Nazir had been sitting in the park since morning. He was staring at the flowers, they were in full bloom, a welcome sign of the spell cast by spring. These brightly coloured flowers with their heady fragrance were enticing all the tiny creatures who had made their homes in the shrubs, trees, flowers, and grass. Among these creatures, there were butterflies, all with brightly coloured wings, flitting among the flowers, each trying to outdo the other with their aerial acrobatics.
He had always been fascinated by the sights and smells of the park, here he reminisced about the past where it had seemed that there was peace, love, and prosperity all around. He was particularly attracted to the colourful wings of the butterflies, and from time to time, he actually tried to catch one, but he never succeeded, they were simply too fast and too agile.
The area he was growing up in was impoverished, basically a slum, and the constant, unrelenting poverty not only stunted his body, it suffocated his soul.
Being the youngest of eight siblings, he was often last in the queue for any attention or care from his parents. He would leave his tumble down home every day, with empty eyes that held no hope. With his clumsy, hobbling gait, picking his way through the rubbish strewn street, he always chose the longest path to reach the school gates.
He had no intrinsic motivation to attend school, the poor condition of the school building and slanderous behavior of the teachers meant he often bunked off, and whenever possible he delayed his arrival for as long as possible. He was often physically punished by his teachers, but that held no fear for him, and his only regret when he was caught was that they would be watching him for a while. The only thing that made his life worth living was the park near the school. It was a well known refuge for many lost souls.
He would be drawn to the park at least once or twice a week, and he spent many hours there. It was a refuge from the piles of rubbish, the filth, the polluted air, the clamor of vehicles, the stench of poor drainage and the appalling news of bomb blasts and terrorist attacks. Apart from the peace and quiet it afforded, he was fascinated by the colourful butterflies. He longed to hold one in his palm and to be able to touch its jewel like wings.
He was never interested in going home either. He felt there was nothing there for him but disappointment, and deprivation. After leaving the park, he felt cheerful and energetic, his heart was lifted, but as soon as he neared his home, it was always the same, his feet began to feel like lead weights; he knew what awaited him: The vicious arguments between his parents about money upset him the most, the constant shifting of blame and the abusive language, it was mortifying.
With the passing of time, he was slowly becoming immune to the upset, and able to filter out the raised voices. He tried to keep busy, but ended up spending most of his time trying to keep out of everyone’s way; daydreaming, or playing with the other barefoot urchins. His parents seemed to have no interest in his studies, they were too tangled up in the labyrinth of meeting the basic needs of their family. He had been taken to the welfare school by his older brother, who had really been projecting his own desires; as the eldest he had been expected to contribute to the family finances and as a result had been unable to attend school himself and was determined that Nazir would succeed where he had failed.
Nazir’s mother often scolded him for his untidy appearance, and scruffy uniform, but it was impossible to keep it clean and tidy. He did not really mind or feel bad about his mother’s behavior towards him, he accepted it as part of his life. The only things that he truly feared were the bomb blasts. He had never experienced one at close hand, but he had heard a number of stories from his elder brothers and other street boys. He felt they must be exaggerating, but they terrified him nonetheless.
One day, on his way back from school after a particularly arduous day, he suddenly decided to follow one of the colourful butterflies, to see where it went and find out where they lived. It was getting late, so he ran towards the park, hoping the butterflies would still be there. Entering the park, he whooped for joy as he saw a few butterflies were lazily flying over the flowers. He targeted one and instead of running around trying to catch it, he followed it until suddenly it seemed to disappear. He found himself standing under a huge, old Banyan tree, its long, twisted roots like a kind of mystical writing, as if the tree were trying to tell him something really important. Suddenly, he felt mentally and physically exhausted. All thoughts of catching his butterfly forgotten, he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.
He awoke all of a sudden, for a moment he forgot where he was, a loud sound had driven him from his deep sleep, a sound that had also shaken everything in the park. He thought there might have been an earthquake, it seemed as if everything was moving around, but then as if through a fog, he heard the sound of sirens, and a cacophony of human voices yelling, crying, and screaming for help.
He stood up and ran towards the main gate of the park. There he found a large crowd of people on the main road watching volunteers and rescue teams rushing around. He walked in a daze through dust and smoke, until he found himself in the affected area: smoke and ashes were billowing around burning vehicles. Everything he had heard about terrorist attacks came back to him. He felt as if all the blood had drained out of his body, and he had a feeling of being, elsewhere. He had never thought that he would be a witness to one of his brother’s stories.
He only came out of his trance when a pair of hands suddenly grabbed him, pulling him backwards. He realised he had been walking towards waves of fire. He looked around, but couldn’t see who had grabbed him in the chaos all around.
Stumbling, he rushed back to the refuge of the park, but that too was full of smoke from the blast. With tear filled eyes, he began to touch each flower, as if he was trying to comfort them, consoling them before they wilted in the toxic air. Near the old Banyan tree, he saw something moving in the grass. It was one of the blue, shiny butterflies, but it was dying in the thick smoke, one wing hanging loose.
Tenderly, he picked it up, and held it on his palm, caressing it with his fingers, but he felt no excitement at having achieved his goal to hold and touch the wings of a butterfly. Slowly the wings stopped moving, and he dug a small hole under the Banyan tree with his fingers. As the tears rolled down his cheeks, he placed its small broken body inside, and covered it, stroking the earth into a small mound.
With a heavy heart he headed back to the main gate of the park, staring at his fingers where the earth and butterfly’s wings had left the mixed colours of death and grief.
This story was written by Hifsa Ashraf a student with the Learn English Network. It is published here with their permission.