“Is that blood?”
“There. On the windo-”
We stared from the tinted windows of our Toyota HiAce as our driver went to examine the situation: an empty tourist bus, teetering on the edge of the mountain road, with a cracked windscreen. Police swarmed around the vehicle. A ghostly quiet had set upon our own bus, choking us into silence. The driver emerged from the crowd with a stony expression.
“We need to wait for a police convoy to escort us the rest of the way to Skardu,” he said.
“What happened to the bus?” asked my father.
“A group of ‘daakus’ (bandits) hijacked it.”
“Why is there blood on the windscreen?”
The driver started up the engine and the van sputtered into life.
“They shot someone who would not give up their jewellery.”
“Are they ok?” asked my father.
The police convoy emerged from the road behind us. An armoured jeep, fitted with a machine gun, was to escort us and other lorry drivers to Skardu. Another policeman, armed with an AK47, entered our van and took his position near the window. The convoy began to move.
We drove past the empty bus. I couldn’t stop looking at the dark red tinges in the windscreen.
Night began to fall thick on the valley. The mountains, those majestic pegs that had kept us spellbound during the day, had now turned malevolent. Their luscious green forests were now hiding dark secrets. The mountains looked like curved obsidian talons, clawing the convoy into a deep abyss. The police officer had his sights set upon the near mountainside, scouring the surface for any hint of a threat. Inside our van, the curtains were drawn and the air was cold with silence. Ahead of us, the lorries in the convoy slowly meandered their way through the valley, their headlights snaking in and out of sight. Pakistan, unimaginably beautiful only hours before, had now become a threatening landscape, a thorned rose.
Inside the HiAce, I bit my lip, anxious with anticipation. A metallic taste filled my mouth, as if I were chewing a piece of copper. I touched my lip. My finger was covered with bright red liquid, like summer strawberries. Blood always looks unreal when it’s your own.
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