By Asad Shabbir
A young boy stood outside a dreary hospital building late in the night. There were no ill-fated signs that had brought the boy there. He was wearing dark jeans, a blue t-shirt and a thin grey jacket which did little to warm him from the cold weather. He just stood on the sidewalk, watching the cars zoom by as he enjoyed a cigarette. To most late night commuters, he was just a kid.
What could have possibly gone wrong? Everything was so damn perfect.
His seemingly bright future had crumbled. He tried to remember the day everything went right. The day he was given everything he could have dreamt of. Thinking back to the good times wouldn’t matter much, he decided, since nothing mattered anymore. So he chose to relive the glory.
He leaned against the light post, willing tears away as he clenched his eyes shut, trying to disappear.
The sun had barely emerged from the horizon when the calls for prayer started to echo through Islamabad. Different calls for prayer overlapped and created an overwhelming effect. Most of the city was still asleep; the silence was pierced only by the flurry of movement from religious citizens. Among the few cars on the usually polluted roads were cars heading towards Islamabad International School. The day so many students had been dreading or looking forward to had finally arrived. The final end-of-course grades were going to be released today.
Amir would have given his right arm and a leg to relive that day. He would have given anything to have that feeling again. The feeling where nothing is wrong, and if you can’t do something today, you can always try again tomorrow. No force in the world, however, could do that. He lit another cigarette, making several attempts as the wind got stronger.
Amongst the many commuters to the school, Amir was perhaps one of the only ones who was not worried. He had performed well in the exams and had decent grades during the school years. The A Levels was a rigorous and demanding course, and it was finally over. Sitting in the back of his car, he breathed a sigh of relief. This entire saga would come to an end within hours. His father who was driving him to school, kept attempting to calm Amir. Amir himself had resigned from telling his father that he was not stressed. From his point of view, he had done the best he could. It was up to the examiners and Cambridge to decide fate now. There was nothing he could do, and there was no point in worrying.
He inhaled deeply, wanting to feel the smoke inside him. Snatches of memories revived his desire to do something rebellious and standing at the side of a busy road at midnight while smoking was the best he could muster.
“It’s getting warmer. I think it said 29 on the weather last night,” said his father, Jamal, steering the compact Suzuki into the fast lane.
“Yeah Dad,” Amir said, not really listening. He had his iPod plugged into his ears, lost in his own world. After the exams, he had slept through the holidays until the results. His entire sleep cycle had been heavily corrupted. He had woken today at the time where he usually goes to sleep, so small talk wasn’t really welcomed.
Amir chuckled to himself. How his former self could even think about sleeping! The things he had taken for granted, the things he did without realizing how valuable they were. He hated himself. He hated his former self.
“Look at that, look at all that trash! This is a filthy place,” exclaimed Jamal, pointing towards a heap of trash at a street corner.
“It’s Pakistan, Dad.”
‘We need to do something about this. Just saying that it’s Pakistan is no excuse,” Jamal said.
Amir ended the conversation with a noncommittal grunt. He just wanted to get to school and get it over with.
“I hope there is coffee there. They had food for the graduates last year,” Amir said, pulling out his cell phone.
“Beta, aren’t you worried?” asked Jamal. His concern over his son’s absolute lack of interest in his result was making him anxious.
“Dad, I did well. I know it. I am not worried for myself but for a couple of my friends. That’s it. I always do okay in these kinds of things,” Amir replied, removing his headphones.
They were nearly there, now. As Amir saw the long line of parked cars around the block, he began to feel a bit nervous. Damn it, Dad was right.
“I’ll park the car and you meet with your friends.” said Jamal, unlocking the doors.
“No Dad, I don’t want to go alone,” said Amir.
Jamal smiled at his son and drove until a parking space was found. Within a few minutes, they were walking towards the school. With each step, Amir felt something rise in his chest.
Perplexed, he decided that he should get something to drink as soon as they entered. They passed the gates; Amir breathed in the familiar air and took in the atmosphere.
The warm tears on his face tried to calm the fury that had begun to envelop him, but the force was too great. Every single plan he had for his future had been shattered. Any hope, dream, or aspiration had disappeared. All he had felt like a few months to properly live before he got very sick and died a slow and painful death.
“Oye, Amir, come here!” came a yell from the other side of the building.
“Go hang out with your stupid friends. I need to talk to some parents,” said Jamal, pushing his son in the direction of his beckoning friends.
“What’s up guys?”
“We are so screwed. At least McDonalds is hiring.” said Zaka, one of Amir’s best friends.
“No, even they have standards, Zaka,” said Iram.
“C’mon guys, it can’t be that bad,” said Amir.
“You’re the bloody nerd here. I won’t be surprised if the best university in the world sends a platter with a PhD to you,” laughed Iram.
“Guys, shut the hell up. We’re all screwed. At least let’s get something to eat. I am starving,” said Amir, silencing the group. He led them to the courtyard where they had spent 15 years playing. A massive table was laid out with coffee, chips, cookies, and other snacks.
“Quite a spread,” remarked Amir, grabbing plates and handing them out.
“Oh shut the hell up. How can you even think about food right now?” screamed Iram.
A wry smile forced itself onto Amir’s disfigured face. She was right; how the hell could he be thinking about food at that time?
“I’m hungry.” Amir answered.
Iram punched him playfully and accepted the plate. Zaka, who had had a thing for Iram, was so worried over the outcome of the last two years that he did not bother shooting Amir a dirty look. Noticing the lack of response, Amir tried to calm them down.
“Guys, we have worked our asses off. We studied for the exams. We did them well. Don’t worry. No matter what we do right now, we cannot change the result. Just have a biscuit and chill,” Amir put on the most relaxing tone he could manage.
“Screw you,” replied Zaka, taking a plate and putting a slice of cake onto it.
Saying that Amir’s mind was racing would be an understatement. He knew his parents would be looking for him, he knew he was being a fool, but he just had to get away from the chaos inside the hospital. He wanted to get away from that indifferent doctor.
“I am sorry to inform you but your son has cancer.”
Just like that. No buffer, no easing into it. The first thing Amir remembered was the sudden cold. He was not shocked or scared. Just cold. He felt as if this were a scene from a movie where the hero is told he has cancer, and in the time he has, the ill-fated hero learns the meaning of life. He stood waiting for that moment.