THE WHITE MASK OF BLAND PERFECTION
She had known the minute she had opened her eyes.
She had known that something unusual was going to happen.
It had been in the air; the tendrils of suspense and tension almost tangible to her, but invisible to the rest of the students of the prestigious all girls school in Lahore, Pakistan. She could taste it on her buds, could see it in the still air of that winter morning; the impending sense of doom.
She couldn't shake off that trembling, creeping feelings which seemed to be making ice run through her veins. She couldn't help but feel scared by the stillness of the morning air, of the quietness of the birds, the absence of the small, common noises whom without the atmosphere just seemed unusual.
It was filling her with fear.
Adrenaline was coursing through her body.
Which is why she was one of the first to register and react when the sound of a bomb explosion boomed through the air, breaking the windows, showering them with glass shards, piercing their skin, drawing blood, drawing horror and fear.
He had been getting ready for college.
It was only when he was pulling off last night's t shirt that his windows shook, that he heard the dangerous but very familiar sound of a bomb blast.
It was sad how he didn't instantly turn on the television to check the news; sad how he didn't rush to find out which part of the city had been reduced to rubble. Instead, he casually slipped on his shirt and walked towards his balcony, to see if he could spot the newly bombed area.
His knees gave away at the far away sight.
This school was the leading school for young women in the country. It had a reputation of being the most prestigious, the most well rounded school which produced women of exceptional grace and extraordinary elegance. After hearing of such an institution, the religious sections of the society (who refused to believe that time and people had evolved ever since the stone age) were infuriated. They thought a woman gaining such knowledge was sinful, that she should be at home serving their brothers and fathers, waiting to attain maturity so they could get married off to their respective suitors.
They had been enraged at the idea of this school, no doubt.
But one would have never thought that their anger had been intense enough to attempt to turn the building into a pile of ashes, taking it's student body down with it.
Screams began to litter the air, high pitched and dripping with panic and anxiety. They died down when they saw the men, carrying guns, running through the corridors; one sound out of them, just one sound confirming their presence … and they would be dead.
He could not believe it.
That school - the school he had hundreds of friends in - the - the school where she was -
She could be dead.
"Son - ?"
She could be lying in a pile of rubble and ashes, lying under heavy boulders, dead, cold and unmoving. Her, who had taught him so many things about life; had shown him warmth and laughter, dead and still.
"Son, what's wrong - Where are you going? Son? Son!"
As she hid with three other girls in the files cabinet, she thought of him.
In her last few seconds of her life, she thought first of him. The man who had burst her bubble, who had shown her what life could truly be life; who had shown her the benefits of failure. Who had taken her white mask of a face and painted colors on it; taking her from bland perfection to colorful imperfection.
He had taught her to live.
And she would never see him again.
Never see those arched eyebrows, never see that straight nose, those twinkling eyes. Never stay up late into the night to chat with him on facebook, never go to school looking like a zombie because of lack of sleep. She would never discuss every single itty bitty detail about her life with him.
Would he miss her?
She doubted it.
He would miss her so much.
As hard as he tried, he could not imagine a life without her. Without her childish banter, without her lovely conversations, without that ridiculously lame yet hilariously funny sense of humor.
What would he do without his best friend?
Without the girl he had fallen in love with over the span of a year and a half?
Without the girl, who had captivated his heart, despite being sixteen. Despite being five years younger to him. The girl who had managed to silently tame the wild beast that he had been becoming and that too subconsciously.
How … how was he going to manage without her?
He pressed down harder on the pedal, his car racing through the streets to that school where she was.
He had taken off the mask she had been hiding behind for the past few years. The white, bland mask of perfection - He had eased it off her, had become the very first person to see who she truly was beneath all those fiery ambitions and aims.
If she was given a wish there and then, a last dying wish, it would have been to get a few seconds with him. So she could tell him that she loved him; that she knew she was too young for him to ever want to be with her. That he didn't have to feel the same way; he just had to know the deep rooted feelings at the base of her heart that had formed for him, its tendrils snaking themselves around it.
She was so dangerously in love with him that she was willing to risk the lives of thousands of teenage girls.
Just to have a few seconds with him.
"Let me through!"
"Sir, no one's allowed to go inside."
"Goddamit, my friend is in there!"
"A lot of our daughters, sisters, friends, girlfriends are in there," the policeman shrugged, pushing Umar back with the butt of his gun. "Better step back, son. They could be getting rough any minute."
"THEN GET INSIDE AND GET THOSE GIRLS OUT, YOU BASTARD! Why are you just standing here?"
"I agree with the boy!" a mother screamed, her face glistening with tear tracks. "My child could be dying inside for all I know and you're simply not doing anything!"
People around him began to swear, began to cry and plead with the policemen to do something about the seven hundred girls hanging on to their lives by a thread inside that building.
He looked up at it, his heart ripping to pieces.
They had entered their room.
Men with fury engraved on their faces permanently, black, beady eyes, holding guns and pointing them at children. She felt exposed, naked and violated when they discovered her hiding place, pulling the cabinet open roughly and taking her by the arm. She stumbled, almost falling to the ground, at their feet. Before she knew what was happening, a girl behind her was shot at the knee, her screams echoing the rooms.
A moment later, she could hear another set of screams.
Could feel a blinding pain on her arm, just above her elbow.
It was only after a few long seconds that she realized the pain was of a whip being slashed against her arm and that the screams were coming from her lips.
He heard the screams.
A strange feeling was creeping up to his eyes, giving him the intense urge to weep. For he had heard her screams before; Before they had been out of pleasure or hour. Never had he heard such a blood curling scream of pure agony and fury.
And the fact that it had been drawn from her lips made him weak.
He leaned against a nearby tree, closing his eyes, trying to get rid of this feeling.
He had never believed in God. Despite her constant efforts to make him a believer, he had difficulty believing in him. But at that moment; he felt helpless. Felt that everything depended on a higher power, something that had the ability to turn the tables.
"Try praying sometimes," he heard her voice in a memory. "You have no idea how much better you feel afterwards."
For the first time in a decade, he buried his hands in his face and prayed. Prayed that she was alive. Prayed that he would have the opportunity to hold her, to comfort her and to tell her just how he felt. For the first time, he turned towards God, helpless, trembling and begging for forgiveness, begging for mercy, begging for her life.
Four dead, sixty three injured.
She was among the sixty three.
Her best friend among the four.
She would not leave Iman's body. She dragged it out with her, through the debris, ignoring the pain in her arms. The tears were streaming down her cheeks but she willed herself to go forward, powering herself with the thought of rescue groups outside, powering herself with the thought of seeing him again. Of talking to him again.
She could feel hands loosening her hold on Iman's hands, helping her up. Could feel men guiding her towards the temporary health units to fix her arm, to extract her from this state of shock and pain.
She was brought to the surface of reality just by one sight.
Standing amongst the crowd of anxious friends, parents, brothers, sisters. Staring at her, his eyes wide, filling up with what seemed to be tears of relief. At that moment, her heart burst and emotions began to bubble up to the surface - Powering her, urging her to take steps forward until she was running towards him, faster than she had even sprinted before.
Ignoring the police, he ducked past them and rushed towards her.
They slammed into each other with so much force that he had to take a few steps backward to attain stability. His arms snaking around her so tightly, she felt like she could hardly breathe. She was clutching at the fabric on his back, desperate, loud sobs ripping from her chest as she buried her face in his neck.
"You're," he could barely choke the words out, his body pressed tightly up against hers. "You're … you're here, you're safe."
"I love you," she wept into his neck, breathing in that familiar pleasant scent of cigarette smoke and clean soap. She felt him stiffen but pulled him even closer, refusing to let his arms drop from her. "While those bastards were whipping me and jeering, I could only think of you. I could only think about how I would never get to see you again, never get to breathe in this scent, never get to hear your voice. It terrified me. What was even worse was that … I felt like I was going to die without you ever knowing that I'm so irrationally in love with you."
"Shh," he whispered, his body trembling.
"I love you," she repeated, her eyes brimming with tears that were yet to fall over. She pulled back, grateful that they were hidden from the masses by the large neem tree and pressed her lips against his. It was the lightest of touches, their lips only brushing together before she pulled back. He was staring down at her with conflict raging in his eyes before he moved his hands up to cup her face, his thumbs stroking her cheek bones. She smiled, "You prayed."
He only stared at her, his eyes twinkling, his face untouched by a hint of a smile. "The things I do for you …" he whispered before kissing her again, this time with a ferocity that screamed out his love, his fear, his anger, his passion. He could taste their tears, that ran freely down both of their faces, could feel the need and desperate building up between them, could feel that suppressed love finally breaking through their walls, tearing them down.
She broke away, her eyes still closed, her lips parted in an effort to breathe and stabilize her rapidly beating heart. He leaned down to kiss her forehead, burying his face in the sweet smelling hair of the girl he had fallen in love with. The girl who had taught him things about life that no one else had, the girl who was five years younger to him yet the only one to ever make his heart race, to ever make him feel, to remove him from his state of being emotionally dead
"I love you," she repeated again before fainting against his body.
Days had passed.
No calls, no messages. Not even a facebook wall post asking her if she was okay.
She had woken up in a hospital room, her arm bandaged up with her mother stroking her hair. The stab of pain was so great at that moment, she had to use every bit of energy in her body to stop those tears from spilling over. She had expected him to visit at least, ask her how she was especially since she had declared her love for him, repeating it thrice.
Every single time, he had avoided her confession.
And yet he had kissed her.
She sighed, pulling on her over sized brown sweater over her white tank top and underwear. Her legs were bare as she flopped down onto her bed, brushing her hair out of her eyes as she grabbed the white mask on her bedside table.
"Why are you giving me this?" she laughed, turning it over. "I asked for a mcdonalds meal, not a mask."
He sat down beside her, pulling his legs up on the window sill they were lounging on. The sun was setting, sending colors hurtling through the sky. The wind was playing with her dark hair, throwing it around her face in the most delicate manner possible.
"This mask," he said, handing it to her. "Is what I used to think of you before I actually got to know you. Such bland perfection, pure everywhere, not tainted in the slightest. That strange and abnormal level of perfection, almost too great to ever be real, to ever exist.
"And then I broke down your walls," he smiled, his eyes twinkling. He rolled his eyes when she snorted with laughter, "Oh don't you dare make this sexual. Anyway, after getting to know who you really were, I realized that you weren't a bland mask of perfection - You were a real human inside. A human who - You might not realize this, but your soul is the most "purest" for a lack of better words, that I've come across in a while. But it's also one of the most sparkling, passionate and lovely one I've seen in ages.
"What I'm trying to say is, lovely," he sighed, leaning into the window and taking a drink of his coke. "Don't try to hide yourself. You're a lovely person, with a brilliant personality. It's a shame that you don't share yourself with the world.
"So every time you see this mask," he ran his fingers through his hair, lighting his cigarette and taking a drag. "Remember what I told you."
She jumped, startled, turning around with her hand flying up to cover her heart. He was standing there, his hands awkwardly stuffed into his jean's pockets, a rather uncomfortable expression on his face. She blushed crimson when she remembered that her legs were bare and that only a thin, oversized sweater was covering her body.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, her voice breathier than she wanted it to be.
He shrugged, "You always talked about how easy it was to sneak in and out of your room. Thought I'd try."
"What do you want?" she asked, her tone weary.
His haughty expression fell off his face after seeing just how tired she looked. Dark circles were under her eyes, like gray crescents over the moon complexion of her face. Her hair was washed, wet and hanging around her face in loose strands, a crease between her sharply shaped and dark eyebrows.
"Are you …" he cleared his throat. "Are you okay?"
She snorted, "Not like you'd care anyway."
"Of course I do," he said, coming to sit beside her on her bed.
"Then where have you been these past few days? While I was recovering from what was the most traumatic experience of my life, where were you? When I was crying, aching for you to come and talk to me, where were you? Where were you? When I fainted, when I woke up, why weren't you there?" her voice built up second by second until she was almost screaming, her chest rising and falling with her rapid breathing. She held back a sob as she said, "When I told you I loved you … Why didn't you say anything?"
"Don't do this to me," he muttered, pinching the bridge between his eyes.
"Don't do this to me," she wept, turning away from him and pulling her bare legs up to hug them to her chest. "I don't expect you to feel the same way. But don't just leave me hanging there, wondering what your response will be; wondering if you feel the same way. Because trust me, that's worse than rejection straight off - At least I'm not full to the brim with false hope, only to have that eaten away by every second that passes by without you con -"
Before she could say another word, he grabbed her wrists, twisting her around until his lips covered her. They moved perfectly, fitting together like two puzzle pieces. She felt as if she was going to explode, the way her skin reacted to his touch, the way he cupped her face, stroking her cheeks with his thumbs. The way he gently caressed the skin of her arms, of her bare legs, making her feel dainty like porcelain - making her feel loved.
He pulled away, looking down at her with his twinkling eyes.
She couldn't believe that she would never be able to have him - never be able to feel the same feelings coursing through her nerves, filling her with that jittery sensation -
Just wanted to let you know that this has been inspired by a true story. As in, the bomb and everything. The rest is inspired by that picture up on the ADOR star cross'd contest prompt.
Read and review please! :)