The left arm was long, much longer than other men’s arms, because he was much taller than other men. It was also well shaped, the forearm handsomely thickened from years of sports. It was the arm of a young man. It was on the carpet near an empty pack of cigarettes and a broken bottle.
The living room was dark except for a thin shaft of light that shone underneath the front door. A clock chimed, once, twice, thrice. The curtains on the window were drawn, and only the faintest glow from the outside world passed through them. In that darkness the father shifted his weight on the sofa.
Jingling, a sudden soft jingling of keys on the other side of the door, caused the father to sit up. The door opened. A man’s silhouette removed the keys from the door carefully and laid them on a coffee table. He stepped soundlessly upon the carpet and guided the door closed. The father spoke.
“Where have you been Asif.”
“Assalamu Alaikum Abbu, I didn’t know you were still up.”
“I’m up because I’ve been waiting for you to come home since eleven o’clock. Where have you been.”
“Me and Masood were just hanging out.” The young man stood with his shoulders dropped and his hands in his pockets.
“Hanging out. Since seven o’clock, for eight hours.” The father’s fists clenched.
“Yeah, just hanging out. You don’t need to get all worried, we-“
“Of course I need to be worried!” The father’s scream reverberated in the hallway. A light in the sister’s bedroom turned on.
“Dad, you don’t need to…”
“I’m the sort of stupid person, apparently, who cares about their children, and worries when they are gone all night. How do I know if you’re not dead? How do I know you’re not lying dead in the street somewhere while I stay home worrying myself out of my damned mind? Where have you been?!”
“I told you,” Asif said more firmly, “I was just hanging out with Masood.”
The father’s voice became dangerously soft. “Then why did Masood call and ask me where you were?”
The right arm was no less lean, and both arms connected to a set of wide shoulders. They were bare, as was his chest. Beneath his left breast was a scar from where he had once flipped over the handlebars of his bicycle. A little metal bell had been joined to the handlebars by little metal screws. One of them had been poking out just enough to tear a gash in a seven year old boy’s chest.
“Where is he now?” the sister asked.
The father exhaled loudly in frustration. “Asleep. He’s been asleep all day, and he’s naked, totally naked…”
“He’s what?” the mother asked incredulously.
“I went in this morning,” the father said with humiliation, “To wake him and God Almighty, he was naked. Nothing on his body. I put a blanket on him and told him to get up and put some pants on, but I couldn’t get him up. I closed the door, don’t go in his room.”
His hips were clad very loosely in a pair of sweatpants that might have fit at one point in time. At the moment they barely clung to his pelvic-bones. Had he been standing, he would’ve had to hold them with that attractive left hand. He had such nice, long hands, big but by no means clumsy. The nail from the right middle finger was missing though. It had come off during an accident. He had no memory of seeing the jeep, and when he came to a stop ten feet from his motorcycle, he lay there and laughed.
“I don’t know what to say,” the mother said quietly, “His clothes are full of little holes.”
“They’re torn?” the father asked.
“No,” the mother said, holding a pair of pants. “They’re burnt.”
“Burnt? I don’t understand. What does burnt mean?”
His legs lay unmoving in the overly loose folds of his pants. Compared to his height and his broad bone structure they seemed diminished, too thin and spindly to belong on a body with such great shoulders, such long arms.
“Let’s get high, hiiiigh, let’s get high, hiiigh-“
“Yeah, I just took some Ecstasy, Ain’t no tellin what the side effects could be..”
“Come on, let’s get hiiiigh!” Asif laughed and reached for one of his sister’s arms.
“Don’t touch me!” she burst, backing abruptly out of his reach. “You’re singing crap and you’re glorifying something that you know is haram. You know, you absolutely know that’s haram, and I don’t want to hear it!”
She turned away from him and put her face in her hands. Asif put one of his hands on her shoulder and turned her around.
“What’s the matter with you?” he teased.
The sister removed her hands and looked Asif in the face. She was crying.
“Oh uh,” Asif mocked, pulling his hand of off her shoulder and stepping away. “Why are your eyes red hunh? Don’t tell me you’re on drugs, I’m gonna tell Abbu on you!”
The sister pushed past Asif and ran to her room, slamming the door behind her.
Asif sang on his way to the front door. “Let’s get high, hiiiigh!”
The feet were uncovered, some of the nails broken short and some grown very long. The skin was dry and papery, and the gray roughness on the soles of his feet was an effect of long-term neglect. Also, the heels were cracked.
The elder brother came for a visit. He sat with Asif in the car.
“I know what you’re doing because I’ve done it before.”
“What?” Asif demanded belligerently, “What do you think I’m doing? And what have you been up to, hunh?”
“I’m going to tell Abbu and he’s going to break your legs.”
“Yeah, and what if I tell Abbu what you were up to?”
“Abbu knows what I did, and Abbu knows that I quit years ago. You, on the other hand, appear to have fallen into the s*** face first.”
He had, at one point, been a warm, healthy Pakistan brown. That was before the skin, the fingertips, and even the eyes turned yellow. They were a dull, sticky-looking yellow, and were no longer handsome, no matter how green.
Asif lay on the floor. He had just fallen out of his chair at the dining table, and the plate of rice he had been eating fell down with him. He was grinning.
Then he was chuckling.
Then he was roaring with laughter.
The roaring turned to howls, and then the laughter turned into wailing.
Then he was crying.
The mother put her hand to her heart. The sister looked to her desperately. The father was at work. That was the night that Asif told them everything.
The next morning he forgot, and wasn’t sure why he had been locked in his bedroom.
He banged on the door for three hours. No one opened it. There was a pain in his head and a frantic craving. He kicked at the door furiously.
Downstairs the mother cried.
Asif jumped off of his second-floor balcony and landed in front of the house. He limped away.
The face, the drawn, yellowed, taut face, had once been handsome. The black hair had once fallen sleeky in place when he ran his fingers through it. The father had looked at him with pride, the sister had guarded him jealously. His friends had called him a ‘pretty bastard’ and teased him until he lovingly beat them up.
“If you fail the drug test, I kick you out. If you come home high, I kick you out. You understand?”
Asif ignored the elder brother and carried his bags into the room that was to be his. As he set his bags down the doorbell rang.
The door opened and the nephew ran excitedly in screaming, “Asif Chachu! Asif Chachu!”
He was two years old and hyperactive and happy.
“Tahir! Come here you,” Asif picked Tahir up with one hand and slung him over his shoulder. Tahir giggled and screamed with happiness. Asif took Tahir to the park.
There are certain things that drugs will do a man’s body. His eyes become small. He sweats a lot. He is irrational and aggressive.
Asif was kicked out of the elder brother’s house and lived in his car. After two weeks, out of pity, out of pain, out of futility and love and worry, he had been allowed to move in with the family again. But he refused to quit.
“Don’t you understand?” the father screamed, “You are hurting the family, you are hurting yourself! They are illegal, they are haram!”
“You wanna kick me out again, you can kick me out, and I’ll still be doing drugs. You wanna keep me here, then keep me, here, but I’ll still be doing drugs. You can’t tell me I’m getting high because you don’t know what it feels like, ask anybody who-“
“Ask who?” the sister spat, “Other drug addicts? Have you ever thought about opening the Qur’an and checking?”
Asif pointed a finger in his sister’s face. “The Qur’an only mentions alcohol!”
The sister slapped him and left the room.
The chemicals in drugs are harmful not only to humans. If you try to smoke heroine on the dining table, it might eat a hole through the finish.
They came home and found Asif on the floor, unconscious, unresponsive. The house was a wreck. There was a hole in the dining table.
Asif awoke in a hospital bed and pulled out his IV. He walked out of the room and bumped into an orderly who tried to guide him back. There was a fistfight. The orderly, as well a doctor who tried to help, were badly beaten. Asif left.
Back home, the father was stricken with a severe headache. A few minutes later his nose began to bleed. The mother tried to convince him to see a doctor. He sniffed, refused, and picked the car keys up from the dining table. Where his fingers touched the table he left a drop of blood.
Asif made it home before the father returned and went directly to his room. The mother and the sister followed behind him, pleading. They refused to let him go, they refused to leave his room. He put on a pair of sweatpants and threw his hospital gown off. He pushed past them and began walking downstairs.
The sister rushed down the stairs and made it to the front door before he could. She stood in front of it with a knife in her hand.
“You can’t leave,” she cried, “I won’t let you go and kill yourself.”
Her eyes were red, her hands shook. She brandished the knife only feebly.
“Quit faking,” Asif said, moving suddenly towards her. He took the knife from her hand and flung it across the room. She rushed forward and wrapped Asif in a tight embrace, burying her face in his chest.
“Please,” she groaned, “Please…”
Asif thrust her away with such force that she hit the wall. He walked out the door.
The body, Asif’s body, lies half naked on the floor.
The elder brother came home after the funeral and sat wearily down. Quick, light footsteps approached him from the kitchen and Tahir climbed into his father’s lap.
“Hi Baba,” Tahir said.
The remaining brother drew Tahir to himself and held him tightly. Tahir innocently pushed away. Tahir then held his hands out, palms up, and shrugged, “Where Asif Chachu?”
“Asif Chachu isn’t here any more, Tahir,” the remaining brother clenched his jaw to stop his mouth from quivering.
“Asif Chachu gone?”
“Yes, Asif Chachu gone.”