“The Last Supper”
Nadeem inhales the scent of his mother’s cooking—the bloodred rogan josh bubbling on the stove, the bread, browning inch by inch on an amber bed of coals.
Autumn is in the air: burnished skies, chinars turning gold, carpets of leaves underfoot. The soldiers camping out in the orchards light bonfires to keep warm after sundown. The flames burn bright, all night, all over Kashmir.
Ammi heaps food on Nadeem’s plate, but she rations her words. At forty-three, her hair has gone freakishly white. Her forehead is a map of worry lines, every inch marked by sorrow.
“Shukriya,” he says, surprising her with a hug. She hates to be touched, but he owes her one last hug.
Ammi springs back like she’s been shot. She says nothing. Words have since deserted her.
They eat in silence. Afterwards, Ammi brews a pot of kava for both of them. The kava is bittersweet; the almonds she slices with surgical precision swirl like clouds at the bottom of his cup. The cup has a crack in it just like the cooking pot and the cauldron in the kitchen. The soldiers shoot at everything—pots and pans, kingfishers gliding over the lakes, salmon spawning upstream, kids playing cricket in the fields. The first time they barged into the house, they dragged Abba away. Next, they came for his brother Javed, ace cricketer, local heartthrob. Where did they take them? When will they return? Two summers have passed, two winters have come and gone. Starved of news, Ammi and Nadeem have turned to stone.
Nadeem rolls up his sleeve while sipping his kava, checks his watch, avoiding Ammi’s eye. Two hours left. The men will meet him at midnight, smuggle him out through the snaky mountain passes, make sure he crosses the border alive. On the other side, his destiny waits: a gun, a mission, revenge. For Ammi’s sake, for Abba’s and Javed’s, his finger on the trigger will right all wrongs.