There is a road that separates enemies from friends; it looks like any other road in any other city, lined with small shops and houses protected by lace curtains; there is a butcher, a masjid—a postal place on the corner. Look more closely, however, and you will notice the subtle hints of something off: an outcry in green Gaeilge marking a window or door, a man with a machine gun standing across the way. The man, most particularly, is the oddity—but only to you; for us, he is as permanent as the broken upper story window of the Anwar's Boardinghouse: cracked, a blemish, never to be fixed and yet familiar in its imperfection--comforting. There was a difference on this day, however: he wasn’t alone.
The night before last a policeman came to our door and armed men searched our house in the name of secularism. He did not find what he was looking for (save a new doll for his daughter), which was a relief; last night Saffadullah and the Rakim were beaten bloody and left in the gutter for the grave sin of being Anti-Amarnath. The state is burning, only this time the terrorist is communalism. Today, the Troubles had returned. Today, we were walking to school with an escort, frontrunners on the battle lines. The children were out of class.
There is a point on this road where Pandor becomes Khatir Ganj and, not two blocks more, an old Shiv Mandir stands as a vicious reminder of a time when this street belonged to another page in history. Crossing this line in fear, as we did every weekday, we clung to each other and our mothers—and this day we looked over our shoulders at the blurred vision of our fathers and brothers, kept behind a line of smartly-dressed policemen (for their own protection). Long before we’d learned that tears didn’t help when they fell, pooled as they were in our collective sorrows; today we were learning a lesson in glassy stoicism and thin-pressed lips.
Not three steps across that territorial line, I stumbled too much with looking back and my primer slipped, clapping the concrete and startling the silence. It was not a sign but it was taken that way, and we heard a man shout before the first stone was cast. In a panic we scattered, suddenly alone on a crowded street, deafened by the angry cries of deprived freedom. Two jeeps came—or maybe three—and the wagon; men were taken away against a gunfire soundtrack. And on the steps of that old school a second-year gripped tight the railing as blood trickled and stained her new white shirt.
There would be many more times when walking to school would erupt in violence—but every day we made the walk. We were prisoners of our situation in a conflict that no one truly understood, grasping at the straws of freedom with every tentative step.
Far removed now, back in my own reality and from war-torn memories, what the true value of an education is. All I can tell them is that it’s worth a scar, pink and time-faded, on an eight year old’s forehead.