“The Odour of Carcasses” by Imaan Siddiq

The Odour of Carcasses

It fluttered, the rags that hid their differences and the still silence that lay erect in the fading dusk. The verdancy bloomed in the barren landscape which they called home, a rotting rubble of memoirs left intact. Perhaps buildings are meant to rise and fall, just like the empathy of a passing stranger or an old friend, doesn’t it all fade away eventually. Why is it that life sprouts in the dead and the dead glisten in life, or maybe Nazish had just seen death at the doorframe of his birth, an appointment calling one home. With it, grief was fed as food and trauma as oxygen, and maybe in the thriving life of another human, one only smelt the foul odour of carcasses. It hummed in his head, the sayings of his mother lying dead in front of him, “It was always in the silence, the hustle and the chatter, the jarring fervour and the gratifying piety that a merchant marches relentlessly; another mortal demystified and another funeral awakened.”

“The martyrs surely rest in heaven, my friend. This soil is but a voiceless abode, and ammunition our stranglehold. Even hell shall stutter in its wake.” said an anonymous health worker helping in the removal of corpses from under the infinite debris. Nazish fumbled with his words for a while as he proclaimed, “They’re dead. Seeking them out won’t refurbish their lives. This wreckage cannot constitute a home, our home.” as he trailed off in a hushed sob. Regardless of the religious fundamentalism and the resurgence of political and religiously funded terrorism, often reffered to as ‘holy terror’ or ‘violent extremism’ was perhaps the East Wind which had swept Afghanistan in the early 2000s. The commotion of the dead, the unsettling of the alive and the malice of the killers was nothing but a funded detonation of vice. As millions like Nazish were evicted from their homes and forced to remain in concentration camps laid out in the barren deserts, life was nothing less than being a sleazy mortal divided in between the virtuous martyrs or the sordid genocides.

Such was the dilemma that now enveloped Nazish as he was taken to a concentration camp in the Kunduz Province in northern Afghanistan, another restless abode that might wrestle up in flames once more. As Nazish reflected on the terror encompassing his life in embers, another orphan boy, Danish with an AK-47 resting dearly in his arms conversed with the other military men. “Where could they conceal the detonations?” he inquired. “We were told that the Taliban had tucked away explosives in the Chardara district, but high security lines have still not been able to tap into their schemes.” replied one of the hunch-backed cadets. Danish apprehended Nazish’s swollen eyes reflecting upon their conversation. He expressed, “I am sorry for your loss, but we all have lost something that we hold dear to us. The resolution that remains is but losing our lives against a worthy opponent. When we reach Kunduz, the Taliban will tend to recruit you as another one of their suicide bombers to kill in the name of an imitated creed. Choose with sagacity, my friend.”

Friend. Did Nazish really have one of those. Someone to fall back upon, perhaps a mortal or a shadow, weren’t they all just dust and rubble. A composition of atoms that once synthesized Nazish’s whole world. But, was a chance in the wilderness too much to ask from a charred destiny? It elongated in front of him, the bustling concentration camp near the Chardara district, a run down home for the homeless. Flaps of canvas camps fluttered in the dusty wind as they exited the military vehicle and Danish clasped Nazish’s blackened arm to rush him to seclusion from the imitators and the deceitful. For Nazish it was nothing but a gush of visual insights unable to be comprehended by his globular organs. “Am I being abducted or am I being embraced by a friend? More often, what is the difference though?” he wondered in his befogged mind.

“You can take the mattress on the left. I sleep on the right, there is also a hidden stash of food in that bag, which you require instantly. There is also a gun underneath that pile of clothes if a situation unfurls. I will be gone for some while, till then stay here and do not converse with strangers, it might just be another deathwish. Do you understand?” asked Danish. Nazish glanced for a few seconds, hushed in his restless headspace towards a rare humanity. Maybe just a dream rising up in embers. “It’s okay. Friends do this.” grinned Danish as if he could read his contemplations.

The hours passed, as Nazish laid in his nestled abode, patiently waiting for Danish to return before the night darkened under the raven’s silhouette. But all the Doors of Eden do not remain ajar forever and thus before he could start panicking, he dozed off. And just like that, days turned into months as Nazish fumbled with his agonizing thoughts and Danish persisted to remain one for the books. Friendship entwined in the gullies of commotion to blossom into the flowers that had once bloomed in the land now dormant of blood to give. Another poem written in the secrecy of hushed words, and another story untold behind closed doors. Now was another opportunity, at the gamble we call existence or the pit we call despondency.

Gradually, Nazish retired to the silent recluse of his tormented soul, seeking a virtuous decision. Danish had apprehended the restlessness in the atmosphere, but was petrified to intervene. Perhaps it was resolution that might alter Nazish’s destiny, but it was his prayers to fortify and his faith to demystify the entraps of the anonymous and the enticing. This was all initiated when the Taliban gradually started poisoning the peace of their concentration camps, as scores of them concealed in native clothing started indoctrinating their beliefs to infect the masses. And perhaps Nazish was just another prey. “You don’t want food and money to be sent back to your emaciated family?” enticed one of their handymen. “My family’s dead”. “Well then, you should honour them in the name of your religion and act in accordance to enter heaven. Your life is not your own but a sacrifice for your deity. He gives you with it, and you offer it back to him, in death awaits the answer.”

“Were we made to die?” wondered Nazish as he slipped into a restless slumber every nightfall. There were two very different opportunities and he knew he had to choose the right one. Weeks passed and the handymen of the Taliban were the contagion among the fading serenity of the dust laden caravans and the homeless abodes. Eventually, on the night of no eventful date Nazish left a note underneath Danish’s gun, his holy grail to be precise and then slipped out in the darkness towards an imitated vice of immorality. With his conscience shivering and his resolve wavering, he traversed to the gully behind the barren mountains where the handymen nestled in their dubious caves. Nazish was perhaps just another rotting fish among the animate. And as the sun dawned upon a fading twilight, Danish burrowed the note beneath his hushed weeping. “I can’t outrun death. Thank you for being an earnest friend and please don’t die before me.” were the words that lay erect on the page. Perhaps it still lay in the anonymity, that kinship never dies and if friendship is nothing but kinship then the dead might still even be alive. For it was all in kinship when iotas later, the armed glared in the eyes of the terrorists, two friends in the opposing dynamic. 

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