‘The Left Behind’ by Madiha Sattar

Endings can be heartbreaking even when they don’t turn out to be quite as we (and the characters) might be dreading. In this story about an 86-year-old Karachi cobbler and a young woman, that’s what happens. Both are missing their loved ones: the cobbler’s son has disappeared due to some mysterious involvement with the Taliban or the state intelligence agencies; the woman’s husband has left her suddenly for another. The woman begins taking her damaged shoes to the cobbler for repair but, as they’re both dealing with even deeper emotional damage, they start confiding in each other. The story progresses in ways that have us waiting for, if you’ll excuse the pun, the other shoe to drop. And then, right at the end, the husband returns and the son isn’t among those found dead. This leaves both characters without the closure they need to be able to move on in some fashion. And that’s what breaks our hearts even as the cobbler and the woman go on as best they can.

First published in Guernica, September 2017 and available to read online here

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