‘The difference is, I lie for a reason,’ I hear the man say. The newspaper I work for has sent me to write an article on the burgeoning population of professional beggars on the streets of Lahore, and my robust passion for deviancy has led me to sit across the table with this man at a local dhaba.
‘I’m not a beggar, I confess, but I do not lie for easy money. God forbid me. I disguise this way for the relic of my ishq,’ he says.
I have no trouble in presuming that this is another story of unrequited love on the verge of climbing the zenith of Sufism, albeit that this is a story of a Pathan from up north panhandling in the streets of Lahore, covertly lurking for a mere glance of his dear one. I have no trouble in presuming that this is going to make a great story.
‘Tell me about it,’ I prod him as I sip my tea.
His head bobs sideways and a faint, beatific smile snakes its way upon his lips.
‘She made her heart into a stone,’ he says. ‘How little she knew. God has made a flame dwell inside every stone. The appropriate surge of friction and the right touch can ignite majestic fires.’
I savour his poetic musings and allow my gaze to lower and look into a luminescent stone around his neck, peering out from behind his rags. I see that it happens to be an exotic emerald amulet.
‘It’s a family heirloom that she once adorned with her grace,’ he says, following my gaze, stroking the amulet gently, coaxing it back inside his rags, close to where his heart lies. I quickly shift my gaze back to his eyes, my well-trained stare piercing him for more.
‘She caged her heart behind the gilded warps of self-deception, chanting to herself that love cannot penetrate these barricades. She was wrong. Every day she came to me to let me pick thorns from her heart that life had inflicted upon her, the ones she had entranced under her bewitching spell of resurrection, keeping her wounds alive, the trauma helping her shun the call of love. Every day she desired for me to heal those scars. Every day she bolted down her heart some more.’ He pauses to conjure recollections, sequestering some air to breathe from the memories around him.
‘She was but a city of Jerusalem, waiting for a Saladin to conquer her,’ he says. ‘And there, her heart lay in the grotesque abyss that didn't let anything escape, no love, no hatred. Her heart was a black hole with a surprising gush of gravity. Once you enter, you can neither escape nor apprehend its unusual laws of physics. We were married after three months of my diligent struggle.’
I stop scribbling my notes to let a feeling of elation sweep through me.
‘One month after that,’ he continues, ‘she was killed in a drone attack along with thirteen other citizens.’
I pause again. He suddenly leaves the table and disappears into the crowd before I can notice, leaving both the tea and me in a volatile hiatus. I gather my notes and head back to the office.
Later that same day, I'm cruising off to a restaurant in Lahore that offers the best subcontinental cuisine. I have to prepare my report on a recent incident that no one is certain about. As I approach, a police official tells me that a suicide bomber has hit the site. Preliminary investigations suggest that the target was a small group of tourists from the US.
As I head on to see the casualties, I'm curious and ambitious to be the first journalist to report who is behind this. Among the debris and smithereens my eyes rove upon a luminescent emerald amulet dangling around an errant, severed head.
NOOR UL HUDA NIAZI, aged 18, studies MBBS in Pakistan and aims to make a competent doctor by profession and writer by passion. She spends her days voraciously reading, painting and playing chess, and worries a lot about taking to bipolar disorder as she constantly ricochets between her medical and literary self in the fervid backdrop of doctors beseeching themselves towards imaginary finish lines in a country full of vehement, awfully engaging people. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org