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  • The Shadow
  • Intizar Husain
    Translated by Muhammad Umar Memon (bio)

He must be imagining it, he thought, for one never heard of such a thing ever happening. He adjusted his glasses and wiped his neck dry with a handkerchief. He was already drenched in sweat, and his heart pounded away, though the interval between heartbeats had become somewhat longer. He now felt ashamed of how he had behaved a little while ago, of how he had panicked and scuttled away—and all that because of mere doubt. Why did he have to scurry like that? No one was after him—or was there somebody? He had committed no crime, had killed nobody—wasn’t that true? Why not go back and make sure, he finally decided, to forestall any doubts.

By the time he reentered the restaurant, he had overcome his trepidation, though his heart pounded a little faster and his feet felt a bit heavier. He overcame his uneasiness and walked in feeling confident. Once inside, he threw a glance at the table where he had left the man sitting a few minutes ago. But he wasn’t there. Where did he vanish to? Hadn’t the man just ordered his meal before introducing himself? In those few minutes, how did the man have enough time not only to have his food served, but also to finish it and leave? That simply was not possible. Perhaps the man walked into the restroom.

He carefully chose a place next to the table and picked up the newspaper. But he was not reading it; instead, all his attention was focused on the door of the restroom. He cast sidelong glances at it every now and again. The door opened, and out came a man in a great hurry, drying his hands with a handkerchief as he walked to a table where some other men sat drinking tea.

Where did that man go? He was truly perplexed. Had he been a man or a shadow? He dropped the newspaper on the table and got up. As he passed by the cash register, an idea suddenly crossed his mind: why not ask the manager? But he decided against it, thinking that he couldn’t reasonably expect the manager to remember every single customer, and besides, it was hardly proper to ask about such things. God knows what the manager might think! He stepped out of the restaurant in a rush.

Outside at the cycle stand, he let his gaze hurriedly travel to every single person who held a bike. Then he took a good look at the street and set off for home, his mind totally fogged over by bewilderment.

Can’t there be two people in the world with identical names? He tried to reason with himself. Of course. Not just two—there can be many people with the same name. But could there be two people with the same face? [End Page 146] The thought threw him into utter confusion. Once again his mind briefly stopped working, and the same face floated before his eyes. He had been so absorbed in reading the newspaper while he sipped his tea that he did not have the chance to take a good look at the man. He hated nothing more than introducing himself to strangers, even when he travelled by train or sat idle in a restaurant. But when the fellow introduced himself, his ears perked up at once, for it was with his own name. Startled, he looked up at the man and fell into a daze. Why, even the man’s face, right down to the last detail . . . His pupils began to dilate . . . He felt a cold tingle run down his spine. He shivered and walked on, taking long, hurried strides. He was almost running. A thought seemed to be chasing him, though he was trying his hardest to escape it.

What in the world am I running from? I haven’t just broken out of prison, have I? Am I guilty of committing murder?

He slowed down a bit, having begun to overcome his earlier trepidation, and thought with a cool head that maybe the fact of identical names had...


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pp. 146-155
Launched on MUSE
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