Wednesday, February 27, 2013


I know, I know. The 100-posts-this-year resolution hasn't exactly started off well, has it? But it's not really my fault. There has been too much travelling happening lately for me to be able to sit down quietly and write. So here's a stop-gap. 

This is a story that I wrote in response to this challenge:
A man who lives alone sees a set of footprints leading away from his house the morning after a heavy snowfall.
The story had to be less than 750 words as well. Mine didn't make the cut, but I still quite like it. 



Ibrahim wakes up every day, and hopes the food will be gone. Most days, it isn’t. He used to put out clothes too, sometimes. But the clothes always remained, even when the food was gone.

He closes his shop at eight every night. Of course, nobody really comes to the shop after seven these days, even when there’s no curfew on. But he likes to potter around behind the counter, tidying up, doing the accounts, postponing the inevitable. Then he walks slowly back to his cottage outside the main town.

He passes a military check-post on the way, one of many in this place. It’s usually bright with light and the bonhomie of young soldiers who haven’t seen blood yet. There’s as much happiness in that one small building as there is in the rest of the town put together.

The two soldiers on duty outside usually greet him. The soldiers know Ibrahim because they buy their cigarettes at his shop. He’s almost the only local they speak to.

He always returns their greetings. Some days, when the trade at the shop has been slow because of news of bombings nearby, he offers them some of the leftover snacks. He knows he should give the food to the orphanage, but he thinks of these snacks as insurance. Pay a monthly premium so they don’t shoot him for a terrorist at the end.

These soldiers are his son’s age, maybe a year or two younger. He wonders if they know about his son, if some tattle-tale in the town has whispered in their ears about the jihadi son of the shopkeeper. He wonders if his son’s photo and name are up on a board somewhere, labelled TERRORIST in bold red letters.

He doesn’t know whom to blame. Should he blame his dead wife, her mind unscrewed over long years by a long-ago night of blood and fire? Should he blame the local maulvi for pouring poison into the young boys’ ears in every class? Should he blame these soldiers for their very presence? Or should he blame himself for always being too busy at the shop to be with his son?

The closer he gets to his house, the slower he walks. Sometimes, he fantasizes about an alternate life, one in which his wife is alive and happy, and his son hasn’t run away to fight for a losing cause. He fantasizes that the house will be yellow and lit and noisy, waiting for him to arrive. His steps speed up in anticipation.

And then he turns the corner, and the house is dark and empty and quiet. He slows down again, walks heavily up to the gate. He unlatches the gate, walks up the narrow path to the front door. The house smells musty when he steps inside, but there’s nothing he can do about that. He fixes himself dinner, eats. Then he prepares the bundle of food, and puts it outside the back door.

Tonight, he smells snow in the air, maybe the ghost of a snowfall up in the mountains. He peers off into the darkness, at the hills hidden now in darkness. He thinks of his son, bundled up in a shawl, hugging his gun for warmth in a cave somewhere. He goes back inside, walks up to his bedroom, finds an old coat of his. He wraps the food in that.

In the morning, the food is gone, and so is the coat. It has snowed heavily in the night, and a set of footsteps lead away from the house, towards the forested hills behind. He looks at those footsteps, and feels something burst and start burning inside his chest.

He sits down heavily on the steps, cradles his head in his hand, stares at those footsteps. In a minute, he will get up and sweep those footsteps away. But for now, he stares at them, the only sign he has seen of his son in the last five years.
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