The Space Between Waking Up and Moving On
When I saw the two men approaching – both dressed in black kurtas with black pieces of cloth wrapped around their faces, guns in three of four hands, everything flapping maniacally as their Honda CD 70 clattered onwards - my first reaction was damn, these chutias have mistaken me for somebody else.
I was waiting to cross the street. There was a mosque behind me, grey and gold, and houses all around, white and brown. The road, Khayaban-e-Ittehad, stretched far in each direction, yellow lights at irregular intervals, shadows, and so on. There was also a Shell petrol pump a bit further on to my left, deserted at that time of night, with attendants dressed in yellow huddled around a little TV screen watching the cricket.
The light had turned green and I’d just lifted my right foot as I heard the unmistakable sound of a motorcycle in a hurry, which the back of my head translated to (as it always did in Karachi) impending death. I looked to my left and there they were, appearing under yellow light and then disappearing and then appearing again. When I saw the guns I stood stock still. Shit.
It didn’t hurt as much as you’d think - kind of a letdown, really. I felt one bullet in my head and three in my stomach. Then I heard several others but did not feel anything because I was already dead. The gunshots probably woke up everyone in the vicinity but the men didn’t seem to be in a hurry. They stopped next to my body to check if I was really dead or maybe just pretending. They got off the motorcycle one after another, looked left and right for sounds of cars or people approaching (the petrol pump attendants had disappeared along with the TV set) and walked over to me. While they examined my body I went and sat down, cross legged, on the handlebars of the Honda; might as well get a lift out of the entire deal, not like I had anything better to do now.
As they came back and sat down I took one last look at my body. My pants were more or less still beige; they seemed to have avoided most of the blood. Other than that: red, everything was red. My face was unrecognizable. The beard I’d worked so hard to grow out lay limp and lifeless on my cheek. I didn’t really have any dignity in death – I lay sprawled on the road, arms and legs spread out in true Vitruvian fashion, my blue shirt crumpled and streaked with red. I had also, by the smell of it, shit myself, but I didn’t have time to investigate as at that moment the driver revved the engine and the motorcycle shot forwards.
I’d been shot once before, on the leg, nothing serious, outside the shop I ran in Saddar. But that time it was the police that had shot me - a stray bullet while trying to shoot down a burglar, apparently – so it had hurt more, trust issues and so on.
“I don’t think that was our guy,” the driver shouted at the man sitting behind him as we shot forwards.
No shit. I swiveled on the handlebars and faced the men as we took a left off Ittehad onto a residential street.
They’d both taken their masks off and stuck their little pistols somewhere inside their shalwars, hopefully having forgotten to turn the safety back on, how funny would that be? The driver had a massive mustache and substantial eyebrows and was probably somewhere in his late twenties. The passenger seemed younger, clean shaven, a perpetual smile etched on to his face.
“Yeah I don’t think so either. What do we tell boss?”
“Nothing. We didn’t find him. End of story. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
I swiveled back again. We were driving through a really posh looking street. There were guards and chowkidars outside every gate, some with guns and uniforms, others with sticks and bloodshot eyes who’d probably topple off their metal chairs if you so much as poked them with a finger. The people inside the houses were probably already asleep.
Mama and Papa and most people I knew had already fallen victim to this city, all cases of either target killings gone hopelessly off target or just getting caught up in the middle of bullet-rain while out shopping. I made a mental note to look for them once I’d gotten used to this. At least I knew where Mama would be: haunting shops that sold flowery chiffon prints and cotton dupattas, haggling over things she couldn’t even wear with shopkeepers that probably woke up every day and seriously considered while staring at a wall why they’d ever thought opening up a women’s clothing store in Karachi was a good thing to do with their lives.
The wind didn’t blow my hair about. It was slightly disturbing.
We took more lefts and rights and finally ended up outside one of those dirty old brown apartments on Bukhari Commercial, the ones they told you were full of prostitutes.
I snickered as I imagined the two men lying naked on their sides, mustaches and chest hair forests and all, beckoning a client towards them, slowly. The fuck, Haris? I shook my head vigorously.
The two men got off the motorcycle and began to examine it for traces of blood, my blood. I also got off and kneeled down next to the clean shaven one, my face inches from his. His face looked no different from a person who’d just come back from a trip to the grocery store and forgotten to buy tomatoes. I wanted to ask him who he was.
“Find anything?” He spoke.
“Not really,” I said, but only air came out.
“No jaani, all good,” said the mustache.
“Brilliant. Let’s go inside, Pakistan should be batting now.”
I followed them. They went in through a door with a rusted metal grille which squealed all the way to heaven when the mustache pushed it and held it open for his partner. The staircase was dark and dank. The stairs themselves were slightly ragged at the edges. The railings had red marks which could have been traces left by people spitting out paan or, simply, just blood. It was difficult to tell which. I tried to make the lights flicker by staring at them but soon gave up, disappointed. This was going to be fucking boring.
We entered an apartment on the third floor and found ourselves in a lounge of sorts. It wasn’t very well lit either, more of a temporary place really. A sofa, a TV, white walls, shiny concrete floor, a fridge in the kitchen to the right and two doors ahead which probably led into two bedrooms. Or one bedroom and a study, in case they were sleeping together. I saw mustaches and skin again and slapped myself across the face.
The clean shaven man went through a little door that probably led into a bathroom while the mustache turned on the TV and sat on the brown leather sofa. As he began flicking through channels I went and sat down next to him, arms behind my head. It was no more comfortable than the handlebars of the CD 70, odd.
“Oye Ali!” The mustache shouted suddenly, “Come out! Look at this! It’s on the news.”
I heard a flush go and Ali stumbled into the lounge moments later, frantically tying the nara on his shalwar to keep it from falling down. He then came over to the sofa and looked like he was going to sit on my spot, so I scooted a bit to the side and ended up between the two.
I was on TV. There were two police cars and an ambulance in the shot. The police officers were in a huddle outside the vehicles and appeared to be having a conversation amongst themselves while I lay sprawled on the street. A crowd had gathered in a circle around me, chatting, probably discussing what happened, eating peanuts. I spotted two boys in the crowd who were doubled up laughing. The ambulance driver was smoking. Blue and red lights were flashing and blinding the camera lens once every two seconds. A reporter with a mic in his hand stood facing us.
“We are currently at the scene of what the police are describing as a target killing. The perpetrators are as yet unknown…”
The two hi-fived each other above my head.
“The victim in question…”
Haris. It’s Haris. I have a name, fucker.
“…may be connected to the Association of United Muhajirs…”
What? What is that?
“…we are also hearing reports of an as-yet-unconfirmed political shooting earlier today in Khadda Market in which this as- yet-unidentified man may have been involved.”
I stood up off the sofa, seething.
The mustache laughed.
“Haha chutiay reporters. What on earth?”
“Was he part of AUM?”
“Bhainchod what do I know? Maybe we did kill someone important.”
They both laughed for at least another five seconds.
This morning I’d opened up my shop where I sold fake branded T-shirts and made a killing all day long. What the fuck was this? Ask them! Ask the people that came into the shop! I was there! What killing? What?
Thank goodness everyone I knew was already dead, this could’ve been really embarrassing.
The reporter continued to describe what he believed the motives of the gunmen were and why I was there in the first place and speculate about whether it involved high-level party meetings. I wished I could tell them that I’d only been crossing the street to go back home from the mosque.
In the background a few police officers and the ambulance driver picked me up and heaved me into the back of the ambulance. They still hadn’t mentioned my name, fuckers, and were already moving on to another news item - something about drones, and more nameless people.
I fumed for another minute and sat down again when the mustache changed channels and put on the cricket. Pakistan was 234 for 3, with sixty more runs left to win off thirty three balls.
All three of us emitted equally huge sighs, as we leaned back against the sofa and settled in for what looked like was going to be one heck of an ending to the match.
About the author:
Zain grew up in Karachi, Pakistan and is currently studying linguistics in Freiburg, Germany. He has no idea why. He has been published in The Freiburg Review, Bird's Thumb, Cease, Cows, FLAPPERHOUSE and Eunoia Review, and has work forthcoming in Third Point Press, Bahamut Journal, Cheap Pop, Pidgeonholes Mag, and others. He infrequently flutters at here.