It went on forever, until I could take it no more, the persistent banging of the door and a relentless hammering in my head. Each bang of the door was like a blow to my head. And each tremor of the wall was like a hole in my heart. I could feel the paint scraping off the wall like I could feel the skin peeling from my flesh.
I grasp my head and pull my hair.
I huddle tightly to hush my heart.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
I look around my flawless, undamaged room. There are innumerable pens in my wooden pen holder and all of them are perfectly functional, none of the caps are missing. The books on my table are perfectly aligned on top of each other. I reach for my bottle, gulp down the cool water and put the bottle back in its place, beside a small box of orange and blue Bourn Vita. There is a neatly folded blanket on my bed and the pillows are duly fluffed. Everything in my room is stark, symmetrical and spotless.
It’s two in the morning.
Shrunk in a corner, I look around my flawless, undamaged room. There is a contradiction slapping me in the face, a travesty ridiculing my existence.
I look at my roommate. She is fast asleep, snoring softly. The blue and white light cotton sheet is covering her face and her long raven hair is strewn across the pillow. I contemplate waking her up.
‘Why doesn’t she wake up? Can she not hear this deafening sound?’ I look at her peaceful form and feel a twinge of jealousy. I want to sleep awhile too, in peace and quiet, without the sound of strong fists hitting the door.
Was it Nasir? No, it cant be. Or is it? My mind is racing.
“Mannat”. I try to wake her up. She mumbled something, turned over and went back to sleep.
“Mannat”. I shake her, removing the thin sheet from her face.
“What?”, She asked, visibly irritated.
“I can’t sleep. There is someone at the door.”
“Can’t hear anything. You must be dreaming again.” She closed her eyes and pulled the sheet over her face again.
I tried to tell her that it was not a dream, that the sound was real, but stopped myself. She had already started snoring again.
A faint red appears in the sky and starts spreading in the grey vastness of the morning sky. My laptop lay open on my table. I went back and forth in my mind and finally stood up and refreshed the page already opened. More than a dozen newspaper headlines popped up.
‘Kashmir valley under curfew since last 70 days’
‘Man found dead with more than 300 pellets inside his body’
‘Death toll rises to 56’
‘Cell phone services blocked once again in Kashmir’
I pick up my cell phone and try calling home. No network. I call again. And again. And again. For the zillionth time. And then once more. I wipe away my tears and swallow the lump in my throat.
Thousands of miles away from my valley Kashmir, I look at the injured, imprisoned, blinded and the killed. I look at the lost ones and the ones who lost them. I scroll down reading every headline, every article, pouring over pictures, names and numbers, dreading to find a familiar name, a familiar face.
My roommate, my sweet Mannat still asleep, unaware of the storm brewing inside me.
It is a sky blue morning and the sun is already relentlessly upon us, blasting fire from its pretend-nostrils. With half-open eyes and caffeine deprived brain, I am dragging my feet towards my college for my morning class.
“Pakistani”. I hear someone shout.
Reflexively I look for the source of the sound, some snickering boys with groomed moustaches and bulging biceps.
What gave me away? I want to ask, my precious white hijab donned over my embarrassed head and small puffs of desolation escaping from my Kashmiri nose.
“Pakistani terrorist.” Loud and clear.
The words hung in the air. Like a bubble ready to burst at the tiniest prick.
I seal my lips and fasten my steps.
Patience is a virtue.
Patience is a virtue.
Patience is a virtue.
It is a grey, gloomier-than-ever evening. It started pouring sometime before dawn and hasn’t stopped since. There is a giant pothole in the middle of the road gagged by the non-stop rain. A boy in a white uniform and large school bag gets splashed by a vehicle running over the giant pothole. I stop and stare, stare and smile as he looks at his muddy uniform in dismay.
My smile falters as I realise who he is, my beautiful, bouncy neighbour who disappeared some years ago during one of the worst crackdowns of our village.
“Nasir”. I call out to him. “What are you doing here? Your mother is looking for you everywhere.”
He doesn’t hear. He keeps on walking.
I start running and shouting at the top of my voice.
He doesn’t stop, he doesn’t look back.
I trip and fall in the giant puddle, the muddiest, deepest puddle.
“Nasir. Nasir. Nasir.” I start crying, not wanting to lose him once again.
With my mud-spattered clothes and bewildered smile, I approach him.
“My name is Karan,” he says.
It is a pitch-black night. Wedged between my narrow hostel bed on one side and window on the other, I stare at the crescent hanging low in the dark sky. Dogs start barking somewhere in the distance. The dusty fan hanging low from the ceiling creaks loudly. The incessant pounding on my door rings throughout my room. Like the freakish noise that a covert insect hidden in an unforeseen nook makes in the peace of the night. Like the smell of gunpowder and destruction looming over a country that has been war-ridden for years.
I shudder with fear and cover my ears with my hands.
My laptop lay open on my table. I go back and forth in my mind and finally stand up and refresh the page already opened. More than a dozen newspaper headlines pop up.