Kaleidoscopic life

Won 5th position in Us magazine (http://e.thenews.com.pk/newsmag/mag/detail_article.asp?magId=9&id=1940)

Her laughter rang in the air. Her eyes sparkled as her father held her high in his hands and pretended to throw her up above, but she laughed – so sure of the safe

hands that held her, so sure that her father would never let her fall.

That was, and still is, my past, my childhood. The phase of my life that was filled with flowers and colours. Ah! That was the spring of my life. I would cry and stamp my foot if a butterfly would flutter off before I could grasp it, in which I’d snuggle closer to my dad’s chest and wrap my hands firmly around his shoulders while he’d narrate me those beautiful stories … And now … now, I’ve grown up. I’m away from the spring, far away from the butterflies and the wishes … and life.

I’m lying in my bed, waiting for sleep to blur the vivid images and embrace me. I hear my grandma calling me. I look here and there and find her standing silently in the doorway, spreading her arms for me. Her serene smile set perfectly across her lips. I hide my face, afraid that she would vanish again but she is calling my name in her sweet gentle voice that works better than any tranquilizer. I get up tentatively and slowly go into her outstretched hands. She embraces me firmly and I start crying and pleading her not to go anywhere again. She slowly strokes my hair till I am calm.

BANG! I wake up with a searing ache in my head for a start. And what was that? A dream. Why do I have such dreams about grandma and dad often? I don’t know, perhaps my soul still lingers somewhere near them. My soul? Who am I? I – I’m the loneliest person in town who has forgotten how to smile and to be happy. Now even my jaws ache if I try to smile, the muscles don’t budge if I try; they just twitch a bit and that too is bothersome. I’m pensive and come out to sit on the cracked veranda, leaning back on the pillar. This floor of the orphanage has been so ever since I came here. I reflect back on the changing colours of life that got me here.

This is Laghman, a place in Afghanistan. I am 16 years old; it is this perfect sunny day of winter when I am lying on the old charpai that we shifted upstairs for it was of no use to Ammi jaan anymore. I am enjoying the warmth of the gentle sun. I feel my eyes getting heavier and I start dozing off only to wake up with Ammi jaan telling me about the demise of grandma.


Head on the pillar, I can still feel the stab of pain and dry up my eyes with the back of my sleeve. A queue of ants is moving along the wall, it catches my eye and everything changes before my eyes – except for the queue of ants.


The lengthy afternoons of summer had nothing to offer. I, along with my brother Hamid, sneaked out of the room. Ammi jaan had ordered us to sleep, and forbade us to go out in the sweltering heat. I signalled him to come out once I was sure that Ammi jaan was fast asleep. We went out and searched for the used cast off things and found a couple of injections whose needles were bent after usage. We laid our hands on them and filled Kerosine oil in them. He winked at me, asking if I was ready and I winked back. We moved cautiously upstairs and walked barefoot on the burning roof to the place where old and useless furniture lay. We got there and finally found a cluster of wasps. We started spraying at them with one hand, running here and there, shouting at one another. After a while, wewere finally done with our wasp operation by getting rid of them. Hamid was hitting the wasps that moved even a bit with a piece of furniture without any pity and

then we clutched them by the wings and cast them in front of the disciplined line of ants looking for food. We lowered our heads and watched them carry the wasps

with sheer adoration and a triumphant smile. Hamid seemed so smug and said, “For ants, they must be like chicken roast!” I smiled at him and we both followed the

queue of ants with our gaze for long.


I’m amazed at how the colours of our life keep changing quickly. It was a perfect afternoon once again while Ammi jaan was fast asleep. Hamid shared one of his

wishes with me. A wish that was going to change our lives, forever. He told me about his friend next door who made a fan out of simple kite paper that could spin

about if exposed to wind, or if the person holding it, started running. He desperately wanted to buy it from him and knew that Ammi jaan would never allow us to

buy that. I agreed to his plan. He sneaked out of the house, and I watched him go.

And then suddenly, it was all chaos! I heard bullets being fired in every direction and my heart jumped to my throat. I heaved a sigh of relief when I peeped

through the gate and saw Hamid running to the house with the spinning fan held high in his hand, his arms covering his ears. But then, I saw blood all over him. He

was shot in the back with not one or two, but three bullets!

He was brought home covered in blood with the fan still in his hand which was spinning due to the dry and warm air. He was no more. He was dead. Everyone was

shattered and struck with grief that lingered forever. My mother’s attitude towards me changed. I was responsible for letting him sneak out. I was the one who had

let him go, forever. Shortly afterwards, we travelled dispiritedly all the way from Laghman to Pakistan. Our land was no longer a safe place to live. As if that made

any difference! We had already lost the sparkle of our lives. We entered Peshawar through Khyber Pass and my father had a sunstroke as he sat atop the bus with

our luggage. He was attended by the doctors of the immigrants’ camp when we reached there, and on our first night in Pakistan, my dad left us; he had chosen to go

to Hamid, instead. We were left in the middle of nowhere.

Ammi jaan didn’t say a single thing. She didn’t shed a single tear, nor did she offer me any comfort as I wept and sobbed for the rest of the night. The following

morning, our uncle came all the way from the capital of Pakistan looking for us. My mother refused to go with him, or with me, as if I were responsible for what had

happened. She insisted on going back to Laghman, Afghanistan. According to her, she belonged there. My uncle sent her back with one of his friends and he brought

me here… to this orphanage.


Oh, the tears that I shed at what had happened to us in less than a week! The memories still haunt me like a demon. And now, after five years I’m here sitting on the

cracked floor and everything is flashing by like a recorded film.

“Ahem, your mother has called,” says a voice during the film. I shut off my mind and find my roommate. “Hurry up! Your mother has called! Oh, I know you’re shocked

but get there before she decides to hang up the phone.” In a flash, I grab the receiver with a quivering hand.


I have just entered Peshawar. Last night, my mother called me. She wanted me to come back to her. My roommate hugged me; she seemed so delighted at the

prospect of my going back to my mother. I cannot explain how I felt. Was it euphoria? No. Was it sorrow that hit me? No. I cannot describe it. I felt nothing, I felt

hollow and just said yes or no to my mother as she tried to explain things to me. She said she was sorry and that she had made arrangements for my return to her and

I said nothing. But now as I pass by Bala Hisar, two men are having a row over something and I find delight in it, as it depicts the real life – the life that I have been

living lately. Their accent is so familiar and it melts my frozen heart slightly. Their looks and everything else reminds me again that I’m heading towards another

phase of life. Another colour!

I feel hope. I feel everything will change soon enough as I’m moving closer to where ages ago my heart was. My mother has finally forgiven me for something that I

never really did and she seems to have accepted me once again after losing her son. I won’t say anything to her or ask for any explanations. I decided to just

embrace her with open arms and open heart. A smile touches my lips and I close my eyes to block the view of other passengers. And suddenly, I feel myself snuggled

against my dad’s chest, the laughter ringing in the air and the spinning fan held in Hamid’s hand. I’m waiting for the colour that’s coming next, the one that would

now fill my life. I take deep breaths and wipe off the tears playing around my eyelashes. I’m ready again, with fingers crossed, waiting for another turn … another

colour of this kaleidoscopic life