Losing the Plot: Hope

By Maniza Naqvi Red-Poppies-No-2

Chapter One: The Little Coffee Shop

Chapter Two: The Hotel

Chapter Three: Dreaming Dulles

Chapter Four: Civil War

Chapter Five: Stanley’s Girl

There is no telling what a murdered man is capable of doing.

Murdered, in the cross hairs of a surveillance camera mounted on an unmanned predator drone; murdered on national and international television—murdered on CNN, murdered on Fox News, murdered on MSNBC and murdered on BBC— the last word in murders. Incinerated over and over again on a 24 hour news cycle—killed, burned, assassinated, maligned, analyzed, sermonized, eulogized murdered, dead.

A murder of a man killed in a burning building expanded and super sized on television screens all over the world—in cafes, and in sports bars—in airport terminals and subways, in doctors’ waiting lounges—in old people’s homes, in tea stalls, in currency exchange kiosks, in living rooms and bedrooms, in newspapers and radio talk shows and in the aspiring manuscripts of hundreds of post killing literature.

A killing seared and stamped into the brains of every television watching human being. A killing made into a personal memory an intimately felt trauma. A killing of one in one instance, so repeated, so over exposed, twittered, face-booked, blogged, texted, videoed, printed, transmitted, translated and commoditized—that it over shadowed and rendered trivial in comparison the killing of millions over millennia. A killing that embraced, in a literal world, the literal meaning, that the murder of one is equal to the murder of all of humanity.

Could there be a deader man then, that? There is no way to measure the rage of a man whose daughter has been murdered and who himself is dead. There is no telling what the father of a murdered daughter will do to her assassins. A murdered American hero no less. Could there be a deader man then an American hero?

Jamshed Shah had wept so much that, those who had come to condole had left to tell others that they had seen Jamshed Shah cry till his eyes had bled. The light of his eyes had been killed. He didn’t know how to make sense of what had happened.

Had Zarmeenay, his beautiful child been involved with Stanley McMullen? “He was old enough to be her father! My God she was as old as our friendship!” he had wailed in anguish. He had turned on Rukhsana “You did this—you murdered my child! It’s your fault, I blame you! You sent Zarmeenay to him! You took her down this path of hell—encouraging her to fight those cases! And you thought that American—that American agent— could help her with her human rights cases?—Look at the result! She is dead! She would have been safely married to Aftab! She would have been alive, she would have been here with us, if you hadn’t interfered, if you hadn’t taken her side.”

Then when Rukhsana had not uttered a syllable of rebuke, not accused him of any part in their daughter’s death, he had floundered and searched for reason and turning away from blaming Stanley had gone in on another tangent “Did you think Aftab would tolerate it! Did you think that with all the power that he has at his command he would not have taught us a lesson, taken his revenge? Now she’s gone—the light of my eyes, my soul—you’ve killed her Rukhsana! Help me, you’ve killed my child!”

She had to hope. There were no images of the killing or the bodies. There weren't any instant and constant replays of the actual killings—of bodies—there was no such evidence which could assist in destroying her hope. And even if there had been—she had ceased to believe, in images.

Stanley was gone. Zarmeenay was gone. Jamshed had had a stroke. And madness would not come.

Hope was all there was now.

Could there be a more dangerous man, a more powerful man than a dead man wronged? Could there be any one more essential for elimination than the murdered Stanley McMullen?

For Zarmeenay, there had been no funeral. Jamshed would not allow it. For now they had listed Zarmeenay as a missing case. Out of concern for the family’s pride and honor it was better to not come forward with the information that the dead woman was not a village girl but rather Zarmeenay Shah the daughter of the powerful retired General Jamshed Shah.

Rukshana should have screamed and wailed too till her ears rang till her throat was hoarse and dry till she had developed a cough till she felt too, that her eyes would disappear inside their sockets. And yet she did not. Steadfastly and stubbornly instead she prayed. She had stayed kneeling on her janamaz, moving her lips in silent prayer, hoping for insanity but it would not come. Rukhsana had prayed for it and it would not come.

She could only hope, beseech God, lay siege to the channel of prayers that Stanley at least was alive, that he would seek the revenge that she was unable to exact herself. It was his blood that had been spilt. His blood. His treasure. He would avenge her. There would be hell’s fire to reap for what they had done. Stanley would make sure of that. She had hope. She would not allow an alternative line of thought. She had to have hope. She could not mourn him, he could not die. She had loved him too long, she had imagined him too long, created his being for too long: he had been besides her in absentia for so long that his death could not register it had no meaning. She had felt his presence all these years without him being there. She had felt his presence more than ever having actually been in his presence. And she felt his presence more than ever now. He was alive. Of this she was sure. She had to hope.

About Zarmeenay it was different. Zarmeenay had disappeared a week before the incident. She had gone for a visit to several towns in Baluchistan for work on the cases of missing persons and never returned.

The news had never provided the identity of the girl who had been found dead in front of Stanley’s café. The mob had burnt her body—She had been thrown into the flames before they could identify her. But Rukhsana knew it was her.

And now Jamshed ranted and raved about how Aftab would have kept her safe. Kept her safe had he not been enraged and insulted so. When the family had proposed to Jamshed and Rukshana for Zarmeenay— she and Zarmeenay had resisted Jamshed’s inclination to accept Aftab’s proposal of marriage to his daughter.

Zarmeenay had said she wanted to study she wanted to go to America for her law degree. She had applied and she was waiting to hear from the best universities. She was sure that she would not only get admission but a scholarship as well. Rukhsana had made her daughter’s case on her behalf to Jamshed—“Let her go and study she wants to go to America!”

Jamshed had laughed: “She can go to America once she’s married to Aftab! She can buy the university after she is married to him! She can buy America once she is married to Aftab! She will own America. His family you know how large their interests are in Afghanistan and in Pakistan with all their businesses here and there. The US government loves them!”

And Zarmeenay had resisted even more. “They are drug lords!—Heroine, that’s their business Aga jan! You want to throw me in a den of drug dealers, Aga jan?”

“That has nothing to do with the family—What business will that be of yours?” Jamshed had scoffed at her and scolded her. “I don’t want to discuss that with you. Saying no to them Zarmeenay will not be easy for me or for you. They have asked for your hand in marriage and we cannot insult them. They are too powerful. We cannot insult their honor!”

“Honor? So they’ll feel dishonored by my saying no and then what? Then they will exact revenge? Honor is about insults and revenge? We look at who is more powerful than us and we don’t say no to those who can do us harm? That is honor?”

“Call it what you want, Zarmeenay. Honor is honor.”

“Then kill me!” Zarmeenay had shrieked in rage at the end of one of many such conversations over a period of several months. “For the sake of this honor, Aga jan, kill me!”

“You are reading too many novels, Zarmeenay—too much law is getting to your head. Why do you talk to me in this hysterical manner! I am your father and I love you!”

A week later she had disappeared. And a week after that she was dead.Meanguy

And Jamshed had wailed his accusations: “This is what we have brought upon ourselves! This is what you have done! You refused them! You refused to give Zarmeenay to them! And they have taught you a lesson! They have taught us a lesson. You don’t refuse power! You don’t say no to power! You don’t say no to those who have Blackwater and death squads and Predator drones and the CIA on their side! They have taken her from this world! A drug lord can have anyone picked up—they probably kidnapped her in Quetta—she was gone for a week disappeared— Maybe Aftab had her turned over to the CIA! Told them she was a spy. Maybe she was alive when she got to the café maybe they killed her with a predator drone attack on that café.”

Rukhsana had retreated into her own grave inside herself focusing on the comfort that was present there.

Stanley had sworn his love to Rukhsana. He had sworn his life to her. She had not needed more than that. All these years—she had had evidence, this article of faith: She had Zarmeenay—Stanley had Zarmeenay. She had loved him for twenty six years. He had stayed for her. And she would continue to love him. Their one union had produced Zarmeenay.

Now—there was nothing. Nothing but hope.

There would be revenge. She knew it. She had to hope for it. If she knew anything at all she knew that Stanley was an honorable man. There would be revenge.

There was nothing but hope. It was the only thing that brought her peace.