Short Story by Mohammad Baqir Bayani (The Jakarta Post, May 15, 2017)
“Dad, I want to finish my studies,” says Jamshed in outrage while throwing his schoolbag on to the floor. “I don’t want to continue my education anymore, not even a single day. I would prefer illiteracy than literacy.”
He takes aimless steps toward the kitchen and sinks into the darkness. He turns on the light and then strikes the switch off. He then reemerges into the light in the living room where he had left his father.
Pinching a lit cigarette between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand and twirling an empty cup of tea in his other hand, while leaning back against a pillow, he sucks the cigarette smoke into his lungs and puffs rings of white clouds into the air and lets them dance in the dim light pouring directly from the window.
Jamshed’s father gazes at the boy in a panic and asks, “What has happened to you, son?”
“Haven’t you heard the latest news? The terrorists have gunned down another five innocent Hazaras. Three of them were professors and two of them were university students. The culprits opened fire on them while they were coming back home from the university. The living situation here in Quetta is not favorable anymore. There is no violence left that I haven’t seen in my life. I lost my uncle in a blast a year ago. The beheaded body of Ahmed still haunts my dreams,” says the boy.
Jamshed moves impulsively to the edge of the shelf standing by the window. He leans forward and rests his elbows on his thighs, blocking the light. He clasps his hands and crosses his fingers, then takes his gaze off the floor. His eyes pierce through the dancing clouds of smoke in the air.
After a while, he sighs and says, “The violence has killed my desire to learn anything in school. Walking to school every morning, all I see is death and despair. I want to go to Australia. I want a future I can count on. “
Jamshed pauses, takes a deep breath and continues with another long sigh, “When you leave home for work in the morning, I can’t think straight until I see you safe back at home in the evening. I keep thinking the worst is going to happen at any moment. Dad, two years ago there were 40 students in our class. Today, there’s only half that. Most of my classmates were killed in the attacks. How am I supposed to live, Dad?”
Silence permeates the room. The father kills the cigarette by pressing forcefully its angry orange tip against the bottom of the ash pan. “Son, I truly understand what you are going through. You and I are not the only ones suffering this genocide. The black cloud is hanging over the heads of all Hazara people in every corner of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but quitting education is not the solution. On the contrary, education is the only weapon by which we can gain our rights back and raise our voices.”
“But what if we do not survive? What should we do with the education for which we study hard, day and night? After all we’ve done, all we get in return is death?” After a small pause, he continues in anguish, “Tell me Dad, wasn’t Mom educated? She was among the first Hazara women advocates. She served the nation and the government with true devotion and commitment. She fought in every possible way for our rights and raised our voices on every platform she came across. What did she get in return?”
There is a long pause.
“Two bullets: one in the head and one in the heart. Nothing else, Dad! Finally, the terrorists took her right to life and silenced her forever.”
“But still we can hope for a better tomorrow.”
“Hope? Hope from whom, Dad?” Jamshed swallows the sorrow that rises to a storm deep down in his gut and triggers his voice briefly. He can feel the panic bubble up in his throat. He swipes the tear that has glistened in his eyes and digs his teeth into his lower trembling lip and continues “Hope from the government, which even didn’t bother to pay their condolences to mum? The government that she served throughout her career?”
The father leans forward and stretches his legs. He covers both knees with his hands to support his frail body. He thinks of the tragedy that claimed his wife’s life. He speaks with a hoarse voice as he looks at Jamshed. He says, “There is no certainty you will make Australia your home, either. Do you think you will survive the boat journey over the ruthless ocean that has already swallowed hundreds of lives, which has separated children from their parents and husbands from their wives and their families? The journey that has neither beginning nor end, and which only serves as a bet between life and death?”
The father continues, “Did you forget your cousin, Saqib, who disappeared into the great nothingness from the day he left years ago? His old mother still waits for him to return, hoping against all hope that one day he will show up at her doorstep. Do you not think of what may happen to you if you were to take on that treacherous road toward — what, exactly?”
Jamshed replies, almost too sternly, “There are many ways to get to Australia, Dad. We can go to Indonesia and seek asylum there. We can wait until we are approved to relocate to Australia. I can secure my own future”.
The father shakes his head. “The world does not recognize humanity, anymore,” he says. “Our people have been turned away so many times and these places you believe will show you mercy will do nothing but watch you suffer. My son, we are a vulnerable people and we will be vulnerable for years to come. In the last 60 years, we have been deprived of our basic rights. No one is listening to us. We continue to live in fear. Our wounds are left open for all to gawk at and to pick at. Son, you know how our women have been made widows, the children orphans, and the blood of our innocent people continues to wet the earth. It doesn’t matter where you turn, Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only safe place for us. There’s nowhere else for us to turn to. We’re waiting for tragedy to claim our lives by staying here, but for the moment it is the only choice we have.”
Jamshed drops his gaze, his eyes searching the floor. Then, he buries his head deeper into his arms. His breathing slows, now exhausted and hopeless. He looks up and gazes at the ceilings. At long last, he mutters a prayer, “God, must you be so cruel to us?”
The writer is an activist, the founder of Refugees of Indonesia and is currently in the process of seeking asylum.