Time was passing slowly now. It was almost still, pointless. Every gunshot, every scream pierced through her heart. If it was 2 weeks ago, she would have chased him, run after him- told him she wanted to help. But the news changed everything. She had to be careful now, for the sake of the life growing inside her. Hadi was over the moon when he found out. He would never shut up about it. If it’s a boy, what would his cot look like? If it’s a girl, how would he choose the best guy for her? Everything was planned. Their toys, the places they’d go, what kind of games could they play. His eyes sparkled when he talked. The other day, he had bought a purple little frock. When she asked him, he said, “Well, if it’s a girl, imagine how pretty she would look in this.”
“And what if it’s a boy?”
He had thought for a second, then the dimple deepened in his cheek as he smiled mischievously and said.
“Imagine how pretty he would look in this?” they had a good laugh.
“So you want a girl?”
“I want both.” She had looked at him, he was stroking the frock. He wanted his first one to be a girl. She knew that much.
“Get a hold of yourself, sister.” It was Haleema, Najeeb’s wife. Nehal had been crying, she didn’t even realize. Haleema was 5 months pregnant yet she was composed.
“It’s going to be okay, child.” Sadia amma tried to calm her by telling her the childhood stories of her children. All of them lost to the cause.
“How long shall we wait for them?” asked Ashraf Kamal.
“As long as it takes.” She found herself almost screaming.
Haleema shushed her. “They will be coming back anytime soon.” Nehal wished she could have that kind of optimism.
Moments dragged by, yet there wasn’t any sign of them. The gunshots were sounding nearer and nearer.
“We have to leave now.”
“No.” she protested.
“If we don’t now, we are going to die.” Habib Ullah said.
“I said, no.” In the moments of dim lit surroundings; she could see the restlessness growing on Haleema’s face as well.
“Don’t be stupid child.” Sadia amma said in her usual advisory tone.
“Think about the baby.”
She looked in horror at Haleema’s face. Her eyes shone, definitely tears. She reluctantly stood up, without looking at Nehal, said:
“They are right. It’s been long enough.”
They all heard the footsteps approaching. For a moment, all of them were frozen in their steps. Fear gripped over.
A wave of excitement passed through Nehal. She let out a squeal and ran towards him. For the next few moments, she kept crying, her face buried in his shirt. He was softly caressing her hair.
“It’s okay, I am here now. I am here.”
When she got a bit hold of herself, it was then she realized he was alone.
It was time for Haleema to break down. She felt sorry for her, after all that hope. Nehal felt blessed for herself. When had life become so difficult? She imagined what peace looks like. Whether or not will they be able to even experience it?
Nehal thought Haleema would cry, she’d protest. But she did nothing like that. In fact, she did absolutely nothing. She just grew quiet, unbearably quiet. Maybe she was in shock. She had hope, and now- now she was just quiet. Maybe she had accepted the fate. Her eyes staring into the dark, she walked with them. The silence felt heavier and heavier. She was pitiable. It hurt Nehal just to look at her. Gunshots in the background were far less horrifying than the prevailed silence broken only by the heavy breaths and sighs of the walkers.
They had reached the corner of a street when the noise came from behind. They had been spotted. The panic rose in the air.
“I’ll hold them back.” Hadi announced in the group.
“You guys take the ladies out. The train is nearby.” Another bombshell dropped over her head and this one was bound to explode.
“Hadi, no. please, don’t. Please.” She clenched his wrist as strongly as she could.
“No, no, don’t.” she begged him, tears rolling down her cheeks like a stream.
“I’ll come with you.” Habib Ullah said.
“Me too.” It was Ashraf Kamal.
“You can’t. Someone has to stay with these women.” Hadi said softly, his words stabbing her in the heart.
“Then it should be you. You’re a young fellow. I have seen my fair share of life.”
They were closing in and blind firing now. Habib Ullah and Hadi exchanged a look. They both knew what it was about. Ashraf Kamal was a limp. If someone had to hold them back, it had to be someone strong and powerful. Someone like Hadi, a youth.
The street had lightened up. Someone had set fire in the next street and the flames were sky high.
It was decided.
“Hadi, no.” Nehal was still begging.
“I have to.”
“You can’t do this to me.”
“I am doing this for you. I love you.”
“No, you don’t.” she was screaming.
“We have to go.” Sadia Amma dragged her back.
“You’ll die.” She cried.
“My legacy will live.” He gently put his hand on her belly, his goodbye to the baby before the first hello. These were the last words she had heard from him. In the dim light she saw that smile for the last time, the dimple emerging in his cheek, the spark reaching his eyes- his last smile.
Sadia amma had dragged her, protesting, screaming. The distance between them grew more and more and then, the street twisted. He was out of sight. The rest of the journey was harmless. Even if something happened, she didn’t notice. She was hysterical.