An APS attack survivor’s extraordinary story — II

Published: December 15, 2015
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Overturned tables and chairs in a classroom at the Taliban-stricken Army Public School. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD IQBAL/EXPRESS

Overturned tables and chairs in a classroom at the Taliban-stricken Army Public School. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD IQBAL/EXPRESS

Overturned tables and chairs in a classroom at the Taliban-stricken Army Public School. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD IQBAL/EXPRESS The writer is the recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He tweets @Mbilallakhani

“I attended funerals from 9pm to 5am the following morning,” shares Aakif Azeem. “I could only attend nine funerals of my classmates even though more than 15 boys died from my class alone. I came home around 5.30am, but couldn’t fall asleep. My best friend Zain Iqbal’s funeral was at 11am in the morning. We used to go to school together every day because he lived near my house. Before his funeral, I went to his house following my usual route and stood in the corridor where we used to hang out together all the time. I didn’t have the courage to see his body. I couldn’t see his face for the last time. I didn’t know how to face him.

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“Zain’s mother is a teacher in my school and she sees Zain in me now,” shares Aakif. “I can see her in the corridors looking at me. Even in the examination hall she watches me from a hidden place because she sees her son in me. I was invited to Zain’s sister’s wedding to take his place. I was given his clothes and everyone was calling me Zain. Everyone gave me protocol and treated me like Zain in their family. I went to Zain’s grave and promised him that I wouldn’t cry at the wedding,” he says. “But it was really painful.”

An APS attack survivor’s extraordinary story

I had promised to write this story in Aakif’s words without inserting my own emotions or sermonising, but I can no longer control my feelings at this point. Aakif says everyone tells him the whole country stands behind him, what else do you want? But he argues that the country focused on the physical wounds of the dead and wounded, while the wounds in his day-to-day life remain invisible. Instead of trying to brush their pain under the carpet, we need to find ways to give their stories a voice.

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“I lost four friends I had been studying with since grade four on December 16, 2014,” says Aakif, his voice cracking with emotions. “Zain and I had been best friends since childhood. We were two brothers from two different mothers. We were a group of four boys and now I’m the only surviving one. I miss them a lot emotionally. But I know they’ll get pained if they see me cry. I need to be strong and smile for them. They’re at some place better now, that’s what I keep reminding myself. My life now is about their dreams and proving to the world what real friendship is about. I’ll continue to miss them for the rest of my life.

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“I sit alone and contemplate about what happened,” shares Aakif. “I have a lot of things and curiosity on my mind. Why me? Why did my life turn upside down and why did I survive? But life continues no matter what happens. Everyone asks me to move on. Our college opened again in January. We had board exams coming up soon but I struggled to concentrate and study again. There was a very moving moment during our chemistry exam. Usually, Zain would always sit behind me while taking exams. So I asked him during my board exam, ‘Zain yaar iss sawal ka jawab kia hai’ and the guy behind me said, Zain isn’t here. Both of us started crying in the examination hall. Only six boys from our class survived the attack. But our grades fell so dramatically after the attack that only two of us have been able to secure admission to a university.

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“Somehow through our darkest moments,” he shares, “you find the light within yourself. I look at some boys who get so crazy about a girl that they say they’ll commit suicide if they don’t get her. But after everything I’ve gone through, I’ve realised that I have a higher purpose. I’m determined to use my voice to make sure Pakistan never forgets my friends.”

This is the second in a three-part series on Aakif’s story in his words. The first part appeared yesterday and the third part of his story will appear tomorrow in this space. Extraordinary Pakistanis seeks to find and share inspirational stories about everyday Pakistani heroes (if you know someone who should be profiled, send us a Tweet @Mbilallakhani). If we don’t share these stories about Pakistan, no one else will.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th,  2015.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • Fatima Qamar
    Dec 16, 2015 - 1:53PM

    It’s really hard to stop my tears. I am awed at your maturity of speech and thought. I can only understand from afar and guess what you might be going through but I urge you to stay strong. Do what you aim for. Become your friends’ dreams. Be the extraordinary. I sincerely pray for you and your success. Life isn’t about girls and unfulfilled love. It has a higher purpose and may we all fulfill ours. Thank you for reminding me and urging me to work hard myself. May Allah bless you and your friends and their families. Ameen.
    Love and regards. Recommend

  • Enough
    Dec 16, 2015 - 2:06PM

    It’s difficult to read even…Recommend

  • Fariha Shah
    Dec 16, 2015 - 2:23PM

    Can’t stop crying :”( May ALLAH grant martyred students and teachers highest place in JANNAH. AMEENRecommend

  • Erum Khalid
    Dec 16, 2015 - 4:50PM

    No sorrow can be expressed in words for what occurred on 16.12.2014. No one can feel the pain of the kids or their families who faced this tragic day. Just reading stories and listening to all the events of the day makes our heart shatter into pieces and we are not even able to control our own tears. We can never feel the pain of all those affected by this day but we can share your sorrow. And we can promise to never forget this day, to never forget the kids that paid the debt they didn’t even owe and to stand by their families.Recommend

  • Asif
    Dec 16, 2015 - 5:00PM

    This is so emotionally disturbing to read!! I can’t imagine how much torture it has been for the poor soul to go through all this and to face such horrors time after time!! May ALLAH ease you pain brother mine! Recommend

  • Dec 16, 2015 - 5:11PM

    i can’t stop crying :(
    i just can’t.. it feel like i was there with them.
    :(
    i wish i could be with them.. want to see them happy again.
    I,as being a normal University student want to serve them. with lots of happiness and motivation. i wish i could do something for him and other students who are suffering like this :(
    Little angels, who are here with us and who are nott.. we will never ever forget you :)
    you are the pillars of Pakistan and its army.
    i can’t stop crying :( Recommend

  • khan
    Dec 16, 2015 - 5:22PM

    I am soldier and a father. I couldn’t control and wept while reading. We have to fight to take our children out of this psychological trama. Recommend

  • wasey
    Dec 17, 2015 - 6:25AM

    bro if there was anyway that day could be taken back to be replaced with a new and better one , believe me when i say that majority of the Pakistanis would be there to sacrifice themselves for it. We can only say that we know what u are going through but the fact is not one of us can imagine this trauma and the horror that u guys and your families had to face. I have wept on imagining the pain of u ,your friends and parents but the fact is that we are a pathetic nation and no sooner the day has passed and we forget about it. I cant do nothing but to make Dua-e-Maghfirat for u and to make dua of patience to give to all those families who had to suffer from such kind of predicament and i for one am sincerely saying that your sacrifices would not go to waste. I love u all like my brothers, sisters and parents and ill surely do my part in making not only yours but of all the children and peoples ,that were faced with such kind of atrocity not only on that particular day but in all those days that the such innocence was snatched from out society, mission a success I Love u all and God bless u all.Recommend

  • Nadeem
    Dec 18, 2015 - 9:59AM

    Aakif! Your pain and words made us cry dear. You promised at Zain’s grave not to weep but this promise is even difficult for us to keep. God bless u and provide u the strength to fulfill your friends’ dreams.Recommend

  • Nehan
    Dec 18, 2015 - 11:51AM

    We will never forget them… It’s not possible to forget them… Another thing which is impossible is to understand how can someone face all this… Live through life this… U have to be very strong really… And all these kids were so strong… They really were!! Recommend

  • Sena
    Dec 20, 2015 - 1:03AM

    I can’t find the third part?Recommend

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