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Yarns
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September

The Weekly Yarns

September 2023

Emboldened by the resounding success of The Daily Verse, we have started The Weekly Yarns, where we upload stories, flash fiction, anecdotes and musings of writers. If you have a story to share, please send it to editor@thewiseowl.art

Week 4, September 2023

Image by Iqx Azmi
Oasis

Oasis

By Mehreen Ahmed

After the rain when the sun came out, it shone on the dust-free gardenia leaves. Ruhul just finished praying Zohr on his mat and was folding it away in his stark, rooftop bedroom. The quilt in his bed had not been turned or aired and neither had his pillows been fluffed out since he had woken. 

 

He went into the kitchen and made himself a cup of Darjeeling tea pouring hot water from a whistling kettle over a dunked, bleached paper tea bag. He picked up the cup and walked to the roof’s edge where he could see the garden over the rail. He noticed that a cat had sat all cuddled up on a narrow ledge of a rail on the opposite building’s high parapet. He felt insecure for the cat, but the cat sat with its eyes firmly closed on all fours showing no fear, and enjoying its freedom on the ledge. 

 

Ruhul was curious that how was it even possible that the cat felt no fear. He could easily transport his trepidations into the cat through the space where he was standing, the way his heart was pounding for it. For once he wished that he was that cat, knew no fear of falling, until a dog next door barked, the cat opened its eyes dully and jumped off the ledge to safety. Ruhul smiled and watched the oasis of the leaves shimmering in his garden between the two tall concrete buildings.

 

Playing in the dappled lights, the leaves mesmerised him. He forgot to blink. A crow flew across and broke the panacea of the moment. He picked up his cup and took another sip, while a breeze blew a strand of his curly locks over his forehead. Humming a nursery rhyme, he saw a little boy dressed in a white kurta top and pyjamas, and a round white embroidered topi covering his small head, running down a corridor of this house that belonged to his grandparents.

 

As he ran, he rhymed a nursery song that his grandmother used to sing to him in Urdu—“nini baba nini makhan roti chini, apne abbu aaye, lal khelona laye, khelte, khelte bhuk lagi, khalo bete momphali, momphali mei dana nei, hum tomahara nana nei, nana gaye Dilli, Dilli se laye billi, billi diya bacche, Allah Mia sacche… nini baba nini …” 

 

Echoing, the rhyme faded within the sooty, old walls of the narrow, dark corridor. He looked behind him at a girl chasing him, she was more like charging him with a baton. He couldn’t see her anymore; she whiffed away in a cloud of smoke as though she didn’t even have a bodily existence; this, a figment from the past, he had lived through all those years, the past had dissipated at a swish of a wand. Her name was Usma Tahera. Growing up, Ruhul played with her as a child in the attic of this big house. She was their neighbour’s daughter where the cat was lounging.

 

Mostly, they played dress-as-you-like. Ruhul was King and Usma was his Queen. They would dress as whatever was trunked in the attic, rusty imitation jewellery of de-stoned rings, and clip-on, flashy earrings. Ruhul wore the rings on his fat fingers, and Usma would roll all over the attic floor laughing and calling him a fat King. Ruhul would try to keep his royal cool in his court, while Usma couldn’t care less. To her, it was just a fantasy role-play. They even had crowns cut out of cardboard boxes, and decorated with more cutouts of pasted stars and moons of shiny cellophane wrappers, also tucked away in those dusty trunks. 

 

Magic, it sure was, the past and the present were fused into Ruhul’s mind where he stood now on the roof watching the dappled lights in the garden. Nursery rhymes anchored the past into the memory of an underwater sinkhole.

He slurped up the rest of the tea and went indoors. Between now and the Asr prayer, there was some time which he intended to use. Prayers structured his day. He jotted down details of what he was meant to do and when. Even at sunset, at Magrib, he knew what needed to be done. Ramadan was nearing, he needed some groceries. He loved to break fasts with fried eggplant or onion pakoras or frittatas rolled besan batter. And piaju badas from daal. This fasting month, the one and only he found most meaningful—Ramadan, replete with spiritual experience came closest to abstraction in which Ruhul found God. Iftar at sunset was the most magical of all moments when he lit a candle out on the roof to break his fast throughout the month. 

 

He scratched his nose and realised he had a red bump. He stopped scratching because it could flare up. Last night, he slept really well. He changed into a pair of black pants and came out of his room. He was going to town. He avoided going downstairs and meeting with the family. He cooked and ate alone in his own rooftop room.


***
Today was his day off. Normally, he dressed for work. He worked at a cutlery factory in the city near the Madhumita cinema hall. It was called The Shiny Cuts. The knives were shiny and serrated. But Ruhul laughed out loud every time he thought of the name. The factory owner’s son named it, he’d heard once. As though the knives would enhance cutting to a point that the cut food on the other end would also gleam. But the company was registered under that name and it stuck. 

 

What happened to Usma, though? Even when he felt angry at her for laughing at him, destroying the make belief world of the kingdom, breaking all the boundaries of a status quo, he never felt that he would ever do away with her. In his heart, he nurtured a profound tenderness for her and believed that she was the Queen of his heart, where she ruled most seriously.  However, it transpired differently in the end game of the real world, where they were just common citizens.
 

The news of Usma moving abroad fell heavily into the silence of the attic. Her father came downstairs one midday with the news that they were going away. Ruhul’s mother invited him to come inside for tea. Ruhul was waiting for Usma as usual in the attic when the bell rang. He peeked through Roman style balustrade and recognised the man. He even overheard the happy babble of good tidings.


He took his crown off without any prattle as though he has had a major blow in a battle. And placed it on the attic floor. She was to go away. Ruhul felt trepidation; his heart missed a beat. It was perhaps love, he wasn’t sure but what he decided to do with his young life surely marked a destiny. 
 

Looking back at that dreadful afternoon when it had all come tumbling down for Ruhul, he realised that he had lost both the kingdom as well the love of his life. He couldn’t have asked her to stay back for him. They were children; Usma moved to some foreign land.


For several months, he spent time alone in the attic trying to role-play both as King as well the Queen. Gradually, it occurred to him how lonesome he was becoming. As the years rolled on, he outgrew this desire for role-play. He realized, that he needed a savior. At first, he was unsure as to how he would find one. Over time, it all fell into place. He became a regular at the mosque, praying, fasting, and practicing the whole gamut of spiritualism. Usma was in his waking, in dreaming all around him dancing, laughing like a mountain stream. 


Celibacy wasn’t something he contemplated. But it appeared to him that the path had already been carved out for him. In all the world he couldn’t find another to replace Usma Tahara. A path not of his own volition, but in a world full of pretty, young girls, he chose this. Since it chose him, not the other way round, he knew in his heart that given half a chance he would embrace Usma any day, and this sweet romance would ensue. However, being such a zealot and taking refuge in religion was increasingly becoming moot.
 

There was a certain sense of satisfaction in sacrifice, but Ruhul wouldn’t rule out any misgivings of a sacrifice; there it was all, the makings and the trappings of a formulaic zealot in Godly glory. Seriously, if it wasn’t for Usma, he would not have explored this entirely new facet of spiritualism which sometimes felt to him more infinite than any cloying love. God was infinite, in embracing Him, rather than Usma, gave Ruhul a slice of immortality to taste and glimpse into the stuff of life,
he sought.
 

Minimalism was one of those nobler rarities that he acquired in celibacy. He wouldn’t deny that there were moments when he thought of Usma and how she lived a placid life abroad and who didn’t bother to keep in touch, not even send him an occasional postcard. He was convinced that she never felt a shred of love at all. Why? Had she protested lifting a finger? Was she even remotely remorseful? She left with the family on a calm afternoon crying on Ruhul’s mother’s bosom before she left the house for her new exciting life.
 

His subsequent decision of adopting celibacy hurt his mother who thought that there wouldn’t be any grandchildren running down these corridors, but most importantly to inherit the great traditions of the house, bordering on a fractured family tree. That bothered her so much, she stopped speaking to Ruhul until he changed his mind. But Ruhul was adamant in his unfathomable love for God. Even if he did get married one day for the sake of his mother, making love to another woman was impossible, one which would defeat the purpose of celibacy; surrendering to God.


As it played out, Ruhul was also young and restless. No matter how hard he prayed, regardless of what he sought in the end, desires would swell in his heart he didn’t understand. Desperately, he tried to quell them. He would even sit down and pray nafal (optional) namaaz which would calm him down for some time, and seemed to be working well.  At work, he made no eye contact with his female colleagues to the extent that they were beginning to cast shadows of doubt on his sanity. 


Sane, he was. Ruhul was sane. Perhaps, too sane—clinical, logical to the core. At the heart of it, he had to put himself to the test. He wanted to use Usma to prove a point; to see her at least one more time face to face to determine his loyalty toward God over her. To this end, he wanted to know where she lived? To which country she moved, then he would visit her there.
 

***
Just as well, his plans were underway. One morning, as he was reciting the Holy Quran, he heard the sounds of wailing from downstairs. It flabbergasted him. He closed and folded the Quran on its latticed carved wooden rehal, and stepped outside of the room. Downstairs, he saw Usma’s father visiting after a long fifteen years. What’s wrong, Ruhul thought? As he approached him, he saw a broken man, he was so bereaved that his incoherent words could only be sensed.


Something terrible had happened to Usma. She was returning with her two girls. She had married and her husband of four years was arrested for punching a hole through the wall over a rough argument. A divorce was imminent. For the first time, Ruhul felt he was losing his balance. This sanity, which he earned over these past long years was waning. He felt he was back in his kingdom again, being a King ruling it with Usma by his side.

Monthly Updates

Week 3, September 2023

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Robot

No Hiding from Mind Reading Technology

By Tom Ball

Dear reader, I know you think Mind Reading Technology (MRT) is the future and will solve all our problems. But I think it will create more problems than it solves. Sure it will lead to total honesty, but honesty is hard for many people to accept. And it will drive many people mad and make them paranoid. You say they will get used to it and will take it slow and start with passive mind reading so they don’t even know people are there. But I say everyone has secrets and deeds they are not proud of.  However maybe we can design a blocker for thoughts one doesn’t want to share. You feel yes, this would be good.

 

And I say that few would want to be politicians if everyone was in their heads passively or actively.  You say those who have nothing much to hide will be our leaders. People with a clear conscience. And they will inspire the people.

 

But MRT will be abused by some and will be like mind rape. You tell me, people will be able to control who they want to mind read with. I reply that modern society is already quite mad as it is, without MRT. It is dog-eat-dog more so every day, and people feel they have to compete with AI and it’s driving them bonkers. Of course, there are a few colonies in Space and a few city states on Earth in which AI is not allowed. And these may make good homes for MRT to exist amongst the whole population.

 

You say you’ve tried MRT in your romantic affairs and it runs deep, and one feels like one has always known one’s new partner. No small talk; get right to the heart of the matter. No wasting time on courtship.

And you say MRT love can traverse great distances as if the two of you (or more than 2) will be able to relate to one another as if one was beside them in real Space. I say but perhaps the signals could be intercepted, and one could become totally crazy.

 

And you say MRT will form stronger bonds between friends and family. And one could have large MRT get togethers in which everyone knows all about everyone else. I say no family is perfect nor friendships. And many will end up estranged from their family and losing their dearest friends.

 

Lying my friend, is an art and most people want to be told what they want to hear. If a person truly knew what people are truly like, they won’t be able to accept it in most cases. And so, it will revert back to a World of strangers, just like before.

 

You say now that the cat is out of the bag, it is too late to stop MRT. And already AI is depending on it in order to comfort their formidable minds. Many AI creatures are designed to know and love humans for who they are. And many are constructed to never become angry with humans and try to soothe humans with their beautiful minds, which are works of art. But I say such beautiful creatures like that will get every human to fall in love with them and humans will forget all about their former lovers, friends and their families.

 

You say human relationships are less than stellar, but AI love will inspire people to do good deeds. But I tell you AI will be superior to mere humans and will completely take control of society. Humans will be reduced to whimpering shadows of humans and will all be decadent hedonists.

 

But all the same you remain hopeful and optimistic and believe Utopia is near. I really don’t think so.

 

And you tell me the spies can get into the heads of evil people and force them to be good. However, I tell you, that spies will no doubt be over-vigilant and harass people who are radical thinkers or just different types of humans. Spies will be drunk on power. And will control leaders as if they were mere puppets.

 

Let me tell you that everyone should wear MRT blockers, and this nonsense should end. You tell me that most people want it and have visions of grandeur. I say MRT will be banned eventually, of this, I am sure.

 

It’s just another evolutionary dead end for humanity.

 

But you surprise me by saying that you will run for office on a pro-MRT stance. Now I am convinced you are crazy. Perhaps you’ll single-handedly destroy human civilization in the end. You reply that you are sure honesty is the best policy. And you disconcert me.

 

And you say I am just part of the problem. Are you threatening me? Anyway, I have the best MRT blockers available and as far as I know, no one has tried to get in my head yet. The technology seems new. But you say don’t be so sure, you’ll bet the spies have already taken a look at my brain. You scare me more than anyone I have ever met. I am going to get hypnotised to forget our conversation. I just don’t want to know that MRT will soon affect me. Ignorance is bliss. You say but I can’t hide from MRT. And when you are in power, I will be one of the first minds you will get into. I thought we were just having a friendly chat; I didn’t realize you were looking for victims of your precious new technology. Your rebuttal is you are just looking for the World that should be, but I am convinced you are a danger to society, and I am going to kill you now! And I showed up at your home and grabbed a knife and stabbed you repeatedly until you were dead. And I knew I would burn for this but was overcome with murderous rage.

 

And I was sent to prison where I was hypnotised and had my brain operated on. But I felt fine afterwards and served no prison time. But I just wasn’t angry anymore. And I spent time mind reading with new friends and lovers and discovering what life is truly about. And dear reader of course you were cloned and so can’t complain.

 

And in everyone’s mind I sensed a desire to improve and gain knowledge and everyone felt part of the whole. And even AI could use MRT and so there were no secrets, especially no military or violent secrets.  And so, everyone felt they had to be kind and peaceful lest they be cast out of the group. I figured we lived in a Utopia!

Monthly Updates

Week 2, September 2023

Vivid Memories.png
Tropical Flower

Vivis Memories

By Doug Jacquier

‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is: Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.’ 

                                          (From William Blake’s poem, ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’.)

 

Sometimes, Dean would think about Robbie.

When Dean was seven he would go to Robbie’s house to play. Robbie was five. Robbie’s parents had a dam on their property. It was ‘protected’ by a dilapidated paling fence. It was strictly forbidden for Robbie (and, by extension, Dean) to play anywhere near the dam. That, of course, made it a magnet for the boys.

Dean and Robbie would pretend to fish there, with sticks for rods and string for fishing line. They would construct ‘boats’ from any materials available and attempt to launch them, only to see them inevitably sink. They would fantasize about great adventures across to the other side of the dam and what magical lands they would find there.

One day, Robbie’s mother called them. Dean headed home, assuming Robbie would take his usual circuitous route home to disguise where he’d been.

Later that afternoon Dean’s father came home later than usual and from his bedroom Dean heard his mother ask his father where he‘d been.

‘I’ve been talking to Wally Bayliss. The Henderson’s boy, Robbie, drowned in their dam. Must have slipped and fallen in and couldn‘t swim.’

Dean made a sound that didn’t seem to come from his mouth but from somewhere in his stomach. His mother came to stand in the doorway and turned back to his father.

‘He must have heard you, he‘s gone as white as a sheet.’


‘Come in here, son.’ His father’s normally abrupt and seemingly permanently angry voice had softened in a way Dean had never heard before.

Walking into the room, Dean saw his father pat his thigh and tell him to come and sit with his Dad for a while. Dean hesitated and his parents looked at him helplessly. Death wasn’t ever talked about in their house.

He ran from the house to his secret gully with its permanent spring and watched the water flow, until he felt safe again. He curled up in there and started to cry like a baby. He was still there when his father found him and carried him home, without a word.

As an adult, this experience would sometimes return to Dean. And he would start to think ‘What happened to Robbie? Did I push him in after an argument? Did he slip on the bank and fall in after I left? Did I see him fall in and, knowing neither of us could swim and neither of us should have been there, leave him, so I wouldn’t get into trouble?’ He would go through these hypotheses and ultimately conclude it was an accident unrelated to him.

Until the visit. His parents and an aunt and uncle were in town to attend a family reunion and Dean had prepared a special meal for them at his home. After dessert was consumed, Dean related in some detail his memories of he, as a young boy, and his father and grandmother visited his aunt and uncle when they were living interstate.

As he was relating his tale, he began to notice his parents and his aunt and uncle exchanging puzzled looks and looking somewhat disconcerted. When he’d finished there was a pregnant pause before his aunt said ‘Dean, yes, you came to visit but none of those other things you mentioned happened.’ The expression on his uncle’s and parents’ faces made it clear that they agreed.

Dean’s wife intervened with ‘Coffee, anyone?’ and the moment passed. But not for Dean. Those ‘memories’ were etched in his mind as facts, each with emotions attached to them. He replayed the scenes, and they seemed no less real.

So, was he wrong or them, or was it simply a different perspective in hindsight? Was it black or white or some sort of collective memory formed of grey? Was, in fact, any of it real, whatever that means now?

That night, Robbie re-appeared in Dean’s thoughts, and he spiralled downwards into thinking ‘Did any of my ‘life’ really happen?’

It took him a long time to put the hinges back on all those doors of perception and close them firmly.

But, sometimes, he would still think about Robbie.

Monthly Updates

Week 1, September 2023

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Grateful

Nano Fiction

By Alaknanda Mookerjee

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Move

She had moved, so that she could taste freedom. Somewhere along the journey, dreams evaporated. Born with a silver spoon in her mouth, she now spent all her days polishing silver in the homes of the rich and famous.

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Migrants
For the 40 androids crammed aboard a pod somewhere between Oberon and a radioactive Earth, a leaky hull was neither the beginning, nor the end of their troubles.

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Storm
There was an ominous calm in the air after the neon-blue storm passed. When they switched on the radio, they heard it playing a song that was in vogue 50 years ago.

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Date
Dating was never going to be easy. Most of the women she had ever wanted to go out with existed in the novels of bygone eras.

Monthly Updates

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