A thick plume of black smoke and ash hung in the air in a heavy haze, almost completely obscuring the lurid red glow of the waning sun. Below, a cloud of grey plaster dust twisted and writhed amid the sea of debris as intermittent eddies of wind gusted by.
Everything was still.
All that could be heard was the distant wail of an ambulance siren, which rent the bitter evening air like a butcher’s knife through a carcass. It would’ve been hard to believe that only minutes ago the place had been alive with crowds and commotion and excitement; for now it stood empty. It seemed that time itself had stopped: that every clock, timepiece, wristwatch in the world had ceased to tick.
* * *
I’m starting to wonder if it will ever come. What if the seconds just keep ticking until the countdown is over and… what then? Time is relentless. If only it could be slowed, or brought back…
I’m suddenly startled out of my reverie when I feel a heavy hand land on my shoulder from behind.
The voice is strong and resolute. It’s someone with authority. I turn to see a man of tall, broad stature; dressed from head to toe in a hostile navy-blue uniform, and sporting a thick leather belt with an intercom device strapped to it at his left hip. He looks no less authoritative than he sounds.
“Ma’am, may I ask for your name?”
He’s a customs officer, but oddly, he’s smiling.
I tell him the name we made for me back in Peshawar – the one that’s on the false passport, and on the tag tied to the case. I’m smiling back at him, but it’s difficult to stop my voice form wavering.
Calmly, tells there’s nothing to worry about, and explains something about a luggage mix-up. I’m too anxious and confused to listen properly. He says something about luggage being put on the wrong plane, and that he wanted to come to me personally to make sure of no more mix-ups. Then, like magic, he hands me the case. The case! I realise what I’m doing must be right; a miracle like this could only come from God. I have always known he is on our side.
The officer apologises to me for any inconveniences, and then leaves me, standing dumbfounded. Coming back to my senses, I realise how little time I have, and try to compose myself. I clutch the case tightly in my right hand. It’s hard to keep hold of, though – my palms are still sweaty and the handle keeps slipping. I take a couple of deep breaths, and, wiping the sweat from my brow, I set out on my final journey.