“My son was not affiliated with any political party”
“The biggest struggles we face exist within ourselves.”
The line caught his attention. In front of him, a young student sat on a seat, sifting through the pages of a worn-out paperback. He stood adjacent to the boy’s seat, clutching on to his satchel with one hand, while the other firmly wrapped around the holding rail. It was around evening time and he was commuting back home from work.
This travel was nothing new for him. For 25 years he had worked as a bookkeeper and every day, he would wake up at 5:30am without the aid of a clock to get to work. He would slip out of bed, careful not to wake up his wife, and make himself a cup of tea. An hour later, he would walk to the bus stand and wait for his bus.
That particular day, he had missed his bus in the morning. The next one to arrive was overflowing with passengers. He tried to hop on, but his back would not allow it. Being 64-years of age, he was not as flexible as required to catch the bus in Karachi. He opened his wallet and counted the bills within. Reluctantly, he had to settle for a rickshaw.
But now, he had managed to leave work on time and he boarded his regular bus for his home.
Through experience, he had learned to occupy his mind during his daily commute. It helped alleviate the pain in his back, and kept his mind off of the distance to be covered. The public buses were particularly slow, and it was difficult to find a seat during the rush hour. He had seen most of these faces during his previous commutes.
The boy was reading a book, seemingly oblivious to the old man standing right beside him. He was comfortable in his seat, and had no intention of giving it up. It was easy to assuage his guilt by burying himself in a book. The bus took a sharp turn from NIPA Chowrangi, jolting and rattling as gravel crunched underneath its tires.
As he got off, the old man heaved a sigh of relief. His legs had numbed from standing in a cramped position. Taking a respite to regain his composure, he trudged off in to the distance, cutting through a short alley and entering his apartment complex. Strength seemed to leave his body with every step he took. At such times, the only thought that kept him going was that of his wife and his son.
She had been waiting for him for half an hour. He was late.
“It must be the bus,” she thought.
However, her worry was short-lived. The key turned in the lock and she heard the familiar click-clack of moccasins on the tiled floor. He was drenched in sweat, and his chest was heaving as he struggled for breath. She maintained her distance. He gave a slight smile and nodded to his wife. It had been 37 years since they were married and even today, she could see the same glint in his eyes as she did back then. It was something she took immense pride in.
Without uttering another word, he proceeded to loosen his tie and went off in to the bedroom. She got up from her seat and headed for the kitchen. Twenty minutes later, he emerged from the room after freshening up and the two sat down to discuss the day’s events.
“Ali kahan hai? Subha mulaqat nahin huwi meri us say,” he said.
(Where’s Ali? I didn’t get to meet him today)
“Haan, woh puri raat bahar tha. Usko promotion mil gayi hai centre mei. He now manages 20 other employees in the call centre. Toh, aaj ke din he had to stay late. Aap chale jaate hain jaldi. Woh wapis hi nau bajay aaya tha. Aaj university bhi nai gaya. Abhi tuition parhanay gaya huwa hai” she replied.
(He was out the whole night. He got promoted at work; hence, he now manages 20 other employees at the call centre. You leave early, because of which you missed him. He returned at nine in the morning. He didn’t even go to his university today. He’s out to give tuitions right now.)
“University se yaad aaya, maine uski fees pay kardi hai. Subha bus choot gayei thi, toh mujhe rickshaw laina parha. Bank kareeb hi tha, toh mai wahin utar gaya tha. Account mei ab Rs980 parhe hain. Ajeeb baat hai, 65 saal ke hogaye aur thodi si bhi saving na hosaki.”
(University reminds me; I managed to pay his fees. I missed the bus in the morning, so I had to settle for a rickshaw. The bank was nearby, so I got off at the branch. The account now has Rs980. It is perplexing that, even at 65-years of age, we don’t have any savings.)
He took a deep breath, as reality began to sink in. His words hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity.
“Aap pareshan na hoyein. Humaari kamaayi Ali hai. Yeh uska last semester hai. Yeh aapki mehnat ki wajah se hua hai sirf. Kal ko humara baita aik bara admi bannay ga. Karachi ki subse barhi university se parha hai usne. Ali hi humaari saving hai. Aaj hum sub ke saamne fakhr se kharhe hosakte hain. Khud sochein. Aap itni mehnat kiske liye karte hain? Humne itni mushkil kiske liye uthaayi hai? Khuda ka shukar hai ke woh samajhta bhi hai yeh sub. Warna aaj kal ke bachay toh…”
(You must not worry. Ali is our wealth. This is his last semester and we have made it this far because of your hard work. In future, he will be a successful man. He studies in one of the most prestigious universities in Karachi. He is far better than any savings account. We can stand with our head held high. Think about it, for whom did you work so hard? For whom did we bear such hardships? Thank God that he understands our struggles, otherwise you know how children are today.)
“Phir bhi. Khair, yeh kya baat hai karne wali. Yeh batao halaat kaise hain?”
(Anyway, why are we pondering over bygones? Tell me, how’s the condition in the city?)
“Karachi hai. TV pe dekhte hain,” she replied.
(It’s Karachi. Lets watch the TV)
The two got off their seats, and headed for the lounge. The TV took a few seconds to switch on. The old CRT screen was about to give way, as was evident with the distorted colours on the screen. He thumped the side of the television, and the colours brightened and the TV spurted to life.
The old cane sofa creaked under their weight as they sat on it. It, too, was on its last legs. Subconsciously, he changed the channels until he found the news. The news anchor was talking about Pakistan’s progress in to the World Cup. There was no ticker running at the bottom of the screen.
“Shukar hai. Sheher mei sukoon hai. Ali ne kia kaha tha kab tak wapis aayega?” he asked, his eyes focused on the screen.
(Thank God, the city is peaceful. Did Ali give any time for his return?)
“Aap ko pata hai uska tuition kaafi dur hai. Aajaye ga, pareshan na hoyein,” she replied.
(You know his tuition is quite far. He’ll be back, don’t you worry).
He nodded in silence as he continued to flip channels, lowering the sound of the TV in the process. The silence was broken by the shrill ring of the mobile phone. The old man realised that he had left his phone on the table. He gestured his wife to wait, as he got up and headed in the other room.
It was an unknown number. He received the call and put the phone to his ear.
“Jee aap ka baita Ali hai?”
(Is Ali your son?)
The voice on the other side was distraught with fear and panic.
“Jee bilkul. Kiya hua?”
(Yes. What happened?)
He immediately straightened up. He could feel his heart beat rising in his chest.
“Uncle aap Abbasi Shaheed Hospital aasakte hain? Aap kay baite ko goli laggai hai.”
(Can you come to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital? Your son has been shot.)
The line went dead.
For a second, the old man was in a daze. What had just happened? Who was this man? He called the number again, but the phone was off. He gathered his wallet and house keys, and turned to his wife.
“Chalo mere saath.”
(Come with me.)
After a brief exchange, the two left the house as fast as their ageing legs could carry them to discover the fate of their only child. In their haste, they had forgotten to turn off the television. The news channel was still on.
“Breaking news: We are hearing reports of a firing in Nazimabad. One casualty has been reported so far. The victim is a 24-year-old university student whose identity has not been confirmed as yet. Eyewitness accounts state that he was caught in a shootout between two rival gangs. We will provide you with more updates as and when we receive them.”
March 20th 2015:
“My son was not affiliated with any political party. He had no personal enmities that we knew of. He was everything I had. These hands raised him with love and care. I taught him how to walk and talk. I saw him grow before my eyes. He was the light of my eyes.
I have tried my hand at writing a diary, and I have failed miserably. Today marks his third death anniversary. This is a father’s tribute to his slain son. This is the voice of a broken man. We have developed a close bond with pain. Every day, it reminds us that we are still alive. It tells us that we still feel.
Ali is, and will always be my hero. He was the realisation of my dreams. He was a cherished son, a loving man and a devoted student. He was a man with goodness in his heart. My son was wronged. I do not seek vengeance. I do not seek closure. Three-years-ago, I lost everything I had. While I pray that nobody gets to feel what I feel every day, I know that is not possible.
How does a father explain what his son meant to him? Man has not created a language powerful enough to express such emotions. I do not know what he did wrong. I do not know our fault. All I know is that somewhere in the heavens above, angels cried the day my child was murdered.”
The old man closed his diary for the last time. The room went dark.
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