He told me he’d come home early and cook dinner for us. He was very excited just the night before. Humaira burst out into a laughing fit at dinner table, “You cannot cook bhai jaan!”
He smiled and replied, “I’ll show you tomorrow. I’ll be better than you!”
He made a list of ingredients right after dinner, which he forbade me from taking a look, let alone peek.
“No ahmi jaan! It’s a surprise!” He kept on saying as he hugged his notepad to his chest and tapped the pencil on his study table.
I continued to observe him.
My son had grown so much, I thought. He looked like a gentleman. I was very proud of him as he was following the footsteps of his late father.
My late husband loved the army. Our son was no different. He’d always say, “Ahmi jaan, I will lead a contingent one day.” I couldn’t wait for that day where I would stand with pride and tell everyone that my son defeated those demons, those very demons who swallowed his own father.
I’ve never understood what they wanted. What is their Jihad? I can never comprehend. Why were they killing innocent civilians who were of the same religion as them? My husband died while trying to protect his fellow people. Will my son be a victim of their malicious activities too?
When Humaira frantically knocked on my bedroom door screaming ‘bhai jaan, bhai jaan’, a chill ran down my spine — my husband’s body flashed into my mind and disappeared in two seconds.
“What happened to Junaid?” I stopped knitting and stared at the wall as I asked.
“His school, people came, shooting…,” Humaira broke down into tears before she could complete her sentence.
Humaira and I went down to the school, only to see mothers wailing and screaming their children’s names. Humaira was crying, her hands gripped tightly around my arm. We walked further. The smell of blood almost made me hurl. It was terrifying. Mothers were hugging the bodies of their dead children. I saw a body half covered, its face completely charred.
This should not have happened, I said to myself. I prayed to Allah that Junaid was safe. But at that moment, I knew the demons were powerful. I knew they had broken the hopes of many mothers out there. I knew I was going to be one of them, I just knew.
I asked the policeman where I could find my son. He first guided me to a safe area where some survivors rested, clinging on to their loved ones, thanking Allah for their lives. I scanned the entire perimeter but I could not see Junaid.
“Maybe you can check over there,” the policeman said. I turned towards his gesture and swallowed.
Humaira and I went down to a make-shift mortuary, part of which we had passed by earlier as we made our way to the survivors’ tent. The stench was overpowering. It felt like bile in my mouth. I used my chador to cover my mouth.
A few steps, and we stopped. I stared down, momentarily still. Humaira fell down on both knees and hugged him tight.
“Bhai jaan!” She screamed. I stared.
I said, I knew.
Remember when you came running to me, screaming a girl’s name called Malala, and how you felt devastated upon hearing the news that she was shot in the head by the Taliban? I saw that remorse in your eyes because you thought you couldn’t save her. The pain you felt was overwhelming that I, your mother, could sense your plight from afar, for a girl whom you did not know.
I know you felt the connection with her when you found out it was the Taliban. You felt worse when you realised they had shot a young child. Malala’s father had bravely supported her daughter’s activism in Pakistan and worked with her to promote education among girls in the country despite the looming threat posed by the Taliban. When I asked you if he feared for his daughter’s life, you said he thought they will never harm children. You knew they destroyed many schools but no children was killed. But what happened to Malala changed you. Though she survived, you knew no one was safe in this country and you knew you had to do something about it. You loved your father and you wanted to carry his legacy forward. I see my husband’s soul in you and I knew you were going to fight for what your father had deemed his goal for life. I was so happy when you decided to join the school. I thought my son was going to be the soldier of humanity. I was excited. I was proud.
I am proud.
It’s an understatement to say that your mother misses you. Every mother who lost her son that day cries in bed each night, leaving the pillow wet every morning. It’s unbelievable that you and your friends were killed that day. Because you all were training to be soldiers one day? Because you all were supported by the army?
They wanted to get rid of the next generation of brave soldiers, perhaps? This only shows one thing. They are scared of us. They are scared of our children. Soldiers fight upfront, face-to-face because they are brave. What happened that day seemed like an act of cowardice. I’m sure if you were alive right now, you would have thought the same. Because this is how your Father was.
I would say this to everyone who visit me or ask me about you.
My son didn’t get killed. Wo shaheed ho gaye. He was martyred. He will come back again. This time, no act of cowardice will stop him.
I love you Junaid.