Saturday, December 27, 2014


A Short Story by Ehtisham Rizvi

Art by Mahir Ates

Art by Mahir Ates
Prayer for Rain by Mahir Ates

There was a time when Abdul complained about the scorching heat of the sun, the dry air of the desert, and the fact that his tribe didn’t stay in one place for too long. There was a time when he questioned how God gave everything to some people and nothing to others. But those were the good times. Now, there was nothing to eat. The claws of hunger twisted and turned his stomach from the inside until the pain left little room for questions or coherent thought. The land where he lived had gone through a drought, and now there was a famine – the kind no one had ever seen before.

After putting his third and last child in a shallow grave, he didn’t know what hurt more – his heart, his shoulders, the blisters and callouses on his palms, or his stomach. If he had to choose one, he would choose the stomach. He hadn’t eaten anything resembling a meal in days, and whatever little he had stored away was already gone. His children had died, his wife was starving, and he had nothing left to sell. And even if he could find a buyer for his shovel, there was no food in the market. He was standing there, three small graves in front of him, when a loud noise got his attention.

“The minister is here with his welfare team.” The announcer spoke through the loud speaker. “There will be relief for all. Come to the relief camp and get in line to get food and other supplies.”

To Abdul, it was not just an announcement – it was a message of salvation. No singer in the history of the world had sung a song more melodious, no poet had written a ballad so sweet. With a renewed life, he went inside his hut to get his wife. He saw her sitting in a corner, her face that of a woman 15 years older than her. With strands of grey hair and an expression of eternal grief, her vacant eyes stared into nothingness, and he could feel that she wasn’t there. After losing three children to famine, the woman had accepted her fate. She sat there motionless, her back and head resting against the wall and her knees jammed against her chest. He tried calling out her name, but his voice got stuck in his throat. He got close to her, placed his hand on her shoulder, and tried to shake her gently, hoping against hope that she had gone to sleep with her eyes open. It wasn’t so.

The relief camp wasn’t far from Abdul’s place. It was barely a five minute walk. But those were the longest five minutes of his life. With no shoes on his feet and no food in his stomach, he barely made it to the line where hundreds like him were standing, waiting for their turn to get help from the generous and benevolent minister. Abdul knew most of the people in line, and those he didn’t know, he could relate to. They all shared a unique bond – a bond of starvation, a bond forged by the common loss of loved ones, a bond of poverty. One by one, the minister handed everyone a sack of flour, and every time he did, he posed for the media. The cameras captured every moment of the minister’s generosity, of his selfless act of rescuing the pitiable from the monster called hunger. One by one, the people in the line took their sack of flour and moved on. Inch by inch, Abdul moved closer to his savior.

When he finally got to the minister, their eyes met for a split second and the minister looked away. In that one moment, he felt himself becoming eternally grateful to the minister. This man…this amazing man had come to rescue him all the way from the city. This man that God clearly loved, and had therefore showered his blessings upon – this man who smelled of expensive perfume, who wore clothes that were worth more than Abdul’s annual income – this man had come to save him from starvation. If only this magnificent saint had arrived earlier, my wife and kids would still be alive. But the man was here now, and he was about to hand Abdul a whole sack of flour – a sack that would last a long time now that he only had himself to feed.

“Take this my brother.” The minister said aloud so the people watching at home could hear him clearly. He worked the camera like an expert and handed Abdul the sack of flour. Abdul took the sack and moved along.

The walk back home was easier than the walk to the camp, even though he was lugging a sack of flour with him. While the desert seemed as monotonous as ever, his hut was clearly marked by the three fresh graves, like a haunted island in an ocean of sand. Once inside, he saw his wife’s dead body still curled up in the corner of the room. I will dig her grave after I eat some bread. I wish she wasn’t dead. She made such good bread. He was a little irate at the thought of having to make his own bread. With trembling hands and the eagerness of a child unwrapping a gift, he opened the mouth of the sack and his lips curled up in a smile. The sack was full of sand. With both his hands on his head, he tried to laugh but he was simply out of energy. He thought about grabbing his shovel and going back to the camp to teach that bastard of a minister a lesson, but his legs simply refused to move. With everything he had left in him, he dragged himself towards his wife, and curled up next to her in the corner of the room.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


A Short Story by Ehtisham Rizvi

Art by Tehreem Naeem

Art by Tehreem Naeem

“What is on the other side of the wall, father?”

The kid was excited. His eyes sparkled with curiosity and anticipation. The eagerness to discover the unknown and the thrill of seeing something for the first time oozed from his every pore. Unlike his elders, he didn't try to hide his emotions. He was still at that stage in life where the food tasted better, the songs sounded melodious, and every day seemed like a fresh start.

The infinitely large wall was as wide as it was tall, and seeing it for the first time was a wondrous and somewhat overwhelming experience for young Abdul.

“What is on the other side of the wall, father?” He pulled on his father’s sleeve.

“Where do I begin?” The father sounded a little tired, but it was important for him to pass the legend on to his son. The story of the wall was passed from generation to generation, and every peasant knew it by heart. The reason why Abdul’s father had brought him to the wall was to tell him the story, and to introduce him to the entity that he would face for the rest of his life.

“Behind the wall, there lies a lush green valley where the rivers are sweet and cold, the trees are bountiful, and there is enough food for everyone.” For a second, it seemed as if Abdul’s father could look beyond the wall, as if he could see the valley he was describing, smelling the flowers and feeling the soft caress of the cold air on his cheek.

“In that valley, everyone gets their heart’s desire and all wishes are fulfilled. No one sleeps hungry at night. No one has to fear for his life. There is peace in the valley. There is bliss…there is happiness behind that wall.”

“Is that why all these people are trying to break this wall?”

“Yes, and we have to join them.” His father picked up his sledgehammer, and handed a smaller hammer to Abdul.

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. As Abdul grew taller and his shoulders grew wider, his father seemed to shrink with every passing day. The father and son continued the daily ritual of beating the wall with their hammers, until the father grew too weak for the tiresome activity. Abdul continued the proud tradition, waking up early each day and trying to break down the one and only obstacle that stood between him and a good life.

The huge wall still continued its stubborn existence, but for some reason it didn't seem as majestic to Abdul as it did the first time he saw it. The wall was not the only thing that lost its charm - the food tasted bitter, the songs out of tune, and everyday worst than the last. The slums where he lived grew filthier and more dangerous, and with every passing day he lost the most important thing a man can lose – hope.

While Abdul hated the wall, he acknowledged it as the only constant in his life. Growing up, he had found love, lost it, got married, and had a son. Now that his son was big enough to hold a small hammer, it was time for him to pass on the legend.

“What is on the other side of the wall, father?”

His son asked him the same question he had once asked his father. Before he could reply, something stopped him. He saw the large horde chipping away tiny chunks off the seemingly infinite wall. He noticed that the many hammers striking the wall failed to do much damage, and it was at that moment he realized that the wall was there to stay. In the split of a second, reality came crashing down on him and his dreams were shattered. A better life beyond the filthy slums, the lush green valley behind the wall, the  bountiful trees, the cold air - everything revealed itself to be an empty promise.

“What is on the other side of the wall, father?” The kid pulled on his sleeve. Abdul looked at the innocent face of his pride and joy, and made the toughest decision of his life.

“Behind the wall, there lies a lush green valley where the rivers are sweet and cold, where the trees are bountiful, and there is enough food for everyone…” He repeated the legend to his son - word to word - as was told to him by his father. After all, he did not want his son to grow up without hope.