but I kept going.

Things of my past haunted me and I spent most of my time crying. I wrote songs only I could understand and made paintings, which could only be comprehended by me.

I never knew that I could ever lose myself for someone else. People tried to help, telling me that there were tonnes of fish in the water, but I could not force my mind to understand.

I knew I had to find what I had lost ten years ago — myself.

I threw things around my dwelling till they broke. I liked to just sit on the floor in the corner of any room and cry till I lost my voice. I loved playing with blades and knives. I loved the feeling of hallucinating. I loved the energy inside me when the liqueur entered me. But I never loved myself.

I realized that I got what I wanted but not what I needed. There was a hurdle between peace and me. And that was a perpetual dread called “life”.

I became a perplexing person no one could know of.  I just hustled about and stayed awake at night by my nightmares. Now, I got addicted to the biggest drug in the world — sadness.

The truth always felt like swallowing sand. I could not find any way through this. My insides churned up like a blender. My eyes would get teary as I would wake up to those perilous dreams that reminded me of my past and realised me of my present. I slowly felt as if my connection with the outside world broke and I was on the last thread of survival.

I made mistakes, and now I felt like I was trapped in those consequences. My beautiful sunny days turned into draughty nightmares through which I could not find my way out.

 

One day, I can perfectly picture, that the rain came down on me. And, the water filled my lungs and I silently screamed, but no one was there.

I screamed and thrashed and cried, but you never showed up.

I had left myself scarred by your glass, and now am removing the shards out of myself.

Through months and months of my life hanging down a thread, finally I saw the colours around me and had forgotten about the draughts and the floods you caused. I thank my family for helping me keep my head above the water, even when I felt as if the tides would take me in.

I am on a journey to find myself.

 

 

‘Football’ by Muqaddas Muskan

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Football. That describes it all. My ending, my beginning, my middle, and the axis my world rotated on. My whole life has revolved around a sport, a football, and a goalpost. Everyone else’s nights are spent tucked into a warm bed where my nights out on a dark pitch, barely illuminated by a street light. My breath fogging up in front of me like that of a smoker smoking his sixth cigarette. The ache travelling in my legs the only proof of my fourth hour out there. A ball at my feet and a goalpost in my sight. I was an eighteen  years old girl, and a footballer. In a world full of millions of male footballers, I was one of the rare females that dared enter the world of football. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was the hardest thing I had to do my entire life, aside from my best friend’s death.

 

Hi, my name’s Samantha Juarez and I’m utterly bored at the back of a disgustingly bright classroom. I look up at my calculus professor. He’s droning on about equations, again. I lean back in my chair, letting out a puff of irritated breath, looking at the ceiling. Wow, it needs paint.

“Miss Juarez, I believe there isn’t a football hanging from the ceiling. What are you so intently staring at and not at the board?” I hear Mr. whatever-his-weird-Russian-name-is say.

“I’m pretty sure there’s a football out that door,” I point at the rusted, wooden door at the far right of class, “can I go?” I finish, flashing him a cheeky smile. Oops! Looks like I’ll have to stare at the principal’s office’s ceiling now. Oh well, at least it’s nicely painted.

 

“We really have to talk about your behavior, Samantha. Your grades are falling, and let’s admit it, they’re not all that pretty in the first place.” Mrs Johnson, the principal, with a very strange hair job, says.

I shrug nonchalantly; the ceiling is nicely painted. I was right.

“If you keep this up, we’ll have to consider taking you out of the football team.”

Something in my mind snaps, and I slowly lower my eyes to meet her shallow stare.

“I’m sorry?” I ask, clenching my fists, my nails digging into my palms.

“I said, we might consider –”

I cut her off. “No, I heard that. My question is: what the hell?”

“Language, Miss Juarez,” she screeches.

I flinch and say, “I take that back. I meant, go to hell.” I get up abruptly, the chair making a painful sound. Turning around, I storm out; the door banging shut behind me, and my life at this school.

Why won’t the pain in my ankle fade? I shoot angrily, watching it fly to the other side of the pitch, flinching as a cramp lances up my left leg. Lifting my leg, I aim for the goal post in the distance; long shots have always been my favorite. Swinging my foot forward, I shoot the ball but soon find myself in sheer agony, realizing my shoelace was stuck underneath the other foot and the jolt of the shoot made the pain in my leg worse. I crumple to the ground, cradling my leg. Today is horrible. A shower of rain starts, startling every nerve in my body. No. It just got worse.

I stare at the poster. “Try Outs 2016. Women’s Football, UK.” I keep staring. Every atom in my body is on fire; it feels good. The bottom of the poster catches my eye, “February 15th, 2016. Rio, Brazil.” The fire’s starting to hurt now; I don’t have money.

The glass shatters into a gazillion pieces, reflecting the pain my soul is in. Brazil? Really? My dream is 5000 miles away? Good one, life. You got me again. I smile bitterly at the wall, the chipped white paint mocking me.

I close my eyes, the poster burned into my eyelids, my brain, my heart, and my miserable life. Letting out a cry, I swipe fiercely at my bed-side table, knocking everything to the ground. Slumping back on bed, I let the tears come, utterly defeated. Blinking through my tears, I focus on the mess on the floor; that’s when I see it.

The business card.

Should I? Can I? I pick it up gingerly, my hands shaking. “Baldovino Benito.” Seeing that name, I’m hurtled back into the past.

******

It was raining. Abbie was laughing; the last time I saw her smile. I was in the passenger seat of her Porsche. “Woah Abbie, slow down!” I said, chuckling.

The car speeded up, the rain hitting the wind shield more rebelliously. “C’mon Sam, don’t be such a buzzkill. Live a little!” she replied, giving me her Cheshire grin. She stepped on the pedal, and the car jolted forward, further speeding up.

I spotted a gas station a few kilometers away, “Abbie, I want a soda. Stop there, okay?” I said, looking at her.

She nodded, “Sure thing, Sam.” As we neared the station, Abbie kept speeding. I frowned.

“Abbie? We passed the gas station.” I looked at her, and my heart dropped. Abbie’s face was drained of blood; ghostly pale against the darkness in the car.

“I… I can’t slow down. The breaks aren’t working,” she whispered, her voice breaking.

She made me jump out of a speeding car. I landed in a pond. I fractured my ankle. She died. Abbie died. So did I; inside.

******

“Abbie was my sister. She was the family member I never had. She forced her step dad to take me in when she found me in an abandoned park when I was only 7 years old. She was my inspiration. My guardian angel. My second chance at life. She erased the word ‘orphan’ from my mind. She bandaged my knee when I fell while trying to learn how to dribble a ball. She sneaked out with me at 4am when I craved ice cream. She loved me more than any parent ever could. She supported my football dream. She sent me to academies and made training possible. She steered me away from boys that were trying to use me when I was too young to understand even though she was just 3 years older than me. She loved me at my worst. I loved her. I love her. I don’t know what to do without her.”

I swallowed back a sob, and looked at everyone’s solemn faces. “Thank you,” I whispered and limped my way to the back.

It was then when I saw him. Black leather jacket melting into a well-built body. Beautifully sculpted features; bright green eyes with rings of honey golden around the irises, full plump lips shaped to perfection, and cheekbones that made him look like someone of importance. He looked like the angel of death; standing dark and tall against the gravestones jutting out of the cold earth. But, the thing that made my heart stutter and die was the fact that he was looking straight at me.

He had his hands shoved into the pockets of his black jeans. I could see a silver watch peeking out from underneath the sleeve of his jacket. He looked like he had been watching me since a while now; that made my skin erupt in goosebumps. I started walking past him, my eyes on the ground. I should’ve walked faster, but it seems Abbie’s loss had been a loss of the strength in my legs; they, as well, had given up. Just like me. I was almost blissfully past him when I heard him. His voice a bucket full of icy cold water, dunked right over my head.

“Samantha Juarez? My name is Baldovino Benito. I’d like to have the privilege to be granted a little of your time.”

I hated him. It was humans like him that made the earth burn to the ground. He wasn’t an angel of death. He was worse, much worse. He had offered me a job and a place to stay. Kind, right? Wrong. He wanted something in return. He wanted my “service” in return. He wanted me to use my knowledge of people in town to figure out who was interested in drugs, and who was willing to buy heroine. He wanted me to “negotiate” for him and act like his little delivery girl. Why me? May I dare to quote, “You’re homeless, Juarez. You have zero money of your own. I doubt Coach Henley would appreciate an orphan girl training with him…for free.”

I had just stared at his beautiful, disgusting face. I opened my mouth to unleash all the pent up anguish that was threatening to burst right out of my skin but was silenced by his finger pressing against my lips, gently.

“Now, now Juarez. Let’s not make hasty decisions. Call me when you know exactly what to say.” He tucked a black business card into the front pocket of my dress. His lips curving into a smile that had the power to start wars; he stepped back and vanished into a maze of gravestones and trees. I hated him, for getting to me at my weakest point in life. I hated how he was right. I hated how I wanted to take up the offer. Most importantly, I hated how I couldn’t.

******

Why was I staring at his cursively written name after such a long time? Also, why was I picking up my phone from the ground?

“Hello?”

“Is this Baldovino Benito? This is Sam Juarez speaking. I’d like to meet you.”

“Ah, Juarez. Knew you would miss me sooner or later. Of course, meet me at the Burney Bar down sixth-street at 7 o’clock sharp. Oh and please, call me Vino.”

The line went dead.

I sighed.

What have I done?

******

I was too early, and I was sweating in anticipation. The bar was noisy, and full of drunk people that made my skin crawl. I shouldn’t have come. I shouldn’t have come. I shouldn’t have come. I shouldn’t have come. Standing up abruptly, I lurched towards the exit. I was halfway out when someone grabbed my arm and my heart climbed up to my mouth. I jerked back with a gasp, flattening my back against the wall. It was him. “Going somewhere?” he said, a smile travelling in his voice. He was amused. I was dying.

I swallowed, “No.”

He chuckled, “Perfect. Shall we, then?”

Why wasn’t I dead, yet? I nodded. I wanted to be dead. I walked back into the bar after him. Please, let me die.

******

I did everything he told me to do. I was one of his best. Always getting a job done, never messing up. He called me his “secret weapon”, which made me taste bile. Everything was good up until that one night, I killed someone.

All I had done was do what Baldovino had told me to do; all I had done was try to look out for myself. Mathew Anderson had overdosed on heroine in the High-main Hotel, in room 683. He was found dead in the bed right in front of the chair I was sitting in 5 hours ago, talking to a Mathew that breathed, talked and existed. I killed him; I murdered my humanity.

I quit that night. I left Baldovino’s house. I camped in a run-down house at the far corner of the city. I wasn’t cold, though. Baldovino’s money lit a wonderful, wonderful bonfire.

******

Funny, how humans do not cease to exist when their will to live does. They keep roaming the world, as zombies. Alive, yet dead. Breathing, yet suffocating 6 feet under. Eating, yet tasting dirt. Speaking, yet hearing nothing but death. I spent the remainder of my days, sleeping in random deserted houses – roads, on bad days – and eating whatever I was unfortunate enough to find. I should’ve starved myself to death. Every atom in my being begged to an end to this nightmare that started when Abbie’s heartbeat stopped. Every fiber loathed the human’s capability to keep living as a monster, haunting their own mind. I understood, though; this world was God’s garden. He plucked the prettiest flowers first, before autumn; before the end.

Abbie’s stepdad called. I stared at the cracked screen of my phone. It ringed. Voicemail. I touched the screen, my fingers shaking.

“Samantha, I just wanted to let you know that mail came in for you this morning. You can swing in any time to take it. See you soon, hopefully.”

*****

 

I stared at the envelope. Could it be from Benito? The thought made the hair on my neck stand. My heart threatening to fail me, I tore it open and turned it upside down into my hand. A plane ticket and a letter fell out. Frowning I unfolded the crisp letter.

“Dear Samantha Juarez,

My name is Arnold Hardy and I am the coach of the women football team, Wolfsburg. Your late adopted sister Abbie Walker contacted us a little over one and a half year ago informing us about a young rising star, her adopted sibling, Samantha Juarez. She sent us a summary of all your achievements up to date and we were quite impressed. She requested us to consider you and call you for trials. We have kept a tab on your football-related activities and keeping in mind the coming up of Women Tryouts at Rio, we would like to see what you’ve got during those days and then further discuss whether you are worthy of our investment. We have enclosed a plane ticket to Rio, Brazil a day before the Trials take place. We hope to see you there among other competitive young women such as yourself. Have a safe flight, Miss Juarez.

Regards,

Arnold Hardy.”

I was breathing. I was crying. I was smiling. God was watering me, and I was blooming in His garden.

*****

I close my diary and smile at the empty seats of Camp Nou, the football stadium at Barcelona, Spain.

“My name is Samantha Juarez and I am in a football club named Wolfsburg. I am on my way to success. I have seen everything from toe-curling joy to immense anguish along the journey. I’ve lost some and gained some. But the climb to the top is worth it. Looking back down is terrifying and makes my knees weak and my heart stammer, my faith threatening to crumble. But, the key is to forget a bottom exists and keep my eyes on the peak. Keep climbing; the view from the top is perfect, I promise.”

 

 

 

‘Cupid’ by Aleena Khan

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When I was young, my father told me that love was for fools. Love did not exist. Love is false hope and disappointment. I guess I never really understood what he meant till one eventful day.

It was a frosty winter morning. The Earth was covered with a thin layer of pale snow. And, out of all the pointless days in my life, my alarm clock decided that it would be best to stop working on the day of my literature exam. Fate definitely wasn’t on my side today. Fortunately, I managed to – not very successfully – get dressed and head out the door.

“Bye, Dad!” I yelled.

…no reply, as usual. He’s probably just passed out drunk again.

I hurried my way to the old trusty pick-up truck my dad won in a bet. I clumsily tossed my things on the passenger seat and slammed my foot on the accelerator. The ancient engine burst to life. I had never been a one to drive fast, but I am not missing this exam that I had studied relentlessly day and night for.

Maybe it was my quivering hands, my agitated eyes, my distracted mind or just the glassy surface, whatever it was, it caused the old shabby truck to completely flip over itself and collide with an enormous incoming tree. Everything after that was just a complete blur. All I could remember was the pungent smell of gasoline and the faint sounds of sirens.

I flicked my eyes open to the blinding lights of a colourless room.

“Look who finally decided to wake up.” I heard an unfamiliar voice say. “What?” I said to the young man sitting across from me. His elbows rested on a chair on his knees, while his knuckles supported his weightless face. He stared tentatively at me. With a long sigh, he relaxed himself and sunk into his chair.

“Do you know where you are, Leah?”

“I…I’m in the hospital. I was in an accident.”

“Bingo! We’re off to a great start.” This mysterious young man exclaimed with a grin forming on his face.

“I don’t understand. Who are you?”

“Who am I? I’m Cupid.”

“Cupid?” I said in dismay.

“Yes, Cupid.” He answered truthfully.

“Cupid? Like the short chubby kid with the bow and arrow who makes people fall in love?”

A small smile escaped his lips. “Well, firstly, I’m not chubby,” He declared, pointing out his tall lanky self, “And secondly, I do not work with a bow and arrow anymore.”

“ Anymore?” I said, completely intrigued by him.

“They got a little too old fashioned for my liking.”

Taking in my surroundings, I studied Cupid’s features with more observation. He wore an old but fancy pair of suede shoes with black skinny jeans that still did not fit him right because of his lanky exterior. His bony fingers had ill-kept nails that had tiny scabs around them, indicating the fact that he bit his nails. The white dress shirt he was wearing looked as if it hadn’t been washed in ages. His neck held a carelessly tied black tie. His shaggy and wavy black hair reached just above his enchanting crystal blue eyes. His hollow cheekbones perfectly framed his fair face. He could not have been younger than me, probably 18 or 19.

“Wait, are you saying you’re The Cupid?”

He rolled his eyes in an overly exaggerated manner. “I’m not The Cupid. I mean I just do everything he does: make people fall in love blah, blah, blah. But, I’m not Cupid. Puff! Cupid doesn’t exist.” He seemed satisfied with this even more confusing explanation.

“You’re not Cupid, but you do everything he does and you just happened to be named Cupid?”

“Ironic, isn’t it?” He said as he spun around in his chair. Someone must have let this guy out of the psyche ward.

“Okay, Cupid,” I said maybe too mockingly. “What are you doing here, in a hospital out of all the places?”

“Well, the thing is, you were supposed to meet the love of your life today and I was supposed to help you with that. But, since you’re in a coma now, I have to wait for you to wake up so I can get back to work.”

“You’re in charge of helping me meet the love of my life? I can’t believe that! You wouldn’t know the first thing about love.”

“Oh, but I do. I know much more than you think.”

“Then you must know love doesn’t exist. Love is just an excuse. Love is false hope. Love is just being attracted to one’s physical appereance. Let’s admit it: we’re all superficial degenerates who choose who they like based on their looks. Not their inner beauty.”

Cupid practically went into a shock. I must’ve dropped quite the bombshell. His brow furrowed and his mind scrutinising my every word. He took in a long breath and began speaking: “I wonder what you had to go through to make you so cynical, Leah. Love isn’t attraction. Love isn’t wanting to be touched. Love is wanting to be close: emotionally and physically. Love is wanting to do things with that person you couldn’t imagine doing with anybody else. Love is those midnight walks holding hands. Love is croaky phone calls in the morning after staying up too late talking the night before. Love is kissing their nose and watching their face light up as a grin slowly creeps along their face. Love is longing to be in their presence in the most innocent sense possible. Love is a simple feeling, too greatly feared and misunderstood. I know one day you’ll understand.” He said with an understanding expression. He truly believed in love.

Being stubborn to prove my point, I contested, “How do you know all this? You’re just a kid. You haven’t even lived yet.”

Staring right into my eyes, he said, “Neither have you.”

I shaked my head in disagreement. “This is insane. I’m supposed to be in a coma, not listening to a naïve fragment of my conscience.”

Cupid let out a rather loud groan clearly fed up of my interrogation. “Jeez, Leah. You really don’t get it, do you? You’re on life support. You’re hanging on by a thread. Ha. I’m surprised you’re still alive. Your soul exists, right now, in my universe. Anything you do here will not influence reality. And, unfortunately, your reality is you’re dying. This place, for all us misplaced souls, those who still have some unfinished business and for those who still have to crossover. I – Hold on. You’ve got a visitor.”

“Huh?” I followed my eyes to a man in his 50’s walk into the room. Bags under his eyes and dressed in shabby and dirty clothing. The hint of alcohol was still fresh on his breath. He spoke, “Leah? Leah, honey?”

He now stood beside my comatose body. “Leah. I’m so sorry. Can you hear me? I’m sorry. I’m sorry I wasn’t the father you deserved. I’m sorry I let the divorce ruin me. I just – I just didn’t realise I had a little girl to take care of. I blew off all our money on cheap booze,” He sobbed in between words.

“I was selfish. I was stupid. And now…and now it’s too late to change. I love you. I love so much, honey. I wish it were me in your place right now. Oh God, I’m so sorry!” He was wailing now. “Please! Please, come back! I cannot lose you. Not today. Not ever. I’m supposed to be on this bed. Not you. Leah, please fight! Fight to live again! What am I supposed to do? You’re my life. You’re the only good I did in my life. Please don’t die today.”

“Dad! Dad!” I screamed as loud as I could.

“He can’t hear you, Leah.” Cupid said.

“No. I can’t leave him like this. Miserable. Alone. Without purpose.

“You are his purpose, Leah. Wake up.”

I was discharged from the hospital two days after the accident.  A few broken ribs and a few fractures here and there, nothing too drastic. Dad was different now. He was trying his best to sober up. He got a part time job in town. He was trying.

One thing I won’t forget though is who died the day of my accident. Some kid, around 18 or 19 years of age, was on his way to prom. He, too, was in a coma except he didn’t make it through the first few hours. It just made me think. He had his whole life left and a split second changed that. He was supposed to have his first date this prom. He was so nervous for his date that he could not stop biting his nails. His friends teased him for being the only hopeless romantic in the group, despite being single. He was, apparently the class match-maker. Everyone called him “Cupid.”

 

 

 

 

 

‘Beyond the Border’ by Noor Bukhari

Standard

 

 

(a poem depicting the first time I left my country and went abroad with my school to attend a prestigious conference at the United Nations Head Quarters in New York City)

 

 

I’ve known small taxis and broken houses

I’ve known a small city within a small world

I have however, never until now seen,

A land full of buildings touching the clouds

With elephantine parks and loud car horns.

 

I’ve always been the girl who’s dreamt

Dreamt of travelling half way across the big blue marble

In August last year, I was the girl

Who did just that and landed in the place of big dreams

It’s not really red and sweet and nutritious

But they call it because they do; they call it the Big Apple.

 

The air felt fresh and light

The Sun somehow was not the sun I had been under

Foreign soil, for the first time touched my shoes

I was surprised to know that until now

I hadn’t once sung, the homesick blues.

 

Bright yellow, like the disk florets of a daisy

Zoomed past us what the American tongue termed as “cabs”

The chaperone waved and whistled on the sidewalk to hail one

While we, nine youngsters stood inside the JFK airport.

 

Smoke, black and acrid smelling puffed out from a worn out one

Like a cigar being freshly lit

The driver gestured us to sit down at the back

And four of us did just what he said

The five left behind waited patiently for another cab to come along

But all that became futile because as we covered distance,

A sea of skyscrapers emerged

With grins on our faces we sat

In silence

Ready for this once in a lifetime adventure.

 

My heart raced and tears welled up in my eyes

The pictures in magazines and scenes from rom-coms

All came to life and I even today am at a loss of words.

 

The streets were wide as we approached our hotel

Shops and shops and shops lined all sides of the Avenue

With a welcome and slight tip of the hat from the concierge

We were ushered towards an elevator

That took us up 25 floors!

 

The rooms were small and cozy at once

Large windows looked over the buildings around.

 

The next few days were like a storm,

But the kind with rain that comes down softly and thunder that rumbles slowly

The kind that brings out the sweet smell of soil and not the fear of children

From a ferry ride over blue clear crystal water of the River Hudson

And pictures with the towering green lady on her island,

From going up, to the very top of the Empire state building

And spending a raging night out, around lit up screens

From eating a 99 cent delicious cheese pizza

And surveying supermarkets for American junk food

It was all a blur in the city

As lights infused into our carnival of laughter.

 

Among all these things, that my eyes witnessed

The one thing that shook my bones and rattled me into counting my lucky little stars

Was the visit to the center of world decision making

To the one building where history was conceived

Yes, indeed yes, the United Nations Head Quarters.

 

A strip of waving color stood outside the famous mirrored building

But as we all saw the white star and crescent

Flipping about in the soft breeze

A feeling of pride completely took over

And my thoughts came together to say “Pakistan, my Pakistan”

In that moment, a home sickness did, fill up inside.

 

As we entered and passed the security guards,

In all corners were a plethora of statues

Given as gifts and tokens of peace from global leaders.

 

The inside was paved in cream tiles

And the general assembly Hall was draped in warm spotlights

At the front was a green rock podium

Desks and microphones were arranged with consistency

This was the hall where Maya Angelou risked her life

And where Bhutto ripped apart the policy.

 

Everything took off quickly from there

Surrounded by philanthropists and humanitarians

My mind couldn’t cope

Shaking hands with Mother Africa

And for the first time seeing the glow of dark skin in person

Opened up a side of life that I had never ever known

I discussed issues and became a pioneer in my own right,

And just like this, the days dwindled by.

 

On the last day, New York City said Goodbye

And I, going home, felt as though I was leaving one behind.

Time spent there had been so dearly precious

The hotel, the cabs and finally the United Nations itself

Are all a million miles away

But still, even today as I formulate my experience into flowery words

My mind thinks over all the times the place of big dreams

Took me, by surprise.