Teens & Young Adult Fiction Desi

“Are you coming tonight?” I was starting to regret the moment I decided to pick up the call when I saw Veer’s name flashing on my phone screen. “Ahmed, I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer!” I weighed out all the excuses in my mind that I could give him – I have to help Amma cook mutton korma today, I have a head ache, I have to rearrange the shelves in Abbu’s shop; but apparently he had heard every single one of them by now, more times than I could count on my fingers. “Who all are going to be there?” I asked and began tapping my foot uncontrollably against the wooden desk. “Suraj, you and I; just the three of us.” I hummed in agreement and hung up before he could make any other stupid requests, like, let’s go to Karan’s house on the way back home, or, let’s go to a party instead.

And then it dawned upon me – the realization – I was to step outside the safe and secure premises of my house after contently avoiding social interaction for a month. It had been a blissful month, the mandatory bed rest recommended by the doctor – my savior. I could stay at home without being coaxed by my parents or friends to ‘go for a stroll’ as they liked to call it. I stayed on bed all day long, coming out of my room for a quick shower, or to sneak into the kitchen at night to eat Amma’s delicious rasgullas which I wasn’t supposed to eat considering my health status. The fact that Amma made sure I didn’t help in the daily chores because I was supposed to rest was the cherry on the top. Don’t get me wrong, I had in fact been sick for two weeks - my muscles too stiff to cooperate and the uninvited chills - but it wasn’t as bad as the doctor portrayed it to be. Dr. Rashid, our family doctor, can be a bit dramatic at times.

I hastily walked towards my room, threw open the closet and scrounged for a piece of clothing that was ‘presentable’ enough for my night out. After dressing and undressing for several futile hours, I settled on an olive green shirt matched with khaki pants. I changed into them and glanced at the mirror - my face looked like a shrunken grape, the ever-present dark bags under my eyes looked more prominent and my body looked too slender to be mine. Maybe Dr. Rashid wasn’t as dramatic as I thought him to be.

As I stepped over the metallic threshold of the main gate, I could feel my heart beating frantically against my chest. I continued walking away from my sanctuary, the ominous feeling in me at its peak when I crossed the road to reach the local market. My eyes scanned the long, dingy and stuffed path that lead me to ‘Guru Dhaba’ – a place with the least amount of sober people at this time – which was owned by Veer’s father. Seeing a horde of people congregating around the vegetable seller, I felt constricted; the familiar warm and salty air lightly brushing my sticky face as I hurried my steps.

I came to an immediate halt as I saw a familiar face walking towards me – her gaze fixated on me – with a smile on her face. I went over a few options in my head, like running away as fast as I could, or better than that, pretending to have amnesia – refusing to have any association with her. I knew it was too late before she came face-to-face with me. She used the hem of her dark green saree to wipe her face which was as sweaty as mine, if not worse. I greeted her with the best fake pleasantries I could produce and touched her feet. “Ahmed beta, how are you? I haven’t seen you around since a month now! You have lost so much weight.” she said as she looked at me – Head to Toe. It felt like she was scrutinizing my face, my body and my soul under her gaze. We chatted for a bit which mostly included inappropriately irrelevant questions from her side and awkward smiles from me in response. “Come to my house, I have prepared ‘Besan Ladoo’ using desi ghee. After eating them you’ll become healthy like before.” I joined my hands together in regard and continued finding my way through the labyrinth of cramped lanes.

I did not walk much further when I felt an unusual vibrating sensation on my thigh – my phone. It was 7:40 P.M. and I couldn’t understand why Veer was calling me already. “Veer, I’m almost here.” I barked into the phone’s speaker. “Ahmed, change of plans; I have to go pick up my sister from the airport. It’s my mom’s birthday tomorrow so she wanted to surprise her.” I pulled the phone closer to my ear, if it were possible, and placed a hand over the other. “I am so sorry. I know I had insisted for you to come out today but this was totally unexpected.” He hung up the phone after apologizing once again. I stood there, stunned, for several minutes before the tormenting smell of a leaking sewage pipe compelled me – I don’t know where – to leave.

The silence was comforting; all I could hear was the burbling of the river and the distant tintinnabulation of bells. I could see the sparkling buildings on the other bank of the river, the glow of the full moon adding more to its beauty. I came across a familiar brown bench, its rusty smell engulfing me as soon as I sat on it. I remember coming here whenever kids at school called me out for being ‘the only Muslim’ in my class, or because I would pray in a manner which was different than theirs. The knowledge that I could be here myself without being judged or treated like I was an extra-terrestrial being provided me solace.

When I reached back home Amma opened the door to let me in. “How was your night?” she asked and I noticed the creasing lines on her forehead. She probably didn’t have dinner yet because she was waiting for me. “It was good, but, right now I'm starving and I can't wait to eat your delicious mutton korma.” I replied. For the first time in a while, I meant the words I said. 

July 28, 2021 09:46

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