Nafeez – By Barnali Saha

I

He was tall, over six feet in height, dark and mustachioed. His shinning bald head mirrored the morning sun. The slum was not a pretty place, it was a squalid neighborhood perennially sunk in blind ignavia. He seemed an anachronism in that dingy locality, his fresh suit and clean shaven face discretely mocked the gross pile of destitute humans that inhabited the place. Placing his perfumed handkerchief over his nose he spoke to Nafeez in a low voice. “We need to talk, it is very important,” he said. “What is it?” Nafeez asked. “I cannot tell you everything here, we need to sit and talk. Can I come in?” Nafeez was aware of himself as gross and halilotic, he had not bathed in three days, he did not want this obscenely rich man to realize that. “I need to come in,” the man said again, his voice was ice, his voice was command. Nafeez moved away from the entrance and ushered him in with an ungentlemanly hand gesture. He moved a pile of unlaundered clothes from the bed hurriedly and dragged a small wooden stool across the cemented floor for his guest to sit. The man, however, chose to sit on the bed. The bed springs screeched fitfully under his heavy bulk. “What is it that you want to talk about? Who are you, by the way?” Nafeez asked anxiously. The man, now steady in his seat, began looking around absentmindedly and then on realizing that Nafeez had asked him something, looked straight at him and asked, “How much money do you make working as a part-time labor?” Nafeez’s mind turned opaque, he did not make much, some days he did not make anything at all, but he did not want to answer the question. To avert the man’s cold eyes he looked at the bare wall and said, “Why would you ask?” “Just curious,” the man said.” You know your house desperately needs a coat of paint, it needs new furniture too. This bed screeches, how can you sleep in this? You know you deserve much more than this, you are a good guy, and I know that.” “Who told you I am a good guy? I don’t even know you,” Nafeez said standing up. “I don’t think we have anything to talk about, I think you better leave, sir.” “Ah…ah… Nafeez, Nafeez,” the man said, “sit down, I don’t mean to hurt you. I am here to help you get out of this misery.” Nafeez was impatient now, “Sir, I don’t know what you are talking about; I don’t think I can be of any assistance to you.” “Calm down” the man said in a loudly, “I need you to do something for me.”

Nafeez’s insides began to shake at the words the man said. His face was unnaturally reddened, his ears were hot. The man sat grinning at him. “Afraid, huh? I will pay you good money for it. I am not asking you to answer right now. Think it over and call me at this number,” he said a small piece of paper with a cell phone number written on it in black ink. Nafeez took the paper; the man realized his hands were cold. “Now I better leave. You know it is not good for my reputation to be seen in this ugly dillhole.” Nafeez escorted his guest to the door. “It was good meeting you Nafeez,” the man said patting on his shoulders. “You know I don’t take no for an answer. I hate people who say no to me.” Nafeez looked up; his faltering eyes met the man’s icy cold pupils. “Goodbye,” he said and turned to leave. The man disappeared in the crowd but tapping sound of his shiny black shoes echoed inside Nafeez’s head.

Nafeez closed the door and sat on the bed, the springs rebelled noisily under his weight. He could feel his heart pounding on his chest; suddenly it had become a madman’s organ. Was the loud pound a caveat for him, Nafeez did not know. He looked around at the house; the paint had chipped from several parts of the wall. The cemented dark patches on the once white walls resembled a series of unknown territories. The flaky plasterworks of the ceiling dropped lime dust on him. Nafeez shook his head and brushed off the powdery dust. The house was a dilapidated mess; his life was a dilapidated mess. Once when he was seven, a fakir in the village of Sankheriwala, had foretold his success in life. Nafeez had forever doubted the premonition; he thought the man was a quack. Now he remembered the grainy old voice of the fakir, “You are to be rich in life, you are to very successful.” Nafeez’s ill-clad, scrawny body was fed up of toiling everyday, may be it was time to become bold. The world had always denied him his fair share, an orphan by birth he had nothing, no money, no property. Nafeez was angry at his life. An energumenical force filled his heart. He had forever resented his misfortune; he had forever been envious of the rich bastards who gave a damn about him. Nafeez jumped to his feet, he had made the decision.

II

Lalita was almost fifteen now. She could feel the youthful impulses flowing in her veins. A cloud of painful pleasure perpetually shrouded her whole being. The disheveled emotions of adolescence sparked like electricity in her heart. She was always impatient. She knew she was changing — physically and emotionally. The boys in the colony now spoke to her in a different way, they flirted with her, gave her amorous glances, some of them even whistled at her. She did not feel safe around them; in fact she hated them, all of them. The reverberation of their cachinnations disgusted her. She avoided them. There was however one guy that Lalita liked. Unlike the other morons, he was not indolent. He worked at the construction site. Lalita had seen him lifting and carrying baskets of bricks and stirring cement mixture. At times she had pitied the poor look of his sweaty, ill-fed body, but she was drawn to it nonetheless. She had caught him several times watching her stealthily. Lalita had wanted him to confront her and had even smiled at him once, but he was too shy and scared to take the romantic relationship to a new level. One summer afternoon as Lalita sat embroidering a handkerchief on the steps of her house, she saw him coming back from work. He was exhausted; the stubbled facial hairs made him look unnaturally old and fragile. He did not see Lalita at first, but when he did, a pleasantly surprised look illuminated his face. His eyes shone and he smiled, inadvertently. Lalita smiled back. “What is your name” he asked her hesitantly. “Lalita Kumari,” she replied casually, deliberately trying not to show any interest. A bout of shyness unknown to her until that very moment flooded her body. She began scanning the broken brick-laden street. Then, gathering all her thoughts, she looked up to encounter a fiercely embarrassed look on his face. She fidgeted and swayed her hands to chase away a couple of flies who were continually approaching near her face as if to intentionally confuse her at such an important moment. “I should better go,” he said. “Okay.” Lalita blushed; she couldn’t decide if she should ask him his name. The boy was probably waiting for some sort of conversation because he stood still and the pair of his confused eyes, whose unspoken gestures were not very different from hers, looked at her questionably. Lalita could interpret the look; she knew instinctively what he was thinking. The sun was beating down; his slender tanned face and the sweaty muscles of his arms and neck glistened in the sunlight. She knew she was torturing him, but she relished the thought. She wanted him to think her as precious as the Golden Fleece, not easily yielding. “I will see you around then,” he said. Lalita suddenly realized she was making a mistake, in a lilting voice she asked, “What is your name?” “Nafeez,” he replied. Lalita’s cheeks suddenly warmed, her face went hard. “Why you didn’t like my name, I guess,” Nafeez said embarrassingly. Lalita violently replied, “No, no, it is not that. My father is very conservative, he may not, you know, like us to see each other.” On realizing she had offended Nafeez a little she continued, “But I like you, I am a big girl now, I don’t have to ask his permission to go out with you.” He smiled at this; Lalita was relieved to see him pleased. “I should head home now,” he said. “Goodbye then” “Goodbye,” Lalita replied.

III

A seedy warehouse. Two men stood under the yellow light of a dimly lit bulb. One of the men was unnaturally tall, his uppers body hunched forward. The light from the bulb illuminated his acromegalic features. “So, you decided to do it?” he said in a deep almost poetic tone. “I will do it,” the other man said. He looked ridiculously dwarfish before the other man whose gigantic body loomed in front of him. The dark warehouse and loads of unopened cardboard boxed stacked in shelves alarmed him. Glistening sheen from the occasional vehicles that crossed the street casually peered into the room. “Good, very good. You are a smart boy, you chose the right way. Those dumbos always tell you that honesty is virtue, I tell you it is not. You know it takes a lot of work to make your own fortune and build your reputation,” the tall man said in a rapidly, his beady eyes glistening portentously. “If something threatens to destroy your fortune, especially some little, menial thing, you destroy it before it gets you.” The stage voice startled Nafeez he felt ambsaced to him. He knew he was taking a huge risk, if there was one mistake he could be in jail. He wished he knew a way out of the mess he had got himself into. The tall man looked dangerous now, he was shaking with anger. “The little man threatened to disclose everything to the police. He said he won’t move, he refused the goddamn money I offered. You know the moment I saw you the other day at the construction site I knew you are the man for me. I said to myself that this kid is perfect for the job, he is no trouble, nobody will suspect him,” he said slapping his thighs. Nafeez felt nervous now, he knew what he was about to do was wrong. His voice froze; he wished he could run away. The man must have realized what he was thinking. “You know I have big hands,” he said thrusting out his muscular arm, “if you try to act smart I will do the same with you, I will find you and kill you. If you speak one word I will crush you and I guess by now you know that I mean it.” Nafeez knew he meant it, he was a highly powerful man and he was afraid of him. For the past seven days he had known a lot about him– he had known about his business, his influential friends who were mostly leaders of leading political parties, he had seen his sycophants and heard the kind of work they do under the hood. “You don’t need to be afraid. I know you don’t want yourself in any trouble, do you?” The man’s voice now dipped. “Why can’t your men do it?” Nafeez asked. “Because the police will catch them very easily, those idiots are marked. Besides, I am a respectable man I don’t want myself to be a part of any scandal. I live a clean life. Here, take the money and do your job,” he said handling a stack of crispy five hundred rupee bills and something else. “This is the advance. Finish the job and you will get the rest. Remember, don’t try to act smart.” Nafeez felt sick with fear. He looked at the cold metallic thing in his hand, it was a gun.

IV

Nafeez and Lalita sat hand-in-hand at the park bench; they were on their third date. The initial fidgeting of early romance had declined considerably and the couple was getting comfortable in the relationship. Lalita was unusually happy that day, she felt heroic. The prospect of the relationship might not be pleasant since she might have to abandon her family to be with Nafeez forever, but it was the sheer adventure that the relation called for that made her jettison all the negative impulses and dive right in. Like the hallucinating crystalline form of a chandelier entices you, the intricacies of forbidden love lured Lalita. “You know, Lalita, one day we will have our own home,” Nafeez said. Lalita smiled, girlish, in reply. “I want a big house and many kids. I want a house that will be bigger than all the houses I see in this area,” she said. “How many kids do you want?” Nafeez asked. “Five may be six, okay seven,” Lalita said wrapping the end of her sari around her mouth. In the emptiness of the surrounding wilderness the new-found lovers listened to each others imagination and built antiloquent designs of a perfect future in the empty air. Nafeez noticed the glitter of in Lalita’s eyes, he knew she liked him. He had not told her yet about the dangerous business that he had involved in. Until now, Nafeez had debated with his thoughts; he had even tried to run away, but failed both the times. “If you try to run away once again, I am going to kill you,” the man had said holding the dirty collar of his shirt. Nafeez was afraid of him, but now he wasn’t. Once the deal was over, he would have a comfortable life, a good amount of money (a part of which was in his secret stash) and a secure job. The man would not ditch him; he was a shrieking popinjay, too much into his reputation. Besides who would give Nafeez a job, he wasn’t qualified in anyway. But then he had to commit a murder, the most heinous crime of all. Nafeez was absentminded, his eyes wandered aleatorically, he was searching for answers. The beast of consciousness prowled inside him making him think about the consequences, he struggled with his own thoughts. “What is the matter with you, you look lost,” Lalita asked staring intently at him. He was startled by her look, they seem to penetrate the casual façade and see the dangerous scheme that he was obligated to perform. He became self-conscious. “Nothing, nothing,” he said nervously chaffing his cold palms. The frowns in Lalita’s face haunted Nafeez and wanted to run away from her judgmental eyes.

V

It was a perfect night for murder–dark, moonless, and scary. Nafeez lay in wait for his prey. He was dreadfully nervous; an egre of fitful energy steadily rose inside him. He had made up his mind, his resolve as strong as a patriot, he would kill the man. Even if the man hadn’t done him wrong, he was his inadvertent enemy — the wall between his imperfect life and his ideal, rich future. The bait was undeniably good. Nafeez waited cautiously, his face wrapped with a checkered cloth. He observed the lonely side street; a million incongruous sensations clouded his head. But it was no time to sermonize oneself the words of righteousness, it was time to act. A strange feeling of extreme terror began grasping Nafeez, the victim hadn’t shown up yet, the wait seemed eternal. The night also seemed to tremor uncontrollably, a bird screeched at a distance. Nafeez was startled. A lamppost faintly illuminated the street; his eyes were glued at the patch of light. The hours passed on.

Nafeez could not breathe with excitement. He had seen a shadow, the man was undoubtedly him. His portly bulk strode forward in lazy steps. The neighborhood was asleep; the midnight bell had just ringed. The shrill chirping sound of crickets sounded aposematic. A sense of anxiety chilled his blood; he gradually shot his hand out of the black shawl that he draped around him. The cold metal device sneered grotesquely, a hungry monster ready to engulf its prey. The figure drew nearer to Nafeez, it was only a few feet away from him. He could not see Nafeez, the thick darkness made him invisible. Nafeez could see him distinctly now, the man was whistling. Nafeez’s hand went steady, his fears vanished, the teeth clenched. He closed his eyes, pulled the trigger. A deafening noise, the man staggered, he seemed surprised. His body swayed, his hands cried for help, a spout of blood sprayed from the wound on the side of his neck. A gurgling sound; the body fell with a thud on the ground. Nafeez saw the man’s deadly eyes for an instant, its surprised alarming look rendered him motionless. He stood in his place, the gun dropped from his hand, his heart began beating like a drum. He felt ambsaced, and wished he could walk up to the still-trembling, newly-killed victim and have a good look at it. His trance was broken by a series of noises. A number of men had come out from somewhere and they surrounded the body, their half-clad bodies restricted Nafeez’s view. A series of confused masculine voices deepened his fears, he began to step back cautiously, he knew he had to disappear from the sight. A woman had begun to cry uncontrollably. Nafeez saw her supple, youthful body on the ground beside the dead man. She was shaking the corpse to resuscitate it. “Father, father,” she cried. Nafeez started walking hurriedly, the dry brittle leaves crumbled under his feet. The noise had alarmed the men. They had begun walking in his direction. Their anxious eyes looking for the killer. Nafeez started to run. He had caught a fleeting glance of the woman who cried beside the body, it was Lalita. Nafeez turned pale, his body was becoming immobile, his feet felt numb. “No, no–God!!” he cried. The sound of moving feet steadily increased.

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Mrs. Barnali Saha (ne’e Banerjee) is a creative writer from Kolkata, India, currently living in Nashville, TN, USA. She enjoys writing short stories, poetry, travelogues and articles. Her works have been published in several newspapers and magazines in India (The Statesman, The Indian Express, Womans Era, DNA-Me, Muse India Literary Journal, Silhouette Magazine, etc.) and also in the USA (Mused Bella Online Literary Review, The Smoking Poet, Long Story Short, Pens On Fire, Fiction at Work, Palki, Parabaas, etc.). Apart from writing, she is interested in painting and photography.

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