If Only by Ayesha Shaikh

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Source: google
Source: google

Year 1980

Sakina wore a red Banarasi sari with gajras in her hair holding a cup of tea in her hand, made her way towards the lawn. It was the first time Khalid saw her, and to him, she was no less than a goddess. Sakina belonged to Khalid’s extended family. It was one of her cousin’s nikkah and everyone had stayed the night at Sakina’s grandfather’s haveli. The anklets in her feet made a melodious sound as she strode in the hallways and his gaze followed her every move. The rays of sunlight that peered in through the windows made her tan skin shine. Khalid didn’t dare say hi to her. So instead, three nights after he first saw her, he sent her a card with Urdu poetry written on one side and a dried rose on the other side of the card. That rose wasn’t ordinary, for it had been a bookmark of Khalid ever since he read his first book at the mere age of Ten. What did he see so special in her that he gave her something so valuable to him? The answer even he didn’t know.

Every day he’d stand at the corner of her street when she’d be on her way home from college, just to catch a glimpse of her smile. Only God knew how many nights he’d woken up writing poems praising her existence. He was just a mere star, but she? she was the entire galaxy. She was the moon and all of the stars, the planets and all of the cosmos. She was the best thing that had ever happened to him, even though he hadn’t ever spoken to her. Sakina would never look up to meet the gaze of any man that’d pass by her, maybe that was the reason why she never noticed Khalid gazing at her every day. Khalid hoped for a miracle from God, the strength, to speak to her. Because the truth is, every time he laid his eyes on her, his heartbeat fastened and palms got sweatier. He wondered how he’d feel once he spoke to her.

The Eid moon was sighted and the entire family was busy in decorating the front yard with festive lights and the girls were busy painting henna on their hands and feet. Once again, everyone was gathered at Sakina’s grandfather’s haveli. And Khalid had decided that somehow, he will find a way to speak to her this time. It was almost 1 am, when everyone in the house had fallen asleep. But Khalid knew, Sakina hadn’t. He followed her shadow, to the rooftop. She sat on one of the chairs and gazed at the bright moon in the pitch-black sky. After gazing at her for about an hour, he gathered all the courage he had in him and went towards her. Sakina noticed him coming towards her and had a shocked expression on her face.

“Who are you?” she asked Khalid hesitantly.

“Salam, My name is Khalid. I am the son of Kaleem Khan.”

“Oh, so you’re Kaleem khan’s son?” she asked him, surprised. Because her father knew

Kaleem Khan very well.

“Yes.” Khalid smiled. She smiled back at him, lowering her gaze shyly.

“My name is Sakina.”

“Nice to meet you Sakina. What brings you here at this part of the house and at this hour?”

“I was gazing at the moon. It amazes me to see how brightly it shines despite being miles away, despite being so lonely.” Khalid noticed the sad expressions on Sakina’s face.

“I am sure, he enjoys looking down at us.” Khalid smiled at her, trying to brighten up her mood.

Sakina looked down and said, “What good is it to look down upon us human beings? we’re nothing but hypocrites. Only God knows the things we do behind closed doors in the darkness of the night. Who are you when no one’s watching? And the scariest thing in this world is that you don’t even know people’s true intentions with you.” Sakina looked up at him, smiling slightly. Her eyes gave it all away, no matter how cheerful she seemed on the outside, Sakina was a lonely person. “I can take your loneliness away” Khalid thought.

The two of them spoke for two hours sitting on the rooftop of her Grandfather’s haveli under the Eid’s moon. The moment he had been waiting for all these months had already happened, and he felt happy. That night was the beginning of a relationship between the two of them. A relationship that had no name. a relationship that did not need words to describe the way they felt about each other. Only their gaze was enough. Only their gaze was enough.

 Khalid’s father got a job overseas, so the entire family had to move with him abroad. It was a heartbreaking event for Khalid indeed, but he was helpless against the ways of the universe. He was helpless against his fate. And he did try to convince his father to let him stay back in Pakistan. He made up hundreds of excuses. But his father didn’t listen to even one of his excuses. Deep down Khalid knew that his father had worked hard to become the person he is today. So he had no choice but to say Goodbye to Sakina. Not forever, he knew that  if not close to his eyes, she remained close to his heart. The night before his departure, he met Sakina at her college’s cafeteria. She listened to him intently talk about his hopeless situation and then smiled brightly. “Khalid, I am so happy for you!”

“But I will miss my friends here in Pakistan.” He will miss her.

“It’s okay. You can always travel back here or write us letters every month.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” He replied.

“I love you, Sakina. I always have, and always will. No amount of distance between the two of us can waver or diminish the feelings that I have for you. No woman can own a place in my heart except you. You are a part of me, and I intend on never letting you go.” He thought to himself. And at that moment, Khalid wished for more than anything else to say these words to her. But he couldn’t find the courage to. He gulped down the unsaid words and masked a smile.

Sitting on an airplane, he could see the sea of clouds below him and the city lights of Pakistan shimmered brightly. Somewhere down there was his Sakina. “I am sorry, I couldn’t keep the promise of taking your loneliness away, I am sorry that I went away when you needed me to stay, but I promise my beloved I won’t lead astray” he whispered to himself and wept.

Khalid wrote letters to Sakina every month. They’d tell every detail of their lives to each other. But never confessed the way they felt for each other. Even though Khalid wrote her letters, he still missed looking at her. Unfortunately, he had no picture of her. Only an image of her existed in his mind. The image of her gazing at the moon with sad eyes. He longed to see her face, even if it is for a moment. They wrote letters to each other for about a year, but at one point, Sakina stopped sending letters to Khalid. But two months went by, three months went by and then four months. It was almost as if she disappeared. Day by day, he grew anxious. He’d check the mail every day, still no sign of any letter from her. But Khalid wrote to her every day now. He was worried that something terrible had happened to her or if she had gotten into some sort of accident. All sorts of scenarios went through his mind. As the months passed by, he thought of her lesser than usual. She’d pass through his thoughts every once in a while. But he had gotten used to the pain by now.

Rain poured heavily from the sky as it was the season of Autumn, and Khalid had just finished reading a novel. He heard a knock, i was the housemaid and she told him that his father wanted to see him, it was an emergency. Khalid went to his father’s room slightly worried.

“Is everything okay, papa?” he asked worriedly

“Yes my son, sit down.”

Khalid sat at his father’s  bed, “Yes papa?”

“You know Khalid, some things happen in life that are out of our control. If I had some control over my destiny, I’d change it. But I can’t. I won’t speak in puzzles anymore, I am sick. I have lung cancer and the doctors say that it is very severe. I may survive only for a month or two.” He breathed out.

Khalid felt at that very instant, that his entire world had collapsed. His eyes watered as he said, “Papa, why didn’t you tell me this before?”

“Because I didn’t want you to worry, my son.”

“But, why now? is it because you have less time to live?”

“No. That is not the reason. One of the main reasons that I am telling you this is because you are a grown man now. It’s time for you to settle down with a good girl and start a family of your own.”

Khalid felt a jolt “No, papa. I cannot marry now.”

“If not today, you have to get married sooner or later.”

“Because I am still in love with Sakina.” he thought to himself. To his father, he did not reply. He remained silent.

“Neither was I ready Khalid when I had you. I was two years younger than you when your mother was pregnant with you and I had to do something to make ends meet. I’ve worked hard all my life but unfortunately, my time has come. It is up to you now to look after your mother, your sister, and your soon-to-be wife. My friend’s daughter is an ACCA graduate. She earns well and is independent too. Her name is Anam and she is a very kind girl. I’ve met her so many times personally when I visited my friend’s house.”

“I don’t know.” he replied

“It is my last wish from you, I’ll ask for nothing more.”

With a cold heart, Khalid agreed. He couldn’t deny his father’s last wish. But deep down he knew that he could never give any woman as much importance and love as he gave to Sakina. O dear, where are you? He thought to himself and cried internally.

Khalid and Anam’s nikkah took place in an intimate ceremony. On their wedding night, instead of spending time with his wife, he slept on the floor of his room, refusing to share the same bed as her. In his sleep, Khalid dreamt of walking in a garden full of roses. Far away, a woman sat wearing a rose crown on her head and gazing at the sky above her. As he got closer to the woman, he realized it was Sakina. She had gotten taller since the last time he saw her and her eyes weren’t sad anymore. They were happy.

Sakina smiled widely at him and said: “Khalid, I am not lonely anymore.”

Ignoring her words, he said “Where have you been? I’ve missed you.”

“I was right here Khalid.” She pointed to his heart.

“I’ve missed you Sakina, where have you been?” he repeated his words, weeping.

Sara looked at him with pity. “Khalid, aren’t you happy? you just got married.”

He didn’t reply to her.

“She doesn’t deserve to live this way. You married her, it is your duty to love her. You are bound to her by Nikkah. She is your responsibility. Anam is a very intelligent girl Khalid, I am sure she’ll keep you very happy.”

“But she isn’t you!” He kept weeping like a child yearning to be loved.

“Khalid no matter how much you loved me, we were bound to be separated. We weren’t written in each other’s fates. God did not create us in pairs. I came into your life only to teach you how to forget, forgive and move on. You cannot keep dwelling on the past, hoping to have a prosperous future.”

“My life and my future, I cannot imagine it without you in it.” He cried out.

“Anam is your future”

Sakina came closer to him and kissed him on his forehead before vanishing into thin air.

“Wait! Please come back Sakina!” Khalid bellowed.

He woke up with a jolt and felt drops of sweat on his forehead. Looking around, realization finally dawned upon him. Sakina never met him in his dream for these past few months. Not even once. But she did now, only to say Goodbye. Khalid covered his face with both of his hands and cried silently. He missed her.

Year 2019

Khalid sat on a park bench in Lahore, taking in the fresh summer air. After spending almost twenty years living abroad, he decided to permanently shift back to Pakistan. Khalid was a proud father of two beautiful daughters now, Fatima and Kulsoom. And he also had a son named Ahmed. Pakistan had changed a lot while he was gone. It had modernized and the people wore westernized clothes. But no clothes compared to the beauty and elegance of banarsi sarees and shalwar kameez. Khalid sat under the shade of a tree, admiring the children playing football a few kilometers in front of him. As the sun was about to set, he noticed someone sit in the park bench beside his. At first, he didn’t pay much attention to who it was. But he got curious and looked at them. It was an old woman who seemed to be about his age and a young man in his mid-twenties holding her arm and smiling. Khalid looked closely at the woman. Her eyes, he’d recognize those eyes anywhere. Those eyes that’d depict the emotions she’d be feeling. Khalid called the young man towards him,

“Excuse me, young man. May I have a word with you?”

“Sure,” he replied went towards Khalid. The woman beside him seemed oblivious to her surroundings and kept staring in front of her, as though unaware of her surroundings.

“Do I know you, sir?” he asked Khalid.

“No. I just wanted to say Hi. I am new here, so I decided to make some friends. My name is Khalid.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Sir. My name is Ruksaar” He smiled at Khalid.

“It’s nice to meet you, Ruksaar. If you don’t mind me asking, who is that woman beside you?”

“She is my mother. Her name is Sakina bibi.”

Khalid felt the ground sway beneath his feet. Those feelings came back, the ones he thought were gone forever. Once again, he felt like that twenty-year-old boy who’d secretly gaze at her as she’d be on her way home from college. For a moment, he felt as though he had traveled back in time when everything seemed too beautiful to be true.

“But she got into an accident almost ten years ago,” Ruksaar said interrupting his thoughts.

“What kind of accident?” Khalid asked him.

“It was a car accident, but a severe one. Doctors predicted she wouldn’t survive. She did survive, but her eyesight was gone forever, along with her speech and hearing ability. Growing up, we had a hard time. But we never left her side, nor do we plan to do so.” Ruksaar’s eyes were glistening.

“I am glad to hear that. Look after her, because it is your responsibility..”  Khalid said and got up from the park bench without saying goodbye to Ruksaar. He didn’t turn around to look at her one last time because he was afraid if he’d look at her, he wouldn’t be able to leave. Sitting in his car that was parked by the corner of the road, in the stillness of his car, Khalid wept silently. While wiping his tears, his eyes fell upon a cassette. It was named as the 60s playlist. Putting the cassette inside, he pressed the “play” button. And the melodious voice of Lata Mangeshkar filled the car;

embrace me, for who knows if this glorious night will come again ever

perhaps, in this life, we may or may not meet again

I have been given today, this time, through destiny

to your heart’s content gaze at me closely

who knows, if destiny, may present this situation again

maybe we may or may not meet again, in this life or the next

come closer to me, as I will not be able to come to you every time

put your arms around me and lets us cry our hearts out

who knows, if our eyes will ever shed these tears of love again.

This song reminded Khalid of the days he’d listen to it while imagining Sakina laying peacefully in her arms. Khalid never imagined meeting Sakina again. He felt sorry for what she went through. But a part of him was glad that she was happy. Sakina raised a good son. But he couldn’t help but wonder how different things would’ve been if he had confessed his feelings to her? wouldn’t they still be together? it was true, Khalid never loved any woman except Sakina. He respected Anam, but it didn’t feel the same way it did with Sakina. But he never hurt Anam in all of the years of their marriage nor did he ever betray her trust.

If he could go back in time and do something differently, it would be to tell Sakina how he truly felt about her. And it’s at that moment he realized; you never really know, the last time you’re saying goodbye to someone, so if you are love in someone, let them know before time separates the two of you apart. If you love someone, let them know before it’s too late. Because who knows? you might not be able to experience that kind of love again, not even in the next thousand lifetimes.

Biography: Ayesha Shaikh was born and brought up in the country of Pakistan. From her childhood to her youth, she had always been an ambitious person, an outstanding student and a humble human being who has contributed to various occasions, activities, meetings, and collaborations for the benefit of the society. She says, “writing is an art of composing your feelings within a text, and writing is not just a hobby but a passion, it’s like describing creatively about what a person is feeling. It’s magic”.

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