Patience. It had never been one of his strongest virtues.
Had it been hours? A day? Or many days, perhaps?
He had lost track of time. He had been flying through space for what seemed like eternity. Why was this taking so long? They had told him he would reach his destination before the first drop of blood hit the ground. Could they have miscalculated? Had something gone wrong?
These dubious thoughts were not helping. He could feel the anxiety building up.
Think about something else, he told himself, think about home!
For him, home was an old woman with a silver head, two empty orbs for eyes which had lost the battle to glaucoma years ago, and a paralyzed spine that had lodged into the ‘chaarpai‘ she never left. Home also meant two sisters who should have been married by now; the old woman on the chaarpai often cried about them.
He wondered if this was the reason she had gone blind. Would things have been different if their father was still alive? No, he thought, bitterly. Nothing would have changed even if the poor cobbler hadn’t killed himself in that road accident.
Thinking about his father made him uneasy. The truth was his life had taken a meaningful turn only after his father’s demise. The old woman on the chaarpai could still see a little, back then. She was the one who told him to stop going to school and make himself ‘useful’ for the family, instead. He wasn’t old enough to understand. He stopped going to the school eventually. But he never got around to making himself useful.
He would wander around the streets all day, picking up fights or playing cricket with younger children in an abandoned ground not far from home. His own peers had always shunned him; this was the only company he had. Besides, he liked bossing them around. The hours spent in the ground were always the highlight of his day.
The ground was also where he met his savior for the first time…
He still remembered how the savior just appeared one day, found a bench to sit on and watched the match right till the end. After that, he started coming every day. One day, at the end of the match, he smiled and beckoned Mujahid to join him.
“What’s your name, young man?” asked the savior.
“That is a beautiful name. You are clearly destined for great things in life, Mujahid. What do you do, apart from playing with children that are half your age?”
The savior smiled. “From now on, you stay with me. You do what I tell you to do.”
And just like that, he had taken Mujahid under his wing.
The savior was a very ‘religious’ person. He had staunch beliefs that captivated Mujahid. Soon enough, he learnt how the world was divided between two types of people: the good and the bad. God liked the good ones only because they always obeyed. And God despised the bad ones because they had gone astray. Mujahid soon learnt how God wanted His earth to be wiped clean of all impurity. The savior always talked about the rewards waiting for men in the life hereafter; these men who were loved by God; these men who would gladly sacrifice their life in His name.
Mujahid wasn’t the only one.
The savior had a way with young men. Every day, he would sit under the old tree just outside the village, and many boys would come and sit around him, all ears. They were all like Mujahid, mesmerized by the stories told by the savior. He’d tell them about the times he had ‘gotten rid’ of sinful men and women with pride. He was so blessed to have had the opportunities to do God’s work. He urged them to be more like him.
One day, he even brought a gun with him and taught them how to use it. It was a memorable day, indeed.
Mujahid, however, was becoming his favorite. That’s why he showed him the various ways in which explosives could be used. Mujahid was intrigued. He wanted to use the explosives for God’s work; to be like the savior. He wasn’t shy to express that out loud. The savior gave him a triumphant smile, “Then you are ready, my son. You are ready for your task. You will cleanse the world of these sinful creatures.”
“I am not afraid. But what about my family?” asked Mujahid.
“I am here. I will take care of your family,” promised the savior. And then proceeded to explain to Mujahid how a bomb could be disguised under one’s clothes…
Mujahid was still reminiscing when, suddenly, his feet hit a solid surface, and he fell down hard on his knees.
He tried to pull himself together, but the unanticipated fall had made him dizzy.
“Well, well! Who are you?”
Mujahid snapped open his eyes and jumped up in shock. Two tall men clad in white robes were looking down at him. Were those wings behind their shoulders? Were they angels? Had he finally made it? He was confused.
“I am Mujahid.”
“Oh? Let’s see if you made my list, Mujahid. This one takes you to Heaven,” said one of the winged men. He started going through a piece of paper in his hand while Mujahid waited, eagerly. After a long pause, the winged man spoke. “How unfortunate. You are nowhere on my list.”
Mujahid panicked. “But I am a righteous man! I went to extreme lengths to get my reward! How can I not be on your list?”
“What did you do?” asked the winged man.
Mujahid bellowed, “I did exactly what I was told to do! I sneaked into the stadium when all the ungodly creatures were shamelessly dancing to music! Openly defying God’s commands! Wearing rags for clothes! I blew them up! I sacrificed myself to do God’s work!”
“You took the innocent lives of fellow humans?”
Mujahid didn’t understand, “What? No. I gave up my life for a great cause.”
The winged man looked at his companion and nodded. The companion reached out for Mujahid.
Mujahid yelled, “I am supposed to go to Heaven! I did ‘Jihaad’!”
The winged man’s companion grabbed him firmly from the shoulder, “You have killed innocent people who did you no harm. You deprived them of their lives and made their families suffer. This is not ‘Jihaad’. This is oppression.”
Mujahid was petrified. How could this be? The savior had said they’d welcome him with open arms. What had gone wrong? He wanted to scream. But he failed to utter a single word. All his strength had left him.
The winged man became smaller and smaller in the distance as Mujahid silently stared, while his winged captor dragged him off to a very undesirable place, instead. It was ironic.