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The Simple Man

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He didn't know where he was headed, how far his feet had brought him or what lay further. A blanket of darkness loomed in the distance while his footsteps echoed within the confines of the pathway he was a slave to. Tariq Jamal was not a man of fright, the word had not once struck him. In fact, before this night he had never contemplated the possibility of anything amongst the shadows. A tall man in his middle ages, life had taught him to see everything as it was, a direct, simple and unmitigated explanation for it all. He never considered anything as extraordinary nor did he expect on the possibility of it being otherwise, the world was set in separate halves, in daylight and moonlight. Yet, this pathway was blessed with neither. A sceptical man would brand this passage as unholy. Tariq termed it as simply a means to an end. Sceptics, or cowards as some might call them, hold little respect among the masses, yet on occasion, cowards might be the wisest of them all. Tariq thought none of the aforementioned. He was, until that moment, still a man of simple thoughts.

Black, all there was. As if walking blindly or with eyes wide shut. He relied on his footsteps, trusting the pathway to lead him towards the light, whenever it may arrive, he was certain it would. The air felt like ice, so cold that remarkably even in the darkest of situations such as this, the unmistakable blow of smoke resonated from between his lips. Somehow visible, something a common man, perhaps a sceptic, would brand as atypical, to say the least. Yet, Tariq was still a simple man. His eyes searched the open air, amongst the mist of his own breaths, for some sign of sanctuary. The simplicity that his world revolved around would characteristically, according to him, provide a refuge for the night. But nothing appeared, in the literal sense. Pitch black. The arrival of an alien sound reached his ears, the rattle of gravel crushing under the pressure of firmly laid feet. The passage had changed, no more was the perfectly carved road below him. This was the start of unpromising grounds. A coward would have been wise to turn back but Tariq was a simple man.

He stopped for the first time that night, the consistent, almost religiously followed route had struck him unsatisfied. He did not know where he was headed. There was nothing visible in front or behind, the logical thing to do was proceed ahead which was exactly what Tariq did. He did not know then that logic was not the idea to be respected on that godforsaken path. Wariness, caution and suspicion should have been his friends, but unfortunately for Tariq, they had been locked deep inside for years now. Perhaps a rude awakening is what most men need. Soon enough, he had become accustomed to the melody, the cracking of pebbles underneath, the whisks of his breath, the still of the night, a piece of music to keep him company, but not for long.

The song never remains the same, during those moments, this was one of the first lessons Tariq learnt that night. His melodious stroll in the darkness was interrupted unceremoniously. Another nomadic sound reached his ears, unlike before though; they did not belong to him. A screech or maybe it was the ice cutting through air, something disturbed the calm. Tariq, however, did not stop, he was until then, a simple man. Simple men do not shy away from wonder, curiosity belongs to them, they revel in it. It was this curiousness that carried toward the shriek, not once did the possibility of suspicion strike him, the notion never arose. The melody dissipated into the night, all that rang were the cries and all that moved were Tariq's inquisitive feet. Again, the peculiarity of the atmosphere became evident, the mist emanating from him blocked his view of the already dark path. He could not see ahead without breathing. This was not enough to sway his interest, trapping as much air as he could, Tariq's faithful feet obliged to their master's demands.

Here and there he looked for the presence of some creature, be it an owl's hoot or a dog's growls, the arrival of something physical, something apparent would be welcome. But the sound was something of its own, no simple creature could possess it, the closest being associated with it could only be one, a human. Tariq was accustomed to such sounds, he had children of his own, who cried into the night. He remained unfazed and with the sense of assistance accompanying him, something other men, perhaps cowards, would consider caution. The closer he seemingly reached to the sound it became evident beyond consideration, it was in fact a child's whine. The father, the simple man, Tariq could only feel one thing for the moment and it had nothing to do with fear or caution, he had to help the child.

His feet brought him where he wanted, towards a physical being. In the near distance he saw it, or rather him as it became ostensible, a boy. For the second time that night, Tariq stopped in his tracks but perhaps for the first time in his life he felt a separate sensation. Caution, with which came deliberation, in pitch darkness a boy lay on the street. Even for a man such as him, this was out of the ordinary. Yet, the next instant, once the pitiable cries of the child wailed into the night again, the simple man, Tariq felt his caution overcome with sentiment. Unwary of caution or of fright, he stepped closer to the boy. As if appropriately or due to a magnificent coincidence, the darkness of the night was interrupted by the next halve of the world, moonlight, yet it bore only on the boy. Not on Tariq, not anywhere else. A coward would have considered this an indication of worry but there was no coward on that passageway.

As he approached the boy, the moonlight revealed the child's figure. A frail, weak looking thing, cowering in fright, body shivering, perhaps from the cold or from the sheer terror most would feel in a place such as that. His hands tightly clasped around his knees, back turned towards Tariq, the figure rocked back and forth, a large outline of his spine visible. The boy wore nothing, save for tiny knickers, nowhere close to what anyone would wear on a night as cold as this one, it was no wonder he was shivering. The boy gave no indication of having seen Tariq, his head firmly hidden between his arms. His cries had dissipated by this point, no more did the shrieks pierce through the night, instead the child barely eked out a whimper. The moonlight only served to highlight the poor boy's anguish, his weeping cracked by the iciness in the air, the trembling body unsettling the gravel on the ground. Tariq's heart melted with pity, no question of the likelihood of stumbling on this figure struck him.

"Who are you, my dear?" he asked. The boy gave no reply, his whimpering continued uninterruptedly.

"What are you doing here?" Tariq asked. Again, the child did not bother with a response.

"Where is your mother?" asked Tariq, this time an answer came back. In the form of further weeping as the boy wailed louder, Tariq sympathized with him thinking the child must have gotten lost.

"Where is she?" he asked, the boy lifted a trembling hand and pointed straight ahead of him.

Tariq followed his direction. Nothing, absolute darkness greeted him. He turned back toward the boy and asked again to find the same response. By now, the boy had ceased weeping once more but his finger pointed relentlessly in the same direction. Tariq looked at the small figure in front of him. The boy must be in shock, he thought to himself, he did not seem able to walk. Tariq did what no other person, coward or brave would have done, he picked up the child in his arms, light as a feather. Fear was for the people who contemplated, after all, but Tariq was only a simple man and men such as him considered all children the same way. Helpless, in need of assistance, being a father himself, this was the way he could help. He would carry the boy to his mother. Tariq was once more on the pathway, not alone anymore but still the same man he was when he first trod on this path. Now with a companion, a lost soul he chose to guide.

Like before, the melody of the night resumed, Tariq had still not let the air out from between his lips once his questions to the boy had been done with. But the song remained the same, the gravel cracked, the still of the night and the whisks of breath, this time from the boy. The moonlight had been left behind where the child was found. He did not need it though, such was his confidence towards the pathway followed. His eyes searched the blackness like before, this time for any sign of a distraught woman seeking her lost child. No one came. Perhaps for the first time in his life, Tariq experienced another sensation, wariness. He felt a burden on himself. This burden was, like the darkness itself, literal. With each step he took the load increased, his arms trembled under the weight, it did not strike him immediately as to what it could be that was so heavy for him to carry. Only when his elbows began to buckle and his feet could move forward no more did Tariq realize the encumbrance weighing him down. The boy, who a moment ago felt like the lightest of feathers now seemed like the heaviest of loads. But that couldn't be, he was a simple little thing, helplessly weeping for his mother. Then why couldn't Tariq’s feet make another step?

The darkness prevented him from investigating the source of this peculiarity, suddenly the boy's outline could not be discerned anymore, Tariq could not see him. Again, suddenly, the moonlight made its appearance once more, not on the boy but behind the two of them. Tariq's eyes followed the light, it moved as if trying to reveal something of importance to him. The beam travelled a considerable distance back, so much so that it became little more than a small bead of light. But something else could be seen, something the light revealed. A faint black outline, Tariq squinted his eyes to get a better view but could not figure it out, as if providing assistance to him, the beam of light expanded, revealing more of the black outline. It continued towards Tariq who expected the outline to end by the time the light reached him, it did not. Finally, the light captured the entire pathway, enabling him to see what the passage looked like. He couldn't believe what he saw. Legs, outstretched, so much so that the feet it belonged to were situated at the start of the light's source, the remainder of the pathway was completely covered with the extremely overextended limbs. The limbs stretched all the way towards Tariq, who for the first time in his life, felt the sensation of suspicion. His feet were firmly attached to the ground below him, then these limbs had to belong to someone else.

But it couldn't be the boy's, he was a feeble helpless thing crying for his mother. Or so he had been a moment ago. It dawned dreadfully on Tariq that the boy's weeps had silently disappeared, there were no sounds of grief anymore. The outstretched legs led to his arms, gulping terrifyingly, he slowly turned his eyes at the boy in his arms. He couldn't hold his breath in anymore, the mist impaired his vision of the boy's face as he let the air out from between his lips. As it cleared, Tariq, the as of yet, simple man, the non-contemplative, disregarding of fear, caution or weariness, felt all these sensations surge within him, when he saw the child's face.

What should have been a boy looking at him was something else entirely. Words failed to describe him. Terrible, ghastly, hideous, these would fall feeble to define the features of the absolutely terrifying being in Tariq's arms. The face of a demon, with huge green eyes on the grisly red face, large teeth protruding from its maws, what brought fear into Tariq's once apathetic personality were not just these features, it was the fact that the weeping had not only stopped, it had been replaced by a horrifying, low growling cackle, seeping from the orifice of the creature that stared straight into his eyes, as if fully intent on feeding upon his soul. For the smallest of seconds, Tariq looked back at it, having stopped for the third and final time that night. The moment when he learned truly the difference between the brave person, the sceptic (the coward) and the simple man. The brave person would have known better than to carry a strange being in his arms and would have gone ahead by himself looking for help, the coward would have known better than to have ventured into the path in the first place while the simple man, the man that was Tariq, was the one holding the demon, the atrocity in his arms, frozen in fear.

The creature bore its teeth wider, its cackle grew louder while its limbs remained outstretched for miles. In that moment, Tariq knew that there was no simplicity in the world, in children or in the night, there was only one simple thing, fear. Dropping the boy from his hands, the middle aged Tariq, the once simple man, ran as far and fast as his faithful feet could carry him, forgetting the song he had grown accustomed to, learning that it would never remain the same. When he finally reached the lit street he had originally set out to find, Tariq fell to his knees, acknowledging God's work and realizing that there was no such thing as a simple life. He frantically yelled out his thanks to the skies above, knowing his gratitude was heard. The next instant, the fear returned when he heard it.

"Today, you escaped," the terrible voice rang across the passage, clearly resonating from the path, the darkness left behind. As Tariq trembled back to his feet, he knew he had and that he would never forget.

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