A child disappears from a narrow alleyway where the sun casts wavering shadows on the brick walls. Another is taken by unknown men while she walks home from school, cradling cherished books in young arms, wearing a blue shirt and white shalwar as an emblem of the desire to learn, to move, to become. Too often they never come home, and doors are watched by those they leave behind, despair carved into the insides of the eyelids of the waiting.

The better known – Shahbaz Taseer, the son of a slain governor of Punjab, and Ali Haider Gilani, the son of a former prime minister, who returned home last year after years of remaining in Taliban captivity – are spoken about, written about, covered till scales grow where vision sought to know, to understand. But there too, the door is watched, as absence drills a hole in the heart and hope is cherished like the schoolbooks of a lost child.

Also read: God’s own country—Why freedom is scarce in the Islamic republic

The reasons for the taking of children and hostages are many. But their absence is the same for those who wait, their silence casting shadows where the sun had lit up dark corners on endless nights.

Untitled | Mohammad Ali Talpur (mixed media)
Untitled | Mohammad Ali Talpur (mixed media)

Absence is a door

Through which your shadow


Each time evening brushes against

The window and the bones of


Shake up the night,

Undoing the carefully placed


Where I keep you, wrapped

Where I keep you, safe


Buried within the ventricles of

My heart where blood chooses to

Course, or to freeze

Depending on the angle of the sun’s rays

As they fall upon the earth

Where you stood before they

Took you

Absence is a wall between my heart

And yours

It is the unspoken, the unsaid

The unwept

It is the amalgam of fear tempered by

A semblance of hope, sliding past my eyes

Each time I hear the door

That same door

That same place from where you entered

And left

Leaving me to grieve your absence

Leaving me to make a home in the cavity

Which is my heart

It is where you will always be,

Even if that door never opens

Or remains shut

It is where you will always be,

Safe, alive, walking towards me

Walking towards that

Place in my heart.

This article was published as part of a special editorial project '2016 In Broad Strokes' for the Herald's Annual 2017 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.

The writer is a human rights activist and author of The Scent of Wet Earth in August

The artist holds a Bachelors in Fine Arts from the National College of Arts.