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Man vs. World
Babylon AD

The desert wind blew sand at us pilgrims as we shuffled along in a never-ending line. There was the foul and fetid smell of human waste collecting for days, no one bothered to clean up; most of the people on the queue have been standing here for a week, by the time they reach their destination, more people join the end of the line. In this vast desert, where people were afraid to leave the line for fear of being cut-across and having to join the line at the very end, squatting down in public and relieving oneself was not an uncommon sight.

There was not a single mountain in sight, so nothing shaded us. This pilgrimage was supposed to be my son, Zafran and my first step at male bonding. We were sure we would know each other better by the end, having survived the ordeals of the journey together. There was an ulterior motive as well; but that was another story. So here we were, having braved miles and miles of barren land, in Rangamati. I've never come here before, but I heard from my grandfather that a long time ago, animistic tribes of Polynesian origin inhabited the land here. Those were bad times. I dare not speak of them aloud, but barely a day goes by without me thinking about it, fearing the past I came from.

Back then people were all distinct. They had different colours of skin, they had what they called different races, and each race had it's own belief system. There were fights between these races, but that was a long time ago, before people became civilized and settled down. We do not have distinctions anymore. We are all inhabitants of the same land under the sun, a melting pot. We are all the same.

On the third day of standing in line, I was seriously regretting having come; not because of my own displeasure, but Zafran was beginning to fidget. By now, the one bottle of water I had brought for me and Zafran was gone, and we were surviving on recycled sweat and piss, but there had still not been any food for almost a day now. What little was left must be preserved for the journey back home.

When night came, and the line seemed perfectly still, we dared to sit down for a little rest. Zafran was shivering so I tried my best to keep him warm in an embrace. We were all excited, for we knew we would approach the end within two more days. Not only was it Zafran's first time, it was my first time as well. My father had never bothered in his time to pay attention to my wishes. But in two days Zafran and I were going to see a tree for the first time in our life.

“Ma told me that the tree is protected by God himself”; the sound startled me for I was sure Zafran had fallen asleep. The sound of his laboured breathing always depressed me, but there was nothing we could do. I was told that Zafran was lucky to be alive, that he should have died in infancy like almost all the other children had. But he was a special boy. He survived while everyone else fell ill and died. He survived to see a tree before dying. It was God's wish.

“Your mother is wise, little boy” the man behind us said, “This is my second time. The tree reaches up towards the sky like colossus. It casts a shade to cover a hundred houses at once. The fruit it bears is even as we speak being tested by scientists. They say it is manna from heaven.”

I let the man entertain Zafran with his story, I was a little partial to hearing it as well. The man spoke of the wanders and miracles that happened under the shade of the tree everyday. Sleep was out of the question, knowing we were this close to witness miracle with our own eyes.

I must have dozed off because when I woke up Zafran was gone. I nearly panicked, before I noticed him a few feet away from the queue. I made my way and hurriedly picked him up on my arms. As soon as I did I heard the cry of a man behind me and looking back, I noticed it was the same person from last night. He came running and snatched my boy out of my hands before I could do anything. I was about to leap at him when I noticed Zafran standing in the line. Confused, I looked at the boy the man was holding. Who could have told them apart? They were the one and same. I went back to the line and clutched Zafran's hand strongly. It would be a shame to have any mishap whatsoever this far into our pilgrimage.

His hand was dry and hard from the sand and his own bones sticking out. I could see the veins, blue against his extremely pale skin. Even on his face, the blue spread like a thin cobweb on his recently tanned face. I didn't want to think about the struggle that we had gone through to keep him alive. If this pilgrimage was not successful then all hope would be lost. Maybe as rumoured, the healing powers of the tree would cure my son. Maybe…

Early the next morning while dawn had barely lifted, I screamed out, waking everybody who had bothered to sleep up. The tree was in sight by now. It was still a very long way off, a wait of hours, but we could actually see it! It was beautiful even from this distance. It looked exactly how I had heard it would, dark green and standing tall. Under the tree was darkness. In a moment I felt that my son had been salvaged, that we had overcome all odds and that the world would now be a better place to live in. What progress! Scientists researching on its fruits even as we speak!

I picked Zafran up again. His fragile body would soon find flesh to call it's own. My son would grow up a strong man, and be a part of this progress that's happening in the world even now. His world would be better that ours. A couple of feet ahead of us, an old man collapsed under the sun's heat. He hit the sand and remained still. He had died. We proceeded to take his place in the line; it was certainly progress.

By Ahsan Ksajid

Mysterious Stranger

Cursed the rain as it poured all over and dampened my whole day. Here I was, getting completely soaked, walking between the cars caught up in a huge traffic jam. My shoes had water in them and my clothes were clinging to my body. Great, I thought, now all I have to do is to manage to reach my grandmothers house, change and then get ready for a wedding. Not much! I shivered as the wind gushed and the sky made threatening sounds, as if to say 'there's more from where that came from'! Finally, somehow (and don't ask how), I was able to make it to my grandma's. I knocked the door, and a maid answered. 'Mom!' I shouted. No reply. She was supposed to be here, where was she? 'Who are you looking for? Your mom isn't here, I think you got the wrong house,' the maid said. I glanced at her for a fraction of a second. A newbie, I thought. I didn't have time for this. If mom didn't appear with my life saving warm and dry clothes, I was surely going to die of pneumonia. Just then my grandma looked down from upstairs (yeah they got a duplex, rich people…hmphh!). 'Goodness! You're all wet. You're Mom's out. Come up and change!' she cried. I sighed. It was going to be a long long day, I predicted.

'We want 10,000 taka!' all of us yelled. I was at the wedding and was screaming my heart out for money at the gate. We wouldn't let the bridegroom enter if he didn't pay us. After five whole minutes of complete chaos, we were handed money which we had to take no matter what the amount because some of the people from the other side were acting really pissed off. Damn them! After they entered, all of us cousins huddled in a corner and counted the money. Only three and a half thousand bucks! We were steaming up with anger and started to make plans to get back at them. Just then I caught sight of the cutest kid. The boy had a pale white complexion and large brown eyes. He smiled at me, and I smiled back too. Impulsively, I went towards him, making my way through the guests. By the time I reached the spot to where he had been standing, he was gone!

The rain had started again. I wondered if it would ever stop. At this rate, the whole city would be flooded in no time. As I was dropping off one of my cousin, Afrina, I noticed a car entering her garage. The car parked in front of us. The blinding head lights of the car were facing me and I couldn't see a thing. Then suddenly the headlights went out and I caught a glimpse of the driver. It was a boy. The same large brown eyes, the same smile, the same pale white complexion. I gasped. How could it be? My mind wheeled. The guy in the car looked exactly like the little boy from the wedding, only this one was a teenager. He flashed me a dazzling smile. I turned to Afrina just as she was about to get off and asked her, 'Who's that?' she looked in the direction where I was pointing and the looked back at me, confused. Then her face broke into a smile and she left. Puzzled by her reaction I looked back at the boy. No way…he was gone! Okay, I was getting used to disappearing people, but how could a whole car just vanish into thin air?! I looked at the place where the car had been parked. It was empty, but I noticed tire marks. Funny, I hadn't heard any car leave. I shook my head, believing that I had completely lost it. Must be the weather, I decided lamely. On my way back home, I thought about the boy and I had a certain feeling that I would see him again, soon…very soon.

By Nayeema Reza

Man vs. World

The Future- much has changed. Repeated natural disasters have forced most of mankind under water. Global warming is no longer a threat. It came, saw and conquered. Research has removed the harmful effects of drugs, making it completely legal and the largest industry of the world, on land as well as underwater. But, but won't stop from the discovery of heavier drugs. Technology has paved the path to absolute automation, and in era of standardization, Art, Theatre and Culture are but myths… Of course, the deeper you are… The deeper still you'd want to go…

In this typical 'futuristic' setting, a man is sitting at home, staring listlessly into the television with empty, unseeing eye, done with 'work' long, long ago. He didn't see his son enter the room, a short, skeletal teenager with an extremely shiny bald head, looking unusually agitated...

“Hi Dad…” His voice is tired and lifeless.

“Hello, son.” The father's voice is equally flat.

“How you doing, dad?”

“Fine, son.”

“I want drugs…”

“What? You had some before, during and after breakfast.”

“So? I want more. Give me drugs, dad…”

“What about lunch? Those drugs you take are not exactly harmless, you know.”

“Don't care… Give me drugs, dad.”

“I don't have any drugs.”

At this point, the son began to become more agitated and desperate.

“Then get me some drugs. I need my drugs.”

“Um… Tell you what. We'll go out after lunch and get you some.”

The son pointed to his bald head and barked “They don't have hair drugs… I need hair drugs…”

“But, those are hellishly expensive!”

“Yeah. And you've got the money. Get me my drugs.”

“I'm just a construction worker.”

“You're the CEO of the constructions firm. I want my drugs! Give me my drugs!”

“I don't have drugs!”

The son by now, has a psychotic gleam in his eyes, and the father is getting flustered.

“NO! You have them! Give me my drugs!! I know you have them! You stole them from me!”

“Okay, okay!! Relax… They're in the fridge.”

The son scrambles quickly to the fridge and looks inside frantically, finding nothing.

“There're no drugs in the fridge!! DAD!!! There are no drugs in the fridge… Where the hell are my drugs?!? I need my drugs!” He grabs his father by the shoulders and shakes him. The father tries in vain to restrain him.

“Stop! Look… I'm sorry, I took them, okay? I was hungry. I need my drugs, too!”

“What??!! You had my drugs?! YOU HAD MY DRUGS?!? HOW COULD YOU?!”

“I'm sorry… You'll hurt yourself! Settle down!”

“No… I need my drugs!”

Then suddenly, he stops and smiles maniacally.

“Your hair!! You have nice hair… Yes. Very nice hair. Let me shave off your hair and smoke… Can I smoke your hair, dad? I bet it'd be as good as mine… Same blood, after all…”

“NO!!! Stop!”

The father grabs his son by the throat, and begins to choke him. Spluttering and coughing the boy struggles, all the while demanding drugs. His grasping hands find his father's throat.

At this point, the father reaches behind the son's head and pulls a secret switch. The son falls limp.

“Sigh… Damn… Another one wasted…”

Shaking his head, he pulls out a telephone and dials.

“Hello? Child Replacement Center? Yes… Have you a sample of DNA 493QB? Ah, great! Send over another replacement, could you? Thanks… Oh, make him five years old, this time. Bye.”

Hanging up the phone, he ettles back into his chair. The same listless countenance reappears as he stares blankly into the screen… stares with hollow, soulless eyes.

By Shuprova Tasneem


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