Shards of glass crunched under the weight of the recycling belt’s crusher. Even with so many thoughts weighing on his mind, he found solace in his work. At the factory, he knew he could make a difference; he knew there were those who depended on him. And even with so much going wrong at home, he still had a chance to keep everything at the factory running smoothly and safely.
Though, from where he stood from his office looking down at the workshop floor, it seemed the day of unfortunate events was far from over. Pacing back and forth, a worker was seemingly confused about his daily schedule. And that same confusion was shared by his eyes— one was fixated on the wall while another gazed up at the ceiling.
Pressing his face against the office window, Ali tried to get a better look. He knew the worker had to be an employee who joined the company recently. But despite his attempts to get a better view of the man’s face, between the worker’s erratic movements and the clothing he wore, it was difficult to discern.
Instead of wearing the uniform that was common for the rest of the staff, the man had his half-buttoned shirt worn backward. A jarring orange jacket clashed against the light blue button-up and his hardhat was covered in what appeared to be spray paint. Between that and the dirt-stained pants and untied shoelaces, Ali knew that the man wasn’t in his right mind.
Ali winced as the man approached a pillar. It was a wide sheet of metal— clearly solid to any with sight. But the peculiar man banged into it as if he were walking through air. The wall, not having the capacity to change out of a solid-state, stopped the man in his tracks and sent him falling back on his rear.
As guilty as he felt for watching such a spectacle, Ali had to wonder what was going on with the strange worker. The man flailed on his back like a turtle wobbling on his shell. Such behavior was far from lucid and Ali had to wonder if, among the new employees, one had taken to drugs.
Jumping back on his feet, the man grew more frantic. Leaving the conveyor belt, his sights were set on a wall of hanging cables which he rushed to like a child wanting candy. Tripping once more, the worker found himself tangled and trapped in the cables. And that’s when Ali realized he had to step in.
By the time Ali reached the factory floor, the worker was placing frayed wires to his tongue, zapping himself with a small jolt. It seemed amusing to the man to light the bulbs by his own hands. Ali, though, wasn’t laughing at the man’s antics. He wanted to know the meaning of such unstable behaviour.
The closer Ali got to the man, the clues began to fall into place. The round brown eyes and thin beard— it was the worker he had lent rupees to help with his sick mother. Anger overwhelmed Ali as he realized that he had been tricked. The worker, Saleem, had a far more nefarious use for the advance in pay.
Standing before the man, Ali saw the worker’s eyes grow wide. “Oh, shit!” he exclaimed before he ran towards the loading bay. How he expected to make it through an entire workday without being seen was a mystery to Ali. But when dealing with someone who wasn’t in a clear state of mind, anything was possible.
Ali ran after the man. He refused to let him get away with lying, stealing money for drugs, and endangering his fellow workers. Though, the wild chase was cut short the moment Saleem reached the cold, icy roads. Just one misstep caught him off-balance and he was left scrambling and spinning while his trousers fell to his knees.
Underwear exposed, Saleem attempted to free himself from his snowy prison. His movements appeared as if he was scuba diving above land. While unable to break himself free, he certainly continued to make a spectacle of himself. And Ali wished to bring that show to an end.
“What the- What do you think you’re doing, Saleem!?”
It was uncommon for Ali to raise his voice, but at that moment, he was overcome by rage. Never did he suspect that the young man whom he offered money and support would betray his trust in favor of drugs. He wanted to figure out what was going on.
The look on Saleem’s face was a mix of shame, fear, and worry. At least, that was the sense Ali felt as he looked down at him. With his bloodshot eyes and itchy, inflamed skin, it was hard to discern what was remorse and what was a side-effect of the drugs.
From the cold, Ali dragged Saleem into one of the work sheds. As much as he believed he deserved the fate of being trapped in the snow, Ali needed to talk and understand Saleem’s state of mind. If he was still coherent, he wished to know the cause for such erratic behavior.
Ali sighed, “Why?”
“I… okay. I’m an addict,” Saleem, “I have to do it. You don’t even want to see me when I don’t. It’s… it’s a mess. I’m sorry I lied to you. But… I have no parents.
This job is all I have and if I didn’t get the money soon enough-”
“Shut up,” Ali said as he groaned, “You chose to take drugs. And you chose to lie. Tell me. How long have you been doing this? And how many people have you been tricking with your false stories?”
Saleem shook his head, “Seriously! I’m telling the truth. I don’t lie. Well, not usually. I know you’re so kind and I knew you would help me if I asked. I have no mother or father. I have no one! I had nowhere else to turn.”
Just as Saleem finished speaking, a fellow worker peeked his head into the shed. Oblivious to the conversation that was occurring, he whistled to himself while handing a file to Ali. Upon seeing Saleem, he greeted him with a friendly wave. Though, Saleem gulped audibly.
“How’s your father? Is he getting treatment?” the man asked.
Ali stared daggers at Saleem who wove yet another tale. Whatever was the truth, Ali didn’t expect to learn it from the young worker. With a swift nod, Saleem’s colleague bid him farewell. There were only Ali and the young worker left in the room with an awkward silence between them.
Saleem stammered, “Wait. Wait! I can explain. It was-”
But Ali wished to hear none of it, “Let me tell you a story. I know about those with drug addictions. I lost two of my childhood friends to drugs.”
As Ali continued, Saleem remained silent, “Everything was fine. They were good people with so much love and life. But once they started abusing drugs, they turned to darkness. They had always been competitive with each other. They competed in sports, to get better jobs… and eventually, they both came to love the same girl.”
“They became so aggressive,” Ali said with a strained voice, “When I got the call that there was a fight between them, I didn’t want to believe it, but my heart knew it was true. By the end of that night, I learned that one of my friends was dead. And the other soon went to jail. In that one night, the lives of two families were ruined.”
Moving closer to Saleem, Ali gripped him by his collar, “And that’s why I hate drugs. I hate what it does to people. They turn violent. They lie. They-”
Before Ali could say another word, he was startled by the sound coming from the shed’s TV. The chime of ‘Breaking News’ was one he was used to hearing. Between the robberies and violent crimes, there was no shortage of reasons to warn the public. But it was the words the news anchors said that caused him to panic.
“The war has begun in Kashmir.”
It had to be a mistake. Ali couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He whipped his head around, hoping that he had been mistaken. But the images on the screen showed the horrible truth that he hoped to avoid. The army was mobilizing. Tanks and jeeps were stationed at every border and checkpoint. And the jets he heard overhead— he could now confirm what they truly were.
Saleem shouted, “Oh shit! A war!? We’re at war!? It’s started!? Is India coming!? What’s going on!?”
Ali pulled Saleem’s arm as he rushed back inside to his office. His heart was racing but he knew he needed to stay calm. The safety of every worker was on his mind. And he knew he needed to get back to his family as soon as possible. Whatever would happen, Ali believed he would do anything to keep his family safe.
Removing a phone from the wall, Ali’s calm voice echoed over the loudspeaker, “We are evacuating the factory. There is no need for panic. We are going to form a single-file line and exit the factory. Shut down any machinery, return to your vehicles, and reach your families immediately. If you can, call your wives and children. We need to leave Kashmir.”
On the wall, Ali uncovered a large red button from a glass case and pressed it. Lights flashed and a siren roared. Every machine and conveyor belt powered down. And as Ali looked down from his office window, he saw the workers silently exiting the building. He was relieved but still worried. The reality of what was happening hadn’t fully hit him. He couldn’t believe another war had begun.
Qalandar, Earth Needed A Superhero. © Copyright 2019 by Fraz Ahmed. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Disclaimer : –
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.