This story was first published at One Picture. One Story where I and my good friend Laila write stories based on the inspiration we find in images. You can check out the blog here and don't forget to show us some love.
I could n’t sleep. My limbs were jittery, my fingers numb with exhaustion. I rolled around on the tattered excuse for a matteress for the millionth time. I could hear my mother swearing at me to ‘stay put or get the hell out’. I couldn’t blame her, she juggled three jobs a day. Not wanting to piss her off anymore, I forced my body to cooperate, and scooted further under the dusty cloth. In the dim light coming from the lamp across the street, I could make out the cobwebs lining the corners of the room. The walls once used to be white, but after suffering the weight of spills, five chidren and a fire, one could call them a grey shade of black. I could feel the dusty grimy floor as my fingers wiped it clean, no one was bothered by it anyway.
The children stayed indoors all day, the streets in this part of the town were dangerous. That was why she was even able to pay the rent. Sometimes, if you were careful enough, you could sweep down and peep through the keyhole to watch the latest fight. Blood was splattered, weapons fished out, and a colorful string of obsceneties thrown, often about each others’ wives and mothers. I once tried asking the meaning to one from mother, and the stinging slap that followed, left me with a swollen cheek for days. I was careful afterwards.
I was the bigger one, at 12, The rest that followed, were Maria 7, Hina 5 and Shahbaz and Amir, the twins, 3. This meant, I could go outside, as long as I stayed out of the bullies’ way. They wouldn’t want to pick on a scrawny awkward kid like me, my father had once remarked. He had his motives so, since he was the one always asking me to go grab another paan or a new pack of cigarettes. Sometimes if the cheaper brand was available, I had just enough pennies left to buy a candy, or even a bar of cheap chocolate, if I was lucky. I hid in a sideways street and ate my treat ravishly, trying to make it last, as long as possible. A sweet harmony enveloped my tongue and trickled down my throat. After that, I went without a drop of water as long as I could, not to wash the taste away. But one look at the childrens’ dirty drooling faces and matted hairs as I went back, sent me drowning into a pool of guilt. I swore that next time, I’d share the sweet with them, but the greed always overcame the resolve.
My reverie was broken by shuffling at the door, there was only one person trying to unsuccessfully open the door at this hour. I carefully made my way to attend to the issue, before any of the children woke and started crying those endless tears they stored in some infinite pool inside. As I unlocked the door, I found my jobless father, in all his glory, standing there. His clothes were ruined, suggestive of some fight he must have gotten involved in. As he drawled, his breath reeked of alcohol, I had to force myself not to gag. His horrible attempt at some old song was the only sound penetrating the chilly cold, And then he dropped down at my feet. Sighing, I shoved him inside and left him to fall into deep slumber on the cold floor. He probably deserved it since he was going to make the day even more miserable now, owing to the hangover that would follow,
Suddenly exhausted, I drooped down onto the pillow and before I knew it, I was far off, in the world of my dreams, where only, I found peace.