Aabid Aleem was day-dreaming. Infact, it was dusk and the night was falling softly after another dreary, cold, dull day. In the gloaming, there was an eeriness that looked very un-natural. Aabid wished he was with his wife – ah she was something - and the smiling infant he was looking at. Instead, he is here in a cold outpost, supposedly guarding an army station. As an army sepoy, he has never seen the real enemy from across the border, but he has come face to face with militants who always seemed to find ways to start something when it seemed the situation is turning to normal. There has been a lull for a while, and he hoped this time it was permanent. In about 3 hours he’d have some one to relieve him – he would go, have the army rations and hear the crude banter from his bunk-mates. There had been no enemy activity of late and Aabid was happy that his valley is again turning towards peace. Perhaps, it would be like old times, when he grew up in his small village
Aabid let his mind wander, the twilight making him a bit tired and he thought about his village.
Aabid grew up in a very small village, nestled in the valley. He was the last of the 5 children. His father was also in army, but retired by the time Aabid had grown up. He had a small orchard that he was looking after. As far as Aabid could recall he had lot of fun growing up. Fahad, his neighbour, had become his inseparable friend. There were times when he used to live and sleep at Fahad’s house and always found Fahad's family, especially his father, who he called Chachoo, very kind to him and very indulgent. Looking back, at certain times he felt that Chachoo made no distinction between Fahad and himself – treated him as his own son and fondly called him Abu. As they grew up, he found the character of the valley was changing slowly, but definitely. There were more news about fights, deaths, people coming from across the border with weapons and to counter that more and more army coming in – Aabid always watched the army with fascination, since long ago he had decided that he would follow the footsteps of his father and brother there. In this transformation, he found that Chachoo and his own father had very differing views; and increasingly, their debates were heated. Chachoo seemed to think that root cause of the problem was the government and they ought to have their own way of choice of freedom. Fahad imbibed similar views from Chachoo; except that he was more militant and was in trouble several times and was questioned by the army. Slowly, as the philosophies diverged, so did the chasm in their relationship. Chachoo moved out; He also heard that Fahad was taken by the army for one last time for questioning and he never returned. Aabid looked back it with a certain poignant nostalgia and wish it would have been different. But life moves on and has a way to blur the past and getting us to live in the present, he thought wryly. An year ago, he had gone home for leave, his parents had found a perfect girl for him – Afraa – she was the most beautiful girl Aabid had laid his eyes on and he instantly agreed to the nikah. After the marriage, he spent the 17 most wonderful days of his life, taking Afraa out to see the sights of the valley – everything seemed more beautiful, fresher and alive. Afraa, initially shy, turned out to be the one with the lovely smile and mischievous glint in her eyes. Aabid rued that he had to report to the camp so soon, as the militants had stepped up activity. He had returned home for a brief leave 4 months ago and Afraa was pregnant at that time. A week ago, he had received a letter from Afraa, stating that he would have to contend with another man in her life – their son and had sent the picture of a tiny bundle ! He immediately started dreaming about his son’s life – maybe his son will have a “Fahad” as a friend, maybe he would name him Fahad. Aabid also knew that like his father before him and like himself, his son would grow up and join the army – perhaps not as Sepoy, but as an officer. Aabid would to see to that that his son will have all the education that he did not have. He dreamed about going back to his village. He had re-read that letter several times. He turned toward the light and took out the letter one more time...with no knowledge of what was laying in wait for him...
Faaris Umar lay in wait. He was immovable and had become part of the fauna around. Faaris believed in destiny and in fact did not have any compunction on what he had done in the past and what he would do in the future. At some point in time, he had self-doubts about his path, but he always shook them off. Although he believed that his starting point was right, sometimes in the moment of doubt, he wondered if it was belief or revenge. Belief in what and revenge for what? However, he knew he was too far into this and there was no way out. He no longer yearned for his family or his friends; long ago, he was like anyone else, with close friends and sons and daughters. Some of it was taken away from him and some he gave up in pursuit of his path. When what was dear to him was taken away, he turned to arms with all his heart and mind. He, with his kills, had swiftly grown in the organization and had even gone across the border for special training and strategic planning. Because of his importance, of late he had hardly taken part in a mission, but today was different. The situation seemed to turn to normal and it was being talked about that there could be lasting peace in the valley; and people were also getting tired of war all the time – being pushed to live in fear of both the army and the militants. Faaris was disappointed that the very same people, for whose rights he was fighting for and laid his life and his dear one’s life on the line, had turned weak. He was going to show them for one more time; that it is possible to defeat the army.
He lay in wait silently and motioned quietly to his troops of nearly hundred, who were waiting in the woods, a stone-throw away from the perimeter. The first obstacle was that soldier who was sitting beyond the electrified perimeter in a narrow gap in the wall with the intruder-alarm switch at his reach. Faaris knew every detail and they had effectively dug below the electrified fence. All he needed to do now is to get to the guard and get rid of him and signal to his troops to tunnel through the perimeter. He waited patiently and knew soon an opportunity will come by and it did. That idiot who had been dreaming for the past hour and had turned his back now to get closer to the lamp. Stealthily. Faaris slithered towards the soldier, with the unsheathed knife between his teeth, as the soldier started reading a piece of paper.
Another Story Begins:
Aabid took out the letter from the tunic, glanced at his watch – another hour to go and started reading it. He did not see the sly shadow of a figure coming close to him, until the time he saw the gleam of the blade. He turned around with his hand going toward the alarm and the other at his gun. As he turned, his eyes softened in recognition…
Faaris was very close to the idiot, he silently took his army-issue knife out from between his teeth, and as he had done several times…
Aabid could not feel any pain as the knife slashed his throat and the sound gurgled out, ebbing out with the blood; as he hung on to Faaris’ shirt as he was gently laid down, in dying pain, he mouthed the word “Abba”, smiled at Chachoo and died in his arms…
As Faaris slashed his knife, he recognized the soldier – it was Abu, the kid he had loved like his own son and yearned to see after his own son’s disappearance. Momentarily devastated, he caught the falling Abu and cradled him in his arms. As he gently lowered the dying soldier down to the ground, he had heard Abu mouth “Abba”; the letter and the photo had slipped from his arms and smudged by the blood. Faaris, laid Aabid down gently, let out an anguished, silent cry and shed tears for his dead Abu; he picked the photo up, looking at smiling infant, who could have been his grandson; and who probably would be pitched against him in a few years time, if both of them make it through... He pocketed the image, stood up and steadied himself a bit. He seem to pause for a moment in thought - then wiped his eyes and signaled to his soldiers. Faaris would have his victory tonight, but looking at Abu, he knew it would be an exercise in futility. Yet, he will not be the one to end this cycle of madness.
Note: The picture above is a movie poster of Oliver Stone's Platoon. That imagery kind of stayed in my mind and it seemed pretty apt for the story.