Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Pakistani Halloween by Hashim Salim Khan

A Pakistani Halloween
by Hashim Salim Khan
Charlie was rather sad, it was almost Halloween time and he had to leave home in the USA, and fly out to the wild hills of Northern Pakistan for his company. He felt, rather bitterly, that it wasn't just fair of the company to send him out at this time; but what could he do? It was a special job, as his boss Mr. Wright had told him ­ they had got a big contract to produce electric power and they needed to send out someone experienced, an engineer to look at some sites near the Indus river, to set up the new power plant. It would be a very profitable project and Charlie knew that he would make some good money too, with extra allowances for travel and all other benefits. He and his wife discussed it and they thought they could save a fair bit and it would come in really handy, to pay off the bank for the home-­loan they had taken out. It would be good to pay this off, to really own the house they lived in. The kids were a bit sad, as they wanted to have their dad with them for Halloween, but they understood when their parents told them how important this work was; and they laughed with their dad, that they would go 'trick and treating' and save him a whole heap of candy for when he got back. So, it was all set and a couple of days later Charlie flew out to Islamabad, Pakistan, and there was a jeep waiting for him with a local company driver and guide, and they took him on a three hours journey to the hills.
The weather was quite nice, almost as cool as back home, and in the Northern hills they signs of the start of the Fall season were also noticeable: leaves turning bright colors, shades of apple­-red and golden­-yellow, and the breeze was cool even in the pleasant sunlight. Below, looking down from almost 5000 feet on the top of the hill, the Indus River gushed rapidly by, with a low murmuring sound. The higher mountains far away were capped with pure white snow and their sides were covered by dark green forests of evergreen Pine and Fir trees. Birds flew about and sang. In the far distance, a small flock of sheep grazed in a meadow and a shepherd in his woolly hat and long cloak, played his musical pipes softly. ''Nice," thought Charlie. Maybe, when the project started he could even bring out Jane (his wife) and the kids for a short while, they'd like it up here and it would be a wonderful new experience, in this remote area, so far away from the States. ''Yeah,'' he mused. He was feeling relaxed and content.

In the late evening, they finally reached a small 'rest house', a sort of government-­run hostel or inn, up in a small clearing close to the forest. It was a pretty little place, where visiting officials or guests would come and stay on tours. According to Ahmed, the guide, it had been built in the old times, maybe a hundred years ago, by the British colonists who were then ruling over this region. It was a really historical place, with polished old furniture and a stone fireplace with logs burning in it in the parlor. There was a separate room and bathroom for Charlie and the caretaker of the hostel, an old man who also served as the cook, told him that he wouldn't be disturbed at all by anyone. He could have his meals and tea or coffee in the warm parlor near the fire and could rest or take a walk or do as he pleased. There was only one other guest staying in other rooms, a government officer on some inspection, but he would come in later at night. Charlie's guide and driver both went off to their own quarters, a bit further down the road. The other company people, who were supposed to meet him, would come in a day or two. Meanwhile, he had most of this old place to himself.
After dinner, Charlie sat in a comfortable chair, his long legs stretching out to the log fire, sipping a hot mug of coffee. He was feeling totally relaxed now, and a bit sleepy. Outside, it was nighttime and dark and quiet, except for the wind blowing in the forest. ''What a nice place'', he thought, ''So quiet and peaceful and far away. An old leftover from earlier times. I'm really lucky to be staying here and experiencing this.”
He was still thinking this when he heard a small sound and he turned slowly towards the door.
''Oh I am sorry!'', said a voice, ''I did not know anyone was staying here.” A short, slim man, with a thin mustache, stood there. He was wearing a dark jacket and pants and some kind of walking boots. ''I am afraid I have disturbed you,” this man said again, with apology.
Charlie smiled, ''Hi! No, it's ok! I was just sitting around, feeling sleepy. I don't mind at all.”
The man smiled and came forward, and put out his hand and shook Charlie's ''I'm John Stevens­ Forest Inspector.''  
''Hi John,” replied Charlie, ''I'm Charlie Bloom, from the USA.” Stevens inclined his head and smiled gently.
''Nice to know you Charlie. My, you are a long way from home aren't you?”
''Yeah,” laughed Charlie, ''That too up here in this remote spot in a Pakistani forest, on Halloween's night! Ha ha!''
''Ha ha!,” laughed back Stevens, ''Indeed!''
''Are there still many of you, British officers, serving in Pakistan?” asked Charlie.
''Excuse me?'', asked Stevens, ''I don't follow you?''
''I mean, it's a bit unusual for me seeing you, a Britisher, here. But I guess you people have old connections with Pakistan and there must be many of you, still working in different jobs here, right?''
          ''Oh no,'' said Stevens, calmly, ''Not really. I believe almost all the British officers left Pakistan back in 1947, around 68 years ago, when this country became independent. Sadly, there are no more of us living and working here.”
''Oh?'' Charlie was a bit confused. ''So how come you’re still working out here?''
''Oh, me, old chap?'' replied Stevens. ''I, I never left you see. I lived and died here. This is my home, and my room. Excuse me. Must be going to my rest now.''
And with that, Stevens got up and walked to the fireplace and walked through it, and was gone.

* Hashim Salim Khan lives in the hills of Northern Pakistan, where he studies in the Beaconhouse School, Abbottabad. He is fond of reading and writing stories, playing soccer and video games, watching horror movies and hanging out with his friends. 


Omer Khan said...

Nice story, Hashim

Ammara S said...

Cool! :)

Ginger Dawn Harman said...

Great job young man!

uma said...

An engaging read...written with quite detailing visuals, settings n thrill, alongside the quintessential emotive elements. Well done, Hashim. Way to go....Cheerz!;) n keep writing more