Short story selected for the 2011 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology
“… Wherever you are, death will find you, even if you are in towers, built up strong and tall.”
(An-Nisa, 4:78, The Holy Qur’an).
Miftah watched as a pigeon picked at the rice leftovers on the dilapidated windowsill. Its eating habit wasn’t what caught his interest; it was its wings. He envied the bird; its freedom to fly, freedom to explore the unseen, freedom to ensnare the whole world within its eyes. But when you’re born in a cage, even the limitless sky seems like a prison; locked of your own accord behind iron bars of throbbing memories!
The moon sang lullabies to the drowsy sun, as twilight surrendered itself to the night. Miftah was shaken by the sudden sound of an explosion from somewhere nearby; he perceived a phantasm of a noose hanging amidst the frightened sky. Death had followed him from the cursed borders of Baghdad, all the way to the realms of India.
The mirrors of his memories reflected images from his past; he missed home. “It is still my motherland,” thought Miftah; “the city that gave me my first wound, the soil that absorbed my first tear, the land that sheltered me from the shadows of solitude. Baghdad, my beloved.”
Miftah, hidden behind the dining room door, had once heard Dr. Akmal say “Lives cannot be weighed against bullets.” Dr. Akmal was his father’s friend.
“Some die of disease, some die of greed, and some die serving their nation. Finally it is for the greater good, Akmal!” his father had replied.
The greater good: the same sacrificial fire of ‘greater good’ that he himself had jumped unsuspectingly into…
The explosions continued. Miftah could imagine piles of dead bodies staring at the olive branches. The thunderbolts of terror had struck even India, a country that boasted purity and peace.
Miftah hid under the cot. “Munna is so short… He can perform acrobatics under the bed,” his mother had once joked. He shivered. The ghosts of his memories hadn’t left him yet; instead, they augmented the fear that had already filled inside him.
26 July 2007: He had crouched under a rotten cot, in the same way as he did today. He had waited for a hand to reach out to him, and walk him towards the gates of freedom where fear did not bloom. But none had appeared. The cursed Karada market bombing, had taken his parents away, along with that of more than a hundred people. It was a truck bomb followed by a rocket attack. He wept alone, with nothing but an acquaintance of loneliness. It took months for a rich and barren Indian couple to adopt him; to bring him to the ‘safe haven.’ But this ‘safe haven’ had now turned out to be just another abode of the devil.
“Fear is a friend that comforts you even in darkness. Do not disdain fear, son; it is the only one that lets you know you are still alive”, his father’s words came to his mind.
He had to face the grim reality, reincarnated in the form of war. Combating fear was the only way to avenge his parents’ death. As he crouched on the perforated carpets of darkness, he saw courage with its million rays replace the gloom. He now had the strength to survive anything.
The livid fumes befriended the air; the reverberation of the explosions hadn’t died yet. Miftah sat building up his entire valour in the darkness; a kid from the neighborhood shouted with joy, ‘Happy Diwali!’
Diwali: Also called “Festival of Lights,” is an Indian festival which involves decorating houses with lights and the bursting of crackers. Fireworks are the most important part of this festival.
Illustration by Alan Van Every
Saahith Shetty lives in Bangalore, India. He is a 20-year old engineering student. His hobbies are writing short stories and poetry. His stories are inspired by the works of authors such as O. Henry, Anton Chekov, Saki, and Salman Rushdie.
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