A person's fight for strict ethical conduct ultimately kills him.
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CURDLED DREAM, A NOVEL, ABOUT 92000 WORDS, (ADVENTURE, ROMANCE AND THE FLESH TRADE BY WELL TO DO PERSONS)
This book is a work of fiction. Name, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or used facetiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
You must go to bed with friends or whores, where money makes up the difference in beauty or desire.
This book is a work of fiction. Name, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or used facetiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
You must go to bed with friends or whores, where money makes up the difference in beauty or desire.
A regiment was living in thermal sealed igloos on a glacier when the outside temperature was minus forty, and Colonel Sam rose early, ordered his troops to get ready for an assault on the enemy. His troops ate ready-made breakfast by heating it in pressure pots, donned their white thermal suits, and went outside. The snow had made everything white. They took their positions for an attack on the enemy. The enemy wore white parkas, so they were hardly visible. They were meters away and Sam silently signaled his men to advance by crawling.
He put his binoculars to his snow goggles' to sight the enemy. The slight movement of icy figures enough for him to order his men to open fire. Assault rifles boomed and he saw them go down, blood splashing the snow.
Soon the Lama Helicopter swerved to airborne and Colonel Sam crawled farther to capture the post held by the enemy. His troops followed as an automaton. He slipped beneath, slithered from abutting rock, but caught himself. He took out a hand grenade to throw it when his gun dropped and hit a rock with a clang. The enemy located his position and fired on him. He died in the enemy held position and Colonel Sam's body handed over the next day after a flag meeting between the two warring factions.
Colonel Sam's only son Eli came back from his college to his posh locality house in Islamabad, when the phone rang, he lifted the receiver; somebody from army general headquarters informed him that his father martyred at the Kashmir front. He loved his father as his mother died when he was young and his father married again to Jasmine, who was ten years younger than the army officer was. They had met at a party and Sam was smitten by her charm to marry soon. She gave birth to a daughter, Yasmin, to him later.
The news of death devastated Eli and he fell in the chair and cried for hours. The information of the martyrdom of his father taught him that he slipped on the snow due to his inadequacy in mountain climbing and that was why he came into enemy's fire. It inspired Eli to learn mountaineering and he enrolled himself in the Alpine Club of Pakistan and took practical courses in it during his summer vacations. He financed his hobby from the income of a large estate bought by his father from the army's land after he sold the ancestral property in Punjab. He held some pride for his ability to climb steep faces of the rock like a professional.
Eli had appeared in his MBA final examination and joined as his maiden mountaineering expedition led by John Hillary a distant nephew of Sir Edmund Hillary, the Everest hero, on the recommendation of his club's president.He met William Watchman in Chitral hotel and they knew each other after a formal chat.The first question the American asked at the reception of the hotel, “Oh, man listens. Do you know about Islamist terrorists lurking around the Tirich Mir area?”
A bearded clerk replied, “We are not sure. Their whereabouts are unknown. Sorry, sir, I don’t know.”
Bill frowned at him, and afterwards Eli came towards the American and said in his ear,“The receptionist seems to be an agent of Al-Qaida. Do not ask anything from him."
Bill said, "Okay. Are you a member of the expedition?"
"Yes, I am. You are welcomed in Pakistan."
They sat in the lounge chairs and Bill ordered coffee. He said, "I'm interested in this region of the ancient silk route.
" It is very interesting.It seems like your modern day wild west."
"Forget it. You know, the Hindu Kush range in which we are going to climb to conquer the summit of Tirich Mir stands home to conquerors and would-be conquerors, the Persians, Alexander, the British and now the Americans and their opponents, Islamist terrorists."
"Yes, sir, you belong to the only superpower in the world. What you say is always correct."
They became close friends on the way in which they encountered dull and bleak mountains to the base camp with a few streams flowing downwards to irrigate parched land.
Sometimes their camaraderie sputtered and fogged, but they kept moving in the correct direction to reach the destination in the commendable way while Eli desired to conquer the peak on his first attempt, Bill knew later that the Pakistani was a fussy and a headstrong man and would not comprise on his held views.
I. The Fall
It was all cheers for two climbers, snow covered tall mountains. Bill has kept it in his mind while Eli was ambitious to soar higher and when they reached the top of a small mountain overlooking a valley by noon, they saw their main assault visible. It was the majestic peak of Tirich Mir. That mountaintop was full of snow and was looking stunning in the sun. Both realized the peak was a peaceful place where the spirit of God was supreme and serene and silence was sovereign. An elated Bill said," I'm very happy at this summit."
Eli said "Yes.We have to go a long way."
"Do not know, how I will feel at Tirich summit if I am at that top. It will be a fantastic feeling and indescribable. By Gad, this small one is majestic too. Look the beautiful scenery from here. Do you think any Islamist terrorist will attack us?"
"They can't fight in the rarefied atmosphere. There is terrorism in many countries of the world, not only in the Muslim world. I am sorry to say."
"Why have you become irritated? What is the real reason? I am not against all Muslims, hate only terrorists who kill innocents."
Eli kept his diffident, a thick fog engulfed them, it lifted soon, and they descended from the top to find an adulating highland with tall grass hindering their way ahead. A stream with high and steep banks crisscrossed the plateau and there was no visible way to cross it. Bill said, “We can’t cut across the rivulet without a bridge.”
“I haven't told you to do it. You were in such a hurry to go ahead when the rest of the expedition was at the fantastic fairyland oasis and were dismantling the camp to move it up. The bridge making gear is with them. We are helpless.” Becoming bitter and taking a deep gasp, Eli said.
Bill replied, “ I'm sorry. You are a first time- climber while I have climbed many peaks in the Andes and Himalayas. Mountaineering, isn't easy?”
"Of course, I will be, sir. You know it. I took the training at the Alpine Club of Pakistan. Go on, if you have a better idea to slog on high mountains."
"Cool down. Let me study the trek map."
Bill located a narrow wooden bridge across the stream, constructed earlier by another expedition from the map. After moving his eyes to seize its view as the only way, forward, he broke the inimical silence to shout to his junior. “Will this do? ---Let me see. Will you show your skills, too or will you sit dumb?”
The Pakistani became swaggered and said, “You are more a boss than a friend to me. I'm sure."
“Most people who know me know I’m a pretty friendly guy. Don't be ridiculous.”
Embarrassed, Eli did not reply, though their trekking was in a non-violent section near war torn Afghanistan border, fear of terrorists remained with the most expedition members. The behavior of his teammate piqued Bill and he said, “You have become a nuisance and was annoying me with your needless questions from the downhill of our trek. It's not true, is it? Why are you destroying our camaraderie? Be positive."
It appeared peace was vital and who goes first was secondary in their effort to climb up. Their cultural and religious superiority was not a deterrent. Who would climb first to the top of the Tirich Mir was and their success by then slipped from its orbit as bees from the jaded flower?
Bill went towards the bridge and said, “Mind your steps. Those planks look slippery, eh, man. You will fall down into the cold waters of the stream down below after a slip (-.” His mate spoke in the middle of the signal of the caution), “Why are you blowing a small task out of proportion to make it huge for me? It is odd.” It was Eli’s obsession with his personal vulnerability. When he would panic over those systems, nobody knew. It happened so soon. He dithered, in which he caught himself between thinking fast and slow after hearing Bill’s remarks. The bridge swayed like a seesaw. When Bill’s mate reached midway, he slipped, his body thrown downwards to swing in the air, he got seconds to keep his hands on the wooden planks, and in a moment the American pulled him over to carry him over the other side of the bridge. That's what Bill said, "Oh, Holy Christ."
“It was an awful moment. Thanks for help.”
There was a heavy silence for a while between them, each gasping for breath as they saw the significance of what exactly had happened. Bill lifted his eyes and looked at his teammate, but he remained a blithe person.
They began their climb towards the base camp marked at a height of five thousand five hundred meters on the map by their leader. It would take a few days to reach there from their position at that time, estimated Bill. Earlier, they had seen the mighty Tirich Mir peak first time from Chitral town where Bill befriended Eli.
A couple of days of solid slog from the yawning fissure, they arrived at the bottom of the Tirich Mir Mountain, where their base camp marked on the map by their leader. Bill measured it though satellite tracking and they erected their red tent in it which was a jumping ground for their assaults for the top. Soon other members of the expedition joined them. Porters pitched the tents there, a small weather shielded, and tipping patch as their base camp.A riot of colors of their formidable high altitude abode looked eye catching in the white snowy foreground.
Eli shook his head after entering his tent in the evening at the base camp. The weather matched its history of cold and unforgiving. The base camp pitched above five thousand meters from the mean sea level on a lee to ward of piercing wind. Bill told it to Eli after reading his watch type altimeter. The high- altitude porters were the persons to conform to weather and for Eli, it chilled all the way through the bone and put his teeth chattered. The wind cut through his parka, and it ripped the clouds to thread, windblown shreds. Did the aggression of the land infect those who entered with a violence of their own? The moderate Pakistani had no answer and then he went to the expedition leader’s tent after leaving his brooding in the cold to thaw. Eli felt eyes on him and turned to see John, the expedition leader who was taking his measure to establish the camp from the tent.It served as his general headquarters. He reminded Eli of a strong man with heavy jaws, piercing hazel eyes, appraising and speculative.
The tent smelled of gas stoves, wet clothing and the earthy scent of junk that was whipped everywhere in the howling wind. Local mountain porters milled around in cheap anoraks. The multilingual mutter of conversation washed over him. The locals were already beginning to pick some of the climber’s English language.
“All right, hear me.” John’s voice seemed unusually loud, in the tent. Eli turned and found him inside the tent with all members in rapt attention to heed the announcement. John said, “The sun is setting and we’ve got some severe weather coming. We are in for another shock. Double- check your tent stakes and make sure they are fixed tightly. Will you please listen? I will let you know when I want you out. In the meantime, stay in your tents and save your energy. We’ll need it later.”
The next day, the icy blast of cold weather showed no sign of abating. The snow covered their tents for their cleaning; nevertheless, there was a significant thaw in the relation of the American and Pakistani climbers, and their ego’s stronghold weakened and a desire for the blessing of fellowship became predominant. Bill and Eli felt comfort in their warm sleeping bags. The warmth killed their anxiety for a bad weather. They began a light conversation and after many topics, it turned to the climate at that height. Eli said, “Our prolonged wait for the snowstorm will make us bum and our arms will become stiff to climb to Camp One.”
“Yes, I know, absolutely. The warmth at the top of the atmosphere has snarled up to lower layers into a twist contortion of swirls and eddies. John told me after studying satellite imagery that the next threat to us is a blizzard. Well, Eli, be careful.”
Eli became stone deaf, not liked his advice. He had other ideas, and he was working on it. A few days passed without any activity, and Bill said in a mood of melancholy the other day, “I have read somewhere that people become real to us by frustrating us. If they do not frustrate us, they are merely the figure of fantasy. You, Eli, are same perturbed man".
Eli moaned in an unknown agony and said, “No, man, no. I am frustrated due to my vicissitude in Islamabad. Let us talk about your date in New York. Isn't it a good idea to talk about romance? Sex is all time best topics to ward off boredom.”
“Of course, I am dating, I told you earlier. Eli now what is your opinion about your ladylove Goya?” Bill frisked at him.
Eli waved his gloved hand in the air in a funny way like a winning boxer, sat upright, then became over jubilant, jumped out of his sleeping bag and said, “I love Goya, daughter of a brigadier." He then paused a while, went to kiss Bill and said, “You know, the status of women is frozen in my society. The concept of dating a girl is rare in Pakistan. Goya is my childhood friend. My dear, you have made me happy.”
Bill smiled and said, "Thank you. You are my buddy."
A pregnant pause settled in the tent after it.The American unzipped his sleeping bag and crawled inside while Eli, in a queer mood, looked at him with care and love.
It rained and there was no action next day too. The mountaineers remained confined to their tents. In certain ways, the very context of the base camp reflected the restlessness and challenged state of the climbers. Their footing was uncertain due to bad weather, as for that, those places were treacherous for going on slithering slopes, and they had a steep climb ahead to pass almost vertical face of the rocks.
The weather improved the next day. Their leader, John, called all climbers in his tent again. He said, “It is the higher period of turbulence than I have predicted before. The weather is not our weakness. I see all of you have been conquering enthusiasm glimmering on your nerves. There is something we should do than just to sit idle. It is to prepare to send the first batch of climbers. Today they will begin their indoor exercises. I remind you again, unless I order, nobody should move for upward climbing. You have to wait for it. There will be no repetition of the mistake as earlier expedition has done in which many killed in accidents at those heights. Please disperse for now.”
Eli in his mountaineering gear, with articulation like the one a Parka Squirrel, mindful of his expedition leader's secret looks at him, too, fearing he would breath up all the oxygen there, and he said, “Sir, please allow me to climb up with the earliest batch. I have dreamt to conquer the peak, first. Will you, sir?”
Bill said to the leader, “He dreams too much, sir.”
Eli’s face drooped in shame. John became annoyed and said, “Eli, you have to wait. Everyone will reach the summit. I am sure of it, in fact, we will all face the daunting task. What else can I do for you?”
In the early- morning hours, the eerie silence hanging over the mountains seemed more pronounced by the sparkling, bright sun that threw long shadows across the camp. Snow covered top glistened in the sun. Bill woke early that day and said to Eli, “Wake up. Let us go for breakfast".
Eli was confused at the question, and he first chose to ignore him while brushing his hand across his face to wipe away the traces of sleep. He seemed weary with his unending fantasies.
“It is nothing, mate” Eli replied. “Let’s get out and take advantage of the sun in the open after a prolonged bad weather.”
They ate breakfast together and Bill asked, “Do you know the Kalasha tribes?”
“Yes, I know them.They live in Chitral, isn't.”
“I read about them in the US before arriving here. They are the only surviving pagans in Pakistan, and they live just below us if you follow Google’s earth maps.”
Eli felt small, since the American knew more about Pakistan than him, and he felt snubbed and answered, “It is interesting. Yes, I have seen flashy, black-costumed Kalasha girl’s dance in Islamabad. They are maintained by our government as a tourist attraction.”
“Mind your manner. It is not a decent comment about your ancient tribe. Are you a buggy?”
"Why are you saying it? Don't curse me?"
"All right. Don't mind it, my dearest mate."
They came out in the open without saying a word. A crisp air blew across the camp and there was no cloud in the sky. Eli liked the sun on his torso. His eyes squinted, and he looked up to the glittering mountaintop with envy. Bill went to his tent. He donned his snow eyeglasses and gave Eli a pair to wear to guard against harmful sun rays of the high mountains. Lacking some, movement in his body, and leaving his looming thoughts for sometimes, Eli stretched his body on the prickly pebbles hidden in the snow and said to Bill, “Look upwards and see the snowy peak. A few more camps and we will be on the summit without the support of oxygen.”
Bill nodded and said, yes, I will. It is stupefying now. Let us see it! What weather says?"
The crisis between the two was not over and Eli said, “Who will be first to set foot on the summit? You said you will. Why not you said we? You care little about your mate.”
Bill’s face burned by the sun and the wind, hair tossed, his craggy, angular features were ruddy with beautiful brown eyes and he had a broad grin on his face. Bill raised his eyebrow and said, “The lucky one will be at the top. No kidding, holy moolah, which will be, get a lot of money from the sponsors. Isn't?”
Eli had ideas to become a first-time celebrity. With his optimism heightened, he said, “I will be the lucky one. You will see. Luck gives wealth and you Americans love the riches.”
“Famous, too, isn’t? Then again, you have Islamist extremists in your society that everyone knows. Do you have liberal intellectuals to counter them?
“I am not aware of it.”Eli then looked towards the cloudless sky and said, “The weather has become fine. We should climb up now. What do you think?”
“Why you are in a hurry? After a pause, Bill muttered." It is beyond doubt, I'm not sure, not now, and there is no occasion to break open Champagne yet. I do not think so.”
They came to their tent. Eli was feeling miserable and he said to Bill, “Death takes no holidays. I am not afraid of it.”
“You find the reason. I am going to sleep.”
They went to their sleeping bags. Sleep eluded Eli that night. He woke early and came out to see the sun shining on the peak of Tirich Mir. The porter said, “Sahib, what is the matter? You have risen so early in the morning. Will you want an early breakfast?”
“ I am not hungry. Is it too early? Sun has risen, look towards it, and see its brightness. I do not have a good night's sleep, woke up early after seeing a dream."
“Oh, it must be a pleasant dream in which you have seen pretty girls. You are a handsome man, tall, fair colored, brown hair, and wide, sparkling- eyes and any girl will fall in love with you. I remind you, not go alone on this mountain since super-natural nymphs will kidnap you for sex. Many of our handsome men of my clan were lost in the high mountains due to their masculinity.”
“Listen, I heard the voice of a girl in distress in my dream. She wanted my help from the high mountains.”
“Sahib, it is, what I am telling. These mountains are ghost-ridden. Your heard voice must be of a mountain Houri to lure you.”
“It is absurd and the figment of imagination of illiterates. I do not want you to blow up my plan.”
The whole day went uneventful and Bill and Eli chatted while relaxing in their tent. Eli woke up the next day when Bill was sleeping. For the first time, he felt the affliction of success getting hold of him, when he hoped to walk away from the tent, and there were lovely lyrics of yet-to-be-born songs on his lips. The calmness in the air was misleading, as a stray thought of his lover from yonder came to boost his morale, he wanted to gather her attraction after a success by reaching the summit. Luckily, there was no wind. After looking at his mountaineering kit, he rose in a strange stupor to get into his mountain gear. He wanted a practice runs on the slopes. It was all that he needed. It was something to get him moving and to get his blood pumping. He forgot leader's warning. Eli grabbed a pick and stashed some tools and packets of high-energy food in his backpack.He sat outside his tent ready to climb. The towering peak of Tirich Mir loomed in his mind to reach its top. Instead, he chose a lesser hill for a rehearsal before the actual assault near the safety of the base camp. He flipped himself up from his sitting place on an icy boulder. The ambitious Pakistani stood and took quick strides on hard snow. That hilltop was bathing in the bright sun without any snow on it. Like an automaton, Eli wanted to climb to reach the summit of the sighted crag, leaving a trail of his frantic footmarks in the snow behind. His attention to safety overtook the excitement to move on, just a little more, while the battle for dominance over others grew stronger after he grabbed his snowshoes, checking to ensure that their crampons were in place and snow ax, too, in his belt. He fixed the dagger in his hip holsters. The cacophony of his fellow climbers began loud as they woke up at the base camp. The noise was telling him to go back, to join them in their idle pursuits where shelters set for protection from inclement weather, where they could save their lives if a blizzard occurred, and he unheeded to the alarm sounded by his leader earlier. The seduction of the stones told him to stay and watch the majestic mountain for a bit of his satisfaction. He sat like a senseless stout some time near the crag. The mountain, despite what John said, was not which torture men – it was the nature. It did not care if he was man or beast to bury when it was in a fury. Humans spoiled the wealth of nature by treading the sacred land. The fairies therein probably hid on the heights in the clean white snow for the fear of those spoilers of the mountaineers. It was a niche of his nous, which was not a feeling of earnest, but a mixture of abstract perceptions haunted his mind. It was a doubtful debate regarding the existence of demons, and elves. The local porters foreboding earlier, not to go alone in the mountains, had not affected his resolve. The imagery of demons and elves in the high mountains fascinated Eli and for some time, he hesitated, but an unknown impulse transmitted from somewhere told him to move on, at the time of his uncalled stroll in the snow. A little step by little step, he moved ahead. Eli grew more frantic. There was no way for him to retrace his steps, he moved ahead frantically, and it was dreadful resolve for accepting the challenge without any consideration of worst consequences that might ensue. He climbed up the slope, his breathing becoming heightened, unmindful of the danger of his footing and above Tirich Mir’s top hovered like a wall of his critical willingness. His feet froze as a statuette to marvel at the beauty of the top, and he realized the importance of his practice run in which he would be more competent later to move ahead to Camp One to conquer the peak as if stones could be conquerable as countries. He focused his mind on the immediate task to climb a small hill to sharpen his legs. The patches of snow, then became soft. He twisted his face in a wry smile and glanced at the tentage at the base camp that was bubbling with activity by then. The camp was looking small from his location. All of a sudden, his mind became alarmed when he saw a snow hallucination in which a white fairy called him to come towards her. She vanished soon, but he could not retreat. By then he heard a swooshing sound as if someone deflated a big balloon. The low of the weather broke, and a strong gust of wind came for a minute and then there was a little snow and an instant later, a lull. The scree on the sides of the tor started to fall. Becoming terrified, Eli read on his wrist compass, barometer the atmospheric pressure, and there was an abrupt drop in it. He sensed it and by then he became sure that a blizzard was coming after the lull. He repented. John was so correct, and he was mistaken. Then the sight of the frozen crests of huge, snow driven waves looked similar to coffins of corpses of spun- white- cotton spread scattered everywhere. He took that landscape as his deathbed. Far below, there were chasms and streams wound like muddy water, with occasional glaciers still unaffected due to the bad weather. Eli's harebrained plan for gunning ahead of other mountaineers misfired at him when he slithered into a moving glacier in the blizzard and it was very dangerous landing on slowly swanning snow with a deadly drop into the abyss. It all broke badly.
II. It was an Issue of Death
“You are going to pay for it.” John, the leader of the mountaineering expedition shouted to his men after he picked up the satellite images on his laptop. The website assured him a snow blizzard be hitting their base-camp soon. While Bill frizzled hot, from the emergency declared, he tried to locate Eli in an alarm. All porters and climbers were erecting a safe mountaineering tent. Those protections made strong to withstand snowstorms and used by military of India and Pakistan for the high- altitude war on very big glaciers. Everyone had to gather in a huge tent. All climbers came soon in it for their safety. Bill was anxious about Eli. Where I will find him? The question perplexed him. He saw him going to sleep in the night. He said to himself, “I will be there wherever you are Eli”. Recalling it, Bill became dejected. While John was furious at Eli’s irresponsible act, as a leader, he was responsible for the safety of all persons of the expedition, and said he, “Yes, Eli was like Parka Squirrel, chatterbox, chasing shadows as foxhound, sometimes sourpuss and a funny character indeed with more personality than he gets it on. He knew not how to use it, yet he is a likeable climber. A lovable character, you know it, Bill. His colonel father also died in a high- altitude glacier war between India and Pakistan. His death led him to have a craze for mountaineering. I have trekked the glacial area near China border before the conflict. Why they are fighting in such a beautiful place? It is better for the sanctity of mountains if they agree to ceasefire.”
There was dead silence after the blizzard with high winds hit the base camp. It lasted for a while, throwing snow all around. Later, John translating his talent as a seasoned mountaineer asked his members to clear the snowfall. He said in a sad mood, “How is it possible? You do not notice Eli is gone away, Bill?”
“He usually goes to restroom in the morning. I assumed he had gone there to pee and poop.”
Bill sobbed and remembered his saying to Eli, “You go on your way. Don’t you know, how to dismount from a dead horse? It is the time for you to come to US and leave your country, which is a sinking ship. It is not your mistake, but it is the fault of radical mass hysteria developed in Pakistan for fractious ideologies, and you are not alone responsible for having a disturbed psyche due to it.”
John was in a melancholy mood at a loss of his team- member and said, “In any case, search for him around the base camp. We must have rescue attempt. Try to find any trace of him as his snow ax fallen somewhere. Do not presume, he is dead, it is not good enough beforehand?”
An old porter replied, “There are tons of snow thrown by the blizzard. No one can survive in it. Allah blesses the soul of Eli Sahib.”
"Go and search him. Do not lose hope. He might have survived."
Bill suggested to John,” Please inform Eli’s family through your satellite phone that he was missing.”
"Let us be sure, first."
The whole area around the base came scoured by John's men for any trace of Eli. Nothing was found. By the evening, they assumed him dead. Bill went to John's tent weeping like a child. The leader used wireless to contact local army for help to locate the missing person. Helicopters became airborne, but poor visibility prevented them to scan the Surroundings Mountains around base camp due to such high altitude situation, where special machines could only hover. The aviation authorities informed the leader about their inability to locate the missing man.
Teardrops fell from the eyes of Bill. He fished a tissue from his pocket to wipe it and said to John,"Will you please inform Eli's family?"
John was unhappy and said,"What? Whether he is missing or he is presumed dead."
"I can't say, loved him and do not like his death."
There was a fatal silence in the air for a while. John picked the satellite phone and called Eli's house to inform the tragedy. No one attended the call at Eli’s residence in Islamabad, and John phoned the alpine club of Pakistan in the same city to take the matter further. The secretary of the club was on the line, and he noted the message of the expedition leader.
While in faraway Islamabad that day the pollen count was high, making allergy- prone Eli’s stepmother sneezed continuously, while his stepsister was watching TV in the lounge. Jasmine was Eli's stepmother and Yasmin, stepsister. Eli’s father had no other son to mind his large estate in a society in which women looked down in many aspects of the life.
His stepmother and stepsister were sitting in the lounge in the evening. The mother asked her daughter, “Have you heard where Eli has gone without saying anything to me?”
“No, Mom, I do not know. I am watching my favorite Indian soap. Do not interrupt me at this time of my pleasure.”
Jasmine silently went to say her evening prayer, which, due to her knee problem, she offered by sitting, making faint finger gestures for bowing the head and it was rather a habit than supplication to please God. After a short prayer she stood, then came to the TV lounge and said, “If your father was alive Eli would not have done such an irresponsible act of going away without informing anybody. Isn't it a foolish act? Will you hear me?”
Yasmin said only, “Hm mm.”
Jasmine miffed, by her daughter’s indifferent attitude about Eli, ordered the maidservant to bring tea and biscuits as the sun was going to set behind Margalla Hills, walling Islamabad from terrorist infected northwest frontier province. Mother and daughter sipped their tea without speaking a word. It seemed that inwardly, they had some conflict in mind, though outwardly, they presented before the society a picture of complete harmony between them. That bitterness was more apparent while they were at their house at the time of dinner or tea, since other times Yasmin shut herself in her room. What she did inside nobody knew, and she seldom went to Brother Eli’s room downstairs to meet him to enquire his welfare. Jasmine in the mood of agitation, asked her daughter and was hoping to find a satisfactory reply at that time, “Have you collected my clothes from the tailor?”
“Mom, you know the traffic jam during my return from the college. It is terrible. How difficult it is to drive in it and since Eli has gone, the car is giving me problems. Try to listen, I fear the day when it stops all of a sudden on a crowded road and nobody will push it for me.”
Jasmine again sneezed cleaned her nose with her hanky, and muttered to herself, ‘I have to take an anti-allergy pill for sure to ward off the pollen allergy, but if I take it now then I will go to sleep early and would wake in the middle of the night’.
Scratching her nose with her fingers in a vegetative state, fretted in her mind about the stubbornness of her only daughter, she turned her eyes toward the television and glanced at the scenes shown on the channel that Yasmin was eagerly watching. She soon realized.It was an earlier TV serial and she enquired from her daughter, “Is it the same older shows that you are again watching?”
“It is enough now for you. Mom, you do not want me to remain with a happy smile. I have not seen these episodes as my exams were going on when it was shown.”
“Oh, go on, then.”
Yasmin said to her Mom during an ad break on TV, “Why you are not hiring a driver for our old vehicle left by our father which has now become a jalopy? Eli says it is a vintage car and he will not sell it at any cost. My brother is eccentric. I dare say. I remind you because I cannot drive the car anymore and now that my brother has vanished somewhere, I suggest you to ask our farm manager to give us money to buy a new car.”
“Please do not argue at this time when the day meets night. It is a bad omen. Will you?”
Yasmin did not want to reply to her mother. Jasmine was in her mid-forties still good looking, charming, because of it, many people took them as sisters, not mother and daughter, and she, in a mood of mockery about her standing as family head, told her daughter,
“You know how shrewd your father was, before dying, he had bequeathed our estate by the name of his only son except this house in which we can live according to the ‘will’, but can’t sell it. The farm manager knows all about it in the village. It is not the blessing of our farmers for Muhammad Khan, the handler of the estate to rule it. It was your father’s leniency. Eli is going in his father’s footstep rather he is too soft with him. It is the reason he did not listen to us. If I have my sway on him, and then I will teach him such a bitter lesson to a low menial, he would not stomach it. The manager, after my roughing, would smell as if he was a dead mouse, and he surely is and he will become a castrated bull. Why that bastard is giving us trouble? I will not tolerate it being a wife of a proud army officer.”
Yasmin was busy watching TV while her mother had a craving to curse someone at that moment and with a malevolent malice towards her daughter, Jasmine said, "Would you like to listen to me?"
Yasmin waited and said at a commercial break,“What was the income from our farm for the summer harvest?”
“I do not know it. Ask the farm manager. You want to digress me.”
Yasmin snarled by her mother’s word said. “It is not a guessing game. You must be aware of it, Mom. He has given you money. I know.”
After those harsh words of her daughter, she felt ashamed, did not speak more, as the mass of ideas and feelings were accumulating within Jasmine was about to erupt, which was, how she married Eli's father who was then a major in the army. She had met him at the club after the death of his first wife when Eli was a boy. How she charmed the military man to marry her. She smiled after recalling how she succeeded in hiding her secrets from her husband during his lifetime and her stepson who had a vague suspicion of it. Later, her husband became the full colonel. Fighting at Kashmir front, he laid his life and the martyrdom had broken her heart when his dead body arrived draped in a flag at their residence for burial in which she did not go.
Coming out of her recollections, she became angry with herself, shouted to the house cleaner, while sitting on the sofa, to clean the table. Her daughter vanished somewhere. The night fell in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. It was an autumn coming with the rustling of leaves from the wind blowing from the northern Himalayas and making the weather a bit cold.
After past musing, she began to think anxiously about her stepson, Eli, ‘I wanted to love Eli from the onset of my marriage. He was just seven years old, a handsome kid with sparkling, light brown eyes, fair skin, ruddy cheeks and so healthy that he looked older than his age. He was obdurate from his early childhood. Despite my love for him, he never kissed my cheeks, and possibly, he was always searching something somewhere, perhaps a real mother whom he failed to find in me. When my daughter was born after two years of my marriage, he came home from his hostel, was surprised to see an infant in the house. He tried to play with my daughter in the cot, but he became annoyed with me when I told him not to touch my baby with his soiled hands. From there on there was no departing from Eli to tease and pull the hair of his younger sister until he became rather grown up. The hatred deepened in his consciousness, after the death of his father, though outwardly he was nice and caring to me, and to Yasmin, but inwardly he detested us.’
Jasmine was by than imagining the wildest scenery of her family life and it continued in her mind when the behavior of her own daughter were not congenial to her, but she wanted a verification of her own pleasing conduct in herself than to find fault in Eli for her life's problems.
The maidservant, meanwhile finished her cooking and cleaning of the kitchen and came to Jasmine to ask her permission to retire to her quarters inside the compound of Eli’s house. Jasmine, in a mood of agitation, told her, “You have not cleaned the pots, yet you want to leave early?”
“No, madam, I have cleaned the whole kitchen in good order. I have put the dishes on the racks after cooking the dinner, placed food in the hot box for you and Yasmin, madam. You merely have to dish out meals from the pots for eating at the dining table. You know my youngest son was ill. My husband is out, and I have to bring medicine for my boy. It is already late in the night, and the medical store is far.”
“It is not late, you idiot…”
Then the house bell rang as loud as to make someone alarmed, and Jasmine had to cut short of the berating of her servant and asked her to attend the caller.The maidservant soon came back with news that a person from the Alpine club wanted to see her for an emergency. Jasmine never heard of such an organization, became harsh, and said to the servant, “I do not know anyone from it. Where is that mountain? Is it in Switzerland? Tell the man to go away and come back the next day in the morning. Who knows? These days thieves and robbers knock the door on one pretext or other for housebreaking. Tell him to get lost.”
The servant returned to hold the entrance door to the lounge slightly ajar, and told the awaiting man the order of her mistress, “Come back here in the morning.”
“It is very urgent, concerning Mr. Eli. Do you know him?”
“Yes, I do. He is my Sahib.”
“Do you know where he has gone?”
“I am not aware of his whereabouts.”
“Is any relative of his has presence in the house?”
“Yes, his mother is here.”
“I have roamed hours to find the house of Mr. Eli. I was unable to trace his whereabouts from our records, and then I went to an army officer and told him his father’s name that was the late Colonel Sam. He kindly directed me to this house. It is very urgent, and I must see his mother.”
The maidservant went inside and told Jasmine about it. After that, the man from the Alpine club ushered into the house by the maidservant, and the mother of Eli came to meet him in the lounge. The messenger appeared wearing down. His face had an exhausted look, muddy eyes, and he had a pencil mustache that drooped and sweating in the mild weather showed his situation was uneasy.
Agitated Jasmine enquired for him, “What is so important and urgent?”
The man replied,“I am the secretary of the Alpine club of Pakistan. Your son was an affiliate member of our club.”
“He never told me that he had joined your club. Your occupation is to make people travel together. Isn't it?”
“We promote mountaineering in Pakistan.”
Jasmine uninterested in talk more, said, “I see.”
He said, “Mr. Eli went with a foreign expedition to climb Tirich Mir Mountain. I inform you with a heartfelt sadness that we have received a wireless message conveying, he is missing from the base camp, perhaps swept away in a snowstorm.”
“How it is possible?”
After saying it, Jasmine collapsed on the sofa. The servant went to inform Yasmin about the tragedy, and the man from the Alpine club with swift feet retreated towards the departing door.
Yasmin was busy chatting on the Internet, when the servant woman came to her upper- storey room and knocked on the door in a mood of agitation. Yasmin became irritated and hollered, “I am chatting, and you tell it to Mom.”
“It is a tragic accident and come out to find it, MemSahib.”
She was so busy chatting that she did not hear the words spoken by the house servant and ignored her. Instead, she sent romantic lyrics to the chatter on- line while the servant was impatiently waiting outside the door. She was in a hurry to go off to tend her ailing child. In desperation, the maid banged on the door with all her strength without saying anything, since she knew the habit of her employer’s daughter of becoming deaf while on the Internet. Yasmin then came out of the room and wanted to spank her servant. When she saw a death- like dread in the maidservant’s eyes, she withdrew her hand in a hurry and realized that something terrible had happened in the house. She leaped downstairs.
Yasmin was terrified to see her mother lying unconscious on the sofa. She then grabbed her hand and squatted to feel her pulse, which was normal, and asked the servant to bring a glass of water. She sprinkled the water on her face and straightened her body by lifting her up to make her stretched on the couch. Yasmin then watched the mother for a sign of life. Her mother coughed and regained consciousness, but she was speechless while Yasmin in a display of bad temper, asked her mother, “What led you to faint?”
“I do not remember what led me to have a blackout.”
The servant woman then intervened knowing from her past observations on the preposterous relation of Eli with his mother and sister, she was aware of their bizarre behavior on such occasions concerning the only male member in the house. She said, “MemSahib, do you remember a man had come from a club who was saying that Eli Sahib is missing in the mountains? Then you fainted, and I went to call your daughter.”
Yasmin, annoyed with the house cleaner, flared up and said, “Shut up. We do not know any club where Eli goes. Presently, he is with one of his friends living somewhere in Islamabad. He is careless. We all know. Tell me, who is the man? I will rip his guts out if he dares to tell one that Eli is missing in the mountains. It is a bundle of lies, nothing else. Why have you not called me instead of informing Mom?”
The woman, who was working on Eli’s house for a meager salary was least interested in the squabbles of her employers and wanted to leave, as soon as possible to the servant quarters than to indulge in the useless debate. The house rent elsewhere was not affordable for her to live in Islamabad and it was a free accommodation that was the only consolation for her to serve with the fractious family. At that moment, she thought she could do nothing about the tragedy in their family and requested Yasmin “MemSahib. My child is sick. May I leave to tend my tot?”
Yasmin befuddled, said, “Yes. You better go away and leave us.”
She then shook her mother with nervous hands and said, “What was the matter? You fainted, and the maidservant made a maddening knock at my door. I do not want to offend, mother, but her act is shocking. How can a servant be so rude for me?”
“Do not blame her? Yes, it was a scary and bad tidings. I do not remember exactly what happened as it happened all of a sudden. My mind was brooding over the absence of Eli at that time. However, he has behaved like that in the past, and it has become his habit of him to be absent himself from the house without informing me, after all, I am his guardian. I know, either he goes to the farmhouse or elsewhere. He cares little to inform me. After your father is no more in this world, his absence is unexplainable to my weary mind and this time, what has happened to Eli, has made me delirious?”
Her daughter, bored with her mother’s long and unnecessary overture, asked her, “I know that. Tell me what happened just now. Who came here and what that man does say to alarm you?”
“Yes, I now recall it was a man from the Alpine club of Pakistan, who came to inform me that Eli is missing from a mountaineering expedition. Hearing it, I passed out and do not know when a man as a ghost disappeared from our house.”
Yasmin looked worried. Her characteristic of becoming bouncy waned. A strange seriousness overtook the prettiness of her face to make it pale, and she fumbled with the words, “How it is possible? After all, he is my half- brother and the only male member in the household. Mother, listen to me. It seems to me that somebody who is malicious made a dirty joke on us. I cannot believe it as Eli never mentioned, mountain climbing was his hobby.”
Jasmine told her daughter with a stern face, “Do not make it complex. Go and phone Brigadier Happy, your papa’s friend, and tell him about Eli’s disappearance. I am sure he will help us.”
Yasmin went towards the telephone, searched for his number and dialed it, and said with a weeping intone, “Is Uncle Happy there?”
An unknown voice replied, “No. He is out, perhaps gone to a club. I am not sure.”
“Is anybody’s home?”
“Yes. Goya MemSahib is here in the study.”
“Call her. It is urgent. I am Yasmin, tell her.”
Yasmin pondered over the matter if the information proved to be correct, how they would overcome their grief. She became fretful and clasped her hand on the phone receiver. Goya the daughter of Brigadier Happy, the army officer nicknamed “Happy” due to his loud laughs, came to the phone, and she enquired, “What’s up, Yasmin?”
“A man came from the Alpine club, and he did say that Brother Eli was missing from a mountaineering expedition.”
Goya was fond of Eli as he delighted her with his pranks. She felt as if somebody had pulled the carpet from underneath her to wobble her legs. She replied after becoming woeful and pined, “Oh, no, I can’t believe it. How it is possible for Eli to join a mountaineering expedition? I have seen him only a week ago. He was perhaps going somewhere else but not on a trek. I am sure.”
“Where is your father? Please inform him regarding our concern and request him to trace my brother.”
“Yes, I am trying to find him and he will bring you back soon.”
Goya’s eyes became misty with drops of tears for Eli because she was also motherless, like him. She hung up the telephone. It was in a mood of disbelief. She knew Eli well and could not conceive that he was dead or missing in the mountains; however, she tried to locate her father on her cell phone and got him. In a shivering pitch of voice, she told him about Eli’s disappearance. Brigadier Happy was a serving Pakistan army officer and at that time, he was at an official dinner attended by some generals of the army. He told his daughter to tell Yasmin to meet him at the Alpine club of Pakistan next morning to ascertain the facts.
Brig Happy, along with Goya, reached the Alpine club early while Eli’s stepmother and sister were late, due to a mechanical problem with their car. The secretary of the Alpine club had a salt and pepper beard. He was an old and seasoned climber, soon called the senior army officer inside, and he told him the facts of missing Eli from the base camp of Tirich Mir. A copy of the wireless message from the leader of the expedition Mr. John shown by the Clubman and it was the confirmation that Eli was missing from the base camp. He also allowed Brig to contact the camp leader, Mr. John by satellite phone, who told him all about the circumstances in which Eli disappeared from the camp. John and Ted wanted to talk with Eli’s kin. Somehow, Jasmine took hold of the receiver with tears in her eyes. John was on the phone, “Eli is missing Madam, and I take full responsibility of it. He was or rather is our cherished climber and we will try our best to locate him in the snow, dead or alive. I convey my profound apologies to all of your family.”
Missing person’s mother only sobbed and then Bill said, “Eli was my tent-mate. We all loved him. How can I say that such a nice man will perish in the snow? He is unforgettable for us.”
Jasmine left the receiver hanging from the table as if the soul of her son was coming through the satellite- phone to haunt her memories.
Goya felt feverish went to her father to grieve the loss of her best friend, which she hardly believed in her heart that he had died. Jasmine and Yasmin left for their home in a hurry in their car.
Jasmine’s lone younger brother, Uncle Charlie was sitting in the verandah of her house with his friend Mr. Difficulty while a ceiling fan was churning air all around to blow away the unpleasant atmosphere of sadness from the Eli’s house when they arrived. Mr. Difficulty squelched after observing Yasmin, then he swung his soldiers and attempted to mask his sudden romance with the sultry girl with a broad grin.
When Eli goes mountaineering to escape from his querulous stepmother, stepsister, he never knew: he will accidentally fall into the Kalasha caves in an injured condition where tribal chief's daughter wants sex with him, he avoids her advances as he does not desire an intercourse without a wedlock and hates the prostitution as his belief is, better to wank than to go with a wrench.His unrequited love to Goya, his childhood sweetheart, daughter of his late father's friend, comes to an end when she marries her father's chosen man as a bridegroom, and then he goes to New York to live with his mountaineering friend, Bill, he tries to befriend a Jewish girl. The girl bluntly says, they do not date Muslim boys.