Sunlight, ch. 12: Noor Raja

Monitoring: Noor Raja
Faisalabad, Punjab, Pakistan

10:30 a.m. Pakistan Standard Time
Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
5:30 Coordinated Universal Time
Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

The protesters have been gathering for nearly an hour by the time that Noor arrives. She isn’t entirely sure what it’s about, really–corruption this, corruption that, maybe something about electoral fraud, but she might be mixing it up with one of the protests from earlier in the year. It hasn’t been a good year. Signs of the times, perhaps. Is it just her imagination that the protests have gotten worse, the product of paying more attention now that she has been changed?  Or maybe it is just a consequence of getting older, and she would have known these things anyway, change or no change, gift or no gift.

The wind probably won’t be too bad today, it’s chilly enough already and Noor finds a place closer to the crowd, where maybe their bodies will help to break any gusts that come down on them. It will let her blend in, too.

One of the men takes notice of her as she gets into position beside him. “This is no place for children,” he tells her. “Shouldn’t you be at school, or at least at a park or wherever the hoodlums gather these days?” His words are a little harsh on their own, but she looks up there’s a smile beneath his mustache, and his eyes seem more concerned than annoyed.

Noor withdraws a hand from her jacket pocket and points further along the crowd. There are scars there, only a few months old, but he is tactful and does not say anything. “There are other children here,” she says.

“They should not be here, either. It may be dangerous.”

She nods, more to herself than to him. “That is why I am here.” Clashes with the police, massacres by the Taliban, mob violence… There are many places that Noor wishes she could have been, but she was not there and she did not make a difference. She can be in Faisalabad, though, and if there is an incident then she will be able to do something about it.

Only if there is an incident, however. She will be no good to anyone if there is no violence, but then, that in itself will be enough good for everyone.

“It is not for you to put yourself in harm’s way,” he says. “Do you even know what we are here for?”

“The government is unjust,” she says, and the man frowns, apparently recognizing her reply for what it is. “The details don’t matter,” she continues. “It doesn’t matter whether you are PTI or PML-N, or here for fraud or bribery or discrimination. People should not be hurt here.”

“You will not keep that from happening,” he warns. “They will not turn back just because a child is standing in the way.”

“No,” she admits. “God wants me to be here, though.” At least to herself, she sounds more confident than she really is, but either the man is tired of arguing or he thinks she is a fanatic, because he doesn’t say anything after that.

Around them, the crowd chants slogans against the prime minister, decrying his policies and demanding his resignation. On the other side of the city square, counter-protesters assemble, and at times the shouted chants turn to bouts of yelling exchanged between the two groups. Noor remains silent and the man, still looking back at her every couple of minutes or so, is likewise quiet. When protesters and anti-protesters close on each other, fighting until the police arrive and break up the fights with batons and water cannons, Noor makes her way to the front but does not take action. The situation has not become severe enough yet.

Then a stone is thrown. She thinks that it was one of the other children but she can’t be sure: squabbling children turn to fighting protesters, stones turn to loose bricks, and members of both sides close in again. Closer to where the police have set up, there is shouting about tear gas, and then a loud crack. The furor continues and then Noor hears it again and, beside her, the man lilts to the side, then falls to his knees and his shirt blossoms red. There is screaming.

Part of Noor crumbles. She is fourteen years old and this is not her job, not her responsibility, not anything that she has experience with. Another part of her has simply gone blank. Surely someone else will do something, surely this is not actually happening in front of her, surely everything will turn out alright, she just doesn’t want to confront this.

But there is a third part of her, which remembers photographs and videos, and remembers funerals of relatives long dead and visits to gravestones belonging to people that she does not remember but could have, if things had gone differently once upon a time, and it does not flinch. It recognizes the opportunity, and gives thanks to God, or fate, or chance, whatever led her to this moment and these circumstances.

“The bullet went through your scapula,” she tells the man.His eyes are locked on hers, ignoring the people who have crowded around him, who are asking him questions or trying to staunch the flow of blood or call for medical attention.

Noor has been studying the bones of the human body, and a few other things besides. This is a bad wound, and there are major arteries that the bullet may have severed. He could be mildly inconvenienced by this or he could bleed out before help arrives.

Unless she helps.

“This will hurt,” she says, and before he responds, she presses her hand against the wound and then, biting her lip, pushes into the wound, her fingers sliding through flesh and meeting bone, hard bone, damaged bone. Beneath her touch, it is repaired.

It is more than repaired. It expands, sealing the whole cavity and any vein or artery that has been opened up. It grows further, extending out of his body, surrounding him, surrounding her, becoming ever larger and reaching above the heads of the crowd like a thorny web. Noor withdraws from the man’s wound but remains in contact with the structure that is growing out of his body. Even as the screams take on a new tone and the crowd’s terror and confusion is reenergized, Noor continues to guide the bone and prod it on, telling it to grow, telling it how to grow.

This would have been easier had she been able to manipulate her own bones, or animal bones, but things are as they are, and she was forced to wait until someone else was hurt. In retrospect, what she decided to do was very risky, and she might not have been able to reach anyone in time. Things are as they are, though, and it has paid off.

“Everyone should go home,” she says, as the man’s bone flows around her like pale white mercury, solidifying over her in layers like armor. “We are all living in the same city and the same country.” A wall of bone emerges between the two sides of the crowd, and between the crowd and the police. “So let’s go home.”

The man beside her will not die. Others, who might have died, will also live. Noor isn’t sure what will happen past this point, and she probably won’t be able to conceal herself in a crowd of protesters again, but she did something good here.

She terminates the physical connection between the man and the structure that she has brought forth from out of his body, and it becomes dead bone to her, no longer clay for her to mold.

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