Ali Noor looked at the little group gathered outside the school with dread. He hated this part of the school morning.
Everyday, before the bell rang for assembly, Junaid and his little band of bullies would gather near the school gate and wait for Ali Noor’s arrival. As Ali would hobble across the paved sidewalk, their group would stare and laugh at him.
“Here he comes,” he heard Junaid say excitedly. “Get ready, Hamid. It’s your turn today.”
Ali Noor felt cold with fear. “What are they planning to do today?” He wondered.
He did not have to wait for long. As he entered the gate, Hamid got behind him, exaggerating his every movement. He dragged his feet and then hopped as all the boys erupted in loud laughter and chuckles. They considered it all a big joke.
Ali Noor felt tears of rage and helplessness spring in his eyes. He was extremely humiliated and wanted to hit them but he was alone and crippled and they were four in number. He silently hitched his bag on his shoulder and moved towards the school building while the boys behind him were still doubled with laughter.
Near the brick building, Faraz was waiting for his friend. He took one look at his Ali’s face and exclaimed
“They have been making fun of you again, haven’t they Ali? Why don’t you report them to the principal?” he asked angrily.
Ali Noor shook his head. He was fourteen years old and he did not want to seem like a cry baby.
“No Faraz. It will only make things worse. Forget it”
“They don’t know anything about me. They just don’t understand.” Ali Noor would keep reminding himself. If only Junaid stopped picking on him; he was sure the others would back off as well. Junaid came from a rich, affluent family and was bit of a spoiled brat.
After school, Junaid was again waiting for him at the gate.
"Hey, Ali. Are you the new hunchback of Notre-Dame?”
Ali silently passed Junaid and was stepping around others when Junaid put his foot out. It caused Ali to trip and fall comically on the sidewalk. Laughing loudly the bullies went away.
Ali Noor was fed up with their cruel jokes! This time he could not hold back the tears. Three years ago, Ali and his family had faced a life changing situation and ended up in Islamabad. Ali was new in his school but no one yet knew his story and it was hard to talk about the traumatic incident.
When he entered his house, his mother saw the tears and instantly enveloped her brave son in a warm hug. "Ali, isn’t Friday the Assembly Day at your school? I have an idea that might just stop those bullies from making fun of you," she said.
Ali Noor looked at his mother with doubt but as he listened to her suggestion, he slowly nodded. Together, mother and son started working on their project.
Next morning, the school bell was ringing as Ali Noor and his mother entered the school with large posters. While Ali went to his class to deposit his school bag, his mother went to the Principal’s office to talk to him. Making his way to his class; he stumbled once again over Junaid’s feet which he had stuck out just as Ali was passing. Ali Noor just picked himself up with dignity and went to the Assembly area.
A peon was setting up the posters on tripod stand. After the prayer and school anthem, the principal announced:
“Today we are having a special show and tell segment. A young hero will tell you his story and I hope everyone will pay attention,” he added sternly.
.Ali Noor limped up the stairs and began his story
“As you all know, a horrific earthquake occurred in October 2005 in northern areas of Pakistan. I was in my school in Balakot and I saw death and devastation all around me. Many of my class fellows were trapped under rubble.
I could hear their shouts of help but there was chaos everywhere. I had stepped outside for a glass of water and that saved my life. I tried to move slabs and stones with my bare hands. Some people soon gathered but the passage was too narrow and many students were hurt.
I was slender enough to go down and drag some of my injured fellow students out. Again and again I crawled under and pulled one student out at a time. There was another aftershock and a slab fell on my back. I was later rescued by army personnel but extensive damage had occurred. I have been in physiotherapy for the past three years and have recently joined school again. I was not always a cripple. You can look at the photographs….”
There was pin drop silence as students stared at Ali Noor with awe and admiration. A few teachers wiped their tears. Junaid and his friends were really ashamed. Suddenly Junaid stood up and went to Ali Noor and embraced him in a tight hug.
“You are a true hero, Ali. Can you forgive me?”
All was forgotten and the two boys became best friends.