Story - Sarah Nafisa Shahid
Illustration - Fahim Anzoom
We woke up earlier than usual so that we had more time in hand. With sleep weighing heavy on our eyelids, my sister and I strolled clumsily towards the work site; yawning between our small conversations.
Upon arriving at our ever so familiar work spot, we were greeted by our cousin, who brought our tools with him, and decided on the day's work target - today's productivity should be double that of yesterday. I wondered how we were ever going to achieve that with an empty stomach but our work motto was 'Where there's a will, there's a way'.
We commenced our work at the dig while the morning sunlight was just starting to kiss the face of the earth. The sun's rays peeked through the little openings between the mango trees and made the sweat beads on our foreheads gleam like little pearls. Churning the soil out of the ground, I wondered if we could actually find water by noon because by the look of the site's condition, it's more likely to hit the earth's mantle before we hit water. My sister said that was because of the drought, we still have hope of finding water. My sister was younger than me but she was full of wisdom and a boundless hope for all things good; I admired her for that.
'I think I hit something.' My cousin exclaimed. Naturally, the first thought in my head was, 'Water?' But it was something else. With eager eyes, my sister and I neared the treasure which my cousin now held in his hand. It was beautiful with an emerald glow throughout its round contour and a fine finish which could be felt on its skin. A small green-blue coloured ball it was. It almost looked like my cousin was holding the galaxy in his hands.
'Do you think it's a lost treasure? Maybe it's a marble from Columbus' trunk or something,' my sister said.
'Could be,' my cousin replied, 'maybe it's a frozen eye of a dinosaur. I hear there were many dinosaurs on this side of the world.'
'And plus, Columbus never reached India, remember? Dinosaur makes more sense.' I interjected.
We dug the ground a little bit more and soon had an entire collection of 'dinosaur eyes'. We were planning to ask Baba to have them sent over to professional archaeologists soon, to decide if they were mere marbles or actual dinosaur eyes. Either way, we were going to be famous. I mean, who else heard of three 7-year olds digging up ancient artefacts?
It was almost noon and Ma had called us in for lunch. With our handful of 'dinosaur eyes' we left the backyard with a feeling of triumph; this is probably how Howard Carter felt when he opened the tomb of Tutankhamen.
Wisdom in a Jar
By Qazi Mustabeen Noor
It's a bright Saturday morning, and an old lady in her sixties is taking a quick look at the newspaper before starting the day's work. Patter of footsteps soon heard on the staircase makes it obvious that her grandsons - aged eight and nine - are rushing up the stairs to the rooftop.
The boys are on a top secret mission. One scurries up and grabs the first piece of aamshotto in sight, and the other emerges with a large pickle jar from the very corner of the terrace. In next to no time they gather every possible variety of pickle and dried fruit left to be sun-dried on the roof. Moving with the purpose of a surgical team, the brothers start pouring, mixing and eating. Brine and mustard oil slosh everywhere, clatter of jars block every other sound coming from the street below. Unnoticed, their grandma watches them, a naturalist studying chimps in the wild.
Even before the newly made 'achaar-shotto' has stopped spinning in the mixing bowl, the boys lap it up, in sync and in mere seconds. When they finally shove the jars aside to go back to the Huck-and-Tom adventure they had interrupted for "light refreshment", grandma announces her presence, “Darao!!” The boys, taken aback, stop with the suddenness of cartoon characters.
“Dadi, w-when did you come?” stammered the older boy, instantly aware that they are pretty much busted for the mess they had made. “Oh! We left the mixing bowls behind” as if it was one pesky little oversight, instead of their trademark everyday mischief. As they hurriedly clear the area, the younger brother wipes up spilt brine with his hand and dries it on his jeans.
“May I ask you kids something?” Grandma says. “Did you even taste what you just made?”
“What?” the two reply in unison, more confused than they could ever be.
“You gulped it down, before you could even enjoy it”
“Oh no, no, Daadi we did enjoy it!” the older boy said, suddenly realising that Daadi was in her life lesson mode. “It was great achaar.”
“Yes, it was great, a bit too sour for my tongue but very tasty,” chimed the younger, playing along.
The newly invented concoction was all over his chin, except for the drop that landed on his shoe.
“Good, always remember to take your time to taste the pickle.”
Ten years later, I discover myself in a land away from home - juggling between lectures, assignments and two part time jobs. In my struggle for fortitude I often tend to forget, but Dadi's lesson and precious memories are always at the back of my mind.
The 'wisdom lady', a.k.a. our grandmother, had always had a
singular way with gratitude. She took a warm-hearted pleasure in the small blessings that we modern ones tend to overlook. Over the years, her use-your-taste-buds wisdom has come back to us countless times, reminding us brothers to live in the moment and notice all the small enchantments along the way. Of course, our hectic schedules prevent us from paying attention all the time - it's tiresome.
One fine morning, a meek looking parcel arrives from home. After a few birthday cards and monetary rewards (is it my birthday today? I almost forgot) I find the ultimate gift - a large pickle jar full of 'achaar shotto' by Dadi. With it was a note written in familiar cursive strokes:
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
While everyone followed almost the same reasoning and story style for last week's topic, this one was more experimental and adventurous in interpreting it. For next week we have “The Night of the Boogie-Woogie” as the topic. All submissions need to be sent in to firstname.lastname@example.org by Sunday noon. Word limit: 350-500 words. Good luck.
By Shafqat Aurin
She looked down to where the Innocents walked, clueless of the danger they were in. With her long dark jacket and ebony hair, she melted into the night, only her pale face betraying her presence. But no Innocent would ever see her there, perching on the roof-edge of the abandoned building - she could move that fast. Of course there were others who could move faster, who were stronger, who could even kill effortlessly.
And one of them was right here with her, not just anyone, but a legend, even among the Dark. The Dark… that's what she was now, though she had been an Innocent once, one of the oblivious, helpless victims, but she hadn't been a victim, she had been changed.
A sidelong glance ensured that her charge sat nearby, and wasn't off somewhere making a bloody spectacle. And he was watching her, analysing her with those deep, dark eyes. She met his stare for half a second, and then looked away, gazing at the city lights. She then focused on the alley adjacent to the building, assessing for any unknown danger, but her vigilance was unnecessary. The alley was absolutely deserted, except for the chosen dish tonight - a stumbling, drunk man, who was undoubtedly drowning his woes in a bottle of alcohol - she realised, taking a deep breath. “Go”, she whispered, and her companion immediately leapt off the roof, landing soundlessly behind the damned drunk, who never knew what hit him. The Dark bit into his neck firmly, sucking away the drunk's life-force, all the while, gazing directly at the girl on the roof.
She knew what he wondered - what all her charges wondered - why she had given up their way of life for this mundane lifestyle? After all, she was also a minor legend among the Dark. She knew it was because she couldn't bear to rob what could have been her, in another life. When you were undead, sentimentality and morality shouldn't matter, but she couldn't shake off her mortal values, even after all this years. Even then, the thought tempted her sometimes. Maybe one day.
For now, she knew, the best she could do was to watch. She would protect her charges from dangers unknown, and scope out these easy pickings for her kind to satisfy their needs, without endangering their own lives. After all, she had taken the responsibility to guard the Dark, to watch over them. Shaking off her pensive thoughts, she looked away from the temptation below, and again analysed the scene. She used all her enhanced senses to look out for danger, which also meant she became more acutely aware of the Dark's feeding. No, she vowed to herself, she wouldn't get caught up in her jaded beliefs now. She couldn't let any mishap occur to her charge, at least not on her watch.