Chapter 2- So It Begins
Yellow mustard flowers sprouted from the ground with pride and beauty. The mustard flower standing in glory taking in the sun light of the early morning; the energy and the warmth seeping into it. Tall stalks of corn dance to a light breeze passing by in the quietness of the early morning. From the distance, the Maulana’s voice reverts through the empty spaces of the fields. He shouts the praise of One Lord, a God that is glorious and mighty. Maulana speaks of a true Prophet; a virtuous man that is savior of humanity. The village in its quietness bears witness to the truth that the Maulana is swearing.
Mehmand Chak is a small village off the road of Kharian. Simple people living simple lives. They are people with little wishes and no dreams since all they could have dreamed of is all they have now. Some land, a sturdy house, sons and daughters that will bare their names. What more can a man ask for? The village has always been unified, down to their timing. For an outsider it may seem so odd that a whole village seems to wake up together and end their day on the same note. This unified feeling that seems to be subconscious to the villagers is something that many outsiders cannot fathom.
Everyday it’s the same routine. Before dawn strikes, all the men and women are up to perform their prayers. They begin their day with the obligatory prayers of Fajr’. All the men of the village gather, unified behind the Maulana and bear witness to Allah. The villagers believe with complete faith that performing all their prayers on time will lead to the love of God and success in this life and the hereafter. Every day the Masjid is fully packed with men. It’s a small village no doubt, but the attendance to their daily five prayers is magnificent. The Maulana is pleased with the attendance, and it’s due to these meetings at the Masjid with the villagers that the Maulana has learned all the names of the male villagers, their families, and lives.
As the Maulana begins the Darood Shareef everyone listening follows along either singing it out loud or repeating it in their heart. Mehmand Chak has become a model community in Kharian city. No crime has ever taken place in the last seventy years since the first people settled in the village. All the families in the village live based on agrarian life style or they have given their boys to the Pakistan Army to come back as praised men and fearless soldiers. There are absolutely no feuds or fights of any kind. It seems the place is the epiphany of peace and harmony.
A long winding simple dirt road heads straight into the fields of crops. There are three different types of rice and wheat. The pride of the village is their corn, a staple that has become a popular choice in the area. A figure appears on the road, holding a make shift walking stick heading straight to the corn fields. The working day has begun and the long sturdy man heading to the fields as being the first to start work since 1991. For the last 25 years, he has never been late and always has been early. This is Sakib, the village’s only exceptionally educated person, a man holding a master degree in Economics, a man that gave up the glass fortresses for a simple life in a simple village.
Sakib walks down the road thinking about the work day ahead of him. There’s much to do with the winter season coming soon. The weather is still crisp and the leaves have just begun to fall. There is the maize that needs to be harvested; the sugarcane is just about ready to be harvested too. Sakib recounts the day’s tasks, the meeting with the accountant, buying rabi crop seeds, maybe this year he’ll include kaali mash to be grown for the summer, scheduling the loaders to transport his harvest to the local market, then there is the matter of Sakeena’s marriage proposal.
Blissfully lost in the day’s tasks Sakib is almost unaware of the red shawl that is rustling with the maize crops. When he takes a double look at it does his brain register that it really is a red shawl. For some reason the shawl that is dancing with the maize looks vaguely familiar. His hands have touched that shawl; his fingers remember the roundness of the beads and the intricate gold thread that twirls into branches. Then all of a sudden the smells of freshly brewed tea finds him.
Sakib is in the marketplace again with his wife Zainab. Merchants are shouting their wears for sale. His eyes fall upon a beautiful red lehnga, it’s bright but deep, like an oozing Kandahari pomegranate. The delicate work on the lehnga is breath taking shades of gold and green that glimmer as they are hit by the sun above.
“Look Zainab, that one is perfect, this is the one”, Sakib whispers.
“You’re right Sahib Jee, look how the colors dance like Sakeena’s eyes”.
Sakib looks at the green and gold embroidery with dread. Is it possible that this is...? No it can’t be... Why would it be here...?
Sakib crosses over to the stalks of green corn rising to the blue skies. Fear grips every inch of him. The field itself is not that big. Just 250 feet wide and 250 feet long, it hardly takes him less than 3 minutes to get to the center, but at the very moment it felt like ages were passing by. Sakib pushes corn stalks to the side; they brush against his hands, a smooth touch as if encouraging him to take another step.
Sakib’s mind is racing with thoughts of Sakeena... when she was a toddler and learned to walk. He remembered her small slim hands gripping his fingers, his mind thinking ‘don’t ever let go’. But she did let go, she went to school, then university in a faraway city unknown to her. She let go of his finger again when she finally got her first job. Now he was going to pass of her hands for good to take hold of another finger.
Sakib gripped the shawl tightly in his hands. The sequins and beads dug into the palms of his hands. A bead of sweat trickled down his back like a winding snake ready to pounce. Fear gripped Sakib’s throat making it difficult for him to breathe. Thoughts and images of Sakeena were rushing through his mind; her youth, beauty, intelligence, and the genuine fire in her that conquered all obstacles. She was beloved by all the people in the village for her courage, strength, and wisdom. Often times the village elders would come to Sakeena for advice, she always gave the best advice. There was a time when the village elders had looked to Sakib for advice as he was the most educated and rational person at the time. But today, with pride Sakib saw his daughter taking the position because she had surpassed everyone, even him.
The sun struck hard in the middle of the field. To Sakib’s surprise the field was barren in the middle, as if someone had taken out the crops from the exact center forming a perfect circle. In the middle of the harden earth stood what looked like a six-foot cross. It glistened with crimson liquid, shimmering against the deep brown wood. It stood in glory, declaring to the world its crime. A pool of crimson lay beneath the cross shining against the light of the sun. Sakib was mesmerized by the color until the stench of it finally brought him to his senses. It was a pungent smell that took hold of his nostrils. All of a sudden Sakib was grasping for air, he needed to get out of here, call the authorities, and let the people know of the heinous display of innocence.
It was then that Sakib finally lay eyes upon the drooping figure of the cross. Her hands tied to the cross over her head, dressed as a virgin bride decked out in gold jewels staring straight at him. The green gold eyes asking so many questions, so silently. Sakib felt the heat of her eyes on him, shouting at him, blaming him, and asking him why her? What was so special about her that she needed to go this way?
“Sakeena? Sakeena beta...?” Sakib ran screaming to the cross.
“Sakeena baachai, wake up love, wake up! Baba is here love! Babe is here!” Sakib sobbed at Sakeena’s feet, kissing her toes and holding on to them. He sobbed and cried and shouted looking at his flesh and blood, who was torn open like an animal.
“No, no, no... this can’t be, why? Why?” Sakib was on the verge of a breakdown. He felt is heart pacing rapidly, the world was swimming around him, and all he saw was crimson.