Mohsin was not unfamiliar with loss.
The first time he had truly lost something worth yearning for was when he was barely nine. Father had gone out to buy the berries his son had craved. All that came home was a body wrapped in white. It was labeled as a hate crime. Father was African, Father was filth compared to this purebred race of righteousness. It would have been easy for the young boy to accept the hate crime only… not six months later his mother married her childhood sweetheart. Acceptance may have offered relief but suspicion remained. When at nineteen Mohsin suffered the second greatest loss, he coped like he had been taught: by suppressing his emotions in the face of the world, all the while deteriorating inside.
Mohsin and Asfandyar had been friends for six months before it happened. The former’s first thought?
The successors to that one word were a mixture of horror, shame, mortification, and anger. He was enraged at his best friend for doing the one thing that would force him to sever all ties. Had Asfandyar shot Mohsin on a railway track with a train fast approaching, he forgives him in a second but this was unforgivable. It was crossing a line he had struggled to draw from the start. A quiet, reserved thing, Mohsin only ever spoke up on debating platforms. Until Asfandyar showed up, he was mostly bored by everything. He had created a bubble to encase him from the mindlessness of people, a shield to prevent anyone from getting too close. His friend had pushed through that shield from day one, deeper than anyone and in ways no one else had.
He was charming, hilarious and obnoxiously loud. He drew attention wherever he went, attention that made the back of Mohsin’s neck prickle in irritation because he was dragged wherever the man wanted to go. Frustration with Asfandyar’s antics built up until one day he exploded.
It happened the day of Mohsin’s birthday unbeknownst to anyone because no social media displayed it, which was how he preferred it. Birthday celebrations were mundane beside the one who had celebrated his coming to life was long gone. Of course, Asfandyar somehow found out. Three torturous hours at the culprit’s house associating with people who only wanted to know the author, the screenwriter, director and the birthday boy fled his own party much to the attendees’ chagrin. He went to sleep anger burning inside of him after so long.
The next day, Asfandyar found him in the one spot no one would ever look for his friend. A rather convenient spot for conversations due to the lack of surveillance and people hosted the nineteen-year-old indulging in his worst habit. He puffed out the cigarettes as if they were all he could breathe.
“You know I dislike the cigarettes,” mildly chided the boy.
He was dismissed with a flick of the cigarette.
“Look, I know you love to be the tall, dark, handsome guy who broods all the time, and I get that your dad-”
One minute Asfandyar was standing near the railing and the next he found himself pressed to the red brick.
“You know absolutely nothing about what I love,” Mohsin gritted out, “you pesky, annoying, insect.”
Wide-eyed, the other boy whispered back, “Then, tell me.”
They stared at each other, tension roiling in the air. Funny, he’d never known there were flecks gold in his friend’s eyes, hidden underneath those impossibly large eye-lashes. The molten gold swirled, and their breaths intermingled a second before Mohsin realized the intent behind that gaze.
Soft as a petal, their lips met for the first time. Mohsin didn’t know when he stopped pushing Asfandyar away, and before long they clung to each other with desperation. Horror replaced relief as the former realized what they were doing, what they had done. He thrust his friend away, flushed and gaping at him.
“This shouldn’t have happened…” he gasped, “it never happened!”
But Asfandyar was having none of it.
“It did happen! You can’t deny what’s between us anymore, Mohsin. It should have been like this from the start, it will always be this way. What I feel for you-
Mohsin went straight for his throat.
“This will never happen again, or so help me God. I’m not… not like that,” he couldn’t believe Asfandyar had the audacity to smirk.
“Like what,” he crooned.
This got him a hard shove before Mohsin left.
Even weeks later, he couldn’t get the image of Asfandyar’s face out of his head right before they had kissed. His mind often drifted toward the feel of his body pressed up against his, and it drove him right up against the wall. He had ignored the boy for so long until grief hit home. Asfandyar’s father was dead.
It was a week after the funeral when the two found themselves tangled up in each other. Before Mohsin could admit anything out loud, he had moved into Asfandyar’s flat and began to live with him. Neither had any kin to be concerned about; Mohsin had cut ties with his mother and step-father as soon as he legally became an adult and Asfandyar’s only family had left him to fend for himself in the world. And what a cruel, callous world it was.
“Asfand,” Mohsin murmured, half delirious. He had to admit his lover was a unique addiction in his very essence. He was drunk on the fountain of life that spilled forth from his soul, would happily drown in those green eyes of molten gold.
Asfand hummed in response, too busy studying Mohsin’s fingers.
“I-uh,” he hesitated, “there’s something you should know.”
Another hum, more interest.
“It’s been a while since we – uh – we’ve been doing…this?”
“And what is this?” Asfand pushed himself up on his elbows and stared at him from underneath heavily lidded eyes.
Mohsin tried to formulate his thoughts into a discernible sentence but all of his feelings overwhelmed him, rushed at him and he blurted out,
“I love you.”
Asfand didn’t even blink. Just studied him as if he was more interesting than all of the architecture he had spent creating and analyzing.
But before he could say anything, another chuckle drew their attention,
“Fellas, what do we have here?” terror began to seep into both their veins, “Shall we bring out the violins for this emotional moment of declaration?”
It was Waris, the Dean’s son. Waris who had always sneered at them, who must have suspected since day one, but how had he gotten here? This was their spot, their little pocket of space away from prying eyes.
Still with that insufferable expression, he cajoled Asfand “Aren’t you going to say anything to poor Mohsin? He did lay his heart out in the open.”
“How did you find us,” Mohsin inquired a little too politely.
“No one knows where you two scamper off, so I followed you. And goodness the things I’ve seen you do,” Waris mocked, “Tell me Asfandyar; couldn’t you find a nice girl to screw around with? Are you so desperate you’ve resorted to this debauchery? When people find out…”
“People will not find out,” Asfand growled, “because you’ll keep your petty mouth shut. What is it you want, name your price.”
They might’ve had control over the situation but three more of Waris’ friends stepped out from the corner. Their hearts sank.
“I have everything; I just need a little fun in my life. So, why don’t you hand over your precious boy toy, and we’ll be on our merry way,” he suggested to Mohsin, who protectively stepped in front of Asfand. He was taller and muscled, whereas his best friend was a head shorter and lean. He posed more of a threat.
“We’re both leaving,” Mohsin asserted, “you’re not going to stop us.”
For a moment only the wind could be heard rustling the leaves and then, all hell broke loose.
Waris went straight for Asfand, and the others had Mohsin within their clutches. It took two of them to restrain Mohsin and only one to hold down Asfand.
“You like rutting like animals do you? Why don’t I find out what it feels like,” there was something crazed about Waris, as he tried to subdue the weaker man? He had lost his mind.
Mohsin began to scream gutturally as he comprehended what Waris intended.
“Shut him up,” he barked, but even his friends were hesitant to follow, “I said shut him up!”
He may have been leaner, but he wasn’t going down without a fight; Asfand thrashed about wildly and slammed his elbow into detainer’s face and managed to free himself. Waris knocked hard into him, a little too hard.
The next memory burned itself into Mohsin’s mind for eternity, as eternity is for a mortal being. The look of fear on Asfand’s face as he fell over the railing: he would never forget the contours of his terrified face, his flushed complexion from the struggle, the gold glinting brightly. Throughout the years that he would spend alone, Mohsin would always hear the exact moment his lover’s body hit the concrete below. The moment of impact completely crushed something that had finally started to heal in him. His entire being lost, the fountain of youth snatched from him.
He never saw the body, the broken neck and limbs twisted oddly. The funeral, the grave, all seemed so surreal. Until he smacked right into a candle-lit vigil meant for his dead friend. Waris had suffered no real consequence, the death written off as an accident.
Laughter rang in the courtyard, as the gathered crowd looked at him with mixed emotions: guilt, suspicion, disgust, hatred, pity and so on.
He kept cackling like a madman until his legs gave out and he slammed down on his knees.
“Burn me!” he howled, “Burn me with your candles!
Burn me on this travesty you’ve assembled, let my ashes smolder. This is the place where murderers run free, where rapists justify – no – receive accolades for their crimes. This is where love has no meaning beyond what you’ve given it. This is where we’re made to beg for freedom because even the bodies we have, even our souls are not free.
Love is just a four letter word to toss around until someone loves the wrong person and it becomes a crime. Burn me into cinders so I may die upon this castle of sand!”
He fiercely clutched his heart; it had not stopped hurting, his throat had not stopped clogging.
“I did not choose to be born here,” he bellowed, sobbing in full force, “I didn’t ask to be raised where people are killed for loving each other, where soul-mates are separated because of gender and religion. What God, what faith?”
He kept murmuring about God, and faith and love for himself.
“Poor guy,” someone whispered, “he’s gone insane.”
He’s not insane,” whispered back another voice, fiercely “he’s gay.”