by Ziaul Moid Khan
Mona, my wife, handed me the cellphone. ‘See, Aslam’s message,’ she said. I made a side look from the screen of my laptop and read the very short whatsapp message: ‘Hello Zack, how are you doing?’ I saw the time, 10:30 pm. I eyed the message for a moment. Peculiar. Aslam wouldn’t normally text me like this. He only contacted us on festivals or some other special occasion or holiday. I caught a glimpse of Mona: She wore a blue night gown that showed her cleavage line. I focused back on my laptop.
Aslam was my eldest cousin and an extremely reserved man. For the last two years, he’d been through a bad patch in his life financially. He’d been consuming alcohol more and more, which had affected his liver health considerably. He lived in New Delhi and had been a customs officer, but was fired due to negligence in his duty, for which credit must be given largely to the alcohol abuse. He never recovered. Three years back, when Mona and I got married, we’d stayed at his home for quite some time.
I felt I’d ought to call him, but I was almost done with the final draft of the story I had been working through and felt it had to be submitted at the earliest; so, I did not bother to type a response or make the call. Mona was sensible enough to send a formal reply on my behalf: ‘I’m fine brother!’ she texted back, and went to sleep. Was everything fine? Did he require some economic assistance from me or was it something else? I knew he’d never take monetary help. Too much pride. Being that I am fifteen years younger than he, we carry a very formal relation; like a father and son.
The final draft being attached, the cover letter in shape and put in the right place, I pressed the Enter key on Submittable. ‘Success!’ the screen smiled and I tried to retire to bed beside Mona. Sleeping, she looked prettier and I suddenly felt an inclination to kiss her. I thought not to disturb her and shut my eyes to have my own share of dreams.
The next morning, I totally forgot about Aslam and his message and got ready to head into the school where I taught. Teaching in the private sector is hell. Every day you’ve got to start from a scratch, dig a new well in order to get your daily water. Immense workload and long hours. Standing and teaching eight periods continuously, checking hundreds of notebooks, periodic tests, giving fee reminders to students and parents.
I returned to the teachers’ accommodations block at my lunch break and as I went to take the first morsel into my mouth, Mona informed me: ‘There’s a bad news. I wanted to tell you later; but I could not help telling you now.’ I stared at her, mouth agape. A terrible premonition suddenly gripped me tightly. ‘Don’t gaze at me like this and don’t take it to heart!’ she warned. I could not speak for a moment and tried to prepare myself for the worst.
I felt dizzy. Whistles resounded in my ears when she declared: ‘Aslam hanged himself from a ceiling fan last night. He is dead.’ I gripped my head with both hands and tried to swallow this horrible news. ‘Zack, nothing we can do now,’ she said. Yes, it was true: we could not do anything now; but last night we could, certainly, do something. If I had called him, then, things might have been averted.
Aslam’s youthful charm and melodious voice was still sweetening my ears. ‘Have you taught her namaz and roza,’ he’d inquired of Mona when we were at his house; while his wife, Rizwana, was laying the breakfast table for us; and he was just getting ready to go to Pragati Maidan for a piece of work. He was humming a melodious Hindi song. His voice matched the best in the industry.
I hated myself for not calling him. Tears fell from the corners of my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. ‘Sorry brother, I could not help you; when you needed me most,’ I said to myself, to Aslam. Mona silently gazed at Aslam’s last message that had inquired after my wellbeing.
Ziaul Moid Khan lives in a countryside named Johri in North India. He received his Masters in English from CCS University Meerut City. He devotes his spare time in writing and spending time with his wife Khushboo Khan and two year old cute son Brahamand. He teaches English at Gudha International School, Jhunjhunu Rajasthan. His poetry work The First Rose of Winter has, recently published in Blue Lake Review in it’s November issue. He can be approached through https://www.facebook.com/zia.m.khan.9.