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Ruined Nation (short Story)

By Emal Pasarly  = Translated  By Jawed Ludin
There were a lot of things to say now, and many questions in my mind, but there was no one to talk to.  Everyone was busy with work, and nobody had time.

I am spending my third month in London but haven’t met a single person to make a friend of.  Apart from Smith, the neighbour, who speaks to me now and then I’ve made no acquaintance.  The truth is that here everybody is occupied and no one has time.  Smith is around because he seems not to be doing much these days; and then because he has been to Afghanistan, we have things to talk about.  He had gone to Pakistan as a tourist and then crossed over to Afghanistan.  With little spending, he had bought there some old archaeological coins, stones, pottery and figures which had gained him a fortune back here.

often tells me about places he had visited and how skilfully he had managed to bargain such valuables so cheaply.  Whenever he tells a story about this, he laughs in a peculiar style, as if he imitates someone’s laughter.

is around 38 years of age, short and fat with a reddened face.  Usually, he carries a black briefcase, wears a black suit with white shirt and red tie.  He moves with slow pace, and in his free times he never forgets an excursion around the park in the neighbourhood.  That is where we met.

was Sunday and unlike the last few days the sun had a shining glow.  Smith was already in the park, strolling around with his typical slow motion.  Meeting and greeting was very ordinary.  He looked thoughtful, and sad.  We were both silent for some time and I tried to understand what had been happening.

“Is everything alright?”, I asked.

“Ha? ne..yes!”

course, I wasn’t content with the answer, but refrained from meddling.  Instead I tried to bring in another discussion and make him talk, but couldn’t find any topic however hard I tried.  Strange, isn’t it?  Sometimes there is virtually nothing to talk about, in other times, however you may have starved for a listener.  In my case then, the first instance was true.  When nothing came up, thanks to `the news’ which came to mind.

regularly follows the news on TV, and if there is good news or a breaking story then he relates it to me, often laughingly.  He knows that I don’t have a TV at home and he is my source of information.  In absence of any other topic to talk about, the most natural topic was for me to ask about the news.  He stopped walking, his round eyes popping out, uttered loudly: Umm.. but today this unfortunate news has made me sombre.  The nation is ruined but they aren’t bothered.  Money mongers!  And Americans pay…and they think nothing has changed, they have got their eleven and a half million pounds; go to hell with your eleven and a half million, what about the property of the nation?  They ruined Britain, with what .. ohh; what will they do with this eleven and half million?  Put up new window panes in the old building of the damn university, or maybe …cultivate their grasslands!  They say the university has got budget shortfall, why shortfall?  Why didn’t you think about this before, why start a university if you can’t run it?  God knows what will happen to this poor nation!

swore a lot and cursed the university and the government.  But from his rantings I somehow figured out the story that an American museum had bought a classic painting belonging to the last century from some university in London, and the university had claimed that they were forced to sell it as they were facing budget problems in running the university.

all this, Smith was hard beaten by one last sentence in the TV report saying that “no doubt the university got its budget now but the British nation has lost something”.

parted and I left Smith with his gloomy mood, but on the way home I was overtaken myself by a strange feeling.  Smith’s face swayed in my memory, marked constantly with his peculiar laughter.  I remembered one of his stories when he had bought coins and crafts that were a thousand years old from a villager in Afghanistan, paying him thirty-thousand afghanis.  The villager, he said, was probably a drug addict and sold the items to pay for drugs.

there were a lot of things to say now, and many questions in my mind, but there was no one to talk to.  Everyone was busy with work, and nobody had time.  Smith’s laughter was clanging in my ears.

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