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The sinner

The sky was pitch-black as I drove through the desolate and quiet street in North Arizona. It was the dead of the night, and the road was becoming increasingly dangerous due to the downpour. The tyres were skidding, and I tried to scan the view of the windshield to glean some hope.

Though anxious to reach my destination, I was softly humming to myself. The steady rhythmic sound of rain falling on the street lulled me into a state of tranquillity.
Just then, with a stroke of lightning that blasted through the air, in a sudden blinding glow in front of me, I was momentarily paralysed with revulsion at the scene in front of my car. I screeched the car to a halt immediately. Was it a hallucination? At the next chilling moment, another lightning zigzagged through the sky and I realized that my worst fears had been realised.

A bloodied mass, probably the body of a young boy was silhouetted against the dark street. He was unconscious, so gravely injured that it was hard to discern whether or not he was dead or alive.

The gruesome accident seemed to be a relatively fresh occurrence, probably committed by some car that had passed this way before mine. With my heart beating hard against my ribs, I realized that I was shaking with fear and perplexity about the eerie accident. Should I take him to hospital or run away like a coward? In the former case, would the police pin the blame on me? Though deep inside my heart I felt an urge to help the poor boy in excruciating pain, the title "murderer" beside my name and the sickening vision of being locked up behind the bar with convicts scared me out of my wits. Beside myself with anxiety, suddenly the slow yet ascending sound of an approaching car reached my ears. Instantly I realised that the police were coming. With a mounting trepidation, I drove forwards and stopped at some distance ahead.

The headlights of the car were looming.
But it was not a police car .It stopped like me in front of the ill-fated boy, and a middle aged man came out. He knelt down in front of the body and seemed to check his pulse, and without hesitating, he pulled the injured boy in his car and drove away. Almost numb with the beads of perspiration on my temple, I followed him, keeping some distance between the cars.
The car stopped near a hospital and the man rushed in holding the boy in his arms. Parking my car behind his, I got off from my car. Fighting hysteria, I entered the hospital in a trance.
An ominous silence prevailed in the corridors of the hospital. No wardens, doctors or nurses came in view. I frantically searched the corridors like a madman. A light shone through a distant door and I ran towards it.
At that moment, the man who rescued the boy came out of the room. He looked grim and hurt, as if someone near and dear had passed away. Probably guessing the enquiring look from my face, spoke.

'I was late. Ten minutes earlier, and I could have saved him.'.

The words seemed to take an enormous effort to pronounce as he trudged away, his shadow trailing him in the darkness.
But his sorrow was no rival to the magnitude of the extreme despair that I felt. Each of his words was like a hammer blow as my conscience ripped me from within. Ten minutes, it would roughly equal the time I spent procrastinating, thinking about saving my own skin rather than helping the poor boy, whose seconds were ticking away. I felt worse than a murderer and would rather have preferred the prison. The muffled cry of the boy seemed to call me from the room. I knelt down in prayer.

'God, forgive me.'

But I knew there would never be forgiveness for the crime I committed. May God condemn sinners like me

By Cursed Crusader

Christmas Reveries

The sound of the Christmas band roused her from her dreams. For a few moments, she laid back and listened to the sounds as the last tendrils of sleep wafted away, and then sat bolt upright, grimacing with distaste as she recognized the tune. It was some dhoom-dharakka number from the latest Hindi movie.

Once upon a time, they actually knew a few carols.

Her mother spotted her annoyed expression as she emerged from her room.

“These people also have to earn, Shyama, and besides, how many of their clientele are Christians anyway? As for the foreigners living here, if they're listening to the music at all, they don't know that these bands are actually supposed to be carolers. And in any case, why are you so upset about it? It's not like it concerns you”

But it does…

Shyama remembered her days in kindergarten, where her school had a very large international community, and they celebrated all the different religious festivals with equal fervor. Towards the end of the year, they had a Christmas play, where all the students would be performing. There'd be a skit with one group of children in the choir, another group choreographing the carols and songs, and one of the teachers narrating the events.

On her last day at the kindergarten school, which was also the day of the Christmas play, Shyama was one of the 'sugar plum fairies' who had some minor but popular role, flouncing around the stage in their belted on can-can skirts and gilt-paper tiaras. She pirouetted prettily as she had been taught to, curtseyed to the audience, peering at the faces in the crowd to see if she could spot her parents, and sure enough, they were there, Dad clicking away on his camera, and Mom beaming and waving at her.

Then, with a chorus of 'Santa Claus is coming to town' came the grand finale as the school gates swung open, and a rickshaw came rolling in. Sitting on the passenger's seat was a familiar roly-poly figure in a red and white suit. As part of the program, four young boys wearing wire-and-paper antlers on their heads took their places in front of the rickshaw, and the 'sleigh' made its way to the stage area, accompanied by thunderous applause.

'Santa' slowly disembarked, called for his sack, and then sat down on the steps to the stage. The children crowded around him, crawling up on his lap, tugging at his cap and his 'beard', so that it slipped downwards to show a glimpse of a skinny black moustache. Someone handed him a list, and he began to call out the names of the 'lucky' students who would get some little gift. Shyama was instantly gripped by a terrible pang of doubt.

Maybe I won't get one this time…

When her name was called, she could hardly contain her excitement, and her hand trembled as she accepted it, a tiny plastic snowman. Stuttering her thank-yous, she skipped off the stage, fighting the urge to shout with laughter: “I got one!” The fact that everyone else had gotten one too, did little to dampen that feeling of joy.

She smiled at the memory now, as she folded back her bedcovers and plumped up the pillows. Many Christmases had come and gone since then, and her almost unbearable excitement on the day had faded over the years, as she finally figured out why her family didn't have a decorated tree in their living room like the families she read about in story books. Harder to digest had been the discovery that Santa was 'just make-believe'.

For a long while she still clung to the tradition she'd created of hanging up socks on the window, in lieu of stockings on the mantelpiece, and her parents humored her by leaving a 100 taka note, or a candy or a funny message in it. Gradually, even that tradition died a slow death; the carols of the brass band were replaced by Hindi songs. Like Eid, which had dwindled to a symphony of meaningless rituals, Christmas had also become just another day off, with a few pages on cakes and shopping on magazines, and a few cliched songs on MTV being her only reminders of the holiday she'd once breathlessly awaited as a child.

The band had moved on by the time she'd showered and changed, and she was glad of it. Himesh Reshammiya was hard to digest on a normal day; distorted by the clanging cymbals and honking trumpets, the absurdity of his music was only amplified. Inexplicably morose, she sat down on her bed, trying to croon the half-forgotten words of 'Silent Night' when something caught her eye. Hanging on her window was a shabby, red-and-green sock with a reindeer motif. Curiously, she approached it, knowing she hadn't bothered to put up her stocking this year. Stashed inside the sock was a tiny folded note. She opened it, and began to laugh.

Scribbled on the note, in her mother's flowing script were the words:

Merry Christmas!
With love,

By Sabrina F Ahmad

Book review

Eden Close

Thursday afternoon, an endless traffic jam, Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan crooning “Volcano” in my ear, and a shiny new hardcover (a gift from a cousin) lying on my lap…doesn't take much imagination to figure out what transpired next, does it?

It turned out to be one of my quickest reads in a while. Andrew, a recently-divorced 30-something New York advertising executive returns home after an absence of two decades to bury his widowed mother, only to find several loose ends that need to be tied up, not the least of which is the girl next door, Eden Close.

The story opens with Andrew lying in a bed he hasn't occupied in 20 years, dreaming about an incident that occurred in his youth: the man next door was murdered, and his daughter was raped. Andy had left town not too long after that.

A fairly successful career, a failed marriage, and a well-loved child later, Andy is back where it all began, and the memories come flooding back; his bond with young Eden Close, the neighbour's daughter, who had been his best friend before she hit puberty and things grew awkward. Blinded by the same gun that killed her father, Eden now endures an hermetic existence, zealously guarded by her mother, and Andy finds himself irresistibly drawn to her, despite everyone's insistence to leave it and go back home.

The story slowly blossoms out into a tale of intrigue, tension, and high romance, with a few disturbing, but not quite surprising revelations thrown in for good measure. This is supposed to be Anita Shreve's debut novel, and she displays remarkable control over her plot, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the tale.

If you liked stories like Lolita and She Flew the Coop, you are going to love this one.

By Sabrina F Ahmad


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