When Pakistan was a safe place to live…

The twenty seven year old man stood in the middle of his empty house. It wasn’t strange to see that everything he owned was now neatly packed into just half a dozen cardboard boxes; he wasn’t a materialistic man. The fact that his promotion meant he was going to be earning double the previous amount didn’t mean much to him, except that he could now finally move out of the small apartment he was living in for the past ten years and buy a single room house where there would be no one nagging him to pay the rent on time. He was like a caterpillar and over the years, he transformed into a butterfly that didn’t resemble the caterpillar from miles away. The wings had grown and the muscles had toned. The shy colours had converted into daring strokes of red, orange and black. Even the habitat had changed. All that was left was the caterpillar’s soul…

As he was sealing the last box, he remembered he still hadn’t emptied his top most drawer. It was the one in which he had hidden all the memories of his beloved country when he was trying to revive from the trauma of losing his father. Seeing all those souvenirs from the once happy moments he had shared with his father brought nothing but pain and tears. Nevertheless, with a heavy heart he proceeded to finally rip the band-aid off. So there he was, standing on a chair reaching to grasp his history. He pulled the first object that his hand touched and down came a rainfall of pictures and dust. He sighed and sat on the floor looking at them all at once. It was a sea of memories. It brought with it waves of happiness, longing, misery, pain but most of all a sense of belonging; as if finally he had found something that was truly his own.

There was the picture of him and his father fishing in the summer of 1979. In another one he was standing in school with his second grade teacher holding a “Best Spelling Test” certificate. This one brought a weak smile to his face; he had always been famous for his perfect spellings. But, the one that touched him the most was a picture of him and his father at the bus station at Kabul. In the picture, he was all packed with a school backpack on his young shoulders and his father was standing next to him, only a few inches taller than him at that time, trying to fake a smile from behind those teary eyes. Turning the picture over he saw an illegibly smudged note, nevertheless he knew what it said. He had read it over and over when it had arrived in the mail, shivering with disbelief and shock. “Dear Ali Sahib, Baray Sahib has passed away from a fatal heart attack. Things are very bad here. I suggest you not come. The Taliban have already buried him in the standard graveyard. Love, Hassan” his servant had written in Persian.

Looking at the picture now after ten years he realized how much he had longed for that city of his birth, of his mother’s death at his birth and of his father’s death. The city had surely taken much from him, but it was all he truly had. It was all that he could ever relate to. Yet, at the time of that picture he was being driven away to Pakistan because of an ongoing war that had stolen the very basic need of life; security. Whether Pakistan would provide him guaranteed security or not, his father did not know. But, at that time it had seemed like the only option and Ali had reluctantly agreed at the condition that his father would follow him a week later. Little did he know that fate had something else in store.

He looked at the other pictures; his house, his school, his best friend, his servant Hassan, the streets of Kabul. Everything was calling to him. He wondered whether his father would have wanted him to go back. Then he realized that the city he was reminiscing about had long ago been turned into dust. The war had transformed it like the winds transform sand dunes in a desert. Every street, every building and even every person had changed just like he had. The city of his dreams was now actually just a dream. Neither of the people he saw in these pictures was alive except for him. He wanted to return except that he was in the middle of the desert and the desert had changed its ways.

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