The Novice Fisher Boy

Shah Tazrian Ashrafi

The Hujur’s strong fingers laced around a hazel bamboo cane were enough to captivate the whole room in half a day long chanting. The pupils in light blue Jubbas and chalky topies exhibited a mob in rhythmic motion while being glued to the wooden benches, uttering holy words in one breath. They memorized the foreign yet familiar verses on a daily basis. And God helped those who failed to recite a page or two while standing on the exhausted stage. Hasan, however, had the privilege to escape the blows of canes from big hands every time, as he volunteered to ache his neck till midnight under the clasp of mosquitoes and tawny hues of a slouching bulb.

Hamza was a gypsy rambling about the village mundanely in a skeletal body. Sometimes he slept on the stony, circular platform under the oak tree in front of the Masjid while sometimes he found solace under the tent of garlands beside the Mandir.

On a sultry Monday, Hasan was sitting beside the once worshiped Haor of his village equipped with a fish net and a hook. It was on the verge of becoming a ruptured land since the sun grew crueler after every rise. So Hasan’s Abba had all the reasons to rise euphoric every time he caught a big fish like Rui or Katla since most of the time, their cadavers floated in the water and all he got were fingerlings. Hasan was fiddling with the hook after placing it in the murky water with a hope of catching a big fish on his first attempt. The Haor was halfway there to claim the sun and no tail dared to trap itself in his hook. So he headed home with a pace rather fast and satiated his hunger with two fried fingerlings hidden under a stack of rice and dense lentil that his Amma served.

“So Rashid was talking about you,” said his Abba while chewing the delicate skeletons of the fries.

“What did he say?” Hasan inquired midway of taking a morsel.

“You’ve been roaming around a lot with that gypsy, haven’t you?” Abba asked in a rather disgruntled tone.

“He’s a nice boy. I find nothing wrong in him,” replied Hasan while lowering his gaze.

His father’s knuckles clenched and veins almost came out of his skin, but he managed to cool down.

“Look, son. You are a smart child, and soon you are to become a Hafiz by the grace of The Lord. It hardly suits you to befriend that aimless soul who bows to no entity. It’s in your betterment to leave his side,” Abba advised calmly and drank some water.

“But..”

“The kids of this village throw stones at him, and the priests spit on him. You wouldn’t want to be his accomplice, would you?” Abba cut him.

But Hasan had a heart to follow. So he ignored his Abba’s words, and after fajr prayer, he went fishing with Hamza, bearing the fishing hook on his back, when the sun was yet to rise. Abba’s voice didn’t float around his nerves as a warning.

“I’m planning to leave this village,” Hamza whispered in Hasan’s ear all of a sudden as they sat by the Haor with the fishing hook on Hasan’s lap and a rusted scuttle on the bit of land forgiven by the grass of its surrounding beside Hamza.

“Why?” Hasan grew bewildered as his left eyebrow elevated.

“The people here despise me, and lately, no one has been serving me food. I’ve been scouring the leftovers from the Mandirs,” replied Hamza while gazing towards the somber sky.

“I’ll serve you food. Don’t leave please,” Hasan pleaded as some lines emerged on his forehead, being worried of Hamza’s plight.

“I know it would be difficult for you to sneak furtively in the kitchen and pass me some food since your parents must despise me too just like everyone else,” he said before bursting into loud laughter.

A cat had gotten Hasan’s tongue then. He couldn’t think of a consoling reply.

“Place the hook in the water. My stomach is shrinking, and it’s inviting a fresh fish,” requested Hamza, “You have prayed to your Lord just a while ago so you might be lucky.” Hamza fussed with it for an attempt of catching a Rui. The hook remained under the water as both of them were lost in each others’ worlds. An hour or so after the sunrise, something was trapped in it, and it was comparatively heavier than what he could perceive a small fish. It was a big fish for sure.

Both of them grew rapturous as Hasan placed the hook on his lap and freed the briskly moving fish. Hamza quickly fished out a compact spade from his muddy trouser and cut its gills. His hands turned crimson as blood sprinkled from inside the lines of its many silver scales, and the fish stopped moving.

“Well done, Hasan!” Hamza exclaimed while his eyes crinkled, and a smile played at the corners of his mouth.

“I don’t know how it even happened. It was only the third time I went fishing,” Hasan replied with a jolt.

At that very blessed moment, Hasan was supposed to be memorizing a fragment of the holy book under the emerald showered Minar of the Madrasa like a balloon inhaling helium. But the joy of catching a Rui made him shun the pain that the canes might inflict.

“Abba and Amma must have gone to the field. Come to my house, and we will fry this fish for lunch,” Hasan uttered with rejoice.

A smile habitually bloomed dimples on Hamza’s cheeks.

After entering the neat kitchen, Hasan put his weight on Hamza’s interlocked palms since his short height made it difficult to take the sooty pan from the rack. Hamza’s white palms turned red, as if it was angry to bear someone’s weight. While Hasan fitted the pan on the earthen stove, Hamza brought a jar of Holud Gura after an expedition to distinguish it from the other spices lined on the rickety rack. Under the blaring sun, Hasan fried ten pieces of Rui, and the lunch indeed was a sumptuous kind for both since each of them devoured five pieces with white rice, watery lentil and dried chilies, leaving its skeletons isolated in the earthen bowl for some cat to feast on them.

Their stomachs bloated after feasting on Hasan’s success, and Hamza looked somewhat odd since an inflated stomach didn’t go too well with a skeletal body. Hasan could fathom from Hamza’s face that it was more of a feast for him since all this village gave to him were stones. As the prayer call was minutes away, they both lay on the grassy lawn behind Hasan’s house for a short nap.

“Hasan, weren’t you supposed to visit the Madrasa today?” Hamza uttered abruptly as the matter suddenly struck his head.

“Yes Hamza. But it won’t bother me for today, at least,” responded Hasan as he winked his left eye with a grin.

“Please forgive me, Hasan, since I can’t save you from the actions they may take against you. If God sits on his throne somewhere in between the clouds, He’d surely bless you. And though I don’t put my forehead on any entity’s feet, I’ll pray for you with whatever godly letters run into my lips,” swiftly assured Hamza while bearing Hasan’s hands, as if he were begging for mercy.

“Calm down, my friend. If it weren’t you, would I be able to catch a fish that big?” Hasan grinned with a pacifying notion that calmed Hamza’s simmering guilt.

“So when are you leaving?” Hasan’s thin voice queried.

“After you catch another big fish before the sunset,” Hamza replied- his smile broadened.