Hiding the fact from her father and all of those whom she knows, Iqra Khalid had been secretly standing up against the tyrannical powers of the world, until one disastrous night when her darkest fear sprung to life and changed her worldview forever….
A glove has its benefits.
And not just protection from winter, I thought as the windows once again rattled with the howling wind outside. A few in the netcafé looked up briefly, then went silently back to their computers and phones, bare hands clicking away.
Bare, unlike mine. My index finger hovered over the enter button, wrapped in a silky layer of stiff brown gloves. Beneath the fabric, my palm was sweaty, sticking to the cloth, and if I be completely honest, trembling slightly too.
You’re not doing anything wrong, I tried to tell myself and calm the heavy beats of my heart. And it’s not like any fingerprints will be left.
But still a breath hitched in my throat and my breathing paused entirely as I pressed the button and waited for the world to explode.
The netcafe was as silent as before, except for the typing sounds. Nobody even looked up from their work.
It hadn’t exploded the first time I wrote, the second and the fifth, the thirtieth and the fiftieth, but the feeling was all the same, like anyone was going to barge in any time and put me to an anonymous jail from where no one could hear from me again.
I exhaled a shaky breath and, logging out from the WordPress site, fished out my iPhone from my jacket pocket. All my apps were neatly sorted into titled folders. I opened the ‘Messengers’ folder and the bright green glare of WhatsApp gleamed at me. Beside it, a duller, lesser known app: Signal. That’s what you use for real conversations.
Unlike I behave most of the time, I am not a spy or a fugitive or something like that. I’m just someone whom my father would call, “troublesome beings who destroy world peace and thus are hunted and taken by the government,” but not loudly. He’d only whisper of such ‘dangerous’ things.
If he were to see me here right now, he’d freak out. He would grab what was left of his thinning hair and tear them away from its scalp before disowning me. Never speaking of me again. A small, bitter smile stretched across my dry lips. Just like Amir Uncle.
I pulled back my chair and stretched, more for others to see than because of tired limbs. Normal breathing, I reminded myself. You’re not doing anything wrong.
“Nice gloves,” The lady at the counter commented with an amused grin as I paid. I tried to give her an equally hearty smile.
“The weather calls for it.”
She nodded. “It does.” And handed back the exchange, no suspicions raised.
Outside, the weather was wild. The wind shrieked and howled as if in pain, and dust was everywhere. I blinked rapidly to keep it out of my eyes, the mere act shattering nostalgia down on me. These were exactly the kind of nights when Amir Uncle would dare to take me and his twins to Baskin Robins, and we’d challenge to eat up our ice-creams out in the open wind – while protecting it from all the dust. We’d fail, usually, but the laughter made up for it.
That was before, though. Now, in the eyes of the UAE, Amir Uncle simply doesn’t exist.
I opened the car door and settled in. My skin prickled and thawed with the car warmth. I started the engine, peering over at the deck for time, my heart still pounding a dull thud, thud, thud.
I sucked my teeth. Papa will be suspicious.
Papa. The only proof of his friendship – best friendship – with Uncle Amir is his new hypersensitivity. Come home quick. Don’t speak of Iran. Don’t curse israel. Aside from this new addition, he pretends like he never even knew an Amir to begin with.
Everyone does that now. Even those who had admitted in the past that what israel was doing to Palestine on a daily basis was wrong and against the simplest of human rights — all are blissfully silent now. As if nothing ever happened.
I reached for a bottle of water tucked away on the backseat, and took a few fulfilling gulps. The cool water soothed my parched throat a little.
It all began when UAE accepted israel.
The news never became official, but the whispers got through: Hundreds of Shi’as being taken every other week by seemingly plainly dressed men.
It was then when I spotted the Resisteen Mag becoming popular on the internet. A bunch of teens from all over the world, gathered to use their skills and raise their voices – because for all they know, their adults never will.
I drove up at the front of my house in minutes, and before I could open the door, it pulled back to reveal an almost upset-looking Papa. “Where were you?” He asked drily, his thinning hair standing up in all directions. It was barely dinner time and he was wearing his pajamas already.
“The netcafe.” I said with an exhausted smile. “My history project was still due.” Not exactly a lie. I did work on my school assignment a little before editing my latest article submission for Resisteen Mag.
I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t feel a sharp jab of guilt, though, but it was something I couldn’t do anything about.
For a moment, Papa just stared at me, at my face, at my gloved hands. Then his face broke into a tired smile. “Come in. Your ma made biryani.”
As soon as I stepped in, the wonderful scent of garam masala and flavored chicken hung in the air. I quickly shrugged off my manteau and loosened the wraps of my headscarf, took off my gloves and hung them on the front drawer, joining the dinner table just as Hani came trotting down from his room. He was several inches shorter than me, and his very smooth hair fell around his head in an ‘adorable bowlcut’, as Ma liked to describe it.
It looked more like he was adopted by a giant monkey gang.
“What’s for dinner?” He drawled, rubbing his eyes.
“Your toes.” I replied automatically, putting the jar of yoghurt on the sufra. “Fried to the perfect crisp.”
Hani opened his mouth for a comeback but Ma interrupted him, setting the tray of steaming hot, orange-white rice on the table. My stomach groaned as I took a look: masala clinging to the juicy chicken, beckoning at me. “No more useless talks on the dinner table.” She said in an authoritative voice, and started piling up everyone’s plate.
I looked at Hani and gestured eating my toe. He gagged. With a satisfied smirk, I took my biryani and dug in. The first bite was always the most heavenly. Yum.
“So, how’s your writing going?” Papa asked, pouring raita over his plate of rice.
I froze for half a second, before remembering that I did write before joining the Resisteen Mag too, and put on a smile. “Not much these days. School is keeping me busy.”
“Which is exactly why someone from our family got a C grade on their Geometry test,” Hani muttered.
Papa frowned. “And what about you, Hani? What are you up to these days?”
Hani groaned and I snickered.
“I thought no one was allowed to speak during dinner?” Ma asked, a frown crowning her forehead as she looked at us sternly.
Everyone obeyed, and the kitchen went silent except for the occasional cutlery clatter.
Which must be why we heard peril coming before it hurled onto us with full force.
A car. Or several. I couldn’t tell, except for the fact that they all seemed to turn off their engines right in front of my house.
Papa looked at Ma, whose frown deepened. Hani blinked.
We heard a car door slamming shut.
Then our bell rung.
Once only, before someone started pounding on the door.
“I’ll check.” Papa said, getting up. His face had turned a yellow-y pale.
Ma pulled up the dupatta from around her shoulders to her head and started reciting Ayat al-Kursi under her breath.
Hani leaned in. “Is someone joining us for the toe feast?”
I shot him a glare.
He leaned back without a word.
I stood up quietly, pushing back my plate.
“Where are you going?” Ma hissed at me.
Giving her a reassuring nod, I followed to the door, my heart hammering in my chest.
Please, Allah, let everything be alright.
“Are you Khalid Hassan?” Someone was saying, a deep, rasping voice with a throaty ‘kh’ and a guttural ‘h’.
My palms started to sweat again, but there were no gloves around to absorb it this time. I peered out at the doorway. Four men, wearing normal ties and pants, but with a heavy build and broad shoulders. A woman too, her blonde hair tied up sharply.
“Y-Yes.” My father’s squeaky voice.
The man in front pulled up a card and thrust it in front my father’s face. “We’re here to search you.” He nodded to a bigger man, who jumped into motion and grappled Papa, twisting his hands behind him. Within seconds, they were barging in, locking the door behind them.
A hysterical shriek ripped free of my throat and Ma came running, hands on her head, keeping her dupatta in place.
The woman gave the leading man a brief look and clapped her hands together. “Line up against the wall here, all of you!” Her sharp voice rung in my ears. “Hands where I can see them!”
I couldn’t believe it.
Ma tried to protest, to say something, but Papa yelled, “Do what they’re saying!” She grabbed Hani’s hand and stood him against the wall, pulling up his hands.
The woman glared at me. “To the wall, girl.”
This is not happening. “I…I-“
My whole body seemed to be frozen. I could only stand and watch. Slowly, numbly, I shuffled to the wall and pulled up my hands.
The woman stood next to the four of us, a hand gripping her belt where a gun dangled. The other men were scattered across the living hall, pulling and prodding at things. One of them cleared a part of the dinner table by sweeping all the plates to the sides, and the other men began piling up things there. Mohrs. Our books of Ziarat e Ashura. A frame of the shrine of Imam Hussain (pbuh).
My fault. All my fault. That’s all I could think about. Not doing what Papa had said. Joining the Resisteen. Writing all those articles about the israel-Palestine conflict.
My fault, my fault, my fault.
Minutes passed or hours, I had no idea. They were there, pulling up the carpets and checking underneath, going through all our things, and every single moment was agonizing. Ma was hiccupping beside me, and Hani, white-lipped, was patting her shoulder.
“… been living in Dubai for the past thirty years, is that correct?” Someone was asking Pa.
“And before that you used to live in Pakistan, where you have your citizenship from?”
“Yes b-but, sir, we have done n-nothing – “
I couldn’t bear it any longer. “Me!” I shrieked, and my voice came out awfully high-pitched and terrorized. “It was me! Papa has never – “
“Quiet!” The woman snapped.
I looked at her in confusion. Are they stupid? “You don’t understand! My father has never even harmed a fly-“
“I said quiet! Not a single word!”
Hot, searing tears burned in my eyes. I stood there, crying, sobbing until the men finished their work and the leader of them approached Ma. “Your husband will be taken into custody for a few days and will be returned safely if cleared of any crimes.”
I sobbed harder, my howls rocking my whole body. “W-Why are you taking h-him?” I waited for them to answer, ‘As your guardian’. I waited for them to bind my hands too, like they binded Papa’s.
But they were not even looking at me. Not even the woman.
And then it hit me, like a jolt of thunder zapping me into place. They don’t know. That was the only thing that made sense. I looked over at the gloves I had taken off, no longer hanging by the drawer but lying miserably on the floor. Those gloves didn’t reveal my identity.
But then why…?
I looked at my father. His face was contorted, like he was trying to appear calm but failing. His widened, terror-filled eyes met mine and I knew, I just knew. I don’t know how, probably the betrayal that was written so plainly in his eyes whispered it to me. All those precautions he took. All he did not to give anyone the reason to suspect that they’d ever been against the oppressive state of israel.
He was still being taken.
I looked at him, and I understood at last just as he did too. A feeling of coldness enveloped me.
He’s right. It doesn’t matter.
Amir Uncle, a brave man, an activist ready to raise his voice for what was right.
And him, the complete opposite.
It doesn’t matter. If you choose to say your mind or not. If you decide to help save your fellow Muslims or not.
Sooner or later, they’re going to take you.
Featured image via Unsplash.