Wednesday 13 November 2019

The Empty Road

by Aqsa Mustafa

Xocolatl (Aztec Chocolate)

The horse came back alone. 

In the swirling snow I saw its dark shape materialize through the trees, a sad figure with its head bent and feet dragging, and when I searched for the one that should’ve been clinging to its reins, it was only to watch said reins tangle, empty, with the horse’s legs. 

He didn’t return. 

I rushed forward, pulled the shaking animal inside, and shut the door. Letting its frozen snout settle against my neck, I stood still, head to his forehead, almost as if trying to pull from the freezing animal the story of what’d happened to the man I waited for. But there was no reply, and I left, disappointed. 

The next night, I was at the door again, looking out, hoping against hope. The air was crisp, clear, sharp like a knife, clear of white sugar. In the resultant dark canvass, I squinted my eye for a glimpse of something darker, the shape of someone coming home from a trip that took too long, a wrong turn in the road finally made right. But the night remained of one depth, and he didn’t not return.
Grass now poked its face through breaks in the worn cobbles. Sometimes I heard birds in the trees overhead, hushed, isolated voices raising furtive tunes, as if fearing the sky would hear and disapprove. 

But the cold was loosening its hold and the world getting bolder. Leaves shone green again, a spark of life and vibrant color, and I watched the flowers bloom in wild bushes, thinks of dreams fulfilled in spring. 

Yet he wouldn’t return. 

Rains lashed the ground and collected in falsely deep pools. Pitter-patter went the rain drops on the fast-shut windows. Rivulets ran down the inner wall and onto the tips of my shoes. 

I stand with my face pressed to the cold glass, looking at a world drowning from inside a glass globe, unheeding of the wetness now spreading under my feet, and watched for a sodden figure to emerge from the trees. No puddle splashes, no dripping branches shake. 

He doesn’t return. 

The chickens are agitated; they smell the snow in the air yet to come. I cluck to them with my hands of my hips, fancying that they understood, my only companions of conversation that they were. I push hair off my forehead and look toward that path in the woods, that path that my eyes sought of their own accord. A wishful reverie lay on its beaten dirt, I the dreamer. 

Shaking my head, I turn to go back inside. 

Leaves rustle and a twig snaps.


About the author

Aqsa Mustafa is a Pakistani storyteller who finds it easier to talk to blank papers and computer screens than people. She aims at bringing all the mermaids and boggarts living in her
head to life so that other children might play with them and realize that dreams don’t necessarily have to be forgotten in the morning. She’s always willing to hear from you. Talk to her on her twitter handle @AqsaMustafa and be a friend.

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