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FICTION

If this is how I live, how shall I die?

By Mastura Tasnim

Old man: I've grown tired of my own shadow. It follows me always with an acute stare as if to question my motives. Why do I wander? If it were for you, or for this, or for that, I could say, “Hey, I'm here for a reason.” But then it dawns on me, I'm here for nothing but that I'm here. So here, in fact, that I sometimes forget what here means. Now, let's look into 'now'. That's the tricky part, isn't it? The now of it all gets so confusing. It drags on you like rotten claws. Like whisperings from the grave, “Oh, how you long to live, my friend, and only are alive when you're just about to die.”

I've found the weirdest thing today. A little snail crawled up on the side of the road. It forgot to move like the rest of them. The others were gliding serenely past; it didn't look down on them and they didn't look up at him. Each was busy moving on.

Then what's this? “A ranger caught off his guard?” I'm afraid so, elfling. This one's gone to rot. Its shell is cracked, some white liquid flows through, and the meat looks scorched as if laid out to bake in the sun. If I press it like this, it makes a squelchy noise; okay, I'll stop if you say so. The soul is long gone though, it's all gone. It's only a shell of what it was once - and that ain't no pun.

What say you? I'm heartless? Well, of course, love, so I've always been! Even while promising you my life and love, not a beat was inside this body. Those words were uttered in vain I see. Why then you weep for a battered shell? I'm here, I'm alive, and my eyes have not yet failed me; speak, woman!

Old woman: The morning light has oft fallen upon your eyes; you've seen myriads even before you awoke. All the days shone bright and lovely, yet clouds swept over your shadowed face. Bask those still-bright eyes upon me now - those eyes that have seen so many nights and days, and moons and stars, watched through laughter and tears, and spent dreaming during nights of wonder. Why now you extinguish another's with mirth? That snail gave you nothing surely - no hurt, no pain, no cause for anger. Yet you take away its lonely walks, it's young, it's love of the cold damp earth. It shan't eat again. It shan't breathe. But you breathe and laugh instead - for how long?

Old man: So you weep for me after all, my lady. Why then make a criminal of me? I've grown tired of this still body of mine, the earth offers fresh retreat. I've come from it so perfectly shaped, such beauty; I was at war with the world. Now it is time to go back whence I came, and ask for some spare parts. If you loved me so, you shall remain thus unencumbered. Do not weep for the dead; I've died already. Do not weep for the dying; they shall soon find peace. Weep for those who live and wish to die - those fools who swing from year to year with no recollection. This snail shall never regret what he told his son before he left; its son won't show up at my door for the body. But you. You shall love me ever more. And I would rather die than see you rot.

And yet, you grow pale, hearing these words- darling, don't you listen? I shan't hurt a bit when you lay me down. Forget the roses, and the posies, and the little black dresses. Come only when you're happy and always wear blue. And red. And green, and yellow, too. Plant a tree beside me to shade me through the storm, and never sweep away the pine cones. I shall not peek through the branches for the moon.

Cry now, and leave. If this is how I live, how shall I die?



 

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