Cash is king.
This short story is loosely based on the plot and characters of William Shakespeare’s, Macbeth.
Parental advisory- this story explores adult themes and contains horror.
“Masha Allah Bro!”
After bursting into Sarfraz’s room, Zubayr and Abbas marvelled at the sight before them. Sarfraz sat piously, white skullcap wrapped around his head, a guidebook to Muslim prayers in his hand.
“I guess you won’t be coming out…” Zubayr began.
Sarfraz looked up from his book. He was reading prayers the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said to ward off evil spirits and Satan himself. He now glanced at his friends’ immaculately presented, tight, designer jeans, polo tops and gelled hair: “Depends what you mean by out.”
“Look dude. I am happy for yer and all that. Masha Allah! But we is gonna have a bit of fun before we hit the namaz and get sawaab,” said Abbas, feeling uncomfortable at the sight of all the Islamic memorabilia, which was beginning to remind him of his own mother.
Sarfraz waggled his forefinger: “All that glitters is not gold brothers. What if you die tonight?”
Abbas sighed at the smiling Zubayr: “Look bro, come on, he’s not comin. Frazz man, we’ll link up tomorrow… insha Allah!” He started walking out of the Sarfraz’s room, which lay at the bottom floor of flat 11 on the campus.
“Wait!” Zubayr pulled Abbas back. ”Sarfraz, man,” started Zubayr, the irony clear in his voice, “Weren’t you the one who used to say that uni is supposed to be the best time of your life? First year is all about enjoying yourself? And now look at yer! You’ve only been here a few months and now you is the resident maulvi of ULC halls!”
“Well, I’ve been thinking about things, that’s all and I think you should too. Where you lot in such a hurry to go anyways?”
“Let’s just leave him bro.” Abbas’s impatience was growing.
“Nah, he can come along if he wants to. That is if you haven’t got tings to do?”
“As I said brothers, it depends where you’re goin.”
The visitors to the room looked at each other with rather mischievous glances.
“We’re going to a séance…”
“A séance!?” Sarfraz looked up from his prayer book and laughed aloud. “I thought you were going up town clubbin or the student union bar or sumin.”
“Nah, basically, there’s this Asian chick up in flat 6 that some of the boys says knows how to call up jinns and that. We thought we would check it out. She’s supposed to be demonstrating it tonight in her room.” Zubayr paused and they both looked at Sarfraz expectantly, savouring his response.
“Jinn and séances?” Sarfraz scoffed. “You sure they ain’t gonna be smoking a bit of the ganja, and getting friendly with the local girls. Coz if that is the case, I’m not interested. And anyways, you shouldn’t mess about with jinns and Ouija boards and all that shit. It’s haraam.”
“Oh, come on man, we’re just goin for a laugh! And by the way, this girl is kosher, she’s like a religious type, the girls say. She don’t have anyone messing about in her room.”
Sarfraz shook his head: “I don’t know…”
“It’ll be good man! Come on! You can still have a laugh with us you know. Even if you’ve become pious.” Deep down, both guys wanted Sarfraz to come along, because when he did, the entertainment value of any situation shot up tenfold.
“Okay… I ‘ll come.”
“YEAH! Good one bro! Hey, that didn’t take you long to change your mind did it?” Zubayr winked at Abbas, “Maybe it was the mention of the pure and pious Asian girl… You could impress her with your piety and then who knows!”
“Oh shut up, you fool!” Said Sarfraz flicking his coat at Zubayr’s face. “I’s only comin out for a little break. We do have our lectures to attend tomorrow you know… And I’m warning you, if bongs, booze or boobs come into the equation, I’m walking out.”
The other two burst out in laughter.
“Bongs, booze and boobs! Trust the maulvi to come out with that one!” Laughed Abbas.
“Easy brother, easy! Sounds like we need to get you married up!”
Zubayr, Abbas and Sarfraz had battled hard to win their places at university. Their sixth form teachers had warned their parents early on that despite the inherent intelligence of their respective children, they would probably be failing their A Levels and would have to re-take them in the local bog-standard sixth form college, as the school would not accommodate them again. When the boys’ parents asked for explanations of the school’s ungenerous approach, they were horrified by incident reports involving the boys. Truanting lessons, downloading movies using school computers, and other misdemeanours.
So future success looked doubtful for the three lads. But then an amazing thing happened. To his teachers’ amazement, Zubayr, like Athena’s bridegroom, suddenly became a young man devoted to his studies. And some months before his examinations, re-wrote all his coursework and projects, gaining excellent results. His turn-around mystified their treacherous Head of Sixth Form teacher, Mr Claydor. The one teacher they had respected before, but who had seemed to have given up on these boys and branded them losers. Zubayr’s parents withdrew their threat of sending him to Pakistan as things were improving. And Zubayr’s influence seemed to have stirred his friends into action as well. They had all managed to vanquish the threat of indefinite internment in Pakistan as well as the potential future invasion of Asian brides, through early forced marriages and a job at the local taxi rank.
What on earth had fuelled Zubayr and his friends’ seriousness? Their teachers were dumbstruck; some were bemused; some were pleasantly surprised. Mr Claydor was stubbornly reticent. Their friends and fellow students lauded this new-found dedication: bad boys into good boys.
For Zubayr, it was a combination of things. That night after their damning parents’ evening, his mother had sat silently in the car all the way home. His father had followed Zubayr up to his bedroom; he had wept, and this time avoided the customary beating. Pounding Zubayr’s back and head with thumping blows. Instead, Zubayr’s father, Malik, spoke with a desperation Zubayr had never seen before.
“Son. I worked like a dog to bring you lot up. I am still not a rich man. Times have been hard for us.” He paused and took hold of Zubayr’s face forcefully. “Look at me. Take a good look at the pain in my eyes. Do you want to live a life like mine?! Do you?!” He let go of Zubayr’s face and paced around the bedroom. “I always dreamed that my kids will get somewhere much better than me, that you will not have to live such a hard life as we have. But instead, I hear you’re just using your computer to get these silly movies.”
Speech over. He wept again. Anger instead of tears welled in Zubayr’s heart. How could his father degrade himself like that? Yes, they weren’t rich. But they weren’t exactly poor either. Zubayr knew what ached deep in his father’s soul. Pride.
Zubayr’s father, Malik Khan, came from a proud family, landowners. They were like kings of their tiny hamlets in Kashmir. There was a strong history of power, wealth and authority that ran in their blood, even if it was focussed around an area which possessed scant influence on the political landscape of Kashmir and Pakistan. But Malik was missing something. His eyes spoke of a sense of failure. He hadn’t become the millionaire, with properties and the giant villas back in the ancestral village, like his older brothers, like all his friends and peers. He just wasn’t as shrewd as them. And pride stopped him from getting the begging bowls out. It was the first time Zubayr heard it in his father’s voice. Failure. It disturbed Zubayr tremendously. Success meant having the money, the luxury cars and properties, like his older uncles had. Having the guile to acquire properties, fiddle the tax returns, to invest and grow. Failure was like his father. Just a house, even though a spacious, comfortable one and a good car. But that was it. Nothing much else.
From that meeting, Zubayr vowed to fight against the negative expectations his school and parents had of him. And he wasn’t going to live a life feeling a failure, like his dad. He was going to make it; get a degree and educate himself. Then he was going to do all that it took to become rich. Nothing would stand in his way.
“Go on knock…”
The three young bachelors stood facing the Asian girl’s door on the third floor of flat six. They all stood motionless for a while.
Sarfraz looked at his two friends, unimpressed.
“What are you waiting for lads?”
“Nothing bro, go on knock on the door,” Urged Abbas, rather nervous. Zubayr looked away.
“What the hell is wrong with you two?” Sarfraz paused and thought for a moment. “I know… You two is scared ennit!” He looked at both of their rather pale faces and burst out in hysterical laughter.
“Oh, shut up! Scared, give me a break bro. We just want you to knock ennit.” Answered Zubayr, his pride beginning to sting a little.
Just then, before they could erupt into more banter, the door opened and revealed a rather striking Asian girl, another student, casually dressed, who glanced at the guys and gestured them to come in.
Her presence immediately brought smiles to Zubayr and Abbas’s faces, while Sarfraz frowned and stopped short at the door.
“What did I tell you guys… No hanky-panky!”
“Don’t worry cuz, it will be sweet! Trust me.” And Zubayr grabbed Sarfraz by the forearm and led him in as if they were on a reluctant date.
They entered and found a room, just like all the other rooms in Student Halls. Clean. Bed to the left. Study desk and shelves to the right. A sink at the back next to a wardrobe. Only this room was completely bare. No pictures. No animation. Just the bare walls. This surprised Zubayr a little, who was used to seeing female students’ rooms with various posters, be it of Bollywood stars or Friends of the Earth slogans blinking from the walls.
But it was the figures on the bed who took them all by surprise. And then most of all, the young woman seated in the chair.
Two Asian girls sat on the bed side-by-side, the one who had opened the door and another with legs outstretched. They looked like normal uni girls. Not the religious types by the way that they were dressed. But there was something about their faces, about the look in their eyes that suggested they were fanatical. Their rather intense expressions were like a slap in the face.
Before he noticed the girl in the chair, Zubayr spoke first:
“Hi ladies! Thanks for inviting us to your meeting. These are my two friends, Abbas and Sarfraz.” To the guys, Zubayr sounded like he was speaking to the gormless aunties down the street. The awkwardness rang out of his voice. Sarfraz emitted a little giggle and needed a nudge from Zubayr to keep him in line.
The girls on the bed were still mysteriously silent. Zubayr desperately tried to salvage the situation.
“Can I just say that there was one hell of foul smell coming from downstairs! What are they cooking? Human flesh?”
Still no answer. Abbas smirked and whispered in Zubayr’s ear: “These girls are coked-up. Let’s get out of here.”
“Okay girls, obviously we’re not welcome tonight, especially as you don’t want to talk, so we’ll have to love you and leave…” Zubayr was cut off.
“Wait. I want to show you something.”
It was the first time that she spoke: the girl who sat in the chair. Immaculately smooth hair hung down on either side, like a loose black veil hanging off her head. But it was the eyes that held each of the guys in place. Large, dark. And rock solid. Immovable. The eyes held the boys in place.
“Oh, you must be…” Zubayr was cut off again.
“Shantih. Yes.” She replied.
“I thought there were more people coming.” Zubayr asked politely.
Shantih looked at the girls on the bed and they all smiled faintly:
“Everyone is here who needs to be.”
“Okay….” Abbas plucked the courage to speak up. “What do you want to show us?” He winked at Sarfraz who frowned even more now.
Shantih held a tiny intricately carved box, which she opened. Ever so carefully, she teased out some thin objects from the receptacle and placed them on her other open palm.
Zubayr strained a little to recognise what she held in her hand but struggled to see; whatever she held was just too thin.
“What are you holding?” He asked, rather gingerly.
Shantih and the two girls ignored the question. Instead both girls now were gazing intently at these objects that Shantih was cradling in her right hand. She motioned her colleagues to take what was there. The boys now recognised what the girls held in their hands. Strands of hair. They gazed at their respective strands with an intensity that shook the boys’ soul.
“Whose hair dya think that is?” Sniggered Zubayr.
“Probably ours,” remarked Abbas, darkly.
Sarfraz whispered: “Hey lads, this looks haram to me, I think we should leave.”
Suddenly, all three girls chanted: “Fear is foul and foul is fair…”
“Yes, indeed,” whispered Zubayr, incredulously, “This is taking me back to English lessons with Mr Smith!”
A trace of fear emitted from Abbas’s voice: “No, don’t be silly. These girls are just putting on an act. I bet this is some kinda prank.” But he didn’t sound very sure as he looked at these singular girls.
Then the one on the chair spoke while gazing at her strand of hair: “All hail, Zubayr. Hail to thee, Thane of biology!”
Zubayr looked at his friends and was about to burst out laughing: “They’re actually speaking Macbeth! These girls are tripping!”
“Shut up and listen,” urged Abbas, who seemed gripped by what they were saying.
Now the second one on the bed spoke, with intense eyes: “All hail Zubayr. Hail to thee, thane of Cawdor.”
Zubayr looked bemused. Sarfraz and Abbas were gripped by some strange fear.
“All hail Zubayr, who shalt be king hereafter.”
At the word, king, Zubayr suddenly stopped grinning and looked at the third one on the bed. All three girls now looked straight into Zubayr’s eyes.
The words echoed in his head momentarily: “Who shalt be king hereafter…” Then he came to his senses. “Okay, right. Let’s get this straight. You have just read lines from the witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth that I studied for GCSE. What are you three on?”
Sarfraz suddenly snapped out of his trance: “Not Macbeth you fool, they were quoting Hamlet.”
“Don’t be an idiot! I know those lines. They are quoting the witches’ prophecies from Macbeth. When they tell Macbeth his future. But this first chick said, Thane of Biology! That’s my degree course!?” The lads burst into laughter.
The girls did not answer and just held their gazes at Zubayr.
Abbas seemed to be taken by what they had said and came forward. “If you know what our future holds, then tell me, what is in store for me.”
The three girls smiled strangely.
“Oh crap! You shouldn’t’ve asked that. They’re gonna do some strange voodoo shit on you now. This is totally haraam!” Sneered Sarfraz.
“Are you kiddin me Abbas? Do you actually believe this?” Zubayr frowned.
Abbas looked back at Zubayr, ashamed, whilst Zubayr sniggered: “This is a prank! They’re speaking Shakespeare, pretending to be witches! This has got to be the dumbest prank ever, dude!”
Then the girls spoke again with solid eyes and empty voices.
“Lesser than Zubayr, but greater…. Thou shalt not be king, though your children will.”
“So, all hail Zubayr and all hail Abbas! Zubayr and Abbas!”
There was silence. The girls gazed at the two boys.
“Erm, what about Sarfraz…” Abbas offered weakly. But there was no reply. They only gazed at him, all three together rather seductively, and then looked away. Sarfraz shuffled a little on his feet.
Zubayr was the one to break the silence.
“Okay,” he said retreating awkwardly. “Thank you for your time. It’s been educational…. I will now go back and read some Shakespeare. Come on lads let’s chip. Before they start reading out some Fifty Shades….”
Suddenly, all three girls smiled in that strange way again. The three boys cringed and left the room.
They rushed away and skipped down the stairs.
“What the hell was that?” Cried Sarfraz.
“That was a pure stunt. It will be on Youtube tomorrow I bet.” Zubayr was now bursting out in laughter: “Why didn’t we film that!”
Abbas was rather silent: “I don’t know lads… I don’t know. My mum told all about this stuff, like what they did with the hair. Powerful…”
“Abbas, you goon! That was all bullshit! I’m tellin you, those chicks are probably drama students or someting, and that was like their homework!”
The three boys then chuckled down the stairs of flat six, into the open air of their vast halls of residence, surrounded by identical flats and a full moon shining majestically in the sky.
“Oh look- da full moon.” Zubayr screamed out a werewolf howl. Then he slapped both mates on the back, giggling: “Oh my God! You shoulda seen your faces man! You two were proper scared!”
“Get lost mate!” Retorted Sarfraz, “The only thing I afraid of was being caught with a bunch of wackos like you and your Macbeth chicks getting up to some jadoo. I kinda wish there was some bongs and boobs now… At least I coulda walked out.”
“Oh, that’s why you is gutted! You thought you was gonna get laid tonight!” Zubayr and Sarfraz laughed together but then stopped as they regarded Abbas, who lit a cigarette and watched the moon rather haunted.
“What’s up Abbas?”
“Oh, nothing, man.” He took a few drags of his cigarette, threw it to the ground and crushed. “I’m gonna hit the sack. Got a lecture early tomorrow.” And with that, he marched away to his room.
“What da hell happened to him?” Asked Zubayr, confused.
“Oh well. Guess he got the scares… Told you we shouldn’t’ve messed around with this shit. Some guys actually take this stuff seriously. I heard his family are well into believing all this hocus pocus. Anyways, if you don’t mind, I also got a lecture and isha, to do. You should pray tonight as well. Especially as we did this haram shit…” Sarfraz walked off.
Zubayr was left alone, in the middle of the pathway, leading off to the various student apartments in the complex. For a moment, he gazed at the full moon. Suddenly, he saw Shantih’s face in the moon, then the other two. He smirked and strode off to his room.
The next morning, Zubayr stood before Shantih’s door, flat six, floor three. He rubbed his tired, reddened eyes and was about to knock, when he heard the lift door behind him. Sarfraz and Abbas now stood there, gazing at Zubayr, equally sullen, equally tired.
“So, I take it you had dreams as well…” Remarked Sarfraz, in lecture mode. “I told you two we shouldn’t have messed around with this shit….”
Zubayr and Abbas just stood silently, weakly.
“Well, go on then. Let’s get this over and done with. Knock on the door. I’m gonna give these bitches a piece of my mind!” Cursed Sarfraz.
Zubayr knocked on the door. No answer. He knocked again. Still no answer.
“Can you hear anyone in there?” Sarfraz pointed to the door.
Zubayr pressed his head against it, listening. “I can hear movement in there…”
Sarfraz pushed Zubayr aside and started banging on the door: “Oi, Mrs Macbeth, friggin open the door. I wanna have a word with you!”
They heard footsteps marching up to the door and the three braced themselves for those solid eyes again. The door opened wide.
But instead of an Asian banshee, a cleaner stood there, holding a little vacuum in his other hand, glaring at the guys: “Why are you lads shouting? Can I help you?”
“Oh, sorry. We were looking for Shantih. The girl who lives here.”
“She’s gone. Left last night. And I’m getting this room ready for another student, so if you would excuse me, I need to get back to work.” The door shut and the three boys looked at each other, ominously.
“Gone….” Thought Sarfraz. “Now, that’s great….”
Abbas stared around awkwardly and didn’t give much eye contact. Zubayr remembered his dream. Shantih was in his room, sitting on his bed, then lying next to him. And he couldn’t move his body; he wanted to scream but nothing came out. Then she whispered to him, her breath warm on his eyes: “Cash is king.” He awoke, sweating and didn’t sleep thereafter. Sarfraz regarded both boys carefully. “Look lads. I guess this is all spooking us out. I think this is a sign that we should all read our salat and concentrate on our studies. Forget about these chicks and your dreams. Just nightmares. Probably from the jinn that hang around these kinda places. I got lectures to go to, so I’ll see you later.” And off he proceeded.
Zubayr regarded Abbas, remembering what the girls said to him. “They said your children would be kings.”
Abbas looked him in the eyes: “They said you will be king….”
They both stared into each other’s eyes for a while, and then rocked with laughter.
“What da f. is happening to us!” The two boys gave each other a high five and walked off down the hallway, into the lift. The wind blew in from a window and flowed through the corridor, blowing lifting three strands of hair that lay on the floor next to Shantih’s door; hair from the distracted heads of Abbas, Sarfraz and Zubayr.
The year progressed rapidly, and three guys grew increasingly apart. Sarfraz joined the Islamic society, attending regular Quran classes and focussing on his studies. Abbass diversified his hangout crew with people from his course and got through the year successfully. Zubayr thrived in the Biology faculty and had become the top student of the cohort. His father was beaming when he heard about this. However, the three seemed reluctant to spend much time together, as if just seeing each other brought back the memories and dreams of that fateful night.
But soon after, the three stood in the middle of the university’s reception area, which led to the diner and respective faculties. They smiled rather meekly.
“Yes Sarfraz, howz it goin dude?” Asked Zubayr.
“Alhamdulillah, brothers, alhamdulillah. All is well. What about you two?”
“Yeah, good bro,” replied Abbas. “I haven’t seen you two in ages; we should try and link up.”
“Yeah, true say bro. I just been really busy you know.” Offered Zubayr.
“Oh yeh! I heard!” Beamed Sarfraz, “Apparently, you is top-dog in Biology!”
“Well done bro!” congratulated Abbas.
“Thanks bros. Thanks.” Zubayr was quiet and then looked at each of the boys seriously. “I just wanted to ask you two something. Do you still have those dreams?”
It was as if he had invoked the bubonic plague. Sarfraz stood there and suddenly saw the three girls, hardly dressed, in his room, crawling up to him deep in the night: “Please give in, please give in, please give in, give in to sin…” He always awoke from these dreams, horrified, rather embarrassed and but secretly elated by the wetness below. He had asked a shaykh about this, who advised him that these dreams were from the devil and would drift away once he got married. Abbas stood there stiffly, in his mind, remembering the three babies on his bed, each with the faces of the three girls, looking up at him: “Daddy, daddy, are we gonna be rich?” And Zubayr still dreamt of the girl with him in his bed: “Cash is king”.
A suited and wizened man approached Zubayr, rousing him and the other two from their stupors.
“Zubayr! Great to see you!” A strong Scottish accent echoed in the reception area.
“Professor Duncan!” smiled Zubayr.
“Sorry to disturb your little gathering here.”
“Oh no problem, these are my friends.” Sarfraz and Abbas smiled back at Professor Duncan.
“Well, just thought I’d tell you, that the faculty were giving you a wee mention in the staffroom. I think we may even offer you a job lecturing here if you thought about it! They are calling you the Lord of Biology! But as a Scotsman, I shall have to call you the Thane. The Thane of Biology!” He laughed away, shook Zubayr’s hands and walked off.
The three stood there, stunned, remembering Shantih and the girls.
Abbas looked at Zubayr: “Can the devils speak true?”
Sarfraz had had enough. “Okay bros, great seeing you. Insha Allah, try and make it for juma in the main hall. I’ll see you around.” Abbas, remembering his own dreams just faded off. And Zubayr just stood there, remarking to himself: “I am Thane of Biology…”
If that first year proceed quickly, then the next two years went quicker still. The three boys graduated, and Zubayr excelled with a first and a special award from the Biology faculty. Some weeks later, he found himself inside a vast, shining building with razor sharp secretaries and designer suits.
“You may go in now,” announced the immaculate secretary.
Zubayr now sat in a boardroom, before the panel who had interviewed him for the previous hour.
“Thank you for your interview today Zubayr. We would like to say that we were very impressed with your answers and ideas for our research projects, and we would be pleased to offer you the graduate programme. Are you willing to take the role?”
Zubayr could not hide his elation: “Yes, indeed!”
“Fantastic!” announced the main interviewer, glancing at the rest of the august panel who smiled accordingly. “If you could leave your documents with our secretary, we will be in touch.”
“Absolutely fine.” Remarked Zubayr, gratefully.
“Last but not least, Zubayr, we would just like to advise you that our research facility is funded by a host of bodies, including the department of Science and Technology. But our founding body is a charity based in Scotland, by the name of Cawdor Research, which has specialised in Biological research for the last fifty years. This does not affect your position at all, I just thought I would mention it so that you can have a look at the wonderful work they do there at Cawdor.”
Zubyar was silent, momentarily. Shantih’s voice chimed away in the corridors of his memories: “Thane of Cawdor.”
“That’s fine, many thanks sir.”
Zubayr walked out of the building that day with an irrepressible optimism and hope for his own future. The greatest is behind, he thought. Cash is king…
He returned home, feeling like a heroic warrior being haled by his parents and sisters.
“Masha Allah! Well done my son! You’ve got a really good job. One step towards a great future for you… and perhaps marriage!” His mother smiled, tears breaking, and his sisters laughed and teased the eldest brother, Zubayr.
Malik called around his two elder brothers, who lived nearby, for a celebratory meal.
“So, Zubayr, now with you getting a decent job, your dad can sigh in relief! Remember all the trouble you used to get into when you were younger!” Laughed Uncle Saleem.
“Yeah, all those charsees you used to hang around with. What’s happened to your mates? What were their names? Sarfraz and Abbas?”
“Yeh, they did well, both graduated and got jobs.”
“There you go,” chimed in Malik. “They learn when they get older, when they mature and see the world, they know they have to put their heads down, alhamdulillah.”
“That reminds me, Zubayr” added Uncle Riaz. “Have you heard about your cousin, Mustafa.”
“No, we haven’t, what’s the news?” asked Malik, intrigued.
“Well, his start-up company just got a million-pound contract with Microsoft. He’s doing very well. He celebrated by buying a brand-new BMW M4!”
“Masha Allah! Masha Allah! Mubarak brother!” cheered Malik and Uncle Saleem. Zubayr also offered his congratulations.
After dinner, Zubayr noticed a darkness in his father’s eyes. Just before he retired for sleep, father and son met on the stairs.
“Zubayr, how much is your salary in this place you got the job?”
“It starts off at 30K, abba gee, and then it rises for each year of service and for different projects you get…” He trailed off.
Malik looked at his son rather despondently: “After all that studying 30K? I was earning that much driving taxis….” He trudged upstairs to bed.
Zubayr stood there, frustrated, irritated, despairing at his father’s attitude and then remembering his cousin’s million-pound contract. That voice entered his mind again: cash is king…
Although it was approaching the deepness of the night, Zubayr grabbed his coat, whipped out a cigarette and went for a little walk. He saw Shantih at various times in the year, particularly during momentous events. Her face had appeared before him, smiling, staring, boring into him and the dreams didn’t stop: Cash is king. Some nights her smiling, rather attractive face lulled him into a rather sensual sleep and at other times, the hardness of her eyes kept him up all night. At times he thought that fateful night in uni was completely ridiculous; a hallucination; a façade. But his friends had seen it too and it was clear they had dreams as well. His father’s irrational disappointment disturbed him. Deep down, something told him that despite his achievements, which Shantih has promised, he hadn’t quite made it yet and his own father was still haunted by the shadows of failure. He yearned to be more than he was. He yearned for money. He yearned to be king, like the girls had said he would be. Cash is king.
He was now on a bridge; a lone figure, looking out to the canal and the town centre buildings that flanked on either side. He took a long drag of the cigarette and threw it below then halted. Something shone momentarily on the ground by the canal. He homed in on it and looked carefully. He could make out some kind of a box. Nothing stirred; no one came by and claimed it, but he was drawn to it. So, he carefully made his way down the nearby steps, onto the pathway and hearing the ripples and splashes of water rats on the far ends. He stood before the object and inspected it. It was a briefcase. Then something told him to look to left. He froze. A darkened figure lay still, under the bridge. Zubayr approached it carefully, still looking around. Nothing and no one stirred. No canal boats even. Once he got to a few metres away, Zubayr watched the figure on the floor. It was a man, of some age, well-dressed and rather well-built. But he lay still, eyes closed and Zubayr noticed he wasn’t breathing. Then he made the link with the briefcase. He went back to it, picked it up and felt its heaviness. His heart fluttered. The man still lay on the ground. Zubayr looked to and fro and then regarded the case. Unclasping the locks, he opened it and suddenly shut it again. Shantih’s voice spoke within: Cash is king. And that is exactly what he saw. Cash. Fifty-pound notes. Thousands and thousands of pounds in cash. By the looks of it, this could be drug money, but Zubayr did not care to think about this. All he could hear was the promise he heard those years ago: “That shall be king hereafter…”
He took the case quickly, not even regarding the body, but ensuring there were no witnesses, nor any potential cameras. The windows of the nearest building stood far away, and, in this darkness, he was surely protected. So, he walked past the body, taking the next safe set of stairs back to the street and then looked for the nearest shop, his mind ticking away. He bought a large ruck sack from a convenience store, went outside in a secluded area, swapped the money in the ruck suck and threw the case in a nearby bin, deep inside, so it would never be found. Fortunately, he remembered that refuse collections would take place in the morning in this part of town, so by the time the body was found and the money missing, he would be in safe possession of all of it. In his bedroom, he checked through the wads to find anything notable that could be tracked back to him. Nothing. He looked in the mirror and saw Shantih’s face: “That shalt be king thereafter…”
The next morning, he didn’t waste any time. He knew of agents who traded properties on the black market in three different cities. Over the next two days, he travelled to each of these cities, paid cash and bought himself three sets of apartments, each costing two hundred thousand. There had been six hundred thousand in that briefcase. Over the following weeks, he waited for news of the dead body and missing money. Nothing. He would wait until the property value had gone up and then sell these properties, whilst profiting from the mortgage free rents. He would work for this company and work his way up quickly. His family would believe that all his new-found money and success were from his professional exploits, bonuses and job perks. And sure enough, he would be king in their eyes….
Two years later, he drove a brand new BMW; he had helped his family to buy a mini-mansion on the outskirts of town and built a fantastic holiday villa in Kashmir. His family were now the true Kings of their hamlet near Mirpur, and his parents spent half the year there, enjoying their new-found prestige, notoriety and wealth. But a tremendous shadow had spread over Zubayr’s heart. The shadow of his kingship.
One day, in the up-market barbers that he now frequented, Zubayr’s attention was drawn to some crime news in the middle of newspaper he read whilst waiting for his appointment. The face of the dead man stared out at him, next to other tough looking men. The headline read: TWO YEARS OF DRUG CRIME AND MURDERS. The story went on to review the scourge of cocaine dealers in the town and how their dirty money brought hidden violence, trafficking and general misery to area. Next to the man’s picture, Zubayr read the name, his heart briefly skipping- Lennox Ross. The eyes were large, cold and unforgiving. Zubayr’s eye moved once more onto the words: dirty money and scourge of the town. Shantih’s eyes surfaced in his mind. Cash is king… But he knew his kingship had been ill-gotten. And now his heart was beginning to pay for it.
One night, by chance, Zubayr, Abbas and Sarfraz bumped into each other on a late-night walk. They chatted and laughed at the coincidence, stopping before their local museum for a quick ciggie and chat.
“Heard you’re doing well for yourself at that research firm, very well…” Began Abbas, smiling at Zubayr.
“Yeah, yeah, you know me, always driven, always working. What about you Abbas?”
“Yep, steady, steady- IT has its ups and downs, but it’s generally okay. Get paid handsomely to do about a day’s work a week!”
They both stared at Sarfraz, who seemed rather lost. “What about you, Fraz man?”
Sarfraz looked at the guys hauntingly. “Do you two still have the dreams? You know, of them? Of her…”
Zubayr betrayed a world pain. Abbas looked the other way momentarily. “What? You talkin bout the uni days?” answered Zubayr, rather unconvincingly. Abbas remained silent for a while.
Sarfraz smirked, looking long and hard at Zubayr, with his extra-expensive clothes and accessories. “Yeah… those uni days…”
The conversation fizzled away, and the lads went their separate ways. As Sarfraz meandered homewards, he wondered if the three girls would appear before him again in his sleep, gaining entry to his room and bed, reaching inwards, deep and seductively for his soul. Abbas ventured through the town thinking about Zubayr: “So now you have it all, Zubayr. Now you are king… But I wonder how you took your crown…” Then he thought about the promise for his own future and the three baby girls. Zubayr slinked homewards. Some homeless addicts watched him frightfully as he walked past, whispering to each other: “something wicked this way comes…” How Zubayr wanted to tell the lads about his dreams of Shantih, the money, and the dead man, Lennox Ross. How he wanted to tell them that he found it hard to sleep without taking pills these days, because every time he put his head down for natural sleep, all he saw was Shantih’s dark, intense eyes and sometimes he was back on the canal bank, staring at Ross Lennox’s face, whose cold eyes open, blue and cruel, whispering: “Cash is king.” Zubayr remembered the lines from the play and wondered if his life was merging into the Scottish lord’s: “Sleep no more, Zubayr shall sleep no more”. But no English rebels or vengeful Scots lay in wait for him. Zubayr had paid the ultimate price for kingship: peace of mind and soul.
Soon after, Sarfraz made a trip to Kashmir with his parents. He was elated to find that his enigmatic great-grand mother was in good health. The last time he saw her was before going to uni- and he knew that this ninety-year old’s health was like a yoyo. She was prone to memory blanks. In fact, during his last trip, she had briefly forgotten who he was. But this time, she knew. Sarfraz walked meekly into the spacious room, which was covered in various verses of the Quran and pictures of the two holy mosques in Arabia. The shrunken figure of Baree Dadee, his great-grandmother, sat up on her bed, like a queen of her realm, flanked by her courtiers- her daughters, grand daughters and great-grand daughters standing and sitting around her. The way parted, and they allowed Sarfraz to sit right next to Baree Dadee on the bed. She focussed her august, round eyes on him, the white headscarf almost like a spirit around her head.
“Sarfraz, my son.” She began. Everyone smiled and laughed in appreciation. Sarfraz looked down, rather embarrassed and pressurised by the gazes that were locked on him, especially from his pretty maiden cousin who had asked whether he was married or not. Then he looked at Baree Daadi deep in the eyes. She stared back, frowning, reading in Arabic, smiling rather sympathetically, reading his eyes. Finally she spoke to him with depth:
“Cut off their heads when they come for you in the night, my son, cut off their heads…” With that, Baree Daadi lay back and rested. Sarfraz’s own grandma looked up at him: “Son, sometimes she doesn’t make any sense.”
Sarfraz, dumb and perturbed, respectfully left the room, catching glances with that cousin, who offered just a subtle eye contact as he walked out of the room. Cut off their heads…
That night, deep in the valleys of Kashmir, deep in the night, right in there in the darkness by his bed, Sarfraz saw Shantih and the two girls, hardly dressed slinking their way up to him, whispering those words in that seductive way: “Please give in; please give in…” Slowly and deliberately, they crawled towards him in the dark. And as usual, his body was locked and his tongue was imprisoned in fear and desire. How he wanted to give in; how he wanted just to let go… Then, in a flash, he flew out the bed, whipped out a straight blade and in one stroke, sliced their heads off their necks. The bleeding heads on the floor stared at him for a while and fizzled away. The room was suddenly filled with the most tremendous sunlight and Sarfraz awoke, feeling a shadow had been untethered from his soul. “Hail Baree daade!” He cried out.
Finally, Abbas. He waited. The dreams came and went. He worked hard, got married and just hoped that one day he would understand how his own children would be kings. On the same night that Sarfraz got engaged to the pretty village girl, and Zubayr took his dose of sleeping pills, Abbas, found a singular looking pouch on the floor on his way home. It contained three large diamonds. And when he arrived home, his wife looked him straight in the eyes, waving a print-out from the hospital: “We’re gonna have triplets…. Three girls!”
- Masha Allah- Arabic prayer- as Allah wills
- Namaz- Urdu- ritual prayer
- Sawab- Urdu- divine blessings
- insha Allah- Arabic- If Allah wills it
- jinn- spiritual beings mentioned in the Quran- can be angelic or demonic
- haram- Arabic- forbidden
- maulvi- Urdu- religious leader
- jadoo- Urdu- black magic
- isha- Arabic- the last ritual prayer
- salat- Arabic- the ritual prayer
- alhamdulillah- Arabic- praise be to Allah
- juma- Arabic- the Friday prayer
- charsee- Punjabi- drug addicts
- abba gee- Urdu- dear father