It was quite a nice morning; the sun was shining bright outside my window in that clear, spotless blue sky, and I was still in my bed. Abba already came three times into my room, scolded me and tried to wake me up.
“But why should I get up? Why should I let this morning-sleep get off my eyes? After all, it’s Sunday and no college today. Let’s sleep for another hour”, I said to myself and rolled over. In a few moments, I was back in the world of my dreams. But then again, someone entered my room, and again it was Abba, this time with a clear intention of waking me up, no matter what.
So at long last, I had to wake up and get ready, but getting ready on a Sunday morning? What was that for? Oh yes, it was my baby brother Yasin’s birthday. Abba and I had to make all the arrangements, and if Mama found out about our plans, then none of it would be possible, not because she would scold me or beat me up, but because she never liked any kind of celebrations going around in the house.
She never talked much, not even a single word for days on end; just kept herself busy, looking out of that window from her room. She smiled every so often, but whenever Yasin was around, something would take her away and that smile would suddenly be lost. That’s why Abba kept these birthday plans hidden from Mama. We were preparing for the celebrations in my room secretly.
We wanted to give Yasin a surprise. I was thinking to myself how happy he’ll be to see the chocolate cake that I’ve recently learned to make. Chocolate is his favourite. Maybe because of Abba, who is also crazy about chocolates. Well, this might sound strange but my father is fond of chocolates, and his pockets are always full of them.
Yasin was staying at our uncle’s home for the last two days after his exams were over, and he was returning in the afternoon. So, Abba and I had to make all the arrangements before that.
It was already noon and the cake was still in the recipe book. I was trying to mix the egg with flour but it was more on the floor than in the bowl. Unbothered by the mess, I tried to focus on the cake that I had to make before Yasin was back home.
I was trying hard on that cake and showed it to Abba, who dipped his finger in the batter and licked it to tell me whether the ingredients were in correct proportion or not.
It was 3 pm and still a lot to do which was making Abba panicky, and it’s always me who had to keep him calm. Later, he said his usual line: When you’ll leave me, my lovely Rumana, what would I do?
Finally, the cake was ready. Yasin was still out with my cousin, which gave me enough time to check on everything, and to my surprise; Abba had arranged everything while I was in the kitchen.
It was time for some relaxation. Like any other Sunday afternoon, Abba and I sat outside on the green grass under the shining sun.
Normally, when I rest my head in his lap, he would tell me a story. But, today, Abba was not in a mood for it. He seemed a little upset. After a few quiet moments, he said, “Rumana I can’t see your mother dying every day in grief, she must get over it; Salman left us 7 years ago.”
Salman and Yasin were twins. But Salman died when he was just 6 months old. And maybe Yasin reminds Mama of Salman, that’s why she never showed her love for him openly.
I sat there silently, without any response. There is nothing worse than seeing your parents sad. Then just to get him a little bit cheered up, I told him, “let’s go back inside and have some ice-cream.” Yes, chocolate ice-cream, of course. “It’s a happy day today, I will talk to Abba on this topic some other day”, I said to myself while taking the ice-cream tub out from the refrigerator.
It was 7 pm and Yasin had not come home yet. Abba called uncle Naseem who told him that Yasin had left three hours ago with Sameer, and he had thought that Sameer might be staying with us for the party. Hearing from Abba, uncle made a call to Sameer. The tension grew stronger when Sameer didn’t answer his phone.
After an hour, uncle Naseem showed up. He was gripped in tension with the thought of both boys gone and not answering the calls.
After hours of waiting, Abba and uncle Naseem decided to go and look for them. I was told to take care of Mama. I saw deep sorrow in her eyes when she heard that Yasin and Sameer aren’t home yet. I told her that everything would be fine and they might have gone for a drive. But, deep inside, I knew Sameer was not so naïve to go out on a drive at this late hour with a 7-year-old, and that, in a place like this.
Hours passed without any news.
At last Abba and uncle Naseem came home at midnight. They had looked everywhere and called everyone who might have known about the boys but nobody knew anything.
Early in the morning, I prepared tea for everyone. Abba told me that I must get ready for college and that he would drop me as he was going to the police station to file a missing report.
I was in my room getting ready when I heard a cry. I came out running. It was uncle Naseem. He had received a phone call; the phone had slipped from his grip. Abba was asking him what happened, “Please, tell me, Naseem, who called you?”
The call was from the Police Station, saying that Sameer and Yasin were killed in a cross-firing yesterday.
These were the last words uncle Naseem uttered before he passed out. Abba was standing there like a statue, motionless, and I think, lifeless, too.
There remained only silence – a curtain of silence like a shadow lingering in the night.
When Police brought Yasin’s body, Mama heard the cries, she came running outside and found Yasin lying there, wrapped in the white cloth with his lifeless eyes closed.
She was looking at Yasin without blinking. She didn’t cry – just stood there looking at him. Then, all of a sudden, she ran inside and came out with a spoonful of the chocolate cake. She took the spoon to Yasin’s lips with the utmost love and motherhood in her eyes. There was a dead smile on her lips – a hopeless smile to see a miracle.
(This short story appeared in the November 2020 print issue of the Mountain Ink.)
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Bashash Mahmood is a student of law at the University of Kashmir.