Pages 280, PaperBack
ISBN 969-516-147-2

Price: Rs. 295
Price: $10







Black Wings


Sehba Sarwar


Yasmeen wakes up, stretches her arms over her head but does not need to open her eyes to know that Yasir sleepwalked into her room at four in the morning. He’s now fast asleep bunched up against the wall. His long legs are folded close to his chest and his head is hanging so low that his breath keeps stirring his curly hair. A notebook and pen lie on the floor by his slippers. In Hawagali, Yasir usually sleeps in the attic but the twins are accustomed to waking up in each other’s rooms, sometimes on chairs, sometimes on the floor and often in the same bed.

Yasir jerks himself up. “It was about us flying…”

“…to Hawagali.” She finishes his sentence. But that is what they always do.

He gets up and circles his neck. “So how did it end?”

They both know how their dreams work. Sometimes he sees the beginning, she the end, and sometimes vice versa, but their dreams are incomplete if they don’t share them. Now fully awake, Yasmeen grabs the new camera her mother’s sister has given her and the twins race through the verandah to the back of the house. It’s one of those warm sunny days one doesn’t see very often in the mountains and they both want to spend every moment outside. On the way up, Yasir stops by the kitchen screen-door and slips three cigarettes, wrapped in newspaper, under the water pot for the cook Riaz to retrieve when he takes a break. Yasir, always there to help anyone who needs it, supplies Riaz with the Dunhills Riaz loves but can’t afford. Yasmeen sticks out her tongue at her twin. In return, he grimaces at her and wags his thumbs in his ears.

They race each other up the side wooden stairs to the open rooftop so they can reach their secret hangout—the forbidden section of their Hawagali mountain home—on the rooftop chajja, the ledge without a wall. Yasir, much taller than his sister, heaves her up over the wall so she can get over to the other side, and then he scrambles over to join her. The two seventeen-year olds lie in the sun, their backs flat on the warm aluminum, and stare past the thick fir trees at the snow-clad Himalayan peaks.
“The beginning was you, me and Amman,” he says. “We’re leaving Karachi and Abu forever and…we’re flying to Hawagali. We have on these black wings, you know, like the kaneez robes, but we look like bats or crows—”

“—and then,” she interrupts, “we’re on the ground, in front of this cave. It’s by the beach, but the mountains are also behind it. We can’t decide what we want to do and we all start shouting at each other. You break away from us and vanish in the cave—it’s like Ali Baba’s cave. I separate from Amman and start flying up toward the mountaintop.”

“And Amman?” Yasir’s eyes are tightly closed.

She shakes her head. “I don’t know. I lost it.”

Yasir sits up. “Wait. I know. She doesn’t move. She stays still under the fir trees and palm trees all mixed up together. She sits there while the countryside moves around her. Then I come out of the cave and join her. We wait for you but you don’t return. We just see you flying above us and laughing. We miss you but we’re happy that you’re having fun.”

They both sigh together. “Yes, that’s it.” Sitting up, Yasmeen opens up her brand new camera, which for some reason she’s been afraid to use. Yasir grins, hides his face between his knees and wraps his long elbows around himself. When he looks up, his twin starts clicking.

Later, long after Yasir is gone, the film is finally developed. All the black and white shots that Yasmeen clicks that morning are out of focus, except one, which is only slightly blurry. In this photo, Yasir’s laugh makes his uneven teeth glisten and his face even more charming. His eyes are crinkled and strands of his hair cast pencil shadows on his high forehead. His long gangly body is curled into a ball and his knees are lifted almost to his chin. He is barefoot and his toes are flexed, showing the bottom of his soles that are caked with a layer of dirt. Encased in his long fingers is a cigarette that he holds close to his mouth; he is not puffing because he can’t stop laughing at his twin who’s trying to adjust her new gadget, maneuver the lens, fix the light and click, all at the right time. He reaches his toe forward and tickles her foot, which distracts Yasmeen even more. Yasir’s laughter is a gurgle that remains locked in Yasmeen’s mind, long after Yasir is no more.

Later, when Yasmeen studies the photo, she notices a black speck floating over his head. It appears to be an ink smudge but when she studies it under a microscope she thinks it might be a large crow. She also knows the speck could be something else.
This picture is now framed in every relative’s house, all over Pakistan and is also in Yasmeen’s Houston studio. And for Yasmeen, the black and white print is even more special; it’s a reminder of the only time she uses the camera and it’s the last shot of her seventeen-year old twin.

About the Author

Sehba Sarwar grew up in Karachi, Pakistan. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke College (South Hadley, USA) and a graduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin. Presently based in Houston (USA), Sehba is the co-founder and co-director of Voices Breaking Boundaries, a non-profit multi-media arts organization that aims to create social change through art. In Houston, Sehba performs her work at numerous venues including colleges and schools, runs writing workshops for adults and teenagers and co-hosts a weekly radio show on local art and politics. Sehba is married to a Houston-based Chicano educator


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