As soon as he’d turned the corner, Kemal picked up pace. He ran as hard as he could in his leather slippers, panting through the twisted by-lanes, past tin shacks selling recycled hubcaps and sweets shops peddling sesame-encrusted Ladoos the size of golf balls. He dashed through swarms of skull capped men on their way to prayer followed by fat wives in black burqas that rippled in the warm, musky breeze, till he ended up at his friend Fakir’s house.
It was at the top of a building on a street peddling an insane variety of locks, up a steep, stony staircase that opened onto a freshly watered plant-filled courtyard. Fakir welcomed him into the narrow, linear house. His first cousin, the roguish Dawood, was also visiting, smoking as he coolly leaned against the wall with his arms crossed before him.
The living room was furnished with a large bed with silk bolsters, a sofa, and two steel cupboards with calligraphy posters and pictures of Mecca. Fakir offered Kemal the sofa while he perched cross-legged at the end of the bed. Bright sunbeams filtered through the blue shutters of a window, forming striped shadows on the frayed carpet. The building overlooked the Hindu temple with its carved domes stretching arrogantly toward the sky, and the temple lane, which marked the unofficial boundary of the congested Muslim living quarters and the spacious, breezy mansions of the Hindus, and the green paddy fields beyond.
A constant uproar of many children crying all at once came from within the house: Fakir’s third wife, a girl of fifteen, was still suckling his sixth child. His eldest wife, a rambling lady of generous proportions, her face veil thrown back casually over her gray head, brought them paan and tea and left.
As soon as she was gone, Kemal asked,” Brother, what happened last night?”
“Why, don’t you remember,” Dawood replied, twirling his mustaches and flicking ash on the carpet.
“A little—I think I’d passed out from the rum.”
Fakir cupped his mouth in horror. “Don’t ever mention the word in this house. Astagfurallah—may Allah forgive us!”
“Did it have something to do with the Maulvi’s goat?” Kemal left the sofa and sat beside Fakir.
“Why at all should folk tie goats at their threshold for all good men to suffer temptation and risk dire sin,” Dawood asked.
“It is the duty of a good Muslim to remove the source of sin that makes mankind betray the righteous path of Allah,” observed Fakir.
“Yeah, do away with the sigil of Iblis that spells disaster for man by dampening his spirits,” added Dawood.
“Luring him to committing what is vile,” said Fakir.
“It seemed a seal of Satan with its cloven hoofs, flared ears and a goatee beard,” corroborated Dawood, warming to the subject.
“And the Prophet (PBUH) chides us—how many hungry mouths it could feed for days.”
“So what happened then,” a bewildered Kemal asked, looking from one cousin to another—both caught up in a spirited sermon on making away with fatted goats of Imams.
“After the three of us finished drinking in your house, we came down to the street to have paan. And as we were walking back, we came upon this goat—this symbol of—“
“Yeah, yeah, I get the symbol of—what happens next,” asked Kemal, furrows of worry forming on his forehead.
“So we untethered the ram and led him to your house…”
“And where was I all the while,” demanded Kemal.
“You were holding up the lamppost, silly,” Dawood sneered, “by hugging it.”
“Then we butchered the ram for his meat, minced it, and divided it equally and fairly among us; and each to his home went, leaving a share for Kemal in his kitchen as he was already fast asleep on his cot,” explained Fakir, glancing at his cousin.
“We washed the floor,” said Dawood, “and took away the offal and the hide so that when the rain came in the morning not even the hair would be left to tell the tale.”
“Why, you could have taken the goat elsewhere?” wailed Kemal.
“Your house was the nearest—and empty.”
“I never asked you for the meat.”
“Had you been awake, or in senses, you would have; so as fair friends, whom you should show some gratitude, we left you your share.”
“But you don’t understand—now you’ve made me an accomplice! You do not realize how important this goat is—or was, to my future plans!”
“What future—what plans,” Dawood sneered again.