Thursday, December 18, 2014

Erosion

A pile of bricks rests on the side of the curb. The curb was black and yellow once upon a time but it is faded now, the paint had gotten bored, slid off and gone to brighter horizons. You can see the dull beige of the stones.

A motorcyclist zips to the right, cutting it close to avoid a muddy pothole.
The sky is blue, brilliant, fresh, as if just colored in an hour ago, serrated streaks of clouds stretch across one part.

Neat, calm houses line the street and the traffic is rude, which is normal for 5:45 pm on a Tuesday.

Short stubby trees line the sidewalk that divides the main road and as the wind rustles, three green leaves fall off and onto my windshield.

Inhale.

The grounds are quiet, scattered with broken chairs, spilling piles of notebooks, lonely shoes without laces and stains of blood.

Smoke still lingers in the sky that has lost all color. 

The trees in the courtyard and by the boundary walls are quiet, stooping, immovable, stunned. The leaves still bright green from their morning shower.  

The echoes of sirens have stopped. It is quiet for 5:45 pm on a Tuesday.

A lady stands at the tea station, her hand moves in quick circles as she stirs her morning tea. Steam rises from the green and white cup.

There are three photographs, and several post-its pinned to the desk separator in front of me. Just past it, two colleagues talk to one another, one of them tells a joke and they laugh.

The soft patter of fingers flying across a keyboard, the ring of telephones, the squeak of a chair being pushed back too hard. The elevator beeps and a man gets off, bent under the weight of three cardboard boxes.

Exhale.
Hide, mouths a teacher, the sound of a door being closed quietly is lost in the echo of gunshots. Her students cower on the floor, beneath desks and chairs. A boy reaches for his friend’s hand. Another notices the eraser he had lost earlier this morning, it lies right in front of his nose and he wraps his fingers around it.

There is a poster of Quaid-e-Azam pasted outside grade 6. He looks young, and kind. There is a pale blue chart next to it, which has a quote about knowledge and light. Its top right corner has become unstuck and it droops slightly, the tape discolored around it.

The sound of shoes scraping against the coarse floor, the slam of doors being thrown open. The rapid fire of guns. The held breath of a dozen children, the thump of their hearts. A cell phone rings, rings and rings, never pausing for a minute.

The fairy lights hang from the left end of the curtain rod. The lights are from Thailand, brightly entwined around tiny bulbs. The room is dark and dim, save for the warm glow of these lights.

The silhouette of books fills up the shelf, a ceramic vase stands at a strange angle, probably 
pushed aside to lean behind the shelf for the TV switch. Two picture frames stand at different levels of the shelf. The people in them look happy.

The gentle hum of the stabilizer, the blinking blue of the PC, blinking again and again, flashing in front of my eyes. There isn’t any sound except for that of our breath.

Inhale.
It’s a dark path, narrow with the walls of the night pushing in from all sides. There is no moon, there are no stars, there is no sky. A dense fog hangs everywhere. There is no sound, there is no movement.

It catches me off guard, the sight of a blue sky as I turn onto the main road towards my house on my way back from work, the quiet conversation of people in the morning in office, or the glow of the lights in my room when I find myself suddenly awake in the middle of the night. Flashbacks of a place where I haven’t been, of a horror I didn’t experience except through the news.

Sometimes it isn’t anything concrete, just a sudden jolt, and my heart feels heavy, like an anchor thrown into the sea, slowly sinking, sinking into unknown depths, a physical sensation that almost overpowers.

Living in Pakistan, we’re not strangers to grief. It was in 2007 when the term “suicide attacks” became part of everyday language, from the 7 blasts in 2006 to a staggering 54 the next year. And it hasn’t stopped since then, all the trauma reduced to statistics for digestion and survival.

It is the end of 2014 – eight years is a long time. It is long enough for a baby to be born, learn to talk and tie his shoelaces and start grade 2. It is enough to wipe out memories of peace, of what life was like without the barriers, the snipers, the extra police, the headlines, the photographs of bodies and blood; enough to make you realize that if you are to function like a normal human then you had to ration your grief.

And so we did. Our minds adopting a cunning, unconscious means of comprehending brutality:
For casualties under 20, we skim the newspaper, shake our heads sadly (unless the targeted area is unfamiliar). Places in KPK, Balochistan and most of Karachi have featured in the news so much that our eyes and our hearts have adapted.

When the number of dead reaches 40 and beyond, our heart skips a beat and a pallor surrounds for a few minutes. We pray for the dead and their families and then change the channel.

60 and above, a longer prayer.

I remember the suicide attack that killed 61 people in Lahore at the Wagah border on November 2. I remember the shock, the sheer number of deaths, the incredulity at the unlikely target. The story about a boy who had put a picture on Instagram, at the Wagah border with his friends, just a little while ago. I remember being there with my friends around six years ago and the thought was heart wrenching.  But two hours later, the feeling had subsided and I was eating dinner.

Every now and then the scale reaches proportions that make me cry, that bring me down for a while and swathe me in hopelessness and anger.

But nothing like this.

Nothing has shook us like this before, nothing has interrupted our days like this, our minds, our hearts, suddenly overcoming us in the middle of dinner or the drive back home, leaving no room for comprehension.

And it makes me mad. It makes me mad that this is who I have become, that it takes a tragedy of this proportion to affect me like this. It makes me mad that we have to ration our grief, because in reality, the lives of 13 children killed in a school bus are as precious as the 132 gunned down on Tuesday.

I remember the Boston bombing. I was in St. Louis at that time and I remember the horror of my class mates and colleagues, everybody was glued to the TV and in shock. I remember seeing that three people were killed and the word ‘only’ flashed in my mind.
I’m not downplaying the tragedy, just the injustice of living in a country where three deaths isn’t even worth a shrug. Because we have to move on. Because if you look at the number of bomb blasts in our country, it peppers the calendar like sunny days on a weather forecast.

But sometimes, the injustice of it all, of having to move on because we have to, crushes me inside.

The walls shook, the floor heaved
A light in my heart
Went out.
I’ll sit still for a while,
In the dark
Because it’s too soon
To get up and move.

take a look at these links for some cold hard facts:

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