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

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.

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Poetry

Moonsmile

Coffee and cigarettes,
Sufis and saudade:
A moment — or two —
Just one moment — just two —
Snatched greedily from
The dark.

Winter and whiskey,
Andromeda and Orion:
There are ghosts that haunt
My old, old house;
And there are ghosts that haunt
My heart.

Watch the stars and sunsets.
Watch the hourglass recede.
‘May you live and love’,
Said he.
‘Mayflies!’,
Said he.

‘May you live’,
Said he.
‘May you love’,
Said he.
And I did.
I did.

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