“It’s almost 8:00, Farah. Come out already.” Farah hears her mother shouting from downstairs as she dresses up for school. She doesn’t want to miss her school today. She has an important test. She picks her hair brush and ties and runs to daddy. He brushes her hair and ties it up in two little pony tails and kisses the top of her head. “Let’s go drop you off at school”, daddy holds her hand. She looks up at daddy and smiles, he looks so good in his green camo uniform with all the badges shining on his chest.
Mom waves at them until their car takes a turn and is out of sight. Mrs colonel Shabbir then goes about her daily household chores after sending off her only daughter to school and he husband to work.
I walk into class and look at all the brilliant, innocent, somewhat oblivious faces. This is 6th grade. The children are settling into their places after the morning assembly. They’re laughing, chirping, talking and revising for their tests. Another usual, typical day at the school. Except I am sure this day is anything but usual. There must be a reason I am sent here today and it sure is not to take the geography test these kids are preparing for.
Farah comes running and places her bag on the front desk by the door. Zainab’s bag is already there. These two girls seem inseparable. Blabbering on continuously about God knows what. I am least interested in these children. I am here on business, I’m just waiting for the right moment; a cue from the higher authority. A woman of about 27 years steps into the class who looks very strict and harsh from her demeanor. Not one student in the class likes her. As soon as she enters, the whole class goes silent. Miss Saba starts writing on the white board. She seems to be in a bad mood today. “What day is it?” She shouts and she does it so often that children are forced to believe she is incapable of speaking in a normal tone. “It’s December 16, 2014, miss.” Saad Khan speaks from his front desk in the 2nd row. Little Mr. know it all. He is every teacher’s favorite. He studies hard and always scores the highest percentage. Well, second to the highest because Zainab is the one who scores the highest. The quietness is interrupted by a loud, obnoxious laughter. Kids turn around to see Usman Gillani, the trouble maker of the class. Mischief dances in his bright brown eyes. Usman is planning some prank. He is talking non-stop to his friend Majid until Miss Saba scolds them for being noisy. The rest of the class is peacefully noting down the lecture when Usman and Majid start making weird noises again. It’s like they’re asking for detention. Miss Saba won’t take it anymore she shouts at them to get out of the class and stand by the water cooler until the period is over. Afterwards, she is taking them to the principal. The class is once again as quiet as it can be in the presence of Miss Saba. The periods have started in every class by now. The whole school falls under a blanket of calm and quiet. As calm as the sky before a thunderstorm, as quiet as me. Perhaps it’s time.
The door bursts open and in comes a tall clean shaved man in army uniform. These kids are used to seeing this uniform because almost all of them come from military families.
“Which ones of you little rascals have a parent in army?” The bearded guy of almost 23 shouts who followed the first man into the class. Miss Saba seems confused and a little terrified. It is the first time the kids are seeing a shadow of terror on her face she is usually the one who scares others. “What is going on, sir? Who are you and who let you in?’ Saba asks in a firm, loud voice trying not to give away her fear. The tall, clean shaved one turns to her and says “Tell your childern to do as we ask. The ones with a parent or parents in military, stand up.” He yells the last two words in Saba’s face. The children are all frozen in their places, unable to move, tears in their eyes. Some are trembling, some crying. “Don’t stand up, kids. None of you. Be seated and stay calm someone will come and sav….” Her sentence is cut off in the middle due to the heavy blow of rifle to her temple. She stumbles and falls on her knees. “Will you stand up or do you want us to set this whole class on fire?” One of the men with rifle said rather calmly this time.
Amidst all the crying and gunshot sounds coming from the other class rooms, nobody notices miss Saba as she crawls to the front desk where Farah and Zainab are sitting, holding hands and reciting ayat-ul-kursi because Farah’s dad once told her it will protect her from nightmares and Farah is hoping with all heart that all of this is one big, hideous nightmare. Miss saba tugs at her green blazer and whispers, “the door is half open, run to the cafeteria and ask uncle sadiq to call the police. Hurry. We are counting on you, my daughter.” Farah nods. Zainab does not want to let go of her hand but they are daughters of brave men. Protecting the lives of one’s fellows even if it means endangering one’s own life is a trait they inherited from their fathers. Farah gets up and runs out the half open door. The two men are now cursing at Miss Saba. “You let that child out? Come, you’re in a hurry to die let me arrange that for you but first you are going to watch these childern go.” One of them said with an eerie calmness. The other man told all the childern to stand in the back of the class facing the whiteboard. “Now who goes first, ah yes the one with glasses come here.” They pick Saad the bright one with brilliant eyes that shone with ambition. He was going to grow up to be a scientist. But now, he is standing at the open end of the barrel of a rifle staring in the face of death with an unfathomable expression in his eyes. “Recite the kalma, kid. You are going to meet Allah.” That’s when the class 6th of APSAC witnesses something strange, the cruel, cold teacher Saba who seemed to have a pleasure in torturing kids by giving huge assignments and unannounced quizzes, jumps in front of Saad embracing him as to take any bullet coming for him. “You filthy creature, these kids have done nothing to you. Let them go.” She says in a shaky voice, tears streaming down her face.
The gun barel is now pointed at her. A gunshot is heard. Saad is now standing there shaking, screaming, drenched in blood, not his own, Miss Saba’s. The barrel is now pointed at Zainab, “recite the kalma, quick, repeat after me, La illaha. Say it. La illaha”
Crying Zainab lifts her head up, looks the bearded man right in the eyes and says in a clear loud voice “La illaha illalahu Muhammadur rasoolullah.”
The look Zainab gave him is unsettling, the way she recited the kalma is unnerving. He empties the gun on her.
“We are just hitting where it hurts the most,” one of the man is heard saying before multiple gunshots are heard. I spread my big black wings. Now is the time to show myself to the children, welcome them in my cold embrace, welcome them to an eternal peace. This is the work I have been assigned and I have no reason to mourn over my own accomplished work but today is different. These are kids. They are in their uniforms, holding their books, their eyes adorned with dreams of a bright future.
My big black wings are fluttering, I fly from child to child, I can not defy the command from the higher authority to bring them to Him but I have the power to make it easy and painless for them and I do just that. I show them where they’re going and they are not afraid of walking towards the light anymore. They know the world they are headed to is much better and happier place. The grown ups are not allowed in child heaven.
The good guys are here, the protectors, the saviors. Many children are being rescued. I’m looking at this sight with a heavy heart. Usman and Wajid who were punished to leave the class and sit by the water cooler are both walking out the gates, no one in their class survived, not even the teacher who kicked them out of the class. The Lord sure does have a scheme. These two good-for-nothing, mischief makers are going to go home and live their lives with the trauma of today. Exactly seven years from now, they will stand in the same camo uniforms as the ones men who saved them were wearing. Usman and Majid will live to safeguard their home, their children, their futures from the fiends who killed their teacher and entire class.
Farah who was sent out to get help went and hid under a pile of dead bodies in the seventh class after she failed to find anyone to help. The uncle at the cafeteria seemed to be helping the men with guns for some reason she couldn’t quite understand. She just hides under the dead bodies of the children she used to play, eat and laugh with until she senses the firing and gunshots have stopped. She runs to her classroom to get Zainab. Zainab her best friend, the sister she never had, is taking her last breaths Farah is not scared of blood anymore she has spent her day drenched in other people’s blood. She wipes blood from Zainab’s face with her sash and Zainab opens here eyes for the last time. A tears rolls out of her eye. I’ll take that from here, I open my wings ready to embrace her pure little soul, when Farah screams “please don’t take her”, she’s staring right at me. Something is not right, she is not supposed to see me. It is not her time. “Shush. Trust me, the place where I am taking your friend is much better than this place.” Farah sobs, “will she have a friend there to share all her stories with?” I nod and smile ready to embrace the child when she speaks, its Zainab herself this time, “will you keep me safe from the uncle who asked me to recite the kalma?”
“Child, that man and the likes of him can never enter where I’m about to take you.” Zainab closes her eyes for the last time and I can’t help but notice a faint smile on her lips.