“The gigantic mountains, the hovering clouds, scattered boulders and stones, the wild flowers and grass all had a view to offer. He could only see what her perforated image filtered, for it was her face: the eyes, the one lock of hair hanging, the misplaced canine that stood between the panorama and him. All the landscaped seemed her mosaic!”
Sitting right beside the window pane, slurping tea and inhaling puffs of cigarette alternatively, I was looking at the life outside. Something was missing. Yes, the hunchback was not there. It was his time to come too. The first among the chairs set against the opposite wall to me was always occupied by him. He was a little late today, he would have been sitting by now almost all of the days of the week.
This man’s presence had my interest whenever he was around. There was something strange about him. I never pitied him even though such a person deserves it.
There he was. Walking towards the cooking range with the help of a stick carved out by hand that seemed to have lacked the art of finishing. Placing order of a tea cup, he sluggishly advanced towards one of the chairs lined against the wall. While sitting, he looked at me with a glance so empty that I felt as if he had seen the wall through me.
Leaving the stick, decorated with red and black tape and some thumb pins, lean in the corner. I kept looking at him for some time and then I opened the book for reading that I had brought with me to the Chainaki-as are the cheap tea stalls known in almost all the indigenous languages of Pakistan.
We have been like this for one month: he sitting opposite to me indifferent to my existence entertaining who-knows what reveries all the time, but one thing that I was sure of was that he knew how much I was curious about him. The intermittent reading studded by the flight of my eyes towards him would be the play as long as he was there.
He must have been forty years old or at least around it. Bald he was with a patch of hair luckily left some inches above his forehead: looked like a black and white island surrounded by muddy water. Black, bright eyes, which looked brighter on his clean shaven face; those eyes lurked always as if it seeped the surroundings with it. The pointed nose of his testified a handsome young man once. Tight lips that draped his white teeth would add to the overall intellectual demeanour of his face. But that hump marred all of the harmony of his persona!
“What you reading?” he asked me when I could hardly believe that he was talking to me. “Ma-may-Maya by Jostein Gaarder”, I stammered while replying.
“Ahhhh, no one can steal the art of cupping Universe in just one book from this man,” continued he almost murmuring with eyes still fixed on the book. “How can laymen like us understand the complex notion of Evolution as presented by Charles Darwin in the Origin of Species? I tried reading it once but I failed to embrace the gist of it, but this man weaves the big and otherwise indigestible ideas so beautifully that not only the idea is conveyed but the fanciful implications of it in the plot make the reader move to the edge of imaginations.”
He remained quiet for a while. I was dumbfounded since he started talking about the book and Jostein Gaarder.
“Can I have it for a while? Just need to flick through it once,” inquired him with a tone that was underscored by humbleness for the very first time. “Sure, it’s yours as long as you want it, you can keep it.” With his eyes fixed, still, on the book and mine on him, the steady dealings took place.
How bad was I in my judgement this time? I took him for a pauper and he was talking about evolution! The bile of regret flowed through me like cold water.
“This surely isn’t written by Jostein Gaarder.” He chewed words, at the same time he shackled a smile that had a tinge of both humour and surprise. He started to read aloud lines written on the last page of the book.
“I won’t cry; I would want it to turn into poison. The poison that will slowly make its ways to my heart and then would creep throughout my body making every limb and leg forget the art of love, and finally the heart would succumb to the cold potion leaving behind a yet another cold stone.”
“I mean not to intrude but I smell unrequited love or something of the kind. For the intensity that is quite obvious in these lines would have been possible if only you were of my age,” he added with a very cautious tone trying not to offend me.
I was at loss, but I felt a feeling that seemed to be a blend of relief, anger and surprise.
“Get rid of this vexation, Baacha. If I know your secret, then I am going to tell you mine as well.”
“This story of mine is as old as you are. Back then, I was a handsome young man, and of course the hunch was not there,” finished he with looking over his shoulder in a vain attempt to have a look at his hunch.
While the cup was in his hand, he was sucked in by the whirlpool of memories. Then with eyes fixed, that didn’t blink even once, outside, he slowly said, “I was in love too. I fell for someone once. I fell really bad.”
He looked into his cup and gulped the remaining tea. “How I met her, who she was, how she looked is not important to be mentioned, but the thing that matters to the point of destruction is that she loved me too.”
He was looking out across the pane with knitted eye brows, and swallowed the sadness that was clinging hard to his throat. “Then one day she was betrothed to someone else we hardly knew. Married, of course, to him, she left for Australia. I remember I cried through the streets like a lost child when I saw her off. The sobs of a man alone narrate a tale of destruction, trust me.”
“Do you need another cup of tea?” I interrupted but he declined the offer by waving his hand faintly, with his eyes still wandering outside as if his pair of balls were searching for something from the past.
“Days went in and out,” he continued with the same monotonous tone. “The silence of nights was tumultuous and the humdrum of days got mute. Such were the days that held me; of course it was for sure that I didn’t live them. In my thoughts, a single pondering over life and my remaining years would make it so short that years were dealt like seconds and in a while I would face death and the expected oblivion after it. Everything that would happen or that I wanted to have happened once turned insignificant: my only wish of doing PhD from America turned into a petty fancy. The house of prospects started to dilapidate,” he fell silent for a while as if observing his knuckles.
“Thoughts that were entertained by me in the din of nights were quite dynamic in nature; they kept on taking concrete forms which would then define my days and the upcoming life. One such night, I undertook that I will get rid of the idea of recovery, let alone getting over the loss of my beloved. Leaving was painful but the fainting pain was horrid! Pain was the price I was paying and I was ready to pay it with gratitude. The greater the pain the higher price paid, but the interference of time was a hurdle in this transaction. Time has a name for its curing hands! Time burying pain is not a new phenomenon. It came to rescue me too. Ahhh! Recovery for me was tentative to unfaithfulness from the very beginning. In worldly terms, I was a lunatic, but even the tag of lunacy didn’t stop me from detesting recovery. I was amazed at how people recovered from the loss of dear ones! Isn’t it sad? How can one not be in pain after some time? Why do people forget to pay with pain for the luxuries that they were indulged in once so madly? I slept on it and promised not to commit the same mistake that people committed.”
He paused for a while and gushed in the air so voraciously that I believe there would have been no room for even a little air in his lungs, and then after some seconds he released the air back. The air of the Chainaki turned so heavy that it seemed that he had taken out a lot of emotions under the guise of exhale.
“Things changed the very next morning; I felt a protuberance on my back right behind where my heart is. I tried to touch it with my hand and there it was a solid yet a tiny agglomeration. After locating it in front of a mirror, I disregarded all other explanations, but considered it rather a proof of that night’s resolution.”
“Resolute as I was, I refused all the hands that nature lent. Rejected many job offers, pushed away those entire people who wanted me to get over it and take a new start, and I was surprised the protuberance on my back grew with every attempt of mine not settling with the present. I lived in the past because I failed to make peace with the present. Then one day, I received a letter that acknowledged my admission in the USA for PhD that I had once applied for. Good cause to vacillate me for long: at one hand was what I wanted for years, but on the other hand was my resolution of not recovering. The latter side weighed and I didn’t reciprocate the letter. Surprisingly, what was once a grain of my back turned into a small hunch after this rejection. Things got scary for I understood every time I ditched any chance, the hunch grew further.”
“You must be wondering that what made me do all this, what made me ward off all the opportunities? I remember one day I had cupped her hand in my hands and was caressing it. I was talking to her with a voice studded by uncertainty. I was looking at her hands and busy rummaging words within me when suddenly, I heard her say,“maybe I will come someday.” These were the words on which I raised this monstrous monument fixed right on my back. Those words as its base, the hunch never seemed ugly to me rather it was my Taj Mehal that I was building in her memory”, he paused for a while and there was this proud grin on his face. “You can hardly guess the pride with which I kept on burying the opportunities, after all it was another wonder under construction.”
“Everything I did in the name of love was beyond the scales of good and bad. All one could say about them was that ‘it is because of love so it is above the definitions of good and bad.’ Possessing the other person is the notion often disregarded by many writers and philosophers. They say either it is love or possession. In one case you are busy in admiring, adoring, worshipping the person, where as in case of possession all you want is to own the person. It seems plausible. They have separated the two. They are quite right in defining these two, but utterly wrong in dividing them, in deeming them as originating from two different and not related grounds. I realized within Love there are two poles: love and possession. The former pole is the purest form of Love, which is all about love and just love, whereas the later pole is disfigured form of Love. In the course of Love, one keeps on switching between the two: call it switching between sanity and insanity. The only bad thing about the possession pole is wallowing! It is this pole that makes you wriggle in the bleak pond of melancholy! It’s a folly to consider possession as not a part of Love. After all, it is the person you love that you try to possess not someone else.” After completing he turned his eyes towards me with a tinge of intellectual expression hovering his aura as if he had solved the puzzle that had mystified humanity for thousands of years.
I tried to add something just to follow the maxims of a common interaction but my tiny wisdom demanded not to plunge into the flow of his narration, lest I might find myself in the shoes of the dim-wit. Instead, I gesticulated to the waiter placing the order of two cups of tea with all possible clandestineness.
“What turned the moon of my back into full form was when I was proposed by one of my cousin who, according to my sister, loved me since we were teenagers. Of course, I refused her too, and she committed suicide! So selfishly was I merged in my affairs that after some time I even denied the fact that she had killed herself for me. She died in waste, for her death failed to place the garland of guilt around my neck although the hunch took its full form. Now I was the human camel ha ha ha.” He chuckled with rock like anger lying underneath it. “The worst part is that I was still okay with the hunch for in the bottom of it laid her words which I had taken for a promise. Indeed, a promise, indeed, indeed….Then one day my brother rushed into my room and told me that there is a girl on the phone asking for me. I jumped, and climbed down the stairs like a running penguin. Yes, it was her. She had called me, finally.”
He stopped all of a sudden disturbed by the intrusion of the waiter who came in with two cups of tea. His eyes followed the intruder as long as he was out of sight.
I didn’t want him to stop at least now. So I pretended as if I had not noticed the exasperation caused by the waiter. Like a thermometer I witnessed the mercury falling down. He lifted the cup and slurped a sip to restore the lost energy.
“To cut it short”, he said these words hastily with a rising tone, “She told me to come to Islamabad in a week because she wanted to discuss something of gravity with me. Yes, her marriage seemed hanging on the last string, and she wanted to use me to cut the last tendon that tied her to him. Instead of flying to Islamabad, I deemed it better not to waste time and drove all the way to Islamabad from Quetta. Imagine a man with a hunch driving for 15 hours! The tiresome journey needs no elaboration. I reached. I was there and the week-cum-year was over. There I was waiting for her in a café. She entered. She was the same except the newly attained grace that she demonstrated while walking. She was looking around for me. She didn’t see me and then I waved my hand to catch her attention. The pace with which she was walking dropped down as soon as she saw me. Without taking eyes off me, she sat on the chair opposite to me.” Stopped he while taking out a cigarette and placed it in his lips, but didn’t light it. “She kept on circling around me in her discussion like a hungry shark, and with an expression of a person who has come to the fish market for the very first time. She kept on asking questions, and at last courage was mustered, she inquired about the hunch. All was told. I was waiting eagerly for the news of importance for which she had called me and for which I had come from Quetta. Ran out of patience, I asked her what was it that she wanted to discuss with me.”
All the while when he was talking, the cigarette, stuck to his lips, danced with his words. He took out a zippo and lit his smoke, at last. With sucking in the first puff, he held the cigarette in his fingers and scratched his temples gently with the same hand.
With a sarcastic smile staged on his face, he continued, “Looking for a second or two at my hunch, she faked a smile and said to me that it was nothing that serious, in fact, she wanted me to suggest her an affordable place in Islamabad, for she and her husband were planning to buy a house.”
Opening and closing the cap of his zippo, he remained quiet. Put the zippo back into his pocket and dragged in the cigarette with all his might. The smoke still held back in his lungs, he ran his right hand through the only patch on his head.
Under the guise of trivialities, he was trying to accumulate enough strength to speak further.
“Baacha, her promise in the pit that served as the base of the hunch vanished right there in the café. My Taj Mehal turned into an ugly hill where too much life was buried, and it was then that I saw my cousin buried in the hill as well. I couldn’t stand when she left the café. This hunch got too heavy. This burden was too heavy to carry. Since then, I am walking with a graveyard on my back!”
He leaned over to the corner to have his walking stick and stood up with help of it. He came towards me. While handing back my book, he said with an admonishing tone, “You surely, don’t want a hunch. Do you?”
Then walked back to the cooking range which was also the cash-counter, he paid for both of us and moved with the style peculiar of him. When I recovered from the effect of his last sentence, he had already disappeared.
About the Author
Yasir Khan was born in Quetta, Balochistan, Pakistan on 17 August 1993. He has studied Political Science and History. He has availed his degree of M.sc in Linguistics from Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad. Currently, he is Lecturer at Balochistan University of Information, Technology and Management Sciences (BUITEMS).