Series 6 Was I a threat? Part 3 The dead princess

Her eyes were blank, lifeless. Her neck bore signs of pressure, face showed prints of Taya Abba’s hand.

Saher Ismail October 02, 2016
Ma stared at Saira’s lifeless body, unable to believe her eyes. She pulled her feet from the grasp of the floor and walked towards her. All kinds of thoughts crossed her mind in those few steps, which seemed to be taking an eternity to cover; Saira’s first steps which she had taken in this house. Her laugh that always resonated through the house echoed in her ears. She thought about how Saira always used to run around the house wearing a self-made tiara, asking everyone to call her ‘Princess Saira’.

And now, the image of her princess’s immobile body was etched in her eyes. She dropped next to Saira, staring at her as if one look would bring her back to life.

Ma’s eyes fell on the sweets on the ground. Red ones were Saira’s favourite. Ma stretched her hand to pick them up but her hand brushed across a piece of paper; a letter. She picked it up and unfolded it. Her eyes moved from one corner of the paper to another, and with every word she read, she felt a bitter taste fill her mouth. Fatima? She remembered her. She was Saira’s friend.

Her mind began to race. Where did Saira get this letter? But before she could form a thought, someone burst through the door. Afzal.

His eyes wide in shock, unable to believe what he was seeing, he stared at her sister lying face-down on the ground. His father and Taya Abba stood near her looking infuriated. And his mother, letter in her hand, stared over at Afzal.
“Ma? Ma what's wrong with Apa? What happened?”

Afzal surveyed the room, looking for answers.
“Afzal, why wasn’t Fatima coming to school? Did she give you a letter for Saira?”

Ma knew Afzal must have some answers.
“Fatima? What has she got to do with this? Did she do something to Apa?”

“Just answer me!”

She had unknowingly gotten up to her feet.
“Ye.. Yes, Fatima wasn’t coming to school for a long time now. She didn’t give me any letter but I met her brother Omar last week. He told me he had a letter from Fatima and was looking for Apa.”

Afzal was confused. These questions seemed to have no connection with the scene in front of him.
“Omar? Did you see him again after that?” Ma stared at him intently.

“No I don’t think so. No, wait. I saw him today as well in the park. When I was coming back just now, I saw him there with his friends. But what's going on, Ma?”

“Fatima’s brother, Omar? It was Fatima's brother with Saira in the park?”

She turned towards Taya Abba. He had her confusion reflected on his face too.
“What are you talking about? What is that in your hand?” Abba asked her, unable to connect the dots.

“This is a letter from Saira's friend, Fatima. Fatima's brother, Omar, delivered it to Saira today in the park. That was who Saira was talking to. That was who bhai jaan saw her with.”

She answered Abba, her eyes still glued to Taya Abba’s face. Silence followed Ma’s word. It seemed as if the world had stopped for a moment, when everyone tried to understand what they had done.
“I.. I..” Taya Abba stammered.

He could start to comprehend the misunderstanding, the magnitude of the crime he had committed. He frantically surveyed the room for something that could help him escape his guilt.
“What? But we just... Saira wasn’t...”

Abba’s eyes went from Ma to Saira’s body, still lying on the ground. He ran towards her and turned her face up.

Her eyes were blank, lifeless. Her neck bore signs of pressure, face showed prints of Taya Abba’s hand. Abba’s eyes surveyed her face.
“Saira! Saira!”

It was as if his eyes finally saw clearly. As if he had only just come to his senses. He laid Saira’s head down on the ground carefully and got up.
“You! You killed my daughter! My only daughter, my princess.”

He stared with rage at his brother, tears beginning to form in the back of his eyes. Taya Abba instinctively took a step back.
“No, I.. You told me to.”

His eyes kept glancing towards the door.
“I told you to?”

Abba’s high-pitched voice made Taya Abba jump like a cat.
“No I mean... Listen to me. We didn’t know. I didn’t know. We all thought she was...” Taya Abba stammered.

“I don’t care. You killed my daughter, my Saira. You made us doubt her!”

Tears finally escaped his eyes, rolling down, soaking his beard.

Taya Abba glanced at his tear-streaked face. He knew he was going to be in trouble if he didn’t escape now. He took a step towards the door and ran for it.

But nobody ran after him. Both the parents knew they were as much a part of this as Taya Abba was. So who were they to blame anyone for it? Who were they to point a finger towards him when all the others were pointing at themselves?

A week had passed since Saira’s death, but everything was still fresh at the house. Saira’s presence could still be sensed, even though her body had already been buried in the closest cemetery. People were still coming over to condole, asking all sorts of questions. But who had the answers to them? What was anyone supposed to say? That they killed their own daughter over an allegation?

So they had mastered their story.
“Saira was very happy that day, my poor little girl. She had just told us that she wanted to go visit her friend, Fatima, and we had said yes. She was jumping all around the house. Suddenly, she tripped over her own foot and fell down. Her dupatta wound around her neck and got stuck in the clothesline. My poor baby couldn’t even call out to us.”

They hated themselves for lying about Saira’s death, but what other choice did they have?

Everything was apparently going back to routine. Abba went to work every day, Afzal had started to go to school too. Ma tried to busy herself with chores. But they were all fighting a battle with themselves, one they knew they’ll never win. Because the only one who could help them through this was dead. Their lives were never going to be the same.

Ma cried herself to sleep every night. Why hadn’t she saved her daughter? Why couldn’t she have at least listened to her daughter, let her explain herself? Would it have been different if she had never asked Saira to go to bhai jaan for the Holy Quran lessons? All the regrets and questions flooded her mind every night. But at least she could ask questions. Saira was in no such condition. She was gone, with all her memories and regrets buried with her. All her questions had died with her that day. Only one remained,

Was I a threat?
Saher Ismail The author is a young and ambitious writer who loves photography.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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rukhsana shama | 3 years ago | Reply | Recommend Saher, Absolutely heart touching account. Left me anguished. Keep penning :)
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