Nafisa was getting worried with every passing minute. Yusuf, her son, returned home daily, it was totally dark now and it was very rare for him not to. Living in the troubled Kashmir valley was hard, the winter made it worse. The militancy had wiped out all secure employment.
There used to be a transport corporation that Yusuf used to work at. Now, he did any odd job that he could lay his hands on. But he returned home promptly every day before it was totally dark. It was very rare that he didn't.
Nafisa was disturbed now, “Oh, God! Mercy on us,” she prayed.
He was the only earning member to look after Nafisa, his wife Rajiya and two children. Nafisa decided he wouldn't be coming home tonight, after her isha namaz, when the curfew time started.
“Beti, it seems Yusuf won't be coming home tonight,” said Nafisa to Rajiya.
“Maybe Ammi,” replied a troubled Rajiya.
They all went to bed. By the time Nafisa woke up the next day, Yusuf had still not returned. She offered her morning prayers and sat at a comfortable place in the house where she could keep track of anyone walking towards her house. Morning turned to afternoon and evening, Yusuf never walked towards his home that day. It was night again and the curfew had already started. Yusuf had still not returned, which made waiting for her son difficult. She was hoping Yusuf would return any moment.
“Oh God! Save my child from troubles,” she kept praying.
Lately, a sudden disappearance of a person in the Kashmir valley meant two things -- either he was dead or had been abducted by terrorists. Nafisa and Rajiya were both very uncomfortable by now and had second thoughts about why Yusuf hadn't returned. Emotions overtook them and they started crying and holding each other. They were both thinking the worst but were hoping for the best. The children watched in bewilderment.
The next morning the weather was clear. Nafisa immediately went out in search of her son. She went to all the places that she thought he would be in, asking:
“Have you seen Yusuf, son!” Everywhere she went, “No Ammi!” came a cold reply.
By afternoon, she had toured all possible places and was exhausted. But she could not find Abdul. Abdul and Yusuf worked together most of the time, they were good friends. She returned home, hoping her son would have be home.
“Has Yusuf returned, Rajiya?” she asked standing outside.
“No Ammi,” replied Rajiya.
“Where could he have gone? Oh God! Save my son from evil,” she said to herself.
Hyder, who lived next door, came out on hearing her voice.
“Did you report it to the police, Ammi,” asked a concerned Hyder.
“No!” she said, “I will go right now,” and she started to walk away in a hurry.
“Wait Ammi, I will come with you,” shouted Hyder.
They both reached the make-shift tent of the Jammu & Kashmir Armed Police.
“What is your problem?” asked the havaldar sitting behind the desk.
“My son is missing,” she said in a low voice.
“How old is he?”
“He is 30 years old.”
“Oh! He must have gone out for some work, Ammi,” the havaldar replied hoping it solved the case.
“But he hasn't returned home for three days. He has never gone away without informing us before,” said Nafisa and started to cry.
The thoughts that Nafisa had were the same as the havaldar and Hyder, for everyone lived in the acute fear of the terrorists.
“Don't worry Ammi, we will find him, you file a report,” assured the havaldar.
He took a paper pad and was ready to pen down the details.
“Do you have any identification photo?” he asked.
“No,” she replied tearfully.
The havaldar noted all the details carefully. Often such an incident meant leaving the country by will or being forced to attend the camps across the border in Pakistan.
“Go home Ammi, I will call you if I get any news,” the havaldar assured them as he got up from his seat.Hoping for the best, she returned home with Hyder assuring her the whole way.
“Don't worry, he will return.”
At home, both Nafisa and Rajiya felt very lonely and both invariably had tears in their eyes. Friends and well-wishers visited them and told not to worry. But everyone knew Yusuf might as well be dead or in a very remote place on this earth. Even by the middle of the next day, there was no news of Yusuf.
The groceries in the house were almost over. They got their food mostly on a daily basis and did not have any large quantities stored. Yusuf was the only source of income they had. They were not allowed to work and even if they could, there were no jobs for them.
“Ammi, the flour will be over today,” said Rajiya.
“Don't worry Beti, he will return today,” Nafisa said.
There was no news from anywhere, even the police.
Hyder came home in the afternoon and said, “I will go and find out if they have any news at the police station.”
He went to the same tent that they had been to the previous day. The same havaldar was there.
“Salam. Any news?” he asked.
“Well you know the situation here and I don't have to tell you again,” replied the havaldar.
“But Yusuf was not such a person to leave his family and join some terrorists.”
The havaldar was not affected by this answer, he had heard it too many times and had watched it turn out to be wrong many times.
He smiled at Hyder and replied casually, “Well, everyone out there was like that before they left.”
He paused for a moment to let Hyder come to terms with reality. He shuffled through the heap of papers on his desk and picked up a random paper pad and studied it with extreme interest.
He continued, “Ok! Let us see…there were no incidents reported of border-crossing in the last few days and no dead body has been found. I hope your friend is just stuck somewhere due to the bad weather. I will let you know as soon as I find any clues.”
Hyder returned and comforted Nafisa by telling her that the police were looking for Yusuf and would find him soon. Another day went by, and the havaldar came to Nafisa's house the next afternoon. He seemed a trifle sad.
“Ammi, I am sorry to say this but you should understand.”
“What happened?” Nafisa asked, excited and hoping to find out something about her son's whereabouts.
“We don't have any clues about your son.”
He took some time to calm her down and then said what he had actually come for.
“Ammi, but we found a person that may fit your son's description. We need you to identify him. Can you come to the station for a minute?”
She didn't quite understand but said calmly, “Yes, I will. He may be my son.”
Hyder came in after hearing the commotion.
The havaldar took him outside and told him, “We found a dead body last night and need some identification.”
“Oh! God! No!” exclaimed Hyder.
"Get her to the far side hospital, it would be better if you came along too,” the havaldar said before leaving in a hurry.
Hyder took Nafisa to the place which served as a temporary hospital and aid center and she was hysterical when she found out that she was there to identify a dead body that could be her son's. But she calmed down, when she saw the face.
“This is not my son! This is not my son!” she cried with mixed feelings of joy and sadness.
“Oh God! Help us,” she prayed with her knees down and looked towards the skies.
When she returned home and Rajiya found out what happened, they both cried uncontrollably the whole afternoon till they were exhausted.
It was nearing the curfew time again and it was the fifth day since Yusuf's disappearance. It was about the time during the day when he usually returned home. Both the women were sitting quietly in the darkness and praying.
“Ammi,” came a shout from the door.
It was Yusuf's voice. Both Nafisa and Rajiya were startled when suddenly they heard the voice. Yes! It was Yusuf's voice. They both rushed out to the door and they found Yusuf coming in just as he always used to. They both hugged him and started crying with joy. Yusuf couldn't understand what was happening.
“What happened, Ammi?” asked a confused Yusuf.
“Where did you go son?” asked Nafisa in between sobs.
“I got a good deal to drive a truck to Srinagar, so I went there -- why?” he paused for a moment and continued, “I had asked Abdul to tell you this, didn't he tell you?”
Nafisa took some time to absorb the news and replied, “Abdul! But I haven't seen him for the past five days.”
“What? Where has he gone?” Yusuf was worried.
Isha namaz: Night prayer