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May 21, 2018
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'Biryani, Pakoray, Chat': Sabika's wish list upon her return

Karachi

May 21, 2018

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It has been a day since the news of the untimely death of 17-year-old Sabika Sheikh reached her family in Gulshan-e-Iqbal. Abdul Aziz, her father, stands in the doorway talking to the media, as the visitors and mourners pour in and out of the house she bid farewell to last year to go study abroad.

Putting on a brave face, Aziz stands talking to the reporters and cameras gathered outside as his brother tends to the visitors. After a while, he takes a break and goes inside to sit with one of the visitors. Within minutes, he breaks down. “My daughter won’t be coming now,” he cries.

Sabika was among the 10 students who were killed in a mass shooting at the Santa Fe High School in Houston, Texas on Friday morning when their peer 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis opened firing in the school. This is the 22nd mass shooting in the United States this year.

Chosen as a participant for Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) programme, Sabika was among the many students who went to the US on a year-long academic exchange programme from 2017 to 2018. The programme was founded in 2002 by US State Department and is currently being run by iEARN Pakistan, a non-profit based in Karachi.

A family in mourning

“I’m not boasting about my daughter, but she was truly a brilliant child,” Aziz tells The News. “Her aspirations were not limited to the societal notions of professions like medical, engineering or business administration. She wanted to join the civil services.”

“Sabika was very outgoing and jovial. She often left me speechless with her aspirations and dreams,” he adds.

According to Aziz, Sabika spent the first six months of her year-long stay in the US living with a Muslim host family. When the news of her death in the shooting reached them, they were so upset that he had to console her host mother Uzma. The American family which was currently hosting her was equally shocked and in grief.

Sabika was due to return to Karachi on June 9. Both she and her family were counting down the days. She had messaged a week before Ramazan saying she’d be back by the 22nd or 23rd of the holy month. She had asked Aziz to get Biryani from a particular place on the way back from the airport, followed by a long list which included fruits, Pakoray and Chaat and a few specialities to be made by her mother.”

“I asked her if she would be able to finish all of it, she said, ‘You just get it made, it’s my job to finish it,’” he recalls. “Little did I know that my daughter won’t be able to mark off another day from the calendar. The countdown didn’t end, but my daughter did,” he says quietly.

When talking about her mother, he goes quiet for a few moments. “She is just praying,” he finally says. Sabika was the eldest of four siblings, followed by Sania, 13, Ali, 12 and Soha, 10.

Ali is impassive, yet smiles when he remembers the moments spent with his sister. Since he was the only brother, Sabika was very attached to him and would often help him with his studies, he says. “We used to quarrel a lot too and on the lamest of things, and after a brief period of silent treatment we would start chatting without anyone apologising first,” he recalls.

According to Ali, their youngest sister hasn’t taken in the news fully so she is yet to register but the elder sister is not in a condition to talk to anyone. One of the last posts Sabika shared on her Snapchat account was a countdown with a plane symbolising her return in the next month.

“All wish lists were being drafted since the past one week,” her father says. “She had asked me about her birthday according to the Islamic month. She was born on the fourth of Ramazan 4 but she left us before the date.” After a while he finds himself a seat near the doorway, now awaiting the arrival of his beloved daughter’s remains.

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