Tag Archives: Story

The Ant and the kingdom

In the forest of Halacin lived a little ant who had to work hard to store food for the winter. He would leave his little sand castle built beneath the tree leaves, go out into the forest and scavenge for food, but he was always scared because he was small. He was afraid someone would unconsciously step on him. One day he saw a falcon flying in the sky and he said to himself, “I wish I was that falcon. I would never come down, and I would never be crushed beneath these Halacin animals.”

The falcon flying in the air was a soldier of the kingdom. She had to protect everyone and in case of danger, she had to warn the animals of the kingdom. She was tired of flying and she wanted to kiss the land. One day while she went on her daily round she saw the lion and said to herself, “if I was that lion I would be scary and fierce, and everyone would run away from me. I would never leave the ground.”

The lion was the most dangerous animal, and everyone feared him, but he had no friends and he wanted to be loved. He wished the animals would see him for his personality, not the rumors everyone had spread around him. One day the lion was going home, and he saw the big-grey elephant, who was surrounded by so many people. He was jealous, and he said, “I wish I was that elephant then everyone would like me.”

The elephant who was the most liked animal in the kingdom was tired of all the animals around him. He wanted to be alone. He needed time to think for himself, but the animals would surround him and never let him go. One day he saw a tiny ant carrying food on his back. The ant was so small that he disappeared somewhere beneath the leaves. The elephant gaped at the disappearing ant and said, “I wish I was that ant. I would be so small that I could easily disappear.”

Photo by Nandhu Kumar from Pexels

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?”

broken heart two

Planning a murder

Her whip hits me on my back between my shoulder blades, right beneath my neck. I wince in pain, but like all the other kids I clench my jaw as tightly as I can. The lesser I scream the quicker it will be over.

I try to focus on the yellow grease spots on the tiled floor in front of me, but that doesn’t help. The pain is numbing out all my senses and I’m afraid I’ll pass out like last time.

She hits me with accuracy because her leather whip touches the same spot it touched last time and the time before that. Maybe she has practice or maybe I’ve gotten used to the pain that now it hurts the same in every spot.

Her name is Nilana, but everyone calls her Didi. She’s very ugly because she has that huge scar on her face. It starts from the middle of her forehead, crosses the bridge of her nose, and cascades down her chin. I feel disgusted by her, not because she’s ugly, but because she smells like the sewerage drains. Like someone who hasn’t taken a bath in weeks.

Half of Didi’s face is burned. The other kids say it was Wasi who did that. He caught her having an affair with some guy outside of our district. So, he threw acid on her face and burned her.

Didi catches me staring at her burnt flesh. Her anger transforms into rage, and the whip this time collides with my face. A deep slicing pain cuts through my cheek. Tears start to well up in my eyes, but I refuse to let them fall.

Every limb in my body feels numb now, but I don’t move. Not even an inch. I stare at the ground and wait for her to stop. She does when she gets tired. My white face is a mosaic of different colors and shapes. I look more like the other kids now.

Everything around me is spinning; all I see are black and blue circles and the blurry images of the kids leaning against the walls.

Didi moves away from me and goes on to the next girl. The whip from her hand loosens and she heaves in a breath. She’s tired now, and all the other kids are spared.

The first person to be hit is always injured the most because that’s how Didi takes out all her anger. The rest of the children get away easy because Didi gets tired after the first few children. Didi doesn’t always hit us because she’s mad or we did something wrong, sometimes she hits us just to give us these scars.

According to her logic the more wounds we have the more money we’ll make.

“People will pity you,” she would say when she felt bad for someone. “Rich people have a soft spot for kids. They’ll feel guilty and guess what they’ll give you more money.”

I hate Didi and everyone here. The beans I ate from the cart in Koyla Bazaar are coiling in my stomach. I try to get up on my feet, but my knees sink beneath me and I fall. Darkness is starting to invade my vision; no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to focus.

The pain from my back is radiating up to my stomach, and I throw out everything I ate in the past few hours. Everything around me dissolves and I am welcomed by a soothing black abyss.

——————————————

I wake up to Sahil sitting across from me. His legs are crossed, and he’s chewing on a piece of tobacco.

“I don’t like you.” He spits on my face. He’s the same age as me maybe a little older. Like me, his clothes are ripped, and he has bruises and scars scattered across his face. A few of them are old but a whole bunch of them are new.

Sitting upright, I lean against the wall hoping he would go away but he doesn’t. He suspiciously stares at me for a while. I do the same.

“How old are you?” his voice softens now.

“Ten,” I say looking at the cuts on my arms. New bruises are starting to appear while the old ones are fading away.

“I’m twelve. I’m the oldest kid here. Everyone listens to me. Do you understand?”

Nodding my head, I inch closer to the wall. He senses my uneasiness, but he doesn’t seem to care. Instead, he moves closer to me, and I can feel his warm breath fan my face.

“Rule number one don’t ever stare at Didi’s face.  Rule number two don’t make friends. Rule number three if you want to survive then keep your head down and become invisible,” he says his rules with such authority that I find myself nodding my head even though I want to ask him a bunch of questions, but I’m scared to open my mouth.

“What’s your spot?” He’s asking me like he actually cares.

“Lihari street. The big signal, in front of the Oxford building, close to Madiha library,” I say trying not to make eye contact, but my eyes drift back to his.

“You’re a newbie. I work in the Sigrat community, in front of the Bahriya complex. I’ve been here since I was five,” he says it like he’s proud, but I see a glint of anger radiating in his eyes.

Most of the kids here start begging on Lihari street, it’s the only street where no one really cares. It’s crowded and it’s filled with impatient people. The girl that was blind in one eye was hit by a car the other day and no one cared. They walked right past by her as if this was nothing but a minor inconvenience. No one even stopped to check if she was okay.

They buried her body in a cemetery near the sewage in Lihari chowk because no one came to claim her body.

Begging isn’t hard. All you have to do is make a pouting face and cry. No one really cares and because of that no one really gives money. But the more money you make the more food you get. As time progresses you’re given a new spot to beg on.

Foreigners, especially people from Europe are the easiest to persuade. They sometimes care, and they ask questions. But the answers Didi taught us are all lingering on the tip of my tongue. The lies come easily. My parents died. I have no place to live so I beg, even though that’s not true.

My Maa and Abba got a divorce. Abba didn’t want to keep me and Maa couldn’t afford to. So, she sent me to the city with Saad. He promised her that he would put me into a school so one day I could be something in life, but he lied, and she believed him. It’s been six months since I’ve last talked to her. At first, Saad took me to the PCO in the nearby village every week so I could talk to her, but then gradually he stopped.

“When did you get here?” the boy asks breaking my chain of thought. There’s a fine layer of dust resting beneath the tips of his nails and he’s chewing on the tips. He’s disgusting. He smells worse than Didi.

“About a year ago,” I whisper glancing up at him.

“Do you wanna go back home?”

Home 

The word seems odd. I feel something warm brew in my stomach.

Home.

Yes, I want to tell him. I do. But instead, I nod my head.

A smile tugs at his lips and it’s not the genuine smile that people give when they are happy for you, it’s the one that has something selfish hidden behind it.

“Fine. I’ll make a deal with you. You help me and the other kids, and I promise I’ll get you back home.” He extends his hand, bending his elbow a little to not hit my face.

“What do I have to do,” I ask shaking his hand.

“Nothing much,” he says encouragingly. “Just help us kill Didi!”