I remember waking up, missing my parents more than ever.
See, they had left to perform Umrah and all I could do was think about how they hugged me tightly before they left. I could still feel the intensity of their warm embrace, as they bid good-bye, promising things would be better after they came back. Their “khayaal rakhna, pyaari Zainab” rang through my ears – an echo that seemed all too distant.
But this man holding my hand said he could make it better right away.
I seem to forget just what it was that he had promised me. Did he say he was taking me to meet my parents? Or did he mention that he could divert my attention? I can’t say for sure. I just remember feeling calm as I held his hand. My parents were visiting the house of God. God was watching over me. I had nothing to worry about.
Besides, what did I know about evil?
At 7-years-old, you aren’t taught much about good or bad. You’re taught the alphabet. Or counting. So I counted our steps.
I don’t remember what number I was at when he stopped us both in our tracks. And I don’t want to remember what happened next.
At the age of seven, your threshold for pain isn’t very high. I may have fallen a couple of times while on the playground and scraped my knee. I’ve probably wailed relentlessly over tiny cuts and bruises.
I don’t think I cried at all when the man hurt me in ways I couldn’t even fathom. Or maybe I did, and nobody heard me. Maybe, the pain suffocated me into silence. As everything around me grew darker, the same silence seemed to become more permanent.
As the light left my eyes, the man blurred out of my vision. Mama and Baba’s “khayaal rakhna, pyaari Zainab” kept echoing through my mind.
In my last moments, I thought of what Mama and Baba were praying for. My mind seemed to go back to an incident in my own hometown that my parents had discussed time and again. I thought of all those children in Kasur. Silenced, much like me. Their bodies wronged, much like mine. Is this how they must’ve felt, too?
At 7-years-old, I had already understood that some matters were talked about for a while and were soon forgotten.
The children in my hometown lay testament to the same. Perhaps, I’d be further proof of that very fact. However, lying in this pile of trash – abandoned, forgotten – I couldn’t help but wonder who was to blame for all of this.
The cruel man who hurt me?
The men who hurt the other children?
The world around me that forgot about the other children, and asked us to stay indoors to stay safe?
The big men in power?
“Khayal rakhna, pyaari Zainab…”
As the last echoes of the same emptied out of my mind, my fingers quivered to have someone to point them at. But I suppose both hands combined aren’t enough, are they? My 7-year-old mind has questions. Many, many questions.
Why did this happen?
How can someone do this to children?
Is there ever any justice?
But, knowing what my 7-year-old mind knows about my country, I suppose this question is the most pressing one: Who’s next?