Monday, December 2, 2013


A Short Story by Ehtisham Rizvi

Art by Tehreem Naeem

Art by Tehreem Naeem

Bang! Bang! Two gun shots - one targeting his face and the other his chest – that was all it took to kill him. He fell down and the killers got away. The shots had been fired from a white Toyota, which sped away once the target was eliminated.

It was just another Tuesday in the busy metropolitan. He was just another man standing at the bus stop waiting for his bus to arrive. Just another man trying to provide for his family in the failing economy. And suddenly he was no more.

The people at the bus stop gathered around him and someone called an ambulance. They used his cellphone to contact his friends and family, and took the body to the morgue. For some, his death was sad news. For others, the news made no difference.

Abdul had always wondered what happened after death. He read a lot about it in books and heard a lot from the neighborhood cleric, but he always liked to discover things on his own. Now that he had experienced death, he wondered what would happen next. He found the scene in front of him mesmerizing. They were putting his body on a stretcher, and he was standing just a few feet away watching his own carcass.

He wondered what would happen at work when they found the news. He wondered if they would stop working, give everyone the day off, and visit his house to give their condolences to his family. As soon as he thought about work he was transported there. The atmosphere seemed sad and he could spot a hint of tears in people’s eyes, but the machines were still on and the people were still going about their daily business. His chair was empty, but he knew there were plenty in line to take his place.

He expected to feel anger and frustration, but he felt nothing. He thought about his family. His parents and his siblings depended on him to pay the bills. Again, his thoughts served as a means of transportation and he found himself standing in the middle of his room – the room he shared with his brother.

He saw his brother sitting there in silence. There were no tears running down his cheeks but he was a picture of sorrow. Abdul could only wonder what psychological damage his death had done to his brother. He went to the other room where his mother had fainted, and his sister and a couple of neighbors were trying to bring her back to consciousness. In another room his father tried to appear strong in front of the relatives.

He wanted to reach out to his father, his mother, his sister, and his brother - but he could not. He wanted to tell them that he was okay, that he was in peace, and that they should try to move on with their lives. He wanted to tell them he loved them.

Pondering over things that were left unsaid and issues that were left unresolved, his thoughts wandered to the girl of his dreams. In life, he never told her how he felt. In death, he found himself gazing at her beautiful face, searching fruitlessly for any signs of emotion. Before he could try to get close to her, a voice interrupted him.

“It is time.” The strange voice came from behind him. He turned around and saw a large man standing there. He wondered if it was the angel of death. The man repeated himself as he walked towards him. Every step liberating him from his woes, every step bringing clarity. When he was alive, thousands of questions haunted his mind every day. Now that he was dead, the answers to those questions were pouring in out of nowhere. It was as if a barrier had been broken, and knowledge was now flooding his mind. He wondered if he would go to heaven or hell, or if there was a third option.

“It is time.” This time the voice wasn't so strange. It was his mother’s voice. “Get up and go to work. I don’t know why they put up with your absenteeism. If you don’t go today they will deduct a full day’s pay from your salary. Get up!” He tossed and turned and finally got up. Was that a dream? He wondered. It felt so real. He didn't have time for contemplation, the clock was ticking and he had to leave soon.

He skipped breakfast, changed into his work clothes and headed towards the bus stop. The bus was late today and the sun was in an unforgiving mood. The heat, the noise of traffic, the stink of sweat and garbage - everything was getting to him. As he stood there waiting for the bus, thinking about his dream, something caught his eye...a white Toyota was coming towards him.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


A Short Story by Ehtisham Rizvi

Art by Tehreem Naeem

I sat at my new spot watching people and traffic go by. The setting sun turned the sky orange and the cool evening breeze ruffled my hair. I saw him turning the corner. The guy heading my way was wearing his usual worn out t-shirt and old pair of jeans. The sweat on his brow and his obvious heavy breathing told the story of a fast and long walk. I sat up in anticipation.
This guy goes to a nearby gym every evening, and every evening I watch him intently. I tend to do that with everyone. Sometimes I don’t just watch them, I shout at them and chase them around scaring the living crap out of them. Some of them throw stones at me, others run for their lives, and some just freeze. I enjoy my interactions with the people who pass my street, but this guy particularly intrigues me.

Unlike others, he wears his emotions on his face, and unlike others, I can always read him like an open book. Although he seems like a nice guy and I feel bad for saying this, but I think he suffers from mental disorders. There are days when he speed-walks to the gym singing songs at the top of his voice, not giving a crap about people staring at him, and there are days when he is as quiet as a dead mouse. I have watched him every evening for one year now, and I have seen him at his best and at his worst. I can always sense anger and frustration in him, and I worry that one of these days he will lose it and break someone’s skull. Sometimes I try to communicate with him, but he never understands a word I say…no one does.

I have tried shouting at him and chasing him around, but after a second or two he just stands his ground and starts shouting right back at me. Not many people try such shenanigans with me, and I usually bite the ones who do, but this guy has an air of confidence that has prevented me from attacking him.

His weathered face tells the story of hardships, but I doubt anyone notices. I can sense goodness in him, but feel as if soon his bubbling rage is going to get the best of him. Still, I felt connected to him. I wanted to know his story. I wanted to tell him mine. I was in desperate need of a friend and I needed a way to get through to him.
As he drew closer, I could see the lines on his forehead. Usually I do not interact with him when he is in such a mood, but today I needed someone to talk to. I walked up to him slowly and said hi. He looked at me, avoided eye contact, and kept walking. I tried keeping up with him but he walks fast. I started running after him, but was careful not to scare him. I made it clear that I wanted his attention. He kept walking towards the gym as if he had forgotten about me, so I said hi again, this time in a louder voice, still being careful not to appear threatening. He clearly noticed me and then started walking faster, but before I could increase my speed to match his own, he stopped and turned around. He looked me dead in the eye and said something in his language. I didn't understand his words, but I knew exactly what he was saying.

He was asking me why I was limping a little, why I wasn’t in my usual spot, and why I was chasing him. I answered his questions, and told him how the new security guard had beaten me with a stick to chase me away from my spot. He spoke his language and I spoke mine, resulting in a most wonderful and fulfilling conversation. In a few seconds, he turned around and started walking again. I went back to my new spot, staring at the old spot where that security guard was dozing off in his chair.

I thought about taking a little nap myself, but all hopes of sleep were taken away from me by a loud noise. I saw them coming from afar on their noisy ride. There were two of them and they were headed straight for my friend. They stopped near him; one grabbed him by the collar while the other pulled something out of his pocket.

I ran as fast as I could with three good legs, and reached them just in time. I jumped one of the guys, biting him and attacking him with my claws. I was busy tearing this man apart while the other landed right next to me while holding his jaw and screaming in pain. I looked up and saw my friend holding his right wrist trying to shake away the pain from his knuckles. As I screamed, people started gathering around and soon they got me off my victim. I looked at my friend and he looked at me. The look in his eye was that of appreciation and thankfulness. He said something in his language again, and this time around I understood him completely. He said, “Stray dogs are not useless after all.”

Saturday, September 14, 2013


A Short Story by Ehtisham Rizvi

“Why do you wish for immortality?”

The loud and clear voice most definitely came from the orb sitting in the middle of the room. The orb shone brightly. So brightly it was almost as if a smaller version of the sun was in the room, only without the heat. Worried if he stared at it for too long he would go blind, Kamal covered his eyes with his hands and started speaking.

“So it is true. The orb of immortality exists.”

He read about the orb in an old untitled book he had found in his travels. He tried doing further research about the orb, but to no avail. The book mentioned a powerful ancient civilization where the orb was worshiped and where it granted immortality to the most worthy men. Not being able to find anything about the orb on the internet or anywhere else, Kamal decided to search the ruins of all ancient civilizations. Now that he was standing in a basement type room of an ancient ruin in Egypt with the orb just a couple of feet away, his search was over.

“Why do you wish for immortality?” The orb repeated the question.

“Doesn't every man?” Kamal answered with a question of his own and then continued to explain his motivations.

“I want to travel the world. I want to see humanity progress. I want to write great books, learn different languages, climb every mountain, swim every ocean, make love to beautiful women, and live a fearless life without ever worrying about getting old. If you grant me immortality, I would accomplish greatness and achieve true happiness.”

“You are the first of your kind.” The orb sounded intrigued. “Ages ago, they achieved greatness first and then asked for immortality as a reward. When their civilization fell to ruin, I hid myself from mortal eyes and vanished into obscurity. The immortals I created see their immortality as a curse. You are different, but you are lying. Tell me the true reason behind your quest for immortality.”

Kamal knew it was time to come clean. He was dealing with a magical glowing orb of light that could make people immortal, so making it angry was not a great idea. His true motivation was embarrassing, but he had no other option but to tell.

“When I was a teenager, I was severely depressed. My mother died a long time ago and my father was always away on business trips. I had all the money in the world but I was miserable. I was contemplating suicide, but then my uncle died and I had to be part of all his burial rituals. They took him to a room where they stripped him of his clothes and bathed him. I was freaked out. I simply do not want my relatives and a couple of strangers seeing my dead naked body, and to avoid that, I want to be immortal.”

“That is the stupidest reason for wanting immortality I have ever heard.” It was hard to tell whether the orb was angry or amused. This time around its voice was devoid of emotion. 

“I have decided. I will grant you immortality.” Kamal breathed a sigh of relief but his woes were not over yet.

“Have you brought me a sacrifice?” The orb asked, this time its voice was clearly giddy.

“Sacrifice?” Kamal was confused. The book never said anything about a sacrifice.

“You need to bring me a human baby, or a virgin girl, or both. I need you to sacrifice at least one innocent human life in my name, and I will grant you immortality.”

“I…I cannot do that.” Kamal wanted to become an immortal but he would never hurt anyone to achieve something he wanted, even if that thing meant the world to him.

The orb seemed to glow a little less. The silence seemed to go on forever until the orb broke it. 

“It has been decided. You will be the immortal AND the sacrifice.” 

The orb turned blood red, its light seemed to disappear, and all Kamal could hear was this strange yet familiar beeping noise.

Beep beep…beep beep…

The noise from the machine came at equal intervals. His heart rate seemed to be normal. His clothes were clean. There was a bouquet of fresh flowers on the side table. The nurse looked up from her book, made sure everything was okay, and dove right back into the story where the stable boy was about to put the moves on the lady of the house. Before she could become completely immersed in the story again, she was disturbed by a knock on the door. It was the other nurse.

“I didn't realize my shift was over.” She smiled and let the other nurse in.

“Yes, time just flies by here because he is such a chatter box.” The other nurse was never short on sarcasm.

“Why are they doing this to him anyway?” She continued. “The guy practically has no brain function. Just because they have the money and the technology doesn't mean they can torture people like this.”

“He is the only son of the richest man in the country. He has got him plugged in because he expects scientists to come up with a cure. Try having kids and try saying good bye to them, it’s not easy. ”

“But how long can they keep him like this? They don’t even know what’s wrong with him.” The other nurse was strongly in favor of pulling the plug, but it wasn't her call.

“With today’s technology and his father’s money? Forever!”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Age of Shiny Rocks

A Short Story by Ehtisham Rizvi

“But chief, I do not understand.” The man sounded frustrated. The argument between the tribesman and the chief had been going on for hours now, and it seemed neither party was going to budge from their viewpoint.

“He has more shiny rocks than you, so he gets to be the husband of my daughter, and the next in line to be the chief of this tribe. What’s so hard to understand about that?” The chief repeated his stance on the subject for the umpteenth time.

“The shiny rocks have no value. They are precious only because we think they are precious. The whole tribe has decided to use the shiny rocks for trade, and that is why you think he is rich. In reality, he is not.” It seemed as if the chief and the tribesman were caught in an infinite loop, repeating the same arguments over and over again.

“And what is your idea of reality? You draw pictures on cave walls for a living. You get paid in pebbles for what you do. You think I would marry my daughter to you so that she could live a life of poverty in your den? You are not that good of a hunter, and you are not even a good painter. I have to think about my daughter’s future, and in her future I want a mountain of shiny rocks, not a collection of mediocre cave paintings. I would have no more discussion on this topic, you may leave now.” With that the chief pointed towards the opening of the cave, and the tribesman had no option but to leave.

He went back to his place, gathered the materials he needed to carve paintings on the wall, and started on a half finished piece in a dark corner. This will be my best work. When they look at this painting, they will shower me with shiny rocks. They will put in a good word with the chief. They will…they will…

His train of thought suddenly disappeared, and his inner voice was replaced by that of the chief “You are not that good of a hunter, and you are not even a good painter”. He thought he had shrugged those words away, but they were now etched in his mind. He could hear the chief say it over and over again. He didn't realize that he had stopped working on the painting. His hand was still in the air, and he was frozen in his place. He must have spent an eternity in that position because his shoulder and elbow started to hurt, and the physical pain shook him out of the self pity he was feeling at that moment.

In those cruel moments, the severity of the situation came crashing down on him. The love of his life was going to be married off to another man, a man who inherited a great pile of shiny rocks from his father, a man who did not love her, a man who just wanted her so he could become the next chief. And worst of all the chief knew exactly why that man wished to marry his daughter.

I would go to her. We would run away. The thought lifted his spirit. He put down the chisel and headed out of the cave. After searching for a while he found her by the river. The sunlight filtering through the leaves fell on her shiny hair, and at that moment she appeared more beautiful to him than ever before. It did not surprise him; she had a habit of appearing more beautiful every time he saw her, or may be it was his love for her growing inside of him that tricked his eyes. Whatever the reason, he found his sorrows dissipating at the very sight of her.

“I talked to him, but he wouldn't listen. His mind is made up, and he would marry you to that idiot.” He sounded apologetic for a second but his tone changed quickly, “Let’s run away. We could go find another tribe. Claim that our tribe was killed by saber tooth tigers. Or we could find a nice quiet place away from all the tribes. We could still be together. Let’s go right now.”

There was a hint of a tear in her eye, but her face remained expressionless. He looked at her face and couldn't detect anything, there was no love, no sadness, no anger, nothing. Moments passed and nothing was said between the two of them, but the silence spoke more than words ever could. When she finally parted her lips the only thing she could say was, “Why couldn't you have more shiny rocks?”

Defeated, he walked away and wandered aimlessly for hours. His mind was foggy with depression, and he didn't know where he was going. Yet, he found himself in his den at the end of his journey. Once inside, he went straight for the chisel, and started destroying the wall painting in a fit of rage. After several minutes, he collapsed to the floor in exhaustion. He lay there and cried, and finally got up when he ran out of tears.

A time will come when men will not be measured by what they can hunt and kill. Their true worth will not be judged by the number of shiny rocks they hold in their possession. The thought crossed his mind as if someone else was speaking to him. I wish I was born in such a time, instead of this, the age of shiny rocks.

He felt the incomplete drawing on the wall calling to him as he picked up the chisel again.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Guilty Pleasures

A Short Story by Ehtisham Rizvi

“We give you guys freedom, and this is what you do with it?” When the boss was unhappy, his voice could be heard throughout the office.

“But…let me explain myself.” The employee said in a hushed whisper. The look on his face was that of a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Only in this case he could get fired instead of getting spanked. 

He didn't fear getting fired; he had been meaning to quit that job anyway. However, he truly dreaded the reason he was being fired. If news got out of what he did, his reputation would be ruined. He wouldn't be able to get a job anywhere in town, and more importantly, he would bring shame on his family name. He had to find a way out of this.

“What possible explanation could you have? No one else has access to your computer, there were no viruses or malware, and the browsing history speaks for itself. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“A lot of other people have access to my computer. It is not password protected you know. May be someone from IT is trying to set me up.” The employee had gathered himself by now, his voice was a little less shaky and his brain was now coming up with a number of good excuses, maybe there was a way out for him after all.

“So I am to believe someone from IT logged into your account, downloaded those shameful photos everyday for the last twenty days, during the time you were supposed to be at your desk, and then sent a complaint about you? The complaint did not even come from the IT guys, a couple of people saw you doing it. You were looking at those pictures when you thought no one else was looking.” It seemed as if a couple of employees had already thrown him under the bus.

Snitches! He went silent for a couple of seconds before moving on to his next natural response. 

“They are conspiring against me. They are jealous you know. I meet my sales targets early every month and they don’t.” He applauded himself at this response. In his mind, he had not only discredited the snitches, he had also reminded his boss about his excellent performance as a sales rep. They can’t fire me, they need me, I bring in the big bucks.

“Don’t flatter yourself. You are not important enough for anyone to conspire against you. And almost everyone here meets their sales targets; the product pretty much sells itself.”

“Look…” He decided to put all cards on the table. It wasn't like he was the only guy in the world who enjoyed looking at pictures like that. So what if he rewarded himself with a couple of mouthwatering high resolution jpegs after making a big sale every now and then. He was only human, and the boss was human too, he would understand.

“I admit it. I went to those websites, and I downloaded those pictures. I even looked at them during work hours, but who doesn't do that from time to time? I mean people check their emails, listen to songs, some even visit social networking websites through proxy servers while at the office. They all have a guilty pleasure or two, and so do I. And it’s not like we are a registered company that pays taxes to the government. We pay the tea boys less than the minimum wage, so let’s not get all high and mighty here.”

The boss, who was till that point sitting aggressively at the edge of his chair finally let out a big sigh and slumped back. This employee could report them to the authorities, and then they would have to pay taxes which in no way would be acceptable to the owner of the company.

“All I am saying is that this is the holy month of Ramzan, and as a Muslim you should not look at such pictures while fasting. You do fast, don’t you?” This time around, the boss’ tone was very polite. The employee smiled, he knew he had saved his job.

“Yes sir I do. And rest assured this will never happen again.” He even saved his boss the whole ‘I am letting you off with a warning’ speech as he walked away.

The boss looked at the links shared with him by the IT department as proof. He clicked on a link, then another, and then another. His screen filled with tab after tab of colorful images of a diverse range of food; desi food, Chinese food, Italian food, and exotic cuisines with unknown origins. 

One picture of a beef burger was so mouthwatering that the boss could feel its yummy, juicy delights in his mouth. He tried to remind himself that he was fasting, and that he should not be doing the same thing he almost fired his employee for, but he couldn't stop himself from clicking one picture after another. It’s not like I am actually eating it. My fast is still in tact. He clicked on the image of the beef burger so he could zoom in to get a better look.

Sunday, June 30, 2013


A Short Story by Ehtisham Rizvi

‘Here is the deal. We can shoot you right now and be home for dinner, or you can get in the Prado and go with the CM’s driver. We will say that your gang tried to free you, and will report that you got caught in the crossfire. We will report you dead. We will give your family a body. You will live and work for the CM. You will never contact your friends or family again. If news ever gets out that you are alive, we will be quick to rectify the situation. So what will it be?’ The policeman had clearly given this speech many times before.
Sometimes, life takes you by the hand and guides you to your destination, and sometimes it presents you with two options, and the path you choose defines your destination. This is the story of Zahid, one of the many dead people roaming this city.
He looked to the policeman sitting on his left and then to the one sitting on his right. Both of them seemed disinterested and a little drowsy. The police van had no AC, and its windows were covered by thick grates. It was almost as if they were all packed in a moving oven. The smell of his own sweat mixed with that of the policemen would've been enough to make anyone vomit, but a few days in the lock up had made him immune to all kinds of smells.   

He looked to the seat across from him, and the policeman sitting there was fully awake and attentive. He even threw him a smile when they made eye contact. He looked at his handcuffs and tried to calculate the amount of time they had been on the road. There was no way he could try to peek out the window because the cops were blocking his view, but the lack of sound from the outside meant that their vehicle was not in an inhabited area. Yes, this will be an encounter, he silently thought.

An ‘encounter’ was something the police had come up with decades ago when the judiciary consistently failed to punish the criminals they caught. Before there was such a thing as an encounter, witnesses were threatened, the judges were bribed, the evidence disappeared overnight, and the criminals with the backing of powerful political organizations found themselves on the streets again in no time.

When one of the most notorious criminals of the city was released by the court due to lack of conclusive evidence for the umpteenth time, the police force decided to take matters into their own hands. They raided one of his hangouts a few days after his release, and arrested him again with a handful of evidence. However, this time around the guy uncharacteristically attempted escape on his way to court, and was shot dead. After that, it became a common practice among notorious criminals to die while attempting escape from police custody. Almost everyone in the city knew what was really going on, but the people were more than okay with it.

Whenever a criminal was killed while trying to escape from police custody, the police reported it as an encounter.

However, good things do tend to get corrupted with time. The police used this unofficial license to kill to their fullest advantage and started extorting money out of the political organizations that depended on criminals to serve as their enforcers. The police still ‘performed an encounter’ from time to time, just to remind everyone about who’s in charge. The encounters always happened in remote areas with no witnesses around.

Realizing that the police van was in a remote area, Zahid knew his last moments were upon him. He wondered how they’d do it.

May be they will take off my cuffs and tell me to run, only to use me as target practice. Or maybe they will shoot me first, and will take off my cuffs once I am dead.

The cuffs and the policeman with the smiley face were annoying him to the point where he was kind of relieved that his end was near.

A normal person would be trying to come up with ways to save his life right now. His thought was justified. But a quick look back at his life indicated that he had nothing to look forward to, and nothing to live for.

It’s not like I have a thriving career to get back to. His bachelor’s degree in psychology had failed to get him a job, and after years of being broke he had given up and joined a showroom as a car salesman.

It’s not like I have someone waiting for me back home. He never married, his parents were dead, and all his siblings were busy in their own lives. I wonder if they even know I am in police custody. His siblings were not doing any better than him financially, and were barely scraping by.

The lack of money, love, and any kind of accomplishment in his life made him loathe himself. couldn't even be a proper criminal. He looked back at his failed attempt at becoming a criminal mastermind.

Zahid’s story was not that different from the rest of the guys his age. He belonged to the lower middle class segment of the society. To him, and to others like him, getting a degree followed by a good job promptly followed by marriage was the definition of an ideal life. He was not wrong to wish for financial stability and the love of a beautiful woman, he was just unlucky to be born in a society where such things were impossible to come by, at least for people like him.

Like many of his peers, he set goals for himself, and then failed to achieve those goals one at a time until there was nothing left. His job as a car salesman was barely enough for him to pay the bills, and he always found himself in need of cash at the end of the month. This was not just Zahid’s story, it was the story of every man who was born and raised in a lower middle class family in his country.

When Zahid heard that the receptionist he had secretly admired was getting married to his boss, the similarities between him and his peers ended. He did what every car salesman with a bachelor’s degree in psychology would do in such a situation, and tried to rob a bank.

He acquired a gun for an astoundingly cheap price from a friend in a local political organization, ‘borrowed’ a getaway car from the very showroom where he worked, and headed for the nearest bank.

As if all those factors combined were not enough to get him caught, he attempted to shoot the security guard outside the bank in the middle of the day. It was as if he was trying to get caught.

Now that he was sitting in a police vehicle moving to an unknown destination for his extra judicial execution, he realized that he never truly wanted to rob the bank, he just wanted to die. His train of thought came to an abrupt end when the car stopped, and the policeman with the shiny teeth asked him to get down from the car.

This is it, this is the end. He closed his eyes and waited for the sound of the gunshot that was to be followed by the sweet release of death...but it never happened. He stood there with his eyes closed, every passing second an eternity. After a minute, he wanted to open his eyes and see what the delay was all about, but he just couldn't bring himself to do it.

What if I open my eyes and they shoot me at the exact same time? I will look like an idiot.

‘Open your eyes idiot.’ The guy with the smiley face, whom he had nicknamed Mr. Smiley in his mind, spoke in a surprisingly harsh tone.

He slowly opened his eyes and saw that there was a Prado parked along the side of the road. The policemen were out of their vehicle, and one of them was talking to someone in the other car. The Prado had tinted glass, and only one window was slightly rolled down to let sound through. From the looks of it, the policeman was receiving instructions from the person in the car. His body language indicated that the person in the car was infinitely superior in station.

‘You are lucky.’ Mr. Smiley smiled at him again, or maybe he never stopped smiling. Zahid wondered what the policeman’s face would look like without his teeth on full display but could not come up with an image. He just stood there staring at the man’s teeth, wondering why he was still alive.

‘I said you are lucky, idiot’ the policeman reminded him again, this time a little louder. When his comments about Zahid’s amazing luck failed to solicit a response from the guy, Mr. Smiley just went ahead and started explaining the situation. ‘You see that car?’ he pointed to the Prado with the tinted glass. ‘That car belongs to Mr. Qureshi, the Chief Minister of the province.’ Holy shit! The Chief Minister is here. The minister’s presence only added to Zahid’s confusion.

‘You see that man my colleague is talking to.’ Mr. Smiley again pointed towards the car, only this time he was pointing at the slightly rolled down window. ‘That man is the driver of the CM, and he is here with instructions for you.’ Being the driver for the CM of the province was indeed a huge deal, considering that the guy most probably made more in a month than what Zahid did in a year.

‘So why is he here?’ Zahid spoke for the first time.

‘Because soon you will be a dead man.’ The policeman never stopped smiling.

‘But you guys could have just shot me by yourself, why the Prado?’

‘Because the CM has plenty of uses for dead people.’

Their short conversation was interrupted when the policeman who was talking to the CM’s driver walked up to them. ‘Have you explained everything to him?’ he asked Mr. Smiley.

‘Not yet.’

‘Dammit can’t you do anything quickly?’ Unlike his colleague, this cop was all business.
‘Here is the deal. We can shoot you right now and be home for dinner, or you can get in the Prado and go with the CM’s driver. We will say that your gang tried to free you, and will report that you got caught in the crossfire. We will report you dead. We will give your family a body. You will live and work for the CM. You will never contact your friends or family again. If news ever gets out that you are alive, we will be quick to rectify the situation. So what will it be?’ The policeman had clearly given this speech many times before.

Zahid weighed both options, but was distracted by the shiny surface of the Prado. I wonder if it’s air conditioned. He looked at the car and scolded himself the moment the thought came to his mind. As if there is such a thing as a Prado without air conditioning.

‘I would like to sit in the Prado please,’ he informed the policeman decisively. He wondered what kind of use the CM had for dead people like him, and whether the salary was higher than his last job.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013



A Very Short Story by Ehtisham Rizvi

No one in town knew where the boulder came from, and why it couldn't be moved, but as far as the people of Pak Town knew, the boulder was there and it had to be worshiped because it was good for them.

The boulder blocked the sunlight, it blocked the air, and most importantly, it blocked the only safe path out of town. The people of Pak Town had learnt to take another route to travel, but that path was full of bandits, beasts, and monsters. The elders had once tried to move the boulder to clear the path; but they failed miserably and started worshiping it as a divine stone.

The customs, culture, and everyday life in Pak Town revolved around the boulder. It was considered responsible for their protection and well being, for giving and for taking away, for life and for death. If you were a resident of Pak Town, you could not go an hour without the boulder being mentioned.

Things started to change when the monsters, bandits, and beasts started working together. Previously, they attacked people coming to and from the town outside the town walls, but now they started coming in through the woods. They attacked one house at a time, and left no survivors behind.

Everyday, the people went about their daily business, thanking the boulder that they were safe, and that at least their houses weren’t raided. Some had even started coming up with their own conspiracy theories about why the houses being attacked were being targeted. Every theory resulted in the same conclusion, that the family was pretty much asking for it and that the victims had it coming.

The town’s people who feared for their houses turned to the boulder for help, but it was as dead (or at least as deaf) as Nietzsche’s god. The attacks increased, and the elders kept trying to negotiate with the bandits. The youth was increasingly losing faith in the boulder, mainly due to its inability to protect the people, but the elders always told them to believe in the boulder, to pray to it, to worship it, for the boulder worked in mysterious ways.

If there was no boulder standing in the way, the safe path out of town could be cleared. The opening of that path meant better trading opportunities, and increased safety because then the King’s forces could come in and protect the people.

A small town was too insignificant for the King to risk moving his army through the woods, but if the boulder was removed, even a small contingent of the King’s men could come in and secure the town. That would most certainly scare the bandits away.

The town’s people could also arm themselves, but carrying a weapon for self protection was considered as blasphemy. After all, the boulder protected all. Carrying a weapon was the act of a disbeliever, and disbelievers were stoned to death.

The bandits kept raiding the town, the people kept getting slaughtered, and all kept worshiping the benevolent and merciful boulder. When every last one of the town’s people was slaughtered, the bandits and monsters moved in. 

As it turns out, they too worshiped the boulder, and were raiding, raping, and killing in the boulder’s name. The good people of Pak Town are now extinct, and the once beautiful town is now in ruins. The boulder is still being worshiped. It's just a coincidence that the worshipers are bandits and monsters.

Friday, January 11, 2013


A Short Story by Ehtisham Rizvi

Jacob looked around in surprise. The walk from the train station at three in the morning was usually uneventful. The people of the neighborhood were all asleep by that time in their comfortable and cozy beds, and there was not a single soul in sight. The sound of someone secretly “psssting” made him uncomfortable. However, he followed the sound to a dark corner.

The homeless man had moved in next to the dumpster a few days ago, and it was he who was trying to get Jacob’s attention in a hushed whisper. People usually threw a coin or two at him, but no one ever actually talked to the man.

Even Jacob didn't know why he found himself standing in front of the guy, maybe he was too tired to think and acted on instinct, maybe he just missed human contact himself and the only kind of social interaction he would get away from work was with this man. Whatever the reason might be, there he was, standing in front of the homeless man who was weighing him with his eyes.

“What?” After what seemed like an eternity, Jacob broke the silence.

“I know you.” The homeless man smiled. He had most probably lost his teeth to a drug, and 
most definitely had no access to dental hygiene products.

“You do?” Jacob didn’t know why he was entertaining the man, but he asked anyway.

“Yes I do. I know your type anyway. You are a lot like me.”

“And how is that?”

“I am homeless out here under the sky, and you are homeless inside your apartment.” The homeless man had probably seen Jacob walking in and out of the giant apartment complex daily, so he knew Jacob lived there.

Jacob was tired after working a double shift, but he was feeling a bit generous. He knew the homeless man was probably suffering from ten different kinds of mental disorders, so he just ignored his comment. He reached into his pocket for some spare change, but found a ten dollar bill instead; he took the bill out and raised his hand towards the homeless man. To his surprise, the homeless man just ignored the money and kept talking.

“I was like you. I wasn't thankful for the hand I had been dealt. I wasn't content with what I had, and always found an excuse to feel bad about myself…until someone slipped me the talisman.”

“The talisman?”

“Yes, the talisman. Here let me show you.” He took a strange dark object out of his pocket and showed it to Jacob. Jacob couldn't get a good look at the object, partly due to the darkness and partly due to the fact that he wasn't interested.

“I had a job.” The homeless man continued, “I had an apartment. I had a car. I even had a few friends. Yet I wasn't happy. I tried everything but I could never find true happiness. And what is life without happiness? Right?”

Jacob had no answer to that.

“So one day I ran into this old man, and he stopped me just like I stopped you, and he gave me the talisman, just like I am about to give it to you. This will help you find true happiness, here.” He tried to give Jacob the object.

Before Jacob could reach out and grab the talisman, the inner voice in his foggy mind protested loudly. What are you doing? You should know better than to accept strange objects from shady characters at three in the morning. Jacob stopped.

“What exactly is this and what does it do?” At this point Jacob didn't know why he just wasn't walking away. The building was just a few minutes away; all he had to do was start walking.

“It’s a magical talisman. It will stop you from going to the places that make you unhappy; it will help you find true happiness.”

Just like it worked out for you buddy. Jacob was not judgmental, he knew better than to look down upon those of a lower socio-economic stature, but he couldn't help but feel a little superior now. After all, standing in front of him was someone who believed that such a thing as a magical talisman existed. And that the talisman could help someone find true happiness.

He lives next to a dumpster for goodness sake, and he believes he has found true happiness, so now he is ready to pass it onto someone else…someone less fortunate…and he has selected you as that someone. Why are you wasting your time here? The voice inside his head screamed.

“What does this talisman do?” Jacob asked again.

“It physically stops you from going to places that make you unhappy. If you are not happy with your job, it will not allow you to go to work. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you will never reach your workplace. If you are unhappy at home, it will physically stop you from going home. How do you think I ended up on the streets?”

“So being homeless makes you happy?”

“No. But it’s better than being miserable at work or at home.”

“So why are you giving up the talisman?”

“What does it matter to you? Just take the damn thing.”

Jacob imagined giving up his job, and travelling the world on foot without any material possessions. The idea appealed to him a little bit, but he had bills to pay. He compared himself to the homeless man and imagined living his life next to a dumpster. His own crappy life suddenly looked better in comparison.

“I have to go home now.” He said in a decisive voice, and started walking towards his apartment building.