Poetry

Thalassa 

For Prof. Dr. M. N. Shabbir, F.R.C.S.(Ed.)

A small clinic by the sea. Fans whir

lazily against the hot Karachi summer.

Most of the fishermen are here out of

curiosity. One day, yes, they will build

me a model ship with the lights and the

little toy soldiers holding their little

green flags just as they once did for

my father. The sun sets, then, and we

close up for the day and lay down our

two red steths. We sit on the roof, yes,

with our warm cups of doodh-patti and

talk of Attar and his thirty birds. And

it is like being alive twice. Meanwhile,

yes, the old, old stars rise over the old,

old seas.

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Prose

Ascension

I kneel in the nights
Before tigers that will not let me be;

What you were
Will not happen again.

The tigers have found me:
And I do not care.

Charles Bukowski, For Jane

WHEN I was younger and religion was more than a word, I would take long walks while they slept, hoping to find something they’d never see. Night after night, I’d stalk the streets in search of something more—past dingy alleys with rabid dogs; past old men whispering sun-kissed songs; past small, warm houses with doors shut tight, a wisp of smoke curling into the darkling sky. And as dawn would break and the world awaken, I would trudge home tired and sleepy and a little broken.

This went on for a while until it seemed that there was nothing left to break and that final night even the dogs gave up their growling out of pity, for what is more pathetic than the one who has lost his beloved? Cold, hungry and a little soul sick, I vowed that that night would be the last and that my journey would finally end, one way or another. I slid a hand into my pocket until it touched steel and, thus resolved, set off towards the bay.

The night was bitterly cold and the desolate stretch of beach held no redemption. The fishermen’s favela was silent and the only lights were at the whorehouse in the distance. I looked out at the taunting waves. The dark waters had no metaphors to offer. A drunk stumbled out of the brothel and collapsed on the sand. I stared at him for a long, long while. Then, without looking back, I ran.

***

THE old city. I doubled over to catch my breath and coughed twice, sweat dripping onto the cobblestone streets. The revolver dug into my side. This is a good a place as any.

“Are you lost, my son?”

I looked up. Something moved in one of the dark recesses. An old man shuffled out, wearing the garb of a Sufi.

“I am not lost. I am tired.”

“Tired?”

“Yes.”

“Ah, I see.”

“I don’t think you do, baba.”

“I see that there is much sadness in your eyes.”

“You are a man of God. I do not wish to blasphemy before you.”

“Have you heard of Hallaj?”

“Of course.”

“Then speak your mind with ease, and do not use that word ‘blasphemy’ again. It is a word of the ignorant.”

***

And so it was that a Sinner found God in the dust of an ancient city by the sea.

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Prose

Sandcastles

A LITTLE girl sits in the warm sand. The wind pulls at her hair, widening her big, bright smile as she beams at the sun and the sand and the waves. She gets up and runs to the water, falling over herself in her eagerness to touch it. Laughing, she dusts herself off; nothing can dent that radiant smile.

The little girl wants to build a sandcastle. She sits near the water’s edge, patiently moulding mounds of pliant sand. Finally, she sits back, admiring her hard work. The little girl imagines how it would feel to live in a castle — a princess — mistress of a sun-kissed realm. She really, really wants to be a princess; just like those fair Barbie dolls she’s seen in those large, air-conditioned cars. But in her eager innocence the little girl doesn’t notice the waves pulling at her faded rags. She doesn’t notice until they’ve begun to devour her little castle. But by then, it’s too late.

She watches quietly as the waves tear down her castle of dreams. She wants to cry, to scream, but there’s dad in his little fishing skiff. He doesn’t like it when she cries. The little girl hopes he has some fish for dinner; she hasn’t eaten since yesterday. She looks at the castle again and, in a moment of sudden defiance, smiles as wide as she possibly can. She doesn’t need a stupid sandcastle. Her father sees her, laughs and picks her up. No one notices a little tear trickle down her little cheek.

Another wave breaks on shore, burying the remains of the shattered sandcastle.

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