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Hassan Tahir Latif

The following is an excerpt from a short story first published in The Aleph Review, Vol. 2 (2018).

Fifteen minutes after the power had gone, he woke up, drenched in sweat, his hand already swatting the mosquitoes that had decided to feast on him. He was surprised that he had not woken up earlier; the stifling summer heat was unbearable. He had been dreaming of eating oranges fresh from his Nana’s garden, while enjoying the weak wintry sun.

A bloodcurdling howl sent shivers down his spine. It took him a good minute to remind himself that the jackals could not get inside the secure open courtyard of his Nana’s country home. As his breathing resumed normalcy, he lay back down on the charpoy; the double mattress did nothing to mask the tautness of the ropes. He cursed himself for wanting to sleep under the open sky.

Suddenly, he remembered the reason for spending the night on an uncomfortable charpoy: he had wanted to observe the Milky Way with his naked eyes. He turned on his side and looked straight up.

The evening sky, as brilliant as it always was, was but a negative of a photograph slowly developing in a dark room, compared to what met his gaze now. A hundred thousand diamonds were sprinkled across a velveteen sky, which resembled one of Nani’s embellished dresses from a time gone by. The stars twinkled like sequins catching light; or like Mother’s beloved crystal vases when they made the light dance.

Amidst the chaos of the stars was a band of white, brighter than everything around it—a careless brushstroke that the artist had added as an afterthought, yet one that became the crowning glory of his work. Mesmerised, he kept his gaze locked on the band of fairy dust, stretching from the East and curving to the North. It was almost as if he could see the gaseous mass swirling, undulating around its starry inhabitants, enveloping them in a timeless embrace, witness to their births and their deaths—holding the very fabric of his world together.

Nani said the Milky Way was formed when the Prophet ascended the Heavens. It paved the way to the worlds above. But he knew that the Milky Way was older than his grandmother’s beliefs.

Another jackal’s howl interrupted his reverie. As the echoes faded, he returned his gaze to the Milky Way. This time, he noticed a peculiar object. A red dot, travelling across the heavenly white road at a remarkable speed, glowing, pulsating with the rhythm of a heartbeat.

Just as he was about to avert his gaze, thinking it was just another satellite, he saw it do something extraordinary. It stopped directly above him, glowing there as if contemplating its path. Then without warning, it began to descend. Moving gracefully, the rogue red dot fell like a loose feather shed off a bird, slowly becoming victim to gravity.

Transfixed and utterly bewildered, he watched it descend towards him. Oddly enough, the dot retained its size and continued to glow to a steady beat of its own. As it drew closer, he could notice strange details on it. It had wings, but it did not beat them the way any other creature would have. Instead, it would flap them to the same beat with which it glowed, to music only it could hear. It was a being like he had never seen before, an amorphous being shrouded by wings twice its size and that almost ominous glow; but it moved with a sense of purpose.

Approaching the courtyard, it paused briefly, and then began to move to the door leading to the inner garden. It settled on the door’s handle and began to glow more furiously. Without understanding how, he knew that it was beckoning him to follow. He got off his charpoy and slowly made his way to the door leading to the inner garden.

Beads of sweat began to trickle down the sides of his face. He knew he had to open the door but could not explain this sudden clarity of mind. Making it to the door with much trepidation, he looked back at the dark house. Everyone seemed to be asleep, even the house seemed to be resting till it had to get to work in the hot sun again. It was as if he could hear it sigh.

Strengthening his resolve, he unbolted the door and placed a tremulous hand on the brass handle. This excited the red being. Inhaling deeply, he pulled.

The Path to Happiness by Robin Chuter (2017)


Hassan Tahir Latif is Managing Editor at The Aleph Review.

UK-based Robin Chuter is a business intelligence analyst and marketing specialist by profession and a self-trained artist by design. He covers three areas: art on paper using various techniques, vinyl country series and art on reclaimed mundane material.

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