I still remember that night when the big aeroplanes came and destroyed everything. The Elders said that it was bound to happen some day - but nobody had told us it would be that day.
For the people of Waziristan, in northwest Pakistan, living in the shadow of imminent death was a way of life. We were told that there were terrorists amongst us - indeed, you could find some hard-liners who believed in the use of force. But not in out village: we were a quiet group, living peaceably under the tenets of Islam.
But they still came - the Americans, with their big guns and money. They had already taken some of our women's lives, but those had been one-off events, 'accidents,' our government had declared.
But that night was not a one-off attack, it was war. My family had been sleeping when it happened. I, being the youngest at 13, had the privilege of sleeping next to the window with the cool night breeze blowing across my face. Next to me, my brother, 16, slept at a slightly odd angle.
My mother had sung us a song before going to sleep. It was my favourite song, about Pakistan's struggle for Independence, and I had been humming the tune in my head when I heard the siren go off. Perhaps I had been the first to have heard it. Nonetheless, the sound grew from a distant nise to a loud clarion, and within moments we were all awake - unprepared for what was to come.
My father ventured out for a few minutes and when he returned, he simply said, "America is attacking us." He instructed us to take some food and follow him to the war shelter nearby. We obliged, probably at great risk. A few meters away, a house blew up - we heard someone screaming and I knew I'd never meet my friend Jamal again. But we moved on, for although the sky was dotted with fighter planes, the Americans had not sieged our land. Yet.
Five families waited in the war shelter. The bombings lasted only a few minutes, but it seemed like a lifetime. When the sun rose, some of the men ventured out. When they finally concluded that the Americans had left, we came out too.
Nothing was left of our village. The tea stall where my father would spend his free time, the government clinic, the jowar fields: nothing was left but dirt. Our own house had been ripped apart and we were forbidden to go there lest there be some undetonated bombs still left.
We wondered why the government had not sent any aid. "Perhaps they have sold themselves to America," said one of the men who had survived. Few had survived the raid. Those fortunate enough to have reached the war shelters, like us, did not know what to do next. Some said that we could rebuild our lost home, others suggested we make our fortunes in Lahore.
Little did we know that the worst was yet to come. That evening, when we were playing with stones on the road, the aeroplanes came again. The siren was quick and we had no time to run. Bombs fell everywhere and people fell like bowling pins. Fortunately, I was playiong right in front of the war shelter, but I was too stunned to move. My brother grabbed me and ran towards the shelter. Just as he shoved me in, a bomb fell near us. He threw himself on me, smothering me. My father ran in and shut the door.
I looked at my brother. He looked back. And then he stopped looking - or at least his eyes were on me, but there was no light in them.
An hour later, the government sent medical aid and food. But no one in our family, or any other family, cared to eat. We encircled our deceased relatives, tears flowing freely. A week later, nothing had changed. Although the Americans had not returned, they had already destroyed everything. Bodies had been buried en masse, including that of my brother.
We moved to Lahore, where we spent the rest of our lives. My parents worked as casual labourers, earning a pittance but sending me to school all the same. Several years later, I started my own shop. My parents had passed away and I had moved on.
Today, I found myself in a little town near my old home in Waziristan. I decided to visit it again to see if anything had changed. America had not attacked us again. Perhaps they had found their man, perhaps not. When I entered my old village, I noticed how its people had rebuilt it. But one thing caught my eye: the cemetery. I went in and, in a familiar corner, I found my brother's tombstone. I scrambled around and found a shriveled flower on a tree. It was autumn. I plucked the flower and laid it on his dusty grave. I left after a few minutes.
It struck me that to the brother who had given his life to save mine, I could give nothing but a shriveled flower and tears.
This is a fictitious story