By Haneef Shareef, translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch
The boy smashed his clay toy and threw its pieces into the sewage water. He did not like his friend’s father at all because he never bought toys for his son. He loved his clay toys because his friend always lamented that he did not have any kind of toy. But despite his insistence he refused to carry his toys home. Not even once.
They always met at the corner of the street and played there by the sewerage line in front of his friend’s house. His mother took all household chores upon herself and deputed the servant at the door to keep an eye on her son.
His friend lived somewhere in the western side of the street. He always emerged in the western corner of the street and went back in that direction. He always said that the sewage water flew by their house. If something fell in it, it would resurface by their house. But he never told his friend exactly where he lived. Nor did he ever reveal if the window of their house opened to the south or north. Nor did he say, when the wind blew, in which direction the jujube fruits would fall. He also did not reveal if they lived in a government quarter or in a rented bungalow or had a house of their own.
They just met at the corner of the street and played there and smiled at being the co-owner of the sewerage line. A few times they made up their mind to step into the water and retrieve the toys lying buried in its bottom but every time, at the last moment, courage failed them. The sewage water was dark, full of waste and it also ran deep. And on top of that, they were just two small boys ironically looking for clay toys and that too in the bottom of sewage water.
They sat at the edge of the drain and played there. They built kingdoms and ruled over them like kings. At times they made fields and meadows, raised their hands to pray for rain. some other times, they became herd owners. Every day they scored new marvels. Shopkeeper, street vendors and people around them smiled even at times they laughed at their innocent adventures. It was small world — transparent like water — hung by a thread. As the sun went down the horizon, they took leave of each other hoping to meet on the next day. His friend had aligned his routine with sun. The moment the sun set, he would say goodbye to his kingdom and leave for home. Thereafter, his friend piled up the toys and the servant put them in the basket and carried his little master against his chest leaving behind the kingdom of two little kings in darkness.
Heaven knows which day of the month it was, when for the first time his friend did not turn up there. He piled up his toys, laid down rules and roadmaps for his kingdom but the second king had not arrived yet and his subject was nowhere around the kingdom. He waited for him till dusk, but he did not come. Then along with his servant he went looking for his friend’s house. They passed through several lanes and streets and finally stopped at a door by the edge of the sewerage line. The branches of a jujube were dropping on the wall. It was not obvious if it was a rented house, a government quarter or someone’s private property. The boy assumed it was the house his friend lived in. But its doors and windows were closed. Lamps and light had been blown off. They put their ears against the walls, but they could not hear any human voices. A flock of sparrows were singing in the jujube tree. Otherwise, everything was shrouded in silence. An old rusty lock was hanging on the door bearing witness to all past seasons.
For the next three days the boy waited for his friend, but he did not turn up. He spread the toys on the ground and waited for him. As the sun set and dusk fell, lamps were lit in the neighborhood. The young boy held his servant’s hand and went to the closed door where he thought his friend had lived. As usual, the place was shrined in silence. They stayed there for a while and then the boy looked at the servant. They exchanged gazes. The servant carried the basket of toys on his head. His little master followed him.
However, one Thursday, the two friends ran into each other at the corner of the street by the bank of the sewer line. He did not tell his friend where he was all that while nor did the boy reveal that he had found his home silent and locked.
A few days later, the young master’s father took him to the school. His mother insisted that he was five years old—still too young for the school but his father believed he was seven. They argued with each other. His father won. The boy insisted on taking his friend along. However, his friend had never appeared in the mornings. A few times, he thought he saw his friend at school. He seemed to be wandering alone in middle of the noise of hundreds of children. After that, he disappeared.
The two friends always met in the evening. No questions were asked by either of the young boys focused on their games.
One day when his friend arrived in the evening, he noticed tears in his eyes and his face looked pale. On that day, he went home early taking his friend’s clay bull along. The next day when came, he looked a little anxious. The bull was broken into two pieces. His friend did not ask him what had happened to it. Nor did the boy tell him anything about it. They tried a lot to join the broken parts of the bull, but they failed in their attempt. For a moment, the boy felt like crying loudly but he held back his tears.
They dug a little grave by the sewage water and buried the remains of the bull there. On that night the boy cried incessantly. In the morning, he told his teacher that his bull died the day before and that was why he was late. But his teacher was angry that he failed to distinguish between a truth and a lie. He thought the boy was too young to own a bull. Thus, he thrashed him like other naughty children.
In the evening the boy wanted to tell his friend that he was beaten by the teacher, but he could not. The boy plastered the grave with clay and erected a little epitaph on it. His looked at him and smiled. At dusk the boy called his brother, who in the glow of the lamp wrote on the stone ‘My Bull’. When they reached at the door, the boy halted, as if he remembered something. Thus, they turned back to the grave. Now, the epitaph on the grave read ‘Our Bull”.
My Bull…. Our Bull….The crowd….The door….The servant….The clay toys and two boys and the drain. It was a different world.
A few days later, the gap in their friendship began to widen. The boy stopped coming regularly but his friend always waited for him at the corner of the street with his clay toys piled up before him. Perhaps his companion had forgotten someone was waiting for him at the corner of the street. He felt quite lonely in the middle of the clay toys.
One day when the boy did come, he was shocked to discover that the grave of ‘Our Bull’ had been dismantled by someone. The remains lay scattered. He anxiously looked at the crowd bustling around. There was no trace of his friend. He picked up the pieces of the clay bull and threw them into the drain. Now, when there was not any trace of the ‘Our Bull’ he desperately wished not to have his friend over. Not in that hour of grief at least. He sat at the empty grave of the ‘Our Bull’ fearing the arrival of his friend. But he did not turn up.
The next evening when his friend arrived, he found the grave had been renovated. He scanned the heap of the toys, but the new clay bull was not there amongst the toys. His friend told him that he broke and buried it in the very grave. His eyes welled up and voice almost chocked. He admitted that it was he who dismantled the grave. His friend was shocked to hear it. For a while the whole world came to a halt, the sewage water stopped flowing and he felt himself all alone in a never-ending labyrinth. He could not ask him why he dismantled the grave nor did his friend tell him the reason. On that evening they did not play at all. They did not build kingdoms and did not dispatch emissaries to the neighbouring kingdoms. The boy had his eyes fixed on the pile of the clay toys and his friend sat by the grave and vacantly gazed at sewage water flowing in silence. The evening passed into dusk and on the foundation of the dusk, the night eventually erected it walls around the neighbourhood.
The next evening, the boy waited for his friend, but he did not show up. The street was crowded. Indifferent people were treading back and forth. For a moment the boy tried to find his friend in the jungle of people but, in the next moment, he gave up.
A month passed by but there was again no trace of his friend. One day, he took his servant and went to his friend’s house. They sat for a long time at the door, but nobody came out. Then they knocked the door, called out loudly but nobody responded. As the evening shadows lengthened, the boy for the first time realised that there was not a single house by the bank of the drain. Rather it flowed through the entire neighbourhood, bustling with young and old men and women, children, boys and girls and flock of goats. But the companion of his evenings, the co-owner of the ‘Our Bull’, was nowhere to be seen.
Nobody in the neighbourhood knew the boy. They believed he did not live there. Rather he came from somewhere else. But from where? Nobody had the answer. The boy did not know anything about him either.
The sun was setting. The boy started musing. He cast a look at the crowd and started crying loudly. The servant tried to console him but to no avail. He carried him back home. He continued to cry inconsolably. Then he told everybody that he knew where his friend had gone. He told them that he knew why he did not come back. Thus, he asked the servant to step into the sewage water. The servant was knee deep in the drain with stones, pebbles and pieces of broken glasses under his feet. He could not find anything. The servant grumbled and so did boy’s mother. The shopkeeper and the customers smile and laughed. But the boy was sure that his friend had stepped into drain looking for the pieces of the clay bull.
From then on, the boy broke his clay toys and threw them into the sewer hoping that they would be flown to his friend so that he would know he, his friend, was alive and waiting for him beside the grave of ‘Our Bull’.
Dr. Haneef Shareef, a trained medical professional, is one of the most cherished contemporary Balochi fiction writers and film directors. So far, he has published two collections of short stories and one novel. His peculiar mode of narration has rendered him a distinguished place among the Balochi fiction writers. He has also directed four Balochi movies.
Fazal Baloch is a Balochi writer and translator. He has translated many Balochi poems and short stories into English. His translations have been featured in Pakistani Literature published by Pakistan Academy of Letters and in the form of books and anthologies. He has the translation rights to Haneef Shareef’s works.
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