University of Toronto - “It’s the dream man!”
They walked quietly together, letting the traffic build conversation for them. The streetlights flooded the roads but they still found it difficult to see. The cars zoomed past them without a care in the world.
The tall apartments in the surroundings made them feel miniature, like two toys in a room filled with giant furniture. Beneath these towering buildings were shops lined up together, from wall to wall. People went in and came out from these shops like ants.
Life unfolded around these two, as they walked silently on the side of the road. Their uniforms faded and their ties loose; their backpacks hung over their shoulders like prison shackles. They walked with great pride and equal exhaustion. The more that life surrounded them, the more tired they seemed to be. Two young boys were already fed up with what life had bid for them.
“Did you get any offers yet?” asked Faizy.
The two had started walking up the bridge now, making their way to the other side.
“Yeah I have actually. You?” Ahmed looked at Faizy with great interest.
“Ones you don’t count. Locals, sure. I haven’t heard from the internationals yet.”
The boys exchanged looks.
“Where’d you get in?”
“Locally or internationally?” Ahmed questioned while Faizy’s eyes widened.
“You got into the international ones?”
“Yeah. Toronto and Windsor, both in Canada.”
Ahmed, although proud, did not sound very amused – while Faizy seemed ecstatic.
“Ahmed, that’s great yaar! University of Toronto? That’s the dream man, that’s the dream!”
He raised his hand for a high five but wasn’t greeted with the same.
“Yeah, that’s pretty cool. Too bad I’m not going.”
Ahmed kept walking with his head down. He tried to step over the cracks on the road and dodge the little puddles of water that had pooled up from the morning’s drizzle.
“Why aren’t you going?” inquired Faizy, trying to follow Ahmed along as he began skipping to catch up.
“We can’t afford it. Baji’s wedding is coming up in a year. I know for a fact that my parents will not be able to pay my tuition fees and afford her wedding all at the same time.”
Ahmed said as he spat on the ground and looked at his friend.
“I know if I tell Papa and Mama about my acceptance, they’ll make it happen. But I know how it’s going to be.”
“How is it going to be?”
“Papa is going to ask his friends for a loan. They’ll give it to him. Papa will retire this year and won’t be able to pay it back. Either he’ll be forced into selling the house, or he’ll have to work five more years until I graduate, get a job and am able to pay my dad’s friends back.”
Ahmed’s comment was followed by silence.
“Do I want that Faizy? I’m not that selfish. I know my parents will make it happen. But I don’t want them to.”
Faizy didn’t speak. He realised that no amount of sympathetic words would help Ahmed. So he did what his instincts told him. He put a hand on his shoulder and walked by his side, like a soldier helping another out of the fray.
“It’s cool,” Faizy managed to say.
They exchanged looks of confidence. They walked together silently atop the busy bridge, two lost souls in a sea of confusion. Their lives had played out exactly how they wanted them to play out, exactly how every prodigy from Karachi’s busy life plays out. But they forgot about the minor delicacy that runs the world —money.
The two boys walked silently again until they reached the top of the bridge where they would then descend towards the road. The streetlights flickered and went out, as did the lights of the whole neighbourhood. These power outages were very common during this part of the night.
Ahmed stopped on the bridge and turned over to look at the sewage water flowing beneath it. Faizy waited with him as he saw Ahmed lean over the ledge and look at the darkness below. Pretty soon the sound of power generators filled the air and that is all they could hear. Faizy leaned beside him to observe what his friend was staring at and could only make out the darkness that penetrated his skin. Ahmed leaned closer to Faizy and said something in his ear.
“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart and all they can do is stare blankly.”
Ahmed resumed his prior position and stared at the darkness below. Faizy had heard some well thought-out sentences from Ahmed, but this seemed beyond his calibre. Before Faizy could respond, Ahmed leaned in once again.
“I didn’t say it, F Scott Fitzgerald did.”
Faizy looked at Ahmed’s face and barely visualised a wink.
“C’mon old sport, it’s time we walk down this mammoth bridge. It’s not safe to be up here at this time,” Ahmed said while trying to work out the best impression of Jay Gatsby he could do.
Faizy nudged his shoulder. If only he had the resources Jay Gatsby had, Ahmed would be off to Toronto before you could say West Egg.
They started down the bridge when they saw a single flashing light make its way towards them. This light came closer and closer to them and they realised that the vehicle was driving on the wrong side of the road. Immediately the boys understood what was about to happen. Mobile snatching had become a common crime in the city of lights, and they were about to be first-hand witnesses to it.
Ahmed felt his phone become heavy like a rock in his pocket. Faizy, on the other hand, always kept two phones. It was now a custom for Karachiites; keep one for yourself and one for the muggers. So Faizy’s face was relaxed when the motorcycle approached them.
Two young men sitting on the motor-powered vehicle immerged from the dark. The lack of light assisted the robbers as Ahmed and Faizy could barely identify their faces. But they could still decipher the gun the man on the back seat was holding.
“Empty your pockets, boys,” said the driver of the motorcycle.
Faizy, without hesitation pulled out an old, beaten down Nokia cell phone and handed it to the driver. He could feel his heart beating out of his chest. Even though the sound of generators radiated the air, he could hear the thumping of his fragile heart. The gun was now pointed towards Ahmed and the man asked him specifically for whatever he had in his pockets. Ahmed hesitated.
“It’s the only phone I have man! Please let me go this time. You already took my friend’s phone.”
This was not a time to negotiate with these people. Ahmed could feel that he was testing their patience.
“I said empty your pockets fool, before I blow your brains out!”
Faizy noticed that the man on the back seat was nervous. The gun in his hand was shaking as he pointed the barrel at Ahmed’s heart.
“Fine, okay,” Ahmed said as he reached for his phone in his pocket.
He pulled it out and began handing it to the driver of the motorcycle.
Ahmed, without taking into consideration his life or Faizy’s, pushed the men on the bike. There was a little row and Faizy could barely make out anything that was happening. He stepped in and tried to take Ahmed’s hand and direct him to run. He managed to grab a hand and pulled it, before a fist hit his jaw and he fell back. The motorcycle fell down and the men on it tumbled over. Ahmed screamed for Faizy who had fallen back from the impact of the punch.
“Run!” screamed Ahmed as he directed Faizy.
Faizy heard a shirt rip followed by a loud sound of a gun going off. There was a moment of pause, and two more shots followed. Faizy cupped his ears and pushed against the ledge as adrenaline soared through his body. He was so shocked by the noises that neither his fight nor flight senses came into play.
He lay on the ground, helpless and petrified.
The motorcycle kick-started and sped away quicker than it had come. Cold sweat rolled down Faizy’s forehead as he felt his body shaking. He felt his ultra-fast paced heart beating steadily in his chest, he felt his temple intact and his head still attached to his neck. He went down and realised that his body was unharmed, except for the tooth that felt wobbly after he took the punch.
But shots were fired. Three of them. Deafening yet eerie. His mind raced.
Where is Ahmed?
He saw Ahmed’s phone lying face up on the road. The screen had shattered but the light still glared from its cracks. Faizy picked it up and used it as a flashlight, scanning the unpaved sidewalk. He finally saw what he dreaded.
A few feet away from him lay his friend, face down.
The backpack weighed his body down. His arms were on either side of his frame and his leg was twisted in an inhuman fashion. Faizy ran to his friend. The weight of the bag made it difficult for him to turn his friend to the side. With great effort, he freed Ahmed from the burden the backpack inflicted on him and turned him over.
Ahmed’s jaw had dropped. His face was muddy and bloody from the impact – his eyes open, but blind. Faizy saw crimson blood spewing where he had just placed his hand. The bullet wounds on the chest sieved Ahmed’s body. Blood came gushing out from his throat. Ahmed did not move a muscle but he made gargling sounds from his throat. He was still alive.
Faizy rushed on to the road, waving and yelling. Cars zoomed by, motorbikes fled through the air, but no one stopped. It was like they ignored the boys completely. Faizy tried to stop a car by stepping in front of it, but the car just swerved past him while the driver swore through the window. Faizy hurried back to his wounded friend.
He fiddled through his backup and drew out his more useable phone. He called the emergency hotline number and asked for an ambulance and directed them to where he was. As he waited for help to come, he tried to assist his dying friend from the injuries. He untied his tie and placed it on one of the gun wounds. He untied Ahmed’s tie and placed it on the other wound that was near his heart. With his knee, he pressed on a wound closer to his kidney and managed to man mark all the cuts.
“Talk to me Ahmed,” he said repeatedly. “I won’t let you leave me like this. Damn it, you fool! Why did you do that?”
He wanted to hit Ahmed for doing something so stupid. He was the last person Faizy thought would throw himself in front of danger like that.
All his efforts to stop the bleeding failed. Minutes went by and there was no sign of the ambulance. Faizy could feel Ahmed’s breathing getting heavier and heavier by the second. He let go of the ties and held his friend’s hand. Should he accept the fact that Ahmed was dying or strive to make an effort for his existence?
He chose the latter.
He ran onto the streets, once more in an attempt to draw attention to him. It remained futile. The busy Karachiites had no time to spare for petty problems like these. They carried on with their undisturbed lives as a boy on the road atop a bridge took his final breaths. The city that never sleeps had its eyes wide shut.
Faizy ran back to Ahmed who was nearly gone by then. Enough blood had left his body, it pooled up next to him. Faizy took Ahmed’s hand once again. He could not cry, he could not scream, he could not plead. He could not beg for Ahmed to stay. He looked at his friend. His friend who had just gotten into one of the best universities in the world. His friend who thought about his family more than his future. His friend, the intellectual, the genius, lay before him battling for dear life.
Faizy whispered the Kalimah in Ahmed’s ear. They were inches apart. So close and yet so distant. In a matter of seconds, Ahmed was gone. What lay before Faizy was a lifeless piece of mass. The dreams and aspirations all spilled away in the form of blood. Organs failed just like he had. Faizy closed his friend’s eyes forever. They would not see the illumination of another day.
In the distance, Faizy heard sirens wailing and red and blue lights flickered towards them in the darkness.
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