Lying here, in the corner of this street, next to the busy road, I have seen harsh winter freezing the water pipes, icicles hanging from tree tops, children laughing at each other when they stumble while trying to balance themselves on the frozen ice that covers the roads, and in spring, the town looks like an artist’s colour palette, with orange, peachy- pink and white flowers and greenery all around, the fresh sunshine melts all the ice and the mountains are set free of the hard ice that had covered them for months. In the autumn nights, the street lights brighten up the crimson, golden and rust colored chinar leaves and make them look like they’re on fire. Women sing folk songs on weddings, baandhs dance on the streets. In Ramadhan, the sahar khwaan beats his drum for pre-dawn calls. And I have been lying here, in this place for years.
Every morning, the echoing azaan woke me up. The smell of lawasa-baking bread made me feel fresh, then the vegetable vendor would come with his cart, selling tomatoes, bottle gourd, onions, peas, beans, radish, screaming, “fresh vegetables, straight from the farm to your kitchen”. I would see young women passing by, I could see old men with pots of milk, and then the day would begin with horns and noise of cars.
After a hectic month of fasting, it was Eid, the first day of the Islamic month- shawwal. I could see children of the mohalla playing and laughing and showing off their Eidie, and in the night, the smell of barbecue calling young boys, most of who were from the same mohalla where I lived. Irfan, Ovais, Zaid, Sehran, Salim had gathered around the hot grill. They were all in their early twenties, except for Zaid, who was nineteen. Sehran said, “I’ve heard this has been the hottest summer of the decade”. Saleem, who was the shyest person in the locality said in an almost inaudible tone “Global warming, bhai”. Raheem Khan, the barbecue vendor, went on fanning the skewers of lamb roasting over the grill. Raheem was a middle aged man with heavy built, who would always wear a shirt with rolled up sleeves and a trouser. The sweat on his light, weary face reflected the red colour of the burning charcoal while he blew it with his mouth.
“Raheema”, Irfan said, in an emphatic tone, “just 5 pieces of lamb on my skewer, while Salim’s holds 7!”
“This must be an Indian conspiracy – yi chhai hindustanich saezish” said Raheem, and they all broke into laughter. Suddenly, Ovais shouted,
“Burhan is dead!”
“They killed him!”
Then there was silence, noise, people running here and there. I couldn’t figure out what was happening. In no time, the streets got filled with anger, rage and roaring voices shouting,
“Hum kya chahte-Aazadi”
In this place, the seasons change so quickly. With the summer and celebration, the winter arrives so soon, winter, when I no longer hear girls singing songs, when the hot grill gets cold and holds just ashes in it.
From the corner of a street, I kept watching all this. There were two groups of people. One group was formed by all the people I knew; Ovais, Irfan, Salim and other boys of the locality and a few meters away, there were men in uniform. They had powerful weapons. “Why are the boys shouting, what if the other group starts shooting and someone gets killed”, I thought, and BANG! They fired a teargas shell. Irfan shouted, “Hum kya chahte” and others answered, “Azaadi”. With the teargas smoke around, the vision went blurry. I saw a boy walking towards me, he unearthed me, it was Aatif, who lived nearby. This 10 year old boy was the son of a school master.
The boys’ faces looked like a bright sun covered with clouds of dust, innocence mixed up with anger, Anger so intense that it would make them die, or kill someone.
Aatif looked at me, his penetrating gaze made me scared. “What’s he going to do with me?” “Didn’t he smile at me while he was playing with his remote control car, just yesterday?” With this, I was hurled far, far away, among the other group who smelled like strangers. They shouted like foreigners.
I rested near the feet of one of them. They all looked strong and active. Their shiny leather boots were now covered with dust. I was picked up by one of them, his square jaw and sharp face was perfectly built for that round helmet. His eyes seemed fixed somewhere in the distance; he looked determined; as if lives of a thousand men were on stake and he was bound to kill someone to save them. He flung me up, far and I landed where I had come from, but in a different way. Helpless before the laws of gravity, I hit Rahil, Raheem Khan’s son. I hit him in the foot. His skin was soft as wet clay. His dark, sleepy eyes reflected courage. He screamed very loudly. But his voice vanished in air like the festive time had vanished. I was picked up again, thrown, and picked up. I felt like a drunken old man who had no sense of what was going on until I fell on the footpath and sitting there, clueless, I kept watching all of this happening. I saw the boys throwing stones, I saw women in burqa; I had never seen so many of them together. I saw teargas shells and bullets being fired.
One morning, I heard footsteps echoing, their stumping feet, I could feel them approaching towards me. One of the uniformed men took me in his hand and very angrily, threw me at a window pane of a house, the glass broke off and it hurt me. Heavy with pain, I lay still, in a room of an old mud and brick house. The room was all dull and colorless expect for a flower vase on the shelf. The door of the room opened. It was Shaila, a 12-year-old girl who lived with her mother and brother in this three- storey house. She wore a reddish pink frock. Her light brown hair was freshly combed. She was tall, and swift. She looked at me, picked me up. Her unreadable eyes made me wonder, “What is she going to do with me? Will she throw me away like others did? Did she see that I was hurt? And with this, she placed me on a shelf in the room.
Now, I sit here, beside these plastic flowers, which seem to laugh at me. I hear men, women and children shouting together. I hear the sound of bullets, I hear teargas being fired, and sometimes I feel the smoke that enters the room through the broken glass. I feel choked. “What it does to people who have eyes, I wonder.”
The author is pursuing masters in Fine Arts. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org