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A Story by Ibreez Shabkhez

Most students do not look forward to their result days.  More specifically, they do not look forward to their report cards, and I was neither Dilton Doley nor Hermione Jean Granger.

Mathematics, especially … the only thing about mathematics that I understood was that if it seemed easy, you were doing it wrong. On the other hand, my father found it easy as pie (not that he would have known how to make one). My Waterloo was his Austerlitz; my nemesis his forte and he did not like to hear any nonsense about the most important subject in the curriculum, as he put it often and vehemently.

Despite all my prayers there were no surprises; I stood first in English, third in Urdu and Islamiyat, and had marks well over eighty percent in the rest �" there was exactly one exception to this pattern: Mathematics. On a bleach-white smudge of correction fluid was the figure in blue ball-pen, and under it, scored so heavily it had almost gone through the paper, was a blood-red line.

After careful reflection, I decided to show it to my mother first. She beamed at me when she saw English, smiled as she scanned the page �" and then she froze, and her whole face puckered into frown-lines with pallid, stream-like trenches in between.

“Don’t you dare show it to your father for the next two weeks. He’s been exceedingly busy all month, and he’s bound to explode when he sees that red line at the bottom.”

Explode. Yes, she had put it quite accurately; the red would have much the same effect on him as it would on a drugged Spanish bull �" obviously not a very desirable state of affairs.

Was it right, though, even at your mother’s command, to hide such a thing from your father? Conscience, that meddlesome nuisance, hinted, sneered at the cowardice and the deceit, and inwardly I squirmed.

Being the eldest of my siblings, I had spent most of my childhood in the innocence that seems to be reserved for first-borns. They are the only children ever brought up inside that cocoon, and if you are not one of them yourself, it is surprisingly hard to imagine, let alone believe. I had, unlike most children of my age, plenty of qualms still about such routine, petty offenses as telling little lies, or swearing to false hoods in order to escape punishment. In fact, I was among those who are stamped ineluctably �" and quite idoneously �" as ‘Mummy Daddy Bachay’ (pampered babies).

My ideals were very much in place and most of my childish illusions were as yet unshattered. Until tenth grade, my library books, for instance, had always been Enid Blytons, and in that last year too I would have read ‘Amelia Jane’ stories and ‘Tales of Bimbo and Topsy’ with undiminished enjoyment, had it not been for the exams poised over my head like the sword of Damocles.

Something in my chest twisted, then it twisted a little more, then it twisted into a sort of knot and began in earnest to constrict my lungs. I felt a cold, uncomfortable sweat break out on my cheeks and the back of my neck. The heavy, precise footfalls were unmistakable.

I did not know how to lie. It simply was not the kind of thing your mother or teacher can teach you, and so I never had learnt to lie. Also, they said lying was more science than art, that it was mathematical �"

The door swung open. The entire world slid back as I gazed in speechless terror at the wretched report card, but my mother hid it promptly and superbly, casually tucking it into the kitchen shelf along with the egg-beater she had been using.

“Amjad? Did you get it?” The manner in which he said it, with his square hand outstretched imperatively and his face firm and shut, made the question almost rhetorical.

I cracked … I confessed.

My confession proved to be a blunder. When I had the best intentions ever, when I had told the whole truth, then I could indeed expect my father to forgive me, to soften at my honesty if nothing else! That was how it happened in all the good stories.

And was this a good story? The question is purely rhetorical …

I was sent in disgrace to military school and now I am a second Lieutenant in the army. I survived by dousing every flicker of humanity or sentiment in rotgut whisky and smoking weed until I was no longer sure what two plus two meant, let alone that it equaled four. The last straw was that I refused to take a bribe and wink at a fraud that implicated my Commanding Officer. No, it was no heroic act of patriotism; the business was the veriest bagatelle, and any rational man would have shrugged and pocketed the money. But that irrepressible conscience of mine was once again my doom. 

Now I am in jail, awaiting my court-martial. My mother comes to see me every week; the frown-lines have become permanent wrinkles, and the stream-like trenches in between are no longer dry.

My father never visits. He is a busy man …  

© 2012 Ibreez Shabkhez

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The story was a good one.

Posted 6 Years Ago

It happened to someone I know? NO!

Posted 6 Years Ago

You have filled this account with such vivid detail and emotional vibrance... there is the small steps that led into the shadows of a life undone. Powerful and striking.

Posted 8 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I think it's great.

Posted 8 Years Ago

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4 Reviews
Added on August 22, 2012
Last Updated on August 22, 2012


Ibreez Shabkhez
Ibreez Shabkhez

Nakushita, Kansuki

[1] In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful. [2] By the growing brightness of the forenoon, [3] And by the night when its darkness spreads out, [4] Thy Lord has not forsaken thee,.. more..