A Tale Of Black Laws

A Tale Of Black Laws

A Story by Justin Fenech

A Tale Of Black Laws

On the outskirts of mountainous Parachinar there exists a menagerie of animals as eccentric as the winds that dare howl between the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Outside a small wooden house in the tribal lands there is a large fenced area, with a few trees, ample grass, and a small stream �" the locals believed such an oasis was the work of hooded devils whose names they dared not speak.

In the menagerie all manner of animals lived cheek by jowl. An Indian elephant (Indian in ethnicity but not in faith), four swamp deer, two male peafowls that provided music that could bring death in such mountains, and a breeding pair of wild cats and dogs. O and did we not mention the tiger?

The famous menagerie came to be known by the name Ahmadullah, the name of a Talibani minister that was killed by American bombs a few moons ago. Now of course the menagerie does not take care of itself. Although, in a land of opium and veils, far more peculiar things have happened. But no, the menagerie is no democracy, it is run by the gentle hand of its founder: Akram Karamat.

Akram was a man above men �" for he lived very high near the mountains. He dressed himself in the robes his mother had sewn for him when he became a man �" he never changed them �" for to abandon his mother's robes would be to incur the wrath of her fleshless spirit. To be bitten by the ether was a cancerous affair. He looked very much like her. His eyes were an olive hue, his greying hair was unkempt and curly. His hands were rough like a farmer who urinated under the sun. His moustache was in a race with his hair to grow white the fastest. And it was winning. His lips were like a donkey's. Do not remind him of that.

No one in the city of Parachinar knew anything about Akram. He only ever went into the city when it snowed. Parachinar in the snow, for him, was the most enchanted place on earth. Some said of him that he was fantastically wealthy and that he could live wherever he pleased. As with all rumours they were feathers fallen off a bird's wing that never flew. But he did so love Parachinar. He walked into the city whenever it snowed. Its haunted roads dwarfed by giant, skeletal oak trees would be blanketed all over. He loved how icicles formed on the edges of roofs in Dandar road, dangling like stalactites in the freezing wind. And the Minaret, O praise Allah, they were magical beyond their powers �" their white tips reminded him of a tiger's tail. What more could a pure heart such as his crave? During Friday prayers, in the Mosque, he would sometimes pray that fellow followers of Allah around the world could feel the serenity of praying under a snow-capped Minaret.

Though people knew very little of Akmar all respected him: for he never begged nor annoyed. He was soft-spoken and had the eloquence of a Caliph. He had lived in Parachinar all his life, the only child of poor Ayesha the harsh. They had never seen him work a single day in his life and yet he never begged like his mother did.

All in Parachinar knew that Akmar was friendly with the Taliban. They knew better than to ask the why's and how's of it. Strangers walking by his menagerie often saw him conversing with the local leaders of the Taliban. He would take them to see his animals, as if they were children in a zoo, and he spoke of his animals with a seriousness befitting a military plot. The Taliban men, always unarmed at his menagerie, walked, as ever, with their arms behind their back, occasionally moving them to stroke their beards in contemplation. But the onlookers never overheard anything of interest being said, merely glorious of glorious speeches by Akmar about the wonders of his animals. They never did see the tiger.

The eavesdroppers' attention was always distracted by a mind-boggling sight that hung on Akmar's front door. It was the hind leg of a camel, nothing but bone, with some inscriptions etched upon it. Many had tried to make it out. But the land that lead up to the front door was too vast, and the old villagers of Parachinar could not see.

And how many an animal there is that beareth not its own provision!
Allah provideth for it and for you. He is the Hearer, the Knower.”

Rehmani, the commander of the Taliban forces in Parachinar, read Akmar's camel-bone inscription, as he paid Akmar a visit. The day was bitterly cold, not a soul was seen in the streets, but Akmar kept his house warm with good wood and curtains made of northern wool. Rehmani, the middle-aged bearded impresario of Parachinar, sat, at Akmar's behest, on the finest cushions in Parachinar. Akmar sat opposite him as he served coffee.

“How fared your last raid, dear Rehmani?” Akmar sat on his favoured purple cushion and smiled behind his coffee cup, his whiskers scraping against its edges.

“It was yet another wonderful success, Akmar. As always you were right: The group had unveiled women in their company. We suspect they were Hindus spying on our affairs.”

“And the skins?”

“Hundreds of tiger skins, as you had forewarned us, dear Akmar. I shall bring them here tomorrow as my men are still finishing off some of the more resilient cockroaches.”

“They are not all dead?”

“They will be soon.”

“Excellent. I despise those cursed infidels that cross into the tribal areas with a passion greater than the winter frost. It is an honour for me to assist you in your exterminations.” Akmar spoke with the vehemence the Taliban knew him for. Never had they met a man not officially aligned with the Taliban so determined to fight infidels in any shape or form.

“May your assistance be blessed by Allah, dear Akmar.” Rehmani smiled humanely across to Akmar.

The next day the cold had abated, allowing time for Rehmani's men to unload the tiger skins into Akmar's shed. Rehmani had spoken truthfully, there was over a hundred skins of most beautiful tigers retrieved from the infidels. They had some bones in their possession as well, but most of them were too severely damaged in the crossfire to retrieve.

“It is a good haul, dear Rehmani.” Akmar came to greet Rehmani as he supervised his men's work.

“A fine haul, Akmar. Infidels are most unkind to animals. It would serve them well to know the Quran.”

“God willing, Rehmani. Yet I fear their hearts are too poisoned by worldly wealth for them to take care of animal-kind. They would spare a woman over a tiger!” Akmar spit on the ground as he finished that last sentence.

“They could learn something from your kindness, friend. Your compassion is known even in Afghanistan. But tell me, dear Akmar, I have always wished to know. What do you do with these tiger skins?”

“They are the only source of income for a humble man such as I. I trade them at the market for food and firewood for me and my animals.”

“You are a good man, Akmar. You live as the Prophet wants all men to live. May you be blessed a thousand times over �" and your animals too.”

Rehmani grabbed Akmar's hand and kissed him on his cold cheeks. Before Rehmani and his men left Akmar offered them coffee to warm them for their journey into the mountains.

“This latest atrocity demands blood.” As Rehmani and his men left the menagerie, a growling voice appeared from behind the shed. It spoke slowly and deeply to Akmar.

“What am I to do?” Akmar asked humbly, as a man addresses a Mullah.

“The culprits are still at large. In Afghanistan, across these mountains, there are Asian men still awaiting the arrival of these skins. They need to be punished, and soon.”

“As you say. I shall inform Rehmani at once.”

Akmar went inside and warmed himself by the fire. He drank some coffee and smiled like a man who knew not what caused his smile. He was a simple man but he reveled in his self-appointed duty. Though not as evil as he, like many from Parachinar, made himself out to be, he lived for the blood of those he so hated. Infidels? Why not �" the name fits. As soon as he finished his coffee he proceeded to write the letter he would send to Rehmani of the latest mission.

“Dear Rehman,

Even as you return to the aromas of jasmine in the warmth of your cave, I must inform you of a useful piece of information which I have just come by. The infidels you slaughtered with the last setting sun were not working alone. They were part of a corrupt ring that has now revealed its true skin. They were working with the most vile of all the infidels, lovers of blasphemy and heretical music; the Americans. The tiger skins you graciously delivered to me this very blessed morning were on their way, before you in your might intercepted them, to a ring of Asian Americans working as undercover merchants in nearby Kabul. They were planning on using the profits from the tiger skins to finance their operations against your blessed forces. It would be in your best interest to halt the operations of those undercover cockroaches.

May Allah bless your endeavour.”

Akram folded the letter into a tiny roll smaller than his thumb and tied it to the leg of Fawad, his falcon. Fawad was a falcon that was captured by an offshoot of the Taliban years ago in an operation in Afghanistan. Most of the falcons they captured were killed save for the one they had gifted to Akram. That obscure regiment met a mysterious end a few days after their attack.

Akram put on his special glove, Fawad's favourite, and went outside as soon as the sky began to clear. He held Fawad aloft on his right arm, pointed him towards the mountains above them, and bade him fly. Fawad knew the route well. He had flown a hundred times before to the caves of Rehmani. Whenever he flew, it meant the death of yet another group.

As soon as Fawad disappeared from sight Akram returned to the chores of the menagerie. He groomed his dogs and trained them how to bark when unrobed men or unveiled women appeared at their gates. He cleaned the dung left behind by the deer, collecting it to sell as fertilizer for the farmers in Parachinar. He hand-fed Yasin, his elephant bull, increasing the bond that already existed between them as members of distinct but likewise intelligent mammals.

It was the favourite moments of his uneventful life. To spend long hours in the company of his animals in the knowledge that somewhere far away unjust men were getting their dues.

As a good Muslim and follower of the Taliban's noble Sharia, Akram did not own any books. Even so, he was as knowledgeable about animals as any Westerner. He studied his animals not through the printed words of others, but through his own observations. He knew the number of feathers a peafowl needed before a peahen would mate with him. He observed through his cats that they were not idle animals as many thought �" but merely preferred the blanket of night to perform their hunting dances. And he could decipher the meaning behind the varying pitch of an elephant's call.

Owing to his close relationship with the Taliban Akram was also informed of the evil doings of foreigners within Pakistan. He knew how regularly children were martyred by white soldiers. He had been shown photographs of martyred children, some as young as six, their bodies laid out in bundles and sheets by a roadside. He learned of how foreign soldiers shot down innocent people that protested against the war-crimes of Americans and their puppets. But, you know, and, he would never say this aloud: nothing moved him.

Akram knew the Taliban were men, men capable of evil as any Westerner was. As a gesture of gratitude Rehmani once brought him an unveiled woman they had captured on one of the raids Akram had set them on. Five of Rehmani's men raped the girl, not older than 16, in front of Akram's eyes. Rehmani offered Akram an opportunity to try her for himself, but Akram kindly refused, confessing he was a chaste man. He later heard that the girl was stoned to death by the villagers of Parachinar.

All Akram cared for was the world of non-human animals. They alone, he knew fondly, were incapable of evil. The Prophet had bade his followers to never kill any animal undeserving of death, and Allah had created animals for man to protect and profit from. Nothing stirred Akram's hatred more than those who killed such innocent beings. Verily he knew, that killing a defenseless animal was far more terrible than blasphemy. And he was not alone.

Five productive, yet bitterly cold days had passed without Akram receiving any news from Rehmani. Travelling to Kabul would not have taken more than two days and, if taken by surprise, it should not take more than a day to dispatch of the gang. For they were, after all, just merchants. Akram was in no haste. But the voice from behind the shed was becoming impatient. It bayed for the blood of those infidels. The infidels the voice hated the most. The Chinese were renowned to be peddlars of superstition. Superstition that made them seek the bones of tigers, the horns of rhinos and the tusks of elephants. Akram swore he could see his animals reel in horror whenever he or Rehmani spoke of China.

“The blood that flows from the Yangtze is most precious to me.” The voice from behind the shed would often speak, as if a mantra learnt ages past.

On the sixth day since Fawad flew to the caves of Rehmani a terrible knock came at the door of Akram. It was early in the morning, before sunrise, and Akram slowly awoke, in his mother's robes, to answer the knocks on his door. Before he made it to the door it was kicked down, the noise waking most of the animals in the menagerie. As Akram struggled to come to, three men rushed in, dressed in dirty robes, beards and some with blood on their faces. The tallest of the men, with an AK47 in his hands, made for Akram. Before Akram knew what was happening he was being held in a choke hold with the nuzzle of an AK47 held to his head.

“What is the meaning of this?” Akram shouted in a mixture of terror and assertiveness.

“Traitor! You are a traitor �" you sent us all to die!” The man stood in front of him spoke with the fire of indignation, his index finger pointed sharply at Akram as if it were a sword.

“What do you speak of?” Akram struggled to speak as the choke hold was tightened.

“You set us up! The Americans you sent us to attack; they knew of our arrival! They ambushed us on our way to Kabul. They have killed the commander!”

“Rehmani? No, it cannot be!” Akram felt a genuine sense of remorse as acute as his asphyxiation. Or maybe he wasn't thinking straight due to lack of oxygen?

“You sent us all to our death! We escaped by the blessings of Allah, us three and another �" now we come to you to avenge our fallen brothers. You die a martyr!” As the strangler prepared to pull the trigger, a great roar emerged from the back of the shed that pierced the night and alerted friend and foe alike. The stars were hidden behind heavy clouds as the rain of the angry mountains poured down upon Ahmadullah.

“By all that is holy, what was that noise?” The man guarding the door screamed hysterically. Those were to be his last words. Even as the full-stop fell upon his final question mark he was pounced upon by a great and mighty tiger that verily proceeded to mutilate the bearded face with fangs like scimitars. As soon as he stopped breathing the tiger turned its gaze upon the man who held Akram.

Akram took hold of the arm that grabbed his throat, stopping the already petrified man from getting away. As soon as the tiger was upon them, Akram threw off his attacker, and ducked out of the way. The helpless man fired a few dying shots in the air as the tiger took hold of his windpipe. He was with Allah within seconds. What awaits men of Allah who were martyred by an animal?

As the dying man's hand released its grip on the AK47 Akram seized it and used to burst open the chest of the final assailant. His floor was red like the mouth of a volcano, yet more visceral. The man who only a few minutes ago promised to bring him death now had a death all his own. As the tiger released its grip on its second victim, Akram saw the now unrecognizable face of his assailant. He grinned to himself as he saw the bushy beard torn and bloodied.

“I had seen the faces of many dead Pakistani �" but never had I seen their beards in anything but a pristine state.”

“Perhaps with a beard as tattered as his, he will be denied entry to heaven.” The tiger spoke with the deep, sated voice of an enraged killer.

“What are we to do now, O wise Malakar? Our puppets have been eliminated, how are we to carry on our mission?”

“We must move on.”

“Where to?”

“We go to Assam in India, where the massacre of my brethren is a daily event. There we shall find the source of many an evil committed against my kind.”

“Assam? But Malakar not even the Taliban would dare kill there. India is not like Pakistan, it is not abandoned by the outsiders.”

“The Taliban are not the only militias we can use. There are rebels there willing to fight to the death against their oppressors.”

“You speak truthfully. I had heard that some such rebels were discreetly assisted by the Taliban.”

“Then it is settled. We leave at dawn. Prepare your things.”

“What of the other animals?”

“We release them. They have served us well but we can take them no further. Now, be quick with your preparations Akram. I hunger for the blood that poach my kind.”

“As do I, mighty Malakar. And I thank you today as on the day of our first meeting, for choosing me to aid you in your crusade.”

“It is not a matter of thanks. We tigers do not do things out of charity. Do not confuse us for your petty faiths. We take our decisions based on merit. And you, Akram, you proved yourself worthy by your cunning and ruthlessness.”

“I am but a humble servant, mighty Malakar.”

“Let us rest until dawn. We will need our strength for the journey ahead.”

“Certainly, Malakar.”

“Akram! Before you retire. I have a request to demand of you.”

“Anything, Malakar.”

“These bodies of rotting men in your house. Skin them. Preserve their bones and their genitals in chemicals. Then sell them, sell them Akram, to the medicine men that have killed so many of my brethren. Let them see what magical properties the mutilated parts of their own kind possess. May they have gods that punish cannibalism as I punish black hunters.”

“It shall be a pleasure to carry out your wish, wise Malakar.”

At the c**k's crow Akram and Malakar set out on their journey to Assam. Behind them they left a mighty bonfire that scorched the illicit tiger skins Rehmani had delivered him. Akram had lied to the dead man. He did not use them to sell at market, but he kept them for Malakar to protect. He would never allow them to fall into the hands of those who would profit from them. Malakar, the mighty Bengal tiger, was the chosen voice of all tigers in Asia. His coat was the finest of all �" and he was ordained by prophecy to be the protector of all tiger's skins. The gods of the forests were abandoned by their human subjects. Humans no longer listened to the gods' call to protect the tigers of their land. So the gods turned to tigers themselves. And they chose the strongest most feared tiger of them all. As fires were sent to scorch forests in preparation for a verdant rebirth, or as the gods had set Genghis Khan loose upon the world to make way for fresh blood, so the gods of Bengal set Malakar loose upon mankind, to cleanse it from those that preached poaching.

By next morning Akram and Malakar had arrived in Johrat, capital of Assam. There Akram would settle on the outskirts, close to the Brahmaputra river. Upon founding his new home, Akram was already versed in the ways of Hinduism. For it was in Hindu lands that Malakar now wished to enact his justice. And Malakar, chosen by the gods themselves, was well versed in the superstitions of men. Along the road he taught Akram everything he need know. The fundamentalist Muslim had turned Hindu overnight. Anything to please the honorable creed of Malakar. 

© 2014 Justin Fenech

Author's Note

Justin Fenech
Apologies about not having indented spaces at the beginning of paragraphs or dialogue - am new here so not quite sure how to format the text.

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Added on February 10, 2014
Last Updated on February 10, 2014
Tags: magic realism, action, Pakistan, tiger, animals, Taliban


Justin Fenech
Justin Fenech

Hamrun , Malta

I am a 25 year old writer from the Mediterranean Island of Malta. I see writing as a civilizng force that plays a vital role in a democratic, enlightened society. I read and idolize Hemingway, Fitz.. more..