October 1, 2014

Fiction: "Only Nada Lives On The Other Side Of Mountains" by Muhammad Nasrullah Khan

C:\Users\emachines\Desktop\Nasrullah Khan.jpgMuhammad Nasrullah Khan is from Pakistan currently living in Saudi Arabia, where he is Lecturer in English at Taif University. His short stories are well recognized internationally for his unique prose style, and really naive innocence of rural life of Pakistan. His short story Donkey-Man was selected among the Notable Online Short Stories of 2003 in the StorySouth Million Writers Award. His work has appeared in Newtopia Magazine, Gowanus Books,Offcourse literary Journal University at Albany, The Raven Chronicles, and many others. He exists on twitter as @nasar_peace ,at  nasar_peace@hotmail.com, nasar_peace@yahoo.com,  and https://www.facebook.com/nasar.peac

 Only Nada lives on the Other Side of Mountains

The cool spring winds sang over the mountains and swept down through wild flowers. The beauty of the bright spring sun inspired a touch of bittersweet feelings for Mona. She moved to and fro and packed her few belongings into wooden boxes. Stretching on her toes to reach the top shelf of her simple yet delicate teak bookcase, Mona’s hand brushed light across the spine of a tattered, but cherished, book.
           Looking over her shoulders, Mona brushed the dust from her hand and reached for the faded and stained book.
“I haven’t seen Grandpa’s book since I was a child,” She cradled the time-worn tome in both hands and sank down to sit on a brocaded footstool.
Tears glazed her eyes as she opened the thin book, caressing a small scrap of parchment that rested just inside the front cover. She ran her fingers over the tender words written in shaky script so long ago. As his gift to her, he’d drawn a flower under his signature.
“My dearest Mona, the love and wisdom in these pages will guide you to keep you on your path. Let these simple words soothe you in times of sadness and empower you to find the happiness that lies within your heart.”
Where had the time gone?  It seemed as though only yesterday her dear grandfather had spun the tales and shared the laughter bringing color and life to her world.
Clutching the book to her bosom, she rose and walked to the door, drinking in the cool, fresh scent of the valley. Grandfather’s book felt warm with a life of its own beneath her palms.  This sweet work of art, crafted with love, may not have brought him the much deserved fame that he enjoyed in later years, but to Mona, it was a priceless expression of who he was.  She sighed, remembering.
Her grandfather had left the village years ago, despite Mona’s pleadings. He came back frequently for joy-filled visits, but his restless spirit compelled him to return to his secret den in the city, where he crafted words into magical tapestries, which captivated readers from all over the world.
A lone tear slid down her cheek. In the last letter that she received, he’d said he was desperately tired.  Her heart was heavy as she wondered if she would ever again bask in the warm glow of his presence, and be soothed by the balm of his wise words.
Mona had spent many happy days with her beloved grandfather, but one day in particular stood out from among the rest.  He had arrived in the valley for a visit on a beautiful summer morning, and found Mona writing stories at her desk.  She glanced up with delight as he peered over her shoulder to see her work.
Jumping up to greet him, she exclaimed, "Grandpa, I missed you! Do you have any new stories for me?”  His soft answer surprised her.
“I’m weary of stories now, dear Mona.” He stood up. “Let’s take a walk.”
“I’m puzzled, Grandpa,” Mona frowned.  “You write such masterpieces, for which you receive praise from so many, and this is the special place where you come for inspiration.  If you’re not here to write your beautiful stories, what compels your visit?” she asked, walking in step with him.
Taking a deep breath he smiled and patted her shoulder. “Dear one, you cannot know the pleasure of coming back home until you’ve first felt the pain of leaving. I’ve felt this pain and pleasure many times. The writer is a most miserable creature. He creates stories with the ashes of his soul before he is finally condemned to eternal silence.”  Grandfather paused, letting her absorb his words, and then asked, “Do you know where Shakespeare spent his last days?”
Somewhat befuddled, Mona nodded, “I read that he spent his last days in the village where he was born and raised. Knowing the end was near; he signed his will, and died shortly thereafter.”
“Yes, but do you know how he spent his last year?” he persisted.
Thoroughly lost at this point, she shook her head.
“He spent his time among common people, not as a celebrity, but simply as a man who came back home after many years. He enjoyed the humble pleasure of conversations with the village folk.  Weary of creating characters and performing them on the stage, he longed to enjoy the precious time he had left experiencing the warm reality of real people who had real stories to tell.This creator of profound prose was free to be himself only during childhood and his last year in the village, the rest of his life was devoted to working for the entertainment of others. Must the ultimate achievement of a writer culminate in abject loneliness and isolation from the rest of the world?   The writer is neither god, nor fully man, but a miserable creature caught somewhere between, shackled within his solitude.”
They walked silently together for a time, enjoying each other’s company as Mona pondered the meaning of her grandfather’s words.  It was nearly noon by the time they returned to the lush green yard surrounding the farmhouse. The sky was thick with billowing grey clouds which threatened rain. In the valley, near the babbling stream that ran through its floor, a mare whinnied, so loud and vibrant that the earth seemed to tremble underfoot.
“Your cousin, smiling boy, should arrive today from his village,” said Grandpa. “I hope his journey is safe on this cruel rainy day.” He looked at Mona’s flushed cheeks and smiled. “But then, our smiling boy is a poet who loves romantic summer rains.”
“He’s never written a poem, Grandpa,” she replied
“Ahh…but there are two types of poets and writers.  There are those like me and like you, who suffer for our writing and strongly desire to touch the hearts of our readers. But then there are also the poets and writers who write only for themselves. They are pure and strong, writing for the sheer joy of it, never allowing themselves to be poisoned by editors and readers. My smiling boy is the second type, a wonderful poet by nature. Since his childhood, he has written poems and songs for himself. He wanted to win your heart when you were younger, but respected your dreams.  His heart broke for you when you married another and divorced within a year.”
Mona’s failed marriage was a sore topic. “I know, Grandpa, it wasn’t a wise choice. I never thought that the brilliant writer whom I married would choose his art and his audience over me,” she shook her head sadly, remembering.
“My dear Mona, you are still young and have much to learn. His writings heightened your joy for a while and he so fascinated you that you imagined there was a god behind those writings. But he was only a man, and a flawed soul at that.”
“I didn’t understand the complexity of writers,” she admitted. “Some are such miserable creatures, writing and then waiting for the approval of editors and readers. They live in misery their whole lives, feeling like gods if they become famous, finding their worth in the adulation of others. What is the end result...? Loneliness and death.”
Grandpa smiled. “But, my dear child, you have survived, and a life full of beauty, love and promise awaits you.  The stories you write spread good cheer to those who are fortunate enough to read them. Move on from the past, there’s nothing to pity here! Do you remember those cloudy summers from childhood, when you used to sing in the rain?”
Mona nodded. Summers lasted forever back then. “I used to chase lightening bugs through the woods. I’d catch them and put them inside a jar. I dreamed of the stars with the jar by my bed, but each morning my pretty lightening bugs were dead.”
“Our desires are much like that, dear one,” Grandpa replied. Pausing on the pathway, he leaned against a rock, shook his head and sighed. “We chase our desires our entire lives. To achieve them, we put ourselves in difficult and often painful circumstances.  If we achieve these desires too soon they die and lose their beauty. Often it is not until we become old and feeble, that we realize the happiness and beauty we so desperately sought was there all the while. Someone caring and loving was one call away, with open hands and pure heart. It seems that for a time, you forgot that it was your cousin, my smiling boy, who used to catch those lightening bugs for you.”
Grandpa longed to remind Mona of the smiling boy’s love for her, a love that she took for granted, but her failed marriage left her heart scarred and afraid to love. “I must guard my heart against passion, I’ve already paid the price for following it the first time,” she thought. Uncomfortable with the truth in his words, Mona tried to change the subject. “Grandpa, see how pleasant the weather is today, let’s enjoy it.”
Chuckling, her wise grandfather would not be dissuaded. “Let’s go together, Mona, hold my hand and take me down to welcome my smiling boy, my poet grandson. I’ve never read his poems but I always feel his poetry; his poetry touches my heart.”
The clouds were beginning to clear and a lovely rainbow stretched across the brightening sky when Grandpa shouted with happiness. “Look there, Mona, right under the rainbow, my smiling boy, on his white mare!”
She saw him waving his hand and started to wave back, but stopped. Grandpa caught her hand and waved it for her, laughing out loud. Rays of sunshine came through the clouds, beaming upon Grandfather’s smiling boy, the sweet poet. On his mare ascending the mountain, he reminded Mona of the Greek god Zephyr, god of the West Wind and messenger of spring, coming to carry her from the mountain top to a meadow of blue skies and white clouds.  Dismounting, he hurried toward the grinning pair, and pulled Grandpa into his embrace.
“Oh my boy,” Grandpa said. With tears in his eyes he hugged the smiling boy.
“Good day, Ali,” Mona smiled shyly, calling him by his real name. It had been such a long time since she had gazed upon his strong, handsome face.
“My dear cousin, how are you?” he inquired, eyes alight.
“I’m fine, thank you,” was all Mona could think to say in the face of his tender regard.
Time hadn’t changed Ali, his heart shone in his eyes.
“It is always nice seeing you two together,” Grandpa said, grinning broadly.  It seemed as though the brooding thoughts with which he had been wrestling were suddenly suffused with the light of an inner peace.
“Come, both of you,” Grandpa decreed. “Let’s have lunch and some tea.”
The stroll back to the farmhouse was joyful, Ali and Mona basking in the light of Grandfather’s happiness.
After the three of them chattered through their meal and tea and rested a while, Grandpa suggested another walk to appreciate the setting sun in the backdrop of clouds nestling against the mountaintop.Mona took in the beauty of the valley as the grazing animals moved toward home. She felt a kinship with them, knowing the soothing peace that comes only from relaxing at home at the end of the day.  As the happy notes of the shepherd’s flute faded into the distance, her soul was content.
Grandpa stopped walking after a time, considering the beauty of the setting sun. “Let me tell you a story.” He motioned for them to sit on an outcropping of rocks. “The two of you will be the first to hear this and, most likely, the last.”
He sat across from the curious pair, settling himself carefully. He released a long breath and said: “It is here I met my Nada,” he said. “She was picking flowers from this valley. Her face shone with greater beauty than the blossoms she held.” Grandpa paused to regard a graceful bird flying alone in the light of the dying sun. Mona noted the similarities between the two – the free-spirited bird and her brilliant grandfather.
“'Hello!' I said to that lovely girl. She looked at me with annoyance, as though I had disturbed her. 'Yes?' she inquired, undoubtedly wondering why I, a strange youth, was speaking to her. Words escaped me in the face of her radiant beauty, so I awkwardly blurted out the first words that came to me –'thank you for being so beautiful!' She smiled and the whole universe smiled with her.”
Grandpa gazed at the sky, lost in memories. The sun sank into its rest, deep within the universe, drawing Grandfather further into his contemplative state.
“True love is known throughout history to have a certain element of mystery, and the story of lost love touches the heart of every hearer.” Grandpa remarked, pondering.  After a moment he shook himself, returning to his storytelling.
“So I was telling you about my beautiful girl, my Nada.” He said with a faraway smile.
“I believe I fell instantly in love with Nada, but I had other dreams as well and I left this beautiful village in pursuit of them.”
“Grandpa, you believe you were in love? Were you not sure?” Mona asked.
When we met, I thought I was in love, but I was not. I was transfixed by her beauty, I was captivated by her smile, and I couldn’t see her love because I was blinded by ambition. Now, with age and wisdom, after growing to know her, I can truthfully confess that I will always be in love with her.” Grandpa replied. Years had graced his lost love.
“What happened Grandfather?” Ali asked, leaning forward, fascinated.
“I left this village and went to the city. I still remember that cloudy evening when I said goodbye. I remember the unshed tears welling in her eyes. Memories of my sweet Nada faded as the dazzling lights of city consumed me. Fame came quite soon, which was a curse. I became popular as a writer and the stars in my eyes caused me to lose sight of her. I didn’t return for many years and when I did, I was weary of fame, and longed to see my Nada again.”
‘Did you find her?” Mona asked, breathlessly.
“Yes, yes I found her.” Grandpa replied, casting his eyes downward.
“Where is she now?” Ali asked.
Gazing toward the horizon, Grandfather replied, “On the other side of mountain.”
Mona and Ali followed his line of sight.
“Grandpa we’d like to meet your Nada,” they exclaimed in unison.
Grandfather considered them and nodded, “Yes, let’s walk together.”
The brightness of a full moon lit their path, casting deep shadows behind them as they crested the summit and started down the other side.  Grandfather held up his hand to indicate that they had arrived, the light of the moon softening the gentle planes of his face.  Ali and Mona exchanged an uncertain look when they realized they were standing at the edge of a graveyard.  Moving to a grave beneath the limbs of a beautiful willow, whose leaves were silvered with moonlight, Grandpa paused.
“Nada is here. She loved me when I was unknown. She wept for me when the world laughed at me. In my haste for fame and glory, I left her alone and never looked back. My beautiful village girl was forgotten.”  Tears welled in his eyes and slid down his wrinkled cheeks.
Ali and Mona moved to either side of their wizened grandfather, warming him with their presence, standing by him as his grief ran its course.
“Grandpa, let’s go to home,” Ali suggested, taking his arm.
Silently they moved toward home.  The shadows that seemed benevolent turned into sinister apparitions, clutching at them with cold, bony fingers.  A wolf howled mournfully and, startled, Mona screamed. She had heard terrible stories of hungry wolves chasing and attacking humans.
Ali held her hand, and as lightening tore the fabric of the night sky she saw the love reflected in his eyes.
“Be thankful, Mona, your Ali is still alive.” Grandpa said.
Blushing, Mona squeezed Ali’s hand and leaned her head against the muscled warmth of his protective arm.
Breaking the silence, Mona asked, “Grandpa, do wolves also live on the other side of the mountain?” They all laughed.
With merriment and love twinkling in his eyes, he replied, “No dear Mona, wolves live on our side, only Nada lives on the other side of mountain.”
After so many years Mona found that book. She curled up into her most comfortable chair and settled in to read.  Hours later tears streamed down her face as she read the last line in her cherished book… “The choices that we make will either fulfill us, or cause our hearts to wither with regret.  When faced with the choice between fortune and feelings, the greatest treasure one will ever chase, is love.”
~Muhammad Nasrullah Khan

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