Already running late, Junaid was breathing heavily. “Damn! These cigarettes,” he said to himself. Rushing through small alleys toward the main road to catch a bus, he ran as fast as he could; worried his friend might leave. He had planned that he will not answer his friend’s call, so that this friend assumes that Junaid may arrive any time. He did not want to lie to his friend continuously about his location while traveling in the bus. Just when he was about to reach the main road, he felt as if his legs were jammed and as if so many years have passed since his last run.
His friend Asif began to yell as soon as he saw Junaid. But Junaid could not make out what his friend was saying. Instead, he read his lips and presumed that Asif was angry. The two were meeting in a garden laid on the banks of river Jhelum, which flows through Srinagar city; thus got its name, ‘Jhelum Valley Park’. The park, as usual, was thronged by people since morning due to its location in the central market of the city. People from the entire neighborhood came to this park. Friends met, colleagues discussed, students bunked and some entered just to take a nap while as some took a stop so that they could continue their journey. They all loved this place and so did Junaid who was now lying on his back talking to Asif. It was a casual talk, nothing serious.
The duo had finished their studies and was now looking for a job. But most of the time they used to plan for further studies in London or Frankfurt. They repeated same things when there was nothing more to say but without actually realizing it. ”I would go for further studies in economics,” Asif would say, followed by Junaid’s approval and one or the other always said, “A degree in Europe or the US will increase our credibility and once we come back, everyone will welcome us.”
Meanwhile, Junaid was also trying to read the text from a red colored hoarding by a telecom company hanging outside the park over a shop, offering new services and tariff plans. He felt something is missing but couldn’t comprehend the new plan. He wanted to know about it, but it was over exposed to light due to its position against the sun. He asked Asif’s help but to no avail. It seemed Asif hardly cared about the new offers owing to his new smart phone with 3G internet service.
The sun was getting brighter but it was not hot, even as it wasn’t winter. Right next to the park is a cafe known as ‘The Coffee Shop’ which was more famous as just a hang-out place than the tea and coffee it served, except for the chicken patties – they tasted much better. Both Asif and Junaid liked the patties and they usually had them with the combination of coffee and a cigarette. Around this time there was no one else sitting inside except the duo. As soon as Junaid began sipping his coffee an old man entered the shop. He was well built, tall, sporting a white beard, ‘as white as snow’. He appeared to be a Muslim priest. Junaid always felt a little uncomfortable around people like the old man as he seldom offered prayers, mostly on Fridays. The old man came closer to Junaid and asked if he could sit with them. He had a smile on his face which made him look better than the rest of his counterparts. Junaid welcomed him.
A series of strange voices began to appear in the back of Junaid’s mind. But he couldn’t follow them. Perhaps someone was calling him but he was not sure. Maybe it’s just the impact of loud music from the headphones he uses to listen from, he assured himself. The old man began to talk and both of them felt very good meeting him. Besides warm, he was charismatic, soft spoken and knew, or had an opinion about, almost everything. The strange voices sounded again but faded quickly. After talking for some time the old man now had an offer. An international conference was going to take place after two days and the man offered the two exclusive memberships and the chance to speak. Asif felt relieved, now that he had something to look forward to. This will surely help him in building his career. He updated his Facebook and Twitter accounts as soon as he said yes and signed the contract.
Junaid left the table and began to wave at Asif calling him to have a chat. Asif came and he began to speak about the old man. ‘He is truly great, so humble even when he so knows much. He must lead us in our struggle’ said Asif. ‘He already does! Now listen. I can’t get him out of my mind. I have not thought of anything else except him. Is it not strange.’ whispered Junaid hurrying the words in Asif’s ears. Asif was shocked to hear when Junaid told him that he is the devil. Asif did not believe it and began arguing. Junaid thought he knew it since the old man entered the shop.
‘Wake up! Wake up, you moron! It’s almost afternoon and you are still sleeping. You will waste yourself like this’. The strange voice became clear and quite familiar. It was Junaid’s mother. Junaid opened his eyes and soon realized that he had been dreaming. He sighed heavily and murmured, ‘Lord have mercy! I thought I just struck a deal with the devil.’