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THE RED WRATH - A Journey between Two Destinies

RED WRATH
 

Life is a journey and every man must bear the burden of conflict    between his own free will and the vicissitudes of destiny. The heart  endures the trials and tribulations that accompany us through life and stores the sorrows and joys that make us who we are.  

This is the story of a man who traces the steps he took during his youth and the leaps that forced him to maturity. In confronting the  realities of life, he tests the values of his culture and his own  principles and stands by them, forfeiting the sweetness of youth and the sheltering comforts of innocence.  

The past, laden with heavy memories, nourishes and enriches his existence on a new continent, and lends him the gift and curse of  being without peers. He was complete only in the fellowship of thoughts, dreams and memories. It is there, in his past, that his true and unadulterated self resides, and it is there that he finds the source of love and the selfless strength compassion requires; the gifts nature endows each and every person willing to find them within.  

After all, we take only memories into the beyond and follow our beliefs to the promised place, a final destination where those who have gone before await and those who will come after are awaited. He comes to understand this and to accept that we can only reach those we have loved and lost when our imagination takes over from where our breath has left us. 

Love is the fruit we receive when we pay its full price in sacrifices, without which no being can earn nature’s highest gift.   

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ISBN:   978-1-921919-56-5  
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 396
Genre: Fiction

 

Author: Hatef Mokhtar
Publisher:
Zeus Publications

Date Published: 2012
Language: English

Born in Afghanistan, Hatef Mokhtar grew up in a refugee camp in Pakistan and is now working as the Editor in Chief of The Oslo Times in Oslo, Norway.  

“The pain of separation from my homeland, the cries and sorrow of my people inspired me to write this book.”

 

Acknowledgements 

My effort and determination will mean nothing unless I acknowledge those who stood by me in all the phases of this book.

My work could not have been completed without their great support, so that I could envision my goal to win the hearts of readers.

I would like to show my gratitude to Dhiraj Singh, Anubhav Gupta, Fauzia Umar, Hulya, and S.S. Fahad Hussain, who all have borne my impatience and been sensitive concerning my vision for this story.

Book writing has been a very tedious task, and I feel proud that these people contributed their insights and editorial skills to improve the narrative structure, as well as to enhance its final acceptance. I am thankful to them from the bottom of my heart for the constant motivation and caring that helped me to accomplish this revolutionary novel.

Chapter 1

A Bird Called Destiny

 

Certain experiences in life unfold leaving deep imprints on one’s mind, body, and soul. There’s not much scope for forgetting there, unless one’s mind is numbed by a memory that one’s heart finds difficult to accept and adapt to. Yet, life is not about sublimating such experiences. We do that often to avoid the pain and suffering that those memories bring. Instead, it is about carrying them along, as evidence of our survival, in the direction chosen by destiny, because often, giving in requires much more strength and character than withstanding.

 

* * *

 

Asif contemplated a myriad of thoughts that had surfaced in his mind after a long and tiring day at work. He left the office with the intention of rejuvenating himself over a steaming cup of coffee. It quite effortlessly scored as his favourite stress buster. Wind played with his hair, and he took a deep breath to enjoy the fragrance it brought with it. As he turned a corner, he found himself on a street full of exotic eating places in downtown Oslo. A Norwegian café, which gave an impression of balance between tradition and modernity, caught his attention.

As soon as he entered the café, he felt a strage sense of belonging; he carefully scanned the entire set-up trying to absorb as much as possible. His eyes were constantly hungry for images that reverberated with his heart. Several landscape paintings, done in a typical Norwegian style, adorned the walls. The murals stretched from end to end, depicting Norwegian life in its various hues and colours, from its ancient past to its modern life-style.

Asif ordered his favourite cappuccino with extra sugar. By then, the aroma of coffee had already started to soothe his frayed neves, as it tickled his grey cells and occasionally the white matter. It enveloped him and transported him back in time and place to those precious days in his homeland when his mother used to serve him tea as a child. Memories from that distant past filled him, and he inevitably contrasted them with the conditions of his present life. Memories were all that was left in the linear progression of time. Like a web, they connected and interconnected his past, present, and future, often rejuvenating him at some points in time, while causing distress at others. A man’s memories are like that; they’re like a trapeze net, on which he can fall without worrying about how he’ll land.

While waiting for his ‘cuppa’, Asif made himself comfortable on a couch, looking for the unusual in the usual and vice versa.

A family of four—a couple with two kids—sat across his table. The little girl hid from her father, thinking that covering her eyes repeatedly made her invisible; she played her own version of hide and seek. Her father played along, acting as if he was looking for her.The girl would burst into fits of laughter, opening and closing her eyes, again and again, as she was ‘caught’ by her father. It reminded Asif of his sister back home, who would behave in a similar fashion on seeing him when he would visit her after a hard day’s work.

His chain of thoughts was broken when the waitress asked him if he wanted anything else. Dressed in an impeccable, white, pleated skirt and a pink top, she moved between tables carefully taking each order. Asif thanked her for her quick service and politely declined anything else for the moment.

He carefully scraped the whipped cream topping the coffee cup, much like a skilled craftsman, and put it in his mouth like a seasoned coffee taster. It was the same ritual every time, for he loved the cream to melt in his mouth before his first sip.The little girl had been looking at him for quite some time; she silently seemed to include him in her game by hiding under the table. Her father wondered what was wrong when he caught her staring at Asif. He smiled back at him and then back at the girl, as if approving of the game and of Asif’s intentions.The happiness around us gives us the feeling of belonging and eases us from the pressures of living. It is contagious. Asif felt much lighter in those moments as if the laughter of the little girl had enveloped him and asked him to cheer up too.

“Worora,” someone called out from the crowd. Asif had not heard that word in a long time. It meant ‘brother’ in his language. He turned around, and his eyes followed the hand that rested on his shoulder. It was really a strange feeling to hear those warm and soothing words from someone who belonged to his homeland, a place that he had abandoned to relocate to greener and safer pastures many years before.

Asif almost fell off his chair. He had not seen that man for ages and had almost forgotten about him. He stood up and hugged him; he had appeared out of nowhere after what felt like an eternity. Somehow, it seemed to Asif that they had met only yesterday. He was too numb to think or speak anything.

“Do you recognise me?” the man asked with a warm expression on his face.

Worora, how could I ever forget you? Akram Khan, my friend, my brother!” Asif’s tone was one of excitement and love. It was hard for him to remember how many years had gone by, but suddenly standing face to face with Akram took him back to his village and childhood. Those carefree years came fluttering and engulfed his vision; he had to blink many times to come back to his present surroundings.

“What are you doing here, Akram?” Asif asked. That was the only question that came out of the thousands running through his mind at that time.

“I live here,” Akram said, smiling ear to ear.

“Really? In Oslo? I live here too.” Suddenly Asif felt a swathe of relief, coupled with a whiff of disappointment—disappointment that despite living in the same city they never crossed paths for so long and relief at Akram’s sudden and unexpected appearance, which eased him of the notion that his friend was no more. He had tried to trace Akram many a times in the past, but all those attempts had proved futile. And then, there he was, standing right in front of him, in the flesh, and completely out of the blue.

For Asif, this chance meeting with Akram meant rediscovering a part of his lost existence. Akram was one person whom Asif had lost all hope of reuniting with, especially in the Scandinavian world, which was fairly new to him. He felt as if a heavy burden had been lifted off of his chest. A cure for his loneliness was found, and it seemed a thing of the past.

Akram sat down across from him and rested his hands on the table. Asif caught a glint of mischief in Akram’s eyes, which was reminiscent of their carefree school days.

“How are you, Akram? How have you been?” Asif continued.

“Still alive!” Akram remarked in jest. “I always knew we’d meet again. And now, here we are, in the same city.”

Naseeb (My friend), it’s all destiny,” Asif was quick to reply.

“Yes, I know you’ve always believed in destiny,” Akram said teasing him.

Destiny is a strange bird. It carries us in its stronghold, taking us to unthought of places and times that are beyond imagination. People whom we would give up all hope of meeting again would suddenly appear out of nowhere. Whether we believe in destiny or not, certain things that happen for apparently no reason make us feel their hold over our lives.

Time had left its indelible imprints on Akram. His thick, black hair had turned grey around the temples, hinting at a certain level of maturity, just like his father, Khaled. A receding hairline made the lines on his forehead and eyes appear even more prominent, but his eyes showed no signs of ageing. They were like a window into his young heart and indomitable spirit, which were as young and unfazed as ever, growing in fact in reverse with every passing day.

Asif was ready to plunge into a sea of questions, which splashed waves of curiosity in his mind. He could not decide whether it would be worthwhile to have Akram face the lashing tides of enquiry. Wouldn’t that mean revisiting grey areas and opening old wounds for them both? He felt in a dilemma also about which questions would draw a comfortable response out of Akram and which ones would make him uncomfortable? After all, he didn’t want that meeting to turn into one even remotely laced with despair and disdain, so he weighed the pros and cons of each and every question that erupted in his mind. Asif stood motionless in front of the man for whom he would have gladly laid down his own life.

Separation is the key to strengthening relations, while sudden reconnection furthers an even stronger bond of long-lasting togetherness.

“What would you like to have, sir?” The voice of the waitress was a welcome relief.

“I too will have a cappuccino, please—double, thank you,” Akram said smiling at the waitress.

“One more cappuccino coming up,” she said gaily as she glided back to her counter. Her white apron reached way down her knees, which made Asif think that she was either from a relatively conservative background or a cleanliness junkie. He would have thought about anything else in the world then, to distract himself from the gush of emotions that Akram’s reappearance brought with it.

As Asif took a sip from his cup, he noticed the glitter of diamonds set intricately into the yellow metal that ringed Akram’s finger.

“So you’re married?” Asif was relieved for finally having found something to talk about that was a welcome point of departure, as compared to delving into each of their morbid and decrepit pasts.

 

Akram lifted up his hand to show Asif his ring. “Yes, brother, I am—happily married; what about you?”

Just then, the waitress appeared with Akram’s coffee and asked him if he wanted something else. As Akram picked up the menu for a second look, his phone buzzed; the look on his face took on an altogether different glow as he answered it.

“Salaam, Zinab. What happened, my dear?” he enquired lovingly into the phone.

“Okay, yes, I won’t forget the new set of crayons you asked me to get. Now, I’m with a dear friend. I’ll call you later, and tell your mother that I’ll be a little late in coming home today. Will you, my love?” He disconnected the phone and a huge grin appeared on his face.

It was clear to Asif that he’d been talking to his daughter.

“Hey, was that your daughter?” Asif was beginning to get excited again, hoping to play uncle to Akram’s kids.

“Yes, I am blessed with a son and a daughter! Let me show you their picture.” Excitement filled his eyes.Akram took out his wallet from his pocket and showed Asif three separate pictures. “My daughter, Zinab; son, Khaled; and wife, Maria!” he said, carefully placing each picture between his fingers.

“Give me that, I want to have a closer look.” Asif took the wallet from Akram’s hand. Maria’s serene beauty instantly took Asif by surprise. He’s indeed a very lucky man, he thought. Maria’s straight, blonde hair and blue eyes made her look distinctly Norwegian; but her face had a quality that was hard to place. It was a face that could soothe a crying baby with its serene and calm glow; the face of a mother perhaps, someone meant to nurture and take care of people. It glowed with devotion and strength of character.

“Brother, your wife comes across as a picture of beauty and compassion from what I can see,” Asif said heartily.

Akram said nothing, but his smile said it all. Zinab, his little princess, looked like a mix of her father and her mother; but she definitely had her mother’s eyes. Khaled’s skin was lighter than Akram; but his smile, jaw line, and cheek bones were like his father’s. His eyes, however, had something that made Asif beam into innocent laughter.

“What, what is it?” Akram was curious to know what had tickled his friend so much.

 

“Is that how you looked at Maria when you first saw her?” he held out Khaled’s picture. “I mean, did you reach out to her soul with your eyes, just like this guy here is doing?” Asif asked, pointing out the sharp gaze that Khaled seemed to have inherited from his father.

“Good observation, my friend!” he said playfully.

“You are truly blessed with such a wonderful family. Zinab looks like an angel, and what can I say about Khaled? I mean, he is just like you.” Asif’s words came straight from his heart; and they touched Akram, who was really moved with their ingenuousness.

“You’re my brother and true friend!” he exclaimed. .

Asif’s loneliness had begun to haunt him by then. The thought of Akram living a life complete with a family consisting of a beautiful, embracing wife and lovely children made him crumble from the inside. His mind now floated with the image of his friend’s jovial domesticity, where his wife and children waited on him lovingly as he returned home after a long day’s work. It must be the most satisfying feeling on earth. A pang of jealousy hit him hard.

“Asif, we have to catch up again soon; right now I have to pick up my son. How do I meet you again?” Akram’s voice broke Asif’s flow of thoughts.

“Let me give you my number,” Asif said, scribbling down his phone number on a napkin. His hands trembled as he wrote the number.

“We have to meet again as soon as possible, Asif.”

“Yes, absolutely! Give me a call and we’ll have dinner together sometime.”

“That is a great idea. Maria would love to serve you her favourite dishes.”

Asif reached for the check and proceeded to pay at the counter. Both started to walk slowly towards the parking nearby. Their steps were far slower than their heartbeats.

More memories started to crowd Asif’s mind as Akram was leaving. There was never a day when he did not meet Akram and discuss everything under the sun in their school days. The stories their teachers had told them in school, as well as their dreams and aspirations, all of which now appeared in a kaleidoscope of images before his eyes. Whenever anyone asked them what they wanted to be, Asif would quickly say, a ‘doctor’; Akram would point out to the airplane high up in the sky and say, a ‘pilot’. Asif wanted to help people, to cure them of their illnesses and take care of them. Akram wanted to fly high and see the world and charm people with the glint in his eyes.

They hugged each other just like they used to in the old days and proceeded along their own different ways. Asif’s memories of Akram grew stronger and stronger. Until then he did not realise there was so much in his past that he had tried to hold back and forget. Once back home, he threw himself on the sofa and took a few deep breaths. He felt as if he was in the eye of a storm, in the centre of a growing tornado. He tried looking at the scene that presented itself out of the window, but everywhere he looked it seemed to reflect back his past to him, or so he thought.

It was good to be united again with an old friend, traversing through the lanes of memory and reliving those moments that they both had missed when life separated them. They shared a peaceful childhood but had a different taste of adulthood. He felt much more alive today. Life can be very surprising for you sometimes, but meeting Akram was not less than a wonder for Asif.

Maybe writing would help, Asif told himself. He switched on his laptop, waited for the system to load, and sat down, typing out whatever filled his mind then. Soon words filled up his computer screen. They were scrambling for space coming from a crowded mind.

It was early morning before he realised his fingers could no longer keep up with his fevered mind. He lay down on his bed awaiting sleep to lull him away into dreamland; but unfortunately sleep seemed a more than distant possibility. That was what memories could do to a person.

 

* * *

Asif woke up with the sun’s rays warming his face. It was a long and weary night, and the dreams had not been pleasant. He was lost between his homeland, his life in Oslo, and everything in between. It was Friday, his off day. He tried but could not go back to sleep. His head felt heavy as he got up and turned on the coffee maker and headed for a wash.

Norway has turned me into a caffeine addict, just like its citizens; but I can hardly complain, he thought to himself. He got dressed and sat down by his kitchen window. There were children playing outside. Some were playing with a ball; others were making bucket moulds inside a sandbox. It reminded him of the time when his sister and brother were small. Though his mind was Norwegian, his heart still longed for his homeland.

The building where he lived was a low-income housing block with small one-bedroom flats. It was enough for him since he was on his own, but sometimes he felt its emptiness and saw it as a never ending domain. In Afghanistan, his homeland, they used to live in a big house. Occasionally his present house felt like a cage.

His cell phone suddenly broke his reverie.

“Halo, worora, sengah ey?” It was Akram.

“I’m fine, thank you. How are you?” Asif’s voice trembled with joy and anticipation.

“I’m okay. I just called to invite you over for dinner. How does Sunday sound to you?”

“Sure, no problem! Sunday is good. I don’t have any other plans.”

“Just give me a call when you are leaving home. I’ll give you the directions.”

He could hear the noise of traffic through Akram’s phone. Maybe he is outside, walking. He hung up even without saying good-bye. Perhaps he is a busy man, Asif thought to himself.

Asif and Akram had gone through many ups and downs in their lives with the changing mood of destiny. They had to alter their directions towards achieving different goals set by them in their childhood days. Fate, however, is usually not kind to all. It had played its game. Their aspirations and dreams were thwarted by circumstance.

Asif took his cup and went over to his laptop to check his e-mail and catch the headlines. He liked to keep himself abreast with the latest happenings around the world. The day’s news took him back to his past once again. His spirit and soul seemed to linger endlessly in his past since the time he had met Akram. Everything seemed to be taking him back in time only to return to the present for little fractions of time.

When he closed his eyes, he could see his village. He could almost smell the air blowing from the mountains. He could feel the freshness of the brook’s waters that ran across his village, when he showered. The illusions were not going to leave him at least for that day. It was as if he was able to touch everything that once stood for his village in front of him. He knew those memories, which were etched deeply in his imagination, would never become reality again; and he would never hear his mother’s voice calling him for breakfast—or his father call him to read from his library. It was all so real that he felt as if he were travelling in time. The thin line between illusion and reality seemed to have faded away.

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