- 17 Feb - 23 Feb, 2018
That Fateful Day
- 07 Oct - 13 Oct, 2017
Maybe life had its patterns of taking everyone by surprise. The alpha asked everyone to step forward. He was here to claim his right on people's lives. The drums of death had been beaten. Zarminay looked at others from the corner of her eyes to count the number of lives who were going to bid adieu to happiness and grief. Her heart was pounding. She was scared too.
She exchanged a glance with the alpha who seemed agitated by her boldness. His eyes were cold while hers were a fainting candle. Her palpitation was fading with anxiety running its course. Her heart was finally at ease. For the last time, she recalled his eyes meeting hers furtively, his hands reaching out to the back of her nape, his scent descending in the air, his touch on her body leaving her quivered. She loved him deeply, madly and irrevocably. "He will be mine in an alternate world. He will want me badly and maybe cry me a river when I am no more," she said as her eyes started to tear.
She looked at Noman's face, whose eyes were trembling, and lips were moving, while reciting all the prayers he remembered. She felt terribly sorry for both of them.
Without any further delay, he unleashed his weapon and fired at everyone. The night’s terror had just begun, overshadowing the day.
The sea inside her was churning in the storm. After all, she was gratuitously insulted. Life had blatantly mocked her in every possible manner. After all who was she running away from?
Zarminay snipped together all the sorrows and life events she had ever been acquainted with to make sense of what had just happened. How could she miss all the bullets?
Noman wanted to live and he was not given a chance. Life was elusive, and so was love, and hers was devoid of reality. She tried to smear down the shields of deception she had deliberately formed around herself.
The loud became quiet, and the quiet turned loud. Her heart was crying and thumping like a mourn that stretched out forever.
Noman died because of her. Her conscience saddled her with burden. Her head was a hub of memories of her lovers, and now her friends too. The purging of emotional tensions had become the need of the hour. Was there a way out?
Noman was not coming for her help anymore. His absence would be felt at work, at after-office hangouts, during the 4am gossip sessions when they both stayed up to trot out excuses from work. Their friendship was platonic but they savoured every waking hour to celebrate life.
The past three weeks had been hard on Zarminay. Only if she knew Noman was not coming back, she would have listened to his advices.
Time was flying past her with December extending its blues. Lying in the chilly weather, looking into Noman's lifeless eyes, Zariminay knew the last few days were the hardest for some. The daunting memories would haunt her for a long time. Her soul was seared with scars. Now she knew who the real monster was – life. It was a strange place to be – dark, cold and despondent.
"She is breathing," one of the men in uniforms screamed to his other partners.
"Fourteen dead with one survivor," he repeated thrice over the walkie-talkie he held in his right hand.
"Bibi, are you hurt?" he asked her. She refused to move at all.
He held his stick out and touched her arm to check on her. Only then she looked up in his direction and saw ambulances, mobiles and media vans standing a few inches away from the crime scene which was sealed by now.
Stretchers were dispatched to carry dead bodies.
Zarminay saw a familiar face from a distance filled with pain and horror. It was her cousin looking in all directions to know if Zarminay was okay. She heard her cell phone ring non-stop.
When two men adorned in scrubs came forward with a stretcher for Noman, Zarminay sprung up and let out a heart melting scream. Only then she caught everyone's attention. Her cousin, Zurrain could not resist the sight and ran towards her but the security caught him by the arms.
"It is a miracle; not even a single scratch, it is rebirth," the policeman said while trying to pacify her pain.
One after another, she let out deafening screams. They were taking Noman's body away from her, while she wanted to protest his death.
A female nurse approached her, and sedated her to infuse calm to her chaos. Within a matter of seconds, the medicine kicked in and found her unconsciously leaning on the nurse who readily held her. The drug was a hell disguised as heaven.
"Zari jan, the moon of my heart, open your eyes, " Khan Sahib said, who had not given rest to his eyes from the day the incident played havoc in their lives. He refused to leave his daughter alone.
"Zarminay, your family is here. Look, Uncle Anwar also flew all the way from Canada for you; he brought you so many presents."
Her mother loved her dearly, but always failed to find the right words at the right time.
"Is this the time?" Khan Sahib was irked by his wife's display of her brother's ostentatious love for Zari.
Faint voices of Baba were now becoming clear to her ears. She opened her eyes steadily and found herself in a hospital room. The room smelled pleasant and lifelike.
There were bouquets of roses, daisies and tulips all over the room. Baba jan, Amma, Zurrain, Uncle Anwar and her siblings had encircled her bed. She saw their faces lit up when she recognised them one by one meeting their gaze.
Khan Sahib caressed her forehead. She met his eyes. There were too many rambling questions, scathing sorrows and unheard voices all answered one by one. They did not need to exchange words. Her heart finally felt where it belonged. That was the kind of chemistry she shared with her father.
Being the youngest child, she was overly pampered and closest to her dad while her mother was always busy looking after Anisa and Amir, her older siblings. Khan Sahib was a busy man but whenever he had spare time, he would rather call Zarminay in his study room and read her books.
After staying at the hospital for two days, she was discharged with piles of antidepressants and a bag full of other medicines.
The doctors outrightly declared her suffering from mental disruptions. "She needs care to come out of grief; do not leave her alone," they declared, and she knew Baba jan would carve these words literally.
When she reached home, all the stress emanated from her body. Her maid Rasheeda welcomed her with a warm hug and teary eyes. She could sense the amount of stress her family had suffered in the past three days.
She handed over her cell phone saying, "Your phone was ringing non-stop; see if there is anything important".
Zarminay saw her notification bar was flooded with text messages and 31 missed calls. To her surprise, the call log was brimming with friends, colleagues, extended family, and him. He had called six times. She saw nine of his messages flooding her inbox.
She found Naila's message too. She was not only Noman's twin, but a sister to her as well, married to a banker, who lived in Dubai. Zarminay found her heart pouncing again. Noman was nowhere to be found. He had died in front of her. Her sister must have held Zarminay responsible for Noman's death – partly, Zari also took the blame. She wanted to die while he wanted her alive. Tears blurred her vision. She incessantly opened the message which read:
He text messaged me while he was waiting for you in his car, taking you to the hospital. Zarminay you were with him when he was martyred. Please come see me. I want to hold on to his last memories. I will be waiting for you.
Zarminay fell on the floor. Everyone came running to help. Khan Sahib held her by the arms. But she had refused to pull herself towards him. Guilt had overpowered her completely. She managed to look at Baba jan and cried like a baby. She was devastated. Naila had summoned for her. It was the third day of the funeral. How would she face his family? But she had to go anyhow. There were no escapes.
"Baba please take me to Noman's funeral," she was almost pleading with tears trickling down. Khan Sahib could not see his daughter breaking up into a thousand pieces. He wanted to be her saviour when she needed him the most. Amma and the others told Baba she needed rest more than ever but he shrugged them off. Khan Sahib took the keys and left the house with her.
His house was in the same vicinity. They reached in five minutes. The main gate was open, unarmed. The guard was nowhere in sight. They both got out of the car and went inside. Zarminay held her father’s hand. Guilty conscience had overtaken her grief. Baba jan knocked on the entrance door. After a minute, Naila came out. Her eyes were swollen as if she had cried for days.
"Assalam-o-Alaikum Baita, can we enter?” Khan Sahib asked, while Zarminay was hiding her face.
"Walaikum-us-salam. Yes please," Naila went inside asking them to follow her.
Soon after Naila's husband came and took Khan Sahib to the drawing room. The house was packed with people but it was too lonely without Noman. Naila gestured Zarminay to follow her to the room.
Zarminay was expecting her to hurl abuses at her, but she was taken aback when Naila embraced her in her arms. The feelings did not emanate hatred or anger, but of mutual loss.
They both cried for a long while after which Naila finally pulled her towards the bed to sit.
"Zarminay... look at you… you are everything but you have refused to look at yourself. You wished for death but it was not your time. You surrendered before the hurt. You succumbed to one incident. You abandoned hope when everything was in your favour. One man went missing and you shut your eyes on your loved ones. You abandoned them. How could you give up on life when your parents and friends extended their hands for help, when you are just few weeks away from your promotion? Noman had told me. He told me everything about you two. I am sorry this might upset you, but he was too occupied worrying about you lately.
"You are unharmed. Isn’t that a miracle in itself? What are you complaining to God about? What is your excuse? Do not worry, I will not blame you for his death because his life did not allow him anymore time. We all are living through hell, fighting individual battles and we die in the middle, and sometimes, when we are an inch away from our destiny.
"This is what life is all about, not to reach at any particular pinnacle, but to constantly thrive for what we believe in. If I have cried for days, you have not rested either. I cannot start to imagine the horror of losing your loved one right in front of your eyes. You survived; not everyone is given another shot to fix the loose ends."
When Zarminay got home, she looked at her phone again, another bundle of calls from him. She did not call back. She went to her Baba’s study room where she saw him inclined in the sofa burying his head in a book. He looked at her and nodded in approval. She came inside and sat on her knees before the sofa. He put his book down on the side table and caressed her head with love.
She wanted to cry. Something inside her had awakened her from the numbness. It was enlightening, but painful. The realisation had washed out Omer's memories and guilt of another sort now surfaced.
"I am sorry I did not care enough," she was almost choking to which Khan Sahib replied, "Let it all out Zari jan".
She burst out crying but she managed to apologise again, "I am sorry I took you guys for granted. I am sorry I was being ungrateful. How could I become so selfish? I wanted to die because of one rejection. Love is to let go, I tried to choke myself and deprive myself of hope and love around me. I have never been so truly embarrassed. Everyone died there, Noman’s body was scarred with holes Baba, I saw him die. And I was unhurt. This is God teaching me to value life, while all this time I was too ignorant to notice the real pains around me. God was listening to me all this time and I had closed my eyes for I could not notice the assistance and love sent down for me."
Baba bent down to kiss her forehead and wipe off her tears.
"Let bygones be bygones. Do not despair in misery. Do not dwell in the past. Your success uproar may belong to the world, but your flaws and mistakes belong to your family. We have waited for you to come back on your own terms. You are back. That is what love is about. I cannot explain it any better than that." •