7/7/15 -Just a girl

The last thing I thought I would do this day was to bury a woman. A stranger.

I had gone to Watford, just outside London, to give my condolences to my friend Khalid on the death of his younger brother, Nayyar.  It was a beautiful bright hot day. We went to Nayyar’s grave.

The Muslim part of the cometary is at the top end of a well maintained graveyard, lined with trees. Nayyar’s grave, like many of the graves around it was adorned with flowers. I was sitting looking at the lavender flowers swaying in a gentle breeze, learning about Nayyar’s last days on earth, about the operation from which he never recovered, when I noticed two Asian women standing close to each other. They were in their twenties. There were three white men standing close to them. The women were dressed in white clothes. They hugged each other, and stared silently towards a newly dug grave, a little to the left of where we were. The white men with them, stood a little apart from each other, and like the women were silent.

I asked my friend if he knew who they were, he shook his head and said, ‘Yaar, it is a graveyard and people come here just like us.’ As he was saying this a large van pulled up and a group of Asian men came out with a coffin and silently began taking it to the new grave.

Khalid and I looked at each other, both thinking the same thoughts, how can there be so few people with this body? Why was no one reciting any prayers? We stood up and helped to carry the coffin to the new grave.  It was a large coffin. A heavy coffin.

Making our way to the grave way I asked a young man, in a brown leather jacket who was  holding on to the coffin close to me, ‘Brother, whose body is this?’

He pursed his lips shook his head without saying anything.

After the coffin was lowered into the grave, my friend asked a bearded man, someone he knew, about who we had just buried. The bearded man stepped closer to us, looked around to make sure no one was listening and said in a voice just above a whisper, ‘I had gone to pray in the mosque, like I do every day, and after our normal prayers the imam asked people to stay behind and for this funeral.’ He stopped, looked around and continued, ‘Lots of people did stay behind but the body had not had its ghusal, its required ritual cleansing. You see, there were no women from the dead woman or any women from her family or friends who could wash her.’ He stopped again, looked across at the two women and said, ‘Apart from those two poor creatures. They are her sisters. They were the only ones present there. And those white men, they are police.

‘And it’s not easy washing a body you know, especially if it your own family. We waited and waited. After 45 minutes or so, people started leaving, they have work to do and couldn’t just wait.’ He took a deep breath, flicked his thick grey eye brows towards the sisters and said, ‘They asked the imam to do it but he said that would be in appropriate. He said he will stand outside and guide them. And they washed their sister. It is not easy washing a body. Especially after a body has been in the fridge for six months.’

‘Six month!’ Khalid asked. ‘How did she die?’

The bearded man walked away from us, picked up a fistful of earth and said tossing into the grave, ‘She didn’t die. She was murdered. Murdered in such a horrible way and for what? Because she said no to marrying her sister-in-laws brother.  That’s what they say. They beat her to death with their hands.’ He stopped. Chewed his cud for a bit, looked at the sisters, shook his head sorrowfully and continued, ‘How difficult it must have been for those two to wash such a damaged body of their own sister. All alone.’

‘Why didn’t her family come to the funeral?’ I asked.

He replied, ‘Some of them are inside, charged, and her father, he left, ran off with another woman a long time ago, and the others have disowned her, they said they were not related to her and didn’t know her.’

‘Where’s her mother?’ I asked.

He shook his head.

‘Why are none of her friends or others from around Watford here?’ I asked.

He lowered his head and  stared at us as we helped shovel earth into the grave.  After all the earth from the sides had been pushed into the grave  the three off us stood away and watched a small mechanical shovel  fill the grave, following which the soil was shaped by hands and shovels to into an appropriate shape.  We raised our hands and prayed for the dead woman.  As soon as we moved away from the grave, the two women approached it, with trembling steps. The policemen stayed where they were, their eyes fixed on the women.

When the women got closer I saw their tear stained faces clearly.  They were as white as the clothes they wore.

I was so upset at the sight of the sisters slowly walking towards the grave that I didn’t notice the young man with the brown jacket. He stood next to me, offering me his hand.

I took his hand and shook it and as I did this he said, ‘I’m sorry I was so ignorant and didn’t answer your question earlier. I don’t know anyone here. I know there’s something fishy here. And all I know is she was Just a girl.

Ps. I searched on the internet and found out that I had helped to bury Shahna Uddin:


My new novel

You're Not Proper by Tariq Mehmood


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