Sorry for being MIA for so long. But the promise of a story still stands. It is not much of story and more of a jumbled up thoughts of a disturbed mind on a long sleepless night.
Without further ado, here you go:
The Miracle of a Dream
She was standing in a desert. Everything was barren just like her life. The meager plants had turned inside themselves for sustainability. The few rodents and reptiles had hidden under the many layers of glistening sand. Only the sun was abundant, busy drying each grain it touched. Why, she thought, even my dreams are empty.
A boy tapped at her shoulder. She looked around, slightly startled.
“What are you looking for?” He asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied truthfully.
“But,” he said with a smile, ” You never not know.”
“You mean to say we always know?” She said.
He shook his head. “No. That is not what I meant.”
When she continued to look baffled, he ventured, “Always knowing would be like knowing exactly what needs knowing. What I meant is you are never completely clueless. There will be some hunch…intuition.”
The next morning she woke up fresh. Her mind was made. She knew what to do. It was all clear in her dream. She will just trust her instincts!
She did. She told the one the one thing she had wanted to tell him.
Like all her hunches, decisions, and wishes, this was also wrong… terrible and utterly wrong.
‘Who should I trust if I can’t even trust myself?’ She thought. A life full of uncertainties was ahead of her, with death, the only certain eventuality!
I can’t speak for other people because their minds are not on the list of places I had checked into but my own thoughts, I have visited often. Thus, I know the questions that arrive in this desolate place I call my brain. They used to be simpler and consulting a parent, a friend or a teacher sufficed. Yet, they grew complex. I can’t say on which exact date the change happened. All I know is that now, I have queries with no answers.
The people I used to look up to are as much confused as I am. When they had no replies to my wandering abstractions, they silently accepted me as their own.
“Congratulations! You have crossed the threshold of black and white. Welcome to the Grey zone where everything is muddled up,” they informed me.
I cannot turn to them with my pleas no more.
I have learned to ignore my mind, my conscious, and its ramblings but it continues to gnaw and nag me. When the tossing and turning of these contemplations chew away a chunk of my brain, I go to Google. If natural intelligence is failing me, I try artificial intelligence. If nothing else, it kills time. Afterward, I am left with a hundred new types of hopelessness.
The familiar wave of despondency engulfs me. I smile. The exhaustion takes over my senses and I sleep. My brain, however, stays awake bringing me fresh thoughts from the realm of horror to ponder over in my dreams. Sometimes, the audacious bastard brings forth pleasant fantasies of a time to come or a few cherished moments from the times gone past. There is nothing wrong with the latter as long as you are asleep but the moment, the first surge of consciousness hits me, all the niceness melts into a sharp tinge of longing that slowly settles into my mounting melancholy.
The hustle of the day conquers my being and the cycle repeats.
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.
I wish I was someone else… anybody’d do except this person that I am. I wish I could craft like some of my friends do. Beautiful gifts they create out of random, most useless stuff. All I have ever done is destroy everything. Or I could clean like a washing machine or perhaps like a vaccum cleaner but heck… I can’t even clean like humans do.
I want to cook too. Like a chef or even better… like my mom. Yet, eating is the only art I know.
I wish I was not so tired always. I wish all the fantasies I have of completing some amazing projects turn into a reality. Peeling off vegetables, changing sheets, taking care of house decor…
Why is it so hard to get out of the bed? Some days I’d like to metamorphose… like that Kafkan Gregor. Is there anyone out there who will silently put their foot on me and whistle a bit… to cover the sound of my shrieks ?
“Saab! This is the finest, the juiciest item, I have here,” the shop-keeper was advertising a product to a handsome gentleman.
I threw a shy glance in the said customer’s direction. With an immaculate garb, that must have taken him a few hours to assemble, the youth gave the airs of an elitist dandy. The scornful look, he had fixed on the carefully skinned poultry, only strengthened my apprehensions.
“Under normal conditions, I won’t be here, buying meat,” he was saying, “I have employees for such jobs.” What a snot! I thought.
“Today is a special occasion though so I will inspect the poultry myself, which judging by this lousy flesh you are offering me is not up to the mark,” he continued, “This has gone soft. I want it to be tender but firm.” Impossible expectations, I thought.
The butcher looked disappointed. He was hoping to get rid of that chicken today. It was not a fresh product, and he needed to sell it ASAP. Yet, that didn’t stop him from showing better stock to this young man. He couldn’t afford to lose a customer of his stature over a rancid hen.
The arrogant buyer selected the healthiest bird from the livestock that was cooped up inside various cages, which stood over one another.
He handed over his pick to the storekeeper and said, “I take this reluctantly. It is not up to my standard but then I am very hard to please!” He smiled. The effect it had on his features was singularly grotesque. Good looks, despite their legendary powers can’t cover the flaws originating from an unpleasant disposition, I thought.
Meanwhile, the chicken-seller sealed the fate of the fat hen with a swift yet powerful blow. Then he said, “Saab, don’t mind my asking but what is the important event?”
The abhorrent smile deepened as he answered, “A girl and her parents are coming to our place. You know, a marriage proposal. She might be the one although I doubt that very much. Standards!” He winked at the butcher, received his now neatly bagged meat, paid, and left in a hurry.
The shop-keeper pocketed the money greedily. He proceeded to hang the naked bird that nobody wanted on a wire. He had to display it; he was desperate!
I gazed after the fading figure of the self-indulgent buyer. I had played the role of the chicken in the society for too long. I knew, by experience that he will choose his wife, the way he had bought his meat. A woman or a chicken, at the end of the day, is nothing more than a piece of flesh!
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!