"I thought I was dead but my heart was beating very fast."
"When I woke up, everyone around me was bleeding and dead. I stayed silent and lay there quietly for hours. When I saw army officers run past I started screaming and they rescued me."
"They shot my class fellows in the head, in the chest, on their arms, on the legs and in the stomach. Everyone was on the ground. Maybe, they knew many of us were alive. Then they started shooting straight in the skull."
"I will fight these terrorists who killed my friends. I will not forgive them. God is watching."
"I folded my tie and pushed it into my mouth so that I wouldn't scream."
"She was sitting on the chair with blood dripping from her body as she burned."
"The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into their bodies."
"I am angry. I'm a physics student but now I don't want to be an engineer. I want to get out and take revenge for all the deaths. The ones who killed my friends. I will not rest until I finish them."
"I will never forget the black boots approaching me"
"One of my teachers was crying, she was shot in the hand and she was crying in pain...One terrorist then walked up to her and started shooting her until she stopped making any sound."
"They shot the children in each chair."
"All around me my friends were lying injured and dead."
These are not dialogues from a summer blockbuster about a bunch of victims in a distant village in a war-torn Syria, in an ISIS-ravaged town in Iraq, from the Ntarama Church in Rwanda. These are the pain-filled words of children and teenagers who survived one of the worst massacres in the recent history of this bloodied world. These are the blood-smeared stories of children who lived through the horror no person, leave alone a child, is to witness, leave alone bear. These are the quietly-uttered accounts of school children whose broken bodies are hooked to machines and bags of IV. These are the pieces of a hole that is so enormous, so horrific, so bloodcurdling, so violent that mere words would never suffice to make it look like the story of a school that saw its world coming to an end. One freezing December day. In a country called Pakistan. My homeland.
132. On December 16, 2014, 132 children were killed in the Army Public School, Peshawar. The total number of people who were killed was 141. Now I hear three more have succumbed to their injuries, and more families mourn. As if the wails of those who had just buried their loved ones--their children--were not enough to rent the expressionless, stark sky of that benighted city that had seen too many senseless deaths, that had buried too many of its young, that had borne too high a price for its geographical positioning in the war that was/is on terror. Peshawar watched in wordless grief--what is the word for pain that assails ordinary mortals when there are 141 funerals in one day? From just one location. Of children. Of teenagers. Of teachers. Of those who had harmed no one. Of dreams severed brutally. Of lives cut short. Of bodies that were charred. Of faces that were unrecognizable.
My sleep is haunted by images of their smiling faces. I switched the TV on the day it happened, and a few minutes later, I turned it off quietly. And it has remained on standby ever since. A chilling cold entered me. And I know it would be a long, long time before it leaves me completely. I just sat, curled up, and their faces from their photographs smiling with their friends, their cool selfies, their happy group pictures, splashed on the TV screen a few minutes earlier, expanded and shaped into one image. Of my son's face. The pain of those children I did not know became the hell I would rather die than to have an iota of it hit my child. The screams of those wailing mothers seared into my heart; the laments of those grieving fathers echoed in my stunned mind.
How does anyone deal with the loss of a child? My son is the life in my being. How will those 132 mothers live without their children? Those 132 fathers. How anyone ever comes to terms with the news: your child is dead. Your child was killed by the bullets to his head. Your child didn't make it; he was shot in the face. Your child's body had nine bullets lodged in it. Your child's dead body was shot to double check he was dead. Your child was dragged from under a bench and shot. Your child was shot dead by a man who did not know him, whom your child had done no harm. Your child became the victim of terror that has no rules, no boundaries, no limits.
They. The Taliban of Pakistan. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. TTP. They shot a woman in her hand, and when she screamed in pain, they shot her again and again until she was silent. They set a woman on fire, and made the children watch. They dragged the principal--a woman-- from a room where she had taken shelter from the spray of bullets as as she helped children evacuate the building, and shot her. Her body, when found, had signs of being hit by an IED. A principal who died for the children of her school in her school. They shot the children who tried to run in their arms and legs. They pumped their guns in the still bodies of dead children. They killed the entire Class Nine. One child lived to tell the story. They came for revenge for the army operation against them and their ilk in the FATA, and they killed 141 in an army school. They walked into a school full of smiling children, and turned it into a graveyard. They chanted Allah O Akbar and shot children. 132 children.
Some day, I will be able to write about December 16, 2014. Today, as the mother of my son, as a grieving Pakistani, the pain of the deaths of those children I did not know, of my Pakistan, is too raw, too recent. Today, I just say a prayer. Today, I just mourn. Today, I sit in silence. For those 132 children.
Rest in peace...