This is a published short-story that I wrote on war and strife. I look forward to your views on the tale.
The dunes roll under the scorching noon sun. Soft eddies ease down into tresses, immaculately adorned by desert brush at the ends. Two miles to the north the village of Alemshahr sits in perfect solitude, popping out an odd citadel into the relaxed breeze every half a block or so. The pale buildings and the dusty leaves on palm trees watch the Desert Nymphs dance around in a million ways, at times quietened by the deafening rumble of a noisy tank. Over, way over the heads of the Bazaar folk, a burst of colour makes its way through the scanty cloud cover: a perfect round blob of blue, bobbing up and bobbing down, as if to the beat of the whistling winds that caress the Nymphs, all so softly; much like heads in rock concerts in modern Abu Bal-Shahr or like the forgotten trot of war-horses, clomping down the path along the caravanserais. The children in the Bazaar squeal with joy as the drab yellow of run-down Alemshahr is punctuated by cheerful azure! Asemooni Viluna. Balloon from the heavens.
Postmaster Ali Bashar’s gape after “Roosi comrades come in Alemshahr, heavens stop pou…”, in his broken English, addressed to one of the visiting journalists from BBC, seems to be growing nearly to the size of the gorge in Tangi Gharu. Last time a similar balloon in orange descended on Alemshahr, a couple of weeks back, poor Ali Bashar was relaxing with his head dangling over the head-rest of a creaking chair, and he turned over as his round eyes took in the sight. The children run to where the balloon comes to its lowest and give it a soft nudge back into ether. The balloon is taken by a draft due east where women on roof-tops are drying their hair and spreading lentil-crisps for drying on straw mats. The balloon rolls briefly over the veil of a lady and sends her scurrying to retract it from the offensive tug of the winds. Bobbling, like in devilish fun, the balloon descends to a fountain-top in the town-square, and jumps up on the next squirt of pale ground-water, a little deflated from the sudden burst of vitality but still diabolically in cheer. They all know where the little punk is headed. Rather they all know where it should be headed, and yet the aged gentiles in the Majlis-verandah whisper at each other, as if in mock-amusement.
Broken by the ribs and bleeding at the mouth, the body of Kishkari comes into town, in a rage of wind and dust. They saw the typhoon building up the previous night near the watering hole at Jalia Halvas, right out of the calm. Two days later the first tanks of the Russians had rolled down the large dune hiding the hole behind. Kishkari, like a rag doll cruelly dismantled in a fit of rage, got stuck on by a hook at the top of the village inn. At first Ali Bashar, on his round of ablutions, thought it was one of inn-keeper’s loathsome son-in-laws, pelting their water-balloons at a bypassing trader or dervish. It was only when the body slumped, as if in meditation, and stayed there long enough for eternity to have passed, that Bashar sounded the town-elders.
The balloon does a lopsided jig on the tip of the Madrassa’s spire, before being caught by the wind and sent into the northern end of the town. Two of the vendors gently nudge the balloon along, as it gathers speed. The winds, at times sure of their direction, at times confused, rustle through the dry leaves in the erstwhile Emir Mansion’s rooftop, as the balloon goes into a tizzy above the flutter of restless pigeons, which presently take flight.
The soft fall of the arid soil on Kishkari’s lifeless body rang through the halls of the elders, even as his little daughter slept in peace on the other side of town. Kishkari’s wife, the girl’s mother, had died in childbirth, and Kishkari, the gentle shepherd who guarded Alemshahr’s gates and gossip, was all she had to call her own. And yet the elders kept a deafening silence when the girl ran up to them, her eyes large and curious, and asked them how long Kishkari would take to herd the sheep back to their pen. They said Kishkari had gone to find the Bahamut, the Great Fish that supports our earth, and that had forsaken these lands under the first moon of the month.
The balloon briefly rests on one of the poles Karim Balsama’s statue was recently stabbed with, from which the flag of a local militia leader hangs. All manner of posters and bills and peeling paint hang from the hands, the firm chest, the torso and the flaring nose of Balsama, who stood up for Alemshehr when the lances of the Great Kings fell to the Huns. The balloon almost goes bazoooom on the sharp edge of the Magistrate’s boundary fence, before softly being nudged by the champion athlete of the town, Qadir, who runs up the boundary wall in a jiffy.
Kishkari’s brother calls on the village council even as Qadir and Ali Bashar take Kishkari’s girl for a walk down to the watering hole.
“Praise be to Allah, for he has given us a reason to live and fight. He calls on us to rise and wage war against the cruel designs of the Shaytan, and he takes our brother Kishkari into his arms. Kishkari lives. A martyr lives.”
“Who may this rumbling giant, this fire-spewing Shaytan be, brother Junaid?”
“I know not but I heard a charlatan with an Oud in town a few days back saying that he runs on land and slithers through the waters; he can kill the best of men from seirs away.”
“We shall fight till our last man stands!”
“We shall fight till Kishkari’s name whistles through the sands in half-forgotten memories.”
“We fight for a new day!”
A call of arms to the Mujahids, brothers in arm, like never seen in the sleepy town of Alemshehr since Balsama’s days, rang through the corridors of the erstwhile Emir’s mansion.
The balloon almost reaches the earthy arena of the village wrestling pit, even as the old master jumps and puts it away, much like a last minute dive to catch roosters in the village fair: this one to keep up soft whispers of time and not to put down Duyuuk in the town square. Slowly the balloon turns the corner near Fahd’s cycle-repair shop, precariously dangling over a skinned chicken, humming what sounds like a prayer to the winds, before swooshing into the alley where Kishkari’s girl is playing. Hopping twice, landing on some soft mulch to the groan and roll of eyes of her girlfriends, her eyes come upon the blob of azure.
Her cracked lips slowly ascend into a perfect crescent, her eyes turns moist and her gaze soft as the dusty alley turns into a singularity of blue for her. She jumps gently and catches the balloon. The Great Fish, the Bahamut, winks back at her in the afternoon sun, as the words ‘il-kafan maluuš giyuub’ stare back at her. The shroud has no pockets. She understands and smiles, sobs gently, wipes her eyes on the kaftaan Kishkari made her one fine morning, just like this, a decade or so back, takes the balloon to her father’s room and places it near his bedpost, near the two other balloons that sway in the gentle breeze coming in through the open windows. She quietly listens for the soft promises that her father whispered to her before she slept on stormy nights. She listens for the gurgles of laughter her mother made just before she died, seeing her baby-girl, right in this very room. They live. They live there. She knows. The Bahamut may keep her father away for a century but he can’t take his soul, his promises, his soft smile, his gentle caresses on her temple, away from her, in his kaftaan pockets into the far-lands. Those are for her to keep and sleep with.
You can read this work in the online or ebook format on Booksie as well.