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Short Story: Disposable Cars by Zeeshan Qasim

Short Story: Disposable Cars by Zeeshan Qasim

My father brought a new car home 11 years ago. It wasn’t the greatest of cars. It didn’t have leather seats, antilock brakes, or even a moonroof. It looked like a cream colored box on wheels. For a box, it was really fast. As a car though, she was a bit more disappointing; too afraid to allow her needle to venture much further than 80 and too small to properly fit a family of 6. We were willing to work with her, though. I pushed her to 85 every now and then and at 90, she was a whiner. She threw proper tantrums; full of violent shaking, heavy breathing and moaning, she even flipped out on the road once. I don’t want to get too detailed but it ended with her losing two tires and me dangerously close to a brick wall. Still, I didn’t mind listening to her complaints. Her central locking system and automatic windows were enough to win and keep my affections at the time.

Shortcomings and all, we rolled out the red carpet for her. Gave her exclusive rights to the garage. Our older more pliant cars used to flee the driveway as my dad would come home from work, just so the Camry wouldn’t be subjected to low-level street parking. Yup, she was a spoiled little brat. Kinda like a little sister to us.
I guess things first started to change about 4 years ago when my pops bought a brand new SUV. The gas guzzling high-maintenance SUV kicked the Camry out of the garage on it’s first night with us. Then came a car for my brother 1 year later. I followed up with a brand new car of my own a year after that. Pretty soon the Camry was in the hands of the baby of the family. He dinged her up real good. He scraped her painting while parallel parking,and put nails and glass through her balding tires. Dented body, shaved tires, broken doors; but nobody cared. Actually, nobody even noticed.
I wish I could document her demise in greater detail, but the truth is, I wasn’t even there to witness it. One day she was in our garage and today she is sitting at the BART station. Yes, the BART station. Nobody ever takes their real car to the BART station. The BART station is the home of backup cars. BART cars are the clothes you wear when you paint the house. They are your airplane toothbrush. You dont care if your BART car gets stolen. You simply just walk home if you cant find it.
She whimpered a bit when I parked her this morning. She sounded real surprised. But she must have seen it coming, right? Didnt she see the other cars that were kicked to the street when we celebrated her arrival 11 years ago?

Don’t Wake Him Up – Short Story by Novid Shaid

Don’t Wake Him Up – Short Story by Novid Shaid

“Whatever you do …. Don’t wake him up!”
First he warned him, in a quiet and careful voice, but then, as they began descending the plummeting flight of stairs, which disappeared into the darkness below, the voice grew in desperation.
“Don’t wake him up…You’ll regret it, I tell you, you’ll regret it, we’ll all regret it. Please!” And now he began kicking his legs about. “Don’t wake him up!!!”
Lowwaam stopped his descent, becoming irritated by his little brother’s chicken legs, wriggling around his shoulders and neck.
“I told you Ammara, I will not change my mind. There’s no other way.”
Ammara arched over, staring Lowwaam in the face upside down, like a baby monkey perched on its mother’s shoulders. “There is another way…”
“No! We’ve been through this before,” Lowwaam took another step down.
“Yes, there is a way! Please stop!” Ammara’s little voice hissed, bitterly, echoing around the vast staircase. “We can go on as we have before. But if you wake him up…You know what he can do…There will be no stopping him. Do you understand!?” Desperation rang out from his voice.
“Lowwaam!” Ammara’s shrieking lament melted into the darkness that they descended into. Lowaam continued down the ancient steps, resolute and full of regret.
After what seemed an eternity of walking down and down, lower and lower into the hidden depths, they came to a halt, for before them stood a rusted, iron door. The tiny figure cowered, as he perched on his brother’s shoulders, holding on for dear life. His initial warning had now become a barely audible defeated whisper that he repeated: “Please, don’t wake him up.”
Lowwaam gazed mournfully on the now withered sign which he had hung around the great knocking rings next to the handles. The two engraved words were covered in dust: “Never Enter.” Disregarding his own warning, he pulled with all his might on the handle, while his brother held on tightly, and after some effort forced open the heavy door.
He looked on and regarded the crypt with dread. It had been so long since he had been here. In fact, the last time he had come, was to get rid of him once and for all, to hide him away, before he could be discovered; their brother. But the guilt was too much. He had to wake him up again.
Lowwaam stepped carefully into the crypt. The torches along the cold brick walls and alcoves still fired away, providing enough illumination for him to see. The crypt had remained exactly the way he had designed it: bare and simple, except for one solitary receptacle which lay alone, in the silence and the deep.
Ammara began sobbing when his eyes noticed the sarcophagus, shaped and sculptured with that familiar face. Their other brother. The one they tried to hide.
“Please, I beg you, don’t wake him up! You will not be able to stop him!”
Lowwaam was beginning to be affected by his brother’s despair, but became resolute, and placed his fingers in the holes on the side and began pushing off the cover with all his might.
Suddenly, a few pairs of malignant eyes appeared in the corners of the crypt, glowing fiercely, threatening, peering out, enraged.
“You see… Look around you. Can’t you see what will happen?”
Lowaam ignored the voice from above and carried on pushing.
“Brother! Please!”
With an almighty final push, the top cover thrust forward, toppling onto the dusty floor. Ammara turned away, shaking in a fit of terror.
Lowwaam looked down at the sleeping figure of his twin brother, who still lay there as they had left him.
“Wake up, dear Mulham..”
The figure rose up in an instant, Ammara froze, Lowwaam looked down, remorseful. The twin opened his eyes, and suddenly, a blinding light issued forth from his heart, filling the crypt and the world around him. After a wonderful moment of clarity, Mulham looked around and smiled. Ammara and Lowwaam were gone.
Only one brother left the room, Mulham, who made his way up the stairs, smiling and resplendent, whispering with a deep resonance:  O Lord, inspire me to do good and make me of the righteous.”
Notes:
This short story was inspired by a work of Sufism written by Shaykh Abdul Khaliq Al Shabrawi and translated by Dr Mostafa Al Badawi, May Allah reward them. The book is entitled: “The Degrees of the Soul”.
In the book, the first three levels of the human soul’s ascent and transformation from being dissolute to perfect are as follows: (there are seven levels altogether)
An Nafs Al Ammara: The Soul Inciting To Evil
An Nafs Al Lowwaama: The Reproachful Soul
An Nafs Al Mulhama: The Inspired Soul
Shaykh Shabrawi’s presentation of the rising levels of the human soul is based on Quranic terminology and themes.
For further reading try: “The Degrees Of The Soul” By Shaykh Abdul Khaliq Al Shabrawi, translated by Dr Mostafa Al Badawi.

The Smile – Short Story by Novid Shaid

The Smile By Novid Shaid, 2011

The billionaire stared into the pristine mirror, calmly rinsing his hands, smiling to himself, with a broad, billion dollar smile. He oozed with unadulterated wealth. With riches, that sent a pulse of sweetness shivering through his body. For he had once lived a dreadfully poor life as a child, and now, as an adult, he had made his mark with honest, hard work, and his wealth helped others, not only himself.  He was so rich that it felt serene. And serenity exuded from him, with his beautifully fitted suit, thriving complexion, smooth skin and well-groomed hair. Every time he regarded himself, he was instantly reminded at what he and his family had been before; some of the most wretched of existence. He remembered the desperate face of poverty that he used to wear, and then that fateful meeting with the man, with the smile of money on his face, the rich man, who had taught him that he had to shed, hard and honest, blood, sweat and tears to wear such a smile on his own face. And that he did. Until he had made it. Every mirror thus reminded him of that lesson. And with every recollection the sweetness delighted him that much more.

He walked out of the luxury bathroom on the ground floor of one of his many skyscrapers, smiling at the security guards dotted around the vast reception area. Both they, and all the other employees, seemed to part and stop what they were doing, acknowledging him with grateful nods and wistful gazes as he passed by. They smiled at him with admiration and respect, for the billionaire was generous man to work for.

As he strode along up to the swinging doors, with his driver and car at the ready outside, he caught a glimpse of his face in the glass, the broad, confident smile flashing in front of him momentarily. The world was at his feet. He could do most things he wanted to do. He had forgotten fear. His money ensured that every threat could be planned and confronted with ease.

And no one wore a smile like his.

But, on the other hand, no one wore a smile like the taxi driver either.

The limousine glided through the down town traffic until it stopped at the lights. The billionaire had been gazing at the familiar sights of the city, the hustle and bustle, spirited shoppers marching up and down the high street, mannequins staring wide eyed in their cool poses from designer store shop fronts, when his eyes lighted upon an unkempt taxi, with an open driver’s side window. And it was driver of this vehicle who had profoundly caught the billionaire’s attention.

He hadn’t seen anything like it. That smile. It was broad like his, and deep. But what oozed from that smile the rich man could not figure out. It wasn’t money, this was a poor man, struggling to keep afloat. And it definitely wasn’t drugs. His childhood had taught him many times how to recognise narcotic euphoria to real cheer. This smile seemed to last, endure; it was sweetness. Infinite sweetness. The taxi driver was hiding some kind of secret.

It instantly became the rich man’s obsession. For in his long, illustrious career, he had only met two other people who wore similar smiles to his own. And they had all earned it through their tenacity and hard work also. He had met contented poor people, people happy with what they had, living according to their means, pleased with their simple blessings. He knew their smiles very well. He knew genuine smiles, artificial smiles, arrogant smiles, tragic smiles, insane smiles and the smiles of lovers. But to this day, he had never encountered a smile which seemed to leap into an air of infinitude, of some sweetness which seemed to last forever.

He watched the taxi man and his smile intently. He was a rather ugly man with undistinguished, grizzled features. But the smile enlightened his face with a beauty the rich man had hitherto never seen.

“Wilkins?”

“Yes sir?”

“I know this may seem a strange request. But can you follow that yellow cab, right there, two rows to the right.”

Wilkins, the trusted chauffeur, obediently looked across.

“That one, nearest the lights?”

“Yes, that one, I think I recognise the driver. Someone from back home. If it doesn’t take too long, I’d like to catch up with him and say hello.”

“Okay sir, we’ll be right with him.”

The lights changed. The limo swapped lanes until, after a few moments, they were neatly behind the yellow cab, cruising through the city streets.

The yellow cab weaved and threaded its way through the early evening traffic, charging ungracefully down the long high street while the limo cruised patiently behind.

For a minute, they lost sight of it. At one moment the taxi was right in front of them. The next, gone. The billionaire’s heart dropped. They’d lost him. He would never know the answer to the question that had been playing itself unstoppably in his mind. But sense told him to let it go and that time would teach him the answer.

“Oh, look sir, there he is!” The chauffeur pointed to the taxi, turning into what looked like its base, a big underground garage, filled with identical yellow cabs.

They followed quickly and turned in. In no time, the billionaire was stepping out of his car, and was walking behind the man with the smile.

“Excuse me!”

The taxi man turned. The smile sent a tremble into each and every pore of the billionaire. He had never felt this weak before, except when he used to be a poor boy in the slums. He winced, in unknown territory.

“Yes sir, how can I help you?”

“I..I,” the rich man hesitated. The taxi man held his smile, waiting.

“I wanted to ask you something.”

The taxi man looked rather bemused, “okay, go ahead.”

“Why do you smile?”

The taxi man stood silent for a moment. The smile deepened further into the unknown.

“Why do I smile?”

“Yes, why do you smile?”

The taxi man closed his eyes for a moment, a tear delicately rolled down his cheek, and he smiled to himself with a sweetness that the billionaire craved.

“I smile, because I am rich.”

“You mean, because you are content with your life?”

“No, because I am rich.”

They were both silent for a moment. The rich man was becoming increasingly frustrated.

“But what do you mean? Either you are content with your lot, or you have money. I don’t understand?”

The taxi driver looked deeply into the rich man and thought for a moment.

“Look. Where I come from, there is a man. He is no ordinary man. And he once taught me to recite the Name. And I kept reciting the Name, like he told me to, until I was shifted from the Name to The Named, and now…I am rich, all the time. And I smile because the Named makes me rich. And it feels sweet, really sweet!”

“What name? What are you talking about?”

“That’s all I have to say.”

After what he thought a rather mystifying explanation, the billionaire shook the taxi man’s hand, apologized for taking his time and went on his way.

“So, was it the man you were looking for sir?” Asked Wilkins, as they drove back to his mansion.

The rich man didn’t answer.

“Sir?”

“What? Oh sorry Wilkins, no, it didn’t happen to be the person I was thinking of.”

“Oh, that’s a shame. Seemed like a happy man, for a yellow cab driver. Big smile on his face!”

“Yes,” replied the billionaire, “Big smile,” and as he stared at this own reflection, it seemed to morph into the taxi man’s image, and he heard those haunting words again: “I was shifted from the Name to the Named.”

And then, to his horror, for the first time since he was a boy, the billionaire felt that terrible hollowness again deep inside. He was a poor man again.