Friday, April 12, 2013

Chapter no. 15: A Meeting, A Separation (IV)

There was nothing to make this constant darkness in his life go away but a sound like a whistle, which was pushing it quite amazingly. The sound was so near to him that he was compelled to get up and pay heed to it. He was sleeping like this after such a long time so he was very angry at the caller whoever that was.

He got up and checked the time. It was few minutes to 1 in the morning. He checked the caller, Rohail, he was quite surprise and then worry took over.

“What is wrong? Couldn’t you wait for morning? I was sleeping after such a long time.” He said in a sleepy voice.

“Only you and your father can sleep in these circumstances, Ilaaf.” Rohail’s cold tone and the taunt wiped the sleep off from his eyes.

“I don’t know about my father but I had been sleeping after so many days and you are very well aware of it.”

“I would have believed you if I hadn’t known you better. I cannot believe you tried to satisfy yourself in the name of your father and have kept Qandeel for four days.” Ilaaf felt like he was slapped squarely in the face. He was insulted. He was stunned for a moment and then said.

“I hadn’t ever thought that you too would think about me in that way.” He replied.

“And I also had never thought that you would take part in that saga with your father. I am aware of your helplessness in the case but your silence in Qandeel’s kidnap proves that you’re equally involved in it.”

“I cannot explain it to you nor do I want to. And it doesn’t even matter since the person who should believe me is not ready to listen to me then why should I bother with others!” He was hurt.

Rohail was silent at other end. May be he was trying to digest these revelations.

“Why didn’t you do something to free her?” He inquired after a very long pause.

“Baba Saayin’s threats have reduced me to nothing. I cannot dare endanger her life like this.”

“You need to take her to home right now. Under present circumstances, you must not worsen your already tarnished position.”

“That’s not possible. Baba Saayin have given ultimatum that Qandeel cannot be freed until case is decided and we’ll have to face extreme consequences if I try any such thing. In addition, this time these are not mere threats. He’s quite serious and dangerous.” He sighed and rested his head on sofa.

“You have to, no matter what or else you’ll never be able to face her.”

“As if I can at present.”

“But then there will not be a single chance. Qandeel will never forgive you if you don’t concede now.”

“Whatever has happened?” He inquired carelessly.

“Yusuf Mairaj has been died.” Ilaaf felt like sky had fallen over him. “Even if you’re not directly responsible for his death, you’re included among those factors which led to this and we’ll not be able to help you in anyway if Qandeel decides to hold you responsible for it.” He felt like somebody had snatched the ground from under his feet and he was suddenly transported to vacuum. Rohail was dead right about Qandeel holding him responsible for everything including her father’s death but at this moment he wasn’t concerned about any such thing. Instead, he was grieving over a compassionate heart, which he had lost forever. His eyes filled up on their own.

“Ilaaf, are you there?” What could he have said. He wept silently but somehow the intense grief let loose and he cried without holding down any of it. Rohail got worried over this new situation.

“Take control of yourself, Ilaaf. Qandeel has got only you now and you’ll have to help her endure it. Please be with her, support her, no matter how she reacts.” He couldn’t comprehend how he was going to be her support when he himself was robbed of his only hope.

The momentum of the situation just hit him and he realized how much he counted on Yusuf Mairaj about his present dilemma. He was the only person who always told him that things would be right once again, that Qandeel will believe- he’s innocent- one day, and she loves him. He was the only and such a great man, who had always stood by him and soothed his heart of his grief and encouraged him.

He dried his eyes and tried to compose himself for the coming task. Rohail was continuously assuring him but he couldn’t make out his words as he was thinking about other hard facts, such as, his reaction to Yusuf Mairaj’s death. He wondered would he react the same way if he hears that his Baba or Dada Saayin died; and the answer was quite apparent. Blood relations are not all of it. There are some other lofty relations, which are unconditional and unequivocal. And same way if blood-relations are proposed with condition, if there’s selfishness behind motives then they become weak and insignificant. And Ilaaf was going through the same phase. Those whom he was part of were sacrificing him for their own interests and the irony was; he was mourning over a man, as if he was orphaned, whom he had met just thrice.

“Why is it happening to me, Rohail? Why me?” He was crushed.

“Why Qandeel, Ilaaf? Why she has to go through all of it? She has been snatched her only relation in this world just because of you, she is being made fun of publicly, being disgraced just because she spoke truth. Isn’t it quite too much of a punishment for her truth?” Rohail had made him realize her impediment. Rohail had gotten emotional too, so he continued bitterly, “And look at the irony; you who claims to love her or I for being her friend have left her alone in this mess. We are just watching her being disgraced.”

Ilaaf was agonized. He felt like his heart would burst out but nothing of the sort happened.

They were both silent for a time, then Rohail said, “Anyway, we must focus on present situation. If you want to give yourself a chance with Qandeel then you must take her to her home before dawn. Uncle Yusuf will be buried after Fajar prayer and you’d surely not want Qandeel to lose the chance of seeing her father for the last time.”

He felt he had taken a permanent role of an oppressor in Qandeel’s life. He disconnected the call and sat down, head in hands. He was thinking about how he would break this news for her and how she’d react. He was cursing his fate at large. He stood up anyhow and went to freshen up. While washing his face, he thought soon Qandeel would either be slapping this very face or spitting on it. Or worse, she’d lose her senses. He had witnessed how much she loved Yusuf Mairaj; he had been whole world for him since her childhood and he had the inkling of knowing what it feels like to lose all of your relations in just a blink of an eye. And would he be contented to just stand there and watch her suffer, part of her dying and he doing nothing?

There was none of the happiness, contentment, peace left in his life anyway.

He put on his sandals, took the keys for Qandeel’s room, braced himself for the upcoming tornado and came out of his room. Farmhouse was silent. Adnan had come back late in the evening and so he was sleeping, against his habit.

He had thought-out the plan in his head en-route Qandeel’s room. He had decided he would ignore Baba Saayin and Adnan until after he has taken Qandeel to her home. He had been compelled to pass another test amidst of so many and he didn’t want to fail this one at least, no matter what. Qandeel had lost her father because of him, now he didn’t want to add another cruelty over it by refusing her the last chance of seeing her father before his burial.

He unlocked the door quietly and closed it after him. He didn’t want anybody to wake up and find out and for that he had to be careful. He wasn’t even sure how she’d react, hence closed the door to avoid commotion.

The room was dimly lit. He opened more lights and came to Qandeel’s side. She was sleeping peacefully and he hated to interrupt her but he didn’t have any choice. He had to act fast.

He switched on the lamp on her side but she didn’t budge. He was unsure so he called her name. She moved a little but didn’t wake up. He had to shake her to wake her up.

She woke up with a start and her sleepy eyes widened when she saw Ilaaf.

Ilaaf stepped away a little.

“You, here, at this hour?” Surprise had made her incoherent. She got up and wore her dupatta.

“Yes, I came here to wake you up.” He didn’t know what else to offer.

“But why?” She was perplexed.

“I need you to come with me, quietly. I am taking you home before dawn.”  He said.

“But a little while ago you were listing off all the dangerous consequences that will follow if I leave here before the case is decided, so why the sudden change of mind?” She wasn’t content with his first answer.

“This is no time to argue. Do as I say and come with me. I cannot answer all of your questions as of yet.”

“But still, I will not come with you until you tell me the reason. I don’t trust you anymore.” For a moment he was angry at her stubbornness but then he caught control of himself and said.

“I will tell you on our way, right now my priority is to take you home safely and it’ll be very difficult for me if Adnan wakes up, so please try to understand.”

“OK, I am ready.”

Ilaaf cautioned her to come after him without making any noise. Qandeel put on her sandals and followed him. Lounge was empty and silent. Taking her along with him, he passed through the main entrance. Adnan’s Prado wasn’t in the porch which was a good sign for Ilaaf. He already had his key and pistol, for just in case, with him.

They came out of the main gate. Gatekeeper wasn’t at his place so they kept on going towards the car and then at that very moment the gatekeeper materialized out of nowhere.

Ilaaf came to attention at once, ready to act.

“Sahab, where are you going? And this girl…” Gatekeeper’s mind reeled for a second to see her outside and he took off his pistol from the holster.

Ilaaf moved her behind him in no time.

“It’s necessary that we leave now Basheer. Don’t stop us.” Ilaaf said to now-very-alerted-gatekeeper.  

“You can go wherever you want to but she will stay here. And Lala has ordered that if she tries to run away then I can shoot her.” Chills ran down Ilaaf’s spine on his words.

“Then, shoot. And shoot at me first so that you get the best from your Lala.” Ilaaf’s fury rendered gatekeeper confused. Ilaaf took his pistol out of his shirt and removing it’s safety catch aimed at Basheer.

“Your Lala will kill you if you even so much as lay a finger on me. Whereas I can shoot you and none will hold me for anything.” This was not Basheer was prepared for. He couldn’t decide whether he should act or not.

“Open the car and wait for me.” Ilaaf brought Qandeel from behind him and handed her car keys. 

Ilaaf kept his pistol pointed at Basheer until Qandeel was inside the car.

“Turn around and put your hands behind your back.” He ordered him.

When he didn’t act, Ilaaf snatched his pistol from him and forced him to face the wall. He hit him hard enough to make him unconscious, at the back of his head. Basheer fell to the ground with a small scream.

Ilaaf made sure he’ll not be up for few hours and then went to the car. He put the pistol on dashboard, took car keys from Qandeel and soon they were on the road. He deliberately avoided main road for the fear of being chased. In dark, their car moved on the by-road used for carts. Qandeel was silent. He couldn’t tell if she was frightened or anxious.

He was in great consternation because he couldn’t bring up the courage to tell Qandeel the reason for this escape. There was total silence in the car, which Qandeel broke as if on a cue.

“May I now know the reason for all this?” He turned towards her. There was innocence, contentment and may be happiness as well, of going home after such a long time but she didn’t know that the person, whom she thought would be anticipating her arrival, is no longer in this world.  

He had never pitied himself in life ever but he did now...Intensely. How was he going to ruin her happiness, to bring her to reality, he didn’t know. And just then, when he was contemplating of the ways, more undecided than ever, his cell phone rang relieving him of his dilemma.

It was Rohail and he was inquiring after Qandeel.

“She’s with me. I am taking her home.” He relied on short replies, still avoiding the main point.

“Have you told her the news?”


“Then? You must tell her or the sudden shock will be dangerous for her.”

“You tell her yourself.” He said gravely.

“You will not tell her?”

“No.” The negation ringed clearly in his voice.

“OK. Let me talk to her.” Rohail braced himself.

Ilaaf looked at Qandeel who was trying to guess the caller and the subject and apparently failing to grasp the sense of the conversation. He handed her cell phone.

“Who is it?” She asked, who was in total suspense by now.

“It’s Rohail.” His manner still grave.

Qandeel put it to her ear.

Ilaaf’s concentration zeroed in to Qandeel’s reaction. He kept his gaze on the windscreen and even stopped breathing so that he would be able to hear even the quietest sound, sob, hitch of a breath, anything from her. Every muscle in his body strained and in state of waiting as if in survival instinct mode. That strain became to unbearable point and still no sound came.

He thought about slowing down the car in order to check but then a sound made him turn his head without thinking. Qandeel was silent, still and cell phone had slipped from her hand.

“Qandeel?” He slowed down the car and called her name.

He called her twice and when she didn’t respond, he shook her and she felt as if made of sand, boneless. Ilaaf brought the car to sudden halt and she falling face down hit her head on dashboard. If Ilaaf hadn’t caught her hold then she would have hit wind screen. He pulled the hand break of the car and tended to Qandeel. He straightened her. There was a thin line of blood trickling down the side of her face.

“Qandeel.” Pulling her closer to himself, he wiped the blood off her face. She was white like a sheet and was staring at Ilaaf without looking at him.

“Qandeel, please stay with me.” She didn’t respond. She was out of herself.

She was stone cold. He turned off the car air conditioning system, pushed her gently to the back of the seat and bandaged her bruise. Qandeel tried to drag air inside her but failed. When he sat back she leaned out of the seat, held the dashboard with both hands and her body jerked a few times.

Ilaaf was perplexed, he wasn’t sure what to do so he pulled her closer to him and hugged her fiercely. He rolled down the car windows so that fresh air would come inside. She was trying to breathe but couldn’t seem to take the air inside. He patted her cheek and her back to help her breathe but it didn’t work. She closed her eyes and slipped away.

He sat with her for some time then put her in her seat and pulled the seatbelt across her. He started the car and parked it on a dirt way, where it was out of the sight of passer-bys.

He switched off the engine and looked at her. She was sleeping. He checked her pulse which was normal. It eased his mind. He decided he’d not go further until Qandeel is not in better shape. Main City was at half hour’s drive now so he wasn’t in any hurry. He looked for his cell phone on the car’s floor which was lying near her feet. He came out of the car and left the car doors open, as a precaution so that fresh air would keep circulate. He went to an opening, near trees and chose a trunk from where he would be able to keep an eye on both his car and Qandeel. He called Rohail and told him about Qandeel’s condition and suggested him to inform Kamran Ali as well so that they would wait if they get late arriving at the place. Rohail was disturbed by this but they had to wait for Qandeel to get better.

He disconnected the call, leaned onto the tree and closed his eyes. But he was still in turmoil so started to pace up the area. When walking also didn’t soothe his nerves then he resorted to only course. He went to the car, she was still sleeping. He took out his cigarette packet, when he was coming out of the car his eyes fell on his pistol and he threw it on backseat.

He lit a cigarette after cigarette and still he wasn’t at ease. He had become so engrossed in thinking that he forgot about his car and Qandeel. She had woken up and without even knowing where she was, she had started walking in no particular direction.

Pacing up and down,he looked towards his car and he almost had a mini heart attack. Qandeel was not in the car as he had left her. He threw away his cig and frantically ran towards his car. She was not around it. He looked ahead in the road and there she was walking, oblivious of the world. He ran after her and caught her from behind. She was startled from this sudden commotion and began screaming for help.

“Leave me.” Before she could utter another word, he clapped his palm on her mouth and turned her to face him. Her eyes filled with hate the moment she saw him. She tried to squeeze from his hold but he didn’t let her. Instead he dragged her to the point where he had been smoking before. By the time they arrived at that place, she was crying profusely. He made her sit on a tree trunk and held her by her shoulders.

“Please Qandeel, hold onto yourself.” She looked at him. He saw anger, hate, disgust in her eyes for him.

She kept on looking at him for some time then hit him squarely on the chest with her palms. He rolled back and fell down and before he had the chance to get up she caught him by collar and said,

“I hate you! Do you hear me?? I hate you!”

Ilaaf was staring at her. He had assumed she is still not fully conscious; according to her previous record, she had to go in unconscious one more time. But she was already out of that state.

“I, Qandeel Yusuf, accept in full consciousness that I hate Ilaaf Lashari.” Ilaaf felt like he was in an inferno. “You murdered my father. What had we done to you to deserve this? Why did you do this to me?” She was crying her heart out and the words she spoke were so acerbic that he could feel his whole being poisoned by it.

“I am an orphan now, just because of you. You claimed that you love me. Do we treat the ones we love like this?” She was weeping and speaking at the same time.

He wanted to cry but held on. And then out of nowhere, he pulled her into a hug and even she didn’t stop him to do so.

“Call me whatever you want to, let it out of you but please stay put.” He patted her back and tried to ease her tension. She too left herself in his arms and cried more and said, “I will never forgive you. Never.”

“Fine, don’t forgive me. I don’t deserve that.” He wasn’t sure how he had the courage to say that.

Minutes passed while they stood like this- embracing each other-then she moved back and their eyes met.

In the dim light, he saw something in her eyes- other than hate or anger- he wasn’t sure what was it so he kept on looking into her eyes to decipher it. She looked away, as if  hiding her eyes. And then pushed him away rudely.

“I don’t need your condolences.” He kept looking her.“I want to go home. Would you drop me or I can go by myself.” Her tone distant.

“I will drop you.” By the time he stood up, she had gone to the car.

Car was filled with heavy silence which was punctuated by her sobs every now and then. It was killing him but he didn’t have any way to soothe her pain. They entered the Main City. It was almost 4 o’ clock in the morning.

As Qandeel’s home was getting nearer a new fear clawed at his heart; whether he’d be able to see her again or not.

He stopped the car outside her narrow street. He didn’t want to create anymore trouble for her anyway.

Qandeel dried her eyes and nose with her dupatta. Her face had swollen due to continuous crying.

Fajar prayer call could be heard in the distance.

“I don’t want to see your face ever again, Ilaaf Lashari and I pray to God that we are meeting for last time” It came very dry and rough.

He looked at her; her eyes wild like that of a wounded lioness.

“You will never find happiness.”

““I witness that there’s no god but God.””  The prayer call was nailing his coffin.

“You have destroyed me so you’ll never flourish.”

“I witness that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is His last prophet.”” His demise had started long ago.

Her breath hitched. Ilaaf felt like his heart was perforated.

She started crying once again. Ilaaf stared at her tears rolling down her eyes.

“I hate you. But no, you don’t even deserve my hatred. You are only worthy of contempt.”

““Allah is Greater, Allah is Greater.””

He had been kicked; not only by her but also by Allah.

She opened the car door and stepped outside.

Ilaaf looked at the place which she had left vacant. His whole world had been plunged into a total vacuity.

“My daughter has never learned to hate anybody, Ilaaf.” Yusuf Mairaj’s words echoed in his ears and his grief let lose. He rested his head on the steering and his eyes flooded.

“She has learned to hate, Yusuf Uncle.” He was talking to himself. “She hates Ilaaf Lashari. She only has hatred for me. And may be I deserve this.”

He revived the engine and tried to look through the fog plunging onto wind screen and seemed as had stuck to his life and his self.

(Special thanks to Noor-e-Hira Shamim for translating this post)

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Chapter no. 15: A Meeting, A Separation (III)

It was an extremely busy road. There was a huge wholesale market on its one side and famous electronics’ bazaar on the other. More than half of the road was covered with parked cars and hawkers had held over footpaths so this place was certainly not for pedestrians. You couldn’t walk slow or you’d be rudely pushed from behind and if you happen to stumble then it was not possible to get up before being stepped over by few; it was not at all appropriate for strollers. However, Yusuf Mairaj was walking on this road for past half an hour.

He wasn’t here for any business, in fact he wasn’t even aware that he had arrived there. He took small steps as if he had all the time in this world; he didn’t have any business to attend to or any responsibility. As if, he was tired and now wanted to watch life passing by. In a way, it was true for him. For what or who had remained in his life? Indeed, nothing was left for him.

Shadows were almost disappearing. Everybody was in hurry to reach to his or her destination, even birds. Yet he was the only one who had nowhere to go, nobody to turn to. He only wanted to walk until the end of this world.

For the first time in his 68 years, he was asking himself a question, which he hadn’t even asked in his childhood. And he felt that despite of gaining such novel experiences in his whole life, this question had somehow remained unresolved; why this world is round? Why it is oval like egg, why not flat like bread?

If this question had occurred to him 24 hours ago, he would have dismissed it as inane. But not now. This question had become a question mark in itself of his entire life. And he couldn’t summon the enough courage to scribble anything at all after it.

What if this world was flat instead of a round. He would have stood at the edge of it, looking at himself and at that constellation which was ready to greet him with open arms. And at that moment, he would have looked at both and decided which one to choose. The World where Providence had given him ground under his feet and sky above his head and his own people have wrenched both from him. Or this vacuity where he couldn’t plant his feet properly yet there were lamps, lit for him to show him the way around. It would have been very difficult for him to choose between these, few days back. But now he was certain which direction he’d go.
He reminisced that Saima immensely loved this poem. She sung it whenever she saw a newborn, even when she had held Ilaaf when he was born. But she could never sing it to Qandeel and he could never—no matter how much Qandeel insisted—imitate Saima’s lilting voice.

There was no need to take a decision because everything had been decided. If he would now be offered the whole Universe even then he was sure to refuse it and choose the empty space where life was absent but the lamp of life was illuminating in form of Saima Yousuf.

At the rooftop, leaned to the wall, when she used to sing these verses, it seemed to him that the moon had borrowed his light from her eyes. And whenever he looked at her singing like this, his heart used to swell with joy- at the thought that this light was part of him. The light radiating from her smiling face was everything to him. 

He stumbled over something and controlled his balance with difficulty. He stopped for a while to steady his breath and looked around. He had come so far without even knowing it. People come back to senses when they stumble but in his case, he was thrown back into unconsciousness of this world from the clarity of his constellation. His world was now centered to Saima so what he was to do in this world. What was left for him here.

“Qandeel.” An ache settled in his chest.

She was the soul reason of his life but those cruel people had snatched her from him. He couldn’t even begin to explain those four days he had spent without Qandeel. The grief was unspeakable. Every effort had been in vain, his courage was dying away and now his limbs were also giving way to this grief. His feet had refused to go a single step further, his eyes were sightless and his ears had stopped working since last two hours.

He rested a while in a near by shop and asked for water. People present there advised him to stay longer but he refused. He signaled a rickshaw and asked him to take him to nearest park.

He had never before thought of life to be that hard as compared to last four days. The taunts, the way people flung insults at Qandeel, muddied her name, efforts of Qaiser Lashari for defaming her, dishonoring her, separation of Qandeel, worries for her safety, Saqib’s concerns and doubts and moreover the shameless attitude of Saleha apa and Sami, when they saw Ilaaf coming out of his house, was finally taking a toll over him. He realized for the first time that he made a mistake, expecting from them any good.

He paid the rickshaw driver and came into park. The evening was just starting.

Even the cool breeze didn’t help him to dissipate the tumult he was experiencing from last four days. Those daggers disguised as words were still tearing at his heart.

“You were so proud of her modesty, now what went wrong? Why didn’t you teach her instead of lecturing us over decency, Uncle? She had been deceiving me for not sure how long and I prized her as the most faithful woman in the world. Ilaaf is a mere reason to solve this mystery or I would have never known for how long and with how many she has been….” He shut his eyes tightly as if someone had drowned him in mud and he wanted to safe his eyes from it.

“She hasn’t been home since four days and you say Qaiser Lashari has kidnapped her! If it had been so, why didn’t you lodge complain against him. Why didn’t you go to media to blackmail Qaiser Lashari so that he would release her? But no you didn’t. Because you too are unaware of where she is. She got frightened from her false witness and now she feels the need to hide herself until this tandem dies down. Or may be she has run away with either Saqib or Ilaaf or don’t know with whom! You don’t know anything, you never did. Instead, you always acquiesced to her every wish whether legitimate or otherwise. You gave her liberty to act whichever way she would deem it necessary and that made her more obnoxious, headstrong and careless. And her doom was furthered by her university friends. She has lowered herself so much that I am now ashamed of even keeping with her any relationship. And to think that she was the centre of my dreams.” He wouldn’t have felt more pain if someone would have dragged him across the bed of razor blades.

“She always claimed that she doesn’t hold extravaganzas and luxuries to any worth so why is she now blackmailing Ilaaf for marriage like this? You were always teaching honesty and truth to others, why didn’t you feel the need to teach your own daughter these virtues as well. Why is she disgracing everyone-related to her- in whole world like this. And why this man had come here? Did he come here to present his condolences or to inform you that she is living with him these days?” He felt like he was made to sit on thorns, each and every one of it piercing into him, perforating his being.
He watched himself, bleeding away like this.

For last few days, he was trying to ignore these same implications made by almost everyone, for Qandeel. Trying and not succeeding in ignoring these atrocities wreaked with the help of words on his beloved daughter. And yet he was surprised at his demeanor when his own nephew and sister were slaying Qandeel’s character, why hadn’t he slapped Sami hard on the face for the words he used for Qandeel? Why hadn’t he admonished him, his sister for filling so much hatred in Sami for Qandeel. For strangers only need a small incentive to propagate against innocent people. But blood relations are different case. Qandeel had been born and grown up before Saleha apa and Sami and they had always praised her for her geniuses and now knowing her inside out they still have the gall to call her all those filthy things?

“There comes a point in some relationships where love disappears and pity takes it’s place. We cannot break-free nor face-away from them rather we go on fulfilling them, pitying over them. We simply are unable to hate them. And the emotion which we call hate is ignorance actually which makes room into us through pity.” Saima was absolutely right and I had never understood this point.

Whenever he witnessed Saima’s parents’ behavior with her, the hatred with which her mother faced her which made him wonder how come Saima gets through these self-crushing visits without even a single frown. He also inquired from her, doesn’t she ever feel any animosity towards her mother who is always insulting her, cursing her, and indignant with her, no matter what she did. And Saima always replied in those same words.  

Now he had understood all of these facets of life. He could tell about it’s every edge, each crevice.

Wind increased a notch, rustling the branches. Children were on swings; playing and having a time of their life, not a single worry on mind. He too wished to be a child once more. Away from every affair, to enjoy this moment here but that was not possible. His nervous system was preparing to go off forever. He felt pain in his left arm.

He stood up. His gait stooped as if he has lost everything.

His mind was a whirl of disjointed sentences, faces. He didn’t have mind to join the dots. The dark was swallowing everything and he wanted to complete few responsibilities before being engulfed completely.

He didn’t try to remember how he reached his place, it was too much effort. And anyway, the void was getting bigger and bigger. He hadn’t felt the need to call anyone. He didn’t want to go to hospital because he had made his choice and he was just waiting for the time of it’s completion. He was aware his choice had been granted.

He saw Kazmi sahib and Shaheen near his gate when he entered his street. Shaheen must have come for Qandeel and after not finding her at home, was inquiring about her from Kazmi sahib, Yusuf Mairaj deduced. Shaheen was a eunuch who had great respect for Qandeel only, in whole ward. And why not, Qandeel was the only person who welcomed her with etiquettes and always provided for her needs.

He came towards them. They both greeted him and Kazmi sahib started, “She was asking after Qandeel. I had to tell her that she hasn’t been home for last four days nor do we know when she will return, if she decides to return that is.” He couldn’t help taunting him.

Yusuf Mairaj was hurt and Shaheen too minded it.

“Watch your tongue old man!” She admonished Kazmi sahib who thought better to walk away.

Yusuf Mairaj didn’t comment and pushed the door to enter (he had forgotten to lock it in first place.)

“Sahab ji tell me what is wrong with my angel Qandeel. Where is she? What was this jerk talking about? Please tell me, I am worried for her.” She was talking in his characteristic way and for the first time her strident cadence sounded to him like mother’s velvety voice.

He related to her the accident in fewer words. She sat on floor and cried her heart out over Qandeel’s tragedy cursing the culprits when he finished.

His gaze was intense. Who was she? A mere eunuch who is rejected by whole society. A gender who survives by praying for others to earn money. And curse those who don’t pay them was crying his heart out for Qandeel as if she was his blood-relation. In past four days, nobody, not even his own sister had believed him about Qandeel, let alone pray for her life and here Shaheen was the only one who had taken Yusuf Mairaj for his word, the only person who trusted Qandeel and her character and may be that is why her love for her was pouring out of her eyes like that.

Yusuf Mairaj brought some water for her and cooled her down. When she was ready to go, he offered him some money which she refused vehemently and said,

“I am not that low. I don’t come here for money. I take it from Qandeel because I cannot bring myself to refuse her. I am very much able to earn for myself. When Qandeel will return, I will, along with my cult, present myself at Shah Sahab’s mazar. This is my plea until she returns.” Shaheen left. A tear escaped out of the corner of his eye.

He sat absent mindedly for some time and then dialed Ilaaf’s number. A last chance to hear his beloved’ voice.

Ilaaf was surprised when he saw his number on mobile screen but of course he couldn’t know the reason. He handed his mobile to Qandeel.

“Baba, are you alright? Did you go to Usman Uncle for regular check-up?”

He hmm-ed and ahan-ed through the initial questions then came to real matter.

“Qandeel love, listen to me carefully.”

“Yes Baba, I am listening.”

“I will always be with you whether I am near you or far away. Even if we are separated, know that I will always be there, in your strength, your courage. Always remember that you will not lose. Not against any person, against your grief, your loneliness. Do not give in to people’s biases, their hatred, OK? Me and your mother will really be put off if you ever give up. And we’ll be extremely happy and content whenever you’ll face everything courageously. We’ll be proud of you regardless of your success or failure. You are Qandeel Yusuf, daughter of Yusuf Mairaj and Saima Yusuf. You are strong like your mother and a little naïve like your father so you have got to make both of us proud of you. You always have to smile and live for life, for the goal of your life and the reality of the dream for which your father spent his best years of life.”

“Baba, this can wait till I come back. The case will be decided in few days, I will be home, and we can discuss all of it then. Why are you bringing this up right now?”

“Don’t worry. I was sad without you so I just wanted to hear you.” He soothed her heart and then disconnected the call. This casual act felt like he had burned his last bridge towards life.

The pain in his left arm had spread to his chest and he was having difficulty in breathing. He came inside the room and took sometime to relief his breath. Sitting on bed, he looked around. The images and perfume of her time and presence spent here, rushed back to him. He looked at her dressing table where Saima used to stand and make over herself, her image always pulling him towards her. The wardrobe where her stuff remained at exactly the same way and still occupied more than half of it as if she still uses it. He looked around whole room where she used to pace up and down. Finally, at their bed where he’d still felt her presence even after her death. This room held so many memories which always helped him to move on in life even after Saima’s death. Those beautiful moments of love when she roamed and breathed inside these walls, her smiles, tears, everything was alive in this room--- and he himself—was so near to death now.

He had lost the track of time. The pain was vehemently rushing in his veins and he was covered in sweat. He tried to breathe properly but it seemed like it was stuck somewhere inside him, refusing to come out. His heart was hammering around in his chest and he felt it would pop out at any given time. He leaned on to the wall to support his shaking legs and tried to go into the courtyard. It took him ages to reach to the pillar and all of his strength went away in this simple exercise. He sat down; cell phone was still in his hand. He had to do one last thing before giving himself away. He called upon Allah with shaky voice and dialed Hamza Shahid’s number. The ringer went on relentlessly at other end. He was dismayed. The pain was paralyzing his mind and he didn’t have much time. And then Hamza Shahid received his call at last. He didn’t have much time so he started at once.

“You said once that you love Qandeel like your daughter so now I am leaving her to you as I take my leave. Love her like your own daughter and give her freedom to decide for her life. Let her go if she chooses to stay with Shama in Islamabad. Guard her unequivocally.” Speaking was proving to be too much an effort, his voice shook with the strain and sweat ran down from his face but he had yet to finish.“Guide her but always make sure to leave her choose on her own. Try to bring a patch up between her and Ilaaf, you know the reason why. Omar desired so. If it’s better for them then they will come together and if not then they will have whatever has been decreed for them. I just want you to be with her, and never let her feel alone.”And then he couldn’t go on. He tried to gulp in the air but it was as if lungs had refused to take in.

“Yusuf what is it with you? Are you alright ? Or did you have a heart attack. Don’t worry I am coming right away.” Hamza Shahid exclaimed into the cell phone but Yusuf Mairaj’s cell had slipped to the floor. He was going into unconscious. He closed his eyes and started reciting kalma. His heart thudded a little louder and he, not able to take up the blow, put his hands on the floor and tried to steady his breath and heart beat.

Suddenly, the otherwise warm March night began to cool down a little and there was a pleasant silence among his dying heartbeats. He contracted his nostrils in an attempt to take the air in and the unexpected perfume that entered in his senses surprised him. Sitting in a crawling position, he breathed again to recognize this perfume.

That delicate sensation as love. How could he forget that sensation which had adorned his very own existence all his life, and it continue to do so even when he’s dying. He looked up and now his senses were working perfectly.

She was standing two feet away, smiling at him. Even his breathing was normal now.

“Diya.” He had said this word after such a long time. And it wasn’t a surprise that it had come to him even in this condition. She was Saima for people, but Diya for him. A lamp which lit his life all this time.

She came nearer to him, and he was still, staring at her. She looked like a princess in that milk-white dress, those green bangles and gold studs. She was in this attire at last 14th August they were together.

He kept on looking at her, speechless as she sat beside him. Her beautiful smile had even made him forget the pangs in his chest.  

“Yusuf, my Yusuf!” She said in exact same way like she used to and rested her head on his shoulder. And he was sure that he was not hallucinating. He could feel her head on his shoulder. She looked at him.

“Is it hurting very much?”

He nodded.

“Do not worry yourself now as I have come. It’ll pass. I have come now.” And she put her hand on his heart. The touch was so cool and refreshed his otherwise burning heart. He couldn’t tell if his heart had quietened or stopped altogether and neither cared.

“Why did you go?” He complained.

“I had to, Yusuf. But now I have come. The time of separation has ended and now we are together. Please, put aside all of your complaints.” 

He smiled.

“We’ll never be separated ever again.” He nodded. He noticed the heartache had vanished and there wasn’t a single drop of sweat on his body. It was cold all over.

“Shall we?” She inquired.

“Yes but what about our Qandeel?” He was suddenly very mindful of her.

“There are so many people to look after here, including Ilaaf. And we’ll also be near her.” He was relieved.

“Now shall we?” she asked again and he conceded.

She stood and held out her hand to him. He took it and walked away with her; light-hearted.

He walked on without the need of knowing where he was heading as he was contented that he was with his Saima.

There, in the courtyard, echoed a sound,

Yusuf Mairaj was leaned on to the pillar, unconscious when Hamza Shahid and Kamran Ali entered the place. They checked his nerve, breathing and muttered something under breath. They both took his lifeless body inside the room and began contacting people to inform them about his death.

(Special thanks to Noor-e-Hira Shamim for translating this post)