The Man in the Black Boots: Remembering APS Tragedy

[The world was a witness to the massacre that took place at the army school in the city of Peshawar in Pakistan. 140 children were mercilessly killed  by militants. These young children had to face death in such a cruel manner, that we are still reeling in from shock. There were some survivors too and some of the stories they shared with the media became unbearable to read. There is a 16 year old survivor, Shahrukh, who recounted his episode. His story jolted me intensely, and for someone like me, who just lost his own  father in 2014, I felt like as if I lost 140 children of my own. I cannot even begin to think of how 140 families have been devastated. The following is something I wrote from Shahrukh’s perspective what I thought would be like  in his mind. The original article is published in Express Tribune, upon which I based the following account. I felt very strongly with Shahrukh’s experience, hence I developed and expanded on his account of the tragedy. It’s one thing to merely read a survivor’s account, and it’s another to empathize and feel that pain.]

In remembrance of the children who were martyed on Dec 16th, 2014.

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My name is Shahrukh and I am 16 years old. Today I am going to tell you about the day when I faced death head on. It is not easy to recount what I went through but I must share. You need to know the kind of horror I went through, only because until and unless we don’t confront with the reality, we will not change things around here.

I was born in the north-Western Pakistani city of Peshawar, in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Peshawar is a city that is still riddled with conservatism: women are covered and men grow beards. However, times are changing with modern developments and advanced infrastructure.

I go to a school that is run by the Army. My parents decided to send me here because they said schools that are run by the Army are the safest. “Son, the Army will protect you and other children. You need not worry about safety. We trust the Army.” I’ve been going to this school ever since I was a little kid. Today I am sixteen and doing my O’Levels. I want to carry on and do my A’Levels and go to university. I have dreams to become someone big and serve my country.

16th December 2014 was just like any other regular day at school. Actually, to be honest, this day was sort of special because my teacher said we will have a special demonstration of first aid in the auditorium. In this day and age, especially in my hometown, it’s a must to know basics of first aid.

Excitedly we all pour into the auditorium. There must be about 100 children in the room. The younger lot is excitedly chatting away with one another as they settle down in their seats. I sit down along with my friends. The teachers come in the auditorium and welcomed everyone and proceed to tell us the basics of first aid. There is also some dummy models to practice CPR on.

I don’t know who screamed but someone in the room screamed out loud, “Get down and hide below the desks!” There is so much fear and intensity in the voice that my friends and I don’t know how to react. I see some students quickly fall down on their knees and hide below the desks. In reflex action, I do just the same. As I am getting down below the desk, I see a few men at the rear end of the auditorium, in paramilitary uniform. I am confused as to what is happening. Is this a fire drill? Is there an earthquake? There is a silence in the room as a lot of us are scared. I can’t hear anything, excepts for the boots walking. The voice definitely shook us all up. I am shaking on the inside. I also see that the teachers at the front are also lying down on the floor.

The voice spoke up again, this time much louder and angrier. “Recite your kalma!!” (Islamic creed) Out of fear, I started to recite the kalma: there is no God but Allah, there is no God but Allah. My ear drums nearly burst as I hear loud firing. Machine guns. They are firing guns like maniacs and all the children in the room start to scream, breaking the silence.

Bodies are being shot at and I can see the young ones jerk their bodies. Some are even being shot more than once, while others are being shot in the head to completely finish them off. There is a lull in firing, till that voice speaks up again: “There are so many children beneath the benches. Go get them!!” More firing and I now start to panic. Will I die too? How can I escape from here?

I see my friends next to me get shot. I am lying down still, not knowing what to do. I can’t see my friend who was just shot to death. I want to revive him, but I also realize I need to stay put. I see these big black boots walk towards me. It feels like as if Death is walking towards me, as if to come and take me away. The boots are now close to me, staring directly in my face. This man is probably looking for more students to kill.

I don’t feel the pain initially, but when I do feel it later, it is extreme and intense. The man in the black boots actually shoots me in my legs, precisely below my knees. I am shot in my both my legs. I can’t tell you what that feels like. The pain is excruciating and I want to scream my lungs out. But I can’t. All I can do is fold the tie I am wearing and put it in my mouth. I bite down on my tie as hard as I can. I think I am also in shock. I don’t want death to come take me away just yet. I want to live.

The man in the black boots keeps on firing and killing the children around me. He is looking for children to kill. He doesn’t want to spare a single life. It’s as if it was his mission to kill every single person. I simply close my eyes, start to shiver like crazy again and recite the kalma, waiting to get shot so I die. I lay still completely. I don’t move an inch. Subconsciously, I think to myself that if I lay still and pretend to be dead, I may just be lucky to stay alive.

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The next few minutes seem like eternity to me. There is again silence in the room. Seems like the man in black boots and his friends are done from here. I continue to lay still. I hear the door open and close and complete silence, save for a few moans that emanate from some parts of the room. I can still feel the intense pain in my legs. I want to leave the room and escape. As I push myself up with my arms and drag myself across the room to the door, I can simply not take in all the bodies around me. I recognize some of them from other classes. Familiar faces from the cafeteria and playground, all dead. I finally make it to the door and push it open.

There is heat in this room. I assume it is the heater left running. As I turn my head to see where the heat is coming from, I see something that completely startles me to the core. I want to die. There is thick smoke in the air. I can’t breathe. But along with the thick smoke, I can smell something pungent. I don’t know what burnt skin smells like. Now I do.

The office assistant is on fire. She is sitting on her chair and is burning to death. I can see the flesh burning. The smell is horrible and I want to throw up. I don’t know how she caught fire, but the skin is melting away and blood is dripping from her. The plastic armrest from her chair is infusing with her own skin. I don’t hear her scream and I quickly say to God: Please let her be dead so she isn’t suffering from any pain. It is getting too much for me to see her burning away like this; I become exhausted now. I lose all energy. As much as I want to get up and run away, I simply pass out with my own leg pain rendering me unconscious.

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