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


When Luka saw his mother crying and his father in the grip of the Big Sleep, he felt as if the world, or a big part of his world, anyway, was coming to an end. All his life he had tried to creep in to his parents' bedroom early in the morning and surprise them before they awoke, and every time they had woken up before he reached their bedside. But now Rashid was not waking up and Soraya was really inconsolable, a word which, as Luka knew, in reality had nothing to do with games, even though right at this moment he wished he was inside some other, fictitious version of reality and could press the exit button to get back to his own life. But there was no exit button. He was at home, even though home suddenly felt like a very strange and frightening place, with no laughter, and, most horrible of all, no Rashid. It felt as if a thing that had been impossible had become possible, a thing that had been unthinkable had become thinkable, and Luka did not want to give that terrifying thing a name.

Doctors came and Soraya took them into the room where Rashid was sleeping and shut the door. Haroun was allowed inside but Luka had to stay with Miss Oneeta, which he hated, because she gave him too many sweets to eat and pulled his face towards her so that he was lost between her bosoms like a traveller in an unknown valley t hat smelled of cheap perfume. After a while Haroun came to see him. "They say they don't know what is wrong with him," he told Luka. "He's just sleeping and they can't say why. They have put a drip into his arm because he isn't eating or drinking and needs nourishment. But if he doesn't wake up..."

"He's going to wake up," Luka shouted. "He'll be awake any minute now!"

"If he doesn't wake up," Haroun said, and Luka noticed that Haroun's hands had tightened into fist s, and there was a sort of fisty tightness also in his voice, "then his muscles will deteriorate and his whole body too and then..."

"Then nothing," Luka interrupted fiercely. "He's just resting, that's all. He was slowing down and felt heavy and he needed to rest. He's looked after us all his life, to be honest with you, and now he's entitled to take some time off, isn't that right, Oneeta Aunty?"

"Yes, Luka," said Miss Oneeta, "That is right, my darling, I am almost completely sure." And a tear rolled down her cheek.

Then matters got worse.

Luka lay awake in his bed that night, too shocked and unhappy to sleep. Bear the dog was on the bed too, whiffling and mumbling and lost in a doggy dream, and Dog the bear lay motionless on a straw mat on the floor. But Luka was wide awake. The night sky outside his window was no longer clear, but cloudy and low, as if it was frowning, and thunder grumbled in the distance like the voice of an angry giant. Then Luka heard the sound of beating wings close by and he jumped out of bed and ran to the window, stuck his head out of it and twisted his neck round to look up towards the sky.

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