My mom died when I was four. I don’t remember much about her, except that she had a tiny mole on her right cheek. She also had an oval face and Abba says that’s where I got my long face from. When she was dying he made me touch her feet and read a surah. I know the words now because I’m six and Abba says I’m big enough to have responsibilities. I didn’t know most of the words then. But it didn’t matter; everyone was crying so much they didn’t notice. Especially Abba, I had never seen him cry before then. His cheeks were all red and puffy; he looked like a blowfish. It made me want to laugh but he would’ve scolded me if I had. I had to use all my strength not to laugh. I don’t like it when Abba gets angry. Especially in front of so many people crying like they were babies. I didn’t know then that grown-ups could cry unless they were on TV.
I have to clean our room now. My brother, Asad, he always messes it up and never cleans it. He’s supposed to help me clean it as well but he’s very lazy. I once told on him to Abba and Abba slapped him across the face. After Abba had left us, Asad had broken all my yo-yos and GI Joes and told me he would kill me if I ever told on him again. I think he was joking but I don’t want to risk losing my yo-yos again. I told Abba the maid’s son Hussein had broken them when he was here and he told her never to bring her son to our house again. I felt so guilty but I was too scared to tell Abba the truth. “Money doesn’t grow on trees, Ali!” he had yelled at me. His voice is so loud when he’s angry. It scares me. And I don’t like feeling scared.
I take the dustbin and carry it around the room, putting all the stuff Asad has left on the floor. I hate sleeping in the same room as Asad. He snores. I wish Abba would see what a lazy bum he was but Abba has more important things to do. Abba always tells me that Allah is the most important thing in the world and that our time should be spent doing His will. I think he loves Allah more than he loves me. I’ve always wanted to ask him but I’m too scared he might get angry. Abba says when you die and go to heaven, Allah gives you whatever you want. But I have to be good, like those Christian boys on TV who have to be good for Santa Claus. I once told Abba that to impress him but he slapped me hard. “Allah is nothing like the filthy garbage you see on TV!” Abba gets angry a lot. But it’s probably my fault for saying silly things like that all the time.
Asad always has these balls of tissue lying on the floor. They’re always sticky and they smell funny, like the stuff the maid uses to get the stain off my shirt when I’ve been too messy with the gravy. I’m still learning to eat by myself, but it’s hard sometimes. Abba says you know you’re an expert when the food doesn’t touch your palm. My food is always all over my palm. I try real hard not to but making those balls of rice all neat and proper enough to be put in your mouth without making them too small or too big is hard work. I can’t wait to see Abba’s face when I do it; he’ll be so proud of me.
I’ve finished putting all the rubbish on the floor into the bin. The floor looks clean now but I know there’s dust on it; I can feel it under my feet. I go and fetch the broom and start sweeping the floor. Abba calls it a jharu but I like calling it a broom. It’s a word I learned a few days ago in school. Broooooooom. That’s the way our car sounds when it’s running. Witches go vrooooom on broooooms. I made that up and told my friends at school and we were laughing so hard it made our tummies hurt. I like school; I get to play with my friends though some of them sometimes tease me about my mom. They ask me why they have moms but I don’t and I tell them because she died. “Did Allah hate her?” they ask and I tell them no, she’s with Allah now, in heaven and she’s perfectly happy. That’s what Abba told me. But then they ask “Does Allah hate you? Why did He take her away?” I haven’t figured an answer out for that yet but I’ve been planning to ask Abba about it.
When my mom died they buried her in the graveyard beside her sister. I’d never met her sister because she died before I was born. I saw my mom being lowered into the ground and being surrounded by sticks of bamboo. She had two little balls of cotton stuffed into her nose and I didn’t know why. I wanted to ask Abba but he was crying so I didn’t want to disturb him. He kept raising his hands toward the sky and screaming “Ya Allah! Ya Allah!” He looked so weird. I wished he wouldn’t embarrass me like that. Everyone was bending down to pick up dirt and throw it into the grave and Hussein, who had been standing beside me, told me to do the same. I was eating those rectangular biscuits mom would sometimes get from the store to eat with her tea and I didn’t want to get my hands dirty but Hussein took them away from me. I couldn’t see Asad anywhere. I wonder where he was.
I actually didn’t want to throw dirt on my mom. She’d always been so clean. She would wash me, bathe me, feed me. But she would have food on her palm.
“Why do you have food stuck to your palm, mom?”
“Does it matter to you?” she would ask, forcing another gulp of rice into my mouth.
“Abba says that’s not proper,” I said, my mouth full.
“Well, Abba isn’t always right.”
“Is that why you don’t wear the black gowns like Rintu Uncle’s wife does?” I asked her, and she nodded. I was sitting on the table, swinging my legs back and forth under it. I was silent for a while, trying to think of Abba being wrong. I’d never thought of Abba being wrong before.
“What’re you thinking there, Ali?”
“But Abba says you have to wear the black gown thingies to cover yourself. It’s in the Qur’an. Allah said so.”
“Well, Allah isn’t always right either, dear,” she said, shoving the final grains of rice into my mouth and getting up to get me a drink. I wanted to ask her more about it, but I forgot.
Allah is all good and always right. At least, that’s what Abba says. I think my mom must’ve been kidding and I didn’t get the joke. I was too young. I’m big now but I still don’t get the joke. If Allah is always right and my mom didn’t listen to Him, did that make her a bad person? Is she in hell now? I don’t want mom to be in hell. The thought scares me. I want to be with my mom when I die but I don’t want to go to hell. Abba says you have to stay there for thousands and thousands of years before Allah lets you get into heaven. And that too, if you’re Muslim, otherwise, you have to stay there forever. I’m glad I’m a Muslim.
I can hear my dad yelling at me, asking if I’ve finished cleaning the room. “Almost done!” I tell him, and start rummaging all the bits of smelly tissue into the bin. I haven’t made the bed yet and it takes me ages to do it. It’s not a big bed but I’m not very tall. Asad says I’m “four feet two inches”. I measured my foot with the scale once, it was six inches. Then I used the scale to see how many six inches I was. I was more than eight! Asad’s always making fun of how short I am. Sometimes I wish he wouldn’t come to heaven with us but I immediately ask Allah for forgiveness. Allah wouldn’t like that.
I put the dustbin in the corner of the room and start taking the sheets off the bed. These sheets have been on the bed for a few weeks now and they smell funny, kind of like the tissues. Abba’s been telling Asad to change them for ages but he never listens. I have to do everything myself. Sometimes I wish I could go to heaven early but Abba says it’s up to Allah who goes and when.
I bend down to tuck the new sheets under the mattress. The mattress is so heavy, I have to fall to my knees before I can lift it up every time. My arms and legs hurt. I lie down on the floor, dreading the moment Abba comes to check up on my progress. I know I should be getting up and finishing my chores, but I feel so tired I don’t feel like getting up and even thinking about Abba belting me senseless isn’t enough to make me get up. The room feels very hot suddenly and there is no electricity, so the fan is turned off. I wish I could get a glass of iced Coca-Cola, like the ones you get in KFC, but Abba doesn’t allow me to have them anymore because he says they give money to Israel. I don’t know who that is but I wonder what he and Abba are fighting about. There is sweat everywhere on my body, making the clothes I have cling on to my skin, so I feel sticky and dirty. I want to take a cold shower after this. I turn my head toward the bed, and stare straight under it. There are the usual suitcases of old stuff Abba never uses, or mom’s clothes and jewellery stuffed in there, covered in cobwebs and dust.
I see something gleaming back at me from behind one of the suitcases. I crawl inside and from here, I can see that it’s a piece of cloth. I stretch my arms, grab it between my fingers and pull it toward me. It’s heavy, and I have to pull really hard, and despite my weak arm, I can do it. It clanks on its way over to me, brushing past the suitcases and rolling along the floor. The noise it makes as it slides on the floor reminds me of the sound of Hussein’s toys. They were old cars he’d gotten from the streets, he said, but they didn’t have wheels, and they were all silver but very dull, and as he would pretend to drive them across the floor of our kitchen, the cars would make the same kind of noise.
It’s a white cloth, dark from the dirt around it, and there’s something hard and clunky wrapped inside it. I sit up cross-legged and put it in my lap. I try to take it off but there’s a tight knot at one end which I can’t untie. The white cloth reminds me of the one mom was buried in. Clean and smooth. My mom used to say that people become dirt once they die but Abba says their souls linger on and watch over us. Asad says it’s like those movies where people see this bright, shining light that they have to walk towards but I think he’s just pulling my leg again. Abba tells me most of the things we see on TV are the work of Satan and they’re all lies. I’m trying really hard to untie the knot, pulling at it from different angles, trying to tear through the cloth. A bit of the weak cloth wears away, and I see a gleaming silver light through the gap. I can feel a curve there, and wishing Asad wouldn’t make fun of me all the time, wouldn’t destroy my yo-yos and lie about what happens when you die, I put my finger through the hole, and push in, and pull back.
I type in her name into the white box cocooned in blue, all eighteen letters of her name dropping down by the time I’ve inserted the fifth, and I press enter. The tortoise internet buffers, the green bar on my explorer jerking intermittently to the right. Her profile crops up, the picture on the left of her sitting on the grassy fields of a Malaysian park, her tee pink, navy blue jeans, ponytail hair lapping on the nape of her neck, unseen, frilly edges poking through. She’s wearing a thick woollen jacket, bright black in the sun, so I can’t see much of her, not enough to get the job done, at least. I click on the picture.
There aren’t many pictures of her. I wish I could see more of her skin, maybe a glance of the cleft, but I don’t mind. It’s part of the charm, part of the reason I think I love her. There are some pictures which have her shirt conforming to the shape of her breasts, and I open each of them in different tabs so that I can view them in quick succession. It’s always better to be prepared: it results in a more satisfying release. The cold metal Allahu pangs against my chest.
Number one: plain white shirt, black sequin buttons running down the middle. The bulge in her chest is prominent, enough to get the ball rolling. I stand up and untie the knot on my pajamas and let it drop to my ankles. I can feel myself hardening already as I roll my fingers around it and into my fist. I push my fingers into the toughening skin.
Next tab, number two: picture from the side, red salwar kameez that hitches a little over her backside, giving me a nice view of the curve of her buttocks. I start moving my fist up and down, a depressingly short, continuous ride.
Number three. There isn’t much to go on at first glance here; it’s a headshot. Her eyes are narrowed down to shallow slits, her mouth puckered into this fortuitous pout, forehead lowered, the edges of her eyebrows almost kissing. The makings of an accidental snap. And that’s exactly what does it for me.
Number four: best for last. Shot from the side, the slender curves of her body booming in your face, starting from the subtle hint of mischief in her eyes, her smirk, looking over her shoulder to her thrusting breasts, perfect, straining against the blue tee-shirt, a bra strap sticking out nuzzled into the base of her neck, leading to the opposite plunge, the smooth crescent of her buttocks glistening in the flash of the camera. My left hand rises, cupping an imaginary breast in its hands, caressing, lolling, squeezing, as I pretend I’m jamming myself into her from behind, her nipples between fingers, hard and perked up. The other hand is moving up and down faster on my dick, my eyes rolling back into my head and I can feel myself getting lost deeper into the image conjured, my thighs thwacking against the smoothness of her ass, thwackthwackthwack, my right hand keeping up to the rhythm, mimicking the movement bursting in my mind. I tiptoe on the brink, feeling the release draw nearer, I can hear her screaming into my ear, so loud, so raw, so justified and so happy that I’m there with her, so perfectly satisfied she can’t help it, for I am her everything.
The discharge courses through, my hand squeezing it tight, my head rolling eyes at the heavens, my mouth half open, and I realize I don’t have anything to liberate my semen into, no tissue, no wad of paper, no unwashed t-shirt. My eyes fling open, and I stand up, my dick hovering over the computer, too late now as the white stuff spurts forth, and just then, my dad’s voice, gruff and at that moment the epitome of Man, bellows into my ears: “Dinner!” The image of my dad’s half-opened mouth gets stuck in my head, his greying beard trailing down his face to the base of his throat, and I yell back, my voice quivering, dipping towards the end, “Co-o-om-m-m-ing.” My vocal chords embrace the final syllable, the nasal ‘ng’ of the word, holding on as my semen empties itself onto the keyboard, splattering across the monitor and the speakers and the mouse as well, and just then, as it finishes its Cyclops cry, the pun registers, and I am laughing, guffawing at my ceiling, the come dripping on, disturbingly watery and transparent. My breathing is heavy through the laughter and my hand is still clutched, fixated around my penis, my thing, small, weak and limp.
“Dinner, Asad!” the same voice, every day, every night. I walk to the bathroom, thankful that there’s one in my room, taking small steps, my pyjama flapping at each jerking motion of my ankle. My palm is wet, sticking grotesquely against the pinkish head. I detach my hand, forming seminal cobwebs, and place it into the cold tap water. The white seeds cling stubbornly on to the creases of my right thenar, and the nail of my left thumb works furiously to disengage them. I see them wisp down the sink, almost clawing out at the porcelain rim to be saved. My eyes catch themselves in the mirror and see the future, bleak, pathetic. My dejected heart feels immensely slow against my ribcage. I reach out for a square of tissue paper and wipe my penis with it, throwing it into the toilet bowl. Flush. I have to wipe my computer as well. “Asad, how many more times do I have to call you?!”
“I’m coming!” I snort, pulling up my pyjamas. I take the whole roll of toilet paper with me and start wiping wherever I can see white. I roll them up and throw them on the floor, balls of clotting semen, soon to be hardened, making a mental note to clean them up when I’m done. I always forget and Ali ends up cleaning my mess. I worry that dad will come across one of them one day, but I’m sure the ignorant bastard won’t know what it is. A sudden vision of my dad masturbating blooms into my mind and partly disgusted, party fascinated, I, for some reason, let it continue and it seems surreal, this act, from a figure so unlikely to be part of the most meagre of sexual acts, and I am reassured in my thinking that he won’t know what I’ve been up to.
Not that it matters. Not today.
I take my backpack out, unzip it and pull out a gun, the surface shining under the fluorescent light. I have no idea about the specifications, I just know that it’s a revolver and the kid who sold it to me, an alleged member of the Hizb ut-Tahrir, showed me how to work the thing. You just put the bullets in, cock it back, and pull the trigger. He warned me about the recoil, but I wasn’t listening too intently. He asked no questions.
I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do this, but I am now. Maybe I should clean the floor properly, but I feel weary. It’s not like it’s going to be pretty. I had a note ready. It saddened me that I’d written it almost a year ago, but I liked imagining the aftermath of my death. The guilt almost made me drool. I could see my dad, solemnly looking down at my dead body, wondering over and over again how much he’d wronged me, how much more different he could’ve been. The mental scars on my little brother; I know I’m not supposed to enjoy that, and I don’t, but growing up with another death at such an early age will do incredible things to his mind. He’ll probably end up becoming an artist. My family, my cousins, how they’d recognize the importance of my departure, their silence speaking volumes of their sadness. And her. Her, with her long dark hair that kisses her waist, her, with her eighteen-letter name that rolls off the tongue ever so smooth, seven syllables that clot up in between and let go as you finished. Her skin that I’ll never feel and the lips that I’ll never kiss. She’ll be the most regretful of all, racked with guilt after having heard of my note, after hearing about how much I’d loved her secretly for so long, and she’ll think of what she missed, of what we could’ve been.
And for once, the guilt won’t be mine to embrace, for wanting but not allowed to want. For dreaming an impossible dream. For doubt.
It’s sad that we’re not allowed to attend our own funerals. I presume that would ruin the purpose. Maybe nothing will happen, maybe they’ll just call me another spoilt teenager who couldn’t appreciate what he had in life. I check the note to see if I wanted to make any last-minute changes. I’d forgotten the bit about God I’d added in the end a few weeks ago:
“And to Allah, for leaving me no other choice.”
I wish now that He doesn’t exist; I don’t look forward to getting stuck in limbo for my suicide, or hell, for the countless sins I’ve committed. If He does, I hope he’s as merciful as He claims to be at the beginning of every surah. Maybe I shouldn’t be badmouthing the Creator minutes before my appointment.
The gun feels heavy, heavier than I expect. I put the barrel into my mouth and the metal clanks lightly against one of my teeth. I feel an eerie pang of gooseflesh rip through my body, and I see myself in my mind’s eye, giving a gun a blowjob. I giggle and it scrapes the top of mouth. My fingers coil around the butt and both my thumbs rest on the trigger.
This is it, I tell myself. I close my eyes. I feel this immense sense of loss grip me and I think of love. I remember times of less misery. My thumb itches to let go, but I don’t. Push.
A boom erupts in my head. But it’s not the gun. I open my eyes to see sweat dripping down my forehead and onto the barrel. “Asad! What the hell are you doing in there?” My hands jerk back, scraping the insides of my mouth again, reeling back to rest on my lap. Body trembling, soul shaken, I jump up and head for the bed, taking the pillow of its cover. I throw the gun into the cover, fumble to tie it, and having done what I could, I throw it underneath the bed where no one will probably find it. I go to open the door.
Bismillahir rahmanir Rahim.
My forehead touches the prayer mat and my lips recall verbatim the verses required. Subtly my mouth and throat conform to meet the criteria of every syllable. I rise to rest on my knees, looking down at the painted image of the Ka’bah on the mat. My mind tries to furiously concentrate just on Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala, to His will, to this very act of complete obedience, but it fails, more often than I would like to admit, moving on to thoughts that are to be disregarded for later. I feel my thoughts clogged up with visions of places I have to be, of people I have to meet. I think of Ali and Asad, worry about how I am to raise them on my own. Most of the time, as is the case now, I see my wife and I feel urges that I have no right to feel. Especially now, as I give my heart to Allah, I feel my thighs weaken and I crave to have her here. I miss her.
Sometimes, she has no face at all. It’s just a body, and I feel pure lust coursing through my veins, the work of Shaitan. He gives me thoughts of pure vile and often I try in vain to reject them. They are everywhere, these emblems of evil, of pure needs of the flesh.
I look the left: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah. I look to the right: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah. Cupped, wrinkled hands stare back at me, and I look straight ahead, into the whiteness of the wall.
This is the worst of all, when I advance my gaze and see nothing, and I wonder. And I doubt. Satan’s impurities seep through and all I can think of is of His inexistence and I am left stranded and lost in the abyss that is godlessness. I feel ever so alone as I recite the final verses, this empty wall echoing back the hollowness of my belief. It is all I have, and without it, I am but a mere slave of a lie, resonating the empty shell of a meaningless existence.
Shaitan stop! I yell into my head. There’s a rage in me that I cannot define as I finish the last prayer of the day and roll up the mattress. It’s getting late so I tell the maid to serve dinner and call out to Asad and Ali to come for dinner. Ali’s already there by the time I’ve washed up and sat at the table. Asad’s always cooped up in his room doing the work of the Devil. He thinks I don’t know what he’s up to, but I’ve stumbled across what he leaves arrogantly lying on the floor and I know exactly what they are. I’ve been meaning to confront him about it, but I’m scared of him fighting back, asking me if I’ve ever done anything like that. I won’t be able to lie.
“Dinner, Asad!” My doubt fuels my anger, and though I know better, I can’t prevent myself from being engulfed in Shaitan’s unholy rage. I distract myself by concentrating on scooping rice on to Ali’s plate.
“What is it?”
“Does Allah know everything?”
“Don’t be silly, Ali. Of course he does.”
“Even the future?”
“Yes, even the future,” I reply, now spooning the right on to my own plate.
“Then, what’s the point?”
“What’s the point of what?”
“What’s the point of anything? If Allah knows who’s bad and who’s good, why doesn’t He just put the bad people in hell?”
I don’t know the answer to the question. I’ve heard explanations but they prove forced, lame. And this angers me.
“Don’t question the will of Allah!” I scream, despite myself. “Go clean your room. Now!” He scurries out of his chair, his puny body running toward his room, and I curse myself for acting the way I do. I call out for Asad again, my rage a switch being constantly flicked on and off. I can hear Ali slamming the door, then the creak of it opening, a voice, “Oh, it’s you,” followed by footsteps. Asad takes his seat.
I control my anger. I glance at Asad to see his face pale, his skin glistening with sweat and a slight tremble in his hand as he uses the cutlery. I am disgusted to think what he was up to in that room. I really should get down to talking to him about it. I call for Ali to hurry up.
Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim. We eat in silence. The occasional smacks of our mouths perforate the stillness of the atmosphere. I contemplate the rising school fees of private education, among other things. We are going through our routine reticence.
I almost don’t hear it, when it comes. An abrupt crack, an implosion so loud that only the aftermath of the numbness lingers. It’s a sound I don’t recognize. My eyes meet Asad’s, wide-eyed, but his have a certain familiarity to it, a realization I can’t place, and he rises from his seat, his hand a messy yellow covered in daal, heading towards their room. I follow him through the now-opened door and I see my son cowering over my son, my son who is six years old, my son who asks silly questions and smiles a silly smile when he’s happy, my son who I love, my son whose face I cannot recognize through the brilliance of all that red, all that frightfully bright red. I can’t think; all I hear is the echo of that sound.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'oon.
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.