Pantry Prose: Untitled by Mehreen Ahmed

Clouds trailed crisscrossed across a clear blue sky. A cotton candy man stood by a huge Ferris Wheel with his cart at a theme park showground. He watched the Ferris Wheel move slowly to a full circle. Maya Julian stepped forward with her five-year-old and joined the long queue to get on the Ferris Wheel. Tilting her neck, she put a hand across her forehead like a vizier to cover her eyes from the blazing sun. She felt that the wheel did not move much; almost too slow for the world to be defined from the top there. Her daughter, Saira, and her, perhaps didn’t look all that different from ants and moths, milling about haphazardly on the showground.

As Maya looked at the top, she didn’t see any trepidation in the children or the adults. All was shipshape. The candy man attended to the many children on the ground; adeptly adjusting the pinky floss around the candy stick, and handing them over the pink dandelions in a bouquet, as it were, with a benign smile.

Children couldn’t wait to mouth the pinky candy. However, the Ferris Wheel stopped moving for a while which no one else noticed except Maya, who felt nervous and felt she must alert the authorities for an alternate way to get those people down. They didn’t see it coming. They sat here without a concern. Maya gathered the reason for their placidness was perhaps they couldn’t see much from above.

The candy man looked up a few times like Maya. A frown appeared on his forehead too, which Maya saw, and wondered if he also noted that there was a problem. If the situation went out of hand, people could be in fatal trouble. Her daughter pulled her towards the candy cart, and they both came out of the queue losing their place in it. On her way to the cart, she saw people—mainly children with an older sibling or an adult jostling in the bottom of the wheel as they dribbled out of the lower cabins of the Ferris Wheel touching the green grass beneath. 

The ones at the top hung precariously, oblivious to what was coming next. The sky couldn’t look clearer. The clouds spread out like a fishing net through which no fish could escape. Trapped inside the net—not until then, not really until it happened that someone dropped a net into the blue bowled ocean and trapped all these frantic fish inside it; the net teeming with all the fish out of water when life was pulled out of this oxygenated cosmic ocean into the outer. Until then calm prevailed.

Those sitting at the top, were clueless, enjoying a breezy morning—chirping and laughing spring birds. Maya trembled in the fresh air as she took her daughter to buy candy floss. The candy man continued to look at the Ferris Wheel.

“Are you thinking, what I am also thinking?” Maya asked.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

“I think that the wheel is broken. Those who are at the top, are all stuck.”

“Hmm, that’s exactly what I was thinking too.”

“What now?” Maya asked.

“Someone must tell the manager of this theme park, I reckon,” replied the candy man.

“Do you know where his office is? I’ll let him know.”

The candy man looked over his shoulder and pointed toward a building at the far end of the park. Maya squinted to follow his directions. Then she took her daughter’s hand and began to walk toward the management building while the decadent candy floss melted in her daughter’s mouth. Maya looked at her and smiled. She smiled back.

“Where’re we going Mammy?” she asked.

“To tell the manager to fix the Ferris Wheel?”

“Why? What’s wrong with it?”

“It isn’t working well, darling. ”

“Is it broken?” she asked.

“I think so,” Maya replied.

“Will they all die at the top?” the daughter asked.

“No, of course not, the manager will ensure that,” Maya said.

The daughter kept licking the candy cane to its bare bone until the stick was fully exposed. She looked at it and gave it a long-lasting lick, top to bottom. The manager’s building was far, but Maya persevered. She stepped up, determined to stop the disaster at the Ferris Wheel at any cost. At any cost? However, when she reached the building, she found a big padlock at its gate. She pushed it and pulled the lock but it did not open. Lights in one of the rooms were on. She looked up and she screamed; strikingly close, not quite far enough. She looked around for an object and found a rock. Maya did the unimaginable. She picked it up and hurled it aiming higher at the glass window. It rocketed through the glass. Shards fell and hit Maya on her forehead.“Oh” she uttered and sat down.

The daughter looked up at the window and shook Maya by the shoulder. Maya felt an urgency in the shake and looked up too. Her jaw fell. At the window, there was a man, not even a full man, maybe a half-man and half-elf. He—it looked like a statue with inky tears running down its cheeks. This was a make-believe theme park. A rock came flying out of nowhere; it transpired into a piece of paper as it landed with just one word written—ignis fatuus

“What does this mean?” the daughter asked. 

Maya replied, ‘Illusion,’ ‘foolish fire’. 

“Isn’t that what your name also means?” 

The daughter wanted to know from a breathless mother.

Multiple contests’ winner for short fiction, Mehreen Ahmed is an award-winning Australian novelist born in Bangladesh. Her historical fiction, The Pacifist, is an audible bestseller. Included in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction Anthology, her works have also been acclaimed by Midwest Book Review, and DD Magazine, translated into German, Greek, and Bangla, her works have been reprinted, anthologized, selected as Editor’s Pick, Best ofs, and made the top 10 reads multiple times. Additionally, her works have been nominated for Pushcart, botN and James Tait. She has authored eight books and has been twice a reader and juror for international awards. Her recent publications are with Litro, Otoliths, Popshot Quarterly, and Alien Buddha.

You can find more of Mehreen’s work here on Ink Pantry.

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