Three hundred and sixty five days, 13 hours, and 45 minutes have passed since that incident. Sometimes, the whole film of that day rolls back on my mind’s tape and I see myself wandering around the Combined Military Hospital (CMH). How can I forget those 25 minutes? It was then that my dad walked inside the hospital to enquire after my brother. When he came out, I asked him,
“Abu! Kuch pata chala?”
(Dad, did you find out anything?)
I can’t forget the moment in which my father mustered the courage to say out loud,
“He is dead.”
I couldn’t believe my ears; even though the words were so simple, so straight-forward. That sentence broke me. A minute later, I went inside the hospital to see for myself. I had to. I broke down the second I saw him.
That was my Arham. My baby brother. And he was gone…
I stood there, in the chaotic silence of it all and stared at my baby brother’s body. His face, his uniform, his hands… everything was drenched in blood. And yet, this was the first time in my life that I had seen him look so content. I took a moment to look at him properly, possibly for the last time.
You know you’re the unluckiest person in the world when you are standing right outside the gates of the same school where terrorists are heartlessly murdering your little brother and you can do nothing about it. And though you know quite well what the ending is going to be like, your mind refuses to believe it. But your hands are tied and the feeling of helplessness suffocates you.
I still remember how my brother used to love video games and how he would patiently wait for days to download them, while I couldn’t. Since the laptop he owned had greater graphics memory, I’d keep asking him to lend it to me for a couple of minutes, and even though he hated people disturbing him, while he was sharp shooting Nigerian rebels in Call of Duty, he would immediately hand me his laptop without any questions.
Not only would he play for hours, he could sit and watch other people playing for hours too. Whenever I’d play a game on my laptop, he would sit beside me, taking on the role of an unstoppable commentator and a coach, all the while yelling out tricks and techniques to help me win the game. I would often hear him say,
“Bhai! Aap ghalat kar rahe hain na. Is tarah nahin hota!”
(Brother! You’re not doing it correctly. It’s not supposed to be played this way!)
I can still hear his voice calling out to me, saying,
“Bhai! Mein patang laya hoon!”
(Brother, I brought a kite!)
And, tempted by his offer, I would take a break from my studying and join the fun. We would go on the rooftop and spend the whole day, from noon all the way to sunset, flying kites while our homework lay pending on our study tables.
On our birthdays, he always tried to make them as special as possible and not once did he forget to give us gifts. He would ask us all to contribute so a nicer gift could be bought for whoever’s birthday it was. He loved celebrating his own birthday too, and made sure we got him birthday presents as well, which we did.
Because of some confusion we had about his age, we had decided to promote him to a senior class. His principal, Ma’am Tahira Qazi was not willing to give him a double promotion but yielded on the condition of him passing his exams. He gave his seventh grade exams alongside his sixth grade exams, and was promoted to the eighth grade.
It was the same eighth grade that was ill-fated that day. The students of the seventh grade survived, but not those in the eighth grade. Many people had said that promoting him was a big mistake and we still think about it today. But we stand surprised at how fate maneuverer itself into giving him a place among the martyrs.
Today, it just hurts. It hurts to see his empty bed in our room. It hurts to see an aloof kite in the cupboard. It hurts to use his empty notebooks as rough copies for my writings. It hurts to use the same colour markers he would devour whilst drawing.
They say, when a person dies they have seven minutes of brain activity left. It’s the mind replaying the person’s memories in a dream sequence. I keep trying to picture the state of my brother’s mind when the world was going dark before his eyes. I try to imagine what memories were playing in his mind and how he must have felt. Oh God! How painful it must have been.
Despite all the claims, I am not satisfied with what has been done for the security and safety of the children post the attack. Children are still not safe. Whether they believe it or not, it cannot be denied. The Army Public School is not a college anymore, it is a fort. With all those huge coils of barbed wires laid atop tall compound walls and scores of army personnel deployed on every inch of the APS land, are the children really safe? Is that what this safety represents?
Though they are scavenging for culprits who did this, I want them to target the officials as well, the ones who failed to deliver what they promised. People seem to think that we will move on and forget the past but how can that happen? They martyrs have been forgotten and so have their families. What people fail to understand is that even though the dead are long gone, their memories live forever.
There have been times when I have thought about avenging my brother’s blood. But then I think that if I were to pick up a gun, I would be no different from the Taliban. Killing is not what I do. We aren’t the Taliban. They want to isolate us from education, peace and progress. They want to give us guns instead but peace is the bullet they fear. They fear us spreading harmony and negating extremist ideologies which provoke such elements. And the quest to do that is the best revenge. Negate them.
I read somewhere that there will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning. Yes. This is the beginning. I can see it. After all, this soil is drenched in the blood of young souls. Would it not be more fertile than before?
All photos: Shaheer Khan
from The Express Tribune Blog http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/30868/365-days-13-hours-and-45-minutes-ago-my-brother-arham-left-us/