The clouds light up orange, pink and then slowly darken. The heavy breath of traffic rises above the streets as it flows past like a tired beast. Birds begin to flit towards the refuge of the trees, and lights turn on in houses as people return home.
They warn you not to make homes out of people.
But aren’t people what turn a house into a home?
I used to wait for my father to come home every day. My sisters and I would be busy with different activities, but at 6pm we would all gather in the living room, waiting to hear the sound of his car pulling up in the driveway. Even our white-and-ginger cat, apparently dozing on his pillow, would keep his ears alert for the same sound.
Every night, he would come home with a longing to be with his family. Every night, we would race each other to the door. He would hug us one by one, enthusiastically asking about our day. We would eat dinner together, joke, talk – be a normal family. Just be home.
Our drawings that he’d taped above his desk, his slippers outside the door, the coat he hung over his chair. All the little reminders that he was home.
When we looked out our window facing the garden, we would often see him on his chair with our cat in his lap. His deep, melodious voice recited the Quran and floated over the wall to our neighbors’.
He would often excitedly call us outside just to show a cool bird or bug he had spotted.
That’s what had been doing the evening I saw him for the last time. I was 13 then. I’m 20 now. It’s been eight years since two black cars rolled into our street, masked and plainclothes men broke into our house, and abducted him. He never came home.
I often try to explain what makes enforced disappearance so uniquely horrifying. If a family member is arrested with a warrant and put into prison, even if falsely, at least you know where they are. At least you can visit and speak to them. If someone dear to you is diagnosed with a fatal disease, at least you can cherish the days you have left and hold their hand by the hospital bed. If a loved one dies, even if suddenly, at least you have a body to mourn. As you see them being lowered six feet into the ground and watch the shower of sand filling their grave, at least you realize they are truly gone. And no matter how terrible it hurts, at least you have a grave to kneel over and cry on.
At least you can accept they will never come home.
When someone is wrenched from your home and forcibly disappeared, they are vanished without trace. Gone without a puff of smoke. No reason, no whereabouts, no contact. Nothing. Are they sick or healthy? Tortured or spared? Dead or alive?
The complete absence of closure is not only what makes enforced disappearance the horror it is. It is also what never lets your heart accept that someone is truly gone. It bracingly, painfully, never lets you give up hope that one fine morning, the door will open and they’ll be home.
As I trudge up the street on my way home from university, I look up at the house I’d grown to love. The cracked, gray marble steps, the ivy creeping up the walls and sneaking around the doorbell, and the gangly apricot tree we grew from a seed.
When a person is disappeared, they are not just being picked up off the street. They are being snatched from a community, torn from a family and ripped from a home. A home that no longer remains a home without him. Because it takes the entire family to make one.
His shoes are not outside the door. When I walk in, his desk still stands there, but empty. I walk slowly through, and look at all the changes he doesn’t know about yet. The sofa covers. The new rug on the floor. The scribbles of mine that he would tape above the desk have now grown into paintings.
Every day, I live in the hope he’ll come back. Every day, I die when he doesn’t. Yet I still wake up in the morning. I pray that I never give up. Our loss and grief is heavy in the coolness of the house around me, but so is our resilience and struggle. Yet I know I can only truly come home when he does.
This is a series of a blog written by Aymun Sajid. Aymun Sajid is the daughter of Sajid Mehmood, an IT engineer who was forcibly disappeared from his home in Islamabad on 14 March 2016. He remains missing to date and his loved ones have no information of his fate or whereabouts.
The government of Pakistan must end the practice of enforced disappearance and secret and arbitrary detentions. It must also immediately and unconditionally disclose the fate and/or whereabouts of forcibly disappeared people to their families.