Take 4 parts physics, 2 parts marketing, 16 parts music, 11 parts writing, and what do you get? A whole lot of parts would be one answer. Omer Wahaj is an amalgamation of all these and more: an independent journalist/writer and a part-time musician currently living in Toronto. He has written several short stories and is currently working on a few humorous/satirical novels. Omer occasionally DJs and has produced an eclectic mix of music in various genres of electronica. He also enjoys being an illeist. Follow Omer on Twitter @omerwahaj
“Tu dekhna beta,” Abid says in a sticky, wayward voice. “Mein baray hokay Shahrukh Khan banoonga.”
“Pagal ho gaya hai sala,” Guddoo replies with his eyes closed and head in between his knees, his back against the outer wall of the mazaar. The air echoes with the laughter of children sitting around him; the joint in his hand looks like an ashen snake, dead and petrified.
A few minutes later, Abid is writhing in agony, holding his aching head in his hand as the heady vapors evaporate from his mind and let the pain take over. It feels like a thousand needles are poking his brain from all sides. He wishes that he could get rid of the wretchedness and begs that sleep comes quickly. But the sounds of cars on the street next to his bed, the people all over the mazaar, and Guddoo’s high-pitched storytelling next to his head keep him awake.
His energies are soon spent and thoughts of what is to come the next day invade his head.Think about tomorrow and how you will be high again. Think of all the fun you will have after sniffing some more glue. This brings an invisible smile that subdues his thoughts of the agony that he knows will follow.
Nothing like a rush of distorted sight, sound, and thoughts, Abid hears the voice in his head, a voice speaking louder than the muezzin’s call for the evening prayers. He walks stiffly through the park behind the mazaar towards the beach. His body is sore after spending the whole day going through garbage dumps looking for a glass bottle here and an aluminum can there. Today has not been a particularly good one. All he has managed to find are a few empty bottles of beer and Rooh Afzah, and some heavy cardboard and plywood that he traded in for twenty rupees. Just a small tube of glue would have to do today.
Sitting on the wall near the beach, staring out at the open ocean, he digs a crumpled Red & White out of his pocket and tries to light a match in the strong wind. He tries another match, which fizzles out almost immediately. The third match stays lit long enough for him to light the cigarette. He inhales deeply and looks around for a familiar face, beckoning to Chotu as he spots him.
“Abay oye Chotu, idhar aa,” Abid says in a hollow, reluctant voice filled with anticipation. “Jaa, jaa kar aik chotee tube Samad Bond kee ley kar aa.”
The little boy quickly puts some niswar into his mouth, takes the money and runs off to the nearby market to buy a small tube of the commercial adhesive. Abid does not know his real name but everyone calls the boy Chotu. He is new to their group. Tariq and Guddoo had found him lying bloodied and beaten near the sewerage pipe after the kids from the other side of the park had ambushed him and taken all his money. It was his first lesson of being alone in Karachi. But Abid’s group is different; they accepted him as their own and told him what he needed to know to survive on these brutal streets. They don’t pity him or feel sorry for him; they do not steal from him either. They need more people in their group; otherwise, they would never be able to stand up to the hooligans from across the park.
Taking the last drag, Abid throws the cigarette away and starts to walk towards the water. He has almost reached the ocean when a pair of arms land on him heavily from behind. He turns around to see Guddoo’s baring his teeth at him.
“Bara paisa kamaa raha hai tu,” Guddoo says. Abid laughs and tells him that is not true. He had only made Rs. 20 today. This won’t do for long! Try to find better treats tomorrow, like that old metal toolbox that you found last week, or when you found that coil of telephone. Iron and copper mean more money and more money means more glue.
The older boy pulls out some hash from his pocket and tells Abid to roll up a joint. Guddoo is the unspoken leader of the group. All the children look up to him because he is fearless and always ready to jump into a fight. He has his own way of making his living and has had all sorts of jobs; from cleaning cars to selling flowers to begging. Best of all, he does not have to rely on finding work to make his money; if he couldn’t find work, he would steal.
He is never scared of the police either. The police occasionally pay the children a visit; harass them by asking for money and threatening jail if the bhatta isn’t paid. It makes sense, then, for the boys to run away and hide when they see those gray and tan uniforms. But not Guddoo. He always stands his ground. Sometimes he gets beaten up. He has been to jail on many occasions, and every time he has come back defiant, ready to share stories about his time in jail.
They all want to be like Guddoo because he is like an Indian filmy hero. Guddoo plans on making it big in the world by falling in love with a maim sahib with a big car. Sometimes his plans of grandeur involve joining a gang and becoming a drug dealer. Other times, he
Guddoo also always has the good stuff. Abid finishes rolling up the joint, hands it over to Guddoo, and offers him a lit match. He looks expectantly as Guddoo inhales deeply and waits for him to pass on the joint. Both of them smoke the joint until it is nothing but a small butt of brown paper. Abid’s lips burn as he takes the final drag that scorches the filter. Better not waste any of it. Guddoo smiles as he sees Chotu running back towards them.
“Chotu ko bhee laga diya is kaam pe?” Guddoo laughs asking Abid if Chotu has also started sniffing glue. But Chotu hates doing any kind of “hard” nasha. He is happy with his niswar and an occasional cigarette.
Chotu has not been on the streets as long as the rest of them. He walks around all day with a dirty rag in his hand, waiting for people to pull over in their cars, hardly giving any thought to his life at home that he has recently left behind. He asks the people in the car if he can clean their vehicle; most of them know he is only going to make it dirtier. A few of them still give him some money for his concern. No one stops to wonder why he is on the streets. This anonymity suits him. No one cares about him, but no one beats him up and shouts profanities at him all day either. Over here, he is another vulnerable insect in a concrete jungle.
Just a few days ago he had come limping up to Abid, tears gorging gullies on his dirt covered face, holding his torn shalwar in his hands to keep it from falling off.
“Kya howa?” Abid had asked him what happened.
Through his sobs and snivels Chotu had told him how he had been walking around, trying to find a car to clean. How a man in a blue kurta shalwar and topi had come up to him and told him he would pay the little boy fifty rupees to clean the cabin of his truck. How the brute had pushed his face into the filthy smeared mat on the cabin’s floor and closed the truck’s door behind him; had kicked him and torn his clothes off. How, after he was done, the pig had thrown him out of the truck.
That night, as he watched Chotu cry, Abid felt the boy’s fear. He knew that Chotu would not be able to sleep that night and that he would be shitting blood for the next couple of days. He knew that advice was useless because he would only learn by experience, which meant many more painful and sleepless nights. And if he didn’t learn soon, Chotu would need a crutch, not for his battered body but for his shattered mind. Don’t be sad. It is good for him. It will make him forget all his pain.
“Chal, le soongh!” Guddoo is shouting while holding the little boy down, trying to force him to sniff a piece of cloth laden with glue. “Acha hai, maza aaye ga.”
The little boy is squirming with his eyes squeezed shut and his mouth tightly closed, moving his head away from the cloth, clearly with no desire to see what the effects are.
“Chor de ussay, bhenchod,” Abid yells out angrily. “Rehnay bhee de.”
Guddoo looks at Abid with surprise. What is wrong with you? Why did you say that out aloud? Why are you trying to stop him?
“Kiya bola tu? Demagh tau naheen kharab ho gaya hai tera?” an incredulous Guddoo asks Abid why he is interfering.
Get up and make it better. Abid quickly sits up and walks wearily yet rapidly towards the two. Guddoo still has the frail kid in a headlock. Abid stands there, torn between wanting to rescue the little boy or letting it be. He likes Chotu but he knows that he will get in trouble if he goes against the honcho.
“Kuch nahee,” Abid says in a sanguine tone. “Ghaltee se mein kuch bola. Yeh ley.”
Abid grimaces, and wincing, takes the cloth from Guddoo, holds the little boy’s head in his hand, and shoves the cloth right into his face. Chotu tries to escape by holding his breath.
“Saans tau lega yeh abhee, sala,” Abid laughs in an almost alien voice, as his heart breaks silently inside his chest. And a few seconds later, Chotu inhales, as tears fall from his eyes and he opens his mouth wide open to cry.
Abid shoves the cloth into the boy’s mouth as a last attempt to prove his loyalty to Guddoo, who slaps him on the back and offers him his cigarette. In a matter of moments, Chotu stops crying, as the nauseous toxic fumes engulf his brain. He will be better now. Everything is going to be all right.
Abid leaves the little boy alone with the cloth still in his mouth and joins Guddoo, Tariq, and the rest of the gang who are sitting by the urine soaked wall of the park, smoking hashish, and talking about trying out some new pills that they just found. They are very powerful and are supposed to make you sleep for days. Abid gulps down a couple of the pills, hoping that they will make him forget about Chotu and starts to pour some more glue into a piece of cloth. After a few sniffs, Abid turns to pass the cloth to Guddoo but Guddoo is not there. Abid looks up to and sees a black car parked on the side of the road. Guddoo is standing near the driver’s door, talking to someone sitting inside the car. A little while later, the man opens the passenger door and Guddoo sits in the front seat. The last thing Abid sees is the car driving away, as the pills take over, blurring his vision to sleep.
It takes him a while to open his eyes. He hears the sounds of all the vendors on the streets, selling everything from cheap jewelry made out of seashells to hair clips for little girls to bogus fortunes told by a random envelope drawn by a parrot. A rickshaw goes by right next to his head, blowing black smoke in his face, almost deafening him with its typical rumbling rattling sound. He wakes up with a start realizing that he has slept through most of the day and that he will not be able to scavenge much. He gets up hurriedly and looks around for Guddoo.
Guddoo had been getting into some trouble lately. As days had gone by, his appetite for drugs had gotten bigger. It was not long before he had discovered heroin, the raani of all drugs as he called it. Of course, heroin was much more expensive than glue or charas and Guddoo had to find new ways to make more money.
A few weeks ago, Guddoo had come back to the group, all sullen and quiet. Abid had run up to him and offered him a joint, but Guddoo shrugged him off and went to sleep. The next day, Abid had seen the bruises on his face and arm in the sunlight and asked him about it. Abid soon found out where Guddoo had been going for the past few nights. Guddoo had told Abid that it makes good money and that he should not be worried about him. The clients paid Guddoo as much as five hundred rupees to let them fuck him. This money came easy and it bought Guddoo a whole lot of drugs, especially heroin. Some nights, however, Guddoo would end up with a violent and aggressive client and he would return with a few dirty notes and many bruises all over his body.
“Liken set hai. Meray paas yeh hai na, yaar,” Guddoo had told Abid in a laughing voice and showed him a packet of heroin that he had just procured. Yes. That will take care of all kinds of pain.
It is almost nighttime and Guddoo is still nowhere to be found. Don’t worry. He is a big kid. He can take care of himself. He will be fine. Satisfied with this, Abid starts rummaging through his large jute bag to see if he has some glue left over from last night. He does not have enough money for a new tube and he needs to arrange for some sort of anasha before dark. His head has started to hurt and he knows that the only thing that will make him feel better is some kind of intoxication. Some glue would be perfect, but even a sleeping pill or a small piece of hash would do.
Abid is still looking in his bag, when he sees some of the kids from his group running towards the park. One of the kids yells out that they have found Guddoo.
Relief floods over Abid, as he runs behind them. Guddoo would know where to find something for the headache. Abid keeps running and soon sees that a crowd has gathered up ahead in one of the corners of the park behind the mazaar. Guddoo must be up to his old antics, Abid smiles.
Abid pushes his way through the crowd and falls down hard on the ground when he breaks through.
A needle is sticking out of Guddoo’s right arm, and his lips and nails have turned blue. He is only sleeping. Abid wants to believe but this time the lie fails to convince his mind. Anyone who takes one look at Guddoo can tell that he is dead.
Abid feels sick. It feels like he cannot breathe, as if his father has kicked him hard in his stomach. All the sounds around him retreat into the background. A part of him wants to think that everything is going to be all right, but the other part tells him otherwise. A loud siren sounds nearby, signaling that the police has arrived.
Come on, let’s get out of here before the police starts to harass us. Abid grabs Chotu’s hand and pulls him away from the scene, running back to the alleyway where they all sleep at night.
Abid is moaning loudly by the time they get to the street behind the big walls of themazaar. He throws up once again and this time does not bother to wipe his mouth. The world seems to be spinning around him and he starts hyperventilating. All of this is making Chotu very nervous. Calm down. Relax. There is nothing you can do. Except some more glue.
Abid looks at Chotu and before he can say anything, Chotu pulls out a tube of Samad Bond from his pocket. Both of them sit down on the floor, pour the glue on their own pieces of cloth, and start inhaling.
Everything is flashing in and out of view and the sounds of the city seem like they have all been contained within a single seashell. Clasping the shell upon one of his ears, Abid moves through the strobing lights of bulbs and reflections. Someone shouts at him and he shouts back, realizing a mere second later that he does not remember what he has just said. The smell of the glue presses harder upon his mind, squeezing his brain and his head starts to ache. He takes another long whiff at his glue cloth and his eyes roll up into his head. He sees darkness inside his head illuminated by a bright stage surrounded by people cheering for him. You can be anyone that you want. You are immortal and you will never die. You will never die like Guddoo has just died.
Someone taps him on his shoulder and he turns around to see a man in front of him. It is not a man. It is a bird. No, it is a man; it is a man with the head of an eagle. Abid’s heart almost stops. He covers his eyes and turns his head to the side, waiting for the thing to stab him with its talons and eating his head off. But the birdman does not move. It starts talking to him in Guddoo’s voice.
“Don’t worry,” Abid believes what the birdman is telling him. “I am going to be all right. You have to take care of yourself now. You have to take care of Chotu. Here, take this. You will need this.”
Abid looks down and takes a small plastic bag from the birdman’s hand. It is filled with a brownish-white powder.
“Abhee na jaa,” Abid cries out, begging Guddoo the Birdman not to go away.
“I have to go,” the birdman replies. He jumps on the wall behind Abid and squats down at the edge like a man, as if an eagle perched high on a ledge. “Remember, without yournasha, you are nothing.”
And with that, Abid finds himself alone, cowering at the edge of a garbage dump, his head in his hands.
“Fikar naa kar, Guddoo,” he says aloud to no one, as he takes out the heroin from the plastic bag and snorts some of the powder. “Tu dekhna. Mein baray ho kar Shahrukh Khan banoonga.”