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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

In Hour of Death
by Muhammad Nasrullah Khan

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In a palatial room of the most pleasant city of the world, an old and feeble writer was lying on his deathbed with open eyes. He was gazing at the ceiling without looking at any particular thing. Shadows of death were passing across his face. It seemed as if he was facing pangs of death in his soul.

He was not an ordinary man; he was a great writer who had won all the best awards of literature. He had millions of readers in the world, but at this moment he was quite alone, waiting for ghastly advancing death. Every passing moment was adding to his sense of loss. He was never in love with life, but approaching death aroused some hidden desire to live.

He recalled his remarks on life, when once he was addressing a huge crowd: "Life is not important for me, I am not afraid of death." Remembering that, a satirical smile appeared on his withered face and he spoke in a murmuring voice. "One of the hundred lies which every 'great man' utters to make himself worthy of his greatness." The fact was that he was dying like any other creeping creature, despite his marvellous achievements and sagacious books, galled him.

Long ago he had longed for death when he had too many failures in life; when he was forced to obey the debased orders of his masters for only a few coins; when pale faces of children and the violence of the masters had even ceased his belief in God... yes, life was miserable then, in poverty. Poverty snatches away all the dignity and liberty of man and he becomes the most humiliated creature. But now when he had everything of his desire, death was approaching him with its ever-frothing face. What an irony of fate.

At that fatal moment, he did not feel himself different from the dying dog that he had seen in his childhood, on a hot summer noon. He did not know then that he would recall that death-sight after so many years at the hour of his own death.

He still remembered that the upper part of the neck of that dog was wounded by the gunfire of a rascal hunter and it was severely infected. Steadily, the infection spread into its body and worms started eating him. The writer never saw him sitting anywhere; he would always run here and there due to his intolerable pain. Nobody cared for the pain of a dog.

One day the dog lay down, accepting the victory of worms. Before dying, he stood up, uttered a feeble, painful cry and then fell to be finished forever.

The dying writer wanted to spend his last moments in pleasant memories but the image of the dying dog had captured his mind and soul. Then he turned his eyes towards the hanging medals and pictures in the room. He recalled the sights and visions of his youth and stopped his sight at one picture: "What a combination of youth and dreams! My God, if I had a piece of life, I would return to those days of youth when I had a lot of desires and big mountains to climb," he thought. Now, when he was the most popular writer in the world, he was longing to go back to the days of hunger and miseries. Once again, he wanted to face the pangs of failure and anguish of rejection; once again he wanted to enjoy the pleasures of the mettle of youth, as among giant evils he used to survive merely because of his colossal will...

How beautiful was the moment when his beloved gave him a warm kiss on publication of his first story. Remembrance of that sweet kiss - which at once healed all his wounds of deprivations - soothed him for a while in the agonizing feelings of death.

How lovingly she separated her lips to say, "I am so proud of you." He heard the echo of that sweetest sentence in the whole universe. This one sentence was more precious than all the medals and praise that he received in later life.

A wave of death struck his mind but he resisted forcefully with his remaining energy and was again lost in thought. "I would surrender all my achievements for that kiss. My God, for an instant gift with a piece of life, I would return headlong to kiss the wet eyes of my beloved, then happily shall I die keeping my head in her lap. Then I will write a story in blood that will melt all the hatred of the world; I will utter all the unutterable words that will finish the agony of earth; and then I will offer, my God, that story to You which will perish Your indifference to man's sorrows. When Your face will turn pale and sad, I will be overjoyed at the success of my story. My words will drain Your eternal anger and the tears from Your eyes and will wipe off the filth of the world. They will move Your heart and I will see You breaking the high towers of hatred and revenge. I will tremble with joy to listen to the echo of Your words throughout the whole universe. 'Gone are the days of malice'."

He saw the twilight of the dying sun coming through the half-opened window and came out of his bed, but his lifeless legs refused to share the burden of his body. He fell on the floor but that did not stop his desire to see an alive world. He started creeping towards that light. To link with it, he exerted all the energies of his body.

At last, he reached the window and opened his eyes to view the end of the day. Dusk had covered the whole brilliant sky, spreading the gravy shadows of night. Birds were returning to their nests; the sun was lost in the deep universe. This take-over of night made him think about the odd process of this universe. Every creation had to face an end. Now when he was observing life at distance, an intense desire to be again in that sea of life made him dejected. The bird flying alone in the dim light of sunset added to his suffering. At that sad moment, he saw one gloomy face appearing swiftly towards him.

Many years ago, when he left his country in pursuit of dreams, only two eyes wept for him, and now after so many years he was going to die looking at those eyes. He recalled that cloudy evening when he said goodbye to her forever. At that moment of death, he came to know that those weeping eyes had touched his soul, which was still roaming over there. The rest of his life was soulless. All his ties with other bright faces were for his worth... the worth of being a popular writer. But her sadness was from the core of her heart, she wept for him when rest of the world was laughing at him, when he was a penniless, unknown, striving writer, stumbling in the darkness of rejection. In the dazzling light of fame, he had forgotten her. But now, when he was again surrounded by the darkness of death, she was there, standing behind his pillow, softly moving her soft fingers through his rough, dry hair.

Once, when he got a head injury by the brutish beat of the police during a protest against the government, it was she who made him alive by her tender care and prayers. She revived his will to live and unexpectedly he returned from the threshold of death. It was she who put in him an enormous energy, enabling him to reach the peak of mountains.

Now, when he was standing at the peak, some invisible force was dragging him forward, and he could see what was next: the very dark and dreadful valley of death. He knew very well that to fall in that dark valley was fateful, but once again he wanted to go back to the foot of that mountain to have a look at those two wet eyes, which were still waiting for him. Alas! At the peak, he learned that everyone wanted to be there, without knowing that real happiness is in how it is scaled.

A stroke of pain took him back to that formidable state of forgetfulness. He even forgot those kind eyes. He fell to the ground and felt the agony of death in his bones and soon that unavoidable state overpowered him. In his fainted condition, he had a dream. He saw himself flying back fast. He could feel the touch of soothing, cool air that was lightening his burden... the burden of popularity, of pride, of jealousy and of praise. As he was flying back, his innocence was returning. He happily said good-bye to all those hypocrites who seduced him towards the path of painful greatness, which gave him nothing except loneliness. Now, for him, the dearest thing was to kiss the beauty with the kind eyes.

He was overjoyed at the revival of his innocent existence. He felt himself free of torturing egotism.

Soon, he saw the lost face of his beloved. He ran towards her, stood at a distance, not knowing how to meet her. She opened her arms, saying, "Your return is timely, I am very alone."

After this warm meeting she removed the dust from his face and combed his hair with her soft fingers. He fell into her lap, felt the divine pleasure of love and spoke in an exhausted voice: "I have discovered the truth of life, which is to love and perish... all the rest is deception."

The fatigue of a long journey and the touch of his beloved made him sleepy. Sleep overpowered him and he went into the eternal peace.

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