FICTION: The Solidity of Things

Posted by Raza Rumi

At PTH, we have struggled to retain the balance between politics, history and arts and culture. However, given Pakistan’s turbulent politics and security, it has been an uphill task. We are now inviting new writers to come and express themselves at PTH. Especially since the explosion (pun intended) of Pakistani fiction at a global scale. We are printing a story by Hamza Rehman who is a an Esquire based in Islamabad. Hamza is a practising lawyer who moonlights as DJ for Pakistan Broadcasting Association’s Planet FM 94, where he hosts the Alternative Rock and 80’s shows. He freelances for The Friday Times and pens fiction as much as he can. He primarily writes about characters in Islamabad and experiments heavily with metaphor. The Solidity of Things is his debut short story.

Hope the readers would enjoy this rather bold, avante garde story.

“… but they sprawled from another country, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and the rest.

Islamabad is Pakistan’s first city.”

The billboard outside the Daewoo Bus Station introduced Islamabad as a new sentence to passengers arriving from Lahore. The other cities trailed off from another paragraph – divided India. Yes of course, Ahmed thought, Islamabad was post partition. The 1960’s. Ahmed sat in his jaundiced Suzuki FX that peeled silver rust at places. Through the tempered glass the weather shone warm with grim April yellow. Ahmed tried to make out if his maternal cousin, Haroon, had arrived.

Islamabad was roadblock central now. Blockades were a zipper formation and the ITP an ever vigil martinet on Fridays. Ahmed remembered a conversation with Usman: “Ahmed, solid terrorism, or manifest terrorism, isn’t the Islamabad Marriot burning the fuck down.” Taking a drag of his Gold Leaf, Usman had pithily said, “It’s the insecurity that follows”, in a wisp of solid smoke and truth. 

This town no longer reeked of the anthem, “Islamabad the green, the beautiful”. Bastardized into existence in 1961, General Ayub Khan and the army-green khakis ravaged the barren Potwar Plateau and gave a future city the green std – a recurring dictatorship. The Islamabad Highway was now awash with General Alamghir’s agricultural reforms. Ahmed reached for the black Pioneer deck. He flicked the beige dial and FM88 impregnated the silence.

“ … that … that was the foppish Jal … from sunset-brown Lahore. They were belting out the pop-rock Sajni …”

88 was one of few counter-culture Pakistani frequencies that subscribed to well spoken English being American. Ahmed thought the accented pretense tragic and sighed into the window.

“ … now guys on this Feedback Friday, we’re asking you to stir up the studio chatter here at 88 studios. Text in at 88 and tell us the answer to the following: ok, here goes: Faisal Mosque in Islamabad. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. Half the country’s prayed in it … this mosque’s huge. Its in the Guinness Book. Yadda yadda. The question is, what geometrical shape, like square, circle, triangle, cylinder, etcetera defines the spirit of the mosque? Got that? I’ll repeat guys, “what … ””

“I’m in love with you, whoever you are out there.” Ahmed had slipped into stupor. He sighed. The passion, tenaciously virile in Ahmed, beat in effete vacuum. Sarah was gone. Dumped him. But the febrile aftertaste lingered. And so love obscurely wore her skin in his head. Ahmed blurred her facial features to credit his spite and yearned a faceless manifestation of love. It was semi-solid, tepid emotion.

Haroon closed up out of the babel of yellow taxis and pickups. Ahmed started at his sight and jumped out to greet his cousin and assist with his luggage.

Haroon was rank with travel and boredom, soggy sandwiches and paper lunchboxes. He was a runway and magazine model in Lahore. A protégé of successful fashion photographers Ather-Shazad. Though Ahmed’s own face wore the bronze of a Sunday morning cricket match, Haroon’s was a skin weathered by millennia of fucking under brutal clear skies. His features were decidedly Punjabi. Swarthy, flared nostrils, rounded nose, big lips, strong jaw-line and hair cropped to overgrown fuzz and dyed to a tan. A cleft birthed centre-folds. His long-division brood secured the trusting gaze of Lahori “quris” (chicks) and their wet poise on his teeming cock. Youth was aging Haroon. Ahmed admired and despised Haroon. Mostly because Sarah had giggled in her genuine fake way at his Pathan jokes when he had visited Islamabad last Summer.

“This is shit car.” Haroon spoke in Urdu, as usual.

“You’re stoned!” Ahmed was decidedly English in Islamabad.

“Haan waisay. (Yeah, actually)” Some vernacular of Urdu suited Haroon so well, in his precise tone and mannerisms, that the words seemed to resonate a more authentic form of the language. Those words were more Urdu than others.

Haroon slid his hands on fissured Racine pelt. His love for solid leather was being held captive in that FX. Synthetics raped his skin deep sensibilities. Racine had no appeal; its acquisition did not necessitate bloodshed.

“How is all?”

“Theek thak (doing fine), Ammi is all excited. Y’know how lonely she gets away from everyone in Lahore.”

“Haan. (Yeah.) And Sarah?”

Ahmed paused. “Emancipated.” Haroon wouldn’t know that word.

“No way. Harami .” Haroon slapped his denim thigh and guffawed. With guttural aplomb, “Well done yaar! ”

“No you idiot. Not that. We broke up!”

“Haw.”  Haroon remained silent and mustered little other than “hmm” only.

Ahmed reeled to over a year ago. A’ Levels Year One. Fall semester of hankering aphrodisia. Islamabad’s greenbelts were rife with gentle autumn-rot of wild bud-less marijuana. Febrile October sun shone on Lighthouse’s herringbone courtyard when Sarah stirred in Ahmed’s underwear with nascent solidity. Of all things that turned upside down in Ahmed’s eyes, Sarah did his vision in. She was average but tread vainly. Ahmed bought in though he had mustered little but stares. Soon, she had solidified into the unrealized creature he had of her in his insisting head. “She was born with silky straight hair.” Of such staggering disproportion was the import of her sight to sound physics of reality, it could have only been Ahmed’s penis, flamboyantly fleshing out his contrived figment, that varnished and justified such bias.

One day Ahmed’s bud Usman, cynically, rolled his eyes and said, “does she even sweat when you fuck her in your dreams?”

“Shut up bitch … its not like that. I respect her.”

“Why?” Usman spoke peevishly.

Ahmed paused. Swallowed and cocked a “well” sideways.

“I’ve heard she’s religious.”

“I’ve heard her cunt is secular.”

They broke into a scuffle. Ahmed paid no heed to Usman’s praise. He graduated to high-school éclat and, being inebriated with emotion, his thoughts remained fleeting. Lighthouse aped British co-ed systems, like the majority of Islamabad’s private schools. The façade wore pillars. Lighthouse’s students sat at their wide base and cast no shadows of their own as they rote learned into American colleges.

But now Ahmed had fallen miserably from scholastic grace: poor grades and a soberly tepid social life. A dee minus existence.

Haroon and him had eased to a halt at a traffic light.

“Let’s go to Faisal Mosque. For Jummah prayers. (Friday)” Maybe Ahmed could figure out this week’s Feedback Friday. And maybe it would get his mind of Sarah and the fact that Haroon’s presence pissed him off.

“Fit hai. (Is)” Haroon okayed.

A filthy vagabond crept up to Ahmed’s window with a cupped palm. Ahmed noticed his cracked feet covered with dirt and dried blood. Pakistan’s indifferent highways felt hard to feet that could only afford to walk. But urban pauperism paled to solid poverty existing in places like Keti Bunder on Sindh’s coastal belt. The beggar had peeled his left shirt sleeve all the way up to expose a weltered bone of an arm with skin. Ahmed took in the scurvy showmanship of it all, as other brittle windows who had dismissed the mendicant had done. He was solid with hurled insults and self pity.

Fed up with just about everything, the pain, Sarah’s thoughts, the mystery of her sudden loss of interest in him, the doubt in his mind, Ahmed furiously rolled down the thin glass with coltish theatrics started violently barking like a rabid dog with convincing canine vocals. The hobo, who probably needed to know that bizarre and desperate isn’t always poor, burst out laughing and sauntered off, hobbling a bit on his hard feet, feeling richer. Saner.

“Ahmed. You gone mad!” Haroon was half-laughing.

Ahmed cleared his throat. He sat back into his seat. With a very serious expression, gathering his eyebrows, he said, “I know.”

They had turned onto the Islamabad Highway. It cut right through Islamabad, severing it down the middle, north to south and it collided with religion at the northern end – Shah Faisal Mosque and the Margalla Hills. Another blockade, choked with Jummah rush hour traffic, brought Ahmed and Haroon to yet another halt.

“Does this Dalda -tin have radio? Till we reach Mosque.”

“Just hit one … its tuned to 88.”

“and in her honor lets, hmm … have a back to back. This is going out to all those men and women who’ve sacrificed more than they should’ve, it’s gonna be The Killers who’re a tad anthemic today, singing with some regret … we bid you farewell … this is Exitlude, followed by … umm … Etta James covering Armstrong in What’s Going On. By the way guys, Feedback Fridays still waiting on you for your texts. I’ll see you after the break … [Aggressively, we all defend the role we play … ]”

“Oye … he’s going for cigarette break” observed Haroon, with a finger pointing at the deck and a huge grin on his face. Ahmed looked and punched Haroon into his window for being so fucking happy, broadcasting blood over glam-rock frequency. He did not. But Ahmed’s thumb did twitch. Perhaps if Ahmed knew why he was made unceremoniously single, he wouldn’t have been so irritable. Haroon started shaking his head to the tune.

“Yaar Ahmed, I went to Jal  concert in Lahore. Their “Aadat” was so nicer than Atif Aslam’s version. They dressed so nicer Ahmed, ke mein kiya bataoon (that what can I say).”

Ahmed gave Haroon a dirty side glance. This was blasphemy. Jal themselves would submit to Atif’s version of “Aadat” being better. Haroon’s taste in music left little to be desired in Ahmed. But Haroon was a solid dandy and that was music in Pakistan today. Fashion!

“Let’s turn off the music … its Jummah anyway.” At this Ahmed pressed four and FM 106.4 belted out the monotone Urdu headlines of the hour.

“ … her namaz-e-janaza (funeral prayer) was held in Lahore on Wednesday. The Punjab Minister for Social Welfare, Naila Chaudhry, was assassinated in Gujranwala. Harris Zaidi, the perpetrator is an extremist and fanatic and District Police Office Gujranwala stated that he has, in the past, killed upto twelve women workers of Lahore. The criminal’s motive for her assassination was a hostile outlook towards his victim’s non-adherence to the Islamic dress code and her partaking in politics … ”

“Holy fuck, did you hear his motive” Ahmed questioned Haroon. Heated conversation would prove a healthy distraction to Ahmed’s negativity.

“Its dirty shit yaar. Killing in name of Allah like so. Haina? (Isn’t it?) And what the shit is Islamic dress code anyway? I hate hijab. So degrading. Like shit.” Haroon used that word a lot.

“Ahan.” Ahmed thought: perhaps he should skip the idea of Friday prayers with Haroon.

“I hope they castrate the behen-chode (sister fucker). Make him khusra! (Eunuch) Give him pussy and rape him to death while he wears pink head covering.”

Friday prayers were fictitious Ahmed thought.

Despite Haroon rubbing Ahmed the wrong way, he took to Haroon’s tone of speech: attractively unguarded, indiscriminately paused and refreshingly unpretentious. It was checkered with honest, middle class, inflections of Urdu and English. That’s what had made Sarah laugh too. His jokes, mostly parodies of politicians, came off genuinely funny.

After the Islamabad Traffic Police checked the boot, it wasn’t long before Ahmed and Haroon reached Faisal Mosque.

“Waaaaw”. Haroon nearly swooned. “Yaar, it is real and … uff, beautiful this close.” Without a dome, the Mosque took after an Arab Bedouin’s tent architecturally. His eyes followed the contours of the Mosque like a three year old close to a TV screen. Four tent-peg minarets tapered and pierced the Islamabad skyline. A four sided holy pyramid lay in between. Unlike Giza, the four façades were an explosive jihad of triangular geometry. Haroon touched his fingers at their tips to form a triangle and looked through them, outlining the pyramid. With monotheistic devotion to angles, the Mosque shirked circles with jagged edges. Inside, women stood at the galleries, and a sea of solid grey and jaundice shalwar-kameez were rowed below. The Imam sermonized and praised the Minister’s social welfare services to Pakistan, condemning Harris Zaidi to eternal damnation. His coarse voice echoed with acoustical aplomb: Allah’s name filled the void of the pyramid with masculine force till it solidified into the shape of the triangle dome. Even with nomadic sensibilities of not belonging to this new city, or the insecurity bred out of transitory governments, these Muslims were rooted solid under one roof with tent-pegs. Faisal Mosque complimented the un-amended constant that was Islam in the 1973 Constitution of the Republic.

Afterwards, a crush of men had thronged to the shoe racks, where Ahmed briefly lost Haroon. As they drove away from Faisal Mosque, Ahmed noticed Haroon had a peevish grin on his face. They had turned right onto decadent Margalla Road to reach Sector G-6. A smaller mosque worshipped here, as congregation timings varied. A blockade beyond it slowed cars that brought Ahmed and Haroon within the penumbral invective of an insular Imam. He subscribed to the misogynistic “purdah ” warp that owes itself to Pakistan’s feudal mentality rather than any misconceived Islamic fundamentalism. He bellowed into the microphone.

“ … for remember, servants of Allah, the Holy Kaaba is covered with cloth as well. Your women are to similarly guard their shame, from head to ankles. Since the sin of Adham and Huwa, when Iblis enticed one to offer the wheat grain, and the other to eat of it, the curtain was lifted from their eyes and Allah Ta’allah was upset with both of them equally. But an obligation was imposed on your women to not bare themselves nor provide a reason for men to lose control over themselves.”

He affronted the Provincial Minister for not practicing such modesty as she occupied the position of a man and encouraged the gaze of men.

Ahmed thought, “Pakistanis have impaled Islam on minarets of hate.” Pakistan wasn’t so much a country shaped by its virtues than it was a people defined by the vices it chose to love. Suicide in particular.

Ahmed disgusted, held his shaven chin in faux thought and reflexively shifted his denim legs. Ahmed, like many Pakistani teenagers, wore denim and shaved because the Mullahs did not. Their creased rendition of Islam compelled the Pakistani youth to subscribe to the secular trappings instead. The burger  construct.

“He’s so full of it! It isn’t the woman’s duty to keep men from lusting them.”

“Haan yaar. (Yeah man.) Islam isn’t in danger. That gandu’s (ass-giver’s) balls are!”

Ahmed thought if he abused like Haroon he’d come off a lot more convincing.

“Fashion police!”, Haroon cried out in English, looking at Ahmed.

“I liked the parallel to Kaaba though. The centre of attention. A bit tasteless to use it here. He made it sound as if it was naked without the shroud.”

They had cleared out of the crowd of vehicles and proceeded along the rest of Margalla Road.

“Hmm … right now I need puff.” Haroon shuffled, in his duffle, for a prepared Rizla and took out a ready made one.

“Oye Haroon! If the traffic police see us, they’ll … ”

“Abhay (hey) relax! It’s in cigarette.”

Haroon ignored him and lit his joint. Noise of motion hosted for five minutes as Haroon quietly let the marijuana work into him. He still smiled knowingly which bugged Ahmed.

Ahmed, coughing, “So tell me, how’s the catwalk life? Strutting along well?”

“Haan.” Haroon had a mercurial gleam, looking beyond the windshield and persuasive smoke, he looked backwards. “Uff, it feels so right na. You know up there. Them looking.”

“It’s a high huh?”

He took to his joint, small puff, amber tip and half truths. “The ramp Ahmed, the ramp, the clothes. The cool people yaar. Just feel very alive. Up there … ” Ahmed thought Haroon must’ve gotten a hit because he stopped in mid-sentence.

The smoke had engulfed all and sundry. The grass hung precariously on Haroon’s lips. He blew potent psychedelic circles into the perforated Racine ceiling. Ahmed felt a wonderful numbness taking over him; a dull suffocation and Margalla Road had never ridden so sublime. It was an FX without weld, without edge, a single sheet of molten mass molded onto the chassis. Marmalade. Tangerine. Lennon. Catcher in the Rye. Ahmed raced. Ahmed managed to flick 88 on to wake him up. A song was playing. And then,

“Aaannnd … we’re back from the Jummah break guys. This is RJ Mazz on Feedback Fridays …”

Ahmed had been driving at thirty-five for about a good minute now.

“The ramp!” screamed Haroon. Ahmed jumped. Haroon laughed. “People. Everyyyywhere. They see you.”

Haroon shifted in his clothes. Then he touched his jacket and pulled it forward from its lapels so that it fit him better.

“Camera Ahmed. Flash … burns air for you na.” Haroon had overheard a someone say that once. He inhaled, expanding his lungs to putrid air. He stretched out his arms. His skin swelled to feel the fabric. The tight clothes evidenced the contours of his physique. His ego. Haroon’s reason to be. He was solid that way.

“Then. Clapping. And what chikni (hot) bachiyan. (chicks) Ahmed that what can I say. Uff!” He jerked his hips forward while bringing his elbows forcefully down and smiling. “Har raat marta hun.” (I bang every night)

Ahmed remembered to despise Haroon. Haroon’s audience did not lower their gaze. He was the centre of attention. Money and orgasms.

Haroon looked sheepish. “Fuck, he’s tripping”, Ahmed feared and took his foot off the accelerator. “Yaar, Haroon, sheesha (window) … put the window down.”

Haroon tried. The handle came off in his hand. With animated brows, Haroon held it up like an award and screamed out in forced English, “I’d like to thank the producers!”

Ahmed burst out laughing.

He let go of the steering wheel. The FX, unaligned, swerved to the left onto the green shoulder of Margalla Road. Haroon was howling with laughter between his legs. The marijuana had slipped out from his mouth onto the synthetic carpeting and started to smolder a foul stink. Ahmed had enough sense to bring the FX to an abrupt funny halt. Haroon started coughing and managed to stagger out onto the grass.

“Tu itna behen chod hai!” (You are such a sister-fucker!) Ahmed was cussing Haroon and swaggering in Urdu. He got off and opened the doors to ventilate the cabin after throwing the butt away. Haroon, supine, lay stock-still on the dirty grass. Passing traffic sped by with sober indifference.

“Thank god we’re not near a check post, you idiot!”

Ahmed looked at Haroon, who had a grin etched dopily across his face. He was inebriated with a life he indulged in religiously. Ahmed felt begrudgingly green at the sight of such feckless freedom and indifference. There would have to be some downside to be so solidly happy, Ahmed thought. And he suddenly saw.

“Oye! What the fuck!”

Haroon’s shoes were tanned buckskin moccasins. They were definitely not the ones he was wearing at the Daewoo Bus Station.

“Tu ne masjid se jhootay churaye?” (You stole shoes from the mosque?)

Haroon cracked a chuckle. “Ami … Ami …” Haroon called playfully, using Ahmed’s affectionate family nickname, “yaar Ami, I have to tell something.”

Ahmed was irritably doffing the moccasins off Haroon’s feet. His worried head raced. The feet that walked those were shoeless. Or the person must’ve taken someone else’s … a cavalcade of theft at the Mosque. Fuck! Would they hesitate to steal so soon after prayers? The marble would burn through scruples. Secularly, would the necessity of theft peal away poor taste – stealing an expensive looking pair? Which depressed idiot would opt for a shitty one? What a stupid thought! Ahmed got up with moccasin in each hand, stoned cousin on ground and an iffy duty that could get him well mobbed. The day couldn’t get fucking worse.

“Ami … I fucked Sarah.”

What are moccasins? They dropped from Ahmed’s self righteous grip. All emotion is secular.

“What did you say?”

“Mein ne … Sarah se, piyar kiyai. Lahore se aya tha … us ne bulaya tha … ” (I have made love to Sarah. Came from Lahore … she had called me …)

Ahmed’s rudderless confusion when Sarah had gruffly broken it off had resulted in passivity. The reason lay manifest before him now. Real enough to be hurt. Ahmed had knowledge now. The thought of Haroon solid in her. Touching her. Her smooth thighs slapping as he fucked her. Sarah squealing with delight. Laughing at his jokes. Haroon’s orgasm. In Ahmed’s city. In his girlfriend’s cunt. Cunt! Indeed, stoning Haroon bloody with solid stones seemed the only redemption fair to Ahmed.

He waged a kick into Haroon’s stomach with the force of jihad.

“Aaaauugghhhh.” Haroon retched out air from deep within. His eyes rolled backwards.

And another.

“Oh … aaaauugghhhh.”

Ahmed liked the release. He grasped the rim of his FX with steady arms and returned kicks into Haroon’s abdomen till half of him had slid under the pendulating car. Ahmed’s need to vengefully vent was more solid than any continence he could muster. Whether he waged into Haroon such violence out of genuine hurt, fraternal envy, unrelated insecurities, habit of adrenalin or all, Ahmed could not discern. His foot was solidly erect and had drawn the blood away from his mind. Ahmed stopped. He rested his head on his arm, looking at Haroon’s flimsy legs, sticking out like a limp dick from under the car. He hardly looked solid now. Ahmed was ruddy in the cheek. His brow was beaded and he heaved. He felt depleted yet energized. It excited him.

Haroon made no noise. He was silent as regretful night.

Ahmed quickly heaped him into the cramped Japanese backseat. Ahmed grappled the moccasins with incontrovertible will. He started off in the FX and took the next u-turn, heading back towards Faisal Mosque. Haroon let out a plaintive whimper. That lulled Ahmed’s brief qualms of Haroon’s state. The son of a bitch deserved it. Ahmed laughed a demonic cackle. He accelerated and then braked. Haroon rolled into the front seats with a cushy thump. He let out a louder groan. Ahmed smiled. He felt on top of the world. Orgasms and fist ups were brief but solid adrenalin pumped moments of ecstasy.

Faisal Mosque had all but echoed out, apart from the fresh peel of worldly yelps from children rimming the fountain basins, that filtered in through angular crevices. When Ahmed reached the shoe rack, he found no one. The rack was without footwear. Ahmed slotted the shoes in. But he thought that the hardscrabble kids wouldn’t hesitate. Ahmed took them out. He came across a beard with beads who told him that the Mosque lent out slippers in such situations. Of course, Ahmed thought. 1500 years of Friday prayers and they’d obviously found a solution. Ahmed felt daft.

The novelty of avenged adrenalin had begun to wear off as Ahmed returned to the FX. Haroon was still zonked out in the backseat. The sight of Haroon was a soliloquy of scummy defeat: ass in the air and his jacket rucked up. Haroon had wretchedly  resigned to Racine, foamed apart at threaded seams, as his face lay obscured in the beguiling fabric. Hardly the puckish clotheshorse of Lahore’s fashion glossies. Ahmed, irritable with wronged affection, masquerading cousinage and the utter randomness of this pointless day, tossed the moccasins into the backseat with peevish abandon to join the rest of Haroon’s stinking, fallen self.

He perched himself on the bonnet of the FX, impaling his vision by the gallingly incisive angles of Faisal Mosque.

“Chutya ”, Ahmed quietly cussed Haroon, stealing a glace at the backseat libertine. Ahmed lit a cigarette and slid back, resting on the motley sunned windshield. Ahmed had tuned in to 88.

“… and that was the poppy Aunty Disco Project. A bit kitschy no? Now I’m scrolling through your texts people aannd, the thing is yeah, none of you’ve pointed out the shape on the Mosque. Where do we see it? I mean, its easy to say octagon, etc. …”

Ahmed dangled his Gold Leaf and thought. Haroon hadn’t acted impulsively when Sarah had called him to Islamabad. The M2 from Lahore is four hours and drives a straight cocksure road across northern Punjab, fucking into the Potwar Plateau that houses Islamabad, before curving deceptively into the Capital. Haroon must’ve had time to mull it over – his was a four hour erection. Ahmed, cuckold, jounced his knees in agitation and grit his jaws. The Gold Leaf was half burnt, in him and the stifling atmosphere. Ahmed felt a disarming funk that urged him to gently steamroll Haroon under the FX. He punched the bonnet instead. Faisal Mosque had begun to lengthen its shadow towards the declining sun. A song finished.

“It’s not a triangle people!”

Haroon hadn’t really cared to see beyond the fuck, Ahmed thought. Didn’t need to. Humbug that he was, his a.m. reflection: sinewy physique, swarthy countenance and bespoke wardrobe, breezed him through shallow days in Lahore and spared him from the foresight of anything but “now”. Faisal Mosque was a beautiful pyramid and Pakistani pop stars had great music because they dressed so well. That was Haroon’s take on solid life.

Ahmed flicked the brown Gold Leaf butt onto the grey lot, sparking shards of ash. He smoldered with rueful self-loathing for ever having picked up Haroon from the Daewoo Bus Station. He slid off the bonnet and sat into the FX, which was funky with buckskin, Racine and leather tainted with a whiff of burnt synthetic and Islamabad’s green belts. But Haroon stunk up the cabin the most. He had so poisoned the FX and Ahmed’s mind, every breath Ahmed took patented the putrid truth of Haroon’s presence and of what he had done. Sarah. Ahmed was nauseated. Sarah.

Ahmed ran his fingers on the perforated steering wheel of the FX. Strange. It felt the same. He felt his palms across the mould of the grainy dashboard. The FX looked the same, the seat felt the same and his spit tasted of his mouth. Ahmed’s mind, beset with waning pique, however, was altered. The weight of knowing was heavy and Ahmed, eyes wet now, reeled to when Sarah had once shared her sandwich with a kindergarten brat who was curious during recess. But she wasn’t solid all the way through. Heady with suspended toxins and false love, Ahmed felt a filthy swelling surge in him. Ahmed jumped out of the FX and puked over the grey lot, till he retched invisible contents that his stomach reassured felt real enough to be purged. Ahmed’s head, it seemed, was the only honest thing around.

Ahmed grit his teeth. His vision was a moistened blur but he felt he was a new man and could see well clear into the future. He breathed in large amounts of free air and felt his lungs stretch all the way. Perhaps because of post-puke release. Or perhaps, because there was nothing more to know. Nothing more to do. Except.

Ahmed sat in the FX and looked back. He shook Haroon, who shuffled his legs and groaned. The asshole had come clean Ahmed thought.

“Get the fuck up. See if anything hurts.”

“Ugh … too late to ask.” Haroon staggered up. The unawkward silence that exists between guys took hold. A mutual “you’re a piece of shit, when’s the next cricket match”, bond, solid with rational dispassion. Ahmed looked back. The moccasins caught his eye and as if he had planned it all along, Ahmed said,

“I’m giving those shoes to the beggar we saw.”

Silence.

Ahmed saw a crow fly from one minaret to the one diagonal, in a straight line, as if it were sliding on a platform.

“hehm” Ahmed smiled. He grabbed his mobile and furiously texted away, sending the message to 88.

Ahmed put the engine on. The timid FX roared bravely as Ahmed, in neutral, first reversed and then pressed on the accelerator and started off home, towards Sector G-6, with his cousin Haroon. Haroon was visiting Ahmed and his family from Lahore.

“I believe we have a winner! Ahmed from Isloo sees it. Says it’s a square. A cube actually! He’s just texted in saying, and I quote, “da whole mosk’s inside an invsible cube. da 4 minarets make up its 4 corners and da pyramid is in da centre of da cube. Da cube’s like Kaaba. Which is a cube.” Wow, well now, that’s quite the answer Ahmed! Congratulations! I think the architect would’ve been blown away! For those of you who don’t know, the Turkish architect of Faisal Mosque, Vedat Dalokay, did say that an unseen Kaaba form i bound by the minarets at the four corners and the height of the minarets was the same as that of Kaaba! But, frankly Ahmed, I’m shocked you chose to see the invisible Kaaba instead of the beautiful pyramid. I mean the pyramid takes everyone by awe man! You got blind faith dude. To see something that’s not visible. Hah. I’d really like to know what you were thinking when you realized that! I had no idea myself till I read an article on Dalokay who said an imaginary Kaaba was there. It totally changed how I see Faisal Mosque now. Funny how a little knowledge can change your perspective on things completely. Anyway, you’re okay man! Congratulations again. The 88 admin’s gonna call you soon for your address to deliver the goody bag!”

Note: The Anti-Terrorism Court in Gujranwala handed the death sentence to Harris Zaidi in the murder case of Punjab minister Naila Chaudhry on March 20, 2007. The special Anti-Terrorism Court awarded Harris Zaidi two times death sentence and PKR 100,000 fine in the murder case. The court also handed him six months jail term for keeping illegal arms.

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Finis

14 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Literature, Writers

14 responses to “FICTION: The Solidity of Things

  1. jibran ahmed

    why doesn’t PTH have a facebook page like ATP does???every article uploaded automatically shows up on facebook homepage, not having a facebook page has severely restricted the audience for this site.Also, there is no option of sharing these articles by email or by posting it to one’s facebook page for others to see.On the mainstream media one doesn’t get the chance to hear or be exposed to alternative views.It is the same rigid,intolerant,unquestioning bs that everyone believes in.

  2. Umair G

    Not impressed – hmph!

    Why can’t you write the same without using expletives and fat a$$ vocabulary…does that make you less sophisticated or what?

  3. Tauqueer D

    Absolutely painful to read. Whats with the vocabulary? Now that is bad … and this infantile story has been written by a lawyer? How embarrassing ….

  4. Asifa

    Pakistani John Grisham. Ha!

  5. kamran

    so weve been looking at Faisal mosque the wrong way all these years?

  6. Umer Shahid Esq.

    Hamza… the story is well written. You have a very ‘I have read a lot of books’ style to your writing.

    A lot of people would ask you to ease up on your choice of words, however it all comes down to who you want to target as a potential follower of your work.

    The story itself unwinds nicely with great attention to detail. A simple concept shown to be complex or a complex concept shown to be simple…it leaves one wondering.

    By the way just because he is from Lahore does not mean his English should be basic and you give a wrong description of Punjabi features.

    In my opinion the ending is a bit abrupt but I guess life goes on just like that.

    Who is Sarah with now?… (Salope!!)

    All the best.

    Ciao

  7. D_a_n

    Best bit from the story:

    ‘…A mutual “you’re a piece of shit, when’s the next cricket match”, bond, solid with rational dispassion….’

    captures it perfectly…

  8. This is a very insightful and incisive piece on the new Pakistani nation emerging out; the people that are realigning themselves after the dual decades of the 80s and the 90s.

    A very poignant tale of how connections can survive so much betrayal and still endure.

  9. jk

    Good job!

    I can’t believe some goons are complaining about the vocabulary. Consult a dictionary, kids; this is highschool level vocabulary.

  10. Saif-ur-Rehman

    Hamza, it was a very interesting read. I liked the way you’ve described feelings. The vocab is perfectly fine and easy to understand. Keep it coming.

  11. Dr. Nidaa Masood

    I really enjoyed reading your story, Hamza. It says something about where Pakistan is today and the often conflicting messages our youth is bombarded with.

    As of those who pretend to be critics, my advice is get a life! If you are not competely illiterate, you will know the writing style is just fine. An example of another famous Pakistani writer whose books often get a mixed feedback- mohsin hamid.So keep it up Hamza, you are in good company.

    Pakistanis need a good kick in pants sometimes to make them think and I found your portrayal of the characters quite moving.

  12. AZW

    This is a brilliant story Hamza. I think a non Pakistani would have trouble staying with the whole story due to the local references as well as liberal use of Urdu-ised English words. In other words it came across as a very respectable Pakistani short story. I liked how you described various emotions that ran through Ahmad as he had to deal with his loss due to the very venal person that sat with him throughout this story. I don’t think the use of foul language was out of place. It actually made the whole atmosphere come alive in a reader’s mind.

    My only suggestion is to ease up on the excessively long words (three syllables and longer) in your writing. They break the narrative, and makes the text a little harder on the eyes. Other than that, this story is a good start. Let’s hope you write more and publish here at PTH as well.

    P.S. Loved the Suzuki Alto setting with the Pioneer deck. Reminded me of my Isloo days in the 90s.

  13. Jagoon

    A very poor attempt at literature.

  14. Fahad

    Rocking piece!!! Enjoyed every second of it. Chill out Jagoon…