(Translated by Awais Aftab from the Urdu short story ‘Butshikan’ written by Abdur Rehman, published in Kemcol 2003.)
Everyone had left after the daily worship and he was left alone, pondering with a finger in his mouth. Since a few days questions had been arising in his mind, like how can the bestial god decide the fate of humans when it cannot even blink and cannot even take a step. He wanted to unravel the secret that why the tribesmen sacrificed human lives in front of the murderous idol and how did the cruel deity inflict men with disasters and epidemics.
He had been going to the old priest for the past many days. He sat beside him and listened to the bloody tales of the blood-thirsty god. The old priest had told him how once a young, curious man had touched the cruel god and his skin had peeled off that very moment, and he had died on the spot after a slow, painful and helpless death. After his death, the corpse had vaporized and vanished. The old priest narrated similar events everyday. When he talked his yellow, filthy teeth became more conspicuous and he had to endure the gusts of foul, putrid breath.
The sun was ascending gradually. The shadows shrank as the sensation of fear multiplied in his mind. All the horrible events, famous in the tribe, were coming to him one by one, in which there were soul-burning punishments, calamities and adversities for those who refused to bow before the god and turned away from it. Despite all these stories, his curiosity was dominating his fear. He wished to touch the statue of the god but he loved his life. He couldn’t bring himself to take a single step further. He didn’t wish to die because of his inquisitiveness. All the heard stories, myths and fables repeated themselves continuously in his mind like awful nightmares. He wished to control his keenness and run out of there but his feet were frozen; he didn’t possess the courage to either move forward or backward.
Suddenly his eyes fell on the idol’s head where a little paint had been chipped off near the right ear, and the metal was shining beneath. Then he looked in its eyes. He found nothing but cold and sadness in those visionless eyes; matt instead of glow. The blood-thirsty idol appeared as nothing but a helpless, pitiable statue. But then it came to his mind that perhaps the blood-thirsty god was doing all this to entrap him, so that he would touch and the god would quench his thirst by his blood.
He tried his best to leave without doing anything but now his fear was in the clutches of his curiosity. He decided to gamble on his life. He took a step. His legs were shaking badly, his body drenched in sweat, throat parched and thorny. His life appeared too small a price to pay for his curiosity. The statue which had always appeared as made up of stone and metal looked like a bloody demon thirsty for his blood. He now realized the risks involved in the pursuit of truth.
He mustered up his courage and took another step. His face was pale and his legs were giving away but he had decided and his steps came one after another. At last, he was standing right beneath the blood-thirsty god.
He closed his eyes and placed his hand on the statue’s leg. For a moment he felt as if electric jolt had passed through his body. He pulled it back immediately; nothing had happened. He was all right. He stood there for sometime in that state of uncertainty, then he touched the statue again. He felt nothing but the cold stone.
His fear vanished. He had found that the blood-thirsty god was just a statue, carved out of stone by man. All the legends associated with it were the product of human fantasy, derived from man’s uncertainty and helplessness. He wanted to shatter that statue, to break it into a thousand pieces but then he thought of the people: they needed an idol to worship. If he broke this one, they’ll make a new one. So, he returned silently.
The next day when the tribesmen woke up early in the morning and went to bow before the god, he was not among them.