The wrought iron bench rests along the river, and remains unmoved by the visitors, who keep altering otherwise the position of the benches on the bund. The tall green grass that swayed all around me made it clear, the park had been abandoned; like my hair grown long and unruly, its grass had grown old, very old in the past few weeks. The moist cold of the early April rose in my spine, the bright lamppost highlighted the sad fog that escaped silently into the darkness of the river, in which disappeared my face and all ambitions that night.
Clouds floated in the west and darkness took over from the east. I pulled out a new lighter from the front pocket of my jacket and it roared a high flame. Across the waters of Jhelum rests an old mosque, sitting by the edge on the river looted of all its devotees. Its frozen reflection was clear in the dark waters below. On one of its window pane I noticed a reflection, from a distance I could not make out what it exactly was. I searched for the source of the blurred reflections. All reflections are but only vain projections of a sad human heart. I wasn’t exactly sad in the abandoned park that desolate evening and had nothing much to do except reflect. My eyes never tired from marveling at that building behind me. It reminded me of a past long forgotten or frozen in the giant stillness and stagnation of human life. A mighty chinar rose over the structure. Its branches shadowing the roof. I rolled my eyes from the crown of the building to its now rotting foundations. It read Suffering Moses.
The windows of the building squaring out in small panes revealed nothing but withheld darkness. I wondered which side was the darkness? Was it inside the building or outside in the air where nobody seemed alive but my wandering self? Everybody except me who wasn’t much different from the cobwebbed remains of my city seemed trapped. And that was why I had come out hunting today despite the ambience. Unquiet silhouettes of starving soldiers kept playing a dance of death near the fourth building that they were targeting now. It is possible for a man to see something that cannot see you in return. Every step soft and watchful, long hair collapsing across my eyes, I hid my face by a hand. I wouldn’t want to meet the fate of the thousand others. Death was fine, but not by the bullets.
The building was pulling me in, to discover its stories buried underneath the rubble of broken shelves and broken bones of those martyred inside. I looked around exploring the avenue of breaching in. I tiptoed on the old maharaja bricks that laid the path to the open door. My heart raced not only because in the distance my death awaited me but by a strange voice ushering me in.
Hypnotized by the loving affection of that voice, I jumped over the fence and crouched along the bushes. Faint glimmers of a streetlight across the road lit my way to the building. Placing my hand on the rusted door knob, I pushed the small wooden door. The door creaked, flinging inside, only to reveal the darkness that I had seen earlier through it’s sad windows. It was a dark, old and dusty corridor, the one that could lead you only to a graveyard or death.
At the farthest corner across the corridor, a staircase led to nowhere. Blue smog filled the building. The door slammed shut behind me, I knew it would happen. Some things are way too evident in a condition like mine. What was more evident was the fact that the soldiers had by now come patrolling around and were now staring at the isolated door that continue slamming under the obscene pressure of an unquiet wind.
They panicked. They always do, whether they kill or die. We panic too under the looming shadow of gun. I tried to calm my fast rushing blood that flooded every single memory I wanted to cling to. “They would never know I am here” I tell myself, “not when I choose to follow the blind obscurity that the staircase could lead me to.”
Everything vanished behind the door. And the stair was all that existed. The rooms of that floor had no doors, some doors lay broken into pieces probably used by some who seemed to have lit a fire in the corner last night. I started walking towards the stair. My footsteps echoed loud, louder than my heartbeat. I took long strides, skipping one step at a time. The staircase ended in the middle of a big hall, with windows facing the river and the desolate mosque. I looked around saw white cloth sheets covering furniture. Carved furniture. Like relics delicately preserved in time or corpses refusing to rot. A uniform layer of dust buried everything beneath. Something stopped me from touching anything. I wanted to leave.
Suddenly, I heard someone coming. My heart stopped; heavy sounds of footsteps thudded above. Every footstep seemed to sink into the old ceiling, showering centuries of gathered dust on me. I froze. A man, half naked and bleeding, slid down along a sheet of cloth that came through an opening in the ceiling. He came down, dusted his naked body. His hands were smeared with blood. He grinned as he pulled the sheet around him and he dragged his bleeding body towards me with a groan. He had kept his eyes closed. I could not move, though I was trembling with fear as he approached me. Taking a long pause, he started sniffing my body. I felt his warm pungent breaths on me. I could feel the warmth against my skin through my clothes. I closed my eyes. Suddenly he stopped and started moving away from me. I was still shocked and did not open my eyes. I heard him moving away from me briskly. As if someone who held me tight by throat had suddenly released me, I fell down with a thud. Everything was dark.
In my dream, I saw him again. I have seen him before; he lives in the park below the Chinar in his tent made of old cloth and jute rags. He often sat in the tent silently staring into emptiness around. I started to close to the opening he had slid down from. I felt light, weightless. I felt rising through that hole and reach the attic. The attic looked blank, nothing but a wooden chest resting in one of its corners. Its lid was already open. The chest shuddered as if it was alive. I moved closer. There was girl inside, soaked in blood, holding herself tightly and shivering. As I approached, she looked up. She was scared, so was I. Without thinking, I pulled the lid down and locked her inside. As I did so, my fingers burned.
With a jolt, I woke up. The burning tip of the cigarette had touched my fingers. I took one last puff and snubbed it out.
Nothing in this city was locked. No guards watched over any remains. Nothing precious existed to be locked again. I looked back at the building. Nothing stirred. Not even the tall grass. There was no shadow on the windows either. I started walking away.
Author is a practicing artist and aspiring entrepreneur.