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Story time: Troubled times

December 01, 2012

I gripped the bat tightly in my hands, murmuring a prayer of help. It was the last ball of the last over, and our team needed three runs to win. The tension was palpable.

My breathing accelerated as the bowler began running towards the pitch, closing the distance between us. I saw his arm twist, and the ball sped towards me. My supporters screamed as I spun the bat around and heard the loud thwack of the ball connecting with the bat. I watched, as if in slow motion, the ball flying towards the boundary. Fielders dived, they stretched their hands out to stop it, but the ball did me proud; it was a clean four, something to rival Afridi’s stunning moves. The crowd went wild.

“Way to go, dude!” Abdullah thumped me on my back.

“That was neat, man!” Abdur-Rehman shouted. “Neat!”

I grinned at my friends, savouring their praise. To make your team win with a splendid boundary on the last ball is every player’s dream. I was on the ninth cloud.

It was only when we were coming back from the mall where I had treated my friends to drinks that I realised dusk had fallen and it was dark all around. I was allowed to stay out only till 7pm. Panicking, I squinted at my mobile. It was 8:15.

I broke into a run, ignoring my friends’ exclamations of surprise. My house was just round the corner. I knew running wouldn’t help my case much, but I was terrified. My family valued discipline; we had many rules and we stuck to them. Adrenaline spiked through me, fuelling my speed, causing me to run faster. Little beads of sweat covered my forehead as I pressed the buzzer, the noise echoing ominously.

The door was thrown open almost instantly. My sister stood in the doorway, her eyes shooting sparks. I am ashamed to admit this, but I literally cringed away. She ran back into the house, though, shouting the whole time. “Mom! He’s here! Hashir is back! Mom, he didn’t get kidnapped or anything!”

I stepped inside, locking the door behind me, confused by Fizza’s words. Kidnapped? Where’d that come from? I shook my head. I couldn’t think anymore, however, because the very next second, I found myself in my mom’s arms — a loudly sobbing mom. I couldn’t believe it. My usually strong and composed mom, crying? The notion was ridiculous.

“Oh, my baby, I was so worried! Where’d you gone, son? I looked for you everywhere! Why didn’t you come home at seven? I thought something happened...” her voice choked.

I patted her back awkwardly, still in a state of disbelief. I had come home, braced for punishment and what did I find? A weeping, worried mother. She stepped away and I saw how swollen her eyes were.

“Don’t you know what’s going on around the city, Hashir? These are tough times for parents, beta. We allow our precious children to play out on the streets, but do you know what it takes?” she shuddered.

I felt it was my cue to speak. I cleared my throat. “Relax mom. I just...”

“Relax?” my mom burst out. “We can’t! We can’t relax knowing what’s going out there and fearing our children might be harmed.

You’re not a parent; I don’t expect you to understand. But, please, beta, these rules your dad and I make you follow are for your safety, your good. We expect you to follow them. Five to seven. Two hours are enough on those dangerous streets. Don’t stretch it again,” she turned and left.

I sighed deeply. Running my hands through my hair, I slowly climbed the stairs to my room. At least I wasn’t grounded. As I took off my sneakers, I thought back to my mom’s expressions of joy and relief when she saw me. Is it really so hard for parents to leave their children alone on the streets or in the neighbourhood park with no one around but their friends? The thought arose unbidden — how would I feel if my son arrived late one night, especially if I knew the city crawled with criminals?

As I dried my hair, I acknowledged to myself that for a moment there, imagining my own child playing unprotected out in the streets, I had felt spooked and slightly freaked out. I solemnly promised myself that I wouldn’t be late again, ever, no matter how interesting the match is.