February 13, 2015 was like any other ordinary Friday. My father had left for Friday prayers at the Imamia Masjid, my mother was busy in the kitchen, while I was sitting in my room with my younger sister. My elder sister came in and asked me to make an appointment for our mother with the ophthalmologist. So I took my phone, left the room and dialled the ophthalmologist’s number, but it was engaged. I tried calling on the number a few more times before giving up. Returning to my room I found it to be empty and for some unexplainable, mysterious reason, my heart suddenly began to beat abnormally fast. I immediately ran upstairs loudly chanting, “Allah khair, Allah khair!”
Upstairs a horrendous sight met my eyes: everyone was running and screaming in panic. I had to shout and ask what the matter was and all I heard were the words: “Terrorists have attacked the mosque.” And that was the first time I died. As my mother and sister left for the mosque, I ran barefoot after them towards the car, crying and begging them to take me along too.
On the way, my mother told me to call my cousin who had rung up his mother while he was at the mosque during the attack to let her know of the tragedy that was unfolding. But panic had overtaken me and my shivering hands were unable to make any calls. Those moments haunt me all the time now.
After many panicked attempts, we finally managed to connect to one of our cousins, who had been at the mosque. All my mother could hear him say amid tears rolling down her cheeks was “Khyber Teaching Hospital”. Words that still haunt me and chill me to the bones.
At the hospital, we ran helplessly from one emergency room to the next, trying to look for our family members, asking the staff about blast casualties. I literally felt as if there was no ground under my feet. After looking for our father everywhere in the hospital and not finding him, we assumed he might have been taken to the Hayatabad Medical Complex instead since that was closer to the blast site. But just as we were about to leave, I heard my sister’s anguished cry: “Baba!”
I ran towards my father screaming, crying. He was lying on a stretcher, conscious, his face turned away from us. I patted him on the cheeks and turned his face towards myself, asking him if he was all right. He smiled and replied in the affirmative. It was then that his stretcher was wheeled away from us towards the emergency room with the hospital staff trying to comfort me, telling me not to cry and that my Baba was all right.
The fact that my father was able to talk to us and tell us that he was all right comforted us to some extent. But the sight of my beloved Baba lying injured and helpless on a stretcher was mind-numbing. I don’t remember how and when he was moved to the operation theatre.
All through this ordeal, I couldn’t stop shivering or praying. I was restless and kept on running back and forth. One of the staff, seeing my restless state, left his chair and asked me to sit there and not to worry. But how could I just sit as if nothing had happened? How could I? I could hear snippets of the conversation that was taking place among the doctors and the mention of words like “critical” was piercing my heart. Unable to bear this, I ran towards the doctors like some aged, infirm woman with no life in my legs and asked if my father was well. The doctor, seeing that I was possibly about to faint, comforted me with a big smile, patted me on the shoulder and said that they were all taking care of my father and that he was fine.
After a while, surgeons came out of the operation theatre and told us that he was doing well. He had been operated upon and that there was nothing to worry about. It was only then that I finally sat down, relieved, and thanked God. We were asked to get some clothes for our father as those he was wearing were all splattered with blood. I rushed home to get his clothes and smiled at my crying younger sister and told her that Baba was all right. I never realised this was the last time I would smile.
Upon returning to the hospital, I saw the operation theatre packed with my relatives. By this time we had already received the shock of my cousins DSP Naveed Abbas Bangash and Farhan Ali Bangash embracing martyrdom in the terror attack, which had only added to our heartbreak and agony. Now as I entered the operation theatre, I heard my sister asking our brother settled abroad to reach home by the first available flight in a fading voice. Hearing this, I completely lost the use of all my senses. I could not hear, I could not see. I was lost.
My innocent father, Muhammad Ishaq Bangash, remained on the ventilator for five days. No one can imagine how many times I died in those five days. I died every moment I looked at Baba, fighting for his life in the ICU. I did not sleep a single night fearing for my dearest Baba’s life. The last night he was alive, I was with him in the ICU, not knowing that these were the last moments I was sharing with him. I talked to him all night, trying to tell him his daughter was with him, trying to get him to talk to me: “Are you listening Baba? Please talk to me Baba. The barbarians have crossed all limits Baba.”
And my tears blinded me.
We miss you Baba with every breath.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2015.