Corners

Dear Grandfather,

The air has changed. In the mornings and evenings the bereaved members of the departed season’s family burn the summer’s body and the new season of winter is welcomed by the delighted uncles and aunts while the sun grieving over its dead friend is furious in the afternoons on the innocent hopeful citizens but I am sure in your city the winter has already deployed little toddling winters in the gloomy streets. Once in the winter of fifteen years ago I was standing at our house door looking at the setting sun through two huge trees. The dying light of the sun fell on my face in shapes of webs. A little tilt of my head on the left and the light awoke wood-coloured tint of my eye. The birds were going back home from business. The squirrel family on one of the huge trees quarrelled over serious allegations of infidelity. The ant-hole inches away from my foot near the grass was hosting a parliamentary session, few of the angry members walked out in protest and crawled on my feet. A fat lizard on the wall had just enjoyed a healthy young moth. The leaves of the eucalyptus tree danced the mystic dance and waited arrival of the dark night. I counted my teeth with my tongue and licked the empty gum in the seventh place from right and mourned the loss of my tender tooth and the emptiness it had left in my mouth; mortality alas! It was not my mouth that had lost a loyal soldier but my soul that had lost a shred of its fabric. I missed my tooth and could not stop licking the place where once in its joyous youth it lived and spread happiness all around it. It was an epitome of calcium-ethics and bone-morality. A teeth of principles. Gave due respect to its neighbours, grateful to its provider and diligent in its duties. With its departure, the world is short of one great store of calcium-dignity. While I was saying eulogies for my tooth, I did not notice two women talking to each other beside the eucalyptus tree. One of them was holding a plastic bag from the butcher’s shop and I saw freshly cut meat inside it. The one with the meat was saying something and the other laughed reluctantly bringing her scarf to her mouth while laughing. Above them, at the top of the eucalyptus,  an eagle hovered with its splendid wings. It soared up high and came down again. The women had separated and left each other when the eagle came down with a plunge and attacked the woman with the meat. It repeated its manoeuvres until the poor woman threw the meat away and ran. The predator picked the bag and flew away glorious in its victory. I felt pity for the woman but respect for the bird.  Courage commands respect, even courage of a conquering army of marauders and rapists, of lions and eagles. An assessment of courage on moral benchmarks is illogical.  Courage is like gravity, you cannot call it good or bad.

One day when I woke up in the morning, I had a strong desire to play cricket. I had the breakfast without interest, had a quick bath and rushed with my bat and taped ball and wickets to Ahmed’s house. He had gone to a dentist for check-up, his brotheress told me. I went to see if Jawad was interested; he was ill with malaria, his mother said and she asked me to go sit with him for a while but he was asleep. I ran towards Mashood, the rusty wickets dragging on the road making clunky noises. Mashood was wearing his cricket kit and leaving with his elder brother hoping to play as a substitute or a runner for unfit batsmen on his brother’s team. I asked him to play with me but he refused with an excited apology. Disappointed I walked back home and I asked my brotheress to play with me but her bowling was so easy and rules of the game so liberal in our courtyard that I scored a century in ten minutes and she was so bad at the game that I had to intentionally drop her frequent catches. Then suddenly she hit the ball very hard sending it beyond the boundary walls of our house. I went out running to fetch the ball and as I was coming back I noticed that the big lock on the Khargosh brothers’ door was missing.  They were back from Sargodha after the festival of the sacrifice. We called them Khargosh brothers as all four of them had two big front teeth like rabbits and they always looked funny. Although they made fun of my monkey-like ears sticking out of my head but on the basis of serious calculations I concluded that they were more funnier. Despite our mutual hate of each others’ physical features we played cricket like a team. I knocked their door and presented my proposal which they readily accepted. I ran back, snatched the bat from my brotheress’ hands took the cricket paraphernalia out on the mud road which we used as a pitch.  We played the test match. Each player was allowed to bat as long as he was not out with no limits of balls. We stopped playing when it was my turn to bat and I was bowled out after facing only three balls, making me furious. I said the ball was a no-ball but they did not agree to it. I threw away the bat and was at the verge of crying. They started to pack up and I reluctantly helped them. We lied down in the grass patch near-by and looked at each others’ funny faces. Umer Khargosh reminisced about the fat cow which they sacrificed in Sargodha on the festival. He ran into his house and brought back a picture of the cow for me to look at. The animal was beautiful with exquisite horns and hump. Farhan Khargosh recounted the story when it ran away from them and  almost killed their cousin. He recalled how their father bravely tamed the angry cow. Junaid Khargosh told me how much food it ate. He said he was sure had they fed meat to it, the cow would have relished it too and he showed me a mark on his neck where the cow hit him while he was serving dinner to it. ‘She was a bad girl’, he said while rubbing his belly clockwise and they all showed approval by rubbing their bellies and murmuring things. But our pleasant discourse took a dark side when the eldest Khargosh spoke. Mudassir ‘Mudi’ Khargosh said addressing me: ‘Say Sufi, you are the only son, right?’. I said that it was true. ‘I wonder’, he continued, ‘what would have happened if Prophet Ibrahim had actually slayed his only son Prophet Ismael instead of the lamb’. He looked at me with an evil grin. I said this could never have happened for God loves his prophets. ‘I speak hypothetically Sufi.’ Umer Khargosh said. ‘then all the fothers and mathers (for Umer spoke like that)  would sacrifice their fons (meaning sons) on the festival.’ ‘They would have to’, Mudi said, ‘and it might be easier for fathers and mothers with many sons but for fathers and mothers  with an only son….’ He pointed his finger (when he said ‘only’) at me and then raised his hand (when he said ‘son’)  to symbolise digit one. I said this would never happen. ‘God is not a tyrant’, I said. ‘I speak hypothetically Sufi’. For a second I stared at the eucalyptus tree and then stood up and walked towards my home dragging the wicket and bat with the dirty ball in my pocket. As I walked, I heard the Khargoshs laughing. I resisted my temptation to run but quickened my steps.

Their laughter drowned in the maghrib azan. I ran towards my room and jumped to bed under the sheets and looked at my hands, the bruised knuckle, and wondered how different it was from a goat’s hoof. I shut my eyes tightly. Half an hour later I was called for dinner. Mother was peeling cucumbers with difficulty, ‘Where is the new knife?’, she asked the stove and searched for it in the cutlery. Knives cut. A pulse of explosive dread crossed my mind when she found the new sharp knife. ‘Come what are you staring at, come here, set this on the table and call your father’, the woman with the knife shouted at me. ‘Yes mother. Mother, what have you cooked?’ , I asked her. ‘My sweeties’ favourites. Meatballs.’ Why are meatballs your favourites, I asked Sufi but he didn’t say anything, only trembled. We were eating on the table. I had not touched a meatball  when mother put another in my plate. I avoided it too. ‘Father was Prophet Ismael hurt before the lamb was slayed?’ I asked my father. ‘That is a strange question. No he was not hurt, just as the knife moved, the lamb was put in place.’ I cunningly put the meatballs back in the bowl when no one was looking, and enjoyed potatoes and curry. I was  in my bed, when somebody knocked at the door. It was Umer Khargosh. He asked me if I wanted to play cricket. I said I will be out in a minute. They were waiting for me. Mudi was taping the ball Junaid was setting up the wickets and Farhan was drawing creases. When everything was set, they gave me the bat and said that I should get the first turn. I was delighted.  Mudi took the ball, others set the field. He took his long start for a fast ball, turned his arm around and threw the ball towards me. Why is the ball brown? and what is that liquid dripping from the ball? Oh no its not a ball, its a meatball. The meat ball hit me in the eye and I threw the bat and they laughed at me. The spices hurt my eye. I could not see clearly. I fell on the ground and smelled the fragrance of eucalyptus leaves. When I recovered my vision, I found that I was tied to the eucalyptus tree near our house with my neck. Mudi Khargosh was patting my back. Junaid Khargosh brought a huge bundle of grass near my mouth and asked me to eat. Umer Khargosh pushed grass in my mouth and said ‘Eat or I will tell your mather and fother’. I hit him with my head and tried to run away. They laughed at me. I felt a jerk at my neck and fell down to sleep. When I opened my eyes, there was silence and darkness all around me. The ceiling fan was static. The door was ajar; the curtains in the veranda flew inside. I stood up and went to my table, took a pen and a notebook and wrote down in the middle of a page ‘God is not a tyrant’ and cried and shivered with fear.

My dear grandfather, now whenever I slay a goat with my own hands on the festival I remember this dream and tell it to my wife who laughs with delight. Fear makes us see terrible things.

How can I ever thank you for accompanying me to the corners of abandoned house of my childhood. How can I ever thank you for giving me wisdom and teaching me to master my fear. How can I ever thank you for bringing me into this world. Take care of yourself in this harsh season and be steadfast on your decision to quit cigarettes. May God bestow His mercy on you. Write to me about the weather in your city. I am still waiting for you to send to me that letter about human bondage which your father sent you in your youth, which you always refer to but never show me. Do you not think I am old enough to understand now? Do not judge me by these childish stories I send you. I shall always be

your disciple, protégée and grandson,

Sufi

 

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