Killing Five People and Injuring Fifteen Others
I was aware of the glances and the whispers that followed me into the room; they were meant to be noticed, meant to be heard. As a people we do not refrain from trespassing, nor are we known for our lack of presumption.
“If only the bone had broken that way,” muttered the surgeon examining the stump. He rotated his hand as if he was unscrewing a jar to nine o’clock. “I’ll have to give it a slight point here, to provide a hold.” The tip of his finger barely touched the bone and I winced. There was no pain any more but the very thought of touching that bone, that pointless projection that blanches in the face of its sudden exposure hurt. That is where the bullet had embedded itself and burst outwards in a frothy red flowering like the petals of an obscene camellia seeding my body. They had to pick out those cold metal shards from wherever they had buried themselves awaiting a bloody spring, another chance to burst through my skin with buds of steel, bony stem and fleshy leaf. For now, all I saw was a pale core surrounded by pink flesh like a bloodless face staring through a hole in the ruined wall of a house.
As for the point, is there ever any point in such violence, such pain? Do you understand the difference between pain and hurt? The pain has stopped but it will never stop hurting.
“Oh, well,” the surgeon clicked his tongue and turned to write on my file. I saw the little diagram he drew of a line crossing a leg mid-way between the knee and the foot and the little arrows that indicated the way something was meant to turn.
My story is the same as the story of so many others in this city, differing only in meaningless detail. Yesterday there was a Neelofer, the day before a Sayeed. It was all the same to the finger that pulled the trigger which may have pulled it for the first time, the third, or the tenth—who knows, except that I stood in the gun’s range in the bazaar then. For me it was the first and the last time and every time in between.
What did he see, the man whose finger pulled that trigger? Did he see me or did he just aim to hit anyone and I was just there, the hapless anyone on whom fate spat that afternoon? What does it matter? It certainly did not deter him even if he did see a fifteen year old in school uniform and satchel twirling the ends of a long pony tail around her finger. This I remember because that is what I always do when I am impatient and I was impatient then. It was after school and I was hungry and there was a man turning a corn on the cob down the parking lot. The coals glowed red in the little metal basin on his cart, sparks showered the cold air as he coaxed the glow into flames with a small, tattered fan in his hand.
“Yes, yes it’s nice,” I said, eyeing the corn alone. I could smell it from there, a smoky sweet smell. I could hear the crackling, too, sharp popping sounds as the kernels burst in the coals.
“Is it a nice blue?”
“Yes, yes a very nice blue!” I said watching the corn being handed to a customer. My fingers twirled my pony tail into a tight knot as something red and woolly was thrust angrily in front of my face almost touching my nose; a bright red sweater, not a blue one at all. I pouted and turned to face my mother just as something exploded and red covered my head and splattered all over my mother’s terrified face and she screamed and screamed and implored me to wake up and say it was red, red, and not blue.
“Yes, yes, I like it, it’s red,” I murmured. I heard movement all around me and smelt something pungent, like dead squirrels. I will never know why that analogy forced itself into my mind and still does when I think of that time or anything associated with it, dead squirrels darting, tails flicking, frantic, screaming, jumping, dead, shattered, bits scattered, red, all red. And oh the flames, how they burnt my leg, cracked my bones and splintered my toes. I moaned and reached out to grasp the pain, to hand it to someone else, anyone, but they pulled back; they cried out and gripped me and pulled my hands back with sharp needles and little tubes. They pulled me away and someone fanned my face with a little fan, wiped my forehead and sprinkled iced water on my face.
“It hurts! My leg,” I heard a voice moaning, and I knew it was mine because it was shaped like a squirrel and smelt like one. I heard my mother weeping again until someone threw a sweater in my face and I slept.
It was a long while later that I was able to get up, a time that was separated from the past by the presence of legs and nothing but legs: thin legs, fat legs, legs with shod and unshod feet, running, dragging, stumbling, climbing, all of them beautiful, but none of them mine except the one on my right, bewildered and lost and refusing to support my weight. I wept and told it to remember me, the same person it had supported all these years but it slid from under me and threw me to the ground, petulant, distraught. And I? I was not distraught. I was cold, and terribly calm. I was a squirrel, dead, shattered, bits scattered, red, all red not blue, but calm. Everyone else saw me as Saira, the school girl injured in a parking lot when unknown assailants fired into the crowd and escaped, killing five people and injuring fifteen others. AFP/ Reuters/AP/APP/Agencies.