Prose

Moonshine

I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on

A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.

I have wasted my life.

James Wright, Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota

“FULL moon tonight?”

“Yeah.”

“Ozzy, you didn’t even look up!”

“I did!”

“No, you didn’t!”

Aurangzeb put down the cigarette and lay back with his hands behind his neck.

“It’s a fucking moon,” he laughed. “It’s a fucking moon! It’s fucking stars! It’s a fucking bee-u-tiful night! And here I am,” he said, passing the paper bag to Shahreyar. “Here I am, stuck with fucking you!”

Shahreyar shook his head and smiled as he opened the paper bag. Inside were three glass bottles. They clinked as he took them out and placed them on the cold concrete floor of the roof. Carefully, he opened one, sniffed it and took a long, long swig. The warmth did much to fortify him against the cold.

“Hey, Sherry?”

“Yeah?”

“We’re gonna be kings, right?”

“We’re gonna be kings, jaani.”

A plane flew past, sleepy lights blinking into the night. They watched it until they couldn’t.

“And if we aren’t?”

“We will be.”

“How do you know? I mean, school was—”

Fuck school! This is college, Ozzy! It’s gonna be different.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah! It’s gonna be what we make it. It’s gonna be whatever we make it.”

Aurangzeb sat up with a start. He stood and mouthed the words to himself as he paced back and forth in a tight pattern.

“You’re right.”

“I’m always right.”

“Fuck you.”

“Fuck you!”

They laughed and wrestled for a bit until someone kicked a bottle over and spilt the whiskey onto the roof.

“Aw, shit!”

“Damn it!”

“We better clean that shit up before someone comes up here!”

“No one comes up here,” said Shahreyar. But he went down to fetch some water.

Aurangzeb stood up and walked to the stone railing and leaned against it. He lit another cigarette. He heard Shahreyar come up the old stairs, push open the rusted door and pour a pitcher of water over the spilt whiskey.

Shahreyar put down the pitcher, picked up another bottle and walked towards Aurangzeb.

Bismillah,” he said, opening the seal.

“You bastard! You’re going to hell for that!”

“A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou—”

“What’s that? Ghalib?”

“It’s Khayyám, dumbass!”

“Well whoever it is, he ain’t gonna save you from eternal hellfire. You better enjoy this winter while you can, beta.”

“We’ll see,” Shahreyar winked.

Aurangzeb shook his head and suppressed a smile.

They leaned against the railing and took long swigs from the bottles and watched the lights of the old amusement park flicker in the distance. The Ferris wheel stood out against the star-washed sky.

Chai ka mood hai? Wanna grab some tea?”

“As long as it’s on you, jaani.”

They picked up the bottles and wrapped them in the paper bag and carefully shut the roof’s door.

Behind them, the lights of the Ferris wheel blinked out for the night.

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Prose

Life is a Caravanserai

Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai

Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day,

How Sultán after Sultán with his Pomp

Abode his Hour or two, and went his way.

Omar KhayyámThe Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám

ONCE upon a time, there was a great empire. The empire was so vast that its ends were shrouded in mystery and barbarian lands clung to its edges like rotting vestiges. Sometimes, a few armed bands would venture near the borders — like unruly children — craving acknowledgement. But for the most part, the empire lived in peace and harmony.

Now, there was a righteous king who ruled this land and one day he decreed that a great road was to be built from one end of the empire to the other. Since the land was as wealthy as it was large, this presented no great fiscal challenge, merely a logistical one. Soon, the dedicated — though rusty — bureaucracy creaked into action and, reluctantly, the first stones were laid.

Many moons waxed and waned before the final stones were — equally reluctantly — placed, but the job was done and the great black road stood resplendent as a testament to the magnificence of the empire.

The king, however, saw that though the road had made trade infinitely easier, there was still one problem left to tackle. The poorer merchants couldn’t afford to travel, not because the road was taxed but because the cost of the journey included food and lodging. The king was a good man and so he decided that the funds of the state would be best applied to easing the difficulties of his subjects, in the hopes that they would adore him, instead of merely being indifferent. Consequently, the first inns were constructed; a hard day’s journey from each other by the side of that great road.

Now, finally, the bureaucrats had done something truly marvellous. These inns, or caravanserais, were nothing like the crowded, claustrophobic cities that dotted the landscape, rife with crime. No, these were small and warm and safe, filled with the promise of good food, good wine and a soft bed under the stars.

As evening approached and the ancient fires of the sun cooled, the weary traveller would see the caravanserai beckon to him, like a gentle mistress, whispering of sleep and sustenance. And as he lay down, gazing up at the stars, he would ponder on the swirl of milk spilled by a divine hand, carving a path across the night sky. Did he look at that far, far older road and wonder where it began, where it led and who had traversed its many paths, planets and mysteries? Or did his weary eyes wander, just before sleep overtook them, to the far end of the caravanserai and the battered doorway of Tomorrow?

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