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Angels Drowned

The little shack on the hillside was bursting at the seams - with emotions as much as with people and noise. Heated discussions over sweet, scalding tea. The tiny TV balanced on the rickety shelf was what held them spellbound. Matchstick figures ran desperately from one end of the screen to the other, trying to salvage their country's pride. All the world watched as they scurried to and fro, waiting for them to trip and fall. But in this tiny tea-stall, so far away from the world, the matchstick men were heroes. And no more to anyone than to Shehzad.

Eleven years old and hurrying to refill the plates of pakora, Shehzad loved cricket. Every time a match was on, the shack would fill with men, and Shehzad would feel the slap on his cheek for letting his eyes wander to the screen for too long. Like the rest of the nation, he had grown up with cricket in his blood. He had watched it, played it, dreamed it; and on rainy afternoons, had talked about it feverishly with the boys from the village.

The first match went to England as Shehzad's mother scolded him for coming in so late. It was raining hard that night. The second match went the same way as he rolled up his trousers to his knees and waded through the water to get home. It was still raining. On his head, wrapped inside his shirt, were a couple of notes - the miserable amount that the shack owner had paid him. Things were bad. The water had begun to claim their tiny mud hut. Shehzad wondered how long it would be before the house was completely washed away.

It did not take long. Sometime during the third match, Shehzad left the shack and set out for home- only to find that there was no home. Or anything else, for that matter. Where his entire life had been just yesterday, there was only one thing now- water. He was in a daze. He refused to believe that his mother and sisters had died; to believe that he would never see them again. He decided to go back to the shack for help. Ahmed might be a miser when it came to pay, but he wouldn't turn him away in a situation like this.

Except that there was no Ahmed, either. The TV that had been the life and soul of the little tea-stall now floated past Shehzad; dead. All of a sudden, the boy began to feel weak. He hadn't eaten in a while. Something whirred urgently overhead, but he didn't have the energy to look up. By the time he was inside the Rescue Team's helicopter, Shehzad had passed out.

He regained consciousness in a damp hall room built on stilts, hastily labelled 'Flood Shelter'. He looked around. So many people just like him. Through the fogginess, Shehzad could just begin to make out that something big had happened. Ma was gone, and so were his sisters. There was no point in crying for them.

A TV in a corner tried to keep them busy. But in between the cheery tunes of the commercials were the news bulletins. Unflinchingly, they told Shehzad how many thousands of people had died, and how many were still dying.

And then there was something else. Something that made Shehzad stir. He didn't understand the words...spot-fixing...scandal...guilty charges...life bans...none of these made any sense to him. The only thing he could understand was the shame and the betrayal. Hadn't they suffered enough? The greed of the water had taken away their lives. Now the greed of their heroes had snatched away their dreams.

Great, heaving sobs forced their way up from the bottom of Shehzad's tiny heart. But no one paid him any attention. It didn't matter that a little boy had lost his heroes. It didn't matter that he had forgotten how to dream. All that mattered was survival, at any price.

Shehzad looked out of the window. The water stretched out into eternity. He flung his only luxury- a battered tennis ball- as hard as he could into the water. It was swallowed up immediately.

(dedicated to all the flood victims and cricket fans in Pakistan. Please stay strong.)

By TheAlien4mEarth


Notes on a Table

The key turns in the lock, mechanisms whirring into place, and I scuff my shoes on the doormat outside our apartment. The slab of particleboard painted white meets slight resistance as it swings open there is an assortment of shoes lining the wall, my parents' and my own, a mild disarray of balled up socks and shoelaces. There it is, a lifelong habit of changing out of our shoes and leaving them by the door, slipping bare feet into Bata sandals. Except here there are no Bata sandals, only wall-to-wall carpeting, rendering those thin-soled slippers unnecessary.

I walk in through the door and it is the same routine. There is no smell of cooking coming from the kitchen, no hiss of browning onions on a skillet or the steady chop-chop-chop of vegetables being sliced on a boti. The aromatic candle that my mother insists on lighting after her weekend cooking frenzy sits benignly on the kitchen counter. Both of them out, my parents, and for the time being I am left to pace the three rooms of this tiny American apartment in my bare feet.

And then I see it.

A yellow Post-It note, pressed flat down on the surface of the dining table that doubles as my father's study desk, flutters almost imperceptibly in the draft my entrance has caused. I recognise my mother's familiar hand, the slight rightwards slant, the message in both Bengali and English. “Salad's in the fridge. Eat it with the chicken.” No sign-off, no X's or O's in the typical American style. Familial expressions of affection, as far as I know, are reserved for birthday cards and special occasions. Lunch is neither one of the two.

Still I feel an unfamiliar stirring. I pluck the Post-It off the table and smooth out a slightly bent corner. A somewhat overwhelming thought, that for the last nineteen years my mother has been doing just that, leaving me little notes, not always written down, but still indelibly stamped across the span of my life.

Perhaps she would say “Here's how you do it” as she angled a nail cutter above my three-year-old hand. Perhaps she stood by the bathroom door and watched while I shampooed my mop of hair for the first time. Perhaps she knows all too well the scrape of Teflon shoe straps, having strapped many a pair of Bata sneakers onto my feet so that my older brother could guide me across the cool mosaic floor. I wouldn't know, because I never asked her, how she came with a built in How-To manual in her head.

Or maybe mothers are magical like that.

“And the cow jumped over the moon,” she would read to me, my pajama-clad body clinging to hers as her milky white hands turned the pages. And when I came down with a cold, or woke up with a toothache, she would sit on the edge of the bed and lay her cool palm on my forehead. Instant anecdote, no matter how many moons passed. She knew just how much green chilli to mix in with my rice, and how I liked my tea. She knew the exact measure of cough syrup, the kinds of shampoos that would irritate my scalp. “No, you can't have that,” she would say to me, shaking her head at some item I wanted to purchase, and though I was loath to put away the candy bar or the Palmolive soap I knew, secretly, that she was right.

Before we moved there had never been notes. Messages were left with my brother, my father, the cook frying fish in the kitchen. “Your mother said you should do your homework before dinner,” these emissaries would relay to me, and I, occasionally unwillingly but mostly acceptingly, would do what my mommy told me to do.

Today is no exception. I take the salad out, the lettuce and cabbage and spring onions already mixed in. My favourite dressing, Thousand Islands, has been relocated to the front of the rack on the fridge. No doubt my mother's doing. The chicken is sliced, tossed in, mixed up, and while I carry my lunch into the living room I see the note on the kitchen counter. Benign, unassuming, unremarkable and at once extraordinary, and I stop in my tracks and tuck the note into my pocket. A keepsake.

By Shehtaz Huq


Myth Box

Orpheus

The existence of Orpheus is widely accepted by the ancients, save for Aristotle. The son of Thracian king Oeagrus and Muse Calliope (the idea of the Muses varies between mountain-goddesses, water-nymphs and goddesses of art and literature) is noted as the most famous poet and musician to have lived. Apollo himself gave him a lyre, and the Muses taught him to use it. He enchanted everything with its sounds, starting from wild beasts to inanimate objects, and they followed him wherever he went.

After his travels as an Agronaut (he drowned the Sirens' song with his music), Orpheus married Eurydice. One fine day, Eurydice met Aristaeus (minor god of bee-keeping and cheese-making, and not a satyr), who tried to rape her. She stepped on a serpent during her escape, dying of its venom. Orpheus's great love for Eurydice, sometimes described less romantically as his great arrogance, led him down to Tartarus, the Underworld, in an attempt to bring her back. Perhaps his arrogance was justified, for he not only charmed the ferryman Charon, the three-headed guardian dog Cerberus, and the three Judges of the Dead with his music, but also suspended the tortures of the damned. The savage God of Tartarus and Zeus's older brother Hades was so soothed by the tunes that he allowed Orpheus to take Eurydice back to the upper world with him. The only condition set was that Orpheus not look behind him until they were both back under the light of the sun.

Eurydice followed behind her husband, guided by the sounds of his lyre. Orpheus kept to the condition and looked back only when he had reached the sunlight. But Eurydice had not yet passed the darkness, and so he lost her forever. The Japanese version of this tale features Izanagi, and is more vicious in that his wife Izanami (who died in childbirth) took on a monstrous form and tried to murder him when he looked back. Finally, having failed in her pursuit, Izanami vowed to kill a thousand of his people everyday. Izanagi gave birth to Susanoo, Tsukiyomi and Amaterasu in the cleansing ritual after his return.

When Dionysus, the drunken god of vines, invaded Thrace, Orpheus didn't bother to honour him. So Dionysus set the Maenads (his female followers) on him, who waited till their husbands had entered Apollo's temple, took the weapons left outside, burst in, killed their husbands, and tore priest Orpheus limb from limb. His head was thrown into the river Hebrus, and it floated along, singing all the way, to the island of Lesbos. When it was put to rest in a cave, it prophesied day and night and put Apollo's oracles out of business. Apollo had to come down and yell at it to shut it up. Meanwhile, Orpheus's lyre was put up at Apollo's request as the Lyre constellation in the heavens.

Another account of Orpheus's death says that Zeus killed him with a thunderbolt for giving away divine secrets, but this version is as late as the story of Eurydice which, despite being so famous, occurs only in modern mythology and is absent in Homer's tales.

Sources: The Greek Myths (Robert Graves), Wikipedia
By Professor Spork

 

 
 

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