Qandeel was sitting in the departure lounge of airport. The situation caused abject misery to her. She looked beyond the glass windows of the lounge and felt the same desolate silence out there. The dawn lit the lounge fairly after a while yet it could not lift up her mood. The light didn’t matter to her anymore.
“Mein rahun ager na rahun ager, jo hai sach mera w sahun ager,
Karun na khata aur mily saza, ho koi sitam samjhun ata,
Had-e-bekhudi se ashnayi ki der hai,
Musafir hum bhi rah-e-shauq k ban jayengey”
The words haunted her which she wrote in her diary once. Qandeel could never imagine at that time that these words would come to define her world succinctly.
“Gham-e-Agahi se ashnayi ki der hai,
Musafir hum bhi rah-e-shauq k ban jayen…”
Knowledge is painful and ignorance is bliss, she concluded sitting there on the bench. She will leave her city shortly and did not know where else she was destined to go. Qandeel bowed her head and looked at the lines on her hands to decipher the next move of her destiny. She had the urge to know what else she would be asked to do next. What else she will have to lose besides Baba. After leaving Ilaaf Lashari, leaving her native city; what else she will be asked to leave? She knew she didn’t have any answers.
“Your journey line is rather long, Qandeel. You will get to travel a lot.” Her class fellow had commented looking at her right palm more than a year ago. Surprise and amusement came simultaneously at this revelation.
“Yeah right, I will travel a lot; from my home to university and back home. No tourist has ever traveled this much.” Qandeel had commented sarcastically and started laughing again.
The memory made her want to weep.
Her journey was commencing from here. She was already sore and enervated. Imran had confirmed her seat for Lahore. Qandeel will be flying in the morning which was taking eons to rise. She sat on the bench like a statue. She wanted to sleep but more than that she longed for the caring arms which would hold her while she slept. Her eyes drooped for umpteenth time. For past several days, sleep made her more tired and restless than peaceful.
“Ammi.” She whispered softly. Amazing how she had never known her mother and yet she called her. As if the long suppressed desire to lose herself in her mother reared its head in her unconscious.
Just then somebody touched Qandeel on her shoulder gently. She looked up, her neck stiff and stood up slowly.
“We were afraid we wouldn’t be able to catch you but thank God you are still here. I would have regretted otherwise, for not seeing you off.” Hamza Shahid was kind as always. Qandeel didn’t care less. “Kamran came to me in time otherwise you didn’t even think about informing us about your decision.” He was sorrowful.
“I apologize.” Qandeel offered mechanically.
“I should be apologizing to you Qandeel. I had no idea Aliya would be so rude or I would have forewarned her. I am so sorry Qandeel you had to spend the night at airport.” Kamran Ali was guilty.
“It’s OK. It’s not Aliya’s fault. I have no grudges, whatsoever.” She felt her brain was throwing these words out for her otherwise she was dormant.
“When is your flight?” Hamza Shahid asked.
“At seven a.m.”
“I brought your hand carry. You forgot it at my home.” Kamran Ali handed her the suitcase which she took without comment.
Finally both men realized her abnormal behavior.
“I wanted to talk to you about several things but it’s time for your flight and you haven’t had proper sleep so I will leave this matter for another time.” Hamza Shahid said surveying her tell tale red rimmed eyes.
“Try to take rest in the plane. I have asked Sohail to inform me when you reach Islamabad. Just take proper rest there and try to look at things with new aspect.” Kamran Ali advised Qandeel to which she merely nodded.
“You are my daughter Qandeel and I vow I will never let you feel you are alone. I will be visiting you now and then.” Hamza Shahid patted her head gently.
Qandeel heard her flight announcement. She steadied the handbag on her shoulder and started towards the doors, dragging the hand carry. She wanted to turn and say final goodbye to them.
“Let’s go to hospital. Ilaaf must be conscious now.” Kamran Ali’s words stopped her in her tracks but she could not turn.
“No, I don’t want to face Qaiser Lashari. Usman will contact me as soon as Ilaaf comes into consciousness. Then we can visit him.” All doors were sealed behind Qandeel. She wanted to say bye to them but didn’t have the heart to face them now.
“His condition was worse at night. I was aghast.”
“May Allah bless him.” This exchange propelled Qandeel to a distance from which no retreat was possible. She could listen anything but his name. She didn’t care less if he lived or died. She didn’t want to stay at a place where his name was uttered even if unconsciously done. She wanted to move ahead.
Qandeel passively went through the procedure, unaware of her movements and only acting on commands. She reached inside the plane and slumped into her seat. Somebody asked her to tie the seat belt and she did. After that everything went into motion at once. Her body jerked with the motion of the plane and then she was dead asleep. After a moment she felt her shoulder being shaken. She woke up with a start. A woman was standing beside her.
“We are going to land in Islamabad soon.” The woman informed her kindly. Qandeel sat up and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. “I think you were too tired. Air hostess came thrice to serve you but you were sleeping. Please have these biscuits you must be hungry.” Qandeel thanked her and took two biscuits from her. She drank some water and checked time on her cell phone. It was 10 a.m.! She was surprised that she slept for so long when in fact she felt the time passed in a wink. Her plane landed at last. She stood up to collect her bags. She was so weary that this act in itself was an ordeal for her. Qandeel dragged herself with all of her strength to the lounge where Sohail was waiting for her. Qandeel came into automatic mode again. She greeted him out of habit. He took her bags, held her hand and walked out of the airport. She lumbered after him silently. Sohail attempted at small talk on their way to home which earned monosyllabic responses. Fatigue was spreading to every pore and her head was getting heavier.
As the car stopped in the porch, Qandeel came out of it and stood there unable to move forward. She took long breaths to steady her nerves.
“Go on, Qandeel! Ammi is waiting for you inside.” Sohail had her luggage in his hands. He beckoned her forward.
Shamma Khala had come out to greet her. Qandeel could see so much love in her eyes from the distance. She wanted to run into her inviting arms but was too tired to even take a step. Shamma Khala fulfilled her wish and came to her hurriedly. Qandeel fell into her arms.
“My child, my love! I am sorry I could not come to you earlier. I couldn’t do anything for you.” Shamma Khala started crying. Qandeel didn’t cry. She said just one thing when Khala took her face in her hands.
“I want to sleep.” Qandeel closed her eyes. Someone held her by shoulders.
“Take her in her room, Sohail.”
Qandeel opened her eyes. She saw Khala sitting beside her so she closed her eyes again. She fell into a peaceful sleep finally.
Qandeel developed a pattern there. She would contest between waking up and sleeping, she would eat and wash herself because Khala asked her to then she would go back to sleep holding Khala’s hand. She totally lost the sense of time and space after arriving here. It could not be decided if she wanted to sleep away her tiredness or her tiredness wanted to sleep her away. In either case she only slept and discarded everything else.
Saba and Bisma bhabhi in her room along with khala one night when she woke up. Khala gave her spoonfuls of chicken corn soup. She couldn’t take much. After eating she repeated her same request; “I want to sleep.”
“You can sleep my dear. You look a lot better than when you arrived. Doctor checked you and he declared you fit.” Khala combed her hair with her fingers gently.
Qandeel smiled weakly and hit the pillow instantly.
“Hamza Shahid called. Sohail told him that you are sleeping. Do talk to him when you wake up. That will make him feel much better.” Qandeel nodded without understanding a single word and fell asleep.
Her peaceful sleep was intruded by the fierce flames of a fire in a river. The flames were touching the heaven and illuminated whole area. It simmered Qandeel. She was thirsty but water was nowhere in the sight. She was looking around for it when she noticed somebody standing among the blazing flames on the other side of the river. She squinted to see clearly that crazy person.
“Ilaaf!” She screamed hysterically. They could see each other despite of the soaring flames.
“Qandeel come to me. I need you.” Qandeel stepped forward but a spark scared her away. Her eyes watered due to soot.
“I can’t come. I cannot cross this fire.” Qandeel started crying.
“Then I am coming to you.” Came his solemn response.
“No, please don’t. For God’s sake, don’t do it. It will kill you.” She begged him, tears streaming down her face.
She saw that he was resolute she kept on screaming to him but to no avail.
“I must come to you. You are my destiny.” He raised his arms above his head and dived in the fire.
Qandeel choked on her scream. She fell on her knees and wept helplessly.Fire never forgives anybody. It was born to burn. It would not let on even if its Qandeel’s Ilaaf. She was powerless. The fire finished everything in one single sweep; her desire, her aspirations, her love and her Ilaaf, everything burned in those flames and she could just watch.
(Special thanks to Noor-e-Hira Shamim for translating this post)