A single ray of sunlight that had managed to escape through the almost closed curtains of Qalandar’s bedroom fell straight over his eyes and roused him from his sleep. He felt an uneasiness that centered in his chest and spread out to his neck and through it, to his head. With considerable effort, he left his chair, went to the window and gripped one end of the curtain using his right hand. But he stopped. Outside, reaching to where the naked eye could see, was a ruin; a miscellany of dilapidated buildings and abandoned vehicles blocking the road; all types of plastic bags and cans rolling around in the wind making clanking sounds, that were, oddly, hushed (one got the impression maybe they too were aware of the storm that had recently passed); and the almost complete absence of human sounds. There were no children playing, no shopkeepers bargaining, no young men fighting. Gone. Seemingly never to return. Qalandar closed the curtains—more carefully this time—and went back to his chair.
The faults in a nation state system and its inherent opposition to the unification of the human race. Proponents of that model, happy where they are, are the ones against peace. The hypocrisy of our government Them lying. to our people and them hiding. The truth. YOU HAVE TO KNOW THE TRUTH TO HIDE IT FROM OTHERS The act of lying in itself arises from. A feeling of greediness. A desire. to monopolize over the most valuable and expensive commodity available to. Humans. lost are the times when he thought that the world was a better place than it had been. In the past. it’s all a ruin, ruin, ruin, there is no end to it.
Qalandar clutched his greying hair with both of his hands and for a brief moment, as he was pulling on his hair, imagined to be pulling out all of his thoughts as well.
Focus: that was what he so wished for. He could do so much more if he had it.
Doing: what a priceless thing it was. The will to act. A passion that arose in the hearts of men only when they were in control of all of their faculties and could only see a single line and could only see themselves following it to the very end where happiness or total annihilation awaited them: it didn’t matter; they didn’t care where they were going, just that they had to.
Qalandar’s head ached with fatigue and after he had used up whatever energy that was remaining inside him, he ceased to think. But it was not pleasurable. Even though it was what he had wanted, he didn’t feel any satisfaction, or any other feeling, except for the hallowing depression (that always loomed over the wall of his sanity, but only now had found a way to penetrate through it). He raised his head and looked around him: the brown walls; the high ceiling; the fabric of his kameez—everything seemed new to him.
“I’ve been alone for too long. I need to talk to someone or else there’ll be no hair left on my head by the end of the week but, there’s the curfew too,” he thought to himself. But as soon as he was about to finish that thought, he heard a brief, ‘Tap!’ on the window in front of him. Then again, ‘Tap!’ “Is it going to rain?”
Qalandar got up and pushed the curtain aside to find his next door neighbor leaning outside a window too small for him.
“I didn’t disturb you, did I?” he asked.
Qalandar smiled and shook his head.
“Oh, good!” he exclaimed. “There’s something I wanted to ask you about—” he extended his arm and produced a hardback.
Qalandar squinted his eyes a little bit and recognized from the cover that it was one of his father’s books.
“Could you ask him to sign it for me?”
“Sure Khayyam, whenever this curfew ends.”
Khayyam placed the book back where he took it from and breathed a heavy sigh.
“Only a month ago we had a flood pass through our streets and now this. Seems like somebody has put a curse upon Peshawar. I have seen enough people who would have a reason to,” he said through his abnormally white teeth.
Perhaps he too, Qalandar suspected, wanted to have somebody to talk with. There was no through-line in the matters Khayyam believed significant enough to discuss, and neither did he seem to find any pleasure in discussing them. But the simple impression of understanding that he received from his audience of one compelled him to continue.
The air that day was full of dust: suffocating, overbearing, ever-present clouds of brown-yellow, intruding every street and every alleyway.
The quantity of inhabitants in the area would have been difficult to guess on that particular day—for obvious reasons. From the decay of the social order to the hostile weather the people were wholly justified in sheltering inside their homes. Even more then, did the police in their black uniforms appear menacing every time they passed through—most often one at a time—as if neglecting that they were humans (who could just as easily be harmed) by their mere presence—defiant and filled with reckless vanity.
Qalandar, with one eye serenely gazing at the enthusiastic interlocutor strained the other to catch the presence of any incoming officer. There was a moment, a small one but noticeable still, when he reflected on how easily he had came out of the sea of his mingled thoughts. Thus affirming his belief that the only cure to his madness was company, but that was hard to find nowadays. And a lifelong aversion to small-talk hindered him in procuring that remedy which he so desired.
A gust of wind passed over his left cheek and reactivated his sensations.
He noticed he had been holding the same expression for too long and that his jaw had become sore. He stretched it. Almost simultaneously, he caught onto the conclusion of Khayyam’s monologue on the administrative character of their city, and jumped in with the remark: “They won’t change,” and left it to disperse in the environment without adding anything else to it. He believed he had said what needed to be said and said it well.
Khayyam’s eyes, too small for his round face, darted from one aspect of Qalandar’s appearance to another—like an undecided squirrel who had somehow found itself a bag full of nuts. He asked, in an inquiring tone that hid some amount of offense at the dismaying tone of his neighbour, “Who won’t? The politicians?”
Qalandar shook his head confidently—having already anticipated Khayyam’s question—and replied, “Everyone: the politicians; the people; the men and women; their children and their children. What we’re doing when pointing out the faults of our current system is asking for the evolution in the values of our masters. That won’t work. Only the complete breakdown of our modern societies will bring about the change we’re hoping for. But nobody’s brave enough to do it. And if brave, not sincere enough to see it through to its end as it was originally intended.”
“Then giving up is the best option?”
“So it seems,” Qalandar concluded, before losing himself in a reverie: pondering over the general workings of his small world and nodding to himself for having done so.
Qalandar’s companion, shifting weight from his left elbow (which was on the ledge of the window) to the other, observed the self satisfied expression on Qalandar’s face with complete silence.
Qalandar was aware of Khayyam’s silence for only a moment before his inward reflections stole him once again.
Everything was general, wasn’t it? Destruction and evils occured in such mass nowadays that the conception of suffering altogether escaped the people’s hearts. They could not relate to a million lives being taken in a single blast, only an act described as, “The reduction of bones and meat and nerves and whatever else into atoms,” to their hearts from their brains. It meant the incessant outpouring of phrases such as: “How could one do such a thing?” or, “What a horrible crime!” Tools that helped them continue on with their mundane lives without being disturbed the least bit.
Qalandar did not notice how long he had been quiet, he did not notice how abruptly Khayyam had ended their conversation and how he must’ve regretted talking to such an aloof fool and most astonishing of all, he did not notice how, instead of being irritated by his thoughts as before, he now discovered solace in them.
He returned to the same chair with the fluffy base and the old wooden legs. It creaked under his weight—as was its wont—as he settled down into it. Light in his room was abundant; some of it came from outside and some of it from the lightbulbs over his head. There was ample space to fit an extra bed, but Qalandar had no need for another one, and so because of that and because of the generously spaced furniture, his room seemed empty.
No one else was in the house (the servants were trapped in their humble dwellings, same as their master); he was able to count the amount of times his feet shuffled and the manner in which the wind outside moved around and over the walls surrounding him. There it moved slow, like a predator searching for its prey; and there it gained momentum, crashed into the wall, and ended the pursuit.
“They won’t change… Am I really that pessimistic?” I spout language that is factual, but I don’t believe it myself. Otherwise, it would’ve had an effect on me,” Qalandar thought.
“What’s the use of doubting yourself? And why does its effect matter? You’re not going to act anyway,” Qalandar replied.
“You’re saying as if that cannot be changed.”
“If you could, you would’ve already done so. And if you’re looking for a reason to do it, you’re wasting your time. The only effective doing it is involuntary, not forced by circumstances.”
“Motivation is not a bad thing but yes, depending on it too much is. A determined soldier is more useful than an inspired one. And you’re right too, about me; I’d rather prefer to not do than to do it.”
“But what are you doing now? Thinking? Haven’t you done enough of that already?”
“A mother holding her child close to her A bomb drops They vanish Life moves on.”
“You’re losing yourself. At this rate, you’ll turn into a madman—stop thinking!”
“A millionaire buys a car The mother and her child vanish The millionaire buys another car Life moves on.”
“Stop thinking! Stop thinking! Stop thinking! Stop thinking! Stop thinking!”
“Another President gets elected The millionaire keeps on buying cars The mother and her child keep on vanishing Life moves on.”
As the fan rotated above his head—intensity of the sunlight withered: streetlights were being turned on; his vision became blurred—and as his head dropped to a side, Qalandar saw: