I could not see if this balloon was still attached to that strange protrusion from the belly of the ship. I am sure it was.
I could see from the corner of my eye the giant ship still sitting there, its form blurry but entirely in my landscape. It was a living thing then, not cruel or malicious but simply returning my gaze, not even with curiosity.
I considered a plan of action. Did the balloon continue to expand, or was my throat tightening with fear, panic – I could not tell. I was sweating again. I tore my eyes off the metallic expanse and my eyes darted around the bathroom like a bird freed only to find itself in a bigger cage; the four corners where the walls met the ceiling, the upper edges of the mirror, the light so happily situated on the roof where I found myself now paralyzed.
I do not know how long I stayed squashed to the ceiling before I made a decision. I put my hands on the ceiling and slid my neck from between the sandwich of balloon and cement. My stomach came next easily. I found myself hanging from the roof, my hands like suction cups the only force holding me there. I wonder only now, as I write this, at the absolute absurdity of it all. Nevertheless, I was free. I was a bundle of amazement at how easily I was freed from my captor, but with it came the realization that I must now jump. My heart skipped a beat and I considered for a second staying there, an eternal frog on the bathroom ceiling. But after that terrified moment of my heart in my throat, I jumped and landed on my feet. The balloon on its stick stayed as I left it, kissing the ceiling . I did not glance at the ship but immediately left the room and returned to the stale heat of my sick room.
I looked up Kandahar in the library years later. It was a military ship. My grandfather must have served on it, captained it perhaps. No, not a Captain, but a General. It was named after the war of course, venerated for many more feats than simply the six thousand sharks it held. That was just a necessary measure, not even an extravagance, when compared to its other majesties. It had been peopled by many Chinese workers you see; soldiers and workers. Mostly workers. It seems they would eat only shark. Shark is aesthetically congruent with metal. Very pleasing indeed. I learnt that the ship had had much mythical and mystical significance when designed. It was made entirely with a certain micro-fibrous metal, the discovery of which had meant much in the way of scientific progress, said much in the way of man’s achievement, consented much in the way of man’s conquest of his inferiors.
More and more I began to believe that my grandfather must have been an important man. Not only to have served on that ship, but to have in his possession a model of the ship. That was no ordinary circumstance. Perhaps, somewhere, the actual ship remained. Perhaps, sometimes, when the winds blew a certain way, his heart would lead him to revisit the ship, wherever it was kept. He would not enter it but sit beside it, like one sits outside a lion den in a zoo, with veneration and love, and nostalgia. He would sit beside it and watch the colours of the sky transform it as if the sun bent around the horizon just to take a peek at the angles and crevices of its metallic beauty, the wind sighing through its vastness, breathing finally onto my grandfather’s face, in respect and veneration to the man as well, for his silent companionship.
I too become still, even now, seventy years after the great war was won and more than twenty since my encounter, when the image of Kandahar slips into my brain. I hold my breath ‘til it passes, my throat once more tight and unyielding. I feel its beauty as a torment upon me, for I am unlike my grandfather: a weak and feeble creature not accustomed to fraternizing with the powerful and commanding. I am filled with a moving and dry fear at the memories of the ship, a nightmare of silver, the churlish black water, the metallic, rancid smell of unholy blood, and the cold cold cold of dead fish.
Anam Abbas grew up wanting to be an archaeologist but found herself instead an educator, writer, film-maker and yoga instructor. She still craves dirt under her fingernails and ancient dust on her eyelashes. She enjoys Cary Grant, Yma Sumac and making hats.