As the December wind whistled through the dry leaves of the Amaltas tree in their back yard, she tossed in her secret blend of spices. "Ammi-jaan, Faruq and Imran will be coming home with me after special class. Can you make your special biriyani please?”. His teenage words rung fresh in her ears, as the aroma of the spices made her eyes water. She wondered why. After all, she’d been making this biriyani for years and not once had her eyes filled up. ‘Why today?’ she wondered, as she mixed the spices with long, amber grains of the basmati rice. Her little boy was growing up fast. She looked at the haphazard drawing of the car, that Khalid had drawn on one of the pages of his notebook. She still remembered the excitement in his eyes, as he explained each part of the model to her, completely oblivious to the fact that she didn’t understand anything he was saying. She’d never been to school. But she knew it was important to him. So she'd carefully torn out the sheet and pasted it on the cleanest wall of the otherwise sooty kitchen.
Wiping her moist eyes, she smiled as the Imam called out the ‘Salat-az-zuhr’. ‘Allah, please take care of my son. May all his dreams come true!’ she whispered, inadvertently reciting the prayer with the Imam.
A few miles away, as the rickety Land Cruiser pulled away, fourteen year old Khalid lay by the road side, his eyes wide open, his bullet ridden body devoid of all life. Back home, as his mother lovingly added the final touches to the biriyani, the flame of the gas - stove suddenly went out.
Truth be told, I had written this piece the previous Sunday. Two days later, when I heard the news of the Peshawar attack, I was in shock. Not just because of the brutality and the massacre of those innocent souls, but also because to me, it seemed like something I had written as fiction had actually come true. And for some inexplicable reason, my conscience was guilt-ridden. As if somehow, my words literally came true. And that somehow, in some minuscule way, I was responsible too. (Have you ever felt that way?)
I'd almost decided to delete this piece from my draft folder, where it was constantly haunting me. But then I decided to publish it anyway. Not just a dedication to the hundreds of innocent dreams and ambitions being quashed every day. But also to serve as a reminder to me. To bring up my son to be a more tolerant and better human being. And for the thousands of dreams that were crushed to pulp by those cowards hiding under the shroud of misplaced and misconstrued faith.
P.S. The original ending was this, but I changed it because the coincidence was far too creepy for me.