Guilty, Twice Over
“Your honor, the defense would, once and for all, like to settle the false claims regarding the behaviour of the accused by calling his son into the witness box.” Standing before me was a middle aged man accused of killing a politician for money. I looked at his son, about twelve years of age, walking towards the box. It took just one glance at his face to bring back a flood of haunting memories.
I was born and brought up in Bagh-e-Bala, Afghanistan. It has been nineteen years since I’m living in Canada but even now, I can recall the musty fragrance of the occasional rain on the light-yellow turf, the streets I grew up in and the hustle and bustle of the morning market I passed on my way to school. From smells, sounds and images to the white-turned-yellow tiles of the verandah and fluted patterns on the gate- I remember it all as though it were yesterday. But all that nostalgia is wrecked by the dreadful remembrance of the day my father died. To be more specific, the day my father was murdered.
The area I lived in was chiefly controlled by organizations who used to dissuade the masses from getting scientific education and used to forcefully recruit young people in order to use them as tools of war and to grease others into their hollow agendas. I had just breached adolescence when one friday afternoon after namaaz, they came barging in my home. Baba grabbed me by the arm and before I could make sense of what was happening, he hid me in ‘zesht’. Zesht in farsi means ‘ugly’. That’s what the hole, large enough to accommodate me and neatly masked by a cupboard in front of it, looked like. I used to pester maman with frequent questions as to why there was a secret hiding place even though I had no siblings to play hide-and-seek with. She always had the same reply, “The Qur’an teaches us to cover the defects of people by not backbiting about them. Think of this house as an animate thing and the hole as its defect. Now, you wouldn’t stab a person in the back who shelters you, right? So stop talking about it.” And thus putting an end to the topic.
I had all my answers that day when they were repeatedly asking baba about my whereabouts and were greeted with silence. I never knew there would come a day where I’d detest the endowment of hearing. But I did.
I heard him wail as they tortured and lashed him.
I heard him moan in agony while I muffled my screams.
I heard my baba cry while I begged God for a miracle. In my helplessness, I tempted Him with a list of things I’d give up and even threatened to forsake Him but no miracle took place. It was as if it was He who abandoned us that day.
“I would rather die than give my son away to see him become an apostle of lunacy.” Those were baba’s last words, mustered with a quivering yet undaunted voice.
It took me nineteen years and three little versions of myself to realize that ‘love’ is such a fragile word to elucidate the bond between a parent and a child. The extent upto which you can sacrifice and the agony you can go through for them defies basic human nature. And love? No. A four letter word can’t define it.
I had looked at the lifeless body the same way this child now looks at his father standing in the witness box today- an emotional mixture of respect and gratitude, a tinge of remorse and an overflow of adoration. The look which says ‘Even if I make the heavens and earth meet, I’d still be indebted to you.’
The accused had confessed to murder and had told the court how he couldn’t bear to see his child sleep on an empty stomach. “I desperately needed the money”, he had said. The bitter irony of life, the son whose father gave his life to save him now has to pass a judgement about a father who took a life to save his son.
Can’t I, for once, revoke all evidences and tell the people sitting infront about the deceased politician who had two counts of rape cases and innumerable scam cases pending against him? Can’t I decide considering the fact that this man actually eliminated a bit of evil from the face of earth? Hundreds of innocents are brutally murdered by organizations and governments but neither their deaths are avenged nor the culprits are sent behind bars. What if one rightful murder goes unpunished?
But all through my profession, I was taught that murders can never be justified.
I look at the anxious faces of the lawyers who await my verdict in a case which, according to them, require no second thoughts. The whole trial was merely a formality for them.
“The court sentences the accused to life imprisonment for cold blooded murder of a devoted citizen of the country. Case is dismissed.”
In the end, we are all governed by duty.
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