He was on foot. He had gone to the park two blocks away for his regular evening walk and had just met a long lost friend. They had forgotten the time as they talked. The friend finally departed with a promise to come for dinner the next week. He remembered that he still had one lap to do, and resumed it. Half way through it, he heard three distant, distinct gunshots. The park was almost empty. Then his wife’s messages began coming: one after another.
He glanced quickly around him, and keeping to the border of the park, moved out. The streets were empty and an eerie silence reined them. He took the shortest path home, keeping in shadows as much as he could.
As he passed near the shops, he saw a man lying on the middle of the road, looking up at him helplessly. He quickly averted his face, adrenaline rushing in his veins.
‘The gun-men must be somewhere near.’
As he closed into his street, he heard two more gunshots. He hurried his step. When he finally entered his threshold, he closed the door softly behind him. Anxiety was still coursing in his veins and his face was flushed. Aneeta was in the entrance hall, her face panicked.
As he entered his bedroom, more shots were heard in succession. Now there were other noises too. Aneeta entered after him:
“What is the noise, Baba?” He turned around.
“Shut the door, sweet.” She closed it.
“What is happening, Baba?” He turned his back to her again.
“Close the window, sweet.” She followed.
“But the noise is deafening, Baba!” He lowered on his bed.
“Pull the curtains, sweet.” She adhered.
“The noise is going to kill me, Baba!” He lay down.
“Cover your ears, sweet.” She looked up helplessly.
“What if they kill me, Baba?” He closed his eyes.
“Go to sleep, sweet.” She was sobbing quietly as she exited.
Mama and Baba took me to a doctor today. There was a big big room where many people sat. I could see my face on the floor. No one spoke over there. They just sat and looked. I don’t know what they looked at.
It was so hushed: I wanted to run and touch all the blue tiles but was afraid of doing it. Mama just tapped her heels on the floor: tic tic tuc.
The clock hand came to three twice on my Mickey Mouse watch before the doctor called up. I didn’t want to go to him. I wanted to go home.
He asked me strange questions, and looked at me with big, empty eyes. Then a girl in white came and took me away. I waited outside. Mama and Baba came and no one spoke. In the car, I sang ‘The wheels of the bus.’ I asked Mama to sing with me; she did not. I was annoyed, so I sang at the top of my voice all the way.
Now Mama does not smile. No one smiles, no one laughs. It is sick! I sing. I sing all day; I sing the same rhyme over and over again and no one stops me. Not even Bhayi, who hates it. The vacations have started:
“The wheels of the bus go round and round;
The babies in the bus go ‘Uayn Uayn Uayn;’
The mothers in the bus go ‘Hush Hush Hush;’
The people in the bus go up and down…”
It has started to get boring.
The day she died was another silent day. The heat had been oppressive. She was playing in the garden with other children from the neighborhood. They had brought in their toys. Ali had brought a brand new toy gun; a very expensive one that his father had bought at a mall. It gave her the creeps, but she did not say anything.
Soon, it was the center of attention. They began “role-playing” with it. Ali pointed it on Shaheer’s forehead, and he pretended to fall.
She felt her body going numb. Then everything blacked out. She did not know when she was screaming, or when she was falling.
It was a hot afternoon; not even the birds chirped.
The doctors said she was normal. She probably had a shock and her nerves were too weak to support her.
The children were too afraid to speak. Their mothers kept them home.
Hamza chose the line for her tombstone. It said “When angels tread on Earth, they can’t bear it for long.”
Ten years later, when even her parents and brother had forgotten to visit her, a young man came and brought roses for two tombstones: hers and his father’s.