This story is written as an after math to 9/11 events and is about a girl from Karachi whose traumatic experiences changed her course of life …
The arguments with Bibi Jan were usual. But that day, the argument on a petty issue just couldn’t come to an end so she decided to walk away from it and went to a nearby park where after spending some time she would return home when things have settled down. She wandered aimlessly around the park when a man who was trying to take photos of an old tree caught her attention. It seemed he somehow couldn’t get the angle right.
Noticing her interest in his struggle, he approached her and said, “Excuse me, may I ask you something?” he stammered, “Can you please take this photograph for me?” She glanced at him from top to bottom and noticed two more cameras dangling from his shoulders. “You seem to be a pro. How do you expect from a novice like me to get the photo right when you yourself struggle with it?” she said. “It’s quite simple” he said, “I’ll stand where the angle is right, you just have to focus my nose and Click!”
“Ok”, she agreed. While focusing on his nose, she noticed that he was quite good looking and there was something about his eyes that intrigued her. On the sound of click, she handed the camera back to him and the stranger thanked her for the help. Suddenly, a question popped up in her mind. “How will you remove yourself from the photo?” she asked. The man smiled and said, “You seem quite unaware of the techniques being used in photography these days. You have to have some soft wares and skillful hands then you can remove anything from your photos, Miss……Miss?” he said, snapping his fingers.
“Lilly!” she blurted out her nickname, “Oh, I mean Lala Rukh” she said sheepishly “And you?” she asked him. “Hmmm….” He paused “You may call me whatever you like”. She was taken aback with this reply. “What do you mean?” she said “You must have a name or identity”. “No, I don’t have any. Is that necessary?” he shot back. Saying this, he started to leave.
The abrupt encounter with that man in the park, though not very long itself, had a lasting impact on her. She felt as if she had come out of a trance to wake up to the same old problems at her house. For the next few days, his thoughts kept her mind occupied and no matter how hard she tried couldn’t shrug them off. His words continued to echo in her ears. “No, I don’t have any identity. You may call me whatever you like.” Others also began to notice her changing behavior. Being a realistic and practical girl that she was, she couldn’t come to terms with the fact that she has lost herself to a stranger in just one meeting.
Few months later, she was attending a function at American Cultural Centre. There, standing behind the Consul General, she saw him. “Oh, my God, not again!” she gasped. He was dressed immaculately in a pin striped suit and was roaming around shaking hands with dignitaries. She got hold of him back stage. “Hi, how are you?” she asked casually. “Pardon me, do I know you?” His reply shocked her. “You remember taking photos of that tree in the park?” she asked in a shattered tone. “What photograph? I don’t know what you are talking about?” he replied with an air of arrogance around him. She felt so embarrassed that she immediately left the place, crying.
The next week, she went for shopping. While she was busy going through some music CDs, she heard her name being called out. When she turned, she saw the same stranger in front of her, dressed casually. “Hello Lala Rukh, how are you?” he said. Without looking into his eyes, she said, “But I don’t know you!” “Oh, come on….” he said “How could you not recognize me when you were reminding me last week of a photo that you have taken?” he asked. “It seems that you want to get even with me” he said. “But why didn’t you recognize me that day?” she inquired. “I’ll answer all your questions but I need some time. Can we meet in the same park next week?” She wanted to say no but deep down inside she also wanted to get over with this mystery so she couldn’t help saying yes.
Slowly and gradually, the week passed. The night before they were due to meet in the park, she was invited to a dinner. There, she saw him again, this time with two foreigners. She approached his table and greeted him with a hello. His cold response didn’t surprise her. “You might not have recognized me this time as well, Mr. …… Mr.?” she said ridiculing him. “See, you don’t even know my name and you are claiming that you know me. I think that you have mistaken me for someone else.” He said without giving any hint of acquaintance.
His reply left her flabbergasted. That night, she decided that she will not be fooled by him any more. The next day, she went to the park against her will because first of all, she believed that he won’t come and even if he does, he will be paid in the same coin. When she reached the park, he was already there waiting for her. “What caused you to believe that I’ll come today?” she asked when she reached near him. “I knew you would come” he replied firmly. “Who are you? What are you?” Now she was beginning to lose her control. “Please, sit down”, he said. “I can read peoples’ faces. I know what you are feeling now. You are confused. You want to know more about me. Am I right?”
She was awe-struck as he had hit bulls-eye but she didn’t want to expose her feelings to him. “I don’t have enough time” she said with an attitude. “What I do know about you is that you are not a Pakistani and you do not have any other identity” she said. “Yes, people say that I am not a Pakistani but does that matter? What matters most is that a man should be humane irrespective of whether he is an Egyptian, Sudanese, American or an African”. “But your parents must have given you a name” she insisted. “OK, for convenience sake, you may call me Hussain and I was born in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, wherever you like”. Now he was getting irritated.
“OK, forget it. Now tell me why you didn’t recognize me twice?” she asked him in a complaining manner. “How could a person who is surrounded by enemies tell someone about his friends?” he replied calmly. “But the people who were with you were your friends, right?” she argued. “Miss Lala Rukh, a friend today could be tomorrow’s enemy. Anyways, can we be friends?” he said extending his hand out to her.”I don’t believe in a friendship in which you can insult your friend by not recognizing him in public!” she retorted. “Meet me alone and I promise that it won’t happen again” he replied. “But I am not in favor of such friendship” she clarified. “But you have no other choice” he said this in such a manner that even she couldn’t resist being friends with him.
On his birthday, he invited her on supper. She even bought a cardigan and a pen as a gift for him. While eating dessert, she asked, “Hussain, you are a Muslim, right?” He smiled “May be….” “What do you mean?” she was confused. “I have told you before that country, nation and religion is crap for me”. His reply upset her. “You know, you are a liar, a fraudster, a con artist, an impostor. Sometimes I think that you should act in a play” He smiled patiently, “You may call me with whatever name you like. To me, life’s a stage drama and every person has to play his part and I promise you that if I ever act or direct a play, I will make sure that you get to see its drop scene. Remember, we met accidently and an accident will do us apart”. She snapped, “Hussain, you…!!!” He interrupted, “Keep quiet, Lala Rukh, I want to feel your presence here”. She wanted to shout, “Will you please shut up, you a man with a thousand and one faces…!!!” but she remained silent. Then he dropped the bombshell. “I am leaving tomorrow. This is our last meeting. My mother called last night saying that due to her bad health, she wanted me to marry the woman whom I am engaged with in her lifetime.” So, that was it. This was bound to happen someday but she didn’t expect it to end this way. She was broken.
For the next few months, she would wake up at night, shouting, “I hate you…!” or “Leave me alone…!!!” Her condition got so worse that her parents had to consult with a psychiatrist. He suggested marriage as the only solution to her problem. So, this way she was married with Noman, a wealthy business man. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn’t have married him but she had no other choice. With the passage of time, she engrossed herself fully with her family and turned out to be a dedicated housewife.
Ten years after her marriage, she was returning with her family from Paris after having vacations. The flight was a bit late. Suddenly, there was commotion at the airport. The security police could be seen running and then she heard gun shots being fired. Somebody standing close to her told her that a hijacking attempt has just been foiled. She heaved a sigh of relief but the very next moment she saw two security men carrying a man on a stretcher. His body was drenched in blood but his eyes were saying all the things she wanted to forget after ten years. Her eyes were stuck on the now worn off cardigan she gifted him on his birthday. She couldn’t believe that he was a criminal. Events started to appear slowly as flash back in her mind.
“No, I don’t have any identity. You may call me whatever you like.” (He couldn’t disclose his identity owing to the cause he was associated with)
“You have to have some soft wares and skillful hands then you can remove anything from your photos” (Today some invisible hand has made him disappear)
“I have told you before that country, nation and religion is crap for me” (so that nobody could ask him any further questions)
“How could a person who is surrounded by enemies tell someone about his friends?” (He couldn’t trust anyone owing to the mission he was assigned)
“Remember, we met accidently and an accident will do us apart” (He knew the fate of the path he was treading upon)
“To me, life’s a stage drama and every person has to play his part and I promise you that if I ever act or direct a play, I will make sure that you get to see its drop scene” (He was a man of his words)
“Keep quiet, Lala Rukh, I want to feel your presence here” (It was his last request)
The televisions at the airport were abuzz with this news. The reporter told that an attempt to hijack a Pan Am airline was foiled. The hijackers belonged to an underground Palestinian organization. If the plane would have been hijacked, they would have demanded release of their men being held in American jails. They were able to clear the security check as well but due to the folly of one of their accomplices, the plan failed to materialize. They resisted till the very end but ultimately all four got killed.
The news anchor continued to comment on the news but she couldn’t take it any more. The mystery that shrouded his personality was resolved. He was a freedom fighter working for the liberation of his country. An old man standing close to her said, “I hate them, these bloody Arab dogs.” She looked at him with her blood shot eyes as if she wanted to say, “I wish I could tell you who is a bloody dog.”