Ashes
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There are many who consider The Paradise to be a safe haven: a place far from all hateful clutches of Qulippoth, where people could live without any fear. Still, people need to survive somehow, so many would go to the wasteland outside ‘The Paradise’ to find valuables.

Raja wandered through it now, searching for valuables scattered here and there. He walked through damaged buildings and past broken vehicles as he searched, for anything really.

Suddenly, he noticed a corpse. It was wearing rather royal clothes and held a chest in its lifeless hands. Raja gently approached the corpse and pulled the chest away. Opening it, he found a small gemstone, glowing with a red aura as he held it up to examine it.

He turned back, thinking to himself, "Maybe this is enough for today."

As he looked around he noticed other scavengers also looking for valuables, so he began to walk.


Walking right through the market, keeping the stone hidden under his cloak to stop someone from stealing it, he saw all sorts of creatures. He rushed into a store. When he placed the stone in front of him, a little winged creature landed on the counter.

"Hey! Young man," the creature asked, flapping his bat-like wings, "who are you?"

"Only a mere scavenger," Raja answered, adjusting the cape to hide his face from the flickering creature.

"Fine. What do you have for sale?" The creature asked. Raja pointed to the gem. "Ah, quite a rare piece. Three thousand, OK?"

Raja nodded, sliding the stone forward. "Here."

The creature opened a counter, took out 3 notes and handed them to the boy. Raja accepted the money, stashed it in his pocket and returned to the street.

Walking home, he was careful to avoid any trouble. When he finally arrived, he noticed his father’s car parked nearby. He checked it: the doors were firmly shut. He sighed.

The boy entered the old house, looking around at the aged, damp walls. He put the coins on the table, then went to the kitchen to heat up the porridge left from last night. Suddenly, he heard someone knocking on the door.

“Yes?” A tall creature in black robes was standing behind the frame as Raja opened the door. It stared at him silently for a moment, before handing Raja a small pot. He accepted it, and the creature left. "Rahul?" Raja said as he entered the bedroom. A 5-year-old was sleeping on the bed. "Get off the bed, sweetie," he said, shaking the child awake. He looked back with sleepy eyes, saying nothing. "Rahul, it's time to go."


Rahul watched the pale grey sky outside the car window as Raja drove them up the hill. He looked to Raja at the wheel, then to the pot in the dashboard. Taking it in his hands, the child grazed it softly with his hands. Its ceramic surface had an embossed design of gilt leaves.

"Don't you break it or open it!" Raja complained, trying to keep his eyes on the road. Curious, Rahul opened it anyway. "Hey!" He yelled, suddenly hitting the breaks and unfortunately some ash escaped and fell on Rahul’s clothes. "What are you doing?" Raja snatched the pot and lid from the boy, placing it back on the dashboard.

"Papa." The little boy said quietly.

"Leave him alone,” Raja said firmly, “the last thing I want is to have his ashes squandered here." He tried to start the engine. Nothing happened. "Damn it!" Both of them got out, Raja looking around while smoke rose from the engine. "Where are those crabs when you need them?" He sat down, resigned, at the base of a big tree.

"Woah, what is this place?" Rahul exclaimed happily, staring up at the enormous hills. Birds were tweeting and animals of all shapes and sizes were visible at the edge of the tree line.

As they waited, Rahul became bored. "Where are we going?" he asked.

"To that waterfall where Papa used to take us to," Raja replied. The boy lay down, resting his head on his elder brother’s lap. Raja leaned back against the tree and began to stroke Rahul’s hair.

"Papa, who is he?" Raja asked as his father put the baby on the bed. As he approached, the infant began to cycle his legs in childish bliss.

"I found him near the market, looks like his family abandoned him.” He looked at Raja. “Raja, shall we keep him?" asked his father. Raja nodded joyfully, “We can be his new family!”

"Yes, my brother." he said, picking up the child. "Hello, little brother."

A metallic noise startled Raja awake. A crab was standing beside the vehicle, taking tools from a bag as it began its repair work.

"Ah, at last." Raja noticed Rahul had fallen asleep. Picking him up carefully so that he wouldn’t wake, Raja carried the child to the car and laid him down in the back seat. After half an hour, the crab finished fixing the car. It immediately began to hurry away along the road.

"Hey," Raja called after it, "th-thank you…"


The two brothers exited the car as it arrived at the waterfall, Raja carrying the pot of ashes. Sunlight illuminated the water droplets like falling pearls. On the opposite side, a group of small rodent-like creatures were drinking water from the rocks. Together, they quietly entered the stream. Raja opened the lid and looked down at the ashes.

"Sir, spare money, please?" Raja pleaded. Bur the people on the street just ignored him. He looked down to his empty bowl and sighed. "Looks like I will sleep hungry again," he said to himself as he rose to his feet to leave. Later, he found a darkened alley and lay down. He wrapped his blanket around himself and he tried to sleep. His stomach growled.

"Hey kid." Raja opened his eyes as he saw an older man leaning over him. "What are you doing here all alone?"

The young boy gripped his blanket tighter, "Who are you?"

"My name is Alok. Are you hungry?"

"Yes." Raja answered plainly.

"Let's go then." The older man picked him up, and Raja did not resist. Back at Alok’s old, decaying house, he placed the boy into a chair.

“Where are your parents?” Alok asked. Raja looked down, ashamed. “What’s wrong?”

“My parents were in great debt, so they left me here,” Raja answered, his stomach growling again. “Mister, just give me dinner, then I will leave.”

“No.” Alok said as he kneeled down and held the child’s hands. “You can stay here, I will take care of you.”

Raja raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Yes, really,” Alok assured the boy. “I am all alone; I would like some company. Besides, you can leave whenever you want. Deal?” He extended a hand. Raja smiled as he shook it.

4 Years later, Raja came to Alok with a piece of embroidered cloth. "Papa," the boy announced proudly, "I made this."

"Very good," his father replied, patting the boy’s head.

"Th-thank you." He said as he sat back down on the chair opposite Alok. He watched his father as he wrote something on a sheet of paper. "Papa, I have a question."

"What is it, son?"

"Papa, you see, everyone has a mama and papa, I also had them before… well. Where are your mama and papa?" Alok turned his face downwards in silence. “No pictures or…” Raja looked at his father, sadness welling inside him. "Papa?"

Alok spoke quietly, "I don't know."

"What?" Raja tilted his head.

"I don't remember where I came from," Alok said bitterly. "I do remember though before I came here, I-I had a younger brother. His name, his… oh god."

"Papa," said the boy, reaching out to embrace his father, "I’m sorry."

"No, it’s fine sweetie," he said as he patted the boy’s head, “We have each other, right?”

"Right, Papa.” Raja sighed as the ashes fell, mingling with the water and as the current carried them away. As he looked at Rahul weeping, he dropped the pot into the stream. Rahul hugged him tightly.

"Papa." the little boy said softly as he fell on his knees, splashing the water around him as he began to sob loudly. Raja tried to console him.


Back home, the brothers sat together at the old dining table. Raja looked around the old house in grief, and his eyes fixed on a cloth and basin at a corner. It was the one they used for Alok when he was ill, before he died.

"What are we going to do now?" Asked Rahul. "Without Papa, scavenging won’t bring enough."

"I'll get a job," Raja said, embracing the boy. "No need to worry, we have a future."

Later, Raja put his sleeping brother to bed and returned to the living room. Sitting down in his father's rocking chair, he noticed the basin again.

Alok coughed badly as Raja changed the cloth on his forehead. Their father lay on the bed as Rahul stood back beside his brother. "Papa, you will be fine."

As Alok looked at Rahul, the ill man smiled weakly.

"Papa?" the little boy said as he sat close to his father, tears beginning to form in his eyes. "Papa."

"Looks like (cough) I don't have any strength left now," Alok said.

His sons glared back at him. "PAPA! Don't say this please," Raja scolded. "You will be okay, I have brought the medicines."

"I am leaving (cough) everything I ever earned for both of you, Raja, my son."

The boy leaned forward, tears falling from his eyes. "Yes, papa,"

"Take care of your brother," Alok said, pulling affectionately at Rahul's cheek, "And you, don't harass your brother."

"I promise, Papa." the child replied.

Alok took a deep breath before speaking again, "I am happy that I have sons like you-" He went silent, succumbing to the illness. Rahul hugged his brother as both began to weep.

"Papa," Raja wept, "I told you that I would take care of him, but I don't know if I can." He covered his face with both hands. "I c-can't, I will ruin his life."

"Son," he looked up as he saw his father standing in front of him. "My boy."

"Papa?" Raja got up, rubbing his eyes. “No, it can't be. Stop dreaming, idiot.”

“My boy.” Alok stepped forward into the light of the room. Raja hesitated, but then hugged him as he started crying.

"Why did you leave us? I can't do this," he shut his eyes. “I can't be a father to Rahul, not like the one you were to me.”

"Son," Alok faced the young man, holding his hands before him. "I know this is very hard for you, but frankly, this was inevitable. One day you will have to live without me."

“I know. But he…" Raja’s voice shook as he spoke.

"You know, when I first came here, I knew nothing." Alok walked to the window. "I slept on the footpaths, I did all kinds of odd jobs. Some jobs for which I hate myself till this day. That’s why, when I first found you, I decided that I would not allow you to suffer like that. So I brought you here. It wasn't easy though."

"Huh?"

"I doubted whether I could be a good guardian for you; I worried that I might end up making your life even more difficult. But here we are now."
Alok smiled as he wiped Raja’s tears away. "I know you will take care of your brother, even better than me. Just have faith in yourself."

"Y-yes papa," Raja replied, relieved to hear his father’s words. "I promise: I will take care of him."

"Thank you, son," Alok said. Then his image slowly began to fade.

"Papa!" Raja tried to grab him, clutching only empty air, “Don't leave me alone.”

"I love you." Raja watched a thin layer of ash settle onto the floor.

“What?” He knelt down and touched some with one finger, examining it. “Am I going insane?” Suddenly Rahul cried out from the other room. As Raja went in he found the boy shifting uncomfortably in his bed, a look of unease all over him. Raja sighed, “Another nightmare,” and walked over to sit beside his brother. He placed a comforting hand over the child’s head. “Here, sleep in bliss.” The child calmed as Raja smiled down at him. "I promise you, brother, I will take care of you."

He watched Rahul return to peaceful sleep.

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