The boy was sitting on a stone seat—it might have been a loveseat in ancient times, but now whoever sat there had eyes only for the one true god.
The Engineer watched him from a distance, taking in the thin body and the bowed head. He’d noticed him yesterday at Friday prayers, staring at the mullah with rapture in his eyes. Waali lit another Cleopatra, crushing his last one underfoot, and looked down the hill at beautiful old Lahore, a true beacon of Islam.
There had been many Hindus here, back when the British ruled India. But after 1947, when the English left, the Hindus understood what awaited them—they hotfooted it south, narrowly avoiding a massacre. Nowadays Lahore was the embodiment of the true faith, and on this bright Saturday afternoon, Waali felt happy he had come.
The boy sat stock-still, seeming totally absorbed in his reflections. Waali started on his next cigarette, a vice thankfully not forbidden by the Ku’ran. He took a deep drag and held it for a moment, then exhaled deeply.
“He is the chosen one.” The soft words startled the Engineer. The mullah pointed at the boy. “That one, my best talib.”
“He seems young. Is he ready?”
“Inchallah,” said the priest.
“It is in the hands of Allah. Now, are you clear about all of it?” Waali couldn’t be seen by the suicide bomber in case things went wrong. And the bomb-maker must be well clear of the scene for security reasons. The only link between the two was the maulana, and if all went well, it would be a bridge to nowhere.
The Engineer had carefully explained the precautions that must be taken. “This is no ordinary bomb, Hakim—it is called the Mother of Satan.” The mullah’s one eye widened.
“It is devastating. But very dangerous for the carrier. We will hide it in a case, and we will pad it, for a blow is enough for it to explode. I have prepared the detonator—“ he pointed at the burner—“you can use it in two ways. Press red and then green and the bomb will detonate.”
“And did you do as I asked?”
“Yes. Dial this number and the powder explodes. Even if the phone is turned off.”
The neighborhood of Rehmat Pura is about one mile southeast of the Model Town Park, and in a tight radius of three hundred yards are six churches of different denominations: there’s the United Pentacostal, the Pakistan Gospel Assemblies, and the Last Age Ministries, but Kuldeep’s greatgrandparents had come north from Goa—a five hundred year old Portuguese enclave—the little girl’s parents had been raised as Catholics, and the family worshiped at Saint Francis Catholic Church.
On the way to Peco Road, Aman explained to her daughter that Francis Javier had been a great evangelist.
“Kuldeep, Saint Francis came to India long ago, almost five hundred years.”
“I can’t hear, Maa,” the child shouted above the roar of the tuk-tuk. On the red light the rickshaw had snaked forward, easing between the cars, until it was lined up at the lights. Kuldeep loved it when they did that, and they always did, playing their cat and mouse game like naughty Shashi, her little moon.
Now the light went green and the tuk-tuks roared ahead, only to be overtaken by the taxis, in a mayhem of honking and smoke. At the next signal the game would start all over again—her father called it the snake and the elephant.
“Our church, Kuldeep, is named after a very famous saint.” Aman raised her voice above the roar.
“I know, Maa. We learned that in Sunday School. He was a nobleman from… far away.” Kuldeep giggled.
“You can’t remember?” her father said.
“Farawayland.” The child giggled again.
The couple smiled at their shining light. “Spain, baby. It is far away. He came from Spain. Where they fight bulls.”
“They couldn’t fight bulls here!”
“No, our Hindu friends would not allow it. And it’s a cruel thing to do. Animals are our friends.”
“Shashi’s not. She was sulking this morning. And she spit at Chann. Bad cat.”
“Sweetheart, Shashi loves your doll. And she loves you. You know what the matter is?”
The little girl solemnly shook her head.
“She’s doesn’t know its Easter. When we get home, we’ll have a tea party with Shashi. She’s part of the family too!”
Kuldeep face lit up. “Yes, mommy, we’ll have an Easter cat party. Maa, I miss my Shashi.” She sniffled and snuggled up to her mom as the tuk-tuk turned into Peco Road. “We should have brought Shashi. I think she’s sulking ‘cause she couldn’t play in the park!”
“Now, little lamp, you know we can’t bring the cat to church.”
The little girl’s eyes lit up. She sneaked a look at her father and whispered in her mother’s ear. “She could hide in the picnic basket.” The thought was too much for her, and she giggled uncontrollably.
Her father pointed and the tuk-tuk drew up opposite the church—the driver gave him a disdainful look when he saw where the family were headed. His wife saw the mustache bristle, she took her husband’s arm.
“Never mind,” Aman said as they walked into the service. “Today is a day of peace. After all, they say ameen just as we do.”
Kuldeep’s father took the picnic basket from his wife and whispered. “You’re right. I won’t let it bother me. Now, let’s makes sure our little lamp behaves.”
The little girl was busy preparing her doll for church. Kuldeep loved the tall nave, the pictures and crosses on the wall. It was always cool in St. Francis, even when the sun boiled outside. And there was the sweet smell of frankincense, the colors of the stained glass, baby Jesus, the Virgin bending over the crib.
The service was long, but she loved the singing. And during the sermon, the gospel readings she couldn’t quite understand, she counted the animals in the pictures. Kuldeep had admonished Chann, admonished her in no uncertain terms, about best behavior. It was either that, or no swings in the park!
“You can choose,” Kuldeep whispered almost silently, propping the doll up straight. When it came time to kneel, she would put the doll into the appropriate position—Chann followed the liturgy.
While the priest spoke, his booming voice echoing in the transept, Kuldeep became very busy. She screwed her eyes tight, instructed the doll to do the same, and thought long and hard—she was counting her sins.
She had to do that, know them all off by heart—she was always a little scared to kneel at the wooden booth, murmuring through the trellised wooden pane, while a priest on the other side took note of her report.
Shall I reveal my bad thoughts about Shashi? I did call her stuffy! Maybe it was a sin.
Kuldeep enumerated her list. There was that little boy in class. She knew he had a crush on her, and all she did was tease him. He’d asked her if she was going to the park on Sunday. She sneaked a look across the aisle, and there he was, sitting with his two brothers and his parents.
Kuldeep took a break from her litany of evils to say a prayer for a little sister. That’s what she’d really like. She bothered maa from time to time, but her mother said that because of father’s new business, now was not the time.
After confession, the priest would assign her penance, and grant her absolution. She left the booth with lightness in her heart, and impressed upon Chann the need to immediately say her prescribed prayers. Today she got off lightly, one Our Father and two Hail Mary’s, and she murmured them with her hands clasped firmly together, eyes tight shut.
Then she would line up with her mother for communion—that was her favorite time. She loved the soft taste as the wafer melted in her mouth, now that she had no sins in her soul. She knew that after communion the priest said only a few sentences more, wishing everyone in the congregation a happy Easter, and sending them on their way with a blessing.
While her parents exchanged pleasantries with friends in the churchyard, she could play with her friends—all the kids anxious to run and jump, after such a long period of inactivity. As soon as the priest said those last words, and the faithful filed solemnly out of the church, the fun would begin—they would go to the park.
The maulana drove slowly into the city, dodging the potholes. The boy sat in the rear seat, cradling a canvas backpack between his legs. The vehicle was an old Japanese diesel, and the shock absorbers had seen better days.
The mullah had discussed the bomb deployment with the Engineer, since the explosive was so unstable—and then of course there was the suicide bomber—life is a primary force, and it was not unknown for jihadists to change their minds.
“A taxi will be problematic, Hakim. The driver will remember the boy, there is the question of where the talib can be picked up…”
“We don’t want him to carry the pack on the street any longer than needed, so I would have to drop him off. And then of course there’s the taxi itself—you know how they drive here. An accident, a pothole… too risky, I think,” said the mullah.
Al Muhandis nodded. “You must drive him yourself.” The payload had been carefully packed—now that the white crystal was dry, any excess friction would immediately transport them both to paradise. The powder was stored in a small case and connected to the detonator, and the other components added—the nails and swarf that would spray the blast area with a deadly sea of twisted metal.
This attack would cause as much death, as much pain, as the Zionists inflicted in Palestine. Once again, their enemies would understand that no matter how many drones flew high above Pakistan, or Seahawk helicopters swooped down on their land, the children of Allah would overcome.
After the deadly device was finished, the backpack was locked in the cold room. The maulana knew the crusader churches would finish their services fairly early, before the searing heat struck, so the suicide bomber would need to time his action well.
The Gulshan-e-Iqbal park was on the opposite side to the church district, northwest of the Model Town, and this was the second time today the old car pottered down the Ferozepur Road. The maulana had driven the route from the north before dawn, and said goodbye to Al Muhandis fifty yards from the Daewoo central bus terminal.
The engineer had a lunchtime flight out of Benazir Bhutto International Airport, and the bus ride from Lahore would take five hours. Al Muhandis would have preferred the train, or even the public bus—they were less conspicuous—but train schedules were irregular at the best of times, and the bomb-maker wanted to be halfway to Dubai before the main event.
The Egyptian must be in Islamabad already, the madrassa terrorist thought as he turned right into Wahdat Road and drove past the university.
This is how the kufar will come. Up from the church district and then past the stadium, full of the fake joys their false gods deceive them with. They’ll drive this very same road.
The mullah ignored the street the Christians would take into Gulshan-e-Iqbal park, and drove a mile further to Maulana Shaukat Ali Road—he was early, and needed a quiet place to pray—it wouldn’t do to be seen with the boy.
Sahir closed his eyes and prepared to meet his fate. After he finished the Shahadah he sat quietly and listened to his teacher. The maulana told him that he would be performing the ultimate service to Allah, and explained what he needed to do.
“This park, the Gulshan, this is where the infidel families come after their sinful behavior. You will see how they insult our god, their women’s faces uncovered, as brazen as prostitutes.”
He showed Sahir the cellphone. “In this sack, there is another. You must press these buttons together, understand? When that happens, the pack will be activated and your work will be done.”
Sahir tried to be brave, but his chest was tight. “And then… then, Sir, what about me?” The words came out choked.
The mullah patted the boy’s thick black hair. “While they will be bound for the eternal fires of hell, you, Sahir, will be bound for paradise.”
“Please, Maulvi, will you describe it for me? Please?”
“Gardens of cypress and jacaranda, rivers of milk and honey. Crystal waterfalls, soft music, the air is clear and bright. All around you is peace, my son, no more of this earthly suffering. Allah himself will welcome you, and Muhammad, peace be upon him, will greet you warmly.”
The boy’s eyes widened. “The prophet himself will greet me?”
“There is more. From this moment I will name you for Jihad, and you must tell the prophet your new name when you meet him.”
“Oh!” Sahir’s heart felt warm. “My name for Jihad? What will it be, Sir?
“Abu Gulshan—you will be the father of the garden battle.”
Sahir’s fear evaporated and his thin chest swelled with pride.
“You have become a man, Abu Gulshan. The prophet will lead you into the perfumed gardens.” The maulana smiled. “And there, waiting to pleasure you, will be seventy-two virgins. After your martyrdom, you will have your fill.”
Sahir didn’t completely understand the workings of all this, how his body could suffer destruction and become one again, but he didn’t dare voice his thoughts. His teacher would be angry. He shut his eyes. Allah will provide.
The mullah explained about the park, the bumper cars and the mini-zoo, the playground.
“The parking lot is here, and I will leave you here.” His thick finger pointed to Street 9, on the eastern side of the park. This area is very popular with the infidels, they take their children to the swings, and they practice haraam with them, little boys and girls mixed together. When you press this, they will all go straight to hell.”
“I will do it, inchallah.”
“Good, Abu. You are my best talib, and my kindest one. And I will see you in paradise soon.”
Sahir walked slowly toward the railing. His mind felt like thick fog, his senses seemed to be disconnected from his thoughts. He heard the shouts of children as they played—two kids running up the ladder and shrieking with joy as they roared down the slide; opposite them, a little girl laughed every time her father pushed the swing. She soared forward, kicking her legs up as far she could; a doll, fully dressed for the occasion, was wedged under her left arm.
The girl wore a blouse, black patent leather shoes, and white socks. Her skirt barely covered her knees, and flew up when the swing rose toward him. Sahir turned his head in shame at the obscene sight.
How could these parents…
As if in a dream, he slowly pulled the rucksack from his back, lifted it over the railing, and set it down gently on the sand.
Aman was reading a Hindu pamphlet she’d found at the gate. It spoke of the Diamond Sutra, and she’d read the four lines over and over again.
Thus shall you think of this fleeting world
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream
“Maa,” the child yelled.
Aman looked up in alarm.
“Maa, look! Look at Chann!”
Anda’s face softened. She waved and smiled at her shining light, shouting approval. It was only then she noticed the peasant boy next to her, and heard the shout as he pressed the two buttons on the cellphone.