One night when I was broke and desperate and doing weed, I decided to sell my soul. I spread a sheet in front of a most infamous public house and sat my soul down by my side and waited for prospective buyers. It was a cold night and I had only a shawl which was full of holes. My soul had nothing and sat shivering, teeth chattering. It really broke my heart to see her so miserable. I didn’t want to part from her, but I had a belly which needed to be filled urgently. And anyway, I thought she would be cosy and comfortable with some other owner; something, that unfortunately I had never been able to give her. But the key point remained: I needed to fill my belly, and fill it would I.
People passed, both women and men, and I tried to divert their attention to my goods. They looked at us in passing and hurried on. Most of them had souls, similar to mine, shrivelled, miserable, trailing after them. A fat, drunk man came out of the public house and stood swaying before us. He narrowed his eyes and exclaimed,
‘What is that splendid thing you have sitting with you?’
‘Oh, a soul, up for sale’, I said, a professional to the bones. Though I knew he could not pay the price, and I did not want to sell my soul to him anyway.
‘Oh, splendid. Just the thing I was looking for. I should have given you a bottle for her, if I still had one.’ He sighed and set off. Then turned back and shouted,
‘I shall give away my own soul for a bottle just now’, and chuckling, he went lurching through the dark, deserted road. My soul had been holding her breath because of the foul breath of the drunk, and for fear she would get sold at his hands.
My soul was not very eager to get parted from me. In fact, she was sad. Though not frightfully fond of me, she was my soul and I was her owner, and over the years there had been moments when we had felt in harmony with each other.
An old hag came next, bent doubled, cheeks hollowed out.
‘What miserable creature is that you had bound to you?’ she peered through her glasses.
‘This is my soul, mother, a very nice, good one. Circumstances are forcing me to sell it, otherwise I would not let it out of my sight.’
Strange sounds escaped her at it. I suspected she was giggling as she turned the corner. Next came a pretty fourteen years old girl, swinging a bag. She paused beside us. My soul brightened.
‘What are you asking for her?’ she asked.
I told her a price which obviously she could not pay. She departed sadly. She didn’t need the soul for herself, but wanted to free her from me! The cold was eating into my bones. I wanted to get away into the warm public house and therefore had decided to sell my soul to the first buyer who walked past next.
It was then a little boy came bounding into the road. He was healthy and his clothes were decent. He had a delightful face. He broke off running and stood wonderstruck. My soul smiled at him happily. I guessed she would like to go with him.
‘Oyi, oyi, monkey’, he clapped his hands.
‘This is not a monkey. She is my soul. Will you buy her?’ I said.
‘Wow, wow’, he again clapped his hands.
He started pulling out objects from his pockets; marbles, yoyo, colourful stones, threads, coins, images, a lead fish, a piece of cheese, and various odds and ends. Then stood turning his pockets inside out. He promised he would bring all his savings to me tomorrow. I was sort of fed up and that piece of cheese was pretty asking to be dined on. I signified to my soul that she could go. We embraced and bid farewells and wished each other well.
I really felt happy for my soul, because she was often nostalgic of our childhood which she would exalt to a kind of heavenly bliss and now she could get to experience that all over again. If she was happy, I was happy, for I really loved her. And not for money alone had I come to sit here selling my soul, but because I was suspicious she was rather fed up with me. Hard to put up with a bad man like me could be for such a good soul. Not that she was righteous and all. I knew all the secrets of this soul inside out, but won’t slander her.
The next morning I woke late as usual and prepared myself to be rebuked by my soul, then sat down jolted. The soul was gone. I felt a big gap inside me. Last night I had been too feverish.
I cheered up by faking relief at her absence. I went out in the city, awash with the liberation. I did everything I had long wanted to do. I pinched things from shops. I hit mugs I disliked. I drank myself to incoherence and cursed loudly. I told a thing or two to God which I thought He needed to hear. I saw mankind’s degradation and wallowed in ecstasy. I saw small children struggling under the burden of their lives, and I could not wait to see them grow up and stuff all the juvenile prisons where at least they would not have to worry for daily bread.
I kicked beggars and prostitutes. I spat on the old and the sick.
Many things my soul would not ever let me do, I did. And had bigger plans ahead.
In the evening I found myself in an overgrown park. I lay down in the grass, cold and tired. I touched my cheek and it was wet. I looked up to see if it was raining. I was crying. Then I started crying consciously and it made me feel better.
Someone touched me on my nose and I sat up startled. A middle-aged lady sat on a bench before me. Her eyes were swollen with tears, but she tried to smile at me. I could not recognise her at first because of her clean face and a new dress. Then with a cry I got up and threw my arms around her. She was my soul all right.
‘I am so tired, I could hardly walk.’ She said between sobs.
‘Why did you come back, you poor soul?’ I asked, rubbing her shoulders.
‘He made me do such stupid things all day. He made me sing and dance in front of his friends. They had a birthday party. And they didn’t even give me a morsel of the cake to eat.’ She had started to cry afresh.
‘I ran away when they were distracted.’
I consoled her, said I was missing her badly, that now we won’t ever part.
For a long time we sat hand in hand. I had some stale bread in my pocket which she snatched greedily.
‘Was it not wrong to ditch the kid like that? After all, he paid for you.’ I asked uneasily when we walked to our filthy bedstead.
‘Wrong? When have you started to think of right and wrong?’ She flared up.
‘Since when you… ‘ I mumbled. I didn’t want to aggravate her anymore. Besides it had been a long, painful day for both of us.
We deserved a break.
Sobia Ali is a student of English Literature in India. Her work has been published in, among others, Atticus Review, The Indian Quarterly, The Bosphorus Review of Books, Another Chicago Magazine, The Aleph Review, Mekong Review, Gone Lawn, The Punch Magazine, Litro Magazine, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Bull, Manawaker Studio Flash Fiction Podcast, trampset, Lunate, Kitaab, Ombak Magazine, Close To The Bone, The Bilingual Window, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a novel.