July 7, 2016

Fiction by Muhammad Nasrullah Khan: "Eternal Freedom"

"Muhammad Nasrullah Khan is from Pakistan currently living in Saudi Arabia, where he is Lecturer in English at Taif University. Writing is his passion and teaching his profession. His 15 years of experience in the field of writing has honed his capacity to compose basic fascinating stories about the human experience. Enlivened by the stories of great English and Russian writers, he has taken a pinch of fact and a cup of fiction to weave an embroidered creative work of adoration, trust, and agony in his stories. His work has appeared in Indiana Voice Journal,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.peace "


The sun bathed him in rays of blood while he stood mute, a victim of her radiant fury. It sank below the horizon as darkness seeped in through the window to take over.
“I will kill him tonight, I am sure I will,” he swore.
There was always an appearance, once darkness deepened- a sleek advent, creeping in with the night air.
Rustam trotted out of his bedroom. He was focused, his eyes open, searching. He spied a shadow scuttling between the wash room and dining room. Ready to destroy this intruder, he lunged. His foot stopped midair, in the midst of almost crushing his target.
Another missed opportunity.
Rustam couldn’t bring himself to kill the cockroach; his deepest instincts were to shy away from killing. Defeated, he put on his jacket and left home. He entered the street where many people wandered, homeless or lost--with fearful, haunted eyes. Walking down the cobbled road, Rustam couldn’t lift his head. He averted gazes of the haggard eyes which seemed to surround him from all sides.
“Father once said we had a street of homes, wars dragged on, and homes became houses, ruined structures on shaky bases, in tatters. The darkness of death prevails; life is a temporal phase.” He spoke only to himself as he walked. It comforted him.
Jerked into the present by the roaring engine of aircraft, Rustam ran, like so many of the others, for cover.
The planes sprayed death like insecticide to annihilate creatures. All around were the wounded, hanging on to life’s last moments. He found an underground trench and leapt into it, trying to avoid the scattered body parts in the dirt.
Rustam couldn’t look away from all of the death.
A bomb exploded. Shrapnel slit the throat of a man running, screaming, and he dropped like a slaughtered cow. The man had been right outside the trench, close enough for the sounds of  his last dying breaths to be heard among the chaos. Rustam flinched away, but he didn’t have to look far to find another victim of the explosion. A desperate mother ran toward her dead child. She was wounded. Blood bubbled through her blouse, and dripped from her lips as she fell on to her dead child. Her last breath was spent in a rasping scream of agony and terror.
It didn’t last long. The raid was over within minutes of the first plane going by. The living emerged like scared rabbits. The taste of death stung like chilled wind in the back of his throat. He moved out the trench, walking away, like it was all nothing.
The air smelled of smoke, and blood. There was new energy. The fear was strong and fresh. He shivered, gazing down the dark street lit only by fires from the bombs. He couldn’t feel his feet on the ground. He couldn’t feel, —just a surge of nausea.
Picking his way through the still smoking debris, Rustam couldn’t help but noticed all of the unattended bodies. Wali and Azad, his two friends, were supposed to meet him at the tea stall. They used to meet there every night. It was a ritual meant to  superimposed normality over the reality of their shattered lives. Azad, a poet, would point to the stars and share their stories. Wali, a philosopher, had no liking for imaginative tales.
Rustam sat on the stool, his arms wrapped around his chest. He didn’t hear the stories of the stars. He was still remembering the night’s death.
“Did your day suck as bad as mine?” said Wali
Rustam glanced up to his friend. “I feel death in my throat.”
“It means you killed the cockroach .”
Rustam shook his head. “No. Not today. I couldn’t. But I watched a woman die, she’d been limping toward her dead baby and a man did not even look at her when he crushed her ribs trying to get away.”
Wali nodded . “Each waking moment is a prelude to ultimate sleep. Each breath is one gasp closer to our last. Each beginning is merely a path to the end. When one dies is equal to the death of a thousand years. It is only when we’re near death that we are most alive, new, different and free.”
The image of the woman sliced through his memory like a knife. He stared at the horizon, his hooded eyes pointing toward the looming moon.
Azad, the poet,  was there too. He sat in silence, a pen in his hand, near his already full notebook. His glassy eyes also stared skyward. Migrating birds passed over, without alighting to rest.
Azad was searching for an empty page. He jotted something down and gave voice to his poem:
“Don’t fly so near to the earth.
Fly up because Humans possess the earth,
Humans who have turned mad,
Fly up and pass through quickly.
Go to your seas and warm waters.
Don’t look down for a place to rest here,
For humans consume their own children.”
The calls of the birds lingered. Rustam turned to face his friends. The poet and philosopher debated, and he listened with head bent.
“I’ve been studying human behavior and have gone through centuries. History is full of violence, pain, and humiliation,” Wali said.
Azad nodded and said, “But lots of people are living in peace on this planet.”
“They are living in peace at our cost.”
“But what is the crime of a million people who don’t even know the reason of our war?”
“Not knowing the reason is the biggest reason. Man has the instinct of hunting. The hunters have finished the animals. Now what should they hunt?”
Rustam, who’d been silent for a while, now lifted his head. “But I’m also a man, and I don’t want to kill a cockroach!”
“You were taught to be timid,” Wali said. “The books of great people and our so called education taught to us to be timid and slaves forever. They taught you to be kind and tolerant, and you took that as gospel truth. Are those who believe in books safe?”
“Many who don’t—”Azad blew out a sigh and interrupted. “I’m hungry, been for days, craving a dish to fill me? Any bites left for me?”
Rustam gave bread pieces to the poet. Azad gobbled the dry bread and nodded in deep appreciation.
Wali looked at Azad and said, “Hunger and death are the forefront in our system of feelings. The rest are all abstract things. I’ve seen people kill other people for just one small meal.”
The waiter brought hot tea. They knew him, and Wali made friendly conversation with him. “What’s up, dear Kagan.”
The waiter sighed: “Once people fought against the foreign invasions. Now people are praying for the foreign invasion again. Foreign attack was a quick death, but internal fight looms on and on, a constant torture.”
“How does one keep up in the face of constant death all around? How long before reality takes its toll?” Rustam asked.
Wali responded before Kagan could say anything. “The feeling of death is terrible, but death itself is a wonderful thing. We remain in this fear our whole life, but as we go through it we are in the beautiful world.”
“How do you know?” Azad challenged.
“I believe we are here, on earth, like a lost child who knows the direction of his home, but the way to home goes through a dark jungle where he thinks the wild animals will kill him. Death is like that dark jungle which scares you, but when you have the courage to cross that jungle you find your home.”
There was silence while they pondered Wali’s words. Suddenly the ground shook and a roar came from the sky. Men rushed in, armed with weapons and people scattered. Airplanes zoomed overhead. For a brief time no one moved. The fighting got closer. Wali yelled, “We’re sitting ducks, just waiting for the devil to blow us all to hell! Bodies of dead and dying are all around.”
Azad shouted back, “They serve as shields. Let’s go.”
They all stood in unison, like puppets on strings.
"Many good men have died, and I suppose it must be God's will," Rustam yelled as they moved.
Wali's eyes narrowed. The comment annoyed him—he didn’t like simplifications.
Azad lagged behind, but Wali pulled him along. “Are you fine?”
They were farther from the fighting, and could hear each other speak. The poet answered in a wandering escapism, “I’m fine. I was simply admiring that fine view to the west when sun sets, and thinking about things."
"What kind of things?" Wali said. The poet was still innocent, despite the carnage and gore he had lived through. Even the bright sparkle of his eyes had not been dulled. His face was still like a pale newborn out from the womb.
“What lies beyond? Thinking further into outer realms, not the literal war of our everyday existence, or even our tomorrows, next months, or next years. Wider than that. The human existence. Julius Caesar. Alexandar the Great. Where are they now? Where is that next level?”
"Heaven or hell, I suppose," Rustam muttered.
"And where is that?" Wali asked.
Rustam looked back toward the tea stall, where smoke slowly disappeared into dark skies.
"I don't know ", Rustam said.
Azad swept his hand across the horizon. “The colours of the sky make me wonder. Someday, will we all join them in a radiant escapade? They wait in anticipation for us to join them in the hue of heaven that we sometimes get a glimpse of.”
“Enough! Enough!” The philosopher cried, “They are gone! Gone! Eternally so!” The light had disappeared from his eyes.
Wali walked away, the poet followed, reciting poems after him.
“My once fiancée, the laughter, joy and rhythm of each new day. I see her face, her beauty hovering on me. I know she still exists. I know she still smiles with luscious lips. Her warm breath still fills my air. Even the sounds of her voice fill my ears with melody!”
Wali turned angry. “You poets are the most unrealistic people on earth.”
There was a rumbling in the sky, they scattered to hide. Wali didn’t. He walked ahead. The bomb dropped, the noise was terrible, but not as bad as the flames that devoured Wali as he embraced death. They saw his fiery form crumble to the ground, not dead yet, twitching in flames.
The planes moved on, but Rustam and Azad remained hidden for several more hours. The moon glimmered behind dark clouds. It began to rain. Rustam moved toward what remained of his friend. He gathered a handful of philosopher’s ashes in agony looking into the sky for a sign---that flash of colour which might be heaven.
Through the clouds he saw the sunrise. The glowing amber gently spread across the ashes. Dawn rose to a fresh new awakening.
“Life is still there,” he said while looking toward the poet. But he didn’t find him there. Azad had slipped away without saying bye. Rustam knew how much Wali loved the river, and he brought the ashes of his friend there.
"I think I know. This is the place you've been looking for," Rustam said with a sad smile and scattered the ashes into the river.
It had been a long night, and he went home. But there was no more home, only brick rubble. Anger filled his soul as he moved from brick to brick. What he was looking for he didn’t know, but then he saw it. The cockroach was there, taunting, on one of the heaps. It chirruped, only once.
Rustam eyed it, and stealthily picked up a nearby brick. He raised it above his head. The cockroach didn’t move. This time he would kill it. He would not be timid. As he brought it down, his arm stopped midair. A tear streaked down his face. “Enjoy freedom,” he said to the cockroach and watched it scuttle back into the darkness.
He turned to the horizon and heard echoes of the poet’s voice, “The dead live in eternal freedom.”

~Muhammad Nasrullah Khan (Pakistan)

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