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Sniffing around the graveyard

I, the questioner, and my associate, the man with the answers, stood at the top of a hill, surrounded by knee deep weed, tall trees, and gravestones. My associate stood out over the darkening horizon, a cell phone in one hand, and a Camel non-filter in the other. And I stood holding a shovel with both hands and a cheap, low-grade cigarette hanging from the corner of my mouth. The stale smoke from our breath appeared yellow in the dim light from the moon. It was after dark. In our world; it always was when we went to work.

As the fog of stale smoke surrounded our faces with tendrils of smoky, skeletal fingers, my curiosity killed the cat. “How can we possibly hide our crime out here,” I asked.

My associate, the answerman, cracked a sly grin.

“Easily,” he said.

“How?”

“Easily, who would think to look in a graveyard for a missing corpse? This is the natural place for the dead.”

“I see...in other words”-

“In OTHER words,” he interjected, “too many questions, not enough digging.”

I apologized, and began digging.

I dug deep, as instructed by the answer-man, he wanted a deep enough hole to bury the dead body. I went on, unearthing decades old rocks, coffin nail butts, good fishing worms, a maggot or two, bug lairs full of dormant larvae just waiting to evolve into something that would finish what embalming would have started. A sniffing sound distracted me. I turned to see my associate in crime sniffing the air like a bloodhound. I'll have to admit he resembled one. He looked like a pitbull with coke bottle glasses, but ugly.

He wasn't trying to find the source of the smell; he had already found it.

“Trouble?” I inquired.

“No, but we have to find a different place to dig.”

“We do?”

“Yes...this ground is already occupied.”

“As In?”

“As in a decomposing corpse rotting away inside moisture rotted pine box. Explanatory enough for you?”

“Yes, I'm sorry if I offended you.”

He gave me no reply. Just as well. Each time he opened his sarcastic mouth in the form of a rictus of a cannibalistic smile, he gave me the creeps anyway. Just as well.

Seconds passed, then minutes, an hour. I went on digging, beside me stood a cold-blooded murderer- not the most relaxing job, I would say. Back, arms, legs, muscles, tendons, aching, stretching, pulling, and screaming to be set free from this morbid charade. I was getting paid well, but, not that well. We light up again, inhale, exhale, and sweat bullets, even though the night has been graced with a cool breeze. My associate sees me shiver a bit, tells me to get used to it, nights in spots where we bury the dead are always cold. Comes with the territory. Get used to it.

“Why?” I ask.

“You're in it now, kid.”

“How's that? In what, exactly?”

“You're a murderer and a gravedigger now. You ask too many damn questions. I'm beginning not to trust you, and you don't want that.”

“This is my permanent job description?”

“Would you rather be on food stamps or government issued checks along with the welfare mothers?”

“NO.”

“I thought not.” He sniffs again.

“This way, he says.”

“East?”

“West! Are you blind? I'm sniffing west!”

“Sorry... I'm used to following fingers, signs, and lights, not NOSES.”

“Just spread some dirt over that, and let's go.”

“Okay...creep.”

Walking west now, towards the moon. It looked like a big white skull to me. Beautiful night for werewolves, I remarked. I got a dry smile, then the flick of a thumb.

“There,” he said.

“Where?”

“Over there, by that tree.”

“That big one that looks like a gargoyle?”

“You got it, Einstein.”

While digging, my arms vibrated.

“What was that?! ...Hey, there is something down here.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, a rock or something.”

I looked up to see another dry smile.

“We better find another place to dig,” I said.

“No, we don't have to.”

“Why is that?”

“Take a guess, Einstein.”

At that moment, I felt more like Frankenstein. A cold chill suddenly ran through my body, freezing my blood.

“Where... may I ask, is the body we're supposed to be burying? In the trunk of the car?”

I hear the click of a gun hammer being cocked.

“No,” he says. “It's right here,” pointing the gun at me.

And I said, “That's what I thought.”

“You're pretty smart for a gravedigger”

“Give the man a cigar. A last smoke before dying?”

“Well, you're good,” said the answerman.

“I guess not for long, huh?” I repeated.

“Now you're getting it. Now, dig. Please… finish the job,”
said the answerman.

I said, “Oh, believe me, I'll be glad to.”

That's when I swung around wild with the shovel blade, heard a gunshot echo off of trees. A scream of pain, the sound of bones snapping like dry twigs. I faces the answerman then; he was down on his knees, holding his broken jaw and spitting broken teeth. A rictus of pain replaced a dry smile or a cannibalistic grin, and his face suddenly spasmed into a mask of stark terror. He tried to speak, but couldn’t. His mouth was full of blood and bone fragments, which he's trying not to swallow.

“Cat got your tongue?” I ask him.

“No, wait a minute,” he gasped.

He was now helpless with the gun ten feet away from his reach.

“Now, I'm the answerman. Nothing to say?” I ask. “Just as well.”

I begin sniffing the fresh night air, and I smelled a rat. I tossed the shovel at him…as he lay motionless on the ground. My job was almost done, all this time he had no idea about it, just the way I had planned it. He was right about one thing though, I was a murderer.

By Eresh Omar Jamal


The white angel

She came to my house on a fine spring day, dressed in white, looking like a perfect, dew-bathed shiuli.

Her parents and little brother were all dressed in white, too; the textbook look - the one they place next to the word “family” in the dictionary. Of course, I knew that there was no such thing as the perfect family, but it was a pleasant thought.

Just as it is pleasant to read a mushy book with the perfect ending - the hero/heroine does what he/she was created by the writer to do and lives happily ever after with the love of his/her life knowing full well that it is as far from real life as it can get.

But still, take a poll and see how many people like the “realistic” endings of Ernest Hemingway, why don't you?

Her mother was my dad's colleague, a smart woman with a good sense of humour. She formed an immediate alliance with my mother and they both expressed their disapproval about their husbands’ smoking habits. Not that anyone thought it would work; my mum's been trying to

make my dad quit for 20 years.

So she sat down between her parents and her mother mentioned that she was in second year of university. My dad gave a subtle “ah!” of disappointment which is normally mistaken for the sound we make to mean understanding; in my dad's case, you have to listen carefully to understand what he really means - all the time looking at me through the corner of his eye. Seriously, my dad can be real immature when he wants to be.

Her dad asked me about the A'levels, as one of his relatives was taking it. I answered [I think] pretty smartly. I was horribly aware of how I was looking in my black SM Sultan t-shirt. It has a picture of Sultan playing a flute across the chest and is my favourite t-shirt. You could pretty much tell because it was rust coloured at the back, near the neck.

I sat down on the sofa in front of her, and my uncle sitting there asked me if my sandal-shoe [I think that's what they call it] was from Bata. I wanted to rip his frigging head off. I said yes, very politely considering the circumstances, and was now thinking about how gross my feet looked.

What about my light blue PJs with images of the sea and surfers? I know less than zero about fashion; but I didn't have to be a designer at Gucci to know that I was putting on an unappealing show.

As we started discussing cricket [Bangladesh had just beaten India], and I looked at her, Shakespeare, it seemed to me, got it right. “Would that I were a glove upon that hand so that I may touch that cheek”. Of course, she was wearing no gloves, but does it matter? What matters is the fact that her cheeks were so smooth.

It was like looking at an actress from the black and white movie era. Actresses in black and white movies look gorgeous, because the contrast makes it seem as if their skin is like…like vanilla ice cream. Her skin was black and so smooth you couldn't help wondering whether or not you can see your reflection on it. Then she looks at you and you see the depth of those black eyes and you forget all about the skin as Izzy from Guns n' Roses starts to play his solo from “Sweet Child of Mine” in your head. In fact, you forget everything, including the your own name. Don't ask.

Honestly, I don't get poetry. My dad writes poetry, and he's really good, too. But that precious poet gene seems to have missed me. But all of a sudden, I was on a roll. Stupid lines from various acclaimed poets started to make sense.

“If that unkindly Shirazi-Turk/Would take my heart in her hand/I'd give Bokhara for the mole upon her cheek/And Samarkand as well”. Hafiz, dude, I wish you were alive to see this girl. And what's more, there's a mole here as well! Ah, I wish I could write poetry! How do I describe her beauty? Even Pablo Neruda doesn't seem able to drive the point home. Where be Robindronath, where be Jibonanondo Das? Behold, Bonolota Sen is sitting right before me…and I'm staring at her. Avert your eyes, scum!

The tea comes along. I help my mother by bringing in the tray in a feeble attempt to attract attention. So what if she's older than me? Age difference is a negligible barrier. Together, we could take on anything, cross every boundary. The only problem was getting together. But before I could think up a solution [studying science doesn't necessarily make you a fast thinker], they got up to leave. She smiled at me as she said good-bye. Need I tell you the state of my heart just then? I returned a hoarse good-bye to her; it was a miracle that anything came out of my throat at all.

But I had missed something. I realised it as I was recounting the story to my friends, referring to her as the White Angel and one of my friends asked me, 'Dude, what's her name?' Bolt from the blue! I forgot to ask her name. Oh, what good are my straight As? I'm dumber than Homer Simpson! I should commit suicide. He saw my stricken face and smirked, 'You don't even know her name?' One or two of the others snorted, and all of a sudden most of them were rolling on the grass, laughing their heads off. I joined in, albeit reluctantly.

Now that I think back on it, isn't it better this way? No name, just a face. The perfect girl with the perfect smile and she was really very nice and quite intelligent. There is no such thing as the perfect person. Why ruin this vision of perfection? I'd prefer never to see her again. I can hear Robbie Williams, “And when I'm lying in my bed/Thoughts running through my head/And when love is dead/I'm loving angels instead”.

I can also hear my dad telling me to get off the damned computer and study for my Bio mock test. Oh well, life calls!

By Este


 

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