He was 19. Only 19. Not even third of the way through average life expectancy. On his way to Islamabad to give his visa interview at the Canadian Embassy. Just two weeks ago he got into that college of his dreams in Toronto and the paperwork had just begun. He is never graduating with that degree of prestige in his hand. Never getting his dream job, never marrying his young love. When they hung up and he turned his phone off, the last few words that he said and the last few words that he heard her say were the same: those three words, that acceptance of love.
“I’ll call you when we land.”
He called his parents three weeks ago that he’s passing out of the military academy on 21st. The biggest day of his life was just around the corner and he couldn’t be more excited. Living away from home for the past few years had taught him so much about his family. How his dad always liked reading the paper before calling him every Sunday morning so they could use news and events as fillers during conversations. How his mother loved making him tea, the taste of which never really matched to the chaye available at the mess. How his younger sister was always the shy kind and never really made new friends after 2nd grade.
When he told his father that his passing out parade is scheduled for Saturday, his father replied with we’ll all come to see you on this big day of yours. He was excited and he thought, I’ll keep the big news to myself and they’ll be surprised when they’ll watch me receive the Sword of Honor. “Or perhaps they wouldn’t be surprised, I’ve always been a good student”, he thought. They never made it to the parade.
“Baba, Karachi isn’t that far, afterall. It’s just a two hour flight. I can drop by every weekend or two and things will still be the same. I know you won’t get to see me every day but still, I really, really want to go study communication design at Indus Valley.
They have the best program in the country. Please let me do this?”
Her puppy face had always worked in the past as well. Her dad agreed. She moved to Karachi last fall to study. Life had been good to her during the last few months. She made new friends, reconnected with old ones, started living with Manzoor Uncle and Shabana Auntie who cared for her just as her own parents. Daily phone calls to Baba were something that wasn’t ever a chore. Since last fall, every other weekend was spent in Islamabad. Last December she had to skip a weekend due to an assignment and the same week, when he fell on the stairs and hit his head on the marble, she flew a weekday morning flight for the first time.
She was an only child. When a reporter shoved a camera in her Baba’s face at the crash site, he couldn’t say anything. He was too shocked to even cry.
“Beta, phone kar kay Noman ko Karachi se bula lo. Mera nahi khayal is baar haspataal se main zinda wapis aaungi. Ab tou bus tayyari hai.”
“Maan Jee, Aisi baatein kiun karti hain? Noman ko bula lia hai. Kal sham ki flight se aaraha hai woh Islamabad. Aap bus fikr na karein, bus jaldi se theek hojayen.”
“Beta, Noman ki flight kitne bajay land karni thi? Operation kal subha hai, main chahti hun kuch ghantay tou bethay wohh mere paas.
Kuch baat karay, kuch meri sunay. Pata nahi kahan reh gya hai.”
“Maan jee, Noman ka phone aya tha, keh rha tha operation se pehle pohnch nahi payega.”
This is all she could tell Maan Jee before her eyes teared up again. She had no choice but to walk out of the room then. She couldn’t even cry on her brother’s death. She was too focused on spending the last few hours with her mother before they would take Maan Jee away to the operation room. The operation next morning, with less than 30% chances of success, was the last hope of prolonging Maan Jee’s life by a few months.
These stories are fictional. None of the people who died in the tragedy were my friends or relatives. But the reason why I wanted to write this was helping myself realize that 127 isn’t just a number.
They weren’t just 127 people. They were 127 life stories. 127 dreams that are never realizing. 127 sons and daughters, husbands and wives, lovers and friends. I don’t know what the cause was, and frankly don’t care that much either.
All I know is that this is a reminder for all of us: Say your I Love Yous and Sorrys today. Forgive the people you’re holding grudges against. Let go with peace and harmony. Stop hatred. Stop being mean. Stop focusing on future too much and live in the now. That best shirt you have in your closet that you still haven’t worn thinking you’ll wear it on a special day? Wear it today. Take lots of pictures. Create memories. Make a difference. Follow your passion. Change lives ..
And above all, make sure that when you die, you leave enough behind that you are remembered as a person. Something a whole lot more than just a number. Just a body. Just an average human being.