It’s not just the sun which kills you in Karachi; it’s the wet and humid wind which does it. Accompanying you in the crowded buses, long walks and power outages, your sweat is one of your few loyal companions in the summers. The last thing a sane person would do in this weather is to skip school and sit at a ‘dhaba’ sipping on tea. But, what made it worthwhile was the company of my two friends.
It was more of a reunion. I had just gotten back from my vacations in Punjab and was trying to catch up with the events.
“Our tuition teacher is seen more and more at her roof ever since Kami bhai bought the new mehran”, Ahsan spoke with a wink.
“But wasn’t Riaz about to marry her?” The only thing I liked about my tuition teacher was the way she walked… each step her colored toes landed used to send a dancing wave up her back, just like a model on a ramp, perhaps a touch more natural.
“No” Ahsan said. “Riaz is dead”
“Murdered”, Sufi added. He had a newspaper clipping in his hand.
Silence followed. We had all seen that coming. In several of our lunch breaks we had predicted he would die soon.
Riaz bhai was 5 foot, heavy built, 25 year old rough cheeked neighbor of mine. Born as the youngest brother to Lal and Niaz, all I could remember was them fighting. My mom used to say that things were good when their mother was alive. I doubted her. All the things she said about past were too good to be believed.
I can vividly recall once Lal beat Riaz so brutally over a house dispute that people had to carry Riaz to a hospital.
Nature played a couple of jokes on Riaz. First for making him too short and second for making him too stubborn to realize this. He would often end up with a bruised lip or a week long limp, visible when he would walk towards the pan shop next day after the fight. Ownership of their big house had become a big issue since Lal got married.
“People kill over house ownership”, once Ahsan whispered in my ear when we saw Riaz with a bandaged head.
What made Lal more furious was Riaz’s recent addiction to drugs. An addiction Riaz caught from one of Lal’s police colleague. Perhaps morality took a backseat when the same deed was being committed by a friend. And so Lal never fought his police buddy. But his beatings on Riaz got heavier.
Sometimes, our school head master, Zavi Sahib would intervene in the fights, lest Riaz ends up murdered at the hands of his brother. But Zavi Sahib hated him equally. I had seen him warning Riaz not to smoke in front of school premises.
And then there was Kakku, the new recruit to the political gang which was ruling our colony at that time. He was a person to be feared. Six foot, sharp eyes and long face, often found sitting at the pan shop. A person who carried a rusty TT tied in his trousers, naked for us to see when he used to pull his long short up to wipe sweat off the face.
It was the last day before my school vacations. May be it was as trivial as Riaz not having money to buy pan from the shop or maybe it was just a fight to impress our tuition teacher at her roof. Or maybe Riaz was just high on drugs. What everyone saw was Riaz ridiculing and abusing Kakku in public and spitting on his face. It was too much for Kakku to absorb. But before Kakku could do anything, Zavi Sahib and others ushered Kakku to a side and threw sufficient apologetic claims for mercy.
Nothing happened that night. But we knew Riaz’s days were getting numbered.
The last I saw of Riaz was that same evening when I went to fetch my cricket ball from his back yard. He called my name lying on a wooden bed in the middle; gave me a bucket of unriped mangoes ‘karry’ to take to other kids on the street. Then he rose up from his bed, took my face in his small rough hands. “I’ve heared you got first position in your class”. Zavi Sahib would have told him. He kissed both my cheeks in congratulations. I could sense the sadness which surrounded him. I did not want him to die… at least in that moment. I wanted Lal bhai to take care of him, protect him. I was 14 that time. But old enough to know that he knows himself he has too few friends. Perhaps only the sweat which was now trickling down his forehead.
But that was two months ago and a life time back.
With the same sadness, I took the newspaper clipping from Sufi’s hand. A red circle was drawn over a small news column. I could read the heading before making an effort to read… “Murder in Shah Faisal Colony”
“Friday: 7 July 2000: A drug addict was shot dead by a local school head master in a heated quarrel. The head master had asked the victim to leave the school premises when 25 year old Riaz refused and…”
I did not need to finish the story.