Editor’s Note: We are pleased to welcome our first fiction contributor, 19-year-old Mustafa Abubaker, from Atlanta, Georgia.
Street lights blind Mohsin as he makes his way home. It’s late. Fumbling for a cigarette, he pauses, glances around and thinks to himself if he disappeared without a trace, who would notice? His parents? They passed some time ago. His wife? Funny. No children, either, as far he knows. The Blue Camel Crush glows, he takes one step further towards cancer, relinquishes the self-control he’s feigned for a grand total of nine Suns and takes a seat on a bench nearby. It’s so cold that his breath and the smoke exhaled mix together in cohesion, forming a misty cloud in sharp contrast to the beige sidewalk.
Removing his gloves, Mohsin observes his hands. Weary, riddled with lines and ashy beyond belief. He attributes this to the fact that he lives alone, spends his days painting in a room he turned into a studio, spends his nights reading Moth Smoke by his favorite author of the same name. In front of him is an empty bodega, once owned by a hefty Arab man Jamal Mabrouk who sported facial hair beyond any human reason. The shop closed months ago and now, it is a symbol of failed initiative. An immigrants’ dream never realized lends itself to regret, to pack up all the things and return. As far as Mohsin knows, Jamal could be anywhere, trying to start over again, attempting to raise enough money to one day send his two year old daughter to college.
The cigarette is almost out and Mohsin thinks it’s best if he goes home. He has to meet with his uncle tomorrow for breakfast. Seeking residence, his uncle is out of a job and out of a life. A nasty divorce sent his wife to the other side of the country, taking both of his children with her. Mohsin isn’t sure what will happen. He vaguely remembers being witness to his father and his uncle trading jokes at family picnics, dinner parties and the like but something is different here. Something is strange. Why would he call Mohsin, of all relatives? Why does this feel like something is wrong? Why does the Moon shine? Why is space-time infinite?
Closing his eyes, he re-lives memories. Turning six and having cake shoved in his face by his older cousins, sitting in the passenger seat in a taxi cab at ten, feeling contempt for the first time, reveling in awe at the power it contained, shooting hoops after work by the park by his self, losing his virginity to his mother’s friend one lonely morning, learning of her divorce months later, doves flying over the sea on his trip to Florida, bird shit on his bicycle, yellow custard splattered on the walls in order to get his mother to notice him, mayonnaise dipped celery sticks he shoved up his little cousin’s nose, maroon sweaters that he got for Eid each year, the fire in which he burned them in, the tears that came out when he saw a squirrel die and the pity on the faces of adults his entire life.
The cigarette’s finished, it’s getting colder but home is the last place he wants to go. His eyes remain closed and he drifts off into a deep sleep, fantasizing about things like his art exhibit a month from today or the fact that he might have a shot with the cute Iranian girl who works at the local bookstore. Dreams of love and light twirl into each other and before the sunlight blesses his face, before a crowd gathers around him to notice his death, before the ambulance comes and takes him away, before the irate uncle returns to his car after waiting in the bakery to notice a small crowd a few blocks down, before Allah takes him in and before he knows peace, Mohsin dreams of a round-table, seats taken by Lubna Agha, Shakir Ali, Bashir Mirza, Abdul Rahim Nagori, Syed Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi and Syed Afsar Madad Naqvi. These revered, critically acclaimed Pakistani painters all peered at him intently from their seats. He sits at the center, nervous, frightened even. Yet, the aura is calm, the vibe serene and the mood pleasant.
“Where do I go from here?” Mohsin asks.
The septet are silent for a moment, inferring with one another without saying a word and, as light travels, as wind blows, as stars diminish, as flowers wilt, the answer goes into one of Mohsin’s ears and out the other in harmonious unison.