I scream. That is all I can do. Hiding under my dadu's broken charpaayi, with blood oozing out of my left leg, I feel helpless against the screams erupting from me now and then. Hot tears have started rolling down my cheeks - hot red tears - washing away the blood from the wounds of my face, stinging them. I can hear gunshots, not so far away. A chill runs down my spine. Aslam, I think. Aslam should be at the Madrassa (religious school) right now. But, these gunshots? Why are they sounding from downhill? That is where the Madrassa is. My head starts hurting. I can almost hear Aslam say,
"But Gullay, Superman never went to a Madrassa. Why are you forcing me?"
That was what he asked me when I dressed him up for his first day at the Madrassa a few weeks ago. Aslam would be turning six next fall and it was important for him to get educated. Important for us, for all of us.
"On one condition," he said after losing the argument to me, "Dadu will walk me to the Madrassa each day. Every day till I become Superman."
Aslam loves taking walks with Dadu. Dadu, who is always stroking his white beard. Dadu, who is reciting his tasbeeh all the time. He has been like this ever since I remember; white shalwar kameez, white beard and a white tasbeeh with the 99 names of Allah carved on it. Dadu is an old man. I guess his age to be 80 years at most. But Aslam disagrees.
"Dadu walks as if he is running a marathon. God forbid me forever thinking him an old man."
No one can be exact though. Dadu himself isn't sure of it. He laughs whenever I inquire him about it.
"I am well past the age of running a marathon if that's what you worry about my dear Gullay."
Gullay is what they all call me. I like my real name, Gul Bano. It's the only thing that my father gave me and they cannot take away. They can take away everything else! Even Aslam. Oh, Aslam! I hope he is fine.
A sob escapes my swollen lips as I lay there thinking of my brother. I turned thirteen last month. Maa says that I have grown and should be married off to a fine young man. That was what she said, "a fine young man."
So early today, she took off to Srinagar to check on some proposals and to meet her distant cousin. She should be back any second.
"Allah! Please let her stay there tonight! Please, Allah! I beg you."
The Dua (prayer) comes out as a hoarse whisper. I start reciting every surah Dadu taught me, to keep my calm. I recite and I think - think of the wound on my leg and the energy it has been draining out of me. My mind starts zoning out again, taking me two hours back, to when the world was a different place.