When a knock brings sinister things to your threshold, what shall you do? Should you peek outside from the chink through the door, or should you stand still? A choice must be made. Perhaps now it can hear you breath inside.
Gobble. Gobble. Gobble.
I shoved a spoonful of Oatmeal in my protruding scrambled-egg mouth.
My slippery tongue bathed in the feeling of fathom from the warmth of Oatmeal over the thinny-thick chunks of scrambled egg. Though to necessitate my starving salivary sacks, I grudged down a sip from a day-old sugarcane juice. Hmm, felt really great.
I drummed my clenched fingers on my straw-knitted table while my mouth played in its monotonous grinding and gobbling. In the middle of all this, a sound of footsteps fragranced with the knock found its way and dropped on my ears. My constantly drumming fingers swayed with a hiss of wonder. A dripping wonder of who it was in that early hour early hour of this morning. Well, it wasn’t early. The spider-webbed wall clock ticked 12:05 PM.
I sighed a discomforting breathe and galloped the remaining debris of the combination.
My eyes were still on the door – which had some chinks in it that my mum had spared to see outside – and I didn’t see something of a lanky shadow clinging to a door. I rose to my feet, and marched towards it.
A wave of ice-cube-dropped breeze whistled past me and left me stranded to a rusty bowl of bronzy sand. I craned out from my threshold but found no one.
Anyone there, I heard my voice reaching the directions on the narrow strip of road that was stretched there, empty. No one but a flock of chattering sparrows replied.
I felt myself exhaling the in the pale blue sky studded with a sun tickling around with the fluffy-yoghurt-white clouds shading our small village on a suburbs of a town called Adeel Khayl. The village, as the legends had it, was named after a generous Mullah who battled with the British to make his firm grip over this chunk of land. People in our village told folktales of his bravery and honesty, and when I was entering the age of 13, my mother asked me to be a man like Adeel Khan Toraqai, like the Mullah. Though I turned down this suggestion every time.
Adeel Khayl was surprisingly vouched for its people who had a tradition to make spice and something our grandparents – though there were many youngsters who too – quite proudly used, called Naswaar, a form of tobacco. The narrow road in the front, always hummed with the packed Lorries loaded with spices and Naswaar, and it was heard that this road was a main exit route that led to Pak-Afghan border. Though I had never made that journey alone.
When I was thirteen my friends and I had come up with a theory in which Naswaar was an actual goat-poop people used.
An aroma of trodden Figs fathomed with the rustling sound of tractor loaded with long and petite sugar cane which were joined by a tail of running children with laughter brought me back to that still bowl of soft sand. I dropped to my knees and carried it inside with a mind cramming with question.
Why this, I kept asking as I stroked my hair in confusion, why a bowl of this stupid sand?
I closed a door behind me with a hollow thud and put a that bowl gently on the on my table. Though I tumbled down on a farting cushion. The sound of the tractors had started to sweep and it brought my forehead those shiny specks of warm sweat-beads out of confusion.
The door sounded again. But this time I saw a greyish hollowness of a manly figure glued to it. I cornered my eyes at the bowl and then to the door. After a deep sigh of some unbelievable relief, I wiped my sweat with my arm and with a small cough and marched at the door with confident.
I swept the door open to my second cousin Amer.
“Salam Amer Khana.” I greeted him with a tight hug.
He came inside without asking.
“How are you boy?” Amer Khan rejoined, loosening himself from my embrace. “What is that?”
I looked at him with a soft curiosity for some seconds; planned straight to tell him about that thing.
“Amer bhai – Amer I have found something,” I spoke slowly, fishing for the right words, “and that’s worrying me very much.”
“What is it that is troubling my young brother?” His voice was full of discontent and it seemed as if I had pulled a pistol at him in a broad day-light. I became yet more eager to look out for my words because his tone sounded violent… Well, he was, Amer Khan was a man of anger but what made him more ominous was his lightning-shaped scar he had beside left brow. He had a custom to carry his glistening licensed Russian Revolver that his dad bought for him after he got 20.
“It’s – it is nothing alaka,” I said as my Adam’s apple sink inside my neck, “it’s just that I have found this ---“
“Hamzai khana just throw it out.”
“Someone left this to my door when I was having my breakfast ---“I rambled the entire story to him without stopping for an air.
A smooth pause of thinking empowered Amir and he went into a kind of confusion himself.
"Are you really sure there was nobody there? He asked me, chewing on something unknown inside his mouth. “What I mean to ask is that was there nobody there when you took this bowl inside?”
I gave him a sheepy-nod.
“Maybe… Maybe we should ask for Talal Chacha’s help,” He examined the bowl, ‘’he is very experienced man in these types of issues.”
“Will this be alright with him taking a look at this?”
Indeed he was. People in our village took their question and problems to him. There was also a name for that in Pashto culture, called Malik sahib. Malik sahib would serve his duty as a mediator in public affairs and was appointed after every nine months of period.
“Trust me Hamzai; he is really really good at this.”
It was that moment when I galloped my thick saliva which was joined in by the thought of assurance.
I chain-locked my wooden door with one hand gripping that now-now-wildly-cold bowl of sand. It was all because Moray (mom) was out for a shopping with her friends from our neighborhood and the house was left to me only. In our culture, it was the always the most interesting program for women to go in groups for their shopping. This seemed like a flock of Burka-draped birds sifting towards the bazaars. They walked like ant’s fast and furious steps.
Amer and I trotted towards the road that was in the front. He balled his hand inside his Kameez’s side pocket and after sometime grabbed out his taped-attached mobile phone and played with its hard keyboard. I cornered my eyes at him when he pinched in a number that later became Talal Chacha’s.
“Salam, Chacha,” Talal Chacha picked up at the third tone. Amer’s face lit up with a greeting grin and he turned his back speaker on so that it wasn’t hard for me to listen.
“Oh – alaka… How are you?” I heard a kind of honey-dipped voice from the speaker.
“Chacha, there is something me and Hamzai cousin want to talk about.”
Amer took step forward and I lost all of my concentration.
“Meherbani, Chacha.” He came back and put his both heavy arms around me.
He looked me in the eyes for a moment.
“Look Hamzai --,” he started saying something, “He says he will God-willing look at what you have found, but actually he is preparing to go to his friend’s wedding reception and wants us there in 15 minutes.”
He paused, examined his watch and exchanged his mobile to his long and oblivious pocket.
In the meantime the tractors loaded with goods and some of them with those sugar canes passed us by every other minute that it ticked. I came a little back and stood against a wall that was a boundary line of our yard. Amer, though, was still walking back and forth. He would step up the road and rise up his thumb to get a lift, but failed in every turn. Because either the tractors swept us behind saying nothing or it ended up getting in a curse fight. When it became helpless and every attempt to hitchhike felt in vain, Amer shoved his hand in his pocket. He looked at me with a face that seemed as if he was clinging to any plan or something. Out of curiosity asked him what he thinking.
“I will have to make another call.”
“To whom?” I asked with hand swaying up.
“I am calling my friend who owns a Rickshaw --,” He carried out his mobile again.
He marched back toward the sycamore tree and called his friend, and I was left confronted to a usual scenery. Well, that felt serene even with blazing sun…
I felt an instant urge to invisibly paint the outlining of the scenery: I swayed my fingers drew the silvery clouds that were playing hide and seek with a linen sun shimmering through them; I stroked my finger at the distant sea green crop fields that lay there, quietly forming faint ripples by the tender breeze blowing; I formed a round when I drew the arched down tree through which this view came. And when Amer came I had made up a perfect stress relieving canvas.
“He will be here in a minute.” He announced.
I mumbled in return and started tapping my pockets to see if I had any more money left after losing a that Cola bet I gambled in for.
“What… What are you looking?”
“—nothing just,” I looked at him, “I think I just forgot my wallet. I will get it back.”
“It is on me.” He said, smiling. “You don’t pay when Amer is with you.”
I nodded at him, showing my hideous manner of thanking him. He went to the close to the well which Abba, my dad, dug after he came back from the pilgrimage to Mecca.
“How is your Abba?” Amer asked me out of nowhere.
Abba yeah... I almost forgot… He had gone to Afghanistan from 3 years and one night, a couple months ago, Moray ran up to me in the yard. She was crying and patting her chest that she had lost my dad forever. I was secretly puffing on a cigarette which I instantly threw in the well. I calmed her down and asked her what she meant. The tears kept running from her purplish-swollen eyes and she vaguely replied that he remarried a woman there. It could have been a rumour. It was that moment since I made choice to never think about him anymore.
“I do not prefer knowing about that rasca--,” I replied to Amer. Though he understood I had my reasons to hate my dad.
I heard a humming and coughing sound of a Rickshaw choking towards us.
‘’There he is.” Amer pointed at him with a grin.
It was a bridal Rickshaw, because the decorations and bedazzling antiques dangling from its roof looked as though it was bridal. It neared us and pulled up a little ahead from us. The Rickshaw driver hummed for a minute and Amer, from the corner of his eye, nodded me to get on it.
“Salam!’’ He greeted his friend and introduced me to him. His name was Dilawer Khan, and it turned out that he was Amer’s Madrassa’s friend. They had both shared lunch and stuff and I heard him say that he had accompanied him on his trip to Silk routes. Everyone got into a Rickshaw, and it was from that point where Amer and him, rambled on about what had happened on their trip. Amer, though shot me a sideways glance, but I didn’t hear a word.
Dilawar Khan fiercely kicked start his Rickshaw and we soared up that narrow road again.
On the road came many strange yet cultural things: We would have hardly gone halfway and Dilawar Khan jammed his right leg on the brakes to stop at a packed road with people dancing to the tapping of Dhool (South Asian Drum) one man was carrying; nearly a man in his early 30s, wearing a white Shalwar Kameez with a brown waist coat, went in a trance over the constant patting on the Dhool. People had circled up and one of the man was showering crispy noted of PRs. 1000 ($10) on his performance.
This passed off when Dilawar Khan tightened his thumb on the Rickshaw’s rooster-horn.
I crippled up in the thought over that Naswaar. The worst thing about those goat-poops was the people, after being done chewing, would spit out where they wanted to . It kind of gave me an urge to throw up. After three more painless minutes of Amer and Dilawar’s eternal chat, he pulled up in front Talal Chacha’s Hujra. I got out of it and saw a man decorated with a broad chest and the eyes like an eagle stepping out from the gate, chain-locking it behind him. Amer Khan took a greeting step.
I stroked my eyes in silence.
“--Come my nephew.” He greeted Amer Khan with a tight embrace.
I nodded at him from the corner of my eyes, but he didn’t get surprised by my show up. It felt as though a tyrant Nuke of anger had whistled past my head.
“Amer bachai,” he reached his chubby arms around Amer’s fleshy shoulders, “last night I was… last night we had a huge gathering of friends here in my Hujra and friend from Madrassa stood at to his feet and narrated a couplet to everyone present there. “
Talal Chacha paused for some air. I was dipping my fingers in that bowl of bronze sand. Amer Khan stood there in the silence with his arms folded.
“I-I do not know how something from my inside took me towards him and I asked him,” he took some aimless steps in a chocolaty-mud-sodden alley, “to read that to me again.”
“Then?” Amer erupted in suspense.
“Then he took me by my arm outside.”
“—and he sang me that couple.”
“Chacha, why do you not read that to us? Because Hamzai here adores poetry, right Hamzai?” he eyed at me with a slight sarcasm dipped in his voice.
“Su—Sure,” he stretched straight.
When I [Hamza]was fighting the darkness of separation,
The beacon of happiness came to my abode.
“Zabardast!” Amer Khan mutely clapped.
I was kind of impressed by Talal Chacha’s sparkling interest in that kind of poetry, something that I believed was transcendence in this worldly reality.
“Was it not nice?” asked Talal Chacha glowing with a smile.
“It was lovely, chacha.” I said slowly, looking at how my words sounded.
“Thank you bachai… he twirled his thick mustache, “no wonder it will have been bad, who told it…”
Talal Chacha saw that bowl of sand in my trembling hands and gazed at Amer for what it was. It took Amer not more than quarter minutes rambled on the entire story.
“Wait,” Talal Chacha added, “what would be the motive behind this?”
“—this is it what Hamzai gul has been struggling painfully to find out.”
“Alright… I will think about this tonight, and you boys must go now.” Talal Chacha took that bowl from my hand and went in house. From there and added, “I have to go now.”
We stood there is silence as Talal Chacha left us to a Fig tree, a huge wooden door and a muddy alley.
Though I heard him tip-toing and muttering God, why we get all the mud here?
The alley narrowed down on his fading figure moment by moment.
“Okay—Hamzai,” Amer shifted his eyes on his mobile’s scratchy screen, “I should be getting going now.”
“Hmm… But what about—“ I pointed gaze at Talal Chacha’s door.
He followed my eyes.
“I will call you tomorrow. Do you have a mobile number?” He asked raising his eyes up from the screen.
“—You can call my neighbors if you want, here is theirs number,” I took a wrinkled paper from my pocket and wrote him that number. “Just tell them my name when you call.”
“Done.” He uttered back.
He shook my hand with a grin and stepped away from sight.
After he was gone I stood there before a muddy ramp and it seemed as if I was ready for a dirt marathon. I pulled my Shalwaar and took a reluctant step mixed with a smoky disguise at the place I had lived for 17 years.
The alley – quite eternal it was – split into two even more congested tributaries of them and in the end they all made a dirt avenue. I mind raced over mixed thoughts: the most important anyone could have told was about the sand and the other… It was about where was I going with my life?
It had now been difficult for our uncles and grandparent to get the burden of feeding us and support us in every way, so Moray had kept asking me about what I wanted to become.
I’ll tell you I will find time, I always said. She must have felt something enormously saddling because I had blown my chance of getting an education because of the Madrassa and its tyrant teacher's tantrum, it was perhaps a miracle I’d say that I had passed my 7th grade and hit the comforting cushion in my house. One night in a starry sky, my friends for the neighborhood asked me of what was it that I wanted, I kept it silent, but then I uttered that I wanted to be someone who ventures out in the vast desert with a herd of sheep trailing his back. A shepherd, they had said. Yeah a shepherd, if it’s that. Thank God they didn’t tell my mother.
I hushed the thought away and kept tip-toing in the dusky sky in an orange wave forming on the infinite horizon. Silent and wrapped by my own humming, the main alley opened up to those side-ways smaller tributaries, and in one of them I saw some labors. They were three somehow: With one rolling down the cart piled up with orange bricks; the other two working in their flow. I paused to see what they were doing, though I had kept a considerable distance. The sight became feeble minute by minute and it seemed as though the Sun was hiding from something.
Out of nowhere, the guy with the cart saw me. I saw him back: he had a slim strap of black beard and his right hand looked a little longer than the other. He took an aimless step at me and did some kind of gesture that I didn’t at first notice, but: It was like he swayed his left cement-covered hand and made some kind of circle with his index finger and thumb; he then took his right hand’s index finger did a little shoveling in the circle. He looked at his fellow labors and laughed in a surprisingly dirty cackle. I felt a silent shiver running down my spine. And in a split second my legs acted as if it was time to get the hell out of there. My eyes raced at the dried up spots where taking a step wasn’t dangerous thanks to the Sun I scavenged to find any place I could seek help. I ran like a mad person in the velvety violet sky with dips of stars that looked as though fireflies in a crop field. I never looked back, though I should have had. But if didn’t matter. My knees cried in protest, but I kept on running in a dirt-wrapped alley. As I was nearing down the end, I saw a road which, to its parallel, had a shop of God knows what. When I neared it close and was about to cross…
Something giant hit me on the road and swept me up from the road for a very slow minute and threw me back at the road with its full might. The moment I hit, I felt the world had turned itself up and down on me, leaving me unimaginatively, and leaving me stranded with no power to react. I sensed a liquidy-warmth of something dripping out from my head. My eyes were sleep-walking and my breath heavy as the bull’s, when I heard some footsteps. The sound came closer and closer when I felt hands behind my back and it looked like I was carried up. What is wrong… what happened?, I heard myself whispering.
The hands behind my back escaped and I saw the stars passing me by and it was that moment my eyes lost the battle to guard my consciousness.
I felt a warm hand brushing through my hair when I opened my eyes.
The room was dark and rippled up with a single candle that had it light flowing around behind my head. I was all hurting badly and I sensed some kind of covers wrapped around my head. My speechless voice chanted out if there was anyone, but when I managed to turn my head to the left. I saw an old man.
His eyes shimmered golden and his face had long and weary creases. He wore some kind of robe like cloak which had many beaded necklaces.
“Worry not, Oh son” The old man said, though his voice sounded like a native.
“wh—where am… I?”I asked in the last.
“You are safe and sound.” He blew a cold breathe on me.
I was getting to get up when he stopped me.
“Bear with me, young boy,” he patted my chest, “I have come here to congratulate you.”
For one second anger filled my eyes and I blurted out, “What?”
“You have passed the test.” He added.
It was all out of mind now, every word that he said felt a trigger to the hit him.
“Do you not remember that bowl?”
It was then every jigsaw fell into its place.
“It was me who,” he coughed very dryly, “It was me who had placed that bowl of sand. And I have very resentful that I have m-made you see this deadly evening.”
I felt another stab in my back out of this. My mind raced over the memory of what had exactly happened.
“But… what was the test for?”
“Do you remember one night when you expressed your interest in becoming a,” he looked at his watch, “a shepherd?”
I gave him a wordless nod.
“I was testing your abilities in what you wanted to become. It was a test about what shall you do when you lose one of the sheep from your herd,” he stopped took another peak at his watch, “and I am flattered to see that you will put your life out for saving that one…”
His voice was full of relieve and I now wanted to close my eyes. After a few minutes, I felt a tender stroke on my chest it seemed that he was long gone before I could've asked him more.
It was a warm and sparrow-chirping morning when I opened my eyes. I looked at my left and saw Moray, hidden under a pink Burka there. She was sitting by the bed table.
“How is my child?” She kissed me on my forehead. Her lips trembled.
“Moray—“my lips shook.
“Your dad came last night and thank him that he got you here when you were lying on that road. Alone.”
"Dear God thank you."
She paused for a second and drank me a spoonful of water.
“He said that he was captivated by a feudal there and," she brushed her fingers in my sticky-smogy hair, "--and he was never remarried.”