Of Bensons and Dunhills

First published in the Grammarian, 2010.

GRAVEL crunches underfoot as the two boys gradually, deliberately, make their way up the mound of stones to the building. Bags of cement, bits of wiring and the odd construction tool litter the concrete floor. Although the streetlight’s glow barely reaches in, the boys continue, scarcely glancing at the ground. They reach the other end and sit opposite each other in the small opening. Ahead, the city stretches on. Above, the Karachi night sky glows with the pulsing beat of eleven million souls.

They sit in silence. In that gentle silence of old friends who know each other better than they know themselves. Far away, a dog barks once and is silent. And as the moon watches on, they begin to talk.

They talk of all that boys their age talk of; of cars and cell phones, of grades and girls, of homework, tuitions and, of course, football.

One of them reaches into his pocket; a packet of cigarettes. He takes out a Dunhill and, carefully, places the rest of the pack on the rocky floor. A matchstick alights, casting its warm glow in the darkened skeleton of a room. Harsh concrete glares back at the intruding brightness. The cigarette is lit, the match thrown away, and the comfortable silence sets in once more.

He silently offers the Dunhill to his companion. His companion silently refuses. This is their routine, a tradition that has been enacted every night they meet, for as long as they can remember.

The city watches. A puff of smoke. A glowing cigarette end. The sound of silence. That’s all it sees.

The softly glowing point gets up and moves through the dark towards a wall. It illuminates the fading names sprayed with cheap, blue, fifty-rupee spray paint last summer. He runs his hand over the names. As if trying to revive them. All he succeeds in doing, is smudging them in further.

His companion stands too, brushes the dust off of his jeans and looks out at the indigo sky. The city glitters in the night, its shiny, glinting cars flit across the road taunting the solitude in the building.

The still smouldering stub of the Dunhill flies through the air. It lands in a corner next to more Dunhills, Bensons and the odd matchbox. It’s time.

Before they depart, they place the matchbox, half-open, on the floor. Then, they light their final match for the night and place it inside the half empty box. They watch as the fire burns, softly at first, then igniting into a blazing crescendo that turns into ash within moments.

In that flash of light they glimpsed many things beyond their years. They saw how insignificant life is, how transient and brief. But they saw too, how, for that instant, the impenetrable dark had been light up and, for a fraction of a moment, night had almost become day.

And then they turned away from the building, and walked onwards, till they were swallowed into the night.


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