BY: Ziaul Moid Khan

“Is it my right to snatch food from their hands?” I asked myself. The answer was a lone, long silence. This family had done a lot to get me here, at this position. Not that I was super rich and all that, but at least I was just above a hand-to-mouth condition. They were still there, squaring their shoulders with the same grinding poverty.

Yes, that was my family. The family I was born in. The family that had fed me and brought me up; the family that had educated me. And now I was in a position to say that yes, I was earning. At least more than just to survive; yes, not yet enough to, say, thrive.

I remembered my brothers, Shuja and Raza, sweating in the fields and coming home after the day’s labor every evening in a pathetic state. Yes, it was true that Shuja occasionally had a couple of drinks and bouts with his friends and Raza had a craving for the pigeon flights and other little problems.

They were twins, but so different in their respective approaches to life. Both occasionally fought and abused each other but worked together: the farming work, you know! Tilling the field of cauliflower, sugarcane, wheat; yes, the field work.

Then I recalled Mona’s, my wife’s, words: “Ask your brothers to send us the annual income from the land they till and plough. You have your share too in that patch of land, haven’t you?” And then she abruptly dialed the number and gave me the phone to talk in that regard.

The phone rang on the other end for quite a while and then was received. “How you doing, Zack?” It was Shuja. “I’m fine, bro,” I said. Knowing full well the condition of my house and its members there, however, I produced my purpose. “I need the ugahi, the annual tenant’s production share, Bhai!”

“How’s your current job, don’t they pay well?” he asked. Yes, they did. And I was in no need of money. I looked at Mona. She was staring at me purposefully.

“Yes, it’s manageable,” I said.

“Send me your account details. I’ll transfer you your share,” he said.

I reflected on my brothers working in the sugarcane and cauliflower fields day and night. I saw them watering the plants and harvesting when the crop was ripe. The way they worked, sweating hard out there in the fields after our father’s demise, melted my heart. I visualized everything: the mud house and its yard and its earthen hearth, the bending backbone of my mother and her gray hair. Everything was before my mind’s eye.

“What did he say?” Mona blurted.

“He’ll send the money,” I said.

“How much exactly, you should have asked him. I made a promise to my mom, you know that,” she said, insisting on her second dialogue. I kept a mum. I felt I was snatching something from a beggar’s begging bowl. Everything was pointless now. I’d already darted my orders.

I remembered how they managed to pay for my B. Ed. College fee. It was quite a handsome amount. And my current job too was largely due to that teaching degree. I still recall how all my family was sitting thoughtfully while I was holding in my hand the fee-to-be deposit slip. Raza also solved that riddle, saying, “Zack, you focus on your studies, I’ll manage to pay your fee.”

I recollected when Shuja took me to cinema hall for the first time to keep his promise that he had made when other members in the family went to watch Sajan, a famous Hindi blockbuster, and they did not take me along. He truly was a brother-cum-friend.

Then I felt his compassionate hand on my right shoulder. He probably had sensed my almost-falling-tears and said to me in a convincing tone, “Don’t worry, Zack, I’ll take you to watch some other movie.” His soothing words really made my day. Later, he kept his word and took me along.

My flashback reverie is disturbed as my Samsung F5 blinked and flashed a text message in the inbox that read: Your A/c XXXXXXXXXXX322 in Todi credited INR 40,000 by TRF. Avl Bal is +289568.00. A poor farmer had transferred this amount to a not-so-poor workingman. And the poor farmer suddenly seemed richer than this well-earning workingman, me.

Despite the fact my bank balance had suddenly shot up, I was feeling embarrassed, inferior, and poorer, for I thought: I have robbed the poor peasants of their daily bread. Mona was standing behind and asking me when Shuja would send the remaining balance. I remained silent, trying to hold back my tears.

The fields of sugarcane, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, and green chiles were moving in front of my mind’s eye. Shuja and Raza, the farmers in the fields, seemed to be waving and smiling at me. I had a guilty feeling in my heart and tears in my eyes as I lay restlessly on my bed that night.

Ziaul Moid Khan lives in a countryside named Johri in North India. He received his Masters in English from CCS University Meerut City. He devotes his spare time to writing and spending time with his wife, Khushboo Khan, and cute two-year-old son, Brahamand. He teaches English at Gudha International School, Jhunjhunu Rajasthan. His flash fiction piece “The Last Message” was recently featured in the December issue of KAIROS literary magazine, and his poetry work “The First Rose of Winter” was published in the November 2018 issue of Blue Lake Review. He can be approached through https://www.facebook.com/zia.m.khan.9.