I laugh a lot. People take me for a jolly person. it is rather sad that 90% of my giggles are to please my fellows only. I do not restrict my insincere show of emotions to laughing. I have cried for others too. Some of my tears were genuine, others? not so much! If I ever disclosed which was which, I would risk my credibility as a human being.
Heck! I have even pretended faith. Not a long time ago, I had been into madrasas and Majalis. I had been a part of congregational prayers more often than I would like to admit; it was all action-no feeling. The one emotion, however, that I truly felt is agitation. When anxiety hit me, I was alive.
I have pretended to be alive for several years. One day, I decided I should be able to feign death. Thus, knowing it would end up in a failure, I ventured forward. I went to bed and slept. 16 hours later, I was disturbed and forced out of my bed. I couldn’t tell them I was dead for that would kill the purpose. I persuaded a doctor to admit me to a hospital, but they didn’t declare me dead either. I knew in my heart I was more dead than alive but it was easier to pose life than the demise.
Descartes said, “I think; therefore I am” so I stopped thinking, and that robbed me of my anxiety. Now, no part of me was alive, and they continued to believe in my existence!
My final thought, which is a proof I had lived once; why is the world so apt at calling your bluff of dying but not of living?
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.
“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.
‘Super’ is what they called me
‘Magical’ was how I was described
when all failed, I was the one who survived.
I saw my fellows wither,
For they could not compete
against the changing times.
Then said the world ‘Goodbye!’
I endured it all,
season after season.
I grew stronger,
With every passing obstacle.
The harsh weather didn’t cut me through
And the head wind lifted me high!
It was the loneliness
that has stung the worst.
But since I had suffered a lot
and adapted according to my fate,
the nature gave me a mate.
We reproduced and multiplied!
Best of the genes, we passed on,
for my counterpart too was
a breed quite high!
Sooner than I’d liked it to be
The time to depart arrived
‘What was the point of toiling through
if at the end of it all,
I had to die?’
The Reaper,however, yawned
Disnterested in my thoughts.
It had a job and I had to oblige.
My only solace after my demise:
‘I had done well in life’
There was a progeny
most likely to succeed
In the world I had left by
‘In my future generations,
I will live forever’
The consoling thought
made me smile .
In the Afterlife, I met my old colleagues
It bemused me to see them so satisfied.
I spent time watching over my kith and kin.
While those losers sat and enjoyed.
‘It is because they have no one,’
I smirked day and night.
Then it happened that shook me through.
The word for which I lived and died,
with a bang, it was destroyed.
What were my troubles for?
The extreme pains I had gotten by.
The world for which,
I had planned and strategised
Like a puff of smoke in the skies.
When I was a kid, my dear mother ensured I stayed away from tea. I guess, feeding milk to their children is an inherent trait in mammalian mothers, which does not go away even when the child’s suckling days are over. Like any other good mom, she force fed me a glass of milk. Being a thankless turd, what I had on my plate never satisfied me. I made faces. “It smells,” I used to complain.
Besides worrying about my health, my poor Mama cared for my happiness. Thus, she added flavor to my essential dose of lactose. Terms such as Ovaltine, Cocoa Milk, Milo, Chocolate and Vanilla Milk entered my vocabulary and the ingredients holding these names, my body. I surrendered to my dairy-laden fate but still coveted my mother’s chai.
Then I grew up a little, and she allowed me a few drops- the ones I got for dunking my rusks in her precious tea. These scarce droplets transformed into a Doodh Patti, which after passing through various dilutions turned into my first cup of a strong tea. I was 14.
It only got worse after that. With every passing birthday, the tea granules increased while the whitening agent decreased. The concentration was according to my energy requirements.
It continued that way until I hit the quarter-century plateau. After that all went downhill — three cups of strong tea a day reduced to two moderate ones. I was growing soft!
Tea, my magical potion, gave me strength. I needed the strength to fight off the obstacles that came in the way of my dreams but at 25, I found out I had none! When you lose your aspirations, the extra stimulation doesn’t do you much good. It only fuels your depression.
There was no point in consuming an exuberant amount of tea, only to lay awake at night, resting against a pillow made from the wool of anxiety, under the blanket of melancholy. As a kid, I watched a lot of Popeye-The Sailor Man. It made me wonder had Olive died, would he still eat his Spinach to defeat Brutus. I don’t think he would and I am Popeye with no Olive in my life. Brutus hit me and I couldn’t care less.
Today is May 8th, my birthday. A long time ago, this day used to awaken dancing butterflies in my stomach. Now, the butterflies are dying so silently that I don’t even feel the urge to mourn for them. I’d rather drink my diluted tea. It won’t stimulate; just sustain. Indifference has prevailed!
Now as my ‘about section’ will tell you, I am crazy for stories. I read them, write them, adore them, inhale them, exhale them… you get the idea! For me life was going this way until kismet decided to do me a favor, which given my history doesn’t happen too often, and I met this awesome woman, Midu Hadi, who shared my passion for stories.
Long story short (see what I did there =P), we became friends. One thing led to another and now we are here to further our dreams that every story-enthusiast will share with us.
The aim is to tell a story! This is as simple and as complicated as that. However, there are no rules. It can be prose, poem, art work, or anything. As long as it tells a story, it floats our boats. This makes it that easy and that hard. Okay, I should stop doing that. Here is the deal:
We will be sharing a story, every week with our lovely friends here but with a twist. I will give you a link of her story before sharing mine!
“Hi, doctor!” Jaz greeted Dr. Domestica. A poker face stared at him as she lowered her veil.
Duzan Domestica, however, had been too long in this line of business to miss why this green-skinned, strange looking girl was there in his clinic. Despite her emotionless face and heavy makeup, her smile lines were more than visible. Fanning out at the corner of her eyes were several small wrinkles resembling a cat’s whiskers or a crow’s feet. Then there were the horrible concaves bracketing her thick lips, almost conquering her nasolabial region. Duzan focused hard on her left cheek but was not sure what to make of it. He reflected for a while. Then, “Smile,” he sighed and issued the one command that only he could give without risking his life.
As if waiting to do so all her life, Jaz gave him the brightest of smiles he had ever received. It indicated that she was in her happy place and probably knew that it was the last time she would be there because her smile was a classic clichéd one. The one that came straight from the heart or could illuminate the darkest of the hours, you know the magical one!
Duzan shook his head in despair. It was there alright — deep enough to house a million of microscopic entities or a very tiny grain — depending on which you are more likely to carry. She had the cursed symbol that alone could have destroyed her forever. She had a dimple!
“Is it that bad?” asked Jaz. Her eyes were moist because there was a lot of smoke in the dingy clinic of the damned doctor. Duzan, however, misinterpreted it to be tears of sadness.
He took a step backward from her and barked, “Hold the waterworks, please. I hate emotions. I will fix this for you but you must never do it again.”
“Do what?” asked Jaz, “The S-word?”
“Smile, laugh, giggle, snicker… nothing!” he told her, “Or else…”
“You are giving me the last stage treatment, huh?”
“I have to,” he said, “orders are orders.”
A few hours later Jaz emerged from “Domestica Cosmetica.” She was the same woman who had entered the loathsome glass building with only one exception — her face was now completely devoid of any line.
With Zac gone, she did not have any reason to smile anymore. Zac would probably be under some kind of genetic experiment at the moment that the West is notorious for, she thought, meanwhile I am stuck in the pathetic East aka the rat hole where women can’t smile.
“Women do not smile like we do,” A man on a large screen which were very common throughout the country was saying, “Their smile is a weapon more lethal than the most dangerous bomb you and I could ever invent.”
“What b*******!” Jaz checked herself just in time. She was about to scoff.
“Therefore, we suggest that all the women should pay a visit to Domestica Cosmetica and be free from the wretched signs once and for all,” the screen man concluded with a smile.
“And become a ticking time bomb the moment they dare to stretch their lips only a centimeter wider from their natural position,” Jaz muttered to herself.
She was very upset now. She missed her childhood, where all the sci-fi villainy belonged to her imagination and her mother played the role of an evil person by imposing certain rules. This real-life nefariousness was taking a toll on her nerves.
“If it got really difficult,” she told herself, “I will just laugh my worries out.”