Category Archives: Short Stories

A page from my diary…

Because I find myself thinking about you in the oddest of all times. You’ve left your mark on me, and its embedded so deep that sometimes I can feel it tug at my lips. I smile at the thought of you like a salve placed on a burning wound I didn’t know I had. You’re like a cure to a poison that tends to swallow people with just a few words. Your voice is like a melody, and I hear it calming me down in the back of my head whenever I’m stressed. You listen not because you’re obligated to but because you want to understand, and that’s all that matters. I’m surrounded by people who hear but don’t comprehend.

I miss talking to you. I miss waiting for you to call. I miss being sidetracked from a fight I know I won’t ever win. I miss worrying about things I have no say in. I miss knowing that I had a safety-net waiting to catch me if I ever fell. I miss being happy. I miss the feeling of comfort when I talked to you. I don’t know that the home I was seeking was in you. But life is a gamble and I choose to play it safe. The endless outcomes, the probabilities, the possibilities all scare me. I’m terrified of being broken and terrified of breaking. So I will wrap you and seal you somewhere in the back of my mind and I will lock that door for it to never open again. But I know like a thorn you will sting, and you will hurt.

I’m a snake, and I will poison you the first chance I get. I will bite you and then blame you for what I’ve done. You don’t understand that you are the breeze of heaven and I am the wrecks of hell. You’re like a lighthouse illuminating the dark sky, and I am the ruthless ocean.

I am unstable and like a radioisotope, I will change forms to gain stability, but in my reaction, you’ll decay. In my degeneracy, you’ll lose your orbit. I will explode, and you’ll fall in my destruction. In my reforming, you’ll break.

I’m terrified of commitment because I am an eagle and eagles never touch the ground. I’m scared of loyalty, of love, of everything I’m not. But I will let you go, even though you’ve carved your name somewhere in my heart. I will clench my teeth, bite my tongue, cry but I will let you go. I will release you.

Photo by Min An from Pexels

The kiss of failure!

Isn’t it weird how sometimes you work so hard on something, just to be kissed by failure at the end? And it’s not the soft, subtle kiss you find in those happy ever afters. It’s one of those kisses that makes your heart sink somewhere near your kidneys. The one that makes you doubt your very existence. It’s the kind of kiss that haunts you for the rest of your life.

The kiss of failure never comes alone. It comes with self-hatred, doubt, desperation, and despair. It slowly creeps on you from the back and jumps on you when you least expect it. But you fall so hard that the earth stops rotating on its axis and I’m sure the sound is so loud that the angels up in heaven can hear it too. I’m sure they’ve gotten used to it by now.

Failure isn’t the only thing that bothers me. The after effects are just as worse; like an earthquake. When it comes it rips and tears everything apart and the after-shocks are just as worse. They break what’s already broken.

It’s like your mind becomes your greatest enemy and the world transforms into a very dark place. The beautiful masks people wear come dripping off and you get to see their real faces and they’re not pretty. You understand your fall but along with that, you understand what value people around you have. You understand that the mountain you were climbing had faults of its own. I’m not saying that failure is a bad thing, but it isn’t something that gives you comfort. If there’s one thing I’ve learned that is- the mountains you want to climb won’t get smaller. The paths you want to voyage won’t get prettier. The journeys you want to travel won’t get easier. And the fall definitely won’t hurt less. But the real question is how badly do you want it? How badly are you willing to fail? To fall? To crash? To burn? And then to reform? If your will to reach the peak empowers all other wills, then even failure will bow down to you.

It’s hard, very hard to swim in an ocean that’s pulling you down, and yet here you are, trying to climb a mountain you can’t even see. But if you give in, the waves will drown you. If you fight, then maybe, just maybe the waves will give up and they’ll push you to the shore.

There was once a man in Halacin who wanted to become an artist, but his parents forced him to become a doctor because according to them an artist had no value. “Artists don’t get paid much. How will you live? How will you ever be happy?” the parents argued. The man wanted to please his parents, so he left his passion and went to med school. There he studied hard, but no matter how much effort he put into his work, he would always fail. His joy vanished, and his heart did not align with his head. Every second that passed by pulled him toward art, but the man did not give in.

Because the man was doing so poorly in med-school, he was kicked out. Having no other option, the man burned his books and set sail to begin his journey as an artist. His parents disowned him and because of that the man had to take odd jobs to support himself. He worked as a mechanic, a dishwasher, a servant, but he did not complain. He was happy because for the first time he was listening to that voice in the back of his head.

The man wandered for years, but he couldn’t find a destination. Every journey he would travel would lead him to more turns. The man, tired of being on the road for so long, and aimlessly walking around, became tired and decided to give up and go back to his parents.

His parents were willing to accept him on one condition; that he follow the journey they had chosen for him. The man did as he was told, but he was unhappy, and he failed miserably. He did not understand what life had in store for him, but he knew one thing that failing while dreaming didn’t hurt as bad as failing without any dreams. The man, even with failure constantly kissing him, understood one thing, that failure was inevitable and so was suffering. No matter what journey he chose he was bound to fail, but he could choose what type of failure he was willing to endure. And in that instance when he did not know which journey to choose, he understood that he was willing to fail again and again, on a journey that made him happy. He was willing to suffer on a journey without a destination because it made him value himself. It taught him that failure is just as important as success.

He told his parents that he was willing to suffer, but of his own accord. His parents, furious with him, kicked him out again. The journey his parents had seen for him was easy, but it didn’t make him happy. Yes, he had a clean bed and warm food, but he lacked the ambition to move forward. He lacked the desire to do something.

The man left his parents and aimlessly voyaged again. He faced many setbacks and there were times when he wanted to give up, but he always remembered the reason why he held on for so long. When the man finally climbed the mountain of despair and hopelessness, he saw victory, wearing a blue cape, waiting for him on the peak of the mountain.

“Took you long enough,” victory scowled. The man was baffled. He was mad, angry, and annoyed. He was furious at victory. He couldn’t hold in his tears anymore, so he wailed like a small child.

“Why?” The man cried. “I spent years searching for you. Did you not pity me at all?”

Victory smiled at the man and said, “Every time you took a step toward me, I took two steps toward you and every time you stopped, I stopped with you. Every time you doubted me I doubted you. We’re linked. Don’t you understand that you’ve made it here on the back of failure? It was your perseverance that bought me here, to you.”

I’m not saying that your path will be easy. It won’t. But comparing your journey to someone else’s won’t make things better. Failure is a part of life. Maybe instead of fighting it, we should learn to embrace it. Kiss it back with such passion that victory gets jealous. Learn, and move on. But remember, every fall of yours is bringing victory closer to you.

The beauty of suffering!

Why is it that sometimes our path is crystal clear, but our eyes become clouded? Why do we become so hollow when everything around us is supposed to fill us up? That’s how I feel right now, like a huge chunk of me is missing, or maybe I ripped it out. Maybe because I was afraid of getting hurt. Afraid of aching, so I took away that part of myself that was capable of feeling pain. But that’s where I was wrong. Pain doesn’t always have to destroy, sometimes, against all odds, it has the ability to save.

Imagine getting stabbed in the back. It hurts I know, but what if it didn’t hurt? What if you didn’t feel pain? Then you would never know how severely you’re injured. If you don’t know you’re wounded how will you sew your wounds? How can you be cured? Pain, as harsh as it sounds, is your body’s way of telling you something isn’t right and that something needs to change.

Through pain and suffering, we understand the beauty of love. The beauty of healing. Because when you’re in pain you have two choices. Either you give in to that feeling or you fight it. Giving in is easy, but fighting is hard because you don’t know what the outcome will be. You might come out injured even more than before and I guess that’s what life is. To keep fighting. To keep falling and to keep rising.

Sometimes the scars aren’t visible. The burns are etched deep inside, but they still hurt. If there is one thing I’ve learned in life that is to never be afraid of pain. Because it is through pain we understand life’s greatest lessons. I’m not saying that I’m unafraid. And to be honest, I will never be ready to fight, but backing down doesn’t really seem like an option.

The very early King of Halacin had been through so much suffering in his life that he vowed to keep his unborn son away from pain. He did the best he could. He built walls and barriers around his palace to conceal his son from the outside world, but that didn’t help. Pain would always find a way to sneak through.

The King became desperate. Not knowing what to do, he left his Kingdom in search of the witch who had extraordinary powers. He found her, convinced her and promised her gold if she would take all the pain away from his unborn son’s life. The witch agreed, “but my lord,” she warned. “Your heir’s pain shall be transferred to you.” The King did not care. His unborn son was all that mattered to him.

When the King came back to his Kingdom, he was told that his wife had passed away while giving birth to a healthy baby boy. The King as happy as he was, mourned for his dead wife. She was the only living being that loved him for who he was. She was the one who showed him light when he was wrapped in darkness.

Days passed by and months changed into years. The King’s son was now an adult, who was cruel, unjust and unkind. He did not care about anyone in the Kingdom but himself. The King saw his son as a threat to the people, so with remorse and regret, he ordered his son to be hanged. The King, knowing his son would die, was in excruciating pain. He lost everyone close to him. Having no other option, the King went to his son and asked him why he was like this.

“I’ve never felt pain, father,” the son said smiling. “I don’t know what suffering is and I’ve never suffered to know how it feels. If I’ve never been hurt, how can I feel someone else’s ache.”

The King realized that he was the cause for his son’s behavior. Had he not asked the witch, his son wouldn’t have been like this.  Pain, he understood was what made living creatures, humans. Without pain, there would be no empathy no companionship. It was through pain, people understood the beauty of love. The beauty of giving. Pain was not a form of suffering, it was a blessing.

Before the King could hang his son, his son escaped and led an army full of people out into the Kingdom. Where they burned down people’s houses and killed whoever came in their way. The King becoming restless left the Kingdom and went in search of the witch. When he found her, he begged her and asked her for mercy. “Give my son a reason to suffer. Give him a reason to feel pain. Make him human again,” he cried. “Watching him like this is giving me pain.”

The witch assured the King and promised him that everything would be okay. “You will be in peace.” The witch promised. “And your pain will fall on your son’s shoulders and he will suffer.”

The King was not at ease. He was watching his Kingdom burn down in flames. Greif took over him and he fell ill. When his son heard of his father’s fate, he felt something crack inside of him. For the first time, he felt a pang of guilt. He felt pain.

The son stopped what he was doing and led his army back into the palace. The slicing ache in his chest was increasing. The man who had raised him, protected him was lying in the lap of death. The son ran to the King’s bed, but before he could apologize for his crimes, the King died and was in peace, but the son was in pain and was suffering. His father’s death gave him a reason to feel. It gave him guilt and sorrow.

Pain doesn’t come with a smile. It comes with sharp claws, but in those claws, there is mercy. In that wound, there is a cure. Maybe not all wounds make sense, not all injuries are capable of healing. But there is salvation. There is always salvation.

 

 

How many people will you save? (Pakistan trip-2016)

I’m standing on the balcony of my uncle’s house in our village, staring at the mountains far into the distance. Over there, close to the horizon are the lush valleys of Kashmir. The white clouds, above me, seem to be colliding with one another as if playing a failing game of tag.

“Salina, take the cots inside.” I hear the old woman next door scream in Panjabi to her daughter. Salina, a beautiful girl with long shiny hair comes running out into the Veranda and drags all the cots inside. I watch her in amusement.  She’s my age, and she lives in the village but she’s more active than I could ever be. Her strength probably comes from working in the fields all day. Surviving here, in the village is a workout on its own.

People here rarely have phones and apps, but they know what the weather would be like just by looking at the sky. It’s a talent that’s been passed down from generation to generation and unfortunately, it’s a skill I haven’t acquired.

Wifi here isn’t common either. But those that do have wifi don’t know how to use it and because of that, they don’t have passwords on it. Sometimes my phone catches signals and I find myself on Instagram scrolling through pictures of people who are pretending to be happy just like me.

Somewhere in the distance, someone has a cassette player on- that’s playing those Hindi and Pakistani songs people played when they lived in black and white. The same few songs are playing on repeat. I’ve memorized the lyrics by now.

Our village is pretty old. It probably has a story of its own.  From the balcony, the view is breathtaking. On one side of it, the mountains are visible and on the other side, the little village houses create a mosaic. The wind tickles you on your skin as it passes by. The fresh scent of jasmine is lingering in the air.

The houses in the village, except for ours, are all joined. The roofs and some of the balconies connect. All you have to do is jump over the railing and you’ll be in the next house. People here don’t mind because everyone knows everyone. To the villagers, I’m the granddaughter of Droga-the girl who came from America for her summer break.

Not all the houses are made of bricks and cement, a few, deep in the belly of our village are still made of clay. They don’t have bathrooms and like people in the olden days, they have to go out into the fields.

To my right I see a young boy milking a cow. He takes the cows otter and squeezes milk into his mouth. That seems like something I would like to do. Probably something, I will do.

On my left side, I see a woman gathering cow dung. She mixes it with hay and later on when it’s hardened she’ll use it as fuel to cook outside on the clay stove.

“Maybe we should help them,” I talked to my mom once. “The money I saved for camping-we can give it to Nilya and her family, and they can make a toilet.”

Even though I lived seven seas away, these people where what shaped me. They mended me into what I was and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get them off my mind. Most of my years in Pakistan were spent in the city, but the village was always like an empty home that my heart ached to know more of.

“How many people will you help?” my mom said frowning. She wanted to help them too, but we weren’t of the elite class. We barely fed ourselves in a capitalist society. We were all from the lower class, the only difference was that these people were from the lower class of Pakistan and we were from the lower class of America, but compared to them we were well-off.

“Everyone mama,” I tried to get her attention. Thick drops of sweat trickled down her cheeks and disappeared into her clothes. The heat was getting to her. Load shedding was so common that I lost track of when we had electricity and when we didn’t. We would often sit outside on the veranda, with hand fans cursing the government for their failure. At times it would get so hot that we would sit under the shower with our clothes on and when we had no water, we would use the hand pump.

“Your dads a taxi driver in New York City, we’re six people living in a two-apartment bedroom, with a tiny kitchen and a small bathroom. This is why I want you to graduate from College, become a doctor and help these people…” she didn’t stop talking. She gave me an entire lecture on how I needed to keep my GPA high and get into med-school to fill her dreams. To become what she wanted me to be.

A few rain-drops gracefully cascade down my cheeks. It feels good. When I was younger the rain was the only thing that bought me comfort. Maybe because I made myself believe, that in it was purity.

I look down at the veranda. My grandma is sitting on the cot drinking tea from a bowl. She has Alzheimer’s and she thinks I’m here to kick her out of her house. She’s been paranoid since we came here last week.

My cousins who live in the city also came to meet us. They’re playing cricket in the veranda. The youngest one calls me beautiful girl. He’s seven and he thinks I’m a doctor and I work in a big medical clinic in NYC. I never lied to him, but I didn’t correct him either. At least someone has a positive image of me.

The villagers are doing their daily duties. They know I’m watching, and they’re annoyed. A young girl nearby is making food outside on the clay stove. She’s making chicken curry. I know this because I can smell the spices she used. Another woman is warming the tandoor to make roti. My aunt knows her, and she’ll make roti for us too.

I gaze down at the rocky narrow pavement outside our house. Young kids are playing cricket on the road and among them, I see a woman slowly walking to our house. She’s wearing a blue shalwar kameez and she looks very pale. Her bones are showing as if she has no flesh on them. For a moment I stare at her, trying to remember who she is, and then it hits me. She’s Nazia, my mom’s second cousin.

I smile at her from above and run down the stairs, but I don’t greet her. Instead, I stand on the side and wait for her to recognize me. She was the one who would do my henna and design my hair. Every time we would come to the village from the city we would go to her house. She was like an aunt.

The door opens and Nazia walks in. She goes and hugs my mom and sobs into her shoulder. I stare at them, trying to make sense of the situation.

“Phophoo,” she calls my mother with love, ” I’m dying,” she chokes almost laughing. I cringe at her words, wondering why someone would joke about death.

Nazia looks over my mother’s shoulder and her gaze lands on me.

“Aashee,” she squeaks my nickname with love. I awkwardly smile at her, but she doesn’t smile back, instead, she walks over to me and embraces me into one of the warmest hugs I’ve ever felt. Her seven-year-old son straddles beside her. He awkwardly glances at me and I do the same.

Mama leads Nazia into one of the rooms with the AC- thankfully the electricity is back on. I trail behind them. My Aunt, who came from France to look after my grandmother, walks into the room with five cups of tea and biscuits. Tea in Pakistan is a symbol of affection and kinship.

“What do the doctors say?” Mama asks Nazia as she squeezes her hand.

My eyes flip up and all I see is Nazia shaking her head in disapproval. “I only have one kidney, which isn’t even working properly. The doctors say that in another month or so I wouldn’t be able to use it and I’ll have to go on dialysis. But tell me phophoo, how can someone like me afford that. How am I going to live?”

“Have faith,” Mama comforts her. Mama’s lips are moving but I can’t make sense of her words.

The only thing I could see is Nazia’s son playing with my little cousin.

What would happen to him if something happened to her? I lean back on the sofa and close my eyes, but the only thing I can hear is mama saying the same words over and over again.

“How many people will you help?”

Update- Nazia’s sister, donated her kidney to her; both are doing well (2018).
Nilya and her family finally have a toilet in their house (2018).

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The woman with the broken heart

Once there lived a woman, whose heart was broken so badly that she couldn’t mend it. The man she loved cheated on her with her sister, and her mother ran away with another man who was much younger than her. The woman’s heart was shattered into tiny little pieces that she wanted to give up on life because she felt unloved by everyone around her.

She tried all sorts of remedies and went to different doctors, but no one could cure her. Each day that passed took away the woman’s will to survive. All she wanted to do was fade away and die.

Not knowing what to do with her life, the woman decided to go to a priest who lived at the edge of town, near a volcano that hadn’t erupted for the past three hundred years. She left her job, sold everything she had and voyaged to the priest.

“Love starts from within,” the priest had told her as he lit a small candle in a ceramic bowl.

The woman did not understand. The priest gave her the bowl with the candle and said, “in order for you to be cured, you must walk to the five great mountains of Halacin and make sure this flame does not die. And when you make it to the fifth mountain, you will find a cave which will show you your cure.”

“But that’s impossible,” the woman cried. “The gales, the winds, the oceans. Everything will blow out the flame. How am I supposed to keep it safe?”

“That is something you have to figure out on your own.” The priest said as he walked away.

The woman, not knowing what to do sat down and wept. She cried until she could not cry anymore. She was tired of all those heartbreaks, of all those disappointments, of all those failures, and it was at that moment where she decided that she would cross those mountains, search for that cave and find her cure.

She took the candle and began her journey. She faced many obstacles, but she did not let her guard down. The winds spoke against her will. The mountains rumbled beneath her feet. The forests blocked her path. The gales pushed her back and knocked her down. The sky poured onto her, but she did not give up. She did not let her flame perish.

When she reached the fifth mountain of Halacin, she found the cave and walked in. But as soon as she entered the mouth of the cave she saw nothing but the flames of the candle flickering on the walls of the cave. Desperately, she looked around for the cure the priest spoke of, but she was unable to find it.  The woman sat down and looked at the flame. Enraged, she blew out the candle herself.

The woman walked back down the mountains and went straight to the priest. She had decided that she would kill him and then she would kill herself.

“Ah, I see you’ve made your voyage,” the priest said as soon as he saw her come into his little hut.

“You lied to me,” the woman sobbed. She threw the candle and the ceramic bowl on the ground and looked up at the priest. “You said the cave would hold my healing, but it was empty. You lied to me just like everyone else.”

“No, ” the priest said smiling. “I do not lie. What did you see when you went into the cave?”

“I saw dirt, flames and a reflection of myself.”

“Exactly,” the priest said. “The cure you are seeking for is in you. You saw the flames of the candle, which means you protected it with all your might. No skies, no mountains, no gales could stop you because of your determination. Your heart, my child is the same. No one can tear it out of your chest without your permission. And that is why you need to guard it, protect it with all your might. Yes, a person will come along in your life and that person may break into your heart, but how can something so strong shatter so easily. Love with all your might and all your will.”

“But I am unloved. What’s the point of having a heart if I can’t love or if someone can’t love me”?

“Oh, my foolish child. How can someone else fall in love with you if you do not fall in love with yourself? Love can heal the greatest of all wounds, so love yourself first. Your life was tough I know, but you are tougher. Love has the ability to join, then why are you falling apart. Nothing had the ability to blow out your candle, but at the end, you blew it out yourself. Why? The problem was never the world, but how you perceived it. Often, we become our greatest enemies and in that war with ourselves, we cause damage to no one else but ourselves. You survived what was impossible. You kept the flame of the candle alive, then why not the flame in your heart and soul?”

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