What Ravens Do


We speak in Urdu.

The shade of a plum tree ripples over bleached autumn grass; its blades are tired between my fingers. An unripe plum rolls in her palm, catching itself in the center where it trembles to stillness. The tree’s rings are thick enough to assume I’ve nothing new to say but it welcomes her because the clouds have all gone north to hide ravens. Lahore is quiet, wrapped in the smells of diesel, pigeons, sweat and rain.

The milky eyes of an older man’s brother I once knew stare at things we don’t see. His fingers loop into the bottom of his beard only to re-evolve through the grays and whites of its bottom—again and again. He reminds me of a moth in a dried spider’s web—ever breaking—before he steadies himself with a cane made using the traditions of the north.

A long breath carries the grass from away my fingers, “My name is Syed Khan.”

I tell her it’s a black spot on your eye. It’s always here—or—there. “It watches us.” Her head bobs like a kite on an ambitious length of twine and I see her doubt in the emerald scared white of her scarf. I think of my son before he died. She pulls her scarf to cover a cough of ginger and onions, “Do they scare you?”

It is against god to hope for death, “I am not afraid.” Two younger men I still know now greet the older man with a handshake and kisses. I leave her, greet them both in the same way, and ask of their sons but she doesn’t hear me. “They are from Huramzai.” She doesn’t ask if they’ve seen the ravens. The shorter brother has only one leg.

“Ahsan, my son, taught at the school in our village.” Prayer beads are heavier than grass and the wind only prompts my fingers to caution. I know she hears my nail clicking against them through the noise of the family picnicking next to us; they’re the reason she’s here. She asks about the attack, “I’m a journalist.”

The wife tears flat bread in half before passing the pieces to her sons. “There was a hole in the ground, bigger than half of our house.” The husband opens containers and lends the spice of pepper to the air. I don’t tell her about the stray dogs and the burning smells. “He’s in paradise now; my son died a martyr so I didn’t cry.”

A dirty football grows impatient on the corner of their used carpet. “This is our country—who are they to judge us.” There are fresh stains on the little boys’ chemises but their father’s still pepper reddened fingers are saying they have to wait. She swallows words about rights and repression. “If they want to fight us, they should come here and face us.” This far south the sky is blue and the ravens don’t hear him speak.  

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