Sahar Batool

sahar batoolIt was early morning on 28th  of October 2014. Sahar’s mother was busy preparing breakfast in the kitchen  while her father, Sakhi, was getting himself ready to go to work. He looked at  his motorcycle in the backyard of the home, walked to it, checked the wheels  and cleaned it up with a piece of cloth.
“Can you wake the children up?” his wife shouted  out from the kitchen.
  “OK,” Sakhi said and walked to the children’s room. He slowly pushed the door open  and quietly popped his head through the door. All his daughters were in a deep  sleep. Sahar, his youngest daughter who was seven was laying sleep beside her  elder sisters. He gently knocked the door and called out “wake up children!  Time to get ready for the school now!”  
Anisa, the eldest ten years old daughter  said “OK father,” then rubbing her eyes and nudging Sahar, who was  laying sleep beside her on the floor, said “wake up.” Sahar woke up and asked  “what time is it?” stretching her arms and legs.
“It’s 7am,” Anisa answered looking on the  wall clock but she immediately recalled “Aha! I won’t go to school today.  You know, it’s sports day. What about you?”
“If you don’t go, I won’t go,” Sahar  replied. Her eldest sister pushed Sahar out of the bed and started making it  while Sahar walked to the bathroom to wash her mouth, face and hands. She looked  at herself in the mirror, grabbed a tube, squeezed a blob of skincare cream out  on her palm and applied it on her face and hands. She also combed her hair and put  on the floral hair-band to push her shiny black straight hair away from her pretty  face. She hurried to the kitchen.
When her mother saw the girls coming in the  kitchen, she said “hurry up children! You’ll be late of your school, if you  start breakfast late.”
“Mother, today we have sports day at school  and we won’t have any lessons. You know, I don’t like sports. I’ll help you in  the kitchen,” Anisa said looking at her mother. Her mother didn’t say anything  but looked at her husband who said “OK. If Anisa doesn’t go to school, then Sahar  mustn’t go either.” He then looked at his wife “we’re very new in this area. I  want the girls to go to school together but please make sure you all stay at home.”
“Don’t worry father, we won’t go outside,” Anisa  jumped in and started eating breakfast. “Thank you dear. I know hardly any people  here,” his father admitted. “It takes time to get to know our neighbours.”
“Mother, who is Hazara Shia?” Sahar asked  while eating her favourite breakfast—Paratha, “fried bread” and milk tea.
“Why are you asking?” her mother asked looking  curiously at her.
“Yesterday when I was walking home, a man in  the neighbourhood pointed at me and said to his friend that she was a Hazara  Shia,” she told her mother. “I’m Sahar Batool not a Hazara Shia. Am I right mother?”
“Yes dear, but you shouldn’t worry,” her  mother replied.
“And you don’t need to get scared. You must  know that we live in a cantonment area. It’s the safest place in Quetta City  and above all I work for the Pakistan Army not for a civilian government,” his  father said proudly and encouraged her daughters to tell him “if they get bullied  or hassled in the area.”
After the breakfast, when Sakhi was about  to leave home for work, Sahar requested her father to take her to the nearby  shop on his motorcycle to buy herself chocolates and sweets as it was bit far  to walk from home.
Her father kicked his motorbike to start  the engine, her elder sister Anisa opened the main gate and both father and Sahar  rode off to the shop. It took nearly four minutes to get to the shop. Sahar bought  few chocolates bars, some sweets and a packet of spiced potato crisps to enjoy  her day. His father hurriedly dropped her off near home and sped to his job.
At home her eldest sister was helping her  mother in the kitchen. She was piling up dirty dishes in the sink for her  mother to wash them up while her mother was busy cleaning the kitchen.  “Do you know what time it is now?” her mother  asked Anisa.
“It’s 9:30am, mother,” Anisa replied.
“Has Sahar arrived home?”
“I don’t know mother.”
“Can you check her in the bedroom? I’ll  wash up dishes,” she asked Anisa. “She may be playing in the bedroom.”
“OK mother.” Anisa obeyed her mother and  went to the bedroom. Sahar wasn’t there. When she came back in the kitchen she told  her mother that Sahar might have gone to the neighbours. She tried to calm her  mother.
After an hour when Sahar didn’t come home,  her mother started to get worried and asked Anisa to go out and bring her home.  She looked in the neighbourhood. Sahar was not there. She knocked at uncle  Ahmed’s home but she wasn’t there. She came home back without Sahar.
When her mother saw Anisa without Sahar, she  became really nervous “Oh my God! What to do? Where should I go now?” a series  of questions popped into her head. She grabbed her scarf, put it over her head  and asked Anisa to stay at home and let her know, when Sahar came home. She went  out with her elder daughter and looked carefully outside her home, she asked everyone  in the street if they had seen any young Hazara girl aged seven with green  dress and knocked all the neighbours’ homes of the colony in a hope to find her  but Sahar was not there. Her fear was now swelling in her mind. Her heart was  throbbing fast but she was still hoping to find her.  Her mouth in the meantime was getting drier. Her  lips started quivering when she asked people about her missing child. While  walking frantically in the street, she could feel her legs trembling and her pale  face easily revealed how fearful she was at not being able to find her  daughter. “Please God help me find my daughter. What should I tell his father?”  she thought fearfully.
She was scared to go home without Sahar but  she hoped to see her at home. She rushed to the home with mixed feelings but  her panic multiplied when she saw Anisa standing alone at the door. “Has she come  back?” she immediately asked Anisa.
“No mother. She hasn’t back yet,” she replied.
“Oh my God, my head is exploding I can’t think  anymore? Can you both go out again and look around,” her mother asked her  daughters, crying nervously. “I don’t know where she has gone? Please God, send  Sahar home safely.”
For the third time, they went out of the  home and started searching again. One of the sisters ran to the shop while the other  one ran to a lady to ask about her missing sister. But the moment she got  closer to the lady and was about to open her mouth “your sister is over there,”  the lady said pointing to Sahar’s body, lying on the garbage dump. Anisa couldn’t  believe her eyes when she saw her sister’s body lying unmoving on the garbage  dump face up. She ran to the home and shouted her mother to come out of the  home. Her mother ran out, barefooted, on the sound of her daughter’s voice. Anisa  took her mother to the garbage dump and showed her, Sahar’s body. On seeing her  daughter’s dead body she fell over her, held Sahar up in her arms and screamed  “is there anybody to help me.”
Two passersby came forward and helped remove  Sahar’s body to the cantonment hospital from where her father was phoned to  come to the hospital immediately.
Sahar’s father rushed to the hospital. The  police informed him of his daughter’s death and asked him to take the body to  another hospital for the post-mortem where a lady doctor after thorough examination  of his daughter’s body, asked him to come to a separate room.
In the presence of the Police, the lady  doctor said that the killer throttled her to death with a rope around her neck  by pulling it hard from her back and his hand repeatedly banged her forehead on  the concrete floor.
On a question of rape raised by the Police,  the lady doctor said that the child had been subjected to an attempted rape but  being a brave girl she protected herself.
After the post-mortem examination report, Sakhi  brought his daughter’s dead body home and later on, she was laid to rest at a local  graveyard at around 7pm in the evening.  As part of the ritual, local people visited  the bereaved family members and expressed their condolences and sympathies with  them. Sakhi never thought that his seven years old daughter could be killed in  cantonment area, the safest place in Quetta City, Pakistan. Being so young, Sahar  never knew which ethnicity group or religious sect of Islam she belonged to.  But many believe that she was killed because she was a Hazara Shia. And in Pakistan,  especially Quetta City Hazaras don’t get bullied or hassled, but get brutally killed.

 

The short story was originally published on Outlook Afghanistan, Kabul Press and Hazara People International Network newspapers on 25th of November 2014.

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