Back then though, he was not so different from all his friends and the thousands of other children in Shab-d-Kosh, that bulging abscess of a slum-city. He lived for the adventure that only the child within knows. Carefree fun pumped joyously through his veins and his imagination transformed the mundane world around him into the mystical. I would watch as the murky riverbed at the foot of his family’s shack became the high seas of far-flung oceans. He would play for hours on end, assuming the role of protector-in-chief of his city. Floating debris became enemy pirate ships weaving their way down river, avoiding the firebombs and cannonballs that he hurled from the banks.
On the other side of daily life though, he trod precariously on the bridge between childhood and adult life. The sad loss of his father, some years before had left him, while still young, the eldest in the family, and upon whose slight shoulders now lay the responsibility of providing for his Mama and baby sister, Aaliya. How he loved his dear family. He would do almost anything for them and since his Papa’s passing, he had done just that. Every day, he worked the streets, scrabbling for whatever money he could raise, just to put food on the table and to keep the dark shadow of eviction away from their door. On some days he would walk half the length of the city, carrying cases of soda or overflowing boxes of vegetables. Deliveries like this paid well, but they took their toll on his small frame. Often he would come home, his shoulders clotted with blood from the grating of the heavy metal cases during these arduous journeys. He would be careful though to hide his wounds from Mama, lest she worry too much.
Mama, like many mothers, was a worrier. Life in Shab-d-Kosh was precarious, one where the gift of life was only on loan and where, so often, the great debt collector in the skies came knocking. Brothers, aunts, uncles and now a husband had, each in their turn, left the world to return to their ancestors in the realm of light and spirit. This had left Ashoo and Aaliya as the sole inheritors of Mama’s anxious disposition. As the eldest, Ashoo felt the weight of this responsibility more heavily than was healthy. His Mama’s dark cloud of anxiety followed him no matter how far he strayed from home. To make matters worse, his fat uncle Bhoji, who was often around the house, always made sure to chastise Ashoo publicly whenever he came home late.
‘Put play on the back burner.’ Bhoji would scold. ‘You need to grow up. Your years of ridiculous dreams are at an end, now you must live as we all grown-ups live. Time to get serious boy. Your Papa is no longer here. You are the man of the house, why don’t you act like one and look after your Mama and sister?’
Watching Ashoo was like watching a spirit as free as the wind, desperately trying to constrain the call of adventure that burned bright in his soul. He tried his best to follow the rules, to play the provider to subdue the dreams that swelled in him. It was a valiant struggle and one born of his love for his family.
But like any truth within us, there comes a time when you can no longer deny yourself. When fate contrives to bring strange forces into your world that drive you forward, into and beyond your fears to places that you had never imagined.
This is Ashoo’s tale. This is my tale. This is your tale. The story of the moment our truth births itself, changing our world forever.
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