The Politically Correct Coward

The dead screen of my old Nokia phone sprang to life as my rather annoying ring tone pierced the silence of the empty auditorium. I ignored it.

Ba Dum TSS

Another beep. My 6-year-old niece had set this tone when she was visiting me with her Mama. I kept the tune because it reminded me of her and made me smile. I am a sentimental fool. I often wonder if my students have any idea how ordinary a person I am. They idolize me for my radical philosophies. Little do they know, I only play a part, since impressing them is my job. The other day, I heard one of the boys comparing me to Iron Man. I have no such delusions. At the most, I am Groot — the little one!

The phone stopped buzzing. Safe to handle, I thought. A few missed calls and two messages from the same number! I opened one of them.

“Your short story has won second prize. Congratulations! Time to celebrate. PBS.”

PBS was my editor-cum-publisher. I should be dancing joyously for my huge accomplishment — international recognition and an actual prize! I tried to smile but my cemented jaws did not permit me that indulgence. The spacious hall felt claustrophobic. I pocketed my phone, hung my bag, and left the lecture hall.

I needed fresh air. I decided to walk home instead of taking the bus. I retrieved the manuscript of my story from my satchel. I had been carrying this copy with me since the past seven years. PBS got his hands on it just a year ago. Before that, it had visited the desks of at least 50 different publishers. At one time, my friends used to joke that every publisher in America must have read and rejected my story at least once in their career.

“What is the most common interview question for an editor/publisher’s job in America?” one of my comrades told this joke on every gathering.

“What?”

“Have you rejected Khizer Hassan’s story? And if the applicant’s reply is in the affirmative, they hire him on the spot.” My friends are jerks!

I glanced at the loosely bound white sheets, heavily edited by PBS. I read one particularly red paragraph.

The h̶a̶z̶e̶l̶ colored eyes of the little boy were devoid of all emotion except for hatred. The abhorrence was a reflection from the weapon pointing at his chest. The P̶a̶l̶e̶s̶t̶i̶n̶i̶a̶n̶ boy had acknowledged defeat. ‘Perfect’, thought the war photographer as he captured the expression in his camera. It was art, for which he will win many awards.”

I looked away in disgust. My cellphone was now ringing incessantly. Congratulations were pouring in. “Finally! =P,” my clown of a friend had texted. I put it on silent mode. I forced myself to look at another paragraph.

The woman was begging them to spare her. Yet, their hateful lust was not familiar with mercy. T̶h̶e̶y̶ ̶p̶u̶l̶l̶e̶d̶ ̶a̶t̶ ̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶h̶e̶a̶d̶s̶c̶a̶r̶f̶,̶ ̶l̶a̶u̶g̶h̶i̶n̶g̶…”

There was no other mention of the character’s ethnicity/religion in that part and so there were no other edits either. My house was only a few strides away. I decided to stop at the nearby café for a cup of coffee. As I went through the rest of the story, sipping my scalding espresso, I registered various replaced, marked, and deleted words. I̶s̶l̶a̶m̶,̶ ̶M̶u̶s̶l̶i̶m̶s̶,̶ ̶F̶a̶i̶t̶h̶,̶ ̶P̶a̶l̶e̶s̶t̶i̶n̶e̶,̶ ̶R̶o̶h̶i̶n̶g̶y̶a̶,̶ ̶K̶a̶s̶h̶m̶i̶r̶,̶ ̶I̶s̶l̶a̶m̶o̶p̶h̶o̶b̶i̶a̶, so on and so forth.

PBS had cleansed it thoroughly. There was not even a shadow left of the context I wrote it in. I recalled my meeting with him. I was visiting my sister in the States when he had called me. He needed to discuss the story with me.

“Khizer,” he had said, “Great literature is never specific. Reach out to everyone.”

“That will just murder my perspective,” I had protested, “The pleas of my people will drown in the sea of this generalization.”

This offended him. In those 6 years, he was the only one to recognize the potential in my tale. I didn’t want to tickle him the wrong way. Yet, I couldn’t stop feeling that he missed the whole point of my work.

“Everyone has rejected your story,” he said. “Because of its political incorrectness. Stick to your stubbornness and you can spend the rest of your life with this manuscript dangling at your side.”

He hurled the pages towards me, gesturing for me to leave.

When I reached the door, he added, “Or you can always publish it with any of your local publishers.” He sniggered and lighted a cigar.

I can’t say if his demeaning behavior made me do it or my desperation to see the work of my life in print, but next day I submitted the story to him.

“Publish it,” I told him and he beamed with victory.

“Keep the edits,” I added in a small voice, rather unnecessarily. He returned me the battered manuscript. He had a soft copy.

I was home now. I found the published version of the story and read the heart wrenching tale. I could tell that every mother reading it will shed tears at the little boy’s death. Every mother, I thought, Muslim, American, Israelite, Indian… I pictured how the rape of the innocent woman will break everyone’s heart into a million pieces. The suffering of humanity will move them. They will tell each other what a touching story this Asian guy has penned. “So relatable, given the current situation of the world,” one of them would say, imagining the atrocities their race might be facing. “So true,” their friend would reply thinking of their own pains.

Nobody will grasp my side of the story. Being politically correct has robbed me of my opinion. I know it’s a nice a story but not the one I wanted to tell.


Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, entities, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

Originally Published at Medium for our WringoInk Project

Genre, Current Events.

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Silent Witnesses—Despicable Beings

Kindness…. Humanity….. Sympathy…. Empathy

Words are losing their value and meaning because people are murdered without reason.
We are laughing while at the exact moment some mother is losing her child.
Desentisized inhumane humans—this is who we really are. I will still care for my own petty agendas and desires. I will still not put others above myself. I am still not human. I will still be hesitant before giving when I do not have the assurity that I will get something in return. Where is my faith?
Where is my kindness?
Where is my humanity?
Where is my sympaathy?
Where is my empathy?
I sit comfortably while my people are burning.

The Veterans of War

She was standing in front of a mirror. It was 14 inches long, extremely old, stained mirror, that had lost luster. There was a time when she wanted to replace the old thing but she did not care anymore. The stool that used to be in front of the mirror was long since broken and she had not bothered to buy a new one.

She had to stand in front of the mirror now.

She was staring at her disfigured reflection-a bright red lipstick in her hand was glued to her small lips. She was done with the rest of her face-lipstick always came in the last-it was some ancient rule of makeup that everybody had to follow. She did not care much about the lips though since there was not much to cover there-not because they were small but because he’d never hit her there during their daily fighting ritual. He knew he would want to kiss her later and he did not want to be reminded of how he had hit her earlier. After all, he loved her.

*———————*———————–*———————-*

It was 2 in the morning and Asher was moving as quietly as was humanly possible. Mr. Amjad lived only two blocks away but the fear of being caught had turned the two blocks into an eternity.

This is what theory of relativity must be about, he thought and a smile touched his lips as  the kind face of his physics teacher appeared right in front of his eyes. it was only from the memory though because his teacher was now dead like most of the people of his city.

These thoughts were still circling his mind when he realized he was standing in front of Mr. Amjad’s house. From the practice of months, he knocked the door mechanically-one tic-two seconds pause-two tics-three seconds pause-one final tic. The door was open. He did not bother to wait for Mr. Amjad to come and greet him with a happy face and open arms. A happy Mr. Amjad was only an image now-saved in his memory with various other images-corpse of a child, a mother crying herself crazy or a father too shocked to speak.

*——————–*———————–*———————-*

He will be back soon, she thought. She checked her image in the mirror-all her wounds were covered. She was ready for him. She didn’t know who they were kidding, trying to live a normal life in the midst of all the chaos in their city. She knew she was doing it for him and he was probably doing it for her. Although, this kept them going, she shuddered to think what will happen if one of them failed to continue. She could never imagine herself to be the survivor.

A knock on the door disturbed her. She waited for one second her breath held tight in her chest.There was another knock and she knew it was him. She rushed to open the door. It was him. She smiled. One day it may not be him, she thought and the smile vanished from her face.

“What happened?”, he asked, “Were you expecting someone else?”

He knew it was a sick joke and her angry look confirmed it. he handed her the provisions and tried to smile. Her heart melted as it always did when he’d smile.

They worked as a team like always and prepared a meal-fried eggs, stale bread, and black tea-there was no milk. It was not much but at least they were not hungry.

*——————–*———————–*———————-*

“I am sorry for the wounds”,he whispered in her ears as they lay in bed. His yes were moistening.
“Don’t be sorry”, she said looking in his eyes,”Because I won’t be when I will tear your fragile body.”

They both knew it was a morbid joke but he chuckled.

“There is only one way you can ever hurt me”, suddenly he was very serious, “By giving up.”

“I won’t”, she replied smiling sweetly. Soon she was asleep but he was not. He kissed her on her perfect lips.

He was teaching her to defend herself if the bad men came for them.She was learning fast and he was proud of her.

We might even survive this, he thought hopefully. he put a protective hand over the small sleeping figure of his wife.

Both of them were killed that night-murdered in their bed. The entwined figures had won the war.

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The Girl in the Mirror

I see my reflection in the mirror. I smile. I see white pearls carefully set in an open red box. It is my mouth. There are wrinkles around my eyes, two huge almonds. I take a step back and take in the complete image. A smiling girl stares back at me. It is supposed to be me but it just cannot be!
I do not smile, not anymore!
There was a time when I would laugh all day or so my parents tell me. I do not remember it. No matter how hard I try to imagine myself laughing, I fail. It had never happened, I am sure. It is impossible just as it is impossible that a man with a gun, killing innocent people, can have a heart. As long as they are devoid of hearts, I am devoid of a smile. My parent must be lying just as the governments and important people all over the world lie,when they claim to have hearts.
Killing machines may have power, glory, wealth, resources and even beauty but hearts? No! My parents are happy-well as happy as they can be after losing so much. I mean my mother often cries at night and I know she is thinking of her dead brother and father often stops talking whenever there is even the slightest chance that my sister’s name might come up. He changes the topic faster than bullets kill people in my city. By the way, my sister was raped right in front of his eyes.
And my city? I have no city. I am a refugee.
My parents are thankful. Maybe they have forgotten Amineh, Nur, Zeynep, Manjural Islam, Zaman and of course, Muhammad. They have forgotten them because all these people had hearts. People with hearts die and they are forgotten.
My parents are relieved. They have finally found a place to sit still. Who could blame them? after we have been rejected by various countries in the world; we were on the brink of death. I often felt like the first piece of bread that nobody would want and keep shifting until it reaches the bottom. Nobody in my family used to eat it and it usually ended up as crumbs. I would gladly eat it now except I do not get any, anymore.
My parents are happy to be that piece of bread but sometimes I wish I had long turned into the crumbs because the girl in the mirror does not smile!