A collection of short stories in response to the works of artist Numair A. Abbasi
First published in the catalogue of [it takes] All kinds of kinds for the artist’s solo show at Sanat Gallery, Karachi, in October 2015
Sell it till your last days
He is a balloon seller. He peddles balloons on his unicycle, straining to steady himself on the childhood device that he still puts to use. He feels his newly-acquired skill of absolute balance befits him; balance, not only of his body, with his perfect posture and uniform distribution of weight on both sides, but balance also of two very incongruent tasks: the quick-witted promotion of his colourful ware, while straining his eyes and body on a single wheel.
Cars whizz past, the roads are rutted and people ogle at him as he passes by. But he knows he will not give up till he sells every last one.
The ocean doesn’t want me today
And then, suddenly, there emanated a flash of lightning, and thunder roared across the skies. A moment of silence, and then, as if to mimic the sound of a radio jockey’s voice fading into an exuberant song, the gentle pitter-patter of rain evolved into a deafening downpour. Rain lashed across his umbrella as he waited. Minutes, days, weeks and months passed by as the puddles on the floor transformed into lakes, then rivers, then seas, till he finally found himself standing in the middle of an ocean. Still waiting.
He stood his ground. He understood it would be seasons before the water dissipated, but he knew he would still be here to see it when it happened.
All work and no play makes everything f* suck
He can’t do it anymore. He’s worked miles away for years; helmet strapped on, riding his motorcycle to the filthy warehouses, returning home only in the wee hours of the night. He’s done so because he has a family to feed. But he cannot take it anymore. He longs for something more from life. He seeks freedom, wishes for something more meaningful and superior, and burns for an existence that exposes his individuality. Something that allows him to breathe.
And so, as his brother hands him the keys to his brand new car, he tosses them into the air, straps his helmet on and, on his child’s scooty, rides away into the moonlight.
He’ll do anything for the limelight
“Of course, they’re all better than you. You’re a filthy scoundrel!”
“No one loves you.”
“Look at your older siblings; don’t you feel bad when you see what they’ve achieved in life? And look at you, such a nobody!”
These words are all he remembered from his childhood. He knew that today, he was a successful writer; quiet in his ways, yet loved for the bitter honesty in his words. He now had fame, fortune, and love.
And happiness? He didn’t know. What he did know was that when he put on his garb for those trysts with strange men and women in the blackest of nights, he felt a balm sooth the deep recesses of his soul.
Honey I think the internet’s broken again
He wanted to be her: the voluptuous, sensational body, the bee-stung lips and the soot-black hair.
She was an icon, revered by the world, loved for her beauty, admired for her brilliance, celebrated for her existence.
He was a man, feminine in his desires, loved by no one, admired only by himself when the mirror reflected a red-lipped, pouting man with stockings on.
As the noose hung from the ceiling, he deliberated for a moment. His sweaty hands quivered and eyes shifted. The video camera was on, recording. Next to it was her poster, in her iconic pose that had caused such a stir on the Internet.
Tick tock, tick tock.
He now had to choose. The time had come.
And so he decided.
The camera captured him replicating her iconic pose, with the noose still hanging, but this time just as a prop.
Not easy to spot a no ball delivery
All his friends loved watching cricket. So did he. But he was never good at it. It was a shame to see them make run after run as he struggled with his no balls, LBWs and empty overs, being ridiculed and laughed at for his lack of skill. Recess and games class were uncomfortable for him, and he would find ways of avoiding them. He would spend long hours in the washroom, pretend he was sick, or use that time to do his friend’s homework in an empty classroom in exchange for some cash.
Time passed; he grew up and had his own kids. Luckily, like him they loved watching cricket, and better, they were also very good at playing it. They longed to hear stories of their father’s cricketing childhood. He obliged, crafting flowery stories of matches he never won, appreciation he never got, and titles he never received, just to see the delight in their sparkling eyes.
Then one day, the fathers organized a charity match in the school. The children insisted that he play; after all, all their friends knew about their father’s super sportsmanship. He agreed, but was nervous, not for himself, but for how his children would feel when they found out the truth.
Soon, the match began, and his children looked on, excited. He strove to do his best just for them. And for the first time in his life, he played remarkably well.
As he bowled and his children cheered on, the Umpire suddenly gestured-
The crowd went quiet. His insides churned, as he searched for his children’s expressions in the crowd.
In the next few seconds, after a slight commotion, a child’s voice was heard on the microphone,
‘We love you, papa!’
Tears in eyes, he played on.
Lat uljhi suljha ja re balam
People asked him how his hair was always so perfect, how it was always in place, and how he never needed to brush or gel them. He boasted that he was blessed with good genes, having taken after his grandfather whose name had appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records for the sheer amount of hair on his head. He knew this was utter crap, but for his fellow simple-minded construction workers, anything said with confidence was taken as gospel.
One day, while working on an electricity pylon project, he lost his balance and fell miles down to the floor. People were shocked to see what had happened, even more so as they collectively lifted him up to see a shiny bald head instead of his usual thick tresses. Nearby, lay a wig.
Many months later, after hearing his story and helping him pay recovery bills for the terminal illness he had been hiding, his friends saw crops of hair growing from his scalp. And thence onwards, he always carried a mirror to work, feeling the prickly bristles on his head as he brushed and admired his new hair, grateful to his friends for giving him a new life.
Little puppet don’t die
When he was a child he wanted to be a doctor like his mother. Everyone knew it was his life’s calling. Stethoscope plugged in, he would imitate her, going around the house pretending to check people’s heartbeats with his tiny hands.
When he grew up and became a renowned surgeon, he ended up having to remove his now-severely-diabetic mother’s leg that was dead with gangrene. Little did he realize, then, that a part of him died inside as well.
Working out at the gym to fit my underwear
He didn’t like the way he was looked at. His earliest memories of childhood were blurred, but they involved some sort of cornering, rough handling and strange behaviour by servants who worked in his house. He could not remember exactly what had happened with him, but what remained transfixed in his mind were the unwavering stares they often gave him as a little child that still made him feel sick.
When he grew up to become a handsome young man after years of training and taking care of his body, a fashion agent approached him to become a model. During his first shoot, as the photographer determined his poses while people and technicians stared on and a number of cameras clicked away, he felt the familiar nausea and turned away.
The next minute, he was gone.
Hurry up now ‘cause I can’t wait much longer
He really loved her. She was the only one he adored. He would try to impress her by showing her how strong his biceps were, how deftly he could work as a mechanic, how many people swore by him as the best one in the area. She would smile at his words.
He really loved her but he didn’t have enough money. So it would break his heart every time she’d ask him when he would earn more so that they could finally get married. “Hurry up!” she’d say, “Before my father gets me married off to someone else. I can’t wait much longer.”
He really loved her, but love wasn’t good enough. So when he heard the news that she was betrothed to a much wealthier man, he cursed himself and wailed. He threw his dumbbells aside and did not work out for months. After all, he only did so to impress her.
He really loved her, but it was only when he caught sight of the shopkeeper’s daughter that he decided to give the dumbbells another go.
The week ends the week begins
As he hung his washed linen on the clothesline: orange, purple, faded yellow, black, underwear, socks, shirts, bed sheets, pillowcases, he had a strong sense of déjà vu. He stepped back to perceive the articles of clothing hanging limply; they were metaphors for his limited existence, and as he looked on, the clothesline seemed to stretch as far as his eyes could perceive, elongating farther and farther as it created lines and paths of its own, squiggly and varied and jagged and convoluting and audacious. But when his vision slowly cleared, the same line appeared to glide back into place, this time short, straight and to the point.
This was the difference between where his life was, and where it could be.
He decided he liked squiggles better.
[To see more of Numair A. Abbasi’s work, visit Behance.net/numairabbasi]