She dashed down the stairs. Her dad always yelled at her whenever she rushed down the steps, telling her she’d trip over those stairs one day. Stalling at the very last step, she paced it down with uber decency to spare that ‘you’re-gonna-trip-over-those-stairs’ lecture. She stole a glance to check if anyone had seen her violently rushing down those steps. Nobody had. In fact, she could only see her uncle and aunt when she entered the family room. They had come all the way from London and it had been over a week now. Her house was their staying spot and she loved it when they’d come here. In fact, everyone at their house loved to have their presence around. Entering the living room, she could tell something was going on.
‘Are you guys going somewhere?’, she asked.
‘Yes, to the graveyard.’, her aunt replied.
‘Oh. Just you two?’
‘No, your dad’s coming as well.’
Never would they miss to visit this ‘family graveyard’. Every time they would come to Pakistan, paying a visit to the graveyard was always a must-to-do task at their hands.
‘Do you want to come along’, her aunt zipped her purse close and wore it on her shoulder.
‘Me? Uhh.. ok yeah sure.’, she seemed unsure at first but then suddenly something told her she had to go there.
She didn’t have anything to do at home and besides, she thought it would be exciting to visit a graveyard, particularly this family graveyard where her ancestors, whom she had never actually seen in her life, were buried. Except one though, her dad’s sister. She still remembered that day when she got the news about her death. They were out of town, staying in a city that was a few hours’ drive away from her hometown, when late at night her dad got a call that broke this tragic news to him. She remembered how time felt stranger with every minute that passed by after that call. She and her family hopelessly tried to sleep that night. The night only kept on stretching longer. She lay on a couch with her eyes closed and waited for the sunlight to fall through the windows. Next morning, they set off for the journey to the town where a lifeless body awaited them to bid her farewell for the very last time.
‘We’re about to leave with your dad’, her uncle’s voice snapped her and her instant recollection of murky memories withered away. ‘You better get ready.’
‘I’ll take a minute’, she yelled as she rushed swiftly back upstairs to her room. ‘Don’t leave without me!!’, she shouted from her room.
The afternoon sun blazed upon their heads as they advanced towards the graveyard. Her dad pointed out a black iron gate located inside a narrow, roofed street.‘The graveyard is on the other side of that black gate’, he told her. It wasn’t like she had never come there before. She had come there once.. or twice at the most. But that was quite a long time ago. She was only a kid when she last visited it. She needed a fresh view of that graveyard to be saved in her mind. It was their family graveyard, after all. There were a few small houses on both sides of the street and right ahead of them was that big black iron gate. They approached the gate and her dad unlocked a rusty padlock that was hanging there, lifelessly. A small door was forged within that black gate. The door was so small that when the four of them entered through it to the other side of that gate, they practically had to duck to ward off knocking their heads against that iron gate.
She stepped through the gate and saw several mounds of earth aligned perfectly in a row. Not that there were a lot of graves. The first row had some eight graves and the second row held only two, just below the graves of the first row forming the perfect symmetry. Just one glance of everyone’s ultimate dwelling made every cell of her existence melancholic. Her feet dragged her towards those tumuluses. Her family lay beneath those heaps of soil. The rest of the land was bare. It’d take quite a while to get it filled, she thought bluntly. And with that another thought popped up in her mind right away. Those who would die first would take up their places here and then there’d come a time when there’d be no space left for anymore graves. Where the rest of family members would be deposited then? She motioned towards her dad in hopes to get a fair answer. But her dad, along with her uncle and aunt, was already standing in front a grave with his head bowed down and hands postured to pray. Dutifully she stepped beside her dad and did the same. As she prayed, for the salvation of whoever was beneath that heap of soil, she noticed something that was too conspicuous to be ignored. That grave in front of her. It was relatively smaller than the rest of the graves. Another query of the day. It was an obscure place for her. Curiosity had set in. She had a lot to ask.
Her dad raised his cupped hands to his face and his palms brushed his face, a signal that his prayer was over. He moved to the next grave. But her uncle and aunt stayed there, looking affectionately at that small grave. She heard a sniff that progressively grew into rhythmic sniffles. They were in a cemetery, someone was definitely crying. She turned her head to see who it was. The answer was quite obvious. Men do not usually cry. It was her aunt who was crying. She stood there, stared at her aunt and let her heart feel sorry for her teary eyes. She didn’t move, nor did she try to soothe her crying aunt. Her aunt calmed her crying self down and wiped her tears.
‘Do you know whose grave is it?’, a tear appeared in the corner of her aunt’s eye.
‘No. But I want to know.’
‘That’s my daughter under that mass of soil.’, her aunt ended her sentences with a sniff.
She had heard a lot about her cousin, a physically & mentally disabled child since birth, who fought with her disability for four grand years of her life. Her cousin had died long before she was born. Now she knew why that grave looked smaller than the others. It was the grave of a 4 year old. It was the grave of her cousin who died at the age of 4. Feeling awfully sorry for her aunt, she looked down at that grave once again. Uncontrollably, a tear rolled down her cheek. Emotions are a funny thing, she thought. She was crying for someone whom she had never even seen.
They started moving to the rest of the graves and paused before every grave sequentially. Her dad would tell her which grave belonged to whom and then they’d pray before it and a tear would dribble down in her prayer-postured palms. The pattern continued and they reached the last grave. She raised her hands to her face, finished her prayer and looked around. She was standing in the middle of a graveyard. A place where everything seemed lifeless to her. Gloomy and lifeless. The air of that graveyard smelled gloomy. The soil beneath her shoes felt forlorn. Even the chirping sparrow above her head sounded like it was wailing. She cried once again, thinking how it would have been like if those people buried in this gloomy place, that included her grandparents as well, were alive. Oh how she had always missed her grandparents. While she was mentally communicating with God, complaining why He didn’t let those relatives of hers live long enough to see her, her dad called her out from a corner of that graveyard. She mopped the tears from her cheeks with her sleeves and went over to where her dad was standing.
‘What is it, daddy?’
‘I need to show you something.’ he said pointing towards the uneven surface of the crude graveyard floor.
She seemed inquisitive. ‘You want me to show what? That’s just a corner. An uneven corner.’
‘There’s someone buried under that corner.’
She did a double take.
‘Buried? In that corner? Who?’
Flabbergasted, she stared at her father. She didn’t have any brother. She only had three elder sisters and she was the youngest one. She loved being the youngest one and she loved her sisters too. She always used to think if God had given her an elder brother, her family would’ve been so complete. She loved elder brothers. She envied her friends when they mentioned their elder brothers in their talks. And when they’d say their brothers were annoying, she would call them ungrateful for such a blessing. ‘Don’t call them annoying!,’ she used to yell at her friends. ‘There’s a void in my life, a void that could never get filled up. A void that fate has destined me. I crave for a brother’s company. I don’t have a brother and I know how it feels like.’ But what did her father just tell her? That she had a brother? A dead brother?
Her dad comprehended what was going on in her mind. He continued, ‘You had a brother. Long before you were born. If he were alive, he would have been about 4 years older than you. But he died as a premature baby. This is where I had buried him.’, he pointed again at that rough corner.
A tornado of emotions set in. She felt happy to know there actually was someone whom she could call her brother. She felt sad with the sudden realization that he was only a premature baby who had died long before she was born. She felt angry because she thought life had been highly unjustified with her. She felt helpless because helpless she was. ‘I actually had a brother?’ Her secret mental conversation with God continued once again. I had a brother, God? You had given me a brother? But why didn’t you let him breathe in the air of this world. Why didn’t you let him survive? Why? God! Then she felt a smile appearing on her face. I had a brother.
She gathered her sanity and looked at her dad, ‘But that’s not even a grave.’, she felt it was unfair that her brother was buried in a corner. A corner that was far from looking like a grave, much less anyone would know there actually was someone buried down there.
‘A pre-mature baby he was. There wasn’t even a proper funeral. He died even before he came to this world. I took him here alone. Buried him with my own hands.’, her dad said in a nostalgic tone.
‘But you should hav…’, she paused abruptly halfway through her sentence when she heard her uncle calling out her dad’s name. Her dad turned around. Apparently her uncle was trying to read a gravestone’s inscriptions but couldn’t seem to make out what was written on it. Her aunt seemed to be failing to decipher the text as well. Her father went over to help them and secretly she felt thankful for it as she needed some time alone. In that corner. With her brother’s grave- or what seemed something like a grave. A moment of solitude. A moment of mediation. A moment with her.. brother!
She thought she had had enough of this crying for a day. She was wrong. After hearing the news her father broke to her, she realized she had never been this gloomy before in her life, ever. Knowing that she didn’t have a brother was a sad enough reality. But now she knew she had a brother who couldn’t survive. That was depressing. She sat down, gazing at that corner and never wanting to take her eyes off that rough, cracked spot. Tears, like an avalanche, flowed down her already wet cheeks. Like a leaky faucet, they kept dripping down. ‘Brother!’ she said, her voice sounded more like a whisper and she felt glad for it as she didn’t want anyone to hear her teary voice. Nor did she want anyone to soothe her. She wanted to cry. So she did. ‘Brother! I shall meet you in heaven.’, she whispered with a crooked a smile but that smile couldn’t hold her tears back. Spontaneously, she let them out. Gladly, they came down running.