To Those Who Made It … From Those Who Couldnt

It is okay … You go ahead. I will join you in Calais ..” screamed Khalid … Khalid had spent last 5 days arranging for a boat which was on its way to the Mediterranean … After greasing the palms of every official in sight, he was assured of 5 places in “Hurria” … Precious 5 places which will ensure safe exit for his parents, wife and two sons …

For a small businessman who sold dates for a living, Khalid was an astute and a swift man. Despite no formal education to his benefit, Khalid could converse fluently in English and was faster than most in arithmetic … Short, pot bellied man with soft brown twinkling eyes carrying both intelligence and kindness in an equal measure with complexion of hung curd … he was pleasant in sight and buoyant in spirit … It was his jocular ways and well tempered demeanor along with a bagful of Syrian pound which had led him to secure 5 seats on Hurria …

Khalid was desperate to secure 2 more seats … One for himself and one for Razia … “Razia” … that name was as mellifluous as the girl herself … He loved her with all his being … Khalid was merrily oblivious to the emotion of love until Razia walked into his life … to be more accurate walked into his shop.

For esperance, in the times of war, one needs to cling tight on to one’s pleasant memories … Your memories keep you alive … They are your source of smile when doom engulfs you. “Memories”… Khalid knew a thing or two about memories. He knew what memories could to do him … On a pallid winter afternoon, they could light up his eyes … Memories were sunshine on a cold cloudy day … And breeze crepitating on a silent hot afternoon. Razia’s walk into Khalid’s colorless, monotonous life was a memory he had held on to even after 2 years of their furtive liaison … A slow, sluggish and silent walk brought with itself a storm of emotion. As he looked up from his old tattered register of accounts, his eyes met the deepest blue ocean he had ever seen … Deep blue eyes set on white snowy skin with delicate features … It seemed as if Allah had lightly drawn those lips as an after thought and that nose was placed hurriedly before proceeding to His afternoon siesta. Razia was Venus herself … The words she first spoke with him continued to remain the sweetest symphony he had ever heard … “Salaam valekum … urid shira al fawkih al jaff” (Greetings, I want to buy dry-fruits) … Razia spoke. Her voice was innocent and her lips moved with much alacrity, as if they were in a hurry to utter those words … Her eyes swept over his shop and in one sweep could assess his small, dusty store with a distinct fragrance of cheroot and chocolate brown walls matching the color of the dates he sold. Khalid … stood there frozen, as if a stranger in his own store … His feet refused to obey his command and so did his eyes … The world had stopped revolving around him and he remembered not batting an eyelid till his eyes started flowing. Razia was not unfamiliar with the male reaction towards her pulchritude. However, the manner in which her insides were responding to Khalid’s gaze was certainly unfamiliar to her … Sudden breathlessness with an urge to skedaddle before her knees gave all of her 10 stones away. Razia was the prettiest amongst her 4 sisters … She was also the youngest and hence was a little arrogant for a young lady of 21. She knew that her Abbu was crazy about her and would hand her over to the most befitting young man in the town. Razia was aware of her own charm and the impact it had on men … Men were enthralled and women were envious around her. Razia was a woman and she knew all that a woman needed to do to please her man. This man was not oblivious to her beauty and Razia this time was not unaffected by male reaction … They were the two poles of a magnetic field which could collapse any moment.

After being stunned for a few minutes, it was Khalid who broke the silence and asked, “Ma kammiatan min alfawhih aljaffat kunt targhab fi shira” (What is the quantity of dry fruits do you wish to buy) … And from here began their now 2 year old affair!

Razia was aware of Khalid’s predicament and Khalid knew Razia’s popularity but they were both helpless when it concerned their feelings for each other  …

The conundrum and the confusion surrounding their relationship did not once erode the intensity of their emotion … In fact, with each passing day it grew stronger, with both of them being clueless about how to deal with their longing for the other …

On March 15, 2015 … the first bomb was dropped in their village … it was that bomb which had killed Razia’s family … destroyed her world and the light inside her which had once lit the darkest of rooms had gone … Razia was left all alone in this big bad world … Apart from Khalid, she had no one to call her own.

On the night of bombing Khalid and his family had gone to the nearby village to attend a wedding and hence escaped being blown apart like the others. On his return, he frantically searched for Razia and what he found was an emaciated, white, dead woman instead of the smiling rosy damsel he had left behind.

Khalid knew he couldnt leave Razia behind and from what he could gather, they all needed to escape to France for the war in Syria had just begun. The war had ravaged the economy and corruption was at its peak … Every two days, a boat sailed to Calai via England and with each departure the money required to secure a place in the boat trebled. He needed a total of 7 places in order to take his world from the unsafe deadly straits of Syria to the safe haven of France. The French were rapidly growing hostile towards the influx of Syrians and hence many of them escaped to Germany, Belgium and Sweden. Khalid’s ammi’s cousins lived in France and had assured him a decent income through driving cabs at night and toiling in a factory during the day … Khalid was prepared to toil in order to make a decent living for himself, his family and Razia. Once they reach France, he would reveal Razia’s presence in his life to his family and would marry her and have yet another set of children from her … Life would be beautiful once again and with time, he knew one day he would accumulate enough to take Razia on Europe tour. Khalid was a dreamer and a doer rolled into one.

After his family left the shores of Syria, he returned to Razia only to assure her that he would manage to gather sufficient cash for them in next 2 weeks, after which they both shall sail to France … That was the first time he had seen Razia smile since she lost her family. Hope does sustain life and in Razia’s case it sustained her smile … Khalid had forgotten how absolutely gorgeous she looked when her lips stretched into a straight line … Full, thick, pink lips!! How he wished he knew their taste … But then, he had to wait before he could make an honest woman out of her.

That night, the deafening sound of yet another bomb reverberated the streets of Syria … The sanguinary was worse than before and the loss of life even more severe … Razia lost her best friend and the only confidant she had … Rubia! But this time Razia did not cry … Razia did not cry because Razia could not cry … When she saw the splintered parts of Rubia all around the verandah where they once played as little girls, she could only feel this sudden urge to vomit … She wanted to vomit her pain but she couldnt … She wanted to throw up … But she couldnt … Her system was failing her and so was her consciousness and all she could establish was Khalid holding her hand for next 5 hours …

Razia woke up next morning and found herself in Khalid’s embrace … Khalid had held her tight all through the night. Her pillow was wet … It was drenched in her tears … She had cried in her sleep … Khalid’s blue sleeve was also moist … All she could remember was fainting into his arms. Nothing more.

Her twists and turns in the bed woke him up and with eyes half closed Khalid could see the woman he dearly loved. He took in her fragrance and the world around them had come to a stand still … Razia looked up and uttered those words which later she realized she should not have … “Why did we make it … Why couldnt others make it … What sin did we commit to have survived it all?” … Khalid sat on the bed, now fully awake and slowly absorbing every single word she said … The meaning of her words hit him like fresh air … Razia considered herself unfortunate to have survived the bombings! She preferred death over life if she had to live without her loved ones … That thought could have annoyed Khalid. He could have chosen to get angry at her for displaying sheer ingratitude but he chose to look at it as a revelation … Revelation of her deeply emotional side. He never doubted Razia’s feelings for him but what he was completely unaware of  the depth of her emotion, the intensity of she felt. Her unoffending manner of questioning evoked multitudinous responses in him … A part of him wanted to hug her reassuringly and promise the sun, the moon and the stars, yet another part of him wanted to give her a long sermon about how life is the biggest and the most precious gift of Allah and that we must all thank Him for bestowing it upon us and that those who have gone to Him are now at peace. Khalid decided against both and got dressed. He had work to do … He had to take cash from one of his customers and then pay his way through to obtain 2 more seats and this time in “Barika” … Barika was scheduled to leave the shores of Syria 3 days from today and after securing 2 places in it, he had to ensure his and Razia’s safety. Syria had become a stage for the death to dance … dance of death on land which was once known for its beauty and culture and dry fruits and tradition. Everything had abruptly come to a halt … The war had begun and this time the monster wanted to swallow all those who brushed past it. Syria was dying but Syrians were struggling to stay alive … Khalid and Razia were two such Syrians.

Abdul Rehman was a tough cookie but even he could not resist falling to Khalid’s charms. Rehman owed 50,000 Syrian Pound and after much imploring and cajoling gave 25,000 Syrian Pound to Khalid … “These are tough times Khalid Mian. From where am I to get so much pound? Like you, I too am struggling to leave Syria … But unlike you, I plan to enter Lebanon and wait for things to settle down here. Till when can the war last” … And before Khalid could control himself, “Forever” slipped from his lips. Rehman gave him one caustic look and handed over the sack which contained Razia’s and Khalid’s “Hurria” …

The sack was heavy but Khalid was happy to carry the weight of pound for the weight of life was lighter than the weight of a dead corpse. .. Razia might consider herself unfortunate to have survived but Khalid was determined to change the manner in which she looked at life … Life was “Hiba”… It had to be loved and lived! Escaping death when those you loved didnt might make you feel guilty … You might want to wish for death to join those you love but Allah is all powerful … It is He who decides who lives and we must all accept His wish with love … With these thoughts Khalid’s steps became even more vociferous and vehement … Khalid was a man on mission and Razia was his destination, in this life and all the other lifetimes …

Upon reaching the ticket counter, the scalper informed him that the cost of sailing to Calais had quadrupled and now instead of 5000 Syrian Pounds, one had to pay 20,000 Syrian Pounds … Khalid stood there staring at him … He tried to negotiate the price to 10,000 Syrian Pounds but his cries fell on deaf ears. The scalper, Mouhammad Tarek was an old, greedy gentleman with absolutely no one in the world to call his own. Tarek’s sleazy ways were well known in the village and Khalid knew he had set his eyes on Razia ever since the killing of her family. Tarek knew no mercy … He was full of filth and Khalid wanted to protect Razia from Tarek and his ignoble intentions. After much deliberation, Khalid bought just one ticket on “Barika” … He knew he had to somehow convince Razia to be on that boat and reach Calais … Calais, also known as the Calais Jungle, was the largest refugee camp and given Razia’s beauty and deftness in household work she was sure to get some decent job and a man to settle down with … Khalid had a long battle ahead of him and he knew he had to win it at all costs. Razia could not be left alone over here … Soon the ISIS crusaders will take the women away as the spoils of war … He knew what they had done in Iraq and now it was time for them to spread their tentacles in Syria and he knew Razia would become an easy target. With no one to keep her safe and secure, she would be “picked up” first. Razia had to be saved … She had to be saved from the murderers masquerading as messengers of Allah  and she had to be saved from herself.

With cluttered thoughts and capsized process, Khalid began his journey back home where Razia was waiting for him hopefully with something to eat. Growling stomach was the biggest hindrance in clear thinking.

Khalid took a detour and found himself slowing down. The thought of being away from Razia was tearing him apart … It was as if a sword was stuck into him and the sword was slowly moving in a clockwise direction painfully slicing his flesh … It was difficult for him to breathe and he felt claustrophobic in the middle of a park or what was once known as park … Khalid could not cry for tears wouldnt swell his eyes … He could only feel his pain rising. He was a man who had work to do but had no energy to do it … Khalid!

Upon reaching the tattered roof which had sheltered them for some time now, he saw Razia staring at a picture of her family in which she saw a happy, young, beautiful and hopeful self along standing next to her sisters, her parents and Rubia … This was the most precious possession of hers … Khalid stood there for what seemed like an eternity to him before he held her in his arms … “Razia, ya hayatee … Life will get better. Please have hope. We will leave this country for the beautiful farms of France” and as he promised her, the weight of that single ticket increased ten-fold. His pocket suddenly felt heavy.

As he planned their escape to France, Razia gradually began to get her life back … They were just 3 days away from their final journey and Razia knew she would never have to go through the pain of loss ever again. Amidst war they had found peace in each other … Their love had blossomed and Khalid wanted to prolong each moment spent with Razia. He knew she would be all alone on that boat and till he could manage additional Syrian Pound his escape to France was not even a possibility.

Life could be painful but then what is life without a little bit of pain … He was spending the best moments of his life in the worst turmoil his country had ever witnessed. He had received the news that his wife, parents and children were with his ammi’s cousin and had started living a normal life .. . Razia would be gone soon and he would be left all alone in Syria … He would fight against the Daesh and would collect Syrian Pound to plan his exit. He could at best be hopeful or at worst be despondent … Nothing much really changed and neither did much move between the two ends of the oscillating pendulum of time.

Finally the day of departure arrived … Both Khalid and Razia got ready to leave. Razia hung possessively on Khalid’s arm. She had hugged him this morning and uttered a short prayer. She had prayed to Allah to keep them safe and healthy during the journey. She had hoped to befriend his first wife Sultana and seek his parents approval. Life was looking up again and Razia was apprehensive yet hopeful of finding her true happiness at last.

Khalid allowed Razia to hold on to his arm and shift her weight on him. Otherwise feather light Razia felt heavy today … He knew the what weighed was his misery and not her. He would miss her touch and her smile. His mornings would no longer begin with her smile and his evening wouldnt end with him seeing his reflection in her eyes … But he had to let go off her … If Razia was his limb, he could cut it and live without it … But Razia was his soul … How does one live without one’s soul?

Upon reaching the dock from which the boat had to sail in next 2 hours, Khalid handed over Razia her ticket … He made her sit comfortably and left her to buy 2 bottles of water with some bread to eat. Next 48 hours would be on water and Razia had to pull through them with as much comfort as he could afford. He returned with some food, water and blanket to keep her warm at night. As the final call for the passengers was announced, he gave all that he had bought to Razia along with the letter … She looked at him and then at the things he had given her … And all she could do was stand there motionless with puzzle, chaos, confusion and bedlam taking turns on her face … He kissed her palms and got down … She still did not move. For her it was an out of body experience and she didnt know what was happening to her … She wanted to yell … Wanted to run and hold on to him but before she could do the boat had started moving and as soon as it departed … She gave a loud cry of help!! She screamed with pain and the agony which she had stored inside her came out in form of wails and childlike cries … Tears flowed ceaselessly and she kept calling for Khalid … But Khalid was no where to be seen. She felt as if she was caught up in a bad dream and she couldnt wake up … Some where deep inside she also felt as if it was a joke and Khalid would emerge from somewhere and hold her from behind … Nothing of what she had wanted or imagined happened. The other passengers tried to soothe her down and offered her water …

She stuffed her hands into her pockets and found a crumpled piece of paper in … It bore Khalid’s handwriting … It read … “To those who made it … Please consider yourself fortunate for Allah wanted you to live. Never doubt His wishes and His love for you. I will always be there in your heart … You will never know how much I love you. Please look after yourself … From those who didnt” … Razia looked up to see the vast stretch of sea … Abbu was gone, Ammi was gone, sisters were gone, Rubia died before her eyes and now Khalid too was gone … Razia was alive. She was here and what she had were memories of all those she loved. Memories would sustain her, she hoped …

48 hours later … Razia long with 12 others touched the shores of Calais … She had made it … And when she looked up, she prayed … “From all those who made it, may peace please descend on those who didnt

Love Sugarsatchet

Picture Credits: http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-war-in-syria-and-the-russian-jet

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