Amidst The Bullets

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Another day without him, another evening doomed by his absence, another night ceded to the endless tears. She missed him, everyday, every second. What had she done to deserve this? She had given 13 solid years of her life to her love. She still had his fragrance enmeshed in every fiber of his T shirt. His room was just as he had left it. That basketball of his, bedaubed with dirt, was still where he had thrown it upon coming home tired after maghrib adhaan. He was too good at basketball. “Mama, will you come to watch me defeat Michael Jordan?” He’d flex his arm to show off his biceps trying to convince maa he actually could do what he said, and then winked. Both of them broke out in a laughter. “My son is going to be much more successful, Insha Allah.” He’d then hug her and kiss her on her head. And while being hugged, maa tried her best to in breathe as much of her son’s scent as she could. Something told her it won’t be around for long.
That favourite photo frame of his on his bedside, having a family picture still made maa tear up. How handsome he looked in his blue shirt, smiling in that picture. He must be smiling just the same right now as well, maa’s belief condoled her.
“Maa, I want that Spiderman bed sheet, please.” “No, but I just bought a new one for you last week. It’s blue and lovely.” “Pretty please maa.” His cheesy smile couldn’t allow maa to resist more. The very next week, he was sleeping on his bed covered in his longed for bed sheet. It still adorned his bed, but he wasn’t there to snuggle atop it.
And how could she forget the day his abu jee had caught him one wheeling on main road. He was furious and outraged and was about to pounce upon his son with a belt in his hand. “Stop, please” she had shouted at the top of her voice; “I promise you he won’t do it again.” After prolonged and heated up negotiations between the parents, he was spared from abu jee’s belt. But as soon as abu jee left, maa had slapped him with tears in her eyes. “Don’t you dare do this again.” She had warned him and that was enough to stop him from ever repeating it.
His trophies that embellished his room’s shelf lamented his departure too. A testimony of his achievements, then a source of pride and now merely a beautiful memory for her.
Tears had crossed the brim and had dampened her face when she felt a formidable presence around her. She knew who it was. She turned around and dug her weeping face in his arms. Her husband had to stay strong for her. Her husband had to overlook his emotions following the loss of his only son, his only child, his only support for life. He had to take care of his son’s maa. He did cry his heart out, but in aloofness at night. He did mourn the loss of his crutches, but in the rain when nobody could see his tears.
Life had been savage. It felt as if it’s been ages they last smiled or talked in peace or relaxed. Life had deprived them of all such luxuries. They were just getting dragged to wherever fate was taking them. It was a constant battle between their colourless life and death, that they so much yearned for. Their home lifeless, their lives, aimless. They didn’t know whether to console their partner or to clam their own selves down. Their son’s memories not only comforted them, but also haunted them at times.
How this house used to be full of joviality and vivacity back then. How every evening, after asar prayers, abu jee and their son would jog their way to the hill top. Abu jee always let him win. Actually, he didn’t have a choice. Their son was very much capable of standing out. How abu jee felt proud in his heart and how he felt comforted at the thought of having a strong support for the days when his hair would be all silver. Little did he know that grey streaks would start glistening in his head far ahead of time.
How he sometimes mistakenly went to his son’s rooms and knocked at his door in the hope of a reply. Why was life so unfair?
It was 16th of December, 2014.
Asad was asleep in his room after offering the fajr prayers. Abu jee, as usual went to his room to wake him up. Unlike everyday, he looked tired and drowsy. Abu jee thought that it was because of the late night study he had done for his exams. “beta(son), you should have slept on time,”. “Yes abu jee.” He waited for abu jee to go so that he could go to sleep again. He sensed something wrong in the air. He attributed it to his lack of sleep and tried to nap a little more.
He was woken up again by mother’s sweet caressing of his hair, which on any other day would have been a shrill voice demanding him to be out of his bed immediately. “Maa, I don’t feel well today. I don’t want to go to school..” He tried to convince his mother but in vain. “Beta, you have an exam. You can’t skip school today.”
“but maa…”
“you can sleep for as long as you want when you come back.” Little did she know how seriously her son would take her words.
Seeing all his efforts failing, he unwillingly got out of bed and went to dress up. He wasn’t feeling right. He was feeling as if everything he had learnt last night was escaping his head. There was something wrong but no one knew what it was.
Half heartedly, he dressed up and had to be reminded by maa to brush his hair. Only on maa’s insistence he had a few bites of his breakfast. Waiting for the bus, he normally would have revised his exam, but that day he was staring blankly at the wall in front of him, his last time staring at that wall.
Abu jee had not yet left for office. “Aren’t you getting late?” maa tried to ask abu jee the reason for him not leaving early. “No,” was his brief reply. All three of them were sitting in the living room. Nobody said anything, as if they could sense the fear lurking in the air.
Just then Asad’s school bus’s horn sounded. “Allah hafiz maa.” He hugged her tighter than usual. “Allah hafiz abu jee.” He hugged him hard as well, not knowing that the next time they would hug him would be when he would be in his coffin.
He left the house and ascended the bus. He sat on the last seat so that he could wave his parents until the bus took the u turn. As the bus got out of sight, abu jee and maa didn’t say a word until abu jee left for the office waving his wife goodbye.

Maa would have washed the breakfast utensils had it been any other day, but today she didn’t feel like doing the dishes. She was getting anxious for a reason she herself didn’t know. To divert her attention, she switched the television on. All she could see on it was the morning show hosts celebrating their wedding weeks. She didn’t feel her tension settling. “What should I do?” she started to get frustrated. She tried to sleep but ended up changing her positions every now and then. She sat up in her bed and took deep breaths. She cupped her head in her hands and tried to relax her mind. Nothing would work.
Upon reaching the school, Asad went straight to the examination hall. All he did until the papers got distributed was to pray to God. With his lips quivering silently even after he papers got distributed, Asad felt a sensation of pain trickling down his spine.
He had just read the question paper when he heard a loud noise outside. Everyone got shocked at once. Teachers unaware of what had happened, tried to calm the students down. “It’s just the drill that’s being conducted. You people carry on with your exam. You have a good three hours left.”
But the noise turned into deafening screams and that’s when the door of the examination hall got kicked open. And in walked a tall bearded man covered in black from head to toe. He had a gun in his hand and he was followed by four more of his companions. Just as he entered, he opened fire on the students and started shouting at them to recite kalma. They went individually to each student to ask whose father was an army personnel. Asad was the son of a proud Pakistani army officer too. He was the son of Lieutenant colonel Haroon Khan. The gunmen lined up the wards of army officers and in an instant roasted the innocent, sinless souls with bullets. The third bullet struck Asad in the head and was enough to claim his life. The other children shouted in horror but were silenced by the gruesome weapons of the ravening animals. Some of them stuffed their ties into their mouths to act dead so that they do not get shot. One of Asad’s friend rubbed Asad’s blood all over him so that he appears dead too. The examination hall that was decorated with quotes of Quaid e Azam just moments ago was now turned into a pool of blood with islands of dead bodies.
Maa, after losing all hope of getting relaxed, decided to turn the television on again. And that’s when reality struck her, and it struck her hard. Army Public School Peshawar had been attacked by terrorists. Her world came shattering down. She put her ‘chaddar’ on her head and ran outside bare footed. She ran and ran and ran, wailing and howling. She was running to her child’s school. She wanted to get him out alive. She didn’t want to lose him. Abu jee had been calling her on her phone but she had left it somewhere at home. Abu jee took out his car and rushed to the school as well. He saw his wife running hysterically on the road. He made her sit into the car. “Haroon i want my son right now.” She shouted. “we’re going to get him. Don’t worry.” Abu jee tried to conceal his fears. Upon reaching the school, they were told that army had cordoned off the area and that they couldn’t go inside. “I just want to get my son,” she screamed in front of the military police. “Bibi, army is here to help you. They will get your son out.” But she couldn’t stop screaming.
When by evening, Asad didn’t come out, they were told to go to the hospital to check if he was among the injured. After failing to find him there, they were told to visit the mortuary. “Haroon please tell me he is not in there.” Maa shouted when she saw her husband coming out of the mortuary with his head down. “Haroon, what is it?” and her husband handed her their son’s school identity card that had helped him identify his dead body.
Their world came crashing down. Their son had been punished for being the son of the defender of this nation. Their son had left his parents crying for their whole lives. And now they’re only counting the days left for them to reunite with their son.

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