It’s difficult at first, to breathe after the escape. The seconds continue in her head. The seconds for when the bomb should have gone off--tick, tick, tick. Fortune smiled on them for just that single moment, she and the bomb expert.
Even thinking of it makes her shiver, his hands warm on her back, her breathing rushed and frightened, and Mama--Mama’s face luminous and smiling in her mind, Mama’s fingers tucking back her hair, Mama stirring orange-gold jaggery into kheer, Mama all alone. She had been so scared. She had been so scared.
She turns carefully to glance at him--only a glance, and the bomb expert is sleeping on his older friend’s shoulder, the way Jiya is now softly snoring on her own shoulder. Through the window behind him, the desert rushes by, a wave of sand and gold, and she can see how religion could be found in all this vastness, all this nothing. The breeze is so thin through the cracks of the opened bus windows.
She watches for a moment--or at least, she thought it was a moment--but she’s woken hours later by a tired-looking Jiya who smiles gently at her as she shakes her awake, telling her that they’ve arrived at the embassy. The bus is half-empty, nurses and rescuers milling around the bus, the windows a clear and star-strung violet.
They are given sweet visitor’s dates and glasses of amber tea, bread and sesame hummus, and set into seats. They will be sent on the next few flights back to India and Pakistan, but it is semantics, organization, paperwork for others at this point. Fans whir faintly around all of them, but she focuses completely on her food, on tearing the bread, on dipping it tenderly into the oil.
If she doesn’t, she’ll remember. That’s the last thing she wants to do right now. She’ll remember it all--the bullet puckered and dry in Sana’s face, the forearm stretched towards her day in and day out, Ghalib--oh, god, will she ever be able to read Ghalib again, and the sky, so faraway and white when she looked up.
She chews slowly, falling backwards into time, but then continues, pushing all thoughts away, and is only disturbed when someone comes and sits in the empty seat next to her.
She looks up, through her lashes, and it is the bomb expert, smiling politely at her.
Sorry , he says, there wasn’t much room anywhere else.
She nods, turns back to her food.
Are you feeling better? He asks.
Yes , she says, I am.
Namit , he says, stretching out his hand towards her. I don’t think you ever got my name.
She looks at his hand, calloused and long-fingered and smelling of olive oil soap, a hand that had saved her life because of its deftness, a hand that even in a moment of death and terror had given her some semblance of comfort. And she finally smiles back, putting her own hand in his, telling him, Poorna.
Hello, Poorna , he says, and dimples at her.
The room is too hot for comfort, and so many have died today, and her soul will be injured by this for a long time--even for always, but in this moment, now, sitting here next to the man who saved her life in such a companionable silence--it feels like a beginning.