“White is the color of peace and purity”. He spoke these words stroking his white beard. “And these hair my children are the signs of wisdom”… some things are universally liked… no one can hate them. White is one of them”.
It was already sunset. The class had gone past its usual time. I looked at my watch. No one carries a watch for time these days. ‘I don’t know why my dad can’t buy me a mobile’, I mumbled. The thought of waiting for bus after sunset was now scaring me.
I remembered the story Kakku bhai told me few days back about a boy my age being kidnapped from the shopping centre next to bus stop. But, Kakku bhai can’t be trusted. Mom says he is a bad person with corrupt party connections. But, then Kakku bhai gave me a free ‘gogo’ when I went to his shop last week. How can a bad person give a child extra sweets? Maybe, I will figure that out when I get old. Everything makes sense when you grow old.
After making sure that everyone was busy in the books, I raised my head and asked in a whisper ‘Sir, Can I go?’
“But why don’t you let me wear white”, I complained.
“Because you make them dirty in one hour”, my mom replied ironing blue color shirt.
“Uncle Nawaz boys wear white all the time!”I shouted back “and you!”
“Hold your tongue…They are older than you. When you get old, do whatever you want to do.” My mom completed the sentence politely.
The thought of seeing her so peaceful made me more angry. I wanted her to feel more.
“I am already thirteen… I’ll never be older than you!” I turned away.
“You have to get some sleep. It’s school tomorrow.” Her voice came from behind.
This never made sense. Why is sleep so sacred when I don’t have a clue of what I am doing while sleeping. I would rather stay awake and play night cricket than sleep. All what they want is for us to sleep early and wake up early. I would never do that once I grow up.
“But, I heard, Kakku left the party years back”.
Now, the street corner used to be occupied by youth my age. What was once the legacy of ‘bhai log’ like Laal brothers, Kaku bhai, was now passed onto my generation. Upon seeing Kakku’s brother sitting on the street corner, I could not resist confirming from my friend about Kakku.
“Yes he left the party long ago when we were in school. He has gone saint. But his brother has now joined. You know what… you should get out of your house more often. There is life outside of college. Don’t turn out like your brother. Be friends with the right people. You live here. You need the connections”
I did not care to reply. How can I hang out with people who know so little about the world. I bet none of them would have ever read Sydney Sheldon or know the difference between England and Britian.
“You remember when police caught us exploding fire crackers on Nabil’s roof? We had to spend the entire night behind the bars.”
How can I forget? Standing all night behind the bars. Dying of the thought if my father ever comes to know of this. And then the fear that the police might not let us go forever. How helpless I was, even with all my grades.
“Now, none of those scoundrels can even touch me. It’s all about right connections”, he said.
They said 9th and 10th grade are the most important to get into a good college. But now it turns out 11th and 12th are the most vital to get into a good university, which can change the whole life ahead. This is never going to end. After this, university exams are going to be the life changing experience and after that my job!
If time could be seen through a glass, then to see the past would be to look at the mirror, but to look at present would be to look through a magnifying glass. Everything present looks big and important.
And right now the most important thing was solving this math equation from the “Sindh Board Mathematics text book for Class XI”.
What broke me from the present were loud bangs from nearby. Gunshots! My father normally knows the difference between fire crackers and gun shots. My eyes went up towards the sofa where he sits to read newspaper. It was empty! My heart froze. Click! I had broken the tip of pencil on my book.
More sounds… Sound of a motor bike speeding away. Sounds of shutters dropping of the shops.
My mother came running from the kitchen “Your father is not back! He went to pick up your sister”.
I could see panic in her eyes. “Don’t go out!” she screamed
I then felt the grip of her hand tightly on my wrist. Aaah…how weak she was and how strong she was trying to become.
I broke hold of her hand. I ran to the door to find myself on the empty street.
Silence greeted me. Silence and fear somewhere.
Shopkeepers had locked themselves inside the shops. Pedestrians had rushed to their homes in few minutes. My eyes searched till the corner of the street for my father and younger sister. I could see no one. I ran towards the corner. I wanted to see beyond that. My heart prepared me to see the worst as I turned the corner of the street.
Now, I could see a body lying down in red. If I could run, I could reach there in seconds, but I could not. My legs were walking but I wished the distance to never end… and then a hand stopped me. Someone was shaking my shoulder from behind.
I turned around to see my father and sister. Relief engulfed me.
“Someone has shot Kakku bhai!” my sister spoke up.
“Come lets go to home”, my father spoke with an authority.
I went to see the body in red.
Kakku was all covered in blood. The red puddle was spreading on the street. I did not want to touch him. And then I realized…no one wanted to touch him. There were other people. All of us had formed circle around the body. We stood there watching him breathe his last till someone grabbed me by my collar and pushed me roughly aside.
It was Kakkus brother, shouting and swearing. They stopped a cab. They carried Kakkus body to the back seat.
This was the last I ever saw of Kakku. Beyond all that blood, now I could see.
He was wearing a white shalwar kameez…
A week passed by and this street corner was my daily route to college. The blood puddle then turned into a maroon frozen paint. Many times, I thought of going to the spot and cover the blood stains with dirt. But, something always stopped me. Maybe, the thought of getting my clothes dirty or the fear of people judging me as different.
And one fine day, I was on my usual route, when I saw the street lads covering the spot with sand. They were preparing the street corner for cricket. I stood there watching them shoving sand from their shoes, careful not to get any of the stains on their jeans.
“You want to play?” A familiar voice asked me. I knew this lad. He was junior to me in the school. Looked all grown up with a thin moustache.
“Umm…” I looked at my watch. It was getting late. Then, without a thought, my eyes wandered to my shirt.
I was not wearing any white.
I looked at the boy.
“Yes, sure I can play a few balls”.
– December 2012