By: Riaz Ahmad
Mian Ijaz Ahmad held himself together most of Monday morning. From the time son Zikira Ijaz woke up, got ready and they left home for Army Public School, to when they crossed the heavily secured school gates and Zikira headed for his class, Ahmad kept his composure.
Then the assembly started. “I saw Class VIII-E standing there on the ground and I saw the friends of my son Shahzad. I couldn’t control myself,” he says. “There, right among those kids, my elder son used to stand.”
Class VIII-E had 27 students before militants killed 150 in an attack on the school on December 16. Shahzad was among the 14 killed in his class, while many others were injured.
Shahzad and Zikira, who was inseparable from his brother, elder by two years, would travel together from their house in Pahripura, in transport provided by the school. Ahmad, who retired from Pakistan Navy and now works as a laboratory technician, says he hardly knew the other students in Shahzad’s class. Now he knows each one of them by name. “They were added to the Shahzad Ijaz ‘Shaheed’ Facebook account as friends,” he says. “I met kids who were my son’s best friends and kept crying.”
Zikira, 12, spotted him then, and broke down too.
All around him, Ahmad adds, were parents crying like small children.
Monday being the first day of school since the massacre, the acting vice-principal had requested parents to accompany their children. The students were to wear the uniform but were not required to carry schoolbags. After a brief ceremony also attended by Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, the school was shut at 10.30 am. After the ceremony, when parents and students were allowed to take a stroll in the renovated school building, Ahmad went straight to the auditorium. The site of the bloodiest scenes in the attack was where Shahzad had been killed.
While Army Public School has been repaired, whitewashed and given new boundary walls to lend a sense of security, the renovation at the auditorium is still not complete.
Abid Raza Bangash, an NGO employee, says the pain of December 16 hit him again when the students were told to line up in rows at the assembly. “I told them that my late son Rafiq, who was in Class X, could not make it but that my younger one, Murtajaz, a student of Class VI, was there. Like all other parents I realised again that some of our kids were not there and would never be there again.”
The first thing Abdul Basit, 12, a student of Class V, did was to collect his bag that had got left behind that day. But he knows well what he will never get back. “The building has been renovated but they did not put Hamid Ali and Huzaifa Aftab there for me,” he says. “They were in Class VIII. But we lived in the same area and became best friends.”
Basit knows about many children who have moved to other schools.
His father Mujeeb Rehman considers himself among the lucky ones. Both his sons, Abdul and Osama, survived the December 16 attack as they were rescued in time by the Pakistan Army.
While he couldn’t control his tears either, Rehman feels the assembly on Monday morning was cathartic for the students. “Some of them were upset about their missing friends and teachers but they are children after all and meeting other children reduced their tension. For the parents, it was altogether different.”
After having just seen their photographs on Facebook, when he finally met his son Shahzad’s friends, Ahmad wished them “long and successful lives”, he says. Each one of them, he adds, was “dear like Shahzad to me”.
Zikira hopes to step into his brother’s shoes too. “Shahzad wanted to be a pilot,” he says. “I am going to become a pilot because he was almost crazy about it.”
Starting Tuesday, it will be a regular day at Army Public School.