The school auditorium was filled with the clamor that usually occurs when you bring almost three hundred girls together with nothing better to do than to listen to the names of the top three position holders in every class and applaud and cheer on every single name. Showing decorum in the first few minutes of the Annual Prize Distribution ceremony, now half an hour later the girls had resorted to become the rowdy bunch they always were. A couple of them sat at the back discussing Karma and SriDevi. Another group was bent over the engagement pictures of a friend. Only a few girls, restless and anxious, were listening to the teacher calling out the position holders and praying that the next name would be theirs.
One by one, the chubby little teacher at the dais announced the names of the position holders who went on the stage, shook hands with the principal, got their prizes and came back to their seats. By this time, the ceremony had become almost monotonous until the teacher proclaimed,
“And now it’s time to announce the topper for this year”.
These words abruptly caused a decrease in the level of the noise and the entire hall went into a silence pregnant with anticipation. The announcement of the topper was always an exciting event because the selected girl usually became a celebrity of sorts. The “School Topper” was a coveted title conferred to the girl who showed the best performance throughout the year in not only academics but extracurricular activities as well.
The teacher could feel three hundred pairs of eyes upon her. Enjoying the attention, she looked at the list of names in her hand, adjusted her glasses, brought the microphone closer to her pink lipstick covered lips and declared:
“When it comes to deciding the school topper of the year, every year the teachers have varied opinions as to who should deserve this title but I am proud to say that the decision for this year’s title holder was unanimous.”
“She is the girl who has not only proved herself in all extracurricular activities but for the first time, thanks to her, our very own Pakistan Public school has also managed to have its name amongst the mentors of the board position holders.”
“You all must have guessed by now as to who is going to hold the title this year. That is why without further delay, I invite upon the stage, the topper of the year 1986… Samia Abrar”.
The quiet hall was immediately filled with applause and cheers, the loudest of them by Samia’s friends. Samia, a simple looking girl with bright eyes, smiled and moved gracefully to the podium to receive her prize: a shield, a certificate and a cheque of five hundred rupees. Samia had always been an intelligent girl. Since the first grade, she had managed to clinch one of the top three positions in her class and this year she broke the record when she bagged the first position in the entire board in Matric Examination.
“Congratulations, Samia”, said the principal, shaking her hand as Samia reached the stage. She was all smiles for the young bright girl.
“Zabardast Samia”, congratulated one of her classmates as she came back to her seat carrying the prizes.
“Thanks”, replied Samia.
“I’ve heard you are going to get the sports girl of the year title as well”, said another class fellow.
Samia just shrugged and smiled in return. The girl’s conjecture wasn’t wrong.
Badminton Championships: 2nd position Samia Abrar
Most events won in athletics: Samia Abrar
Best volley ball player: Samia Abrar
She had faltered a little in the table tennis tournament thus losing her overall ranking but there was no one in the whole school who was good at so many sports at the same time. There was nobody who could claim even half of the title. Yes, she was going to be the sports girl of the year, second year in a row.
“Samiaa, Congrats!” another girl, whom Samia didn’t recognize, wished,.
“By the way I had submitted a poem to Iqra can you please check if it has been selected or not. You are in the selection board, aren’t you?”
No, the girl was wrong. Samia was not on the final selection board of Iqra, the school magazine. She was only a junior editor but her popularity surpassed that of the main editor.
So this was Samia Abrar: whose name still glows in bright golden letters on a wooden plaque in the headmistress’s office of Pakistan Public school
“Samia Abrar X-A 1st Position in Board (1986)”
After leaving school, Samia even remained one of the top three girls of college. She had always wanted to become a doctor.
“I would like to join the medical profession as it will give me a chance to help my country and its people”, her words had appeared in the newspaper when she had been interviewed after the board position holders’ ceremony. In spite of the tough studies at intermediate level, she managed to keep up with extracurricular activities. She was the head girl of her college and president of the debating society. She was no doubt one of the most popular girls in college. People knew her, teachers loved her, and students envied her.
Thus with such a strong record of achievements and honors, amidst the fierce competition for seats in government medical colleges, Samia managed to get a place in the city’s top most medical college.
“Samia so what do you plan to do after graduation?” Sarah, one of her best friends had asked her one day.
“I plan to have a hospital of my own one day. You know the sort that caters to the poor of the country. Have you ever seen the pathetic conditions at Jinnah?”
“Whoa! Ambitious! I just plan to fly to Dubai and spend the rest of my life shopping.” Sarah had just gotten engaged to a guy in Dubai and was counting the days till this “hell “(in her words) would end and she would be out of here. Sarah had been a good student before joining university but after getting admission in a medical college, it seemed all her aims had been fulfilled.
“I am just studying for the degree…to be called a doctor and to be able to get a good rishta”, she used to say with a wink.
“God! I guess people are right when they say girls join universities just to waste time and snatch the opportunity from guys. I can never think of spending my life like this. What did I waste my past six years for?” Samia always thought at such philosophical statements of her friend.
The six years in university came to an end as well with a gold medal added on Samia’s shelf. She didn’t know but all the while impressing her elders and peers Samia had managed to capture the heart of one of her cousins as well and just a year after graduation, Samia Abrar was no more.
She had thrown all sorts of tantrums when she heard that Nadia Khala wanted her as her bahu. She had no plans of getting married, at least not in the coming two years. But Nadia Khala had insisted for an early marriage because of her ailing health (which by the way was perfectly fine even now after fifteen years) and Naveed who had shown a complete indifference to her future plans before marriage had downright prohibited her from any kind of work afterwards.
“Look if we both work who will take care of the house? Ammi is old and it is your responsibility after all”, was his curt reply when after a few months of marriage she had finally asked him if she could start going back to the hospital.
She lamented her situation for a while but a few months later a little being came into Samia’s world and she forgot all the injustices and prejudices against her and spent all her energy in raising the cute and doll like Sadia who was closely followed by naughty Saad and then innocent Sobia.
Staying awake all night when they got sick, cooking three types of meals every day to cater to the culinary taste of each of her little devils, preparing them for tests for admission into the best schools, running everyday between their tuitions, schools, and what not, Samia hardly had time for herself. And because Naveed’s business hardly gave him time to stay home Samia had to learn to drive a car and take care of almost everything that belonged in Naveed’s domain as well.
In just a few years Samia had completely become Mrs.Naveed: the sweet and obedient wife of the managing director of a multinational corporation, the mother of the president of the debating society, the mentor of the captain of the basketball team, the support of the future engineer to be. She was surrounded by people who called her wife, mother, khala, phuppo. It seemed she had to depend on others for her existence. It had been a long time since anybody had called her “Samia Abrar” the name that people were proud to be acquainted with.
One day a huge box arrived from her mother’s place. Her parents and brother were moving to the States and her bhabi could not take “junk” with her so her mother had separated her belongings and had sent them with the driver.
Eager to look into her “old” belongings, Samia decided to open the box. She had just removed the tape and was removing the lid when the phone rang.
“Hello Samia…it’s Sarah here, how have you been doing yar? I just came to Pakistan after a long time and decided to get in touch with old buddies. I was waiting to see you…”
“Oh great! So you didn’t do anything either. I thought you must be a surgeon or something by now. I always gave your example to my kids, how you…”
Samia couldn’t hear anymore. She had just been hit with a sudden bolt of self realization that reminded her that yes; it had been fifteen years since her graduation. Fifteen long years and she had spent all of them just like Sarah. Her degree and gold medal had long been stashed away somewhere and forgotten. She saw no difference between Sarah, a student who barely made through and herself.
After putting down the phone, she went back to work on the box. The opening of the lids revealed that it was her certificates, shields and trophies including her medal that were carelessly packed inside the “junk” box.
She heard someone from the distant past
“God, I guess people are right when they say girls join universities just to waste time and snatch the opportunity from guys. I can never think of spending my life like this. What did I waste my past six years for?”
As she fished around further inside, she came across a card:
“Mr. and Mrs. Abrar Khan
request the honor of your presence at the wedding of their daughter
Mr. Nabeel Alam
17th July 1995
Mrs.Naveed held the gravestone of Samia Abrar in her hand and dropped a tear