Part 2 — Getting Away With Murder
Death becomes me
Every story has a beginning, mine started with an end…
Washed up by the river, my body was discovered by the local women washing the clothes for their families near the river banks. A mummified, half-naked, rotten body pops up — what a contrast to the clothes — amidst beautifully colored, Swati embroidered, hand-stitched frocks, turbans, and mile-long shalwar's (trousers).
My unrecognizable tattered body, with broken ribs and countless broken bones, was sent for an autopsy. An autopsy confirmed a blow to my head, courtesy of a heavy unidentified object and an unkind soul.
Days later I was identified as the notorious, spoilt daughter of the local Panchayat leader— Kazim Shah, and a decent burial was refused by the local maulvis. My father had to ship maulvis (religious scholars) for the Janaza (funeral prayers) from the city — Islamabad as the Peshawar Maulvis refused to oblige. Of course, boarding and lounging were covered and so was a week-long vacation’s expense for their families’ stay. Things we do for our loved ones.
After the Janaza, the rituals began, relatives and friends poured in to visit my mother, I was the only child. They didn’t come to lighten the burdens of a croned heart buried in sadness but ignited fuel to the fire, sprinkling salt on open wounds. They were curious, the rumors caught fangs of fire, and more people hustled in and out of the house.
Since my father was the Panchayat leader, men came to visit the Bethak.
The Bethak is men’s drawing room, often set up in villages, exclusively for men where women are not allowed to enter and there are no mixed gatherings of Na-Mahrams — Na Mahrams are members of the family you cannot marry to, ordained by Islamic doctrine and law. Obviously, outsiders were all Na Mahrams and women were in strict Pardah ( Hijab)
Swat had changed in recent times and Hijab was not necessary, women wore chaddar (long draped duppatas (stoles) over their head sometimes they chose to drape it over their chest covering their breasts. Hijab was never enforced on women, it was a choice each woman made out of free will, if only this freedom of choice was extended while choosing your life partner.
Blame it on tourism thought Kazim Shah but I will not allow this in my family. Hence, with firm determination, he held the age-old traditions of the East and his progenitors — enforcing strict Pardah and arranged marriages.
“So, you were saying something,” asked Fatima. “Who died?”
“Fred killed five people in a concert in Paris. All of them were students, teens, around our age. He killed his girlfriend, last. He shot her in the head. One-shot in each eye. Her eye sockets popped out. She had bled to death. He shot her three times afterward in the head. The news is all over the internet, he was mentally unstable, they say. He claims his girlfriend cheated on him. They are going to send him to trial.” Gulsanga, replied, sadness shading her green eyes a color or two darker than usual.
“What? He killed five students and he is labeled mentally unstable.”
This is absurd, thought Fatima, she remembered Gulsanga’s brother — Amir, did not have the same kindness extended to him, he was labeled a fugitive even before conviction. He was on the run, on the watch dog’s list, all she had left was his last text message blinking on her mobile screen.
Written in all caps were the words: G.O.L.F
“What are you thinking about?” Gulsanga asked Fatima, she knew the look too well, Fatima had that troubled look, she was lost in her thoughts again. Something had been bothering her for months but she won’t spill. Not even to her — her only best friend in the world.
“There is something I want to show you,” Fatima replied to Gulsanga’s queries and with that, she took out her mobile from her deep violet frock pocket and handed it to her.
What Gulsanga read next, left her speechless, it was a message from her wror (brother), the last message before he disappeared into the dark, misty night — six months ago. The message that he did not bother to send to anyone, not even his beloved younger sister. They were as close as any sibling could be. Like a rosebud is protected and held together by the sepal — he protected her, guarded her — they were the best of friends. Blood is thicker than water, so she thought. Her brother had betrayed her trust. Fatima was like family too but she was not exactly family. She had the first right, she was his family. Why did he not leave her a message before disappearing into thin air?
Gulsanga’s disappointment turned to rage: “Why are you showing this to me now? Why didn’t you tell the police, they could have found him. We could have saved him.”
“You know if the police found him, he was as good as dead. This is the Swat Panchayat leader’s daughter’s homicide we are talking about. Kazim Shah will not sit quietly until he has found the lover of his daughter and justified the shame brought on to his family’s name. You know he is doomed.”
“My brother is innocent. He can’t even kill a fly, let alone murder a girl. He is not brutal, he was a poet, he loved flowers and sang notes to the river, carrying that fine hand-carved Rubab.” Gulsanga murmured under her breath.
“I know he is innocent.” Fatima confided in Gulsanga.
“How can you be so sure?” Gulsanga raised an eyebrow, Sherlock Holmes mode on.
“I saw him, the night he left”. Breathed out Fatima.
“You saw him?” Shouted Gulsanga.
“Please, calm down Gul. Amir is a vigilante,” Fatima said in a calm voice, patting Gulsanga’s hand simultaneously.
Gulsanga tried to take all this in. So, Fatima saw her brother that night. What does this message mean? Is it a code? She tried to concentrate and focus. She closed her eyes shut and sat there motionless, for five whole minutes.
Fatima started to get worried, was Gulsanga even breathing? It looked like she was meditating but she had never seen Gul meditate, she was barely moving a muscle. My God, did she make a mistake? Maybe, she should have kept shushed. But keeping secrets from Gul was casting a dark shadow on her soul, the chains were pulling her, she couldn’t carry the weights any longer. She had to tell her, she had the right to know and even though she promised Amir she will not, she had to break the promise. She could not look into Gul’s eyes anymore. She tried to avert her eyes every time but Gul was catching up fast.
Eyes can’t lie, they are the Eden windows of the soul. Amir used to say that all the time. She closed her eyes too and exhaled out all his memories.
“I know what the message means. We are going to Hunza,” Exhaled Gulsanga after her trance.
“Wait. What? That’s what you got out of the message,” Replied back a confused Fatima.
“Pack your bags, I will explain to you on the way,” Gulsanga replied.
“What will I tell AmmaGul and Abaji?” Fatima was getting a little scared of Guls’ adventures.
“Tell her, you are visiting your cousin, Laila.” Gulsanga was determined to follow through with her plan.
“And what will you tell your mother?” Asked Fatima.
“You leave that up to me. Are you up for it or not?” Snapped Gulsanga.
Fatima knew that Gul going alone meant only one thing — disaster. She could not risk losing Gul, she had already lost the love of her life, Amir. Although it was unrequited, he was the only person she ever loved. Even Gul was oblivious to her feelings towards her brother. Amir had requested before leaving that she take care of Gulsanga, she will keep this promise for as long as she breathes.
“We leave tomorrow, before dawn at 4 am. I will ask Aslam to make arrangements.” Fatima calmed Gulsanga.
Aslam was Fatima’s uncle’s son. They were engaged to be married. An arrangement made at birth by their elders. An arrangement both of them desperately wanted to be out of. He would do anything to get her out of here and delay the actual engagement ceremony. He wants to study abroad and is in love with a city girl, a Facebook romance has budded out. He is in the clutches of city life and is fascinated by it. Having visited Islamabad many times, he wanted to leave Swat and shift to Islamabad and then move abroad for higher studies, taking his lady love with him.
Before leaving, Gulsanga left a letter for her mother on the kitchen counter and kissed her feet.
After Fajr's (morning) prayers, Gulsanga’s mom — went to the kitchen to brew her morning tea and found the letter, sitting on the kitchen counter.
My dearest AmaGul, I know you miss Baba, I miss him too. He left us too early. I know today is his birthday and you will be lonely. I don’t want you to be sad. I will bring Amir wror( brother) back with me. I’m going to find him.
Don’t worry about me. I will be fine. Fatima and Aslam are accompanying me. I will be safe. We will be okay. All will be well.
Your prayers are needed, as always.
Keep a pot of green jasmine tea brewed for me. I will come back sooner than you realize.
I love you. Always!
Warm Hugs and Kisses
*Mor-means mother in Pushtu
© Dazzling Shene 2021
TO BE CONTINUED
STAY TUNED FOR PART 3
Thank you, Illumination Book Chapters Editors , for kindly publishing my short story:)
Check out how it all began…Part 1 of the story