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.


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:


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.

Short Story: Layla’s Magic Powder


credits: shutterstock

“Don’t disrespect my taste buds with this!”, the eighty-five year old Layla shoved her blue rimmed dinner plate. The mole on the right corner of her lips danced as she grimaced at her customised menu. Layla’s personal cook/maid cooked for her. He previously worked at a prison and never relinquished the chance to squeeze in an anecdote or two. Layla was convinced this food was her son’s revenge for making him eat aubergine and potatoes every Thursday till he turned seventeen.

Every morning Layla soaked in the warm star in the sky as she pulled aside the curtains. Every morning her creased eyelids closed while she made a solemn prayer cursing the doctor, nurses, pharmaceutical companies, and the hospital. That memory was a mountain pressing down on her. She wanted to scrub that moment, wipe it, thrash it out like a horrid blood stain on white. Like a trespassing intruder who stole everything, Esophageal Cancer had sealed her fate.

As far back as her temporal lobe would take her, her pathan-blooded senses saw and smelled the world of crimson chillies, sunlit turmeric, roasted cumin, crushed coriander and earthly spice concoctions. While little rosy-cheeked girls from the Hunza valley collected wild alpine flowers to stick on homemade dolls with yarn hair. Little rosy-cheeked Layla collected spices and herbs. She discovered her obsession with cooking when she turned ten, almost like a revelation from God.  Her mother’s cramped kitchen became her playground where she ran, tumbled and swirled with recipes her conservative household devoured but never understood. A kitchen where many mornings were spent by her family of eight, in anticipation of the fresh aroma of flat bread made in desi ghee (clarified butter), and the eager crackling of fried eggs that her mother cooked.

Teenage years were spent listening to mother lecture her sisters and Layla on the virtues of modesty and speaking low. A slipping chador from the sisters’ curly brown heads was the cause of shaking heads. Layla realised early on, if she were to get anywhere in life, she just had to ‘nod and smile’.

She nodded, smiled, cursed, spit and bared in the name of her passion. “For what?,” she often said to herself. Her son took over the restaurant she had spent decades creating. Now her story was just about gnawing cells. The day she turned eighty-five, Layla had been in remission for six months. She didn’t want to silently beat her chest that day. She tucked her newborn locks into a flimsy ponytail and promised herself a treat. Months of chemo had left her feeling and looking like a jellyfish. But just the thought of her planned adventure made her cheeks bleed pink. On her way back from the doctor, Layla called her son.

“Where are you Jazib?”.

“At the restaurant, where else could I be? Is something wrong?”

“I am all right, I thought we would have dinner tonight, at home. Since this old hag is still alive at eighty five!”  Layla asked the driver to take her to her sinful destination.

She spotted the mango-yellow carved door of the bistro from far. It was safely tucked within the womb of the two hundred year old Bazar, Anarkali, named after the infamous slave girl buried nearby. The tale of Anarkali and Prince Saleem’s love affair never left Layla’s heart. It didn’t take long for her imagination to kick in as scenes of their morbid story played in her head. Most of it was processed heresy passed down from generations of voracious lovers. But something about Anarkali’s inhuman cries when she was damned behind a brick wall choked Layla. The defeat, the gurgling breath, and the tears that refused to fall from Anarkali’s shocked eyes; Layla could see it all.

Her driver parked behind the restaurant, in an alley with maroon paan-stains, dogs lapping up brown water from potholes, and a consistent buzz of onlookers with unashamed gaping eyes. Layla tightened her chador and refused her walking stick , as she limped towards ‘Gul-e-Layla’. For a minute she thought she saw Jamal standing there with his endearing secret-spilling smile. The same smile that dressed his face when his fingers traced on diagonally-lined freckles across nineteen year old Layla’s right cheek. Sometimes Layla’s fingers glided across her face the same way when she peered into the engraved, chipped mirror her mother gave as dowry.

Her friend was long gone. But he left behind its and bits of himself all over the place just for her. ‘Gul-e-Layla’ was untouched, like she had left it, almost four decades ago. A beehive of hungry people swarmed in and out. Red paint peeled off like a chrysalis, and brown tables rocked with every bite, as feet moved on the crooked grey floor. Jasmine was placed in small pots in every corner.

She walked towards the end of the room, and found an empty table. The bewitching voice of Reshma played in the background. Happy, simple times budded in her head as the crooner sang on.  Someone lowered the sound of the radio and Layla was pushed back into reality. She didn’t ask for the menu.  A young boy with hair like a bear, jogged over to the table to take her order.  The ten-minute wait made her emaciated stomach a breeding ground for hungry Pathan warriors. She savoured every bite, like lovers caressing each other for the last time. The flavourful chicken karahi, savoury tangy chickpeas curry and roasted buttery naans with sesame seeds, were Layla’s deadly sins.

“Stop smiling you old hag! You have to stop, or they’ll know what you’ve been up to!”, she chided herself as she made her way home.Her son would catch on to her quicker than a suspicious wife smelling an unfamiliar scent on her husband’s neck. She changed into fresh clothes and sprayed on her jasmine scent.

Later that night, she almost puked her innards out. But first she made sure to turn up the volume. Melody queen Noor Jehan was best heard on a blaring tape recorder.

“Mujh se pehli si muhabbat mere mehboob na maang

Oh my lover, don’t ask me for the love I once gave you…”.

She grabbed two antacids from her bedside table that was cramped with medicine like the local pharmacy . “Pop away these death pills all you want”, she muttered, “You’re still not going to die.”

The dinner table was full. The son, the grandchildren, the food, and chatter of the passing day.

Boiled pumpkin and lentil broth mocked at Layla from her plate.


Today’s ZerotoHero assignment: publish a post based on your own, personalized take on today’s Daily Prompt.

Daily Prompt for the day: Rings of fire – Do you love hot and spicy foods or do you avoid them for fear of what tomorrow might bring?