The only reality in a world of make-believe

They say if you look at a person long enough, they will look back. It was a cold winter night. The kind where frosted beams of moonlight ascend as an enchantress and cast a spell with a mystical silver wand. Cool air driving away heat faster than bodies could replace it. The whole world slowed down under flossy, dove grey skies and people wrapped their arms tighter, pulling shawls, coats and themselves a little closer. Breaths became visible, almost tangible, under sporadic streetlights, as late autumn leaves crunched like sugar under hurried steps. The carnival crowd kept flowing in waves closer ...

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Born in between, without honour

A loud cry echoed throughout the silent room, followed by the hustle and bustle of nurses. Sighs of relief were let out along with cries of joy as smiles crept across everyone’s faces. The long-awaited guest had finally arrived. The father swirled in ecstasy as he leapt forward to take the little bundle of joy into his arms. However, this feeling of joy was quick to fade as the nurse brought forth the baby with her head bowed down in dismay. She walked past the joyous father and placed the small human wrapped cosily in a blanket into the mother’s ...

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For Neelum, life was only just beginning

Neelum sat by the window as rain spilled from an ashen sky. From the window, she saw a little girl, almost the same age as herself, scuttling in the rain with her father. She laughed as rain poured over her and her eyes twinkled happily. Neelum watched the little girl scurry down the street, with her father holding her hand protectively. Tears pooled in the corners of her eyes, and she crawled back into her grief of being an orphan. It was night, and the sky was full of stars. Neelum’s parents still hadn’t come back home. She felt sick with apprehension. ...

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There is a bluebird in my heart

This boy. He has refused to grow up. He is still stuck in the 80s in that small village of central Punjab. There. He is five and stubborn, still sitting on one of the two identical stones dug at the base of the haveli’s gigantic wooden gate’s posts. He seems to have become one with the stone. In 30 years, he has not moved; he has become immovable like the neem tree (Indian lilac) in the courtyard of the haveli. His Baba left this morning for Gilgit to join his unit there after a month-long leave. He saw him leaving in ...

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The final goodbye

My biggest secret was the letter written by my former husband, that now sat in my nightstand’s bottom drawer. The letter that had come along with my divorce papers. The letter that was my guilt, my regret. Even if I tried, I couldn’t ignore the fact that we had been dishonest. Salaar had always been a good person – kind and considerate. The biggest proof of this was probably the fact that despite my many shortcomings and mistakes, my husband had chosen to divorce cordially. But he had also chosen to lie to our parents about what happened rather than ...

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In a sea of faces, she was the anomaly

She got off from an old rickshaw and paid the driver in small bills. The driver counted the money twice and left without even looking at her. Some would have called the driver rude, but for her this was routine. She started heading towards the crowded market. Such places troubled her, but it’s impossible to find a secluded vegetable market these days. She wore simple clothes, a plain black shalwar kameez and a shawl that covered her head while also slightly covering the left side of her face. She was not someone who would look good in fancy clothes, or ...

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My only escape

April 2018 I am an old woman, almost 75-years-old. My bones are weak, my skin is wrinkled, and my hair is a mane of silver. A pile of medicines cover the top of my bedside table. Most days, I don’t feel like eating them. Death weaves itself around me. I see it everywhere – in fallen leaves, in the rain, in the shadows, in people. My time here is almost done, but there’s a task still unfulfilled. Before I close my eyes forever, I have to tell my daughter the truth about my life, and her life. I’ve kept it hidden ...

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My right hand is clean

Laughter. Running around. Two toddlers and a baby having a jolly good time. Favourite place, Nani ma’s home; the room with the large windows, letting in the afternoon sun, warm and friendly, dancing around the marble floor. One disgusting teenage boy. Around 14 or 15. With yellow teeth and a hideous laugh. Watching over the children as they play. Hired for the ‘supervision’ of the baby. Looking for an opportunity to strike. And then he found one. “Do you want to play with a new toy?” He asked the little girl, who was gleefully laughing as she chased her cousin around the room. She ...

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Khalil never drank, until he did…

If there was something everyone knew about Khalil, it was that he never drank. And if there was something one could say with even more surety, it was that he especially never drank before his night shift. But tonight he had found some refuge in a bottle; a shelter from the illness of his wife, the mounting hospital bills, and the regularly decreasing amount of money he brought home. However, the newly-wed couple who had hailed his cab for the night were ignorant to the gloss in his eyes and the slur in his speech, as they put their ...

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The scars of her henna

Zarah Hussain, a 17-year-old girl from Lahore Grammar School International, won an essay competition organised by the British Royal Commonwealth Society. This is a proud moment for Pakistan and highlights how much talent we have in this country. We hope she continues her love for words and wish her all the best for the future. The following is the short story that won her the accolade: Red. Gold. Adorned in jewels, henna lacing her fingers with intricate, never ending flowers. And hidden in the henna somewhere would be written the name of her most beloved. A dream she’d dreamt since she’d seen the ring ...

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