Flash Fiction- What is normal?

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He didn’t have the most normal reaction one expected at the loss of a parent. There were no tears, there was no grief. If I were to identify with the one emotion that he displayed it could perhaps be cataloged as relief. The kind of relief one experiences when a great and terrible burden has been lifted.

Then again, he wasn’t the most normal person, how many people you know would list a bullet proof jacket as their ideal gift? Sameer was, for lack of a better word, unique. We first met as toddlers in the playgroup in our neighbourhood.  All the other children would be kicking and screaming all over the place (yours truly included) he would just sit down in a corner with six blocks of “1,2,3” and ABC. He would build two perfect towers one- one for the alphabet and one for numbers, both towers would be perfectly straight with one plastic cube perfectly placed on top of the other. After admiring his work for a minute of two, he would bring the tower down and start the whole process again.

I had never seen him smile.

Sameer lived at home with his parents, his uncle and his uncle’s wife his father’s only brother. Growing up, we were not financially comfortable, our living quarters were cramped and the occasional meal would be skipped but the sense of community made life a lot more easier. There was a principal of fairness instilled in us from the very first day of education. Whatever we brought from home would be pooled in to one huge communal meal. Sameer never brought any lunch throughout our schooling life. Sometimes, I gave him my lunches so that he could share it with the class as his. That’s how our friendship started.

Sameer always had a methodical approach to every thing he ever did, be it stacking blocks as a toddler or tackling any task. I remember when we were in 8th grade, someone donated a bunch of computers to our school, some 5 or 6 monitors were dumped in a large crate and all the wires, keyboards and mouses had been shoved in another box.

The computer systems donated were ancient, dusty, huge and heavy. They had been in a corner of a warehouse gathering dust for god knows how long. Just opening the flap of the box released a puff of dust in our faces. The students of the 8th grade had been instructed to assist the teachers in assembling the computer systems. No one in our school knew anything about computers, but Sameer volunteered to assemble them. Sameer and I stayed back after school to assemble our school’s computer lab which was basically made up of five broken tables pushed together a long extension board which Sameer fashioned from loose sockets, switches and floor boards. He worked very methodically but there was a touch of elegance to his work which made it seem like an artist was working.

After 5 hours of tedious labour, we finally managed to turn on the computers, I think it was in that time that our friendship bond really strengthened. That day we opened up to each other about our dreams. We asked each other what we wanted from our lives. I said that I wanted money, success, comfort and luxury, Sameer on the other hand after some hesitation muttered- “Peace”.

After that I found out that his father was an addict and use to regularly beat up his mother, Sameer had never told me this, the one thing that his father had taught him was never to air his dirty laundry in public. Every new bruise was explained as the result of a “fall”

One day he “fell” so hard that his arm was broken and his mother had also “fallen” with him which resulted in her breaking her ribs. People had asked her what happened and she just brushed it off like her son and said that she had fallen.

Now what I’m about to say next is just speculation based on the facts that I pieced together.

After the aforementioned fall where Sameer and his mother got injured, he complained to me about too many rats in his house. I suggested he get some rat poison from the hardware store around the corner. At the store, Sameer discussed his rat problem and asked for some potent rat poison. When the shopkeeper asked him how much he needed, Sameer replied “Enough to kill a rat no matter how big the bastard is” We took the poison to his house and grinded the small squares into fine white powder and placed it on his center table. We clearly labelled it “Rat Poison”.

I greeted Sameer’s father who only responded with a dazed look. He noticed Sameer standing next to me and asked him “Sameer when will you teach me how to read?”

Sameer did not respond and left the room, beckoning me to follow him.

A few days later, I saw a lot of people gathered around Sameer’s house, an ambulance was parked outside his house. His uncle and aunt were arguing with Sameer’s mother about something.
“But don’t you want to know how he died?” Sameer’s uncle angrily inquired, his aunt was bobbing her head in agreement with her husband.
“We all know how he died,” Sameer’s mother began “Why spend money finding out what we already know?”
“Don’t you owe it to him to find out?” Sameer’s aunt protested
“No.” Sameer’s mother’s eyes flashed dangerously signalling the end of the matter.
I had joined the crowd who were now enjoying watching the drama unfold
An acquaintance in the crowd whispered that Sameer’s father passed away from a drug overdose in the morning. Sameer spotted me in the crowd and beckoned me inside the house.
“Help me tidy up, we’ll be having a lot of visitors soon” he requested picking up shards of glass with his hands. I spotted a small translucent bag sealed lying on top of the sideboard with the sofa. Sameer picked up a similar bag from the center table marked “RAT POISON”, resealed it and placed in his pocket.
“At least the rat problem’s solved”

No need to say goodbye- flash fiction

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“How much could it hurt? A few moments of pain and then what?”

“Depends on what you believe. If you’ve been a good person then those moments of pain will be all that you feel. If not then those few excruciating moments will be the least of your worries.”

“Why?”

“An eternity of suffering awaits you. They say the real journey starts afterwards, this was but a little stop before your final destination.”

“What’s the other belief?”

“The other belief is that there is nothing afterwards, so a few moments of pain will be all you feel. You will fade into nothing- it is an escape route.”

“I want an escape how do I get it?”She asked anxiously

“Look for an opportunity” He replied, beginning to caress the beads in his rosary. His eyes were focused on the ground,
“Until then my child,” He glanced up making eye contact with the veiled lady for the first time during their meeting. “Have patience” he advised giving her a sympathetic smile. His kind black eyes again focused on the ground as he started meditating again indicating that their meeting had ended.

She got up and thanked the “Pir” (Holy Man) for his counsel and left the little room. She quietly and swiftly made her way back to her house, grateful for the veil on her face to avoid recognition from any acquaintance in this neighborhood filled with residents bearing questionable morals.

Maria entered her house from the back door, as quietly as possible to avoid getting caught by her paranoid husband.

She was virtually a prisoner at her house. She took off her veil as she stood in front of the mirror, something which she seldom did these days. Hazel eyes stared back at her as she stroked her cheeks lightly, it was exactly as the nurse in the burn ward had predicted. The burns had healed, but the scars remained.

She hated her reflection now, her beautiful face, her pride, was now horribly disfigured and the reason she decided to wear the veil outdoors.

Her husband had thrown acid on her face a few months before when he saw that she laughed at her neighbor’s son for making a funny remark about her husband. What started as a harmless joke quickly escalated into a shouting match. In a fit of rage, her husband got the bottle of acid from under the sink, opened the cap and grabbed her by the arm.
“Laugh one more time! I dare you!” He snarled at her.
Scared, she could not muster any response just a broken, throaty and sobbing apology, as she felt the first sting of the liquid pierce through the flesh on her face leaving her writhing in agony.

It was a full two hours before she got medical help. After this incident she started covering her face citing religious reasons- a white lie she told to avoid uncomfortable discussions.
The bottle of acid was still there, half empty, under the sink.
It was after the incident that someone referred her to the Pir. His suggestions didn’t make much of a difference to her life, but she did breathe a little easier being able to discuss with someone the issues bothering her with a degree of comfort without being judged.

That night, she was going to take an opportunity, her patience was wearing thin. She needed to get out.
She was very polite to him that night- extra attentive to his needs. She also made him a cup of tea before sleeping, something she hadn’t done since the acid incident. After he fell asleep, she got the bottle of acid from underneath the sink and dribbled some on his slippers. She then left to pack her things, which didn’t take very long give the limited number of worldly possessions her husband had allowed her to own. She then stood by her husband’s head and emptied the acid bottles content on his face and torso. The silent night was pierced by a blood curdling scream as her husband awoke to the agonizing sensation of stinging flesh. The scream intensified after he stepped in to his damp slippers.
She watched in silence the pandemonium unfolding in front of her- her husband sprinting blindly in the house trying to soothe his burning flesh. She called an ambulance and slipped out of the house. At 3 in the morning, she watched from a far as an ambulance finally picked up her wailing husband as the ambulance passed by her, she wondered if she should do something. She started to move in the direction of the ambulance and then stopped. There was no need to say good bye she thought as she walk into the graying skies.

Flash Fiction-The curious case of the mineral water

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An acquaintance of mine told me the story of how the mind can influence the body
Here’s the story:
My father’s brother came to Pakistan from America after a gap of 11 years. My uncle was a serious victim of germophobia and thought that the boiled water here was dirty. Consequently, he had an upset stomach drinking the ‘dirty’ boiled water. In order to salvage his brother’s stomach, my father bought a gallon of some mineral water and all was well. In those days mineral water had been newly launched in the market and was considered a luxury, so understandably the rest of the family questioned the logic behind the expense for such a luxury.

One fine day, as we were sitting for lunch, my uncle mentioned to my father that he was out of mineral water and needed some more. My father had just started his meal and was really angry at the timing of my uncle’s request. In his haste to get back to lunch, he did not go to the bottle wala and buy a new gallon, instead he filled the gallon with tap water and just shut the door loudly to ensure that my uncle heard him coming back. He tipped the contents of the gallon into a bottle and brought it to the table. My uncle was satisfied that he was having ‘mineral’ water and spent the rest of his trip drinking what was in fact, tap water. There were no further bouts of repeated trips to the bathroom and my uncle returned to America with a healthy stomach.

As you can see mineral water is just an illusion for fooling the elite class of Pakistan, for people coming from abroad doctors recommend double-boiled water and urge the visitors to avoid to drink mineral water.
I mean we don’t know how they get the water, it could be sewage treated water for all we know. To further demonstrate my point, i want the readers to watch the  Tuxedo opening scene the film starring Jackie Chan.

Mineral Water

Mineral Water

The lying lady- Flash fiction

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This is a translation of a short story that was written in Urdu.

The sun was at its hottest when he reached home from school. Upon entering the house, he felt his mother’s face light up at his sight. She smiled and said wash up and change your clothes, I will bring your lunch.
He changed his clothes, he wasn’t looking forward to lunch. Instead of the usual vegetables and lentils, a plate of his favorite dish was steaming on the table along with a bowl of dessert and juice.
He asked his mother if everything was alright? She said guests had come over today which is why she cooked so much. He asked his mother to eat with him. She said she already ate with the guests and was completely full.
“Eat up the food is getting cold.” His mother told him lovingly as she left for the kitchen to tidy up. He used to detest lunch everyday, but today his favorites were on the table and he quickly gobbled up his food.
He picked up his plates and went to the kitchen. Upon entering the kitchen he saw the lying lady sitting on the floor eating stale bread with water like a starving person.

That’s her- Flash Fiction

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I did it- I took a leap of faith and followed my heart, a few seconds of courage is all it took. I was feeling elated, the sensation of adrenaline rushing through your veins is indescribable. You feel your heart throbbing right behind your ear, a rush of euphoria fills you.  You can feel the separate drops of sweat forming on your neck; slowly trickling down your nape forming tiny rivulets.

“I take it that she said yes?” Adnan asked

“How did you know?”

Adnan smiled- “It’s practically written on your face. Well that and she told me to cover for her tomorrow afternoon.”

I smiled still basking in the triumphant feeling of a gamble coming off.

“So, where are you taking her?”

I paused- “I don’t know, I didn’t think that she would say yes.”

“How about a movie?” Adnan suggested

“No spending three hours with barely an opportunity to talk?” I countered twirling my moustache.

“How about lunch by the beach and a short walk afterwards?” I asked Adnan.

“Well that’s not a bad idea, but does she know that your interest in her is romantic?” Adnan asked.

“I think so, she did agree to come alone. Plus she also laughed at my jokes”

Adnan stared at me in mock surprise “Never let her go dude.”

“What? I can be funny, can’t I?”

Adnan rolled his eyes and shook his head.

I made my way back to my desk, I had admired for her for the last six months. Granted she was good looking but that wasn’t why I was attracted to her. No it was her kindness that caught my eye. The first time she caught my eye was when she gave half her sandwich to the little errand boy in our office. Though usually a sharp talking individual, the tenderness she showed when giving her food to the little kid was heart warming.

Over the six month period she regularly shared her lunch with the little boy- Talal was his name. He was around 11 and did the work of a full grown person- serving  tea to the people in the office and making countless runs to the stores for various things.

Our lunch hour started from 1 and ended at 2. Every day at precisely 1.50 when Talal would place the pot of water for the afternoon tea, she would make her way to the little makeshift kitchen counter we had in our office. She would look over her shoulder to check whether anybody was watching, this was my cue to pretend to be engrossed in my desktop, usually it involved counting the number of folders on my desktop.

I used to peek from behind my monitor as she always slid her lunch box to Talal and whisper in a conspirational tone “Talal please clean this” with the emphasis on clean.

The kid always smiled and used to say “Thanks baji!” Then he proceeded to eat whatever tasty morsel was in the box, usually a sandwich.

We made small talk after the first time I saw her doing the lunch thing. There is something about falling for someone, that you start to notice all their small quirks and you like all of them.

Anyways the big day arrived and we both agreed to get our orders to go. We each had a burger in hand as we sat down on some rocks watching the tides break against the rocks further out on shore. The conversation was light and interesting. By around 1.30  she started glancing at her watch and wrapped half her burger and placed it in the paper bag that we had originally gotten our order in. I knew what was coming so I told her ” Don’t worry about Talal today,” she looked a little surprised that I knew about that. ” Today I’ve taken care of it.”

She looked relieved and then I confessed to her that it was the reason I had noticed her.

“Taroo!” was her response to my confession implying that I was a gawker.

She had scrunched her nose squinting at me with her grey eyes.

I tensed up for a bit fearing I had said too much.

“So you don’t think that I am good looking?” She asked with mischief in her eyes

“Lets go, we’ve got to be on time.” I said getting up dusting off the seat of my pants.

“I’m in no hurry” she said

“Well I am- Adnan was supposed to be covering for me, but you asked him first.” I grumpily said.

“Alright, but you didn’t answer my question, you don’t think that I am good looking?”

“You’re just fishing for compliments” I smirked. “Besides, I don’t think it makes a lot of difference whether I think you are good looking or not”

“Well,” she hesitated and then said “It makes a lot of difference to me,” her expression was serious now.

“You look like the most beautiful girl in the world,” I said hoping she would catch on to the joke

“Who?” She demanded

“You!” I replied laughing at the ridiculousness of my joke.

She also laughed as we made our journey back to the office. As we were making our way to the kitchen, Adnan came up to us and asked “how was it?” as he fished out his mobile from his pocket, not wanting to sound too enthusiastic in front of her; I just gave him a thumbs up and a nod. She also nodded and said “Best conversation I’ve had in a long time. Thanks for everything” She paused-I didn’t notice Adnan focusing his phone towards me as I focused on her. “Bhai!” (by calling me a brother, she effectively was friend zoning me). My expression turned from attentive to shock to anger.

She and Adnan burst out laughing and she hurriedly added in between peals of laughter “Just kidding!, I wish you could have seen the look on your face!”

Adnan amidst his laughter also managed to get out the words “Actually, you can!” He showed me his phone “I caught it on video!”

There I stood between two laughing people finally able to grasp the concept of bittersweet.

Flash Fiction- I can’t read

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“So tell me about yourself”

“What do you want to know?”

“Anything,”  she smiled brushing a strand behind her ears “and everything!”

“Well, ” I cleared my throat “I was born and brought up here, my parents are also from here”

“This isn’t a job interview” She interjected

“Actually madam,” I replied “It is”

The lady who introduced herself as Maham picked up my CV for the umpteenth time, glanced at it again and said “Alright, what do you bring to the table”

“Well my CV is here so..”

“We both know that CVs do not truly project your complete image, so I ask again Mr. Anjum, what can you give to this organisation that the other five applicants for this job can’t?”

I was a little flustered, and getting annoyed. This question completely put me off. The interview had been highly unorthodox, she had almost completely ignored my CV, it was feeling more like an interrogation than a job interview. On top of that she was a really hard person to read, some interviewers put you at ease and others keep you on your toes; she was switching between the two modes very frequently, I didn’t know what to say. I had had enough,

“Madam my CV pretty much describes the person I am and what I bring to the table. I am a honest hard working person who hasn’t stolen anything in my life. I can’t understand what you are trying to ask, I came here for a job interview, but you make it feel like an interrogation. Thank you for your time!” I replied angrily as I got up to leave the room.

“Honesty! How refreshing Mr. Anjum, the other five people just put on fake smiles and made hollow promises,” Maham said as I reached the door.

I stopped at the door, still pissed at this lady who had given me a headache in just half an hour.

“The job is yours if you want it, any questions?”

Atleast it wasn’t all for nothing.

“Umm what kind of assistance will be required to provide?”

“Just routine secretarial work like handling correspondence with clients, filing and so on.”

“The ad said that  special secretarial duties would be required… what does that mean?” I asked bracing myself for the worst like carrying out personal errands for her.

“Well Mr. Anjum, ” She hesitated for the first time in our meeting.

“I can’t read.” She replied red faced

Flash fiction- Horror Stories

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The nights were hot and sweaty, coupled with the long power outages are the constant puttering of generators in our street, it was a miracle of we got more than 3-4 hours of sleep. We spent long humid nights fanning ourselves to sleep with hand made fans or newspapers.
We had one fan made by our mother who had fashioned it by attaching buntings on an old lid. We lost it and forgot all about it.
On one such humid night at around 2 am, someone was banging on our door. It was the little boy across the street. “Excuse me uncle,” he “I want to ask why the lady who comes every night to fan me to sleep has not come tonight?”
“Sorry son,” I replied, “no lady lives here.”
“Yes she does,” argued the little boy,”She told me herself when she fanned me the first time. She also told me that she made this fan herself.”
He was holding a battered old lid with buntings attached on the sides. My mother has beeb dead for five years.