Haye, Peshawar

My immediate expression of grief is the Urdu word haye delivered in varying intonations. I say it without thinking, without even paying attention to my reaction. It has escaped my lips so many times over the past two days, haye, haye, haye...

Haye (Urdu), most closely meaning "alack," an expression of regret or dismay.

Haye, haye, haye...

The most haunting memory of my childhood is of being awakened by my mother's screams, "Haye, haye, haye, haye, Guriya, haye, Guriya," after learning of her sister Guriya's sudden death, and of the aftermath: Her restrained sobs late into the night, her voice hoarse from screaming out her grief, her broken whispers grazing my five-year-old ears, "Haye, Guriya, haye, Guriya..."

Haye. Grief brims from this expression. With each utterance, grief grows bigger rather than diminishing, it balloons and consumes the mourner. To the aggrieved, who is gutted by his loss, this expression becomes a tether to life, two syllables holding fast a fractured reality.

What can you say about a loss of this magnitude? But even the word "loss" is misused here. It is not a loss. It is thievery. Loss implies carelessness, as though it were equivalent to misplacing your keys. This is a robbery of 141 lives. And what kind of cognitive dissonance must the aftermath bear? A mother's body betraying her every day, her eyes opening at the same time every morning with the intention of sending her child to school, and then the reality washing over her like winter rain - no more, no more, no more, haye, haye, haye. Does her voice betray her when she calls the child's name in the empty house at dinner time? How many ways does she remember her child? Photographs, dirty laundry, pens and pencils scattered on a desk, books strewn across a room, the screensaver on her laptop of smiling faces, the child's last Facebook post, maybe, "Tomorrow I will...." No tomorrow, no tomorrow, no tomorrow, haye, haye, haye.

Can you imagine, we say to each other, young mothers seeing our toddlers coloring and rolling out soft balls of play-doh with their chubby hands. Haye, those mothers, we say. Haye, Peshawar, we say. Can you imagine? The answer, quite clearly, is no. No, we cannot imagine. It is unfolding in front of our eyes, but we cannot imagine, because how could we? How could we, really, imagine those chubby hands never moving again? How could we ever imagine not hearing that sweet voice? How could we imagine not holding our babies? Could those mothers imagine this? No, and yet they are living through it. What they cannot imagine now perhaps is continuing to live in this new vacuum, leading an altered life in which the child in not present. And no matter how much we grieve for the parents and for those who were robbed from their families, we cannot truly imagine the depths of terror and pain reverberating through Peshawar right now. 

Years after my aunt's death, my mother was rolling out dough to make chapaatis. We were talking about families. I said, "Isn't it great that we are three sisters and you are three sisters, too?" She was quiet for a few moments. Her rolling pin faltered in its strokes and her face began to break along the lips. "We were four," she said. "We were four." 

Grief, when it enters your life, does not ever leave it. 

Please. Pray for Peshawar. Share their grief. Donate to education.