OUR TAINTED SOULS by Minaal Maan
About the Book
Ahmed - a privileged young man born into a world of exquisite dinner parties at the large estates on the outskirts of Lahore, bound to a political legacy that he wants nothing to do with. In a city where status is everything and social stability is craved by many and achieved by few, he simply wanders, his motorcycle and Marlboro being the only constants in his life. Ahmed’s life is plagued by demons that are as real as the grey, ever-present clouds of smog that blanket the city, obscuring the sins of its people.
Seher - a modern-day Cinderella who is decreed to marry a man she could never love, smothered by the norms and values of her cramped house in the cramped village of Zaleembad, a few miles away from the city that is home to the rich upper-class, a class that represents greed, hypocrisy and the lust for power. After losing her faith in the opposite gender, Seher is determined never to let herself depend on anyone.
The two meet under the most unlikely circumstances, and what unfolds is a story of love, hate, and everything in between. The tragic events that follow their meeting make you wonder. Does everyone really want to be saved?
Below is a short excerpt from the first chapter of the book. Enjoy reading!
He was a monster. Today was one of those days when he felt as if he was corrupting the very air around him, and it had nothing to do with the acrid smoke that he was expelling through his lips. He felt like he was destroying everything around him because of the thoughts that were running through his head, and the opinions he held about the world after twenty three years of being stuck in the battle that was his life.
Ahmed’s attention was soon drawn towards a little girl sitting on a swing a few yards away, her dark brown hair blowing around her face as she pumped her legs back and forth. She would squeal in joy as she swung forward, her face lighting up with one of those smiles that could only be seen on a child, hopeful and genuinely happy with the world around her. He forced his gaze away then, hating himself because he had been staring at a five or six year old, something he judged those disgusting child predators for with a passion. It shocked him how they could live with themselves, but here he was doing the same thing.
But then as his eyes landed on the girl’s mother who was sitting a few meters away, he reminded himself that he, unlike the predators felt no desire to be intimate with that little girl; in fact he envied her. He could feel a faint hatred towards her simmering in his veins at that very moment. Why was it that that little girl got to live her life so freely? Judging by the light in her eyes and the colour in her plump cheeks, she was happy and had a family that cared about her. Yeah, he thought incredulously. They must love her to bits, and the little brat probably took it all for granted.
His thoughts were confirmed when the mother came over to tell her it was time to go home and he watched as she threw a tantrum about how, her life was unfair and everyone was out to get her because she wanted to go on the slide before going home. Her mother had shaken her head and told her that the smog was about to set in, and she didn’t want to get sick, did she? But the child had scrunched her eyebrows together and crossed her arms. In the end, her mother had carried her out while she had bawled her heart out for the whole park to hear. He scoffed, thinking about the countless other miserable brats who had no idea what they had, and just how much others craved it, or had craved at some point. It was too late now anyway.
Suddenly, he was ten years old again, waiting for his father to come home from his trip to Dubai. It was his birthday, and he sat alone on his bed with an Enid Blyton book open in his lap. His mother had one of her society brunches that day and he had pretended to be sick in order to stay home from school because all the other kids had been expecting a cake in class and then a birthday party at his house. Of course nobody knew that the strange boy who appeared to be enjoying every luxury that life had to offer because of his well-connected parents, was really just a kid who longed for some love and attention.
That was how almost all his birthdays had been. Dubai was sometimes substituted for London or New York and society brunches were replaced by fundraisers for NGO’s, but the loneliness and depravity had remained a constant in Ahmed’s life, and adulthood had only brought higher expectations and deprecating remarks with it.
He sighed, taking one last drag from his cigarette. God, he needed to buy another pack, he thought with a sigh. He would have to stop by the small shop on the corner of the road, and then meekly smile when the old man who had a fruit shop next to it looked at him through his round spectacles and told him how he was slowly killing himself, and ask him if his parents knew. He almost laughed out loud every time he asked that question.
Ahmed watched as the park slowly cleared and parents, or in some cases, maids and manservants tugged the children away from the swings and slides as the smog really began to set in. It always started out slowly, but then it was only a matter of minutes before everything seemed to be lost beneath it. Lost, he thought with a pang of despair. That was what he felt most of the time now. But he pushed that thought aside as soon as it surfaced, dismissing it as pointless.
His phone buzzed in his lap and he glanced down to realise that he had missed three calls in the past hour. A single name flashed across the screen, taunting him, reminding him of a life he had shared with someone who had left a long time ago. Fahad. If he paused and thought about it, he knew he would be taken back to those days and nights that were a mere memory now. He chose to ignore the calls instead.
Sighing, he got to his feet and started to make his way outside. His motorcycle was parked where he had left it, and he could feel that familiar, momentary burst of joy as his gaze landed on it. That Harley was the only thing that had some power to bring a smile to his lips, even if it was only for a moment. It was not just the thrill of the ride that elated him, but a lot more. He had bought it himself; with money that he had actually earned and not gotten from his father. He had worked day and night for it and for once, his parents had given him credit for something.
And that was it. The momentary smile dropped from his lips as thoughts of his parents entered his mind. He could almost picture them now, getting ready for the event tonight, going over “safe” conversation topics, and coordinating the lies that they were about to spin. It made him sick. He could feel the familiar rage burning inside him, coursing through his blood as the wind whipped his face and tousled his hair.
He could imagine the disapproving glare that his father would send his way when he saw him walking in with his windswept hair, leather jacket and his breath reeking of tobacco. But he would not be angry because of reasons a normal parent would. He would be angry because if anyone saw his son like that, it would raise questions and that could potentially ruin the image he had worked so hard to construct in the minds of these people, just so they would help him in the upcoming elections. A son who acted out was not something he needed right now.
He stopped at a red light and glanced around him, knowing that the city was far from what it appeared to be. While the towering buildings, luxurious restaurants, and illuminated billboards with their bright and colorful advertisements were enough to make an outsider believe that Lahore was not unlike any other city where people knew how to have a good time and the corporate industry was clearly doing well, he knew the city better than that. After all, while most people from his background had spent their teenage years attending the schools that were supposedly meant for the elite and labeled you as someone from a respectable background, his years had been spent wandering the streets as well. He had seen every nook and cranny of this city: seen what went on in its underbelly and had had experiences that would put the night life in Vegas to shame.
Ahmed winced, remembering the time he had failed ninth grade, and had gone home thinking his mother at least would want to know why he had been skipping classes, only to find that both his parents had expected nothing more from him, had assumed it was because “that was just the kind of person he was,” and had already paid his fee for the next year along with something extra so that “people wouldn’t talk.” The truth that they had chosen not to find out was that he had been spending the days at the hospital with the librarian who was on her deathbed at that time. She had been a close confidant ever since he had started seeking solace in the four walls of the library in sixth grade, and had never uttered one comment that had made him feel like she was judging him. She had died at the end of that year.
That night had been the first time he had smoked marijuana, and the only thing he remembered about it was the discomfort, the numbness and then the high. It had been one of the best nights of his life. Money got you anything in this city, he thought with a stab of disgust. It did not matter if you were fifteen or twenty five as long as you had money and knew the right people.
The light turned green and traffic began moving, speeding forward as if everyone was in a hurry to get somewhere, which made sense once he thought about it. Why wouldn’t anyone be in a hurry to get home? Just because he had a messed up family did not mean everyone else did too. But then he cringed as he passed a man sitting on the sidewalk, his head bent and hands clasped around his knees. As he turned the corner, the man raised his face and he saw that his eyes were bloodshot and swollen. He had expected it if he was being honest. That man probably had a family waiting at home, and here he was, wasted at the side of a road when he could be doing something for them. Poverty and despair sure drove you to do crazy things; he thought with another sigh as he neared his house. Oddly enough, he was glad he was not the only one with problems, that someone else was going through a hard time as well.
Yet at the same time, it sickened him how men like his father had the power and resources to make a difference in people’s lives, and they still focused all of that on petty things, things that only brought momentary benefits. Of course he had tried to get his father to help people like the old man, but his opinion had, like always, been dismissed on the grounds of it being “near sighted” and “an inexperienced boy’s ideas that had no place or potential if one wanted to succeed in the real world.” He ground his teeth at the thought and continued to look ahead. He was pretty sure he would see plenty of other things tonight that would be worth criticizing.
He almost cursed out loud when a little way further down, he was met with packed traffic and barely any room to pass. Street sellers and beggars were making full use of the opportunity, going from one car to the next, but were being driven away by the over-privileged people of the upper-class. He watched with disgust raging inside him as a man in a white Mercedes sneered out of his window at the boy asking him if he would buy a flower from him because he had three sisters to earn money for, The boy walked away after the man condescendingly told him to get an actual job.
Ahmed could not help the wave of loathing that washed over him, not just for that man, but for the entire “elite” class of Lahore. They breezed through life in their BMW’s and Mercedes, throwing their parties with money that was supposed to go elsewhere, not giving a damn about just how many people they were hurting, and he hated being a part of that class. You did not control what family you were born into, but you did have a say in what you believed in and stood for; he stood for everything that his parents did not.
A whole lot of good that had done him too, he thought sarcastically as he stopped by the small shop for his pack of Marlboros. Just as he had expected, the old man selling fruit was there. He could practically feel the judgmental comments rolling off him in waves, and almost snapped at him. He almost told him to mind his own business and not get in his. It was his life, was it not? He had every right to live it however he wanted.
About the Author
Minaal Maan is a young freelance writer and author who has just published her debut novel, "Our Tainted Souls", available in paperback and ebook form. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Daily Times, The Fiction Project, and The Desi Collective. She is also a valuable contributor to the Perspective Magazine.
She has recently launched "The Pakistan Chronicle", an online magazine that aims to highlight emerging voices focussing on inclusivity, and it can be found on Instagram as @thepakistanchronicle.
Minaal enjoys writing about strong female leads as well as the transgender community and is drawn to the contemporary fiction genre. Her Instagram handle is @minaalmaan
OUR TAINTED SOULS by Minaal Maan is available for purchase at:
- Liberty Books
- Barnes and Noble