The innermost part of a candle flame which is directly above the wick is the darkest whereas the middle yellower part is more luminous and brighter. The longer you stared at the dark zone with absolute concentration, the more control it gave you over your own mind and with practice, gave you some sort of amazing yogi like powers. At least that’s what the old security guard would tell Ismail in the evenings when he returned from work at the big house.
“This is all true boy! I almost mastered the art myself, if only my poor eyes hadn’t grown weak. I’m an old man now, you know”.
Ismail never truly believed that he would get superpowers, no, he was much too clever for that but it was nice to think that he could have superpowers and was willing to put it to the test.
Thoroughly convinced, Ismail used to practice in his tiny room with the pudgy little candles that he found in the kitchen, always falling asleep with the candle still burning and waking up to a scolding by one of the girls for ruining the furniture. The furniture in question was a broken old wooden bed frame that he used as a bed and a pink plastic children’s toy cupboard that memsahib had given him when her own daughter had outgrown it. He slept alone in a battered old dusty room at the top floor of a massage salon situated in the inner city of Lahore; the words “Dolly’s Massage Parlor” glowing in neon right under his window.
He was allowed to stay here by the owner Madam Dolly in exchange for odd jobs that he did around the place and because of a promise the aged old woman had kept for a dying young girl’s peace of mind.
“I myself held your mother’s hand as the life left her and the midwife took you away. She made me promise I’d let you stay here. She had lost a lot of blood during childbirth that’s all. Nothing could be done. Tsk, such a waste. And your father was a deceitful young scoundrel who gave the poor girl hope. Hope is not a luxury people like us can afford.”
“Now go and tell Shameem we are out of scented candles.”
That is all Ismail ever got in reply when he questioned her about his parents. He may have only been a scrawny ten year old boy but he knew the massage salon he called his home was what the aunties at memsahib’s parties called a “house of ill repute” but most importantly he knew that he was the illegitimate son of a whore.
That is exactly what memsahib’s driver Fareed called Ismail as he weeded the garden or took his lunch out to him. “They send me tasteless food with too much salt and that too by the hands of a whore’s son! May God forgive me!” When he was polishing the sahib’s shoes he would hear the maids whispering obscenities about his mother, stating how shameful it was for him to be working for such a respectable family and prophesying that no good could come from this arrangement.
Ismail didn’t mind his mother’s past, she was gone and the girls at Dolly’s were the only family he had ever known. Memsahib herself was a middle aged woman who took pity on Ismail’s situation but didn’t pay him more than a measly 600 rupees per month, he was told that’s all he would get because being a prostitute’s son meant your market value went down and he accepted that since he got to work at such a big house.
The only thing that bothered him was how lonely his reputation had made him. Children his own age not only avoided him but called him and his mother horrible names and he also got beaten up by boys twice his age. “He can’t do anything, he doesn’t even have a father” They would say as they kicked him and called him a spineless coward for never fighting back. “It’s in his nature because he is born of sin, my dadi told me it’s in his blood.”
However his greatest tormentor was his memsahib’s thirteen year old son Ali. Ali was a behemoth of a boy who made it his personal duty to keep reminding Ismail of his dirty origins and as a joke made him wash his hands repeatedly till he cleaned off the filth. He also asked Ismail nasty questions about the girls he lived with and asked if they let him in on the fun. Ismail was disgusted but never responded because he knew what would happen if he did; Ali would either hit him or get him in trouble as he had once before.
Ismail was watering the plants one day when Ali brought his mother out and told her that he had seen Ismail deliberately break one of their antique vases they kept in the drawing room, had gotten a beating from one of the maids and was told he would not be paid till he had worked off the money he now owed the family. One day Ali threw a ball down an old non-functioning well and commanded Ismail to climb down and fetch it. The little boy however, refused, shocking and angering the older one.
“How dare you refuse my order? You are nothing but a lowly harlot’s dirty son and it’s in your…”
Ismail ignored the tiny crunch he heard as he raced back to Dolly’s and lit the candle just as he always did after a long day at work. He felt stronger than ever as he stared into the candle before him and knew that it had finally worked.
“Blood.” He finished. “It’s in my blood.”