Asif Farroukhi (Pakistan)

Asif Farroukhi is a young writer and scholar from Pakistan. He has published several collections of fictional writing which have been translated into English, German, Hindi, Punjabi and Sindhi. He is also interested in critical theory and has been researching on areas in fiction and translation studies

Distant Star

The board was laid out on the table. The four of us were sat around it and waiting for the game was about to begin. This was our daily routine. We played at night because during the day we each had our own responsibilities to take care of. We sacrificed our days so that at night we could live for a little while as we wished.

After having taken care of the office work and put the kids to sleep, either they would come to our house or we would go to theirs. It had turned into something of a habit, which was becoming more entrenched every day. Now, when we saw each other, it wasn’t even necessary to say anything; we would start the game immediately. In fact, the only reason the four of us did get together was because of the game. Always the four of us, no one else. Some people found this odd. A neighbour looked at us and muttered: “Games for couples!” Another ridiculed it as a children’s pastime. But we always played seriously. For us, it was like life. Even more so.

That day it was the same. The game board was spread out on the table. As soon as we arrived we took the places that were set out for us. We sat according to the cardinal points: Yasmin on the north, Khalid on the south, Najma on the west and I on the east. One thing had been agreed: husband and wife could not be partners. This had been Khalid’s suggestion. Laughing, we had accepted it because it made the game more interesting and serious. This time Yasmin was Khalid’s partner and Najma mine.

Before the game started, Khalid said to Najma: “Look here, no secret deals with him or signals. We are not playing cards.”

“Signals? What kind of signals?” I gulped. I was taken aback as though someone had gauged my innermost thoughts and announced them to all.

Khalid laughed. “Signals among partners. But never mind. At least they aren’t sleeping partners!” He laughed, looking at Yasmin who was partnering him. She was silent. But she had gone red in the face. This was something a peculiarity ofabout Yasmin’s. Whenever she blushed her face turned red – like the buds of the bauhinia. Turning towards her I smiled as though she wasn’t my wife, rather a tree laden with blossoms. Noticing me smile she began to bite her lips. Of course the partners were just for fun. In this game having partners made no difference at all. You couldn’t help any one; on the game board every player was on his own.

As usual, I threw the die dice first, perhaps because I was sitting on the east. But what difference did a direction make, I never could understand. Until I got the number six I could not move my counter. I began to think of it as almost as a mysterious number and, waiting for this magic number to appear, I began to arrange the notes that I had received as my capital at the beginning of the game. I made bundles of fives, fifties and hundred rupee notes. They were rectangular pieces of paper which had the face of the Father of the Nation. They also contained the inscription: “Lawful livelihood is as good as worship.” If they differed from real notes it was only that where it should have been written ” Government of Pakistan,” it said “Millionaires’ Inc.”

There were four symbols for the players: horseman, sailing ship, lighthouse and seated lion. Made out of metal with great skill, these little toys moved according to the numbers that showed up on the dice. From the very first day, the rider was my symbol. I was turning it in my hand and waiting for the number that would launch me on my journey. The symbols of the others had already come out and were leaping across the spaces. I watched restlessly and with a sinking heart as they moved forward. Till then all the spaces were vacant and whoever reached a space and placed his piece on it could acquire it. For me each space was like some uncharted territory, which lay in the path of its explorer, waiting for him to plant his foot there and conquer it in his own name. I was anxious to acquire as many places for myself as possible. But until the 6 appeared on the die dice I could not begin. The others had begun to buy up places and while they were completing sets of different colours and deciding to erect houses and other buildings, I was still twiddling my thumbs, watching the figures numbers change with the turning dice.

Many figures numbers came and went. They say there is a deep hidden meaning in the order of figures numbers but I don’t know. The six took a long time to come. I counted six squares and placed my horse there. It was Cantt. Station. In my heart of hearts I was pleased. I had always liked this place so I was happy that my horse had landed there and it would become mine. There was a picture of an engine on this square. I used to have a strange habit that whenever I was free I used to go to Cantt. Station and watch the faces of the people. Big railway stations always had this haunting effect on me. Now I was going to get this place even if it was only in a game. I started counting out the currency notes but Najma stopped me. The title deed for the station was in her hand. She had arrived there before me and bought it. I ende