Prose

Winter Begins in Karachi, PK

And here the paths, made or yet unmade, that told of the need of boys travelling, always travelling, to be men.

Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

THERE were four of us that night. There were usually two and there were sometimes three but that night there were four of us so we all pitched in for a Murree whiskey and a rickshaw to get the Murree whiskey and a hundred rupees more to pay the police, but the police didn’t stop us that night so we got some crisps and some plastic cups and two cold cans of Coke instead. It was a cold, crisp night. Winter drowned autumn in the Indus early that year and by then autumn had crossed the delta and was far out in the waters of the Arabian Sea before anyone could buy a jacket or a scarf or a pair of those thick, woollen socks that itch like hell.

It was Shayan’s idea to break into school.

“Guys, let’s break into school,” he said.

“Okay,” I said, turning to the rickshaw driver, “turn that way.”

“Okay,” said the rickshaw driver. He turned that way.

“Are you both mad?” asked Yasir.

“Shut up, Yasir,” said Shams.

“Shut up, Yasir,” said Shayan.

“Now turn there,” I told the rickshaw driver.

“Okay,” said the rickshaw driver. He turned there.

“You’re all mad,” said Yasir.

Shams punched him once, hard, on the shoulder.

Ouch!” said Yasir.

Stop!” I said to the rickshaw driver. He stopped.

We clambered out and I fished a grubby note from the back pocket of my bluejeans and gave it him.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said. The rickshaw sputtered off down the darkened alley and we stood there with our paper bags and plastic cups and our two cold cans of Coke and considered the dark gate that loomed before us.

“I know a way in,” said Shams and he marched off, knowingly. We followed him. He had a big brother who knew things and he led us all the way around the school to the back. He pointed at a section where the barbed wire had fallen off but he needn’t have; Shayan and I were already making for it.

“Guys, this is a bad idea!” said Yasir.

“Shut up, Yasir,” said Shayan.

“Shut up, Yasir,” I said.

“Would you like another punch?” offered Shams. Yasir declined.

Shams went first and we passed the paper bag to him and he jumped down the other side and whistled the old all-clear and we followed — first Shayan, then me, then Yasir who sat right at the edge of the wall and stared down at us until Shams pulled at the cuff of his pants and he tumbled onto the dirt floor below.

We were at the edge of the overgrown soccer field that stretched behind the school and we walked to the black-and-white striped goalpost and sat by it. The school was shrouded in darkness but we could see a lonely light in a room at the top of the east wing.

“Maqbool bhai’s room,” I pointed.

“He’s probably asleep,” said Shayan.

“What if he isn’t?” asked Yasir.

“Then we’ll have to share the whiskey with him,” said Shams.

The whiskey was good. We talked about the old days. Shayan talked about the time we’d tricked a mugger into sharing a cigarette with us so he wouldn’t mug us. I talked about the time that pack of feral dogs chased us out of the haunted house. Yasir talked about the summer we finally climbed Kidney Hill. Shams talked about the summer we finally climbed Kidney Hill and then stole Yasir’s left shoe and only gave it back once we were half way down. It was very good whiskey.

“Guys,” I said. “I read something today. It’s a poem by this guy called James Arlington Wright — “

Arlington?” said Yasir.

“Shut up, Yasir,” said Shayan.

“Shut up, Yasir,” said Shams.

“Yes,” I said. “Arlington. Do you guys want to hear it?” They did. I pulled out a crumbled piece of paper and smoothed it down on my thigh and cleared my throat.

“In the Shreve High football stadium,” I began, squinting in the faint glow from the street light, “In the Shreve High football stadium, / I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville, / And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood, / And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel, / Dreaming of heroes.”

I sneaked a glance at them, then, and they all sat with their hands wrapped round their knees so I went on.

“All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home, / Their women cluck like starved pullets, / Dying for love. / Therefore, / Their sons grow suicidally beautiful / At the beginning of October, / And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.”

No one said a word. After a while, I scrunched the scrap of paper back into my bluejeans and lay back with my head on Shayan’s shin and the others lay back too and we lay there like that, the four of us, and watched the stars shine above the school that night as another winter began in Karachi.

1505201_10151782903162703_1943236974_n

Standard
Prose

A Quoi Bon Dire

Your hair is winter fire

January embers

My heart burns there, too.

Stephen King, It

AS the night deepened on a chilly October’s end, a tired labourer walked by the old school and heard music sweeter than sound. But he dared not stop, nor look back, for he remembered well his grandmother’s voice and he remembered well the stories it held of the djinn that haunt desolate wastes and desolate hearts. But if he had pushed open the rusty, wrought-iron gate and walked through the tall grass of the schoolyard – and if he had made his way up the creaking stairs, all the while following that strange, sweet sound – he would have found himself before a wood-and-glass door, caked with grime. And if he had wiped away the dust and looked in, he’d have seen something remarkable. For within that old classroom, at the top of that old school, someone had broken the monotonous pattern of desk and chair and fashioned them into a circle. And within that strange circle, if you look close enough, you’ll see two moonbeams flickering forever in a dance to the music of memory.

***

Inspired, in part, by Stephen King’s short story, ‘Willa’.

Standard