February 11, 2017. Afsana would always remember that day, but she didn’t know it yet. She woke up from her short slumber. Five hours and seventeen minutes of slumber - to be exact. Afsana leapt off the pile of pillows, her skin tan and glowing. Her curly locks were bouncing around, flaming with natural highlights. Her bed lay on the crisp cement floor. As Afsana rose from her deep slumber, she began to dance from excitement.
“Afsana! Afsana!” My mama yelled. Before I could join the celebration, I looked at her. She was so beautiful. She had luscious, dark, curly locks which came from her head like streamers at a party. Too bad she had to cover it up with the hijab. I was stolen from my day dream by my mother, who grabbed and hugged me.
“Afsana! Why am I more excited than you?” Mama asked. “It’s your 13th birthday for goodness sake!”
“Mama I know!” I yelled. I then proceeded to jump up and down and dance around with Mama.
“Well Afsana, no time to waste, you’re already going to be late for school.” Mama said. I quickly rushed to my folded uniform and replaced the scratchy night gown I wore with it. I skipped towards the second, and final, room in my humble home.
“Come sit, my sunshine,” Mama said. She’s been calling me that since I can remember. “Because it is your special day, I will give you a cupcake for lunch.”
I changed into school attire, and with cupcake in hand, I was off.
“Well, off to school!” Mama said. I giggled and scurried out of the unstable home.
Most girls don’t go to school here in Pakistan. They stay home, and do housework. But not me. I was accepted into a school for gifted children. I read the rickety sign of my school, “افغان زده کونکي د زده کونکو لپاره,” also known as, “Pakistan Academy for Gifted Students.”
“Afsana! You’re almost late!” Ms. Azita said. She always spoke sternly but with the biggest smile on her face. I’ve always known that I’m her favorite student.
“زه-” I almost spoke Pashto but I caught my tongue. My school is immersed in the English language--the only language we’re allowed to speak. “I know! But it is my birthday!” I explained, wiping the perspiration off my face…I had to run from my house to school. And although it was early February, Pakistan is always unbearably hot.
“Well, happy birthday, and come on! Get inside!” Ms. Azita said. I chuckled and shuffled into the double doors.
What lay behind the double doors, is what my version of Heaven looks like. Although the one room school was small, and didn’t have much, it was all I needed. There was a bookshelf on the wall that was parallel to the doors. It was filled with books ranging from fiction to textbooks. There was a chalkboard at the front of the room. It was dusty and old, but it was perfect for solving hard mathematical equations on. And last, but certainly not least, there were the desks. Only five of them, but they still filled up all of my heart. My desk was in the middle of the room.
It was glowing with eagerness to learn. I practically did flips toward it. I sat down on my chair, it was cold to the touch.
“Okay, class,” Ms. Azita said, starting her morning ritual of explaining to us what we’re going to be doing for the day, “today we will be working on Pythagorean Theorem.”
My eyes lit up and I was bursting at the seams with excitement. Pythagorean Theorem is something I have no knowledge about. I know that there is a book on it in the bookshelf, but I have never read it myself.
Everyone else in the class seemed to be excited as well.
“Glad to see everyone is excited,” Ms. Azita said.
Everyone in the class started murmuring until Ms. Azita interjected, “the more you talk, the less work you get to accomplish.” Everyone quieted down and the only noises left were a few hushes from a kid or two. “Very good,” Ms. Azita chirped, with a smile on her face. You could tell she felt accomplished by how she took control of the situation.
Ms. Azita has only been teaching for a year. This is her second school year. She started the school, and she practically lives here. She’s always staying here late to make lesson plans, but she’s never lonely, because we students stay late too.
The school is located right inside Lahore, Pakistan. It is actually a pretty nice area. Not much goes on near the school. Because my Mama can’t drive, I have to walk. My Mama is now getting worried whenever I walk to school. The Taliban is becoming stronger and stronger, and she doesn't want anything happening to me. There is also a big protest today inside Lahore, and both my Mama and I are worried about what will happen.
12 Hours Later
“Okay, guys,” Ms. Azita announced, “it’s time to go home.” All the students groaned in unison as they packed their bags. I didn’t bring anything to school because mama couldn’t afford it and I didn’t want to have to carry books on the long walk to school and back.
“Bye Ms. Azita!” I said politely as I scampered out the double doors. Although it was 8 at night, it was still fairly light outside. There are no street lamps once you get outside of Lahore, so it’s a good thing it is always still light outside.
“Run!” A voice screamed in the distance. I hurried towards the noise to see what was going on. When I got to the scene all I could see was fire, men covered in turbans, and people lying on the ground. I dropped my little box that contained nothing but my cupcake, the cupcake that my mother gave me. I planned on munching on it on my way home, but I guess that isn’t happening.
I made eye contacts with one of the men. He pulled down his turban and the second I saw his whole face, I realized that we have met once before.
My day dream was abruptly interrupted by Ms. Azita. She picked me up and ran. Before I knew what was happening we turned into a skinny, dark alleyway. I couldn’t see much and before I knew it, I was on the ground and I could only here a loud ring. I turned, what I saw was a sight I know I will never forget.
I looked at Ms. Azita. She was on the stone floor. I saw her mouthing one word to me over and over again, “Run.” I jolted off of the ground and with one last kiss on the forehead, I ran from Ms. Azita.
“I see one!” I heard a voice yell, “Get her!” Without looking I ran, faster than ever before. I didn’t want to run home because they could follow me and then find my mother, so I ran to the one other place I feel safe, school. I knew short cuts throughout the town so as I continued to run; I turned a sharp left into another skinny alleyway. I was sure they wouldn’t catch me but I heard their footsteps running towards me. With another sharp turn I was facing the school. I ran through the double decker doors and quickly barricaded them with all of the desks.
“In there!” A voice yelled. I quickly ran towards the bookshelf and with all my might and I shuffled it towards the doors. They can’t get in now, I said to myself. But I guess I spoke too soon because with one loud thump, the man I recognized was inside the school.
“Get out!” I screamed. The man didn’t even seem startled by my loud tone. He took a step forward and I ducked towards the pile books which fell off of the book shelf. He took another step towards me and I shuffled backwards until I was in the corner.
“Don’t worry, Afsana,” the man said, I was taken aback by his knowledge about me, “I’m not going to hurt you.” He took another step and although he said those kind words, I didn’t trust him so I continued to try and escape. I ran towards the doors but the man stepped in front of me before I could leap outside. He pulled down his turban and I immediately realized who he was.
“Papa?” I asked meekly. He took a step forward so that he could embrace me but I quickly ducked out of the way.
“Please don’t be afraid, my Afsana,” Papa said. He stepped forward to try and embrace me again but I slapped him across the face before he could touch me.
“How dare you?” I asked. “How dare you try and hug me years after you left my family, after you killed all of those people? Tears were streaming down both mine and his faces.
“Afsana, please, I can explain --”
“No, Papa!” I shouted, cutting him off. I ran towards the door one more time, this time Papa didn’t dare to follow me. I sprinted all the way home, tears whisking away with the wind. As I arrived home I saw Mama waiting for me at the door. She seemed upset, as if she knows what just happened. I jumped into her arms and cried as she picked me up and carried me into our humble home.
Richard Golden is thirteen and lives in New Jersey.