Short-story: Guardians of the valley (part-2)

You can read the first part here:

“You are late for school!” This was my morning ritual. Something I said every day. She woke up early but never got to school on time. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal it was always the same – she’d run into the backyard and do what she loved most – gardening. A sixteen year old gardener is hard to come by but that’s who she was. A little bundle of quirks you’d be crazy not to love.

After dropping her off, I drove home, lost in my thoughts, overcome by gratitude. Another morning ritual. Exactly five years ago, my life had changed completely – for the second time. People called me crazy. And they weren’t wrong. I left a successful career, in other words my entire life, to look for Aminah. Instead of preparing for the worst, I hoped for a miracle.

The girl who had wiped away my tears that day in the tea shop, was Anya. We got off on the wrong foot. But maybe my lost smile, or hopeful tears had changed her mind. The tea shop owner was her uncle. Anya had lost her parents to the 2010 floods so he took care of her now. “What’s wrong bibi ji?” He had asked that day. I wasn’t ready yet. I just shook my head and left. I tried locating Aminah’s family but I was told they had left for good. I came back to the tea shop every day. Anya showed me her tiny home on banks of the river. Grey, lifeless cement peaked through the cracked white paint. A small porch outside the house had two flimsy pillars that supported the structure. Outside the porch was a small home garden Anya’s uncle planted vegetables and flowers in. Anya would spend hours telling me about the tiny garden. I was never into gardening, but her enthusiasm was contagious. She made me forget.

A week had passed and I had dropped all hopes of finding Aminah. A part of me almost believed that she never really existed. Daggers pierced through my head, as I drank tea in the tea shop. Anya’s uncle came to my table and sat down. ‘You are always very sad my child. Life is too short for your long tears.’ I sobbed and told him the entire story. He patted my head and said it would be all right. I cried until my tears dried up. When Anya came, she took me by the hand to her garden where we talked to the plants.

The next day Anya’s uncle came up to me and said just one thing. ‘I know where Aminah is.’ The camera I was holding fell to the floor. Before I could say a word, he went inside. It was the longest minute of my life. He came back holding Anya’s hand. ‘Here she is’. Between adoption papers and rebirth of a precious soul, I had witnessed my miracle.

I found Aminah. This time I wasn’t letting go. Ever.

 

 

 

Short story: When the Bird met the Fish….

From Anatevka (Fiddler on the Roof) : “A bird may love a fish but where can they make a home together?”

They met for the first time on a hot, humid evening in June. “Maybe we can meet at that new rooftop restaurant?” asked the boy over the phone.  Their parents had officially met a week ago and now it was their turn.

“Sure”, she answered. “Who in his right mind would meet a girl outdoors in such hot weather!” was what she really meant to say.

He walked up to where the long-haired beauty was sitting, gazing at the polluted sky. His heart was racing, hers was sedated. “I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long”. She looked up and gave him a forced smile.

“So my mother is really fond of you. She was raving about you all day.” said the boy.

“And why is that?”

“She thinks you and I are a perfect catch..I mean match!” He turned red quicker than a teenager falling down in front of his class.

“Mind if I smoke?” She took out a dun-hill light from her purse without waiting for his response. “So what exactly do you do for a living?” She blew a big puff of smoke and watched it blend into the air.

“Oh, I am a bank manager. Customer Services to be exact”. He kept rubbing his fingers, like he was trying to wipe off something. His thin bony fingers reminded her of skeletons in an Indiana Jones movie.

“I always thought bankers were so boring.”

He waited for her to add a “but” in the sentence, but it never came. Trying to hide his increased discomfort, he laughed in a squeaky voice and tried to change the subject. “I’ve seen your paintings. They are extraordinary. I painted once in my arts class in elementary school. I was diagnosed with chronic art-pain.”

“I think they have medicine for that.” She actually smiled. His heart skipped a beat. Hers was gradually awakening from slumber.

“Would you like to eat something, or drink?” he asked.

“I thought you’d never ask. I am starving.” She finally looked at him straight in the eye. “You want me to order?”

“Sure! Deciding from a menu card is almost as intimidating as meeting a girl for the first time.” He couldn’t take his eyes off her big, hazel eyes. “I’ll have anything in vegetarian.”

She ordered a double beef burger with cheese and he settled for a Caesar salad with extra croutons.

“Do you like to travel?” asked the girl.

“I get sea-sick, air-sick, car-sick and sometimes walk-sick too.” Color drained from his face. He had thought of a different answer at home. “Oh but I am a good swimmer. No puking there!” he added, trying to save face.

She laughed. A deep-set, liberating laugh that could force a butterfly out of its chrysalis way before time. A laugh you wouldn’t want to miss for the world.

“I never learned how to swim.” Her eyes betrayed fear. “Water can be cruel you know.”

He wanted to ask more, but felt intrusive. “But I take it you travel a lot?”

“I practically live in my car. And if not that then I am in the air, flying from one random destination to another,” she stopped to tie up loose hair into a pony tail, “Being an artist has its perks you know”, she winked.

The food arrived. She ate with complete abandon. She didn’t flinch when her lips gave the biggest hug to the plump patty and mayo spilled from the sides and on her chin. He had never seen a messy eater look so beautiful before. He almost forgot to take a bite of his salad. Food was never a top contender for him.

After almost ten minutes of faint chewing sounds and an occasional moan of pleasure, she finally spoke. “How do you feel about children?”

His fork stopped midway. “I love kids! I happen to be the favorite uncle of five nephews and nieces.” He was sure he had her on this one. What girl could resist that?

“Children are fun as long as they aren’t your own,” she answered in between sips of lemonade, “I think it’s the hardest job in the world!”

She will change her mind. He was sure.

He was right. She did change her mind. After forty years together with three children and seven grandchildren,  she still thought bankers were boring as hell. And that is why he was now a successful businessman. She still couldn’t resist a good beef burger and he learned to enjoy food. He finally convinced her to stop smoking. The only transport he didn’t puke on was a hot air balloon, so they spent many hours flying together. And she learned deep-sea diving.

The fish and the bird, were indeed quite the catch.

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Write a post based on the contrast between two things — whether people, objects, emotions, places, or something else. Today’s twist: write your post in the form of a dialogue.

 

Serves you right! (100 word short-story)

Rob hated his God forsaken life. “What else do you expect from a blind, forty-year old, trash collector?” He shouted at the sky, spurting spit all over his face. “This world will end, but these baboons will never learn to throw their shit where it belongs!” He felt paper rustling beneath his feet and caught it with a trash grabber. Unlike his usual way of crumpling up paper, he spent extra time ripping the winning million dollar lottery ticket to pieces.

“Serves you right!” Rob had a habit of talking to trash. He limped on with a big grin.

 

Writing 101 challenge day 5 prompt:

You stumble upon a random letter on the path. You read it. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter.

Today’s twist: Approach this post in as few words as possible.

 

 

Short-story: Guardians of the valley (part-1)

 

Fall was bleeding all around me. Maple leaves were strewn across the path like crumpled paper, waiting to sink back into the Earth. I dug out the coins from my right jean pocket at the coffee shop stacked below my apartment and walked back home with a scorching hazelnut latte and a blushed-tongue.

My head was dizzy. My mind was resignedly weightless like it had chosen to exile itself into numbing eternity. Too long. I’d stayed away too long. I had to go back. These thoughts dug into me like shards of glass in an open wound. I wailed like a feline having her skin peeled off. I tore at my hair. CN tower glistened through my apartment as if mocking me for the darkness in my life. My shoulders quaked as the back of my fingers flew up unwittingly, wiping away tears and dried lipstick in one go.

That was a week ago. Today I walk in the tortuous valley of Swat, my beige backpack in tow, a tired army of maple trees greeting me on this palpitating flesh of the planet. Being the owner of a magazine has its perks. No one asks me why I just took a month off from work. Most will think I’m having an early forty’s crisis. I certainly look the part. Shriveled pony-tail, under-eye circles like a post-drone attack site, and inconceivable disdain at every breathing entity around me. So I am here again after ten years. After the floods swallowed this land like a hungry python several months ago. And before that Swat’s hostile and furious guests were apocalyptic Earthquakes and barbaric Talibans. It’s strange that I am trying to find pieces of myself in a city that has still to find itself.

Swat in 2005, the first time I stepped foot here, was like a story-book fairly land. The details are eerily trapped in my mind. A mind that usually can’t remember what I wore to work the day before. But my mind knows Swat. It can’t forget anything.  Thick, green blankets covered the sleeping giants; too high and mighty to bother with surrounding life.  The roads like flying dragons raced along the wondrous Swat river to an endless finish line. Ancient trees that had the world’s secrets safely etched in their wooden creases, lined the valley, joined together in solemn prayer. Lively shops and restaurants, stacked sideways, like friends exchanging silly secrets. There was unsaid joy, bursting innocence and a humbling acceptance to the entire place. Abstract signboards claiming they had the best ‘Kahva’ were sprawled across the road. I had heard many good things about the honeyed golden elixir.

I parked my rickety jeep nearby a tea shop and went inside with my camera intact. Nat Geo wanted a special feature on this hidden Switzerland in Pakistan. I had buoyantly agreed. A break from a recent breakup and Toronto’s chill was calling. Even if Swat was not exactly a part of Pakistan I was too familiar with, it had seemed like a good challenge at the time.   A thin bearded fellow with a white cap was bent over a line of chipped and stained flowery cups. While pouring tea from a burnt pot he gave me a forced smile that revealed his few, but straight teeth. Behind him, blue painted walls with torn posters of political candidates stared at me.

The noisy river outside almost drowned out the music on a resuscitating tape recorder placed on a charpoy near the stove. I asked what the girl was singing in Pushto. “My beauty has killed half of the village and the other half will be killed soon,” translated the man in Urdu with a shy embarrassed smile. A girl entered the shop and walked towards the old man. She was dressed in a shalwar kameez from which faded pink played hide and seek. Almost like her striking green eyes that gave off shades of brown in the sunlight peaking through the shop’s window . “Salam little girl. What’s your name?”. I was never much for small talk but today I felt different. The girl wasn’t as surprised to see a woman wearing jeans as she was at being spoken to. She didn’t respond and continued to stare.

 

Ameera was her name. Her uncle, the tea shop owner had told me after she left.  The second time I noticed her was a few days later when she sneaked into my jeep and took out some camera equipment. She was busy turning it upside down when I snuck up on her. She dropped everything and just stood there, with a well of tears. I asked her if she meant to steal. She just moved her head from side to side. I shooed her away, a characteristic trait that always engulfed me during work hours.  From that day on, she followed me around by foot. Everywhere I went, she was there. One time she even hid inside one of my colleagues trucks and popped up at our photography site, far out in the Mahodand lake, with stretches of water encased possessively by hovering mountains. The lake was like a sea of melted crystals of potion, made for the fairies to swim in. The sky admiring its kingdom in the lake’s reflection.

That had been an extraordinary day. Ameera had smiled for the first time. Her mole on her the cheek that slid into her dimple every time she smiled. We didn’t talk and mostly she listened while I bossed around my crew or sneaked out to smoke a cigarette. That ecstatic crater made me forget what I was doing. I’d almost felt a motherly instinct but then I scared it away with my shrill voice: “Don’t you have anything better to do Amina? Go home!” She’d never go home. Not until I was done for the day. In those three months, I got terribly used to having her around.

And then the Earthquakes in the Northern areas came. Mother Earth spit up, cracked and slapped angrily at the serene beauty of the country. We were told to head to safer areas before the magnitude. of destruction swam its way to Swat. We could already feel the quakes and tremors Ameera’s uncle came running to me. His thin hands with protruded veins shook like dry branched on a windy day. “Have you seen Ameera?!” His frightful eyes pierced through my face. “I told her to stay home so I could find a safe place to escape”, he continued. I could have strangled him. The next few days were spent searching the voracious waters of Kalaam or cringing at the thought of an innocent hand peaking through fallen pieces of concrete and wood. The waters raged on. And so did our search. I kept in touch with her family over the years, clinging on, dreaming of a miracle, but nothing turned up. I couldn’t make myself go back. Her memory, the magic of the valley, it all haunted me.

This time it was my eyes that were flooding. I tried hiding behind my cup, as I poured the tea in my mouth. I stared outside, at the sunlit dusty road. Shadows of people and creaky buildings cast strange shapes on the road. The snow-peaked mountains stood behind tall and strong, like guardians of the valley. Why didn’t they take care of her? Why didn’t I keep her safe? A small hand touched my cheek. It was the angry girl. She smiled and revealed a dimple. That tiny bump was enough to keep my hope alive. I had to try one more time.

To be continued…

Read Part-2: https://inkriched.com/tag/kalaam/

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footnote: I combined the prompts of writing 101; day 2 and day 4 for this short story.  I went to Kalaam many years back with my college friends, before the disastrous floods of 2010. Its beauty and magic is unreal, even with years of destruction.  So I tried to show some of it in this short-fiction story.

writing 101: Day 2 – We’re all drawn to certain places. If you had the power to get somewhere — anywhere — where would you go right now? For your twist, focus on building a setting description.

writing 101 day 4 prompt: Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more. Today’s twist: Make today’s post the first in a three-post series.