house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Returning Fire

A year ago, we were travelling through the Northern territory, in Pakistan. A place beyond belief, all reality unbounded and  augmented - mountain ranges, glaciers, rubies and apricots, the full moon, air so clear it hurt to breathe.

Still, what stayed with me most vividly is a story. Our guide and driver - I shall call him Fayyaz - was the protagonist; picture him, if you please - greying hair, big moustache, soft smile. Humble words, calm demeanour, immense generosity. Knowledge of every place, word and legend in the land.

One time only, Fayyaz got very excited - at the sight of a football field. "Do you play?" we asked. "Used to" - with a wistful smile, and no further reply. Days later, towards the end of our journey and out of the blue, he said:

"It's my leg - it broke in three places and doesn't work as it used to..." We would have left it at this, assuming a hiking accident, common in these parts, but K. had the scent of a story too gloriously gory to pass. 'How'- she asked.

"I was shot seven times" he said, quite matter-of-fact. And the story emerged. Fayyaz had been caught in a robbery gone wrong. The robbers were trying to break into his brother's house. The brothers came out - guns and daggers at the ready - to protect their property. A gun fight followed, in the dark streets of Gilgit town. A robber was shot dead, Fayyaz was shot seven times - the bullets hit his chest and shattered his leg.

They took him to the hospital, towards midnight, holding little hope for his survival. He was manhandled and jolted about on a stretcher where he was left to wait for the doctor. It took hours. He was conscious throughout, bleeding and in mortal fear.

"I couldn't breathe, I had to push myself up and shake my chest a little to drain the blood from my lungs, so I could breathe.... like rattling a box filled with pebbles" Fayyaz said. "I held on to that stretcher so hard they couldn't unclench my hands..." he added.

"The doctor came and asked me a question. 'What's up?' he said.  I said 'Doctor, do what you must, I am ready.' The doctor turned to the orderlies and said 'You're wrong, this one's not a goner. Take him to the operating room'.... It wasn't easy" Fayyaz added quietly, still driving us through apricot orchards planted by Alexander the Great himself, as Northern tribesmen claim.

"What's it like, to be shot?" I asked him - because even after all the gunshots in films, on the news, over my own head on rare occasion, I have no idea what it might actually feel like.

"Like fire burning paths through your body. Coursing this way and that way, burning like hell..."

Fayyaz survived. Some of the robbers survived. They are all known - although the police did nothing. Fayyaz sees them at the market on occasion.

"That is so unfair. Can you do nothing, to bring justice?" He thought for a minute.

"Justice is made, every time we lock eyes. All that guilt, they see me and it comes back to poison them. One day it will be too heavy to bear."

If that were true or possible, the weight of shooting paths of fire through hundreds of children in Peshawar should crush the criminals in one blinding, burning instant.