VERDICT: NOT GUILTY.

The world was awfully quiet, unlike the usual days when it roars and thunders to make its presence known. She did not care; she was immersed in another world of her own. That inner world was like a ship about to meet its end in a raging ocean. The wreck, the misery and the fruitlessness of the efforts are common to all whose ships are sinking. She opened the door to the night outside, the cool breeze brushed off against her cheeks. She took a deep breath and embraced the world outside.

She played many scenarios over and over in her head. Each time she viewed herself critically and each time she found herself to be NOT GUILTY. Some people are pure in every sense of the word; they have a pure heart capable of generating pure love. They are compassionate and good natured; they simply do not find the essence of hating anyone in their lives. No matter what others do to them or torture them through inexplicable ways of cruelty, such naïve people always come up with an excuse to forgive them and to bear their wretched beings. But how can you pass a brutal verdict to a soul who has just known love throughout her life? A heart who knows how to love with all its might, the eyes that keep shining with the light of hope and the lips that are decorated with the smile of optimism can never be defeated no matter what. It is not her fault that your heart is dominated by your brain, that you are so damaged that you do not know how to love or even appreciate love, or that you think that everyone who cares for you or comes near you has an agenda. There are still many beautiful souls in the world who meet others just because they want to and they like to; not merely to fulfill their hidden goals.

As she embraced the world and everything within it, she made sure it saw her in her supreme totality. The storm inside her had calmed down now as she had made peace with her inner being. The ship had fought a tremendous battle but was now on its course again. The world outside was awed, however. It rushed to challenge her; but the verdict had been passed. NOT GUILTY.

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Verdict: GUILTY.

Assemble a court. Pick out as many judges as you can. Sound the trumpets, gather the masses. Bring her to judgement. Bombard her with your allegations. She is there. Dazzle all the eyes with your shiny tongue and confound all the ears with your truthful lies. Raise your hands to drink to her health while quietly whispering her to death sentence. She is there. Kill her with your false notions of love and respect and dignity and morals and values and faith. She is there. Like a steadfast rock, she is there.

She is guilty, yes. She is guilty of having the warmth of love in her heart. She is guilty of possessing the magic of hope in her bosom. Faith runs with blood in her veins. Her eyes sparkle with shiny confidence. She is guilty of giving the luxury of trust to everyone. She is guilty of giving it all in every matter, for she does not know any constraints; her feelings and her heart don’t know any boundaries. She is guilty of nurturing false notions of expectations and dreams and happy endings in that little head of hers. She is guilty of believing in magic and miracles and fairytales and love stories. She is guilty of being extraordinary and dramatic and poetic.

She is guilty; such selfless actions must be accounted for. She must be burnt alive. She must be condemned to adopt the veil of the mundane and ordinary. She must be exiled to the fires of the blazing life everyone else cooked up for her. Indeed, that is the most beautifully cruel way of pushing her off the edge, while her body still dwells this earth like a corpse.

All those in favor?

Verdict: Guilty.

 

Grazie Vita!

All it took was just a moment. It always takes just a moment. A moment to shake up your world, to change your life as you knew it. The milestones you had reached, brick by brick, the monuments you had made, piece by piece, the heights you had touched, all ripped off the wall of your existence. Days and weeks and months and years and ages of struggle and love, patience and resilience, courage and hope, are brought to trial in a single moment. A moment is the separation between a smile and a tear.

But all it took was a moment. It always takes just a moment Amico. A moment to transform. It takes merely a moment to face the music of the deeds of your sentimental, spontaneous, instinctive personality. Only a moment is required to see through the sheer recklessness and plain brutality inflicted upon you. In that lapse of a moment, you open your eyes to the actuality of reality; you reflect upon the pains you took to accommodate people in your life, and their real face shown in the mirror doesn’t look quite so fascinating anymore. People are ferocious and vicious, but covered with facades of affection and love. When the time comes, it takes only a moment for them to throw away all that mattered to you in the garbage.

So, all it took was a moment. It always takes just a moment. You took only a moment to enlighten your own way towards this luminous path. You sip on your tears. You mutter a silent prayer. And you close it with a massive iron lock in your heart. Obviously, it still aches to think to what happened, to fall from such a zenith and pushed by none others than those closest to you, yet you bear it all. Because pain demands to be felt. You cannot deny its presence, but you learn to learn from it. You learn to move away from all the darkness that was trying to engulf you and you, oh you little Light! You kept flickering and never going out completely. That’s what you are supposed to do Amico. Shine as bright as you can. Smile as wide as you can. Take that moment and live it. For it is that moment that vanishes those tears and curves your lips into a smile.

Winter is Coming

It’s a beautiful day. The winter is announcing its arrival by the chilly cold breeze gushing across my face. It is making my feet and legs go numb for I am too feeble to bear any intensity. Yet I don’t mind it, after all I have waited long enough to cherish this winter. I have born the scorching, dehydrating heat of the summers to reach to this most awaited winter. Winter is coming, finally.

Only now do I realize the futility of my long, desperate wait. Here they are, the long, unending nights that I was so longing for. But I have been denied their pleasures, I have been exiled to the realms of loneliness and misery. I have been dethroned from my kingdom of tranquility and peace, only to suffer alone in the desert of redemption and regret. I have all what I asked for yet here I stand empty handed. The heart beats but has lost the one it beat for. My prayers have been answered but my wishes have been refused.

The Missing Bride

“I told you I have a very important deal to finalize; I will try to come as soon as possible”, said Mr. Smith.

“Okay, I understand”, said Rebecca plainly and hung up. A tear rolled down her cheek and many others following its lead, started falling on the pillow in her lap.

“Oh dear”, comforted Mrs. Stuart, “there is nothing to be upset about. He will be there I assure you. Now don’t you give it any more thought my dear! Let me see that beautiful smile of yours… there you go.” She beamed at Rebecca and hugged her tightly.

“If the drama queen is done, can she spare me some time?” said Joe mockingly. Rebecca threw a pillow at him but he dodged it. Mrs. Stuart laughed at their childish behavior, kissed Rebecca on the cheeks, bade them both good night and left the room.

“So tomorrow’s going to be a great day for you”, said Joe after Mrs. Stuart had left the room.
“Indeed”, said Rebecca with her eyes fixed on the wall. “It’s supposed to be the best day of my life.”

Mr. James Smith was a prominent and successful businessman. His flourishing business was the cause of his lavish lifestyle. He had this amazing house that people called ‘The White Palace’ due to its beauty and hugeness. He had only one daughter, Rebecca Smith. He lost his dear wife when Rebecca was only seven years old in a car accident. Had it not been for Rebecca, he was devastated. He pulled himself together and decided to move on with life so that he could strive to provide his daughter with a better future. Mrs. Merry Stuart was his only sister who was a widow and had no children. May be this was the reason she loved Rebecca extremely. So Mr. Smith gave the responsibility of his little daughter to her and busied himself with his work. Mrs. Stuart raised Rebecca like her own daughter and she grew into a very fine beautiful lady.

Rebecca Smith was a very sensitive person and who wouldn’t be after they have seen so much in such a little age? Her mother’s accident left some deep scars in her memory that shone brightly whenever she was alone. Otherwise, she remained joyful all the time. She would be very mischievous at times, having little playful joint ventures with Joseph Turner. Joseph, or Joe as she called her, was her best friend from school and they were always found together. Despite all her cheerfulness, she missed her mother very much. The little memory she had of the time that she spent with her would play in her mind in a flashback. She kept staring at her mother’s picture before going to bed daily. But what she missed the most was her father’s time and attention. He was always too busy. He was way too busy to attend her birthdays, her parent-teacher meetings, her sports days at school, her graduation ceremony, and lastly her wedding! She was getting married to a doctor, Edward Williams, who was the son of a friend of Mrs. Stuart. He had seen her in a party and fell in love with her at first sight. She loved him too and was really looking forward to the day they would get married. It was the most special day of her life that’s why she naturally expected her father to be present there. But the night before the wedding, he called her and told her that he would be late for the ceremony as he is preoccupied with some official tasks. She would always understand her father’s reasons for his absence but this time she wasn’t ready to do the same. This time had to be different.

Rebecca had no trouble getting up early; the reason being she didn’t sleep at all. She had so much to do before actually getting ready for the wedding. She hurried across the house doing one thing or the other. The ceremony was to be held at 6 pm and it was already 1pm. She had been asking Mrs. Stuart for the past two hours if Joe had come yet. Rebecca’s face would get angrier after every time she shook her head in a no. “Why isn’t he here yet? He should have been here by now. He was supposed to bring Rosetta an hour ago”, said Rebecca nearly crying.

“Thank you all for missing me”, echoed Joe’s voice in the hall. He had brought Rosetta who had to dress Rebecca up and do her makeup.

“You… you are so dead”, yelled Rebecca at him from across the hall and was about to run towards him to chase him when Mrs. Stuart held her arm and dragged her to her room with Rosetta.

“No time for all this now”, she said with artificial anger, “start getting ready now.” Joe whistled merrily and said, “Don’t worry we will have plenty of time to settle all this.” He winked at Rebecca and continued whistling.

The White Palace really looked like a palace. The lights and decorations were all very appealing and pleasing to the eyes. The guests had started arriving and were guided by Mrs. Stuart to their seats. Everyone kept looking at the stairs to see if the bride had come yet. Mrs. Stuart sent Joe to check if she was ready and bring her then. Almost half an hour went by and Joe didn’t return. Mrs. Stuart now started getting a little angry and decided to go upstairs herself. She pushed the door open and was about to scold everyone when she saw Joe sitting on the couch holding his head in his hands. Rosetta was sitting on the bed and looked on the verge of tears.

“What’s wrong with you two? What happened? Wait… where’s Rebecca?” asked Mrs. Stuart sensing the tension in the air.

“We… we don’t know… we are not sure…” exclaimed Rosetta hesitatingly.

“What do you mean? What’s the matter? Please tell me what’s going on here? And where is Rebecca anyway? Everyone is waiting for her downstairs, even the groom and his family is here now”, said Mrs. Stuart.

“Well…” said Joe, “ the thing is that we don’t know where Rebecca is. Rosetta got her ready and then went to the changing room to get ready herself. But when I came to the room, it was empty. Rebecca was not here, nor was she in any of the other rooms as I checked the whole house myself. I looked for her everywhere but she is nowhere to be found. Her cell is lying here on the bed. She has simply disappeared!”

Mrs. Stuart sank into a chair, unable to speak. She was too shocked to respond to them. Rosetta brought her some water and then ran to call the doctor. Meanwhile Joe called Mr. Smith and told him the whole sad yet intriguing incident. Mr. Smith couldn’t believe it and said that he was going to take the first flight back home. Joe then hurried downstairs and broke the shocking news to them. Everyone was astonished and wordless. It was Edward who broke the silence and came to Joe and suggested that they once again searched the house. The search was made; her friends were called but in vain. Everyone was waiting for Mr. Smith now, for it was going to be his decision whether the matter should be handed to police or not.

The darkness of the night had crept up when Mr. Smith entered his house. He looked as white as his palace and was almost trembling. Joe approached him and retold the story and asked if he thought it right to involve the police. Mr. Smith was too shaken up to answer at once and seemed deep in thought. Suddenly the house phone rang. Joe hastened to pick it up but Mr. Smith went to get it himself. The little color that remained on his face now drained off as he listened to the caller. When he hung up, everyone rushed to him to hear any news about Rebecca. He told them that she had been kidnapped and the kidnapper had asked him to come alone to rescue her and the price of her daughter’s freedom will be told on the spot. He received clear and severe instructions that he will be only endangering his daughter’s life if he brought someone with him or anyone followed him.

So Mr. Smith left the house drove to the spot he had been told by the kidnapper. It was a small deserted road that led to a highway afterwards. On the sideway were a lot of old big trees and bushes and it was pitch dark there. Mr. Smith parked his car and looked around but there was no one to be seen.

“Rebecca!” he called out. There was no answer for some time. Then he heard Rebecca’s sweet soft sound calling him from the trees, “Daddy… daddy I am here.” Mr. Smith turned on the headlights so that they could light up the area a little. He then ran through the trees screaming her name and looking for her. He didn’t have to go too far when he found her sitting under a tree. She was not tied and looked unharmed; to her father she looked like a pure, innocent fairy dressed in white. He took her hand and raised her to her feet and hugged her. They both were crying and held each other’s hands. Then Mr. Smith said, “I don’t understand, a guy called me and said you were kidnapped… I was afraid that I might never see you again… I swear I would have given anything to bring you back…”

Rebecca interrupted him and said, “I know you must be confused as to what is it all really about. It was all a plan daddy which I came up with and Joe was my partner. According to the scheme, when Joe came upstairs to take me to the ceremony, he helped me escape through the back door where another friend was waiting in the car to take me away. We designed a plan to force you to come; a plan to turn the events in such a way that you could be with me, a plan to make you realize that I needed you. I am sorry daddy that I made everyone worried because of me but I had to take this bold step because I wanted my father to be present on the most important day of my life. I wanted him to be the one walking me down the aisle; I wanted him to witness me starting a new life. I just simply couldn’t bear the fact that you, like always, were going to miss my party!”

Rebecca’s voice was shaky as she was crying too much and pouring her heart out in front of her father. Mr. Smith was immobile and speechless, for each and every word that her daughter uttered was true. He had been neglecting her the whole time; thinking that it’s only money and luxury that she needs. His eyes were getting wetter as she enlightened him of her loneliness and all the times that she missed him.

“Speak no more my child,” he said, “I realize now how wrong I was. What you did is justified. What an unfortunate father I would have been if I didn’t have time to be there with my own daughter on her wedding.” He held her close and walked towards the car. Then he took the steering and drove towards the light and radiance of the city. It was indeed a special day and for both of them.

“The Town Was Paper, But The Memories Were Not”

We used to come to Lahore in summer vacation. It was like a fixed routine for every year and we always looked forward to it. Firstly because we would meet our cousins, hang out with them, have our little picnics. So this time of the year was very fascinating. The excitement of the long awaited holidays and spending it in leisure and fun was just completely overwhelming and awesome.

It began with the first phase: packing! Packing was fun (because at that time my part was done by someone else!) and there was always a hustle around the house till the very end time. Then before leaving my parents would have this little discussion with the three of us about not quarrelling and fighting with the others and not to misbehave in any way. At that time I used to think that God! Why don’t our parents trust us or at least give us a chance to be on our own. We can show them that how self-sufficient and well-mannered we are. But it became clear to me in the later years of my life that this training of my parents really brought a visible difference to my character. Just like so many other things, I owe this to my parents.

Then began the journey. It was fun in itself. The three of us i.e. I, my sister and my brother had our seats fixed at the back. My brother and I were to sit by the window seats while my sister would always sit in the middle. This arrangement had two benefits; firstly we would be able to enjoy the air and the view outside through our windows, secondly when we got tired we would rest our heads on her shoulders. The best part was that she never complained. It was not only the view that made the journey pleasant; there were these short stops as well when the car needed fell and we used to rush into the tuck shop and refill our energy tanks! Moreover, once in a while our father would take us to visit some place if we had plenty of time. So we visited Wall’s factory once and had the yummiest and most fresh ice cream ever. Also, we went to Mitchell’s food factory and got our bags filled with all the sweets they could carry. So it was an exciting beginning to a wonderful holiday.

Lahore as I remember at that time held a fascination for me. As we entered Lahore, I would just stick my nose with the car’s window and look at the metropolitan with an expression of awe and surprise. There stood these tall buildings and plazas and big, huge signboards with their colorful and vibrant advertisements. Being one of the biggest cities of the country, it had this urbane and industrially revolutionized air about it. Yet it gave the impression of bearer of a rich culture, history and civilization. It had this grandeur and magnificence about it. We would travel alongside the canal (which was much cleaner then!) and the water gave this feeling of purity and richness to me. Seeing the flowers and leaves floating and the reflections of the vehicles in it, conveyed a sense of calmness and peace to me. I would be brought back from this enchanted scenario when we would reach Walton. Then all of us would get busy in finding the ‘Street No.21’ board in which my maternal grandparents and Aunt lived. The two houses were side by side, joined internally. It was pretty exciting to see them all and so the rest of the day was passed chattering, laughing, making jokes, and taking rest. During our stay there, one thing was compulsory; we HAD to visit the nearby bakery ‘Hot Cake ‘(it’s a pity that it no longer exists). The bakery could be called a child’s heaven! It had everything that we desired for. It contained all kinds of creamy chocolate cakes, yummiest pastries, finger licking chocolates, crispy crunchy snacks, and all types of colorful juicy sweets. Not only was everything sold at reasonable price, all the goods were fresh and the bakery had this most delicious and mouthwatering whiff and fragrance all around. So there was no way we could resist going there, one call from my father and we were all out of the house to be taken there. As I allow my memory to take me to that time of my childhood, I see myself sitting on the ground of my grandfather’s big lawn, sharing bread jam with my cousin, and enjoying the rain as it poured over us lightly. The smell of the soil and all the plants and flowers (there were so many!) made it all the more amazing. We used to play bare feet in that lawn, ignorant of how wet the rain had made us, cherishing the little time we all had together.

Time never remains the same. I never even imagined at that time that Lahore is going to be my home in future. My father got transferred and we had to move to Lahore with him. But in my eight years of stay here, I have realized that Lahore has lost its exquisite and scent of rain. It’s been replaced by the acrid smoke and toxic waste of the industries. Lahore has indeed grown bigger and vaster than it was before, but for me it has lost its grandness and divinity a little bit. I miss the Lahore that was a little less materialistic.

The Broken Smile

The darkness of the night had swept across the room. It was all quiet as everyone had gone to sleep. Everything felt so calm and peaceful but she. She was lying in one corner of the room and unlike her husband and two kids; she was fully awake with eyes wide open and just staring at the room’s ceiling. Lost in the train of her thoughts, she bore a void expression, her eyes fixed to one spot and devoid of any expression. The calmness was only external for inside she had a storm building up. She could feel the tears rolling down her eyes just like lava flows before a volcano explodes. But like all other nights that night came to an end as well.

Rani used to work as a maid in our house. My mother was quite satisfied with her as she would quietly keep doing her assigned tasks without interfering into other matters. Also, she was trustworthy which is a rare trait for house maids these days. My mother is habitual of giving tea and breakfast to our maid. One Saturday morning, when we were all giving our weekend a lazy start, I saw my mother handing Rani her tea and then asking her if she had again been crying the whole night. Rani smiled weakly, the kind of smile that is not a gesture of happiness but of utter gloom and misery. My mother told her that her eyes had swollen and she looked too weak to work. Rani just nodded in response, told her that there hadn’t been any betterment in the situation and then resumed her work. I was quite intrigued to know the full matter and asked my mother. What she told was not a new story yet I felt pity for Rani. Rani was married a guy who was out of job most of the time and naturally she was the sole bread earner of the family. She had two kids who she couldn’t afford to send to school. So they would keep playing the whole day long with their neighborhood children, and as a consequence of this, were losing their manners. To make things worse, her husband fell for some other girl in their relatives and whatever money they had, he started spending it lavishly on her.

It was most unfortunate, rather ironic; the more I thought about it the more it made my heart miserable. Rani’s name meant ‘the Queen’, made to live a peaceful, untroubled and carefree life. Yet there she was, washing people’s clothes, making their floors shine with her blood and sweat, working from dawn to dusk to satisfy her family’s needs. Despite all her efforts, she could barely make the both ends meet. The financial pressure was too crushing for her to bear alone. Still, till the present day she continues to work like a slave to fulfill her basic needs. This is not an unusual or unique story; it’s something that we keep hearing about. It’s not only the fate of Rani but also many others like her who are compelled to live a wretched and desolate life. They don’t have any hope of improvement or betterment in their lifestyles. They can only glance at the sky-touching shopping plazas and shining cars with an expression of awe and longing. The poor creatures struggling to have their basic necessities of life can’t even think about the luxury and lavishness that they see around themselves.

It’s a question I keep asking myself: how long the situation’s going to take to get better for people like Rani? But before I can think of any answer to it, another question starts nudging me: it’s not that what I CAN do for them, it’s what I AM doing for them? The moment all of us figured the answer to this question, I am sure we will be able to fix everything; most of all we will be able to fix The Broken Smiles.