He lay on the rough floor, watching the red rivulets on his arm, in a spidery formation, pool down to his hand and then drop by drop plop to the floor. Red – his blood, he never knew this red. It was fascinating and yet, at the same time his heart seemed to be crushed within his chest as if a steel band had been tightened around it, the thumping betraying the terror he felt. He wondered when they would be back.

‘They’ had been at him for ages, always the same pattern in the questions. ‘Where were you going?’ – ‘Why did you run?’ – ‘We know you are a collaborator, where is the ammunition and the hideout?’ He had stopped answering them after the first slaps, knowing it was futile and that a long torture had started. They would keep at him until they got some kind of information. He braced for more and predictably as they started with the beatings, he did what had always been ingrained in his mind from childhood - to start reciting the 'Ayatul Kursi' in the face of the unknown fear. He had never known such pain. At first because of the shock his body had gone numb. When his nerve endings started tingling again, he would bite back the screams wanting to be let out from deep inside him. He watched the expression on the heftier of the two men, every time the soles of his feet were stuck, at the same time biting down on his lips which had swollen to twice their size. There was a calmness in the ‘Heavy Man’ that astounded him, striking with a measured force, methodically, revealing his expertise in interrogating. Then as his body recovered from the shock, the pain hit him wave after wave of excruciating sensations and he couldn’t help screaming. It was a relief to not think of the pain for a few seconds but the guttural voice that came from somewhere in the building. He didn't realise it was his. His world had reduced to the thump of the iron rod against the soles of his feet, the electric shocks to his genitals and his tortured nerve endings. The gagging scream in his throat came out now and then and he could taste his own blood. It tasted like rust and at this he could feel the bile rise from his stomach. He lost all sense of his surroundings and time. Sometimes mercifully he fainted, slipping from the painful consciousness to the welcome unconsciousness.

At one time when he came to, he was lying on the floor of a room – a luxurious one at that – as was evident from the panelling done on the walls and the intricate designs on the ‘khatamband’ – as luxurious a room without furniture could be. He was aware of gnawing hunger that knotted his insides and the parched thirst grazing the inside of his throat but he forced his thoughts away from them to try and make out the time of the day. The windows had been boarded up but despite his tortured state, his mind told him it was dusk. Having known the smell of the earth his entire teenage, when the sun went down over his beloved mountains, his being acknowledged the twilight settling over the Valley. For him it was a small victory. The silence hit him then as he lay. No one talked or whispered or shuffled their feet. The room had a door to his right, but there was no telltale light. Peering at the walls he saw nail marks as if someone had been clawing at them in an effort to scratch away to freedom. He wondered when they would come for him again.

Since he had been seized from his field and dragged away at gunpoint, with his shirt pulled over his head, all he had seen and heard was darkness, filament light and hoarse voices abusing him. His ears had tried to be his guide but apart from the rough ride with gun butts pressing against him from all sides and the shoving and kicking from his kidnappers, he hadn’t seen or heard anyone else. He had been straight away taken to a room and his shirt ripped off. That’s when he saw the ‘Heavy Man’ and the ‘Thin Man’ and the interrogation began. He resigned to his fate as the first ripples of terror swept through him. All those stories and rumours about boys being taken and tortured and killed came back to him and his body broke into a sweat. He was one of the stories now.

He tried to imagine if he would be released, as it dawned on him that his family would be going through the same fear, terror and anxiety that his friend Khalid's family had undergone a few months before. He knew that the dark cloud that descends upon the family of a man taken into custody by the Army would have descended on his family too and there would be a pall of gloom on them from now on too. He didn't think he would survive this, but he kept his faith that they would be looked after somehow, as the lines of the 'Ayatul Kursi' became clear to him and took on a physicality of strength he had heard people describe when one completely immerses oneself in the words. In his weak moments in between the respite in beatings he fantasized about his stature among his friends if somehow miraculously he was released. He could easily picture himself sitting in front of Yousuf, the butcher’s shop, surrounded by the boys, recounting his brush with the interrogators. Yes he could walk with his head held high now and his father – well, he would see about his father. Maybe he would gain some respect in his father's eyes now. His poor mother who he was sure would be half-dead by now would be doting on him more than ever before just as his sisters would too. He warmed at the thought of his sisters who would not resent the special treatment he got every time from now on, from all the members being the youngest and the smile would involuntarily appear before the pain of his swollen gums, and his blood clotted shut eye froze the smile back.

A tear would escape the clots, unable to be contained in the overwhelming emotions - a bloody, glistening tear catching the moonlight coming in through the cracks in the boarded windows. Maybe ‘she’ would also hear about his release and some change would come. Maybe now she would say yes...