Aminah Suhail Qureshi
My eyes were on the tardily ticking clock, the long minute hand of which did not seem to move at all. It remained positioned at 12. So I decided to trace the itinerary being created by the second hand. After four revolutions or so the minute hand moved to 1 and the clock finally read 10:05. I was in the middle of calculating the number of gyrations required to make the bell ring at 2 when my history teacher reprimanded me on being mentally absent in the class. The smile on my face did not surprise her at all for she knew I was ready with an excuse. She could not keep herself from smiling back when I said: "Miss, today you did not wear make-up, that's why you are angry. Please, wear make-up! When you do, you are in a good mood."
I was delighted to realize that this rebuke and my reply had consumed 6 minutes and that I was 6 minutes closer to going back home. The thought of the savoury lunch waiting for me on the dining table was already watering my mouth. But I was much more excited about eating from Mama's hands which she had promised me as a reward of scoring an A grade in my Biology assignment. My visualization was interrupted yet again, but this time by a sound I had never heard before. It seemed to be coming from the Auditorium. "Miss, what is this noise?" asked Zain having his ears covered with his palms. The teacher left the classroom without answering our questions, but came back after a while and screamed: "Leave the classroom! Leave the classroom immediately! Leave your bags here. Just go!" For the first time she did not ask us to make a line; she just asked us to leave.
Puzzled, I stood from my seat and asked my teacher, "Miss, why are you crying? What wa…" I do not remember uttering any other word after these. We were deafened by the earsplitting noise, this time coming from the adjacent block. I did want the bell to ring and I did want the day to end, but I had never prayed to witness such an end. Without entertaining the thought of heading for the gate, I ran towards the block being bombed. There, standing outside one classroom, I saw Fahad Hussain helping his friends in escaping. On approaching him with the intention of assisting, I was instructed to "Just go!"
Having no idea of where to halt, I continued wheeling my legs until my soul began to race with my panting body. I sighed, bent down on my knees, and stared at the ground. I did not have enough courage to move my eyeballs owing to the several corpses covered with blood-stained green sweaters I had already seen. But I had to raise my head in response to a squeal of a toddler. I had never seen this six-year-old girl before. She screamed again because of the pain a bearded man was giving her by pulling her hair. She tried to cover the trepidation and fear in her bloodshot eyes by shutting them tightly. Her tears narrated her tale to me; she knew even at this age that it was not going to be an easy death. It took the gunman only a moment to fire a bullet but the bullet consumed several fractions of that single moment to pierce her skull, damage her brain, bang against the walls of the cranium and settle. She was turned into a lifeless cadaver right in front of my eyes, which were now all teary.
I had no energy to stand up, but was afraid of catching the bloodthirsty rapscallion's attention. Just then I felt a warm arm wrapping around my abdomen and lifting me up. I heard Ma'am Tahira's voice pleading me to "Get up!" My body, dragged by her, had just locomoted a few meters when a bearded man in paramilitary uniform grabbed my collar and clenched Ma'am Tahira's arm. "Leave him! Talk to me!" I heard Ma'am Tahira crying out loud. He unheard her words and hauled us towards the administration block. I saw men in another uniform at a distance from our location. Unlike these intruders, they seemed to be evacuating students and teachers from the school's premises. The thought of the survivors going back to their homes and getting hugged and kissed by their parents rejuvenated me.
Ma'am Tahira and I were not the only ones taken as hostages; there were several like us. The six gunmen made us sit on the floor, the frigidity of which could not be felt by our numbed bodies. I heard Ma'am Benish's motherly voice when she was solacing a crying toddler. One bearded man aimed his gun at her forehead and shot her. The first-aid box, with the help of which she was treating her students, fell to the ground along with her lifeless body. My cries joined those of my fellows as each body was being turned into a corpse. Just then I saw Ma'am Tahira shielding us from the gunmen and uttering her last words, "They are my children and I am their mother." The brutal assassins took hold of her arm and gave a bullet wound to the front of her head. Next, they made us witness the barbaric act of torching Miss Hafsa alive.
We screamed and cried and begged the six bearded men, hoping that they would give up and embrace us just like our parents always did after punishments. But they were not our parents. This was not a nightmare; it was the unfolding of a nightmare. I was among the ones trying to escape when I received my first bullet. Ah! I wished Mama could save me from this pain and take me in her lap. I wished I could look into Mama's gentle eyes once before shutting my eyes for eternity. But she would cry. She would mourn. She would kiss the wound on my chest and try to heal it with her tears. And I was grateful to God for that single moment that I would not have to see Mama making futile attempts to save me.
I was dying, and I knew that. I could feel the blood stopping its circulation in my vessels. I imagined Mama's tearful eyes. But how many more mothers would have to mourn their children? If one bullet could kill me, how many students would their ammunitions kill in total? My slowly pulsating heart gave its last advice and I fell down on my friends to shield them from harm. I wanted to receive the maximum number of bullets in order to save others from getting injured or killed. I counted… they were 13 in total. My soul had already departed my body after being gifted with the sixth shot but the entry of those 7 extras only helped me in achieving my aim of wasting their bullets.
I have two whole years and I know that even eternity would not be able to wipe the tears off Mama's face. There has not been a single night when she did not kiss my bed and ruptured uniform. I wish we could do that lunch together that you had prepared. I have been awarded with a beauteous garden where I shall never encounter any infliction, but nothing can replace your warmth, Mama. I know you can never hold your Uzair in your arms again, but right now, at this moment, there are 12 such mothers who have their sons with them.
Remember me as a soldier who got martyred in his uniform. I used to show you the grades awarded on my notebooks, Mama. Do you remember those notebooks? I only fulfilled the commandment inscribed on those notebooks that said: "I shall rise and shine."