“There is an ideology to make the world green – why then did nature have so many colours?” I asked my best friend before she vanished from my life.
This is a story of fiction loosely based on true events.
Mariam was my pillow, on which I wept silently at night. She was that hand I held when I was wounded. She was the tune I loved to sing to lift up my mood. She was, and I am disheartened to use the word ‘was’, my best friend.
We both grew up together in an average Muslim household. She seemed to have always been there for me, almost magically and practically too because she lived right next door. Mariam was the greatest asset in my life after my parents. We were two inseparable girls living in an urban city in India in an era when the word ‘Muslim’ had become synonymous to the word ‘Terrorist’.
But where we lived, I had friends from all castes. We didn’t ask them their castes first, it really didn’t even matter. We were children who just wanted to play. Later, we were adults who just wanted to live. That is all that could define our existence. I couldn’t see even the tiniest seed of communalism sowed in between us – until that day.
We were both 16. Mariam was the one who often taught about me puberty, sex, boys, cooking and exercise. The rest of the topics were taught by me to her. But that day – when he knocked on the door of my room, I felt that it wasn’t her but somebody else standing right in front of me. A form, that didn’t look like it just wanted to live.
We both belonged to liberal Muslim households that did not expect us to cover. We were allowed to wear whatever our hearts desired. But that day, she stood in front of me wearing a hijab. I could only see her face, which too she used to cover when we stepped out. Not only that but she convinced the 16 year old me to wear the hijab and begin behaving like a ‘Muslim lady’ as well. I didn’t understand why but her persuasive capabilities were way more better than mine.
She had begun reading books on Islam, she often watched videos that sounded like verbal bombs that dropped on my mind every now and then and had taken a keen interest in chemistry! It had just been a week to ‘that day’ and I was puzzled by what had happened to my best friend.
She didn’t spend time with me anymore, she didn’t think that playing games was needed anymore as she found it to be a complete waste of time. How can someone change so drastically? I decided to find out.
While going through her things, I found a diary. I knew she used to keep a diary and I was often allowed to read it but now the book was locked. I had seen her keeping the key of the book in the pocket of the pants she no longer wore – so I picked it up, picked up the key, rushed home and locked the door behind me.
The next six hours of my life were hell – what I read in her diary were slogans to make the world green. To fight against the enemies of Islam. To instigate a war for the betterment of ‘our’ religion. She had become a jihadi – just like that. Just in a week? I didn’t come out of my room that night. I had to confront Mariam about this.
The next morning, I went to her house only to find her preaching in her room.
I threw the diary on her bed. She looked at me with rage in her eyes but calmed down the very next second.
She smiled. Coldly. “Because they need us.” She said.
“The people who are fighting for Islam, the religion of God.” She said.
My mind rebelled to not only what she was saying but also to how she was saying it.
“God has no religion. You taught me that, Mariam,” I said.
“There is only one religion that deserves Earth. That is ours. We should go to any extent to make the world green.”
I couldn’t believe my ears when she said that. I told her, “There is an ideology to make the world green – why then did nature have so many colours?”
“You are naïve. These people are killing our people. We should give an answer and save our people,” she said. I didn’t understand then that who were our people and who were those people. I still had to process her talking to me like that.
“Look here. This is what I do…Aarif taught me how to.” She took out a box which had wires and explosives and things I didn’t even understand back then. But this statement of hers gave me my answer. Aarif, her boyfriend was the reason why she had changed into someone I no longer recognised.
Aarif lived in our neighbourhood and wasn’t liked by many. We had seen the police often around his house and people thought that he was not a good man. People suspected that he was involved in jihad. But since the start, I had seen Mariam develop a softness for him. I just couldn’t fathom that how her softness towards him made her so hard from within that she could think of killing people to save other people.
What all she said next – I couldn’t hear. Her voice muted in the background with the room filled with the noise in my mind. Our teachers had told us to inform the police about any violence – my parents too had asked me to stay alert. Was I going to tell on my best friend? Was she even my best friend? What will happen to her if I reported her to the police?
I couldn’t make a decision for two days. Then the next day, I saw a news flash on the television about a certain terrorist organisation causing turmoil abroad. I heard the people screaming and their loved ones weeping. That is when I did it. I told my parents. They told her parents.
In two days, Mariam and her family and left India forever. I never heard from her again. I lost her. I don’t know where they are today or if she is okay. My parents thought that it was best that we don’t contact her ever again.
Until yesterday I wondered if I pushed my best friend away, if I could have done something else to save her. I miss her too much. Did I ruin her life?
But today when I heard that Aarif was arrested for involvement in terrorist activities by the police from my new neighbours, I knew that I had not ruined her life but saved it.
I still miss her. And the fact that I lost my best friend to jihad will remain with me till my grave.