Fiction Story: History was all you left me…
by Sobh Saeed (Pakistan)
I am going to meet him. I am finally going to meet him. After 70 years of separation, I will meet him.
I continuously chanted the same sentences over and over in my head , my hands shaking with anxiety. I thrust them inside the pocket of my dark tailored coat, unable to contain my excitement.
India had changed so much since I’d last left it but it still felt like home. The place I was born in , the place I’d went to school in, the place I’d made so many amazing friendships that were destined to be broken in.
But I was here now, to revive them. At least one of them. Sure, I was 70 years late, but better late than never.
The day I found out my old friend—Sanjay Gupta—was still alive and well , I’d practically jumped for joy but unfortunately, my old man limbs had betrayed me, leading my body to make contact with the floor.
However, I did not let a few broken limbs pull me down and instantly decided to buy a ticket for India. The whole visa process was hard and took a good period of time but I still managed to do it in the end. And now, here I was. In India. Or more accurately, in Bombay. Knowing it was Mumbai now, I still liked to refer to it as Bombay as that’s what I’d been calling it the 12 years I’d lived there and I was not ready to give that up.
I glanced at my old school, it’s red-brick building as beautiful as ever. An emotional wave of nostalgia passed through me as the taxi drove along the buildings and towards the residential area.
I remembered myself and Sanjay running through these very streets in our early years , as our crisp white kurtas flapped in the direction of the wind. Our faces plastered with wide, happy grins. Those were the days when we would spend all day outside, playing together till the sun didn’t decide to say goodbye. I smiled at the thought and then frowned at what happened later on.
The Big Goodbye. The Parting Of Ways. The Partition.
It was the middle of August, 1947 when my father announced we were going away , leaving behind our beautiful mansion to start a new life. I cried, afraid that I would never see my friends again. My mother , having been the caring woman she was, consoled me saying it was just temporary and that I’d be united with my friends in no time at all. I believed her.
We packed a few bags, taking just the absolute necessities. It wasn’t possible for us to take so much belongings as the trains would be packed and there’d be no space. Mother silently wept at not being given the permission to take the pretty collection of ornaments she’d made over the years. She thought no one noticed it, but everyone did.
A tear rolled down my wrinkly face as the taxi came to a halt. “Your destination is here , sir.” Came the voice of the taxi driver.
I nodded, giving him his fees and letting him keep the change.
I had invited my children to join me on my trip to India from Pakistan but they had instantly neglected the offer, saying it was the ‘rival’ country and could not be trusted. They had persisted that I shouldn’t go either because it was not safe.
What did they know about safety? It wasn’t them that had spent a whole train ride during the time of partition not knowing if they’d make it out alive and reach the other side.
Only when the taxi rolled away did I realise that Sanjay must have changed now. He would be an old man like me, with children—perhaps even grandchildren—and responsibilities. It was hardly possible that he would be his old, jolly and carefree self.
Nevertheless, I rang the bell of the ‘Gupta mansion’(That’s what it said on the sign) , patiently waiting for somebody to let me in. I heard faint footsteps from the other end and hushed voices. Finally , the door opened to reveal a little girl—perhaps 7-years-old—smiling expectantly at me. An older girl with very curly black hair(that greatly resembled Sanjay’s) hurried behind her, frowning and scolding the girl for opening the door without her permission.
“Namaste.” I greeted. “Sanjay Gupta lives here , right?”
The older girl’s eyebrows drooped and I noticed she had dark circles under her eyes. “Yes, dada lives here but not here at the same time.”
“What do you mean?” I doubled my hold on my wooden cane.
The younger of the two exclaimed, “He’s dying!”
It’s right how they say children always tell the bitter truth. Everybody else is too scared.
My whole body turned numb. I could just about feel my grip loosen.“C—Can I see him?” I stammered impatiently.
“Who are you?” One of them asked, I couldn’t interpret which because my eyesight had gone blurry and there was a loud ringing in my ears.
“Talha Zubair.” I managed to say after a pause, clutching at the air to find something that would tighten my grip.
“Are you okay?” A voice of concern. “Maa! Maa, there’s a man at the door and he seems sick!”
I strained my ears to be able to hear properly , but all I heard was whispers and barely audible shouts next. New faces appeared. Someone was screaming. A lady grabbed for my wrist and helped me inside , a frown etched on her olive face.
Some time later, I was sat on a comfortable armchair , a mug of extremely sweet tea in my hand.
“Are you at ease?” Somebody questioned in a croaky tone. Were they speaking to me? I blinked twice and looked around. My eyesight had become much better after the tea but I still wished I’d brought my old glasses with me.
I tried to grasp my surroundings. There was a four-poster bed with a dozen white sheets and blankets. Somebody seemed to be laying on it—a man. Suddenly, my vision cleared and I could see properly. He had wrinkly skin like me and a wide lopsided smile on his face. Sanjay.
I’d recognize him anywhere , anytime. He still had a scar beneath his bottom lip and the smile of someone who was about to do something forbidden.
“Sanjay!” I practically bellowed, my voice hoarse yet finally audible.
“Hello.” He greeted, staring at me.
“How are you?” I was bursting to ask so many questions but this was all that came out.
“I’ve seen better times.” He shrugged and then winced at having done that movement.
He had changed so much. His old, boyish face was now etched with lines and wrinkles. His lips trembled when he spoke and there was no longer much life in him.
“It’s been so long since I’ve seen you , yet you hardly seem like a stranger.”
Sanjay laughed a croaky laugh, “I’ve missed you dost.” Pause. “So Talha, how is it like living in Pakistan?”
“What can I say? Not much different than living here but very different all the same.” I sipped some more tea. “How was India after I left?”
He was quiet for a moment and then stated, “When you left India—entirely out of the blue—I felt…empty. You know, like imagining that this world will end in oblivion and there’ll be no one left to remember all the amazing things mankind did. That kind of empty. You didn’t tell anyone where you were going, basically, you just left. History was all you left me.”
History was all you left me.
“You’ve become poetic.” I wiped a tear that had trickled down my cheek and smiled at him.
“Is it true what they say on TV then?” He asked , looking up at me curiously.
“Oh you know, about terrorism and everything. That there are a lot of terrorists in Pakistani.”
I was taken aback. “Excuse me?”
“It’s right, isn’t it?” He coughed.
“Why would you say that?” I put the cup of tea on the saucer, straightening up.
“I just wanted to confirm if it’s true. The people here really dislike Pakistan.”
“It’s exactly the same in Pakistan. Even just the mention of India causes uproar and competition. I am disappointed to say that media has become a bigger impact than the values of peace and love.” I replied, sadly. “And perhaps what you said about terrorism is true but I hardly see how that can affect anything. Not every Pakistani is a terrorist.”
“I’m sorry brother for thinking otherwise, I hope someday peace prevails in our countries.”
I nodded, “Me too.”
Sobh Saeed lives in Islamabad, Pakistan and is a student currently doing my O levels. She likes to write in free time or whenever a sudden idea strikes her. She is also a firm believer of peace and would very much like it if there was to be reconciliation between India and Pakistan. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org