Mr. Nazeer Ahmed, wakes up slowly. His eyes open gradually. His arms and legs stretch. From the blurry yellow light objects begin to take form. He rolls slightly to his side and is about to drop out of his bed when his body orders the eyes wide open and his hands to flail out. One leg in air the other still in bed, he catches himself on the bedpost.
What? This isn’t my bed. This isn’t my room. Where am I?
His eyes are greeted with a very bland sight of a room. The paint is chipped in places. A dirty mirror hangs on the wall in front of him. Besides the mirror a single steel hook, which appear to be the ad hoc wardrobe: shirts, pants, underpants, vests, all hang from it. On the floor, underneath this wardrobe sits a pile of socks. Some flies buzz about them. A table stands next to the bed. A single burner gas stove sits perched on a concrete slab a little towards his right, next to it a steel sink is bolted into the wall and decants straight into a hole a couple of feet below on the floor.
Where am I?
Held at ransom?
Oh god, yes, shit, shit, shit…
Mr. Nazeer Ahmed springs from the bed and makes a dash for the door, which is on the farthest end of the slab with the stove, hidden from his view on the bed by the en-suite bathroom. He wrenches the latch on the steel door. He expects it to be bolted shut but – it comes loose. The door swings opens.
Outside are more or less similar doors, some open wide, some closed, some partially open. Men, women and children flitter about up and down the stairs leading to this floor. There is a lot of noise that he is only now beginning to hear. Voices of people talking to each other as they pass outside his door, women clanging together metal pans and plates as they wash them, horns honking from the street below. Mr. Nazeer Ahmed turns away from the door. He closes it shut again and makes his way to the window next to the bed. The open window with thin long metal bars for protection. He peers down to the dusty road nearly two floors below. It’s a mish-mash of cars and bikes and donkey carts, of roar and horns blaring. The road is congested. On either side are shops. He is living in a room above the shops. He returns to the bed.
How did I get here?
This is a good question, since the dwellings are fit for probably Mr. Nazeer Ahmed’s chauffer or maybe his milkman – although why should a milkman live above shops and not next to his cows could be debated. But who knows where milkmen live, certainly not Mr. Nazeer Ahmed.
A phone rings out. He looks around, ultimately realizing that the cuboid slab of grey on the table is emitting the old telephone bell. He reaches for it. It’s an old cellphone a Nokia 3310, nearly as thick as a brick. He answers it.
“Hello,” he speaks into it.
“Hello Ghaffar,” a young agile voice speaks from the other end.
“No this is Nazeer.”
At first there is silence, then for a while just peal upon peal of laughter. When they subside the voice begins again, “Oh! So today you think you are Master Nazeer, again.”
“Yes, I am Nazeer.”
“Don’t say such things or one of these days I’ll have you committed.”
“But I am Nazeer – you ass,” Mr. Nazeer Ahmed replies firmly, the aggression of having woken up in a strange room, in an unknown world begins to funnels through.
“Ok then – Master Nazeer Sahib, when will your royal highness be coming around to slaughter them chickens, its half hour past your shift. Kindly get on your Prado and honor us with your presence.”
What? He never says such stuff. Who is he? What is happening?
Mr. Nazeer Ahmed walks to the mirror and pears in – it’s still him. He recognizes his face. His neatly cut hair, parted on the right. There is a thin line of hair missing from the center of his right eyebrow. It was from an accident when he was a kid. While fielding, a cricket ball had missed his cupped hands and had instead caught on his right eye at full flight. Yes it is he – Nazeer Ahmed. These people who ever they are, are mad. They have lost their minds.
On the bed there is a wallet, black almost moldy. He fishes through it for his ID card. Yes this will prove it. He finds it. It has its picture. Yes. Against the picture is the name: Ghaffar Ahmed.
What? What is going on? This is a bad dream. No. This can’t be. I – I – Nazeer Ahmed, I am the CEO of the Nazeer group. I know it. I worked hard, all those nights, yes, all those years I strived. I’ll call my CFO: Afzaal Bhatti. He will set this straight. He always sets things straight. Yes, yes, he will. I hired him. But what if he too doesn’t recognize me. My God! What is happening? What have I done to deserve this?
Mr. Nazeer Ahmed, has done nothing to deserve this. An upright citizen of his community he has never lied or harmed anyone in his rise to the top. Yet as he sinks back down on the bed that is not his own and the burnt orange light of the evening sun that doesn’t feel his own, casts a shadow of the straight bars of the window on the wall underneath the mirror, he feels trapped, imprisoned in this almost alternate world. But it is not an alternate world; it is just a darker stranger hue of his own. What Mr. Nazeer Ahmed will realize in the coming days of this new reality is that he has suffered from the extreme envy of his cousin Ghaffar Ahmed. The no good Ghaffar. The hoodlum Ghaffar. The Ghaffar, who spent his father’s fortune on game and lust. Who expected that being a cousin he had a birth right to Mr. Nazeer Ahmed’s success. That with middle fail education he would surely be a chief officer in his cousin’s enterprise. That he was done a grave wrong when Mr. Nazeer Ahmed, naturally refused him any special privilege. The same Ghaffar who envied every measure of his cousin’s success with such burning passion that it had stripped Mr. Nazeer Ahmed of his everything. He had caused reality to keel over and turn upside down. May he now revel in his life as the CEO.
What the now CEO Ghaffar Ahmed doesn’t realize yet is that a jackal can’t survive for long in a lion’s suit. He will soon run to ground any enterprise he is in charge off. While what Mr. Nazeer Ahmed will realize after he has come to terms with his new reality is – that what no one can actually rob him off, what they cant separate from him, even if they separate the very fabric of reality is Mr. Nazeer Ahmed’s self reliance, his ability to keep trudging onwards no matter how dark the hue of the world may be. He had built an empire once, he will build one again.
Credit: illustration by Mariah (M.S)