The Soundless Speech
“The Soundless Speech” is one of the outstanding stories of the first biannual International Short Story Contest 2018 written by Faheema Amina, Abu dhabi Indian School, UAE.
The Soundless Speech
Gharty, the city of forts, just like its name suggests is filled with red brick buildings and houses. When I first came to Gharty to take photographs for an article for BBC news I had fallen in love with the city. The city is filled with buzzling bazars with vendors selling all kinds of things ranging from fruits to clothes to amazing food items that tickle all of your taste buds. The methi fish, falooda and packwan just leave your mouth watering for more. I had taken a lodge on Ghari Shah road. It was an old building right at the corner of the street. Even though I could see the rush on the streets, I couldn’t hear the tires or the shopkeepers calling for customers. Even though I could see people asking me questions I couldn’t reply to any of them. So my only reliability was my eyes. That’s why I got into photography, to capture the moments that won’t come twice by my eyes.
I had to take photos of streets of Gharty that will go under reconstruction in the future. This took a lot of work. I had a hard time communicating with the people. Half of them don’t even want try to understand what I am saying. That’s when I came across one family, the rose among the thorns. They were so nice to me, so hospitable. Salman Ansar, the host kept chatting on about their children. “I am the proud father of 4 children, and this is my wife Aisha” he told me beaming. Aisha greeted me with the familiar Assalamu alaikum. And then I saw a small girl of about 7 years of age looking at me through the edge of the door. I motioned her to come closer to me. She ran to me like she was waiting for the call. She was the most beautiful child I had ever seen. Her deep grey eyes with a glint of mischievousness. Her mysterious little smile, like she knew exactly what was going on in my head. Her perfect silky hair put in a plate with a pink butterfly at the end. She was wearing a yellow top. She came closer and touched my face with hands as soft as cotton. I did all kind of actions to ask her what her name was. “Her name is Alishaba” her mother told me. Alishaba, I thought, it meant beautiful sunshine in Arabic. Oh how the name suited her.
She clasped my hands and took me to the kitchen. She introduced me to her sisters, Fathima and Sarah; one was chopping onions while the other was washing plates. Both gave me a warm smile. Fathima asked me “what is that in your hand?” I gave her my camera, she wiped her hands on her long dress and took the camera and handled it, as though it was a newborn baby. She was showing it to Sarah. It looked like they had never seen one before.
Alishaba lead me into another room where she showed me her drawings and told me she wanted to be an artist. She understood that I couldn’t hear or speak, so she started showing me actions. She also showed me a rocket she had drawn and then lead me to the window and pointed her hand towards the sky and then to her heart. She loved the sky; she wanted to go there one day I realized. I asked to hold her drawing of the rocket and pose for a photograph. She stood slyly holding the picture close to her chest flaunting that mischievous smile of hers.
When I was going to leave, Sarah gave me some sweets they had made. “Me and Aysha are leaving to perform the holy pilgrimage tomorrow morning, Insha Allah, we will see you after our return” Salman told me by the door. I asked him about the kids, he replied: “They are going to stay at my sisters. She is going to take good care of them”. The whole family stood by the front gate to bid me farewell.
Two days later I was returning from the railway road after paying a visit to the tomb of Rajakumari Jandar. It is one of those places you must visit once in your lifetime. I entered my lodge and went straight to bed. That’s when I realized I hadn’t thrown my trash out. I was throwing my trash in the garbage chute nearby when I saw a mysterious looking man throwing a huge sack on the other side of the chute. He immediately ran away after this. Feeling suspicious I went and examined the sack. I felt a little scared, but I pulled myself together and opened the sack. I couldn’t see clearly so I took my mobile out and switched on the flash light. The image I had to witness was ghastly, horrible. I couldn’t move, the same yellow dress, those deep grey eyes lifeless, the silky hair was tousled, and that beautiful face was in an expression of shocked pain. I immediately took her fragile body in my arms, caught an auto rickshaw and rushed to the hospital. I couldn’t stand properly; I was shivering from head to toe. I went to the toilet and vomited the nausea I was feeling, the utter disgust. That face, that innocent face ripped of its smile was stuck in my head. I stayed in the toilet and cried and cried until my tears ran out.
I had heard stories of rape in Pakistan but this was beyond any of those. In the previous rape stories people blamed it on the clothes worn by the women. But what should a 7 year old wear to protect herself? I had my camera so I looked at the photo I had taken of Alishaba. I thought of her dream to be an astronaut, the dream of her parents to see their precious little jewel grow up, all was shattered because of a single man’s disgusting desires. She would never go to college, never get married, all those precious memories of life would never happen. That animal had taken all hopes and happiness from a family. He should be called an animal, shouldn’t he? Wild animals like him torturing, strangling, and raping children like poor Alishaba. How could anybody do something so heinous to a child?
After I left the toilet I went and sat in front of the ICU praying , begging God to let Alishaba live. She has her entire life to live.
When I was sitting there, a woman came running towards me, hugged me and started kissing my hands. She had tears in her eyes and the only word in her mouth was shukriyah ( thankyou). I did not know what to do, so I consoled her. Meanwhile the docter came out of the ICU and told us that she is still in critical stage and chances of recovery were very less. I told the aunt that we should call the police. She replied; ‘Wo log kuch nahi karenge (they won’t do anything). Later I got to know that Alishaba wasn’t the first case, she was the 12th. There was Aysha, Liba, Noor Fathima and endless other children who were tortured and killed. And nobody did anything to stop this cruelty. The pain inflicted is forgotten after a few posts, tweets and comments on social media. That’s how we are right? We won’t utter a word until something happens to our loved ones. It’s somebody’s sister, mother, wife or daughter, why should I care? But when the same person comes for our children, that’s when it hurts. That’s when realization strikes, that we should have done something, anything to make a difference.
I couldn’t stay in the hospital any longer, it was too much pain. I went to my lodge. I got into bed, but couldn’t get an ounce of sleep. Alishaba, just a name in a long list of cases that would remain unsolved. Alishaba, another child used and thrown like a piece of flesh. A piece of flesh that has no soul, no emotions. I couldn’t let that happen. I wanted justice for Alishaba. The only living victim of the killing spree in Gharty.
Next morning I went to the police station with a written complaint about me witnessing the crime and the crime itself. I told them about the victim, who was admitted in the hospital right now with no hope for recovery. The police officer promised me he will look into it. This is exactly what the aunty was telling about: failed promises.
I left for America later that evening with my mind at peace, Alishaba was recovering fast, and God had heard my prayers. It’s not just, that the animal was caught. I was so happy, I had made a difference in this world. I had saved a girl child even if I can’t talk or hear. Unlike the millions of other people who could see, hear and tell about the cruelties yet chose to be silent.
So I left Gharty the place I first loved for its culture and then hated for its blind eye towards its children. I left knowing that I had saved an innocent child. I left knowing wherever I go her mysterious smile would follow me.