Varsha 2023 Stories - Nibras Mirza



By Nibras Mirza


"This darned clockwork job! It pecks away at my mind- all the sitting in this run-down place day after day, year after year!”

A file landed violently on Rafiq’s table sending some loose papers flying around like autumn leaves as these acrid words electrified the air around him. Rafiq’s head snapped up. Ashfaq stood there, clearly irritated, routinely annoyed.

The other employees flashed a glance in the direction of the loud thump before returning to their own languid work. A bukhari burning in the centre of the office was trying its best to chase the December cold out, and announcing, by its ancient existence to all who happened to glance in at the scene, that this was a government office.

Rafiq smirked. “Baya, you have been complaining for what? Like the past twelve years now? I’m sorry but I can’t help being a little amused by your words at this point!”

“Yeah, right! Go on and laugh at my misery,” Ashfaq spewed. “Smile at my frustrations. You don’t know what it’s like. I mean- to work like a donkey all day and to go home to a wife who thinks I’m her pet dog! All I seem to do is shape-shift between these two roles. I’m telling you- this life will make me a dead man or a murderer!”

Ashfaq slumped into the chair that stood across Rafiq’s table. His middle-aged aspect was flushed with the warmth of the room. He was one of those people whose looks get better with age, wrinkles appearing as if strokes on canvas. He ran his hand through his plentiful hair dotted with grey. There was a rugged handsomeness about Ashfaq, a grace in his chiselled contours that even his friend couldn’t help being struck by at times.

"Dead men it will make of us all…eventually!" said Rafiq.

"Woe to such an empty life!"

“Hush now! Kyah rovui?!! What's up with you? This isn’t how believers talk! You should…relax…take life as it is and be grateful. Try to find contentment in what you have. Look to the-”

“Pah! Rafiq! Please spare me the useless religious lecture. Seriously, you slip into religious admonition like this!” Ashfaq clicked his fingers, eyebrows scrunched.
“There you go! All dismissive again!" snapped back Rafiq. “And you know,” he continued, “if you are so adamant to think all this, you need to evaluate yourself and see if…if…if your life is so full of emptiness because of a lack of faith…and…you know…repent for…um…for your sins…”

Ashfaq sighed.

"What did I just say, huh? No. Religious. Lectures."

"Fine," Rafiq held up his hands. "What do you want me to do then? What's the point of this?"

"Listen! Just listen! Is that so hard to do?"

"Adsa. Wansa. Alright, Go on. "

Rafiq turned back to his file. Ashfaq watched him flip through the pages, cross checking signatures. Squinting, he jerked his head a little and dashed one arm onto Rafiq’s table.

“What separates a sinner from a non-sinner?"

"Huh?" said Rafiq, befuddled by this abrupt inquiry.

"What separates a sinner from a non-sinner?"

Rafiq was flustered for a second.

“Oh! Okay! Alright! I see where this is going and I have better things to do, so-”

As Rafiq started to stand up, Ashfaq reached over and grabbed his arm.

“Oh sit back down for a moment! You run so eagerly!”

Rafiq dropped back into his chair and Ashfaq continued his voice a tad sullen.

“Listen and tell me if I’m wrong. I heard a person of wisdom say that there is a flickering moment in time in which a person remains suspended between these two states-of sinning and not sinning, you know. So…doesn't that mean…that in that moment when he is about to sin, he is both a sinner and innocent as a baby. It’s just a matter of slipping to either side.”

"A person of wisdom…you heard a person of wisdom say this?"

"On my word!"

"And where did you happen to bump into this person?"

"On T.V actually. In a very good Pakistani drama!" said Ashfaq, winking.

Rafiq's poker face swam in Ashfaq's handsome eyes. A wry smile crept onto his visage.

“What?!" jested Ashfaq. "I watch dramas now and then. They lure you in, I swear!”

“Okayyyy,” Rafiq said slowly, “Just so you know, I don’t believe in this ‘suspended state’- as you call it. I think in that state when the chance to commit a sin is in front of us and we're debating it, we’re in a pure state- a state of a holy war, a jihad, if you will, against our own self.”

“Anyway,” Rafiq added, raising his hand to his friend’s face to prevent him from speaking, “It’s lunch time and I’m out of here. If you want to get all uselessly philosophical-”

“Oi, hold your horses! I won't be useless again, I promise. Let’s go and have lunch. You know that lady who opened a boutique across the office? She is the new talk of the office these days- something about see-through clothes I’ve heard…”

“Oh Lord, Ashfaq!”

Ashfaq chuckled holding his friend by the shoulders and they walked out of the frazzled walls that held in the ancient warmth to keep the new cold at bay.


Ashfaq sat bundled into his beat-up Alto 800 as he drove home. He could afford to buy a new car; he simply didn’t want to buy it –to quote his own self- “just to drive that two-faced nightmare from her parents’ house to mine and all that!”

When he had married Shameema, he had assumed the same potential goodwill attitude that Rafiq had expected of him again today- that hope in khayr, that divine goodness, he now laughed at. Twelve years of bickering, separation from parents and a childless union had greatly embittered him but his mother’s imploring eyes had forced him to keep on living with Shameema.

“Tathi is too soft-hearted...”

Reminiscing, he drove beneath dark, overcast skies that heralded the cover of snow; snow that cloaks the scars of Kashmir, hides its sins and the lurking demons of dark deeds that float phantom-like beneath its spellbinding façade.

“…soft-hearted like a dove. Her heart flutters for everyone and she ends up getting trampled. Here, she forced me to get trampled along with her!”

Suddenly, the rain started pouring in sheets and, as if this abruptness of the weather transported itself inside him, his mind was flooded with the past years of anguish. All the ugliest images of his life raced past him and he felt he had never known joy.

It was an ill-humoured man who came home to Shameema that night. He hated every step he took towards the house and detested the opening of the door. When Shameema opened the door, he flitted past her like a ghost; her eyes traced his pace and she sniffed his resentment. She banged the door and went into the kitchen.

The snow had started falling in innocent, tiny flakes.

Ashfaq sat in the living room adjacent to the kitchen. A kangri posed absently in a corner while an electric fan heater sat silent; the flakes of snow had already over-strained the erratic power supply. The savoury aroma of harissa suffused the air. Pleasant anticipation! Perfect for the snowy weather! By tomorrow morning, it would be ready to eat!

Setting the cup of noon-chai on a small, elaborately carved walnut-wood stool that sat level with Ashfaq’s face, Shameema exclaimed:

“Here! This is what I slaved for today…so that the end of the day may bring your brooding face to the door. As if you see a ghoul when you see me! I curse the day I was bound to you. So many matches and this is what God intended for me!”

A mild start, thought Ashfaq. He sighed; his tone was casual.

“Take it away. I’m better off hungry than drinking this tea! Even poison would be a good substitute! You bring me food as if it’s a favour you bestow on me.”
“Well, yes! Yes, it is my favour to serve a moody good-for-nothing like you!” hissed his wife.

He took in her features for a second- her round, flawless face scarred only by the dark circles under her eyes- too many prayers lost in the skies, her small, grey eyes that were presently summoning a fierce gaze, her perfect nose and her quivering thin lips.

And everything in that face angered him.

“Watch your mouth woman!” Ashfaq shouted, “I slave in that godforsaken office day after day to earn money to buy the food that you find so hard to serve with a smile. If there is any favour here, it is mine upon you!”

“Oh, so this is your favour to me? This?” Her tone mocked him. “And I work like a bonded labourer to keep this goddamn house in order! Is that nothing?!”

“You wouldn’t have to do it if we were still living at my parents’ house.” Ashfaq said with undisguised relish.

“It is my right to ask for a separate accommodation. Did you want me to live under the dirty gaze of your brothers?”

Ashfaq was crimson; his temples were throbbing. “Shameema! Shut the hell up! Do you know what you are insinuating? You vile woman!”

The shouts now punched the frozen air.

“How dare you! How dare you use that vulgar word for me! You're a vile man and your entire family is vile! Oh Lord! What sin had I committed to end up with a man like him?! I wish I were dead!”

Following this dramatic exclamation, Shameema burst into sobs.

When they had first started bickering, this would be the point at which Ashfaq would find himself disarmed. By now, he had mastered the art.
“So do I,” he said simply.

Her face now attired itself in an expression of hurt mixed with something foolish. The cruel simplicity of his answer unnerved her. Now she was desperate.
“Oh, you do, do you?! Okay! Your wish will be granted today. I will kill myself. I’ll kill myself and blame you and all your family in the suicide note. You'll see…”

To put soul into her threat, Shameema stormed out of the room and after a few moments, Ashfaq heard the bedroom door slam. From inside the room, scuffling noises could be heard. Ashfaq sighed and turned, not to go into the bedroom but the kitchen. The familiar smell of harissa was wafting through the air; it hung there like a beacon of the morning.

He knew that Shameema would throw a dupatta onto the fan and would threaten to strangulate herself- just like she had done ten times before, or would threaten to set her mortal self aflame while brandishing a can of kerosene oil in one hand and a matchbox in the other. He remembered fleetingly a relative whose one such threat had unintentionally tuned into her last reality. They had tried to save her. Synthetic clothes and body aflame, she had run onto the verandah where the air fanned the flames even higher.

"For a while, Shameema, my detestable moron, will hang between the two states- of being a sinner and an innocent baby; if suicide is an act of bravery, then her courage will falter before her legs leave their support, and if it is an act of cowardice, her vanity will save her. And Rafiq said I was uselessly philosophical!"

Ashfaq lifted the lid off the pot in which that sweetheart of winter mornings sat awaiting its unromantic fate; fennel and starch swirling in umami hit his senses with a meaty pleasantness. A note of saffron tickled him.

Sometimes he wished for her to leave the supports and die. He took a spoonful into his mouth and smacked his lips, proclaiming:

“She cooks well. I’ll give her that!”


Nibras Mirza from India is an aspiring writer from J&K, India who reconnected to her love for writing during the pandemic. Currently she writes literary fiction focused on Kashmir in exploration of what she likes to call ‘the bubbling mundane’. She also holds a major in zoology. When she is not writing or reading, she is probably imagining or thinking..


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