by Aaqib Naeem

Today was just another busy day for her at school and she was already quite tired by the time her last lecture started. It was her 8th grade English class and she decided to conduct an activity that would help her relax and at the same time help students improve their writing power. With that in mind, she went to her class and announced the activity. She could not help smiling at their collective sigh of relief as students realized that they didn’t have to sit through yet another lecture that held little interest for them.

As the rest of the students excitedly ripped pages out of their notebooks for the activity one of them sat worried and wondered what could he write on this particular topic. He suddenly felt alienated and different from rest of them. He felt this way every now and then even though he had observed they were more or less, the same. He was similar to them but in some regards he wasn’t “one of them”. Unknown to his teacher, the topic of class activity was an extremely sensitive one for him. But pondering for a while, he simply decided to write his heart out for once. He purposefully started scribbling on his sheet of paper and after he was done with it, proceeded to hand it over with rest of his class.

With half of her lecture still left, the teacher decided to read out loud what students had written in their short essay notes. What she hoped to achieve was to let them know that they all wished and hoped to achieve somewhat similar feats for their country. As she read them out loud one by one, the students all beamed with pride at their similar thought process. All was well until she paused before reading the final paper and went silently through it. The more she read, the more it disturbed her and challenged the way she had previously thought about things.

 You see, it was “his” paper.

At that moment, she didn’t know how to react to it but couldn’t help realizing that how all of a sudden the shy and quiet boy was the odd one out of all of her class.

She tore her eyes away from his paper and thoughtfully swept her gaze around the room. Twenty none curious faces she saw but the one she was searching for was suddenly nervous and fearful, as if he didn’t want to be associated with the piece of paper in her hand. The strength of thought that was evident in his words seemed to have deserted him now. But the basic purity behind his words had moved her deeply and she decided that if ever some words needed to be voiced in that moment, these were it.

So she called out his name, gave him a reassuring look and started reading.

“I love my country and I always dream about how I can serve my country and make it better for everyone. Respected Ma’am, I would love to be the President or the Prime minister of Pakistan but my mother says that I should stop dreaming about these things. She says that it is because I am a Christian and in Pakistan, you can’t be the President if you are not a Muslim. Stop dreaming about things that cannot happen.

I was born in Pakistan and I will die here. Just like my father, who served in Pak army died here when he gave his life for this country. My mother says that I am a good son and will make her proud someday. I don’t have many bad habits and I am not a criminal or a terrorist. I like all my friends here in class but I wonder exactly how they are more patriotic and Pakistani than I am. May be they are simply born superior.

So Ma’am, I wish I could do all the great things for my country that I want to do but I cannot because somehow, I am less of a Pakistani than others.”

After reading it out loud, when she looked up from the paper, she saw that all students were looking at him. Some hostile, some sympathetic, some incredulous but all were thoughtful. She appreciated his way of thinking and thanked him for sharing his thoughts with everyone. He swelled with pride and beamed at her just as the bell rang for the school day to end. As the class hurriedly packed their bags and scampered outside, some of them wondered why he couldn’t dream of all those things or why did he had the courage to say some of the things that he did. Thinking over this conundrum in their minds, they all went home for the day.

They all went home and they Questioned!

Published in Young Nation magazine on May 14, 2016