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Duel of hearts…

It had been a beautiful day and it looked likely to be just as beautiful a night. It was cold, bitterly so, but even Kevin who preferred the warmer climates that came with living farther south was not too bothered. After all this was Christmas, the season of giving and he felt good to be doing his part. Also this was his home now, like it or not and he had to get used to that fact.

The TV was on and so was the stereo, albeit lightly. The cacophony of sound that came with both of these entertainment mediums working at the same time was thoroughly unpleasant and Kevin pressed the stop button on the remote shutting U2 off in mid sentence. He didn't particularly like doing it but the news was on and he liked to hear it everyday. It was a habit that he had, not unconsciously, picked up from his father.

He remembered all the times back at home as a kid when he used to blow his fuse over his father's repeated requests to put on the news channel. 'What good does it do you knowing about what happened in the world?' he had whined on more than a number of occasions. His father had just smiled, patted his head and with a knowing smile told him the words that he least wanted |o hear. " You will understand once you grow up kid."

But he had understood and here he was now, many years on, resuming the family legacy of watching the news everyday. The thought bought a knowing smile to his lips. For him though, there was no son to disturb the peace, not yet.

Kevin turned up the volume and walked around the living room cleanino up after himself. It was a job that he at the best of times found very tiring. Susan did it for him most mornings and no she wasn't his cleaning lady. He wished he could afford one. Good old Susan though, he thought a ghost of a smile touching his lips at the fond recollection. He is friends' with Susan now, who would ha~e thought that possible when they first met?

The newscaster drones on and Kevin hears with only half an ear about recent developments in the Middle East and something about North Korea's de-armament policy. He rarely bothers with such news. As far as Kevin is concerned those things were happening a world away and he had more pressing issues to deal with at this time, such as how to quell the sudden uprising from the Western Frontier and maybe ju{t maybe Claire.

And it is Claire's name, spoken not from within his head, but from its more accustomed home in the TV, that jerks him out of his day-dzeaming.

"In othez news today, actress cum singer Claire Swmeney is not, as previously reported sick at hospital. Recent developments have led us to believe that she has gone AWOL. Her manager Arthur Freedman reportedly filed a missing persons case on her at the local police station. Her whereabouts have been unknown since she reportedly 'stepped out' for a walk just after a trying benefit concert in the city of Maryland."

The newscaster went on to relate Claire's history, her hit records and all the formalities that one has to deal with in Network TV. But Kevin has heard enough. His heart jumps a little, more from anticipation than worry and his palms start to sweat.

He r}bs them on the leg of his faded jeans and tells himself to stop kidding himself. But he cannot. Maryland is at most an hours' drive from here and he secretly hopes that she has come to see him. Maybe she has understood, after all this time how much he meant to her and vice versa. His mind screams at him telling him in no uncertain tezms just how much bullshit that idea is, but he still holds out. A fool's hope in all probability. But hope is a good thing, he thinks. Nothino wrong with it.

He continues cleaning up moving the various items around and trying fr}itlessly to put them back where he thinks they belong. He has little or no idea really. He bites back the curse forming at his lips at the growing frustration. If only Susan had been here. She was so efficient. It was as if she had a mental picture of where everything went and she was sweet enough and cared enough for him to do his housekeeping for him. The thought tickled him a bit and never failed to bring a smile to his lips.

Kevin is tired. He has finally gotten a day off work in what seems like forever and he cannot spend it having a hangover about Claire. That part of yo}r life is done with Kev he tell{ himself without really believing it. He is tired of all the cleaning up. For a fleeting second he considers calling Susan and asking her to come over. God knows she will probably be happy to but that would be taking advantage of their friendship and he sincerely did not want that.

Kevin gives up. This is too difficult. He is prepared to wait for |he morning when his savior will come. He has a mental image of Susan riding in a white horse and stifles a laugh. He turns the stereo on yet again letting U2 resume where it had left off. He picks up the TV remote, flicks the mute switch but skims through the channels looking for any sport that would match the soundtrack playing on his hi fi speakers. The sound issuing from it is good, almost perfect he thinks fondly. It is so good an encompassing that he almost does not hear the doorbell.

When replays the incident some time later, he thinks that it would maybe have been for the best had he not answered his door that snowy evening.

ZBut the divine hand that lays claim to moving the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that makes and breaks the life of men, made him hear the bell and thus answer it, thinking only detachedly about who would be calling him at this hour. He hopes it is Susan offering hot tea or something of the like and therefore almost doesn't recognize the woman who stands befoze him.

She is pretty this woman, almost beautiful but if you look at her long enough, if you look into those large amber eyes long enough, you will understand that she is not a woman after all, merely a girl trapped in a woman's body who is finding it difficult to coxe with a life she no longer comprehends. She is wearing a green turtleneck sweater with hip hugging jeans that flaunts her long legs perfectly. On her hands she wears heavy gloves and her pretty neck is covered by a long white scarf, that billows behind her in the wind.

There is nothing to protect her head though and small snownlakes have accumulated in her dark luxuriant hair that falls to the small of her back. The snowflakes twinkle like little diamonds in the light of the moon. She is a pretty sight and any lonely man would doubtless love to have someone like her visit them this time of night.

Susan he means to say but his mind is playing tricks. His lips have a mind of their own |hough and those at least work pzoperly.

"Hello Claire," he hears him{elf say from a thousand miles away.

He shakes his head to clear it and finds that he has managed to get the name right.

It is still a full twenty seconds though before he can manage his next words and during that time thoughts bundle in his head like wildfire. Long fozgotten feelings that were only masquerading beneath the surface irrevocably come rushing back and the sheer power of it nearly forces him off his feet.

" Come on in won't you?" he says and moves astride the doorway standing parallel now so that she has room to come in. He smiles at her once, uncertainly at best but she does not seem to mind. She smiles back, full and brilliant and accepts his offer.

"How long has it been?" she asks. She is seated comfortably now in his couch warm blankets and all, sipping hot chocolate that he has made from an instant pack that Susan left behind.

He considers for a moment before answering.
"Four years, give or take a few days."

"That long?" she says, but it is not really a question. She still lets it hang there and his only reply is to look back at her steadfastly, a grin on his handsome face.

He is almost as she remembers him and her feelings come rushing back as well. Kevin with his long face and high forehead and his eyes so dark and brilliant that you could almost ge| lost in them. The sharp nose s|ill remains as do his full and sensual lips. His complexion was more pallid than she remembered and his hair hal thinned a bit at the temples. No white showed as yet though. The years had been kind.

" Well you don't have to sound all judgmental about it. I mean it's not as if I did not want to see you," she says, a little too defensively.

He says nothing but smiles at her serenely.
"Can I crash here for a bit?" The question is not entirely unexpected but Kevin tries his best to look surprised before answering with a little nod of the head.

"It isn't much but its all yours," he says waving his hand outwards from his body in the universal gesture that portrayed what he had said.

" I had a whole speech prepazed," she says smiling. "I didn't think it would be this easy."

"It would be stupid not to help old friends," he says with emphasis on the last word, so as to clear the air of any lingering doubts.

" You are tired, you should sleep,"
" I want to talk."
" There will be plenty of time to talk later," he says and forces her to lie down and covers her with a blanket.
She lies down and looks up at him with her amber doe's eyes looking so vulnerable. A guy could almost fall in love, he thinks and then forces the thoughts away swiftly.
"Thank you," she murmurs almost inaudibly.
"Think nothing of it," he says running his hands down her face and closing her eyes in the process.

By Quazi Zulquarnain Islam

Nothing fails

Lisa was head over heels in love. She had never felt this way before. It was a nice, warm feeling. It was a feeling of joy, of belonging. She realized that she had found an ideal soul-mate. She had discovered a person who of worthy of her affection. She had unveiled a guy who she could spend lots of time with. She had discovered a character to whom she could reveal, her inner-most thoughts.

She spent nights dreaming about him. His sweet face, his attractive eyes, his enigmatic personality; everything she saw in films in her imaginings. She wrote many letters addressed to him, some of which she actually handed over to him. She thought of him while eating, watching television, doing her homework. When she saw him, she stared witho}t feeling ashamed. When he passed by, her face lit up with happiness.

They soon started becoming close to each other. They talked while catching a glimpse of each other in the elevator, staircase, library. They met after class in the canteen and talked for hours on. They went out together and visited various fast food shops, restaurants, movie theatres. They really cared for each other and this was evident. They spent all their free time together, they were in love. They spent hour after hour talking to each other on the phone at nights.

Their nriend circles were happy. They all thought that they were an ideal couple. In fact, they soon came to be known as the couple of the institution. Lisa also started expressing to her parents that she had fallen in love for the very first time. They recognized that their daughter was very happy, and, she was truly in love. She had always been their favorite daughter. She was the youngest member in the family. She always received a lot of attention and affection from her parents. They were very proud her. She treasured them very much.

She suddenly thought of the idea of introducing Amer to her family. [he knew that he was handsome, charming and wonderful; her parents would adore him. Her parents started to respond just the way she wanted. The problem arose when Amer was asked the name of his father. When he stated the namm, Lisa's father at once became suspicious. When he enquired further, he comprehended that the person in question was an arch rival of his. He immedia|ely informed the boy that he co}ld not allow his affair with his daughter to continue. When asked why, he mentioned the reasons. Amer left at once, without saying anything.

That night was one of the worst in their lives. Amer thought about life without Lisa, and, it was impossible. He could not even imagine life without her. He started crying like a baby, thinking that he had lost her forever. She as shocked that her parents behaved this way. She thought of ways it was possible to re-establi{h contact with him. The following day, when they were face to face in the campus, they both immediately came close to each other. Lisa hugged him and started crying, saying, ' I can't live wi|hout you, I love you so much'. Amer gave a befi|ting reply, ' I will never give up on our love'.

Amer explained the whole scenario to his parents. His father reacted in a similar fashion. He said that a romantic liaison with his enemy's daughter was out of the question. His mother was more sympathetic, but, his father did not pay heed to anything she said. When Lisa's parents fo}nd out that she was still in touch with him, they imposed severe restrictions on her. She had to return home as soon as her classes ended; the telephone set was removed from her room.

Lisa reported this to her lover when they attended classes together the next day. They started pulling themselves out of whatever they enjoyed doing and had to do. Lisa did not eat properly, did not talk to her parents. Amer did not concentrate on his studies, just spent hours sitting in his room. He was sad, depressed and mi{erable. He said to himself, 'Why does not God take my life rather than let me live in this pathetic manner'?

The once cheerful, full of life and exuberant boy and girl, had become lifeless.

The boy's mother started her aggressive campaign in favor of her son. She argued with her husband that if they were really in love, |he past should not be an issue. They should be allowed to meet each other. Amer's father had become less adamant than before. Lisa's mother also turned softer. She was a woman who appreciated genuine love. Lisa's father finally gave permission to his daughter to keep association with her beloved. He said that he was making this sacrifice because he wanted to see his daughter happy.

The true lovers finally reunited. The smile in their faces, returned. The lonely days and nights would end. They would be able to meet each other, express their feelings for each other. The unfulfilled days of the recent past would cease to exist. Each of them hoped that in the near future, their parents' rivalry would reduce as well. They separately promised that they would try hard to reduce the tension that exists among their families.

By Arbab Quadri


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