While the roads leaving the factory were deserted, the closer Ali drove to the center of town, the more he found chaos. Not only were the streets littered with cars but civilians took to the shops. In a last-ditch effort to gather as much food and supplies as they could before leaving the city, people stampeded to and from the parking lots.
And by the time Ali reached Rabia’s school, he quickly learned there was no end to the panic. As he rushed from his SUV, he saw the walkway leading up to the school littered with books, articles of clothing, and school supplies. Backpacks and coats were tossed as parents shuffled their children into their vehicles. The only priority was returning home as soon as possible.
If the mess wasn’t enough, the sounds, too, alerted Ali. Screams came from the crowds. Parents searched desperately for their children. But within the frantic hoards, spotting anyone was difficult. Ali was saddened to see adults and children alike teary-eyed and frightened.
But even bombarded by so many sounds, Ali recognized the voice of his daughter. Rabia called out to him and he rushed to her. She and her friend Hiba were huddled together, avoiding get swept up with the crowd. While thankful to see both his daughter and the neighbor safe, a thought crossed his mind.
“Hiba,” he said, “Where is your mother?”
The young girl wept. As Ali searched through the crowd, he saw no sight of Fariha. Calling out her name did nothing; Ali’s voice couldn’t cut through the shrieks and screams. He knew he couldn’t wait for too long, but he also knew that he couldn’t leave Hiba stranded.
“She doesn’t have a car!” Rabia cried, “Hiba’s mother can’t come to pick her up.”
Ali had to make a judgment call and he decided to take Hiba with them. He could only hope that Fariha was still at home, packing her bags. It was not long ago that he spoke to Mehwish. He had to believe that she had contacted Fariha and the two were coordinating their plans to leave Kashmir.
Piling everyone into the car— Ali and Saleem in the front and Hiba and Rabia in the back —the four returned to the road. Dodging other vehicles was a challenge in itself. Fearful drivers worrying for their lives were colliding with each other and blocking off the roads.
Pulling his tires onto the curb, Ali managed to weave around the broken-down cars. But he soon learned that was far from the end of his worries. From the sky, Ali heard a metallic roar. Peering above, he saw the flames— a fighter plane was spinning towards a field. Ali screamed for the children to cover their eyes and ears as the plane crashed.
Clutching his hands tightly against his wheel, Ali tried to keep his SUV steady. The impact of the crashing plane sent a shockwave onto the road. He saw other cars crash and meander onto the curbs and away from the field. Making it home in one piece was going to be a struggle, but Ali was determined.
“Oh shit!” Saleem screamed, “Did you see that!? Shit! We’re doomed!”
Removing one hand from the wheel, Ali covered Saleem’s mouth and reminded him that children were in the back seat. It was true that the situation was grim. And he, too, was frightened. But he had to remain strong for Rabia and Hiba. He wanted to show them that everything was going to be alright.
There was no end to the destruction as they drove. Planes, tanks, and cars all burned and were left broken down by the roadside. Ali had never seen so much of an uproar since the war… and that’s when it truly sunk in. The peace he and his family had long enjoyed was finally over.
Ali’s eyes grew wide and he slammed on his breaks. What he saw before him was no man or machine. And the fact that he couldn’t comprehend what he was looking at was what alarmed him most of all. Saleem, too, was overwhelmed by chills. Saleem’s teeth chattered so loud, Ali feared they would shatter.
In front of the car stood a pack of what seemed to be a thousand dogs. Their numbers were so tightly packed and spread so far that Ali was unable to see the road beyond them. And it wasn’t only the sheer amount but their appearance that was menacing. Their eyes were red and bloodshot. And bucketfuls of drool spilled from their mouths.
“What the fuck!? This can’t be real!” Saleem slapped himself, “That’s it. I’m not doing drugs anymore. I’m dreaming, right!? I’m just high, right!? This isn’t real!? Ali! Is this-”
Ali slapped Saleem across the face, silencing him. The situation in itself was a nightmare. He didn’t need to deal with a second fiend frightening his children. Looking into the back seat, the two girls were huddled close, closing their eyes and ears and blocking out the world around them.
“Your hand is like an iron rod. Man. How do you hit so-”
“Shut up! Just stay quiet!” Ali screamed to Saleem.
Examining the dogs, Ali spoke once more, “I… I don’t think they can see us. They’re worried.”
Though vicious in appearance, the dogs remained still. Their reddened eyes were searching for something but it was as if they were looking through the car itself. Many possibilities entered Ali’s mind. He wondered if a chemical attack had left the animals rabid. It was difficult for him to understand what else could have caused so many dogs to gather together.
Another roar came from the sky. This time, a plane was crashing down into the forest. As the plane’s burning wings touched the pines, they were set ablaze. Ali’s heart sank. That very forest led to his home. It was the place where he’d feed wild animals that’d visit his barn. And it was the last place he saw his beloved horse.
As the plane crashed, the dogs were alerted. They cocked their heads as if broken and ran to the trees. Ali felt sick to his stomach. It was hard to believe that anything was reality, but he finally had a chance to flee. With the road cleared, Ali slammed on his gas pedal and traveled home.
The tires of Ali’s car screeched as he pulled into the driveway. Rust or worn rubber of consequence to him. The only thought on Ali’s mind was gathering his family and getting everyone out of Kashmir as quickly as possible.
He yelled to everyone in the car to exit. Before they could go anywhere, they first needed to be packed and ready. And Ali had another dilemma on his hands. Hiba was still with them. Despite his hopes that Fariha would be home, there was no sight of her anywhere.
“Fariha’s probably inside. She couldn’t have gone far,” Ali thought to himself.
Hearing the car doors close, Mehwish rushed outside. In her arms, she held Sami. Her eyes motioned towards the doorway. There were four large suitcases packed. Ali rushed for the bags and drug them towards the SUV. The two girls, though frightened, ran alongside him to help. It was only Saleem who stayed behind, holding his head in his hands.
“Hiba!” Ali called out, “I’ll run next door to your mother. Stay here.”
Before sending the young girl off on her own, he needed to be certain that all was well and safe. After seeing what had happened to the wild dogs, he wondered what else was lurking in the forests. Though, before he could make it past his fence, his wife called out to him.
“What are you doing!? Fariha went to the school. She went to pick up Hiba!”
Luggage spilled onto the ground. Both Ali and Mehwish’s eyes grew wide. It dawned on both of them that the mother and daughter were split up with no way of contacting each other. There was no way of calling Fariha to let her know that Hiba was safe. Ali felt an emptiness in the back of his throat as he imagined the despairing thoughts on the mother’s mind.
There wasn’t time to drive back to search for Fariha. And more importantly, it wasn’t safe. The journey to his home alone had been a treacherous one. The journey to the city would only be more challenging. But Ali couldn’t fathom leaving his neighbor stranded in Kashmir.
“Quick!” Saleem screamed, “Quick! Let’s go! Let’s go to Islamabad! Why are we stalling!?”
Mehwish tilted her head at the strange man with bloodshot eyes. Ali was already regretting bringing the young factory worker with him, but he couldn’t leave a man stranded on the road during a time of war. Though, he had to worry that Saleem would endanger his family.
Ali stormed towards the man who had fumbled onto the ground and flailed in the snow. His heart was pounding. After everything that had happened, he couldn’t risk anything happening to the people he loved. He needed to calm Saleem. He needed him to listen to reason.
But as Ali stood in front of the young worker, he heard a loud screech. Tires slid into his driveway. At first, he feared a car had been run off the road or an accident had occurred. But as he looked into the window and saw a man with long hair and purple eyes, he sighed with relief.
Hassan exited his vehicle, but he was not alone. A woman got out of the car with him. When Ali saw her, he gasped. Hiba screamed and ran towards her mother. The two, finally, had been reunited. Ali was thankful to his friend. He wasn’t certain what he would have done otherwise.
Though, while the mother and daughter enjoyed their reunion, there was still confusion on Ali’s mind. “How did Hassan find her? Why did he come here? Shouldn’t he and his father be fleeing Kashmir?” He stepped forward to greet his friend. Time was limited, but he needed answers. “I am thankful,” Ali said, “But how? Where did you find Fariha?”
“I went to your work to look for you. When I didn’t find you there, I figured you had gone to pick up your daughter. Fariha was worried, but I knew if you found both of the children, they would be with you.”
Ali was growing anxious, “We need to leave Kashmir! Get in your car. We need to go now!”
Hassan was calm, “There is no use.”
Those words took Ali by surprise. He never knew Hassan to be one for such pessimism. There was still a chance. Ali refused to accept that there was no hope. He would stop at nothing to keep everyone safe. If they could just get to the city then-
“They are everywhere,” Hassan continued, “And I don’t mean just in Islamabad. They are attacking London, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong… they’re attacking the entire world.”
“But…” Ali was shocked, “What? The war is here in Kashmir!”
Hassan pointed inside the house, “Have you not been watching? This is not between Pakistan and India.”
All eyes were on Hassan. Ever since he had left the office, he hadn’t checked the news— he couldn’t. The radio in his car wasn’t working. And among the chaos, he hadn’t had a moment to stop. He looked at Mehwish who gasped. She, too, didn’t know what Hassan meant.
“Everyone! Get inside the house. I will explain everything!” Hassan said.
Qalandar, Earth Needed A Superhero. © Copyright 2019 by Fraz Ahmed. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Disclaimer : –
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.