Jamal sits by the window with a mug of tea, watching the pigeons coming to roost on a silver wire stretched between his building and the neighbours’. There are thirteen; the wire sags under their weight in a metallic, birdstudded smile. He sips from his mug, taps a beat on the ceramic with his nail. Dusk is falling and the scrap of naked sky visible to him is bruised purple; sheaves of cloudlets that were milk-white late afternoon have turned salmon pink.
He rolls a joint, lights it up and inhales and his thoughts dissipate like a shoal then converge on the afternoon his father, sitting on his grandfather’s mahogany chair, expelled twin tusks of smoke from his nose.
“Can I?” Jamal had asked.
“Yes,” said Father, handing Jamal the cigarette. Jamal inhaled and coughed and Father had laughed, baring his long, protruding teeth. Father hadn’t laughed in a while.
“When you’re older,” said Father, a twinkle in his eye, “you will learn that some things take a while to be pleasurable.”
A few weeks earlier, Grandfather had died in Trivandrum, India. Jamal’s father had recounted the experience to the boy.
“They dragged your grandfather out of a cupboard in a metal drawer. Like he was some inanimate object. Like he had never been human.”
It was his father’s first experience of how the secular dealt with their dead. Here at home, the body is washed, dressed in gauze and laid on a raised platform for those who come to pay their respects. Then it’s placed in a coffin and taken to the mosque where a prayer is performed. Within minutes, the body will be in a grave.
“Even in death you’re treated with dignity,” Father had said.
Two days ago, Jamal was by his father’s bed at the hospital.
“I’m dying,” he’d said. “I want you to be good. A good Muslim. That is all.”
Jamal held his father’s hand. The flesh was soft, the skin like sheerest gauze, the bones slender and delicate, a sensitive hand.
There is a flutter as the birds take wing. The wire snaps back to its position, rigid now, its former mirthfulness a ghost, like a final breath consumed by the mortal realm. The stars have come out, they twinkle in the deepening dusk, reminding Jamal of his father’s eyes.
when in doubt, whisper non sequiturs.