Excerpt: Salman Rushdie's 'Luka and the Fire of Life'

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He walked more slowly than before (though he had never walked quickly), ate more slowly (though not very much more), and, most worryingly of all, talked more slowly (and he had always talked very, very fast). He was slower to smile than he had been, and sometimes, Luka imagined, it seemed that the thoughts were actually slowing down in his father's head. Even the stories he told seemed to move more slowly than they once had, and that was bad for business. "If he goes on slowing down at this rate," Luka told himself with alarm, "then pretty soon he'll completely grind to a halt." The image of a completely halted fat her, stuck in mid-sentence, mid-gesture, mid-stride, just frozen to the spot for ever, was a frightening one; but that, it seemed, was the direction in which things were heading, unless something could be done to get Rashid Khalifa back up to speed. So Luka began to think of how a father might be accelerated; where was the pedal to push that would restore his fading zoom? But before he could solve the problem, the terrible thing happened on the beautiful starry night.

One month and one day after the arrival of Dog the bear and Bear the dog at the Khalifa home, the sky arching over the city of Kahani, the River Silsila and the sea beyond was miraculously full of stars, so brilliant with stars, in fact, that even the glumfish in the depths of the water came up for a surprised look and began, against their wishes, to smile (and if you have ever seen a smiling glumfish looking surprised you will know that it is not a pretty sight). As if by magic the thick stripe of the galaxy itself blazed out of a clear night sky, reminding everyone of how things had been in the old days before human beings dirtied the air and hid the heavens from view. Because of the smog it had become so unusual to see the Milky Way in the city that people called from house to house to tell their neighbours to come out into the street and look. Everyone poured out of their homes and stood with their chins in the air as if the whole neighbourhood was asking to be tickled, and Luka briefly considered being the tickler-in-chief, but then thought better of the idea.

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