The Spectacle

It was late in the evening when he came home. His wife sat on the veranda in front of the house, and he approached their sick five-year-old son who was lying on a bed. He took off his shawl, and as he wiped his head and short beard clean, he asked her how everything was with Bari.

His wife, close to tears, answered:

—His fever is still high. He is very weak and has been lying there all day. He has no appetite either, I gave him soup a couple of times but he wouldn't eat it.

The father leaned over the bed, and said to his son:

—Bari, my son. Bari, my child. How are you? Where does it hurt?

Bari opened his eyes slowly, looked at both of them and said in a low voice, “My whole body aches.”

The father knelt, cradled the boy’s head in his arms, and said:

—That’s good. You will get better, by the blessings . . . Sit up now, there you go, and try to eat a little now. I’ve brought you a banana. He sat him up gently. His mother quickly prepared his meal, and both of them tenderly gave him spoonfuls of food. After this, Bari moaned all night, and either his mother or father sat him up and watched over him.

In the morning, Sarwar gave two hundred rupees to his wife and said to her:

—I have a lot of work to do and must go to the market. Take the boy to a doctor.

Sarwar left the house and arrived at the building where the handcarts were parked. He gave five rupees to the guard, opened the chain around his cart, gave it a push and turned around. The sun had not yet risen when he entered the crowded bazaar with his cart. He stopped in front of a shop and said to the owner, “Badar, Salam Alaikom.”

The fat storekeeper lay on a bed with his big belly and unbuttoned shirt. He moved a little, put his hand on his big clean-shaven head, rubbed his beard, and stroked his long mustache. He glanced at him and said, “Come here, Sarwar. Today, I will not give you any sugarcane; you still owe me many rupees.” Sarwar answered him humbly:

—Badar, the other day my sales were a real disaster, the traffic kept me from moving around, and all of my sugarcane dried up. I was supposed to have given you the money yesterday, but my son is very sick, so I had to leave the money home for his medicine.

The shopkeeper answered:

—Look now, Sarwar. I have hundreds of peddlers working for me. Every morning I distribute sugarcane to all of them, and night after night, each and every one of them returns to me with cash. But I have been dealing goods to you for some time now, and you keep the money for yourself. . It was better before, but now you seem to have been struck by evil, coming up with this kind of lie.

Sarwar answered:

—Look here, during these three years that I have been getting sugarcane from you, how often have I delayed payment? But, my son has been sick for quite a while now and I have had to spend a lot of money on that. Let me be in debt to you, it’s good, Badar, don’t you worry, God is great, I will return the money in no time.

The shopkeeper did not agree, but Sarwar apologized to such a degree that Badar finally gave him five hundred rupees’ worth of sugarcane. He took his handcart and set off running to the Pacha Khan Intersection and Charsada Road, at the place where he always stood. He took out a jackknife from the cart and started peeling the sugarcane. After a short while he had peeled almost twenty to thirty stalks. He took up the cane-cutter and put the sugarcane down in front of him. It rattled as he cut it into smaller pieces, “Fresh sugarcane . . . fresh sugarcane . . .” Between morning and noon he managed to sell ten to fifteen kilos, but in the afternoon his sales cooled down, in spite of his tireless shouting “fresh sugarcane . . . fresh sugarcane.” He sorted the money he had made into stacks of ten-, five-, and two-rupee notes. The damaged notes were put in a separate stack and he began counting all of them. It was seven or eight twenty-rupee notes; he took a deep breath and said to himself, “Oh God, what can I do with these now, how will I pay off the sugarcane if I also need to buy medicine?

The bazaar had become crowded in the evening and Sarwar was still shouting his “fresh sugarcane . . . fresh sugarcane.” He saw a group of young men dressed in sports clothes, some carrying cricket bats and balls. Another ten people were following them and they were heading toward the Kings Garden. Sarwar said to himself, “There will be a lot of playing in the park, let’s go, bring your cart there, God willing I will sell the remaining sugarcane over there,” and gave his cart a push. He hurried along the main road until he reached the intersection, where a traffic policeman was standing. The policeman started screaming at him for no reason; he approached him, kicked Sarwar’s cart, and said, “Hurry up, go back!”

Sarwar said to him pleadingly, “I am going to the entrance of the big garden, just up there,” whereupon the traffic policeman answered him:

—You wouldn’t behave the other day and I beat you a little, but today I will beat you so that you won’t even recognize yourself. Sarwar continued:

—Sir, even the other day you didn’t let me in, several kilos of my sugarcane dried up and I was running at a loss. I have a sick child at home and these goods are only mine on loan.

But the traffic policeman only bared his teeth at him and said, “Hey, you Muhajir. I won’t let you in. Run away now,” and gave Sarwar a couple of slaps.

Since Sarwar noticed that he had dropped his shawl, he went back to get it. His eyes filled with tears, he said to the policeman, “Hit me, do whatever pleases you, but let me go to the garden entrance.”

 The traffic policeman got even angrier and said to him, “Get lost now, and if you don’t, I will tie up both you and your handcart.” It did not matter how much Sarwar apologized and begged, he would not let him through. Finally, Sarwar said to him, “I am helpless, don’t do this to me, and if you do I will kill myself and my blood will be on your hands."

—Get lost now. I will throw you under somebody’s car if you don’t, the policeman said to him.

Sarwar, still out of his mind, answered tearfully, “I won’t bring any sorrow on the drivers. I’ll kill myself and leave you with the guilt.”

The traffic policeman, who was directing the motorists as he wrangled with Sarwar said, “I’m telling you to disappear. Take a flight up that pole and get lost.” Hearing this, Sarwar ran off and began climbing up the iron-girded electric pole. The astounded pedestrians and shopkeepers said to each other, “Look at him . . . look at . . .”

When Sarwar reached the top of the pole, he screamed at the policeman again. “Now I will put on a spectacle for the people, a sight you brought about.” From below, the policeman shouted back, “Show me. Show me your spectacle.” Sarwar grabbed two electric cables and hung on to them, dangling. With a cracking sound, the power cables short-circuited; silvery sparks flew, and Sarwar was shot through the air like a glittering bird before he fell to the ground like a dry piece of wood.

Peshawar

Copyright Khan Mohammad Sind. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2011 by Anders Widmark, All rights reserved.From the short story collection The Spectacle(1386/2007).